There’s an interesting feature in this week’s Economist about Berkeley Homes, the developer which had a great influence on Greenwich Council during the Chris Roberts years.
It’s not just interesting because it features “a local blogger” commenting on the former Dear Leader, who’s still in close contact with the council leadership, and his ownership of a Berkeley home on the Royal Arsenal development in Woolwich. It also features the revelation that Boris Johnson was given a £500 ceremonial trowel by Berkeley’s chairman, Tony Pidgeley, last summer. (He was also given a glass paperweight in October.) Johnson is, of course, responsible for strategic planning approval for developments such as the Arsenal (which is GLA land) and Kidbrooke Village. (Mind you, at least you can find Johnson’s gifts and hospitality on the City Hall website – try having a look for the equivalent on the Greenwich site.)
It’s not just Berkeley, it’s not just Greenwich, it’s not just Boris Johnson. Developers’ demands are weighing heavily on many London boroughs, but some are more eager to be associated with them than others. And Berkeley’s particularly good at gaining influence, especially as Pidgeley is also president of the London Chamber of Commerce and Industry (chair: Chris Roberts’ friend Mark Adams) which has been pushing heavily for the Silvertown Tunnel and Gallions Reach Bridge. Indeed, this written answer from Johnson to London Assembly member Caroline Pidgeon acknowledges the link between Berkeley and the LCCI.
Next month’s tall ships boondoggle will also feature another example of a developer wielding financial power – Barratt Homes, which is currently letting historic Enderby House rot away, is sponsoring the event and has its name on banners in Greenwich town centre. “Festival supporters” include Berkeley, Cathedral Group (Silvertown Tunnel supporter and Morden Wharf developer) and Knight Dragon (Greenwich Peninsula developer). Lots of lovely hospitality, no doubt.
It’s not just on tall ships where developers and councillors can get together. Earlier this summer Cathedral’s chief executive Richard Upton popped up at the unveiling of a tree dedicated to Vice Admiral Hardy at Devonport House, Greenwich, alongside Greenwich leader Denise Hyland and Lewisham’s deputy mayor Alan Smith. Cathedral owns Devonport House, alongside the Movement development by Greenwich station and the Deptford Project across the borough boundary. Naturally, it got a warm write-up in Greenwich Time.
So it’s worth keeping an eye on little things like this. As developers become more powerful, and with councils often unable to build their own housing, do we have representatives that can resist these charm offensives and fight for a good deal for us all?
Incidentally, the picture above is that of an ad for the latest phase of the Royal Arsenal – effectively, the flats that’ll pay for Berkeley’s contribution to the Crossrail station there. Note the little back-scratch for the mayor in the shape of a New Routemaster cruising along Beresford Street – in reality, it’s highly unlikely that the Roastmaster will ever make it to SE18.
The road lobby’s getting itchy. Monday saw the London Chamber of Commerce publish a new design for the road bridge it’s desperate to see built between Thamesmead and Beckton. The Evening Standard obligingly spun it as a “bicycle-friendly” bridge, because it has a pedestrian and cycle lane beneath the dual carriageway taking it across the windy Thames. Even the BBC fell for it, The Guardian’s architecture writer piled in with another sycophantic piece, proving that if you come up with a pretty picture of something and call it “bike-friendly”, you can flog any old crap in London.
Nobody bothered to ask any questions like how this bridge would fit into the road network, how it’d be paid for, what effect it’d have on the area, or whether there were any better ideas than digging up a road scheme that’s been around since the 1940s.
All the talk is of supposed benefits to “east London” – so let’s see the effect on south-east London…
This map shows the projected traffic impacts of a Gallions Reach bridge, based on a study commissioned for Newham Council last year. The thicker the yellow line, the more traffic. The numbers represent levels of nitrogen dioxide captured in January’s No To Silvertown Tunnel air pollution study. So, going anti-clockwise, there’s a fair chunk of traffic using the only existing infrastructure, the Thamesmead spine road. Then the horrors start – another chunk of traffic using Brampton Road, Bexleyheath, then crossing the A206 to enter a side street – Knee Hill in Abbey Wood, on the Greenwich/Bexley borough border. Here’s how it looks on Google Streetview.
It simply won’t cope. It gets worse, though, with another load of traffic using Wickham Lane in Welling, emerging into Plumstead Common – which is buried under a yellow line – and using the side streets there, principally Griffin Road, the last leg of the 53 bus route, to reach the one-way system at Plumstead station before heading towards Thamesmead.
Quite frankly, the road network simply won’t be able to cope. And that’s before you get to the known phenomena of “induced traffic”, where new roads encourage new journeys by car or existing journeys to be switched to cars, which is the main problem for the Silvertown Tunnel.
So, if the infrastructure doesn’t exist, does it have to be built instead? Much of Plumstead was blighted for years by the threat of the East London River Crossing, linking the North Circular Road with the A2, which would also have carved up Oxleas Woods and Woodlands Farm on its way to Falconwood.
Either way, Plumstead is squarely in the firing line. Greenwich Council claims to have moved its position slightly to acknowledge fears of congestion and pollution, both from here and the Silvertown Tunnel proposals. Here’s the Greenwich Labour group’s manifesto:
Indeed, the Labour campaign in Shooters Hill was very proud of this, judging by this exchange with Stewart Christie, the Liberal Democrat candidate who created the map above.
Nobody seems to have told their colleagues at City Hall, though.
Some reward for the Labour voters of Plumstead, eh?
Then, one by one, Labour’s mayoral wannabes started coming out in favour. Sadiq Khan called it “exciting” and said it was “desperately needed”. David Lammy called it “interesting” and “new”. “22 road crossings to west of Tower Bridge and two to the east,” parroted Margaret Hodge, ignoring the Dartford crossing and five railway tunnels, two foot tunnels and a cable car. “Looks brilliant”, she added, although for who, she didn’t say.
I wonder what questions they asked about the scheme and their effects? But let’s face it, as for many of London’s politicians of all colours, Plumstead may as well be on Mars. Even assembly member Val Shawcross managed to undermine her pro-cycling credentials by backing a scheme that’s going to flood the streets with more motorised traffic.
So how did the London Labour Party end up falling for this, ending up taking a more extreme view than its Greenwich outpost? To be fair, a bridge at Thamesmead has been Labour policy for some years, but there’ll be many Labour members locally who’ll be furious to see the London Chamber of Commerce scheme – which contains less for public transport than Ken Livingstone’s Thames Gateway Bridge – backed by Labour at City Hall.
Nobody’s suggesting a “do nothing” option. There are many other ways to get Thamesmead properly connected to the rest of London. A DLR extension from Beckton. A rail link from Barking. Yet this isn’t about Thamesmead, this is about a belief that regenerating the Royal Docks requires a new road connection.
Should Plumstead be sacrificed for some imagined benefits north of the river? A fancy design may be enough to impress ambitious politicians, but it won’t disguise the congestion and blight that will be visited on the area. The 2016 mayoral election should have been an easy win for Labour in this part of SE London. Now they’re looking like they’re making things needlessly hard for themselves.
9.20am update: Today marks 138 years since the Plumstead Common riot to protect common land.