London mayor Sadiq Khan agreed to continue with Boris Johnson’s plans to build the controversial Silvertown Tunnel within weeks of taking office, despite promising a “proper joined-up review” into the project while standing for election.
Documents released under the Freedom of Information Act reveal that Khan backed the tunnel after receiving a briefing from Transport for London representatives on 14 June, just five weeks after he took office.
Officials were then charged with making the proposals more palatable to the public, from offering free bus services and residents’ discounts to adding cycle racks to existing buses.
The £1 billion project – which would provide a new toll road from the Royal Docks to feed into the A102 at Greenwich Peninsula, and would toll the Blackwall Tunnel – is currently going through the planning process, with a series of public hearings taking place until April. Later this year, planning inspectors will recommend to the government whether to approve or refuse the scheme.
Full disclosure: I’m part of the No to Silvertown Tunnel campaign that is challenging the scheme, however, the opinions expressed in this story do not represent the views of the campaign. I’m also a registered objector to the tunnel as an individual.
The joined-up review that didn’t happen
Khan had pledged “a proper joined up review, looking at river crossings and improved public transport connections east of Tower Bridge, but in a strategic fashion, not piecemeal like the current mayor”, when interviewed about the project by Transport Network in April 2016, ahead of May’s election.
By 27 May, this had become a commitment to “review the merits” of the scheme.
But a TfL briefing note says Khan agreed to its proposals less than three weeks later, and the review would merely be about “improvements”.
Khan also appears to have quietly dropped plans for further road crossings at Gallions Reach and Belvedere. The Gallions crossing has been a long-cherished aim for London’s Labour councils, and was a supposed condition for Greenwich’s backing of the Silvertown scheme. Neither project appears in TfL’s latest business plan, released last month.
While politicians in Greenwich and Tower Hamlets are going through the motions in still supporting the scheme, the project has come under sustained attack from their council officers at planning hearings, which resume today.
The documents released by City Hall
The Greater London Authority was asked for the terms of reference of Khan’s review, as well as the advice sent to Khan and deputy mayor Val Shawcross, their responses, as well as details of who was consulted.
There is no record of anybody outside the GLA or TfL being consulted by the mayor’s office, despite the widespread concern about the proposals from neighbouring councils.
The GLA sent a Powerpoint presentation from TfL to the mayor from June, when he agreed to back the scheme; as well as a later presentation outlining options to make the scheme more palatable. There is also a note from GLA head of transport Tim Steer to Shawcross outlining the problems with residents’ discounts.
Asked for the terms of reference, the GLA said:
“In requesting that TfL review the merits of the Silvertown Tunnel scheme, the Mayor asked that particular consideration be paid to the following:
- a clear commitment to delivering much-needed cross river public transport links;
- environmental assurances, both in terms of how it is constructed and once operational;
- and benefits for pedestrians and cyclists, linking to the wider opportunities for new river crossings, such as the proposed Rotherhithe to Canary Wharf crossing.”
However, there is no sign that any of TfL’s assertions about the scheme – apart from on tolling – were scrutinised in any way by the mayor or his deputy.
This includes its claim that “no additional traffic will be generated”, which has been disputed by councils at the planning process.
A question of ‘further benefits’
In October, Khan confirmed he was backing the scheme but making it “greener and more public transport-focused, and exploring further benefits for residents who use the tunnel”.
“Further benefits for residents who use the tunnel” – which campaigners fear mean concessions for local residents who drive through the tunnel – have the potential to wreck TfL’s traffic modelling by generating even more new trips and causing more congestion.
Khan’s main idea to “green” the tunnel was to create a special bus service for cyclists – reminiscent of a short-lived service offered when the Dartford Tunnel first opened in 1963 (pictured above, below is one of the vehicles in a yard in Stratford in 1999).
He also re-announced a series of bus services already planned for the tunnel, as well as reiterating his support for a pedestrian and cycle bridge between Rotherhithe and Canary Wharf.
The mayor also re-announced past proposals for a ferry between North Greenwich and Canary Wharf and an Overground extension from Barking Riverside to Thamesmead. There was one surprising addition – a pledge to investigate a DLR extension from Gallions Reach to Thamesmead, the first time this idea has surfaced without being attached to a new road.
