If you’re in central London this afternoon, keep an eye out for a little green bus running in a loop over Blackfriars and Waterloo bridges. It’s Citymapper’s CMX1 “pop-up bus” – three of them are running for a couple of days over a short circular route so the company, which makes one of the best-known transport apps for smartphones, can see how the data it uses and collects interacts with the dirty business of running a bus service. There’s not much money in free apps, so Citymapper is musing on the idea of running buses itself to generate some revenue.
In any case, it’s bloody good publicity. I had a little ride yesterday, and found most of my fellow passengers were Transport for London staff, curious to see what was going on. Citymapper uses TfL data, and TfL is interested to see how it works. Waiting for the bus was a little frustrating – the countdown timings for CMX1 weren’t as accurate as TfL’s for its normal buses – but otherwise, it was just a normal bus ride, beset by dreadful traffic as the afternoon rush hour kicked in. (If you want to ride route CMX1 on its second and final day, hurry – the service is free to use, and runs about every 10 minutes until 7pm.)
Some of the things Citymapper wants to explore with this experiment include “demand responsive” buses (think a bigger version of Dial-A-Ride) and services that can take different routes depending on traffic conditions, which will mean routes without many stops. So don’t expect Citymapper’s buses to be replacing the 53 yet.
But in this part of London, services like this could be useful – we’re seeing lots of new housing, with new residents increasingly expecting to use transport hubs such as North Greenwich, Lewisham (which will explode if the Bakerloo Line comes), Woolwich and Abbey Wood (Crossrail’s just 19 months away). With TfL under serious financial pressure, it’s going to struggle to satisfy this demand. Imagine a Citymapper-style bus that can run when needed from, say, the back streets of East Greenwich (think the new homes around Enderby Wharf) up to North Greenwich station. Or from Shooters Hill and Woolwich Common. It could take different routes to avoid traffic jams, and possibly do the job quicker and maybe more efficiently than the existing services.
But how would this fit in with the existing bus network without chipping away at its simplicity and accessibility? To do all this would mean a change in the regulation surrounding buses to allow them to have more flexible routes. (Even commuter coaches have to specify the routes and alternative routes they wish to use.) Could it pay its way, and would it fit in with the London fares system? We already have riverboats that operate outside the TfL fares system for those who can afford to use them – but having a second range of buses on different fares is unlikely to go down well with regulators.
Lots of questions – and that’s why Citymapper is running the trial. And that’s why TfL staff piled on board yesterday. Citymapper’s next step looks like being a night bus – the Impact Group, the bus company which is working with the app firm, has put an application in to run a service from 9pm to 5am between Highbury & Islington, Dalston, Shoreditch and Aldgate East on Friday and Saturday nights, with options to take different routes if the traffic’s bad or passengers express a preference. (Insert joke about wipe-clean seats here.) You could see something like this working to supplement the Night Tube at locations such as Canada Water or North Greenwich.
It may well be that Citymapper’s playing with buses comes to nothing (at least in London) except a big publicity boost. But it strikes me as something a little more relevant to our immediate needs than the driverless vehicle trials on the Greenwich Peninsula, which are being conducted while traditional networks are struggling. If it ever fancies toying with the commuter market or night passengers, it could find a willing market in south east London.
So the 2017 Tall Ships Regatta is over and the vessels are sailing off to the North Sea. How was it for you? It all seems to have gone well from the little I saw – you may be able to say more.
If you pay council tax in Greenwich borough, you’ve a direct interest in whether or not it was a success – it costs the council £2 million. They’ll have to have shifted a lot of £5 programmes to make that back. Local Tories have long grumbled that the event should be making money and it should be more heavily sponsored. Indeed, the list of sponsors did look like a roll-call of usual suspects – the developers and hotel firms that benefit from “brand Royal Greenwich”. You could have had your firm’s name all over the riverside walk for £19,000 plus VAT.
But for the council leadership this is an investment in local businesses – a good old-fashioned Labour intervention in the economy, like building a cinema in Eltham. (This argument never stretches to Blackheath fireworks, mind.)
The trouble with this kind of one-off event is that it’s hard to quantify any benefit. There’ll no doubt be a report within a few weeks that indicates the local economy benefitted by squillions, so there’ll be lots of back-slapping. Whether or not this is really the case will be harder to tell. That said, it certainly reinforces Greenwich’s position as one of the very few real tourist draws outside central London.
But it’s also meant to draw people to Woolwich, too. And this is a more difficult sell. Indeed, local business there weren’t impressed with 2014’s event, something this website reported on last year.
Essentially, because it takes place on the riverside, it benefits the businesses in Berkeley Homes’ Royal Arsenal development, and does nothing for those in the traditional town centre. A few plans were set out to fix this, including “a joined up event management plan that links the main town centre with the Arsenal Riverside Festival site”, “integrated way finding and high street dressing to link the town centre to the Arsenal Festival site”, and “animation of Beresford Square, Powis St and General Gordon Square”.
A draft business engagement report suggested the council should “host (non-competing) stalls and attractions in General Gordon Square and Powis Street to encourage footfall and dwell time in the main town centre”.
Except that there was – as far as I could tell – nothing outside the Royal Arsenal. I had a quick look in Woolwich on Saturday and – a few bits of bunting aside – it seemed to be a normal day. Nothing happening in General Gordon Square or Beresford Square, just the odd performer in fancy dress avoiding the costly food and drink in the Arsenal. General Gordon Square, with its big screen (pictured above on Saturday), was its usual mildly depressing self.
Instead, all the effort seemed to have gone into social media. Here, cabinet member Sizwe James pleads with us that if we visit the Earl of Chatham pub, his captors will set him free.