Other plans suggested by TfL but not taken forward by Khan included free travel on the Emirates Air Line between 7am and 9am on weekdays, to be paid for by increasing “leisure fares” on the cable car.
Rocky reception at planning hearings
Planning hearings into the scheme began in October and resume today at the Excel centre in the Royal Docks. A three-strong panel is hearing arguments from TfL and interested parties, mainly boroughs and local landowners.
What has been striking so far has been the tough reception TfL’s plans got from all boroughs. None of them are happy with TfL’s traffic modelling. This is a problem for TfL, because all its other forecasts, from the economy to pollution, derive from how much traffic it thinks will use the tunnel.
Most strikingly, Greenwich Council’s senior transport planner, Kim Smith, told hearings last month that the council was worried the “local network would suffer” as a result of the tunnel’s construction – something campaigners have been warning about for four years, and that appears in a report the council buried nearly five years ago.
Her opposite number at Newham, Murray Woodburn, pointed out that TfL’s record in assessing demand for river crossings was “not exactly fantastic”, pointing out that the Woolwich Arsenal DLR extension proved to be twice as busy as predicted.
“We as host boroughs have no option other than to treat the highway impacts… with very little confidence,” he told the hearing.
Much of this depends on the calculations that go into the modelling itself – the boroughs challenged the “value of time” used in the forecasts, saying that economic conditions in this part of London are vastly different from the rest of the country.
But the tolling also plays a part – so we learned that TfL has only modelled what would happen if tolls increased by 20%, which would only take the maximum charge for a car up to £3.60.
TfL has also admitted it could reduce charges if the tunnel was less busy than forecast – jeopardising traffic levels on other roads and possibly increasing pollution.
You can see a Storify summary of one of December’s hearings here.
Greenwich councillors say one thing, officers say another
But while Murray Woodburn’s boss, Newham elected mayor Sir Robin Wales, has “politically repositioned the council’s stance” on the tunnel, Kim Smith’s employers at Greenwich are still singing the same old songs written by former leader Chris Roberts.
Smith told the planning hearing the council only ever supported “a package of crossings” (ie, including the now-dropped Gallions crossing), which is consistent with the council’s submissions to earlier consultations on the scheme.
But a few days later she was contradicted by current transport cabinet member Sizwe James, who has been lumbered with the job of defending the council’s stance, at a scrutiny panel meeting. These are where backbench councillors interrogate (or at least gently probe) senior councillors and officers on how things are going.
Much of the Regeneration, Transport and Culture scrutiny meeting was about Greenwich’s policies on air pollution – which falls under the remit of deputy leader Danny Thorpe’s regeneration portfolio. Thorpe enlisted TfL’s David Rowe – a genial chap who’s in charge of much of the politics and practicalities around the proposal – to answer questions from councillors on the Silvertown Tunnel and air pollution.
This was largely a waste of time, as everything depends on the traffic modelling, which council officials are unhappy about. But nobody told the councillors that the modelling was hotly disputed, and Rowe’s presence presumably just gave Thorpe someone to hide behind. (Shaky video of almost the whole meeting can be found here.)
Too bright to come out with that crap
Even worse, by the time the meeting had got around to transport questions – where the meat of the Silvertown scheme could be dissected – almost everybody had cleared off, including Thorpe and Rowe, leaving James – who has only recently taken over transport from Thorpe – isolated.
James told the panel that the council supported the tunnel’s construction in isolation.
“We have been consistently supportive of a package of crossings… but that is not the only reason we’re supporting Silvertown, it’s also about resilience and supporting growth,” he told the meeting on 13 December.
But James then managed to contradict himself on that point, as well as Smith’s comments to the planning hearing.
Asked by former deputy leader John Fahy if it concerned him that the tunnel would attract more traffic than anticipated now the Gallions and Belvedere schemes have been canned, James replied: “Of course it does, there’ll be more pressure at one point, that’s why we support a package of crossings.”
Either the council supports the Silvertown Tunnel on its own, or it supports more than one crossing, surely?
After an awkward silence, Greenwich’s assistant director of transport, Tim Jackson, intervened to point out that “if TfL were here they would say” that tolling would control traffic levels.
But TfL had gone home – and Jackson’s colleagues have been taking TfL to task on the question of tolling at the planning hearings, something he didn’t tell the panel.
So Greenwich councillors were denied the chance to properly scrutinise the council’s line on the scheme, and learned nothing about how the council is approaching what is a complex set of public hearings on the scheme.
Then James was taken to task by Greenwich West councillor Mehboob Khan, who, in short, told him he was too bright to come out with that crap.
“Southwark have formally objected on the basis of increased traffic going through the west of our borough through Lewisham and Southwark towards Rotherhithe [Tunnel]. That’s the council’s official position,” he said.
“Lewisham have objected. Hackney have objected. Tower Hamlets objected [it did in an earlier consultation]. Greenwich didn’t. Someone’s right here, and somebody’s wrong here. Their objections aren’t, in principle, to Silvertown – it’s about the mitigation of the problems caused by it not being dealt with by TfL.
“You meet TfL on a regular basis – you’re new to this portfolio this year. And perhaps you don’t want to be tainted by past portfolio-holders’ stances.” At this point, John Fahy pretended to cuff Khan around the ear.
“Can you look at this afresh and and see why other boroughs have taken a completely polarised position to Greenwich? And maybe come forward with something more in line with what an intelligent, articulate cabinet member like yourself would come forward with?”
James responded: “This is not my personal position, this is the position of the Labour Group.” [Greenwich Labour councillors backed the scheme in 2012.]
Khan came back: “We’re not interested in Labour Group here. This forms part of the council’s scrutiny function. That political view is taken elsewhere.”
James agreed he would look again at the council’s position. But frankly, the damage has already been done by his predecessors, who mistook criticism of the council’s stance for politically-motivated attacks. It’s now left Greenwich in an embarrassing position of backing a scheme it knows will damage the borough.
Khan can still stop it – but do local politicians care enough?
Before Christmas, the West Ham constituency Labour party passed a motion against the scheme, and there are rumours of new rumblings against the Silvertown Tunnel south of the river too. But it’s too late to take their complaints to council leaders – they’ve already made their minds up.
If they really wanted to stop the scheme, they would be taking their concerns straight to Sadiq Khan and Val Shawcross, which would mean overcoming their reluctance to embarrass the Labour mayor and his transport deputy.
Even at this late stage, the tunnel certainly isn’t a done deal – especially with the fierce criticism it’s getting from the boroughs.
Just as with another dodgy scheme inherited from Boris Johnson, the Garden Bridge, many millions of pounds have already been spent on getting the Silvertown Tunnel through planning – and this planning inquiry itself is taking up huge amounts of TfL’s time when the organisation is having its budgets cut.
But now we know how slapdash Khan’s “review” was, will any of his friends have the courage to have a quiet word in his ear?
Today’s announcement that the government won’t be devolving Southeastern’s metro rail services to Transport for London is the worst of all worlds for south-east London – and threatens to put parts of our local infrastructure under even greater strain.
Despite clear improvements to train services in north London which have already been transferred to mayoral control, transport secretary Chris Grayling has called such a move “deckchair shifting” – while refusing to let go of the Titanic’s wheel.
It’s also a massive blow to mayor Sadiq Khan – we’ve seen under Ken Livingstone, and to a smaller (and more ambiguous) extent under Boris Johnson, that fixing transport is the most visible way a mayor can change London for the better.
The devolution plan – first concocted under Johnson – would have separated Southeastern’s metro services from Kent/Sussex trains, and handed them to TfL to manage. This system – where TfL takes responsibility for fares, services and staffing – has worked wonders on London Overground, where services are up while delays and fare-dodging are down.
Now Khan looks like he’ll be denied this, as Grayling decides the service on the Grove Park to Bromley North shuttle is more appropriate for Westminster to deal with rather than City Hall.
But it also leaves south-east Londoners the most exposed to the ill-effects of Khan’s fare “freeze” – where fares on TfL services are frozen but travelcard, fare caps and National Rail fares will continue to increase.
Because of the actions of Grayling and Khan, south-east Londoners who rely on Southeastern face paying far more for our travel than those use can use the Tube or most services north of the river.
Here are the current fares – you can see where National Rail fares are increasingly out of synch with TfL tickets in the outer zones, despite the far inferior service. The TfL fare scale also applies to many National Rail services in west, north and east London, as part of recent policy decisions or for historic reasons.
Most National Rail fares will be 10p dearer from 2 January – but TfL tickets are frozen.
|2016 Oyster/ contactless fare||TfL – all||National Rail only||Using both in Zone 1|
With Khan pledging to keep TfL fares frozen until 2020, and Tory policy to keep increasing National Rail fares, these disparities will get worse, and start to affect people further into London. Worse still, commuters who use Southeastern and then change to the Tube in Zone 1 will continue to face a profiteering surcharge of up to £1.60 that many rail users in north, west and east London do not face.
Note also that off-peak zone 2-6 TfL fares are held down to £1.50 – the price of a bus fare – to drum up trade during quieter hours. No such good sense on National Rail. So someone travelling from Deptford to Erith gets whacked with a £2.70 fare; Canary Wharf to Upminster is just £1.50.
It’s worth pointing out here that Sadiq Khan refused an offer by TfL to freeze Travelcard prices and fare caps, which would have lessened the blow of continued National Rail fare rises.
This isn’t just about south-east Londoners being financially penalised. This also sets back infrastructure improvements – because TfL knows that central government’s inept management of National Rail services is putting pressure on its own operations.
TfL’s business case raised the possibility of improvements such as rebuilding the junction at Lewisham, which would enable more services to run through the station, and building new platforms at Brockley which would take pressure off the Jubilee Line at Canada Water.
These ideas don’t just come out of the goodness of TfL’s own heart. People are already voting with their feet because of the cost and unreliability of National Rail services. The business case highlighted how many passengers would rather take the bus to Brixton for the Tube than use unreliable National Rail services closer to their homes.
We see the same effect locally at North Greenwich, where thousands pile onto buses to avoid using Southeastern, putting massive strain on the local transport network. Part of this is down to the fare structure – travelling from North Greenwich only means a zone 2 travelcard, even if you start your journey by bus in Eltham or Blackheath. But if you miss a Jubilee Line train, there’s usually another one in two minutes. You can’t say that for Southeastern trains.
The punishment fare for changing in Zone 1 is also a factor. The DLR’s Woolwich Arsenal services were overwhelmed within months of their introduction. If you had a job at, say, Angel, why would you pay £5.50 to start your journey on an unreliable Southeastern train if taking the DLR would only set you back £3.90?
So SE London commuters face more years of paying more for less, unless the government can be persuaded to change its mind.
The government has little interest in the views of voters in Greenwich or Lewisham, as Tory election wins are thin on the ground here. But will voters in true-blue Bexley and Bromley punish their Tory MPs and councils over this? And will Khan have to modify his fare “freeze” so south Londoners lose out less? We’ll have to wait and see.
Labour’s mayoral candidate Sadiq Khan has backed campaigners who are taking Greenwich Council to court over the planned Enderby Wharf cruise liner terminal.
Khan has issued a statement of support backing the East Greenwich Residents’ Association, which is crowdfunding a legal action against the council’s decision to allow the terminal to permit ships to use their own generators when berthed for an extended period of time – emitting hundreds of heavy lorries’ worth of pollution each day.
Greenwich Council leader Denise Hyland – the only borough leader in London who regularly sits on their own planning committee – backed the scheme after she said she couldn’t “see” any pollution while visiting Southampton’s liner terminal with an executive from its developer, London City Cruise Port. Air pollution is normally invisible. Greenwich’s decision was later ratified by Boris Johnson’s deputy mayor, Sir Edward Lister.
EGRA wants to see the terminal use power generated on-shore, with many residents suggesting London Underground’s Greenwich power station on Old Woolwich Road could be used.
Khan, the bookies’ favourite to succeed Boris Johnson next month, said in a statement issued on Saturday: “I praise the dogged campaigning of the East Greenwich Residents Association who are right to be fighting for cleaner air. Too many lives in London are blighted by filthy, polluted air and we should be doing more to clean it up, not make it worse as the proposal at Enderby Wharf risks doing.
“I support bringing everyone involved back to the drawing board to discuss how a clean solution to this can be found involving an onshore energy supply, and as Mayor I’ll do all I can to help this.”
EGRA also secured the backing of Conservative contender Zac Goldsmith at a meeting earlier this month, and have also been backed by Green candidate Sian Berry and Liberal Democrat Caroline Pidgeon – increasing the chances that Boris Johnson’s successor will take steps to make sure the terminal uses onshore power.
The crowdfunding campaign – which has so far raised over £11,000 – is to bring a judicial review of Greenwich’s decision to approve the terminal in September 2015. There will be an initial hearing in front of a judge on 19 April.
An earlier version of the scheme, which did not involve ships effectively being used as floating hotels for extended stays at the terminal, was backed by the council in 2011. Hyland was insistent that objectors should have made their case back then, despite the major changes to the scheme.
Khan’s intervention will be deeply embarrassing for a Greenwich Council leadership that has been ambivalent at best about the effects of air pollution on the community, and that has tried to paint criticism of the cruise liner scheme as being a political plot.
Regeneration cabinet member Danny Thorpe has called criticism of the terminal “scaremongering” by the Green Party, even though the Labour MPs for both sides of the Thames, Matt Pennycook and Jim Fitzpatrick, have both made clear their unhappiness about Greenwich’s decision to back the scheme.
Indeed, given the cautiousness of Khan’s campaign for the mayoralty and his reluctance to criticise schemes backed by other Labour boroughs – such as Lambeth’s support of the deeply controversial Garden Bridge – his comments will be seen as all the more damning of Greenwich’s approach.
But they will also give strength to those Labour councillors – and other figures within the party – who want to see the council adopt a different attitude in its dealings with both developers and local residents.
Khan coughs on Silvertown Tunnel
Khan has also appeared to distance himself from the Silvertown Tunnel – another scheme backed by Greenwich’s leadership in the teeth of opposition from its Labour neighbours. He told industry publication Transport Network that while he wanted to see more road river crossings east of Tower Bridge, he was unhappy with the current proposal and wanted all current plans – which would also include plans for crossings at Thamesmead and Belvedere – to be reviewed.
“Plans as they stand for the Silvertown Tunnel do not fully take into consideration the importance of greener transport, and imposing a toll is in many people’s minds a tax on East and South East Londoners,” he said.
“We need a proper joined up review, looking at river crossings and improved public transport connections east of Tower Bridge, but in a strategic fashion, not piecemeal like the current mayor.”
Khan’s comments leave former environmental campaigner Zac Goldsmith as the tunnel’s only outright supporter in the race for City Hall. At the very least, they reflect his need to win second-choice votes from supporters of Liberal Democrat Caroline Pidgeon and the Green Party’s Sian Berry, who are both opposed to the scheme. The No to Silvertown Tunnel campaign is currently asking supporters to send the two leading mayoral candidates postcards telling them to oppose the plans.
Greenwich is the only affected borough to have continued backing the scheme, despite opposition from rank and file party members and many councillors.
You can contribute to the Enderby Wharf crowdfunding campaign at www.crowdjustice.co.uk/case/cruise-liner. Full disclosure: I’m a founder member of the No to Silvertown Tunnel campaign.
Happy new year. Sorry, back to the cable car again.
If you use public transport in London, 2016 opened with a fare rise – and that included the Emirates Air Line, which slapped 10p on an adult single trip. The annual round of fare rises also kicked off campaigning for May’s mayoral election, with the Greens’ Sian Berry demanding London’s fare zones be axed (Woolwich residents fuming at being stuck in zone 4 take note) and Labour’s Sadiq Khan pushing his plan to freeze fares.
Khan told the Evening Standard he would fund the £450m freeze by scrapping Boris Johnson’s “vanity projects”, with our very own cable car in the firing line.
“I’ll start by ending any further public funding for the Emirates cable car as soon as the contract allows — if that means it closes, then so be it,” he said. “It has been a disastrous waste of money and costs more than £5 million a year to run.”
This is cobblers. The cable car’s operating costs are certainly about £5m – but its popularity as a tourist attraction means it’s making a sum quite near that back in fares. This is a bit like Khan demanding the 177 bus is scrapped because it costs £4.6m each year to run – he’s ignoring what it makes back in revenue.
Indeed, I’m indebted to Mayorwatch’s Martin Hoscik for chasing up the figures with TfL – the accounts show it makes a surplus.
An analysis of Transport for London’s audited accounts show that, instead of receiving a “subsidy”, the scheme’s fare revenue met or exceeded operating costs in each of the last three financial years.
In its first nine months of operation, the period covered by TfL’s 2012/13 accounts, just under two million passengers were carried, generating fares revenue of £6m.
During 2013/14 passengers numbers, which were boosted the previous year by the scheme’s novelty and London’s hosting of the Olympics, fell to 1.5 million passengers with fare revenue of £5m.
Passenger numbers remained flat in 2014/15 at 1.5 million but revenue increased from £5 million to £6 million.
We know that operating costs have fallen – which is why a story last summer that the cable car was losing money fell apart. Transport Commissioner Mike Brown’s most recent report to the TfL board said the Emirates Air Line has made a £1m surplus since it opened.
This doesn’t suddenly make the cable car a brilliant idea – user numbers have pretty much flatlined, and Boris Johnson’s stated aim of it paying its build costs (£16m (£60m minus £36m from Emirates and £8m from the EU)) looks like a tricky proposition.
It’s also certainly so far failed as both a commuter link and a generator of significant extra employment, both justifications used for building it.
But Khan was wrong to have highlighted the operating costs.
The big flaw in the cable car is that £16m that could have gone into, say, improving the botched bus infrastructure on the Greenwich Peninsula (where a pedestrian died yesterday morning) has instead gone into a tourist attraction that sits apart from the public transport system with incompatible fares.
Indeed, as Mayorwatch points out, the Emirates sponsorship contract ties TfL into operating it until 2021, by which time London could be on its fourth mayor. There is a break clause in 2017, but it’d be costly for TfL to break the contract and it would lose a big chunk of the Emirates sponsorship cash.
So the mayoral candidates are stuck with a tourist attraction that seems to just about tick over financially. It’s one to watch – maybe tinkering with fares could boost weekday usage – but with TfL losing all its government grant by 2019, there are bigger things to worry about, like protecting bus services.
Asked to comment on the scheme’s published finances, a spokesman for Mr Khan’s campaign said: “We’ll review it… and the likeliest option is it closing in 2021”.
But Sadiq Khan doesn’t know what the Royal Docks and Greenwich Peninsula will be like in 2021, when the Emirates contract ends. Nor do any of us. I’m not sure whether there’ll be a significant commuter traffic (you’d need a lot of people living on the peninsula and working in the Royals, or vice versa) but there’s clear evidence of plenty of leisure traffic. Closing it would leave London one river crossing down – however flawed it may be, and may leave TfL recording an overall loss.
The mayor in 2021 could sell the cable car, which could guarantee an instant return); could cut opening hours (the current contract mandates opening up by 7am, when hardly anybody uses it); or could go the other way and integrate it into the public transport system (which could cost a bit but most public transport costs a bit).
Or the 2021 mayor could carry on as now, with a new sponsor contract, maybe wiping the build costs once and for all, and leave the issue for few years in the future.
The cable car is an intriguing problem for the next mayor – and how they react to it will tell you a lot about them. What we’ve learned about Sadiq Khan is that he needs some new advisors – fast.
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.
An anonymous hoax emailer has been posing as Greenwich councillor John Fahy in an attempt to get incriminating information about whether or not he leaked a bullying voicemail left by council leader Chris Roberts, this website can reveal.
Fahy was at the centre of controversy last year when Roberts left a foul-mouthed message on his phone threatening him with the removal of his cabinet position in a row over the Run to the Beat half-marathon.
The message was later published by the News Shopper, and featured in a BBC1 Sunday Politics London investigation into Roberts’ behaviour as council leader.
While Roberts was given a written warning over the incident, this website understands Fahy, the victim of Roberts’ threats, was punished twice over the incident. He was given a verbal warning over the leak of the email, but earlier this year he was given a written warning for not saying who the message had been leaked to.
Fahy has previously challenged Roberts for the position of council leader, which led to him being literally airbrushed out of an edition of the council’s weekly Greenwich Time newspaper.
But when the new council returns after the election, this website understands he will challenge Peter Brooks for the deputy leadership. Brooks is Roberts’ current deputy and was selected for the outgoing leader’s Glyndon seat at the last minute. (The leadership will be contested by Denise Hyland and Jackie Smith.)
Now somebody has taken it upon themselves to pose as Fahy, fishing for information about the leak of the voicemail.
On Easter Monday, I received an email from “John Fahy”, reading: “Darryl, they know it… I am not confortable with this situation. We should talk.
Did you keep the recording on your personal email?”
But the mail wasn’t from John Fahy. It came from someone aping his personal email address, using the letter “l” instead of the figure “1”.
And oddly, the IP address in the email header suggested it’d been sent from a computer connected to Portugal Telecom’s network. What was all that about?
Impersonating somebody online is potentially illegal under the Computer Misuse Act. So why would somebody go to the extent of risking breaking the law to try to con me into giving up information about a serving councillor’s personal issues within the Labour Party?
I sought some advice, and a few days later I responded asking “John” to look at a dummy post on this website. It was a crude method – those who read this site via an RSS feed may have seen something odd a couple of weeks ago, which was live temporarily before I changed the address.
None of these companies will be directly connected with this incident. The Facebook references indicate that the link has been shared on Facebook Messenger. Exponential-E provides IT services for small firms, so this could be one of its clients. It’s a sub-contractor to Focus Telecom, which provides IT services for the Labour Party.
Was my response to the fake Fahy seen on a Labour Party computer?
Then I had another go, again asking “John” to have a look at a document (“roberts_email.pdf”) supposedly hosted on another website. The document didn’t exist, but the error logs would show if the address was requested. On May Day bank holiday, it sprang into life.
Someone had clearly wised up to the fact they were being watched. Now, the IP addresses were designed to obscure the sender’s real location, although it appears the same brower was used each time.
But someone had added the words “we know everything” to the address I’d supplied. Hmmm.
A response email came with a small graphics file, too, presumably designed to track me opening the email.
It’s hosted on a free hosting service and difficult to track.
It appears to have been sent from Portugal again, too. Strange.
So for people who claim “we know everything”, why were they doing this? But there was one extra bit of the jigsaw to fall into place.
Back on Easter Monday, Rob Powell, who runs Greenwich.co.uk, received this odd email:
But I never heard anything from “Yasmin” at “Local Health Service”. Guess where the email appears to have been sent from?
Another Portugal Telecom connection. Does this mean the emails were sent from there? Not necessarily – one IT expert I’ve spoken to says some web traffic is sent via there to obscure the sender’s true location.
But this common link between all three emails indicates somebody’s gone to great lengths to try to trick me, and stitch up John Fahy. But why?
Of course, this could have nothing to do with rivalries in the Greenwich Council Labour group, the Greenwich & Woolwich Labour Party or the Eltham Labour Party. But frankly, it’s highly unlikely – somebody seems to know what they’re doing.
Considering Fahy has already been disciplined twice for being the victim of an abusive phone call, it looks like someone decided to break the law to go for a hat-trick.
I wish I’d been able to investigate some more, but I was doing what Labour Party members should have been doing instead of fighting each other – helping with a campaign against the Tory mayor’s Silvertown Tunnel.
The real John Fahy declined to comment when asked.
I’ve sent Labour’s minister for London Sadiq Khan – who last year promised to investigate bullying accusations in Greenwich – general secretary Iain McNicol and London regional director Alan Olive details of what happened.
Khan, McNicol and Olive have been happy to continue to let the Greenwich Council Labour group police itself – despite its witch hunts against whistle-blowers.
Local MP Nick Raynsford, along with Greenwich and Woolwich candidate Matt Pennycook have also been informed. I’ve said I’ll be willing to help with any investigation.
Neither of these five individuals have yet responded.
I’ve also passed on details of this incident to Ray Walker, the Greenwich Labour group chief whip in charge of party discipline under Chris Roberts, and Eltham party secretary, who worked as an IT analyst for the Labour Party for nearly 20 years. He has also not responded.
The incident, believed to have taken place early one morning in 2009, has long been talked about in council circles, but journalists have struggled to stand up the allegations.
But Sunday Politics London’s Andrew Cryan has revealed that chief executive Mary Ney held three meetings over the incident with the cleaner, one which also featured Roberts, but no minutes were taken, and the leader did not apologise.
Barbara Clarke, the cleaner who was allegedly injured by Roberts, died last year. But her son, Jerome Clarke, told Sunday Politics London: “Mum accidentally opened the door on him, not realising someone was there. He woke up in a tantrum, and started shouting at her.
“Mum was all apologetic… [and asked] ‘if you don’t mind I can collect the keys and come back when you’re ready’.
“Again, he just went beserk, went into a tantrum and just threw the keys at my mum. The keys were almost going for her face, she put her hands up to protect herself and the keys smashed onto her wrist. It was sprained and bruised.”
Ms Clarke complained to Greenwich Council, which told Sunday Politics London her account did not tally with her son’s account, but it would not explain how.
But it claimed that Ms Clarke had changed her version of events, saying that she had left her keys in Roberts’ office, and he had tossed the keys to her over the balcony, but she lost her balance after catching them – a version of events her son disagrees with.
“She was upset and stressed and felt nobody was listening to her,” Jerome Clarke told the programme.
Roberts would not appear on camera, but said in a statement he “categorically rejected” Jerome Clarke’s version of events.
The incident has been widely-rumoured for years, but this is the first time the story has been told in public. Earlier this year, this website was passed an anonymous statement reiterating the allegations, but when I tried to stand it up, I hit a wall of silence. Sunday Politics London has been working on the story for some weeks.
Elements of the incident have been hinted at in public. In October 2010, former Liberal Democrat councillor Paul Webbewood once asked Roberts in a full council meeting if he had ever slept overnight in Woolwich Town Hall. He said no.
Most Labour councillors have been reluctant to face the issue.
One who challenged Roberts on the issue changed his tune after he was made mayor. Greenwich West councillor David Grant challenged Roberts for the leadership, telling his colleagues he “wouldn’t be the kind of leader who throws keys at cleaners”.
But since spending a year as mayor in 2012/13, Grant has become one of Roberts’ most loyal public defenders, yelling “cheap!” when a reference was made to his behaviour at last October’s council meeting. Sunday Politics London wanted to film that meeting, but were refused permission by current mayor Angela Cornforth, who also threw out a motion designed to highlight intimidation in the council, asking that it investigate the possibility of choosing a leader by secret ballot.
Labour’s shadow minister for London, Tooting MP Sadiq Khan, told the programme that if any allegations were made of bullying, then they should be investigated.
He told presenter Jo Coburn: “Allegations of bullying are very serious, and if they are made they will be investigated.
“There is no place in politics, or any other way of life for bullying. And if there are allegations, then please – if somebody’s watching this, please make them to the Labour Party.”
But it is unclear what has happened to a standards committee investigation into this, and Greenwich Council is refusing to investigate a possible conflict of interest involving a charity Roberts chairs which is indicated by the voicemail.
Indeed, there are rumours that Greenwich Council’s Labour group, headed by chief whip Ray Walker, has decided to pursue the leak of the voicemail, rather than the bullying behaviour it reveals.
Following Sadiq Khan’s pledge on television today – and Jerome Clarke’s damning testimony – hopefully now councillors will see sense, see beyond their own self-interest, and do something to finally clean up the issue.
5.45pm update: I should point out, of course, that the London Labour Party was first alerted to bullying in Greenwich Council when Lewisham East MP Heidi Alexander referred the voicemail claims to it two months ago. The London Labour Party then passed the issue to the Greenwich Council Labour group – nothing has been heard of the complaint since.
Greenwich residents who want to know more about how the council is handling bullying claims can submit a question to next week’s council meeting by emailing committees[at]royalgreenwich.gov.uk before noon this Wednesday.
The report can also be seen on BBC iPlayer until 15 December. The London edition of the programme can also be seen on BBC Parliament tonight at midnight. Story updated at 3.10pm to include the town hall question.