Woolwich being a hub for tall ships could be a brilliant thing – but the benefit seems to be flowing towards one particular developer rather than the town as a whole.
Now, I may have missed something – and if you saw a choir of Jack Russells performing sea shanties in front of the big screen, please use the comments box below – but by neglecting the traditional town centre again, I can’t help thinking the council has unwittingly made the divide between Woolwich town centre and the Royal Arsenal that little bit wider.
Anyway, the best place to watch Easter Sunday’s Parade of Sail wasn’t Greenwich, it wasn’t Woolwich, it was the Thames Barrier. If the tall ships return – and I’m sure they will – make a note for next time.
11pm update: Greenwich Council deputy leader Danny Thorpe says “loads happened” in Woolwich town centre “and all over the borough”. I’ve added an image of the report which made recommendations for Woolwich.
9 July update: Here is the latest on this story.
Transport for London could axe bus route 180 between Lewisham and Charlton, according to a document released by Greenwich Council earlier this month.
The service – which currently runs between Lewisham and Belvedere via Greenwich, Charlton, Woolwich, Plumstead and Abbey Wood, could be diverted to run to and from North Greenwich station instead.
The proposal – first reported by From The Murky Depths – is contained in a transport report (see page 26) produced as part of the council’s plans to redevelop the Charlton riverside.
TfL is also looking at reducing the frequency of route 472, which runs between North Greenwich and Thamesmead.
The report, produced by consultants Urban Movement, says the proposals were mooted in a meeting with TfL last month.
It says: “At a meeting with Aidan Daly of TfL Buses on 19.01.17 he suggested that the frequency of Route 472 is proposed to reduce to 7.5 buses per hour in the peaks from its current frequencies of 12 and 10.
“This route would also be extended to Abbey Wood (due to the arrival of Crossrail). Route 180 is proposed to be diverted at Peartree Way to North Greenwich at its existing frequency of 6 buses per hour, no longer serving the section between Woolwich Road and Lewisham. Route 380 would retain the link between Charlton and Lewisham.
“Overall, it is proposed that bus frequency along the Woolwich Road is set to reduce by approximately 4 buses per hour, while the main flow of buses into North Greenwich reduces by 1 bus per hour overall as a result of the 180 being diverted.”
Most users of bus services in the area will find the idea of cutting the 180 to be palpably barmy – particularly with big population increases right along its route. It would reduce services between Greenwich and Woolwich and break a connection between Lewisham and east Greenwich which has existed since the days of trams. Passengers would presumably be expected to take a 177 and change in central Greenwich for a 199, a service which is often heavily delayed by traffic in Rotherhithe and Deptford.
The reference to the 380 being a replacement for the 180 is an odd one, since the 380 runs through Blackheath rather than Greenwich, and follows a different and more circuitous route through Charlton. But then there is also an odd reference in the report to the bus terminal at Charlton station being redundant when it is used daily by short runs on the 472, early-terminating 486s and rail replacement buses.
The bus network around Woolwich and Abbey Wood will face big changes to coincide with the planned start of Crossrail services in December 2018. But this comes as TfL finds its income squeezed on two fronts: the Conservative government in Westminster withdrawing its grant funding from 2018, and Labour mayor Sadiq Khan’s decision to freeze all single TfL fares until 2020. So service expansions may end up being balanced by cuts elsewhere.
Observers have long feared that big cuts to bus services will be on the way; it may be that Charlton, Greenwich and Lewisham will find this out the hard way. TfL is already planning on big changes to 23 routes through the West End, partly as a response to increased congestion.
One Lewisham route has already been subjected to a stealth cut; in November the area’s only direct link to the West End, the 436 to Paddington, was diverted at Vauxhall to terminate at Battersea Park instead.
If this proposal worries you, then you may want to write to your local representatives – particularly those on the London Assembly – to ask them what they are doing about this.
Next year’s Transatlantic Tall Ships Regatta in Greenwich and Woolwich has been hit by news that major engineering works will cancel most National Rail trains in the area that weekend, making it harder for visitors to attend the spectacle.
The event, which is costing Greenwich Council £2 million, will take place over Easter, from 13 to 16 April. It follows 2014’s Tall Ships Festival, which the council says brought 1.1 million visitors to the area, generating a claimed “£17 million of economic activity”.
Between 35 and 40 ships are due to be moored at two sites, in Greenwich and Woolwich, across the weekend. The ships will then sail across the Atlantic and back, with stops in Simes, Portugal; Bermuda; Boston; a to-be-confirmed Canadian port; Quebec; and Le Havre, France.
But visitors will find it much harder to reach the event as the National Rail line through Greenwich will be closed all weekend to accommodate Thameslink Programme rebuilding works at London Bridge station. There will be no service at Deptford, Greenwich, Maze Hill and Westcombe Park stations all weekend, with Charing Cross and Waterloo East closed on Good Friday and Easter Saturday.
According to a report to be presented to Greenwich Council’s overview and scrutiny committee next week, Southeastern is planning to run a miserly two direct trains per hour between Victoria or Charing Cross and Woolwich Arsenal, with an additional service running to and from New Cross, with passengers expected to change for central London trains at Lewisham.
One solution to provide an additional service to central London, which would avoid possible overcrowding at Lewisham station, could be to swap rail services around so the New Cross trains run in and out of Blackfriars instead. This happened during the early stages of the Thameslink Programme closures, but there is no sign that this is being considered.
Buses could also be hit if there is a need for road closures in Greenwich town centre to accommodate expected crowds – but a whole closure of the town centre, which happened in 2014, is being ruled out because of the effects of the cut in rail services.
The report says: “In order to accommodate the crowds expected at the event in Greenwich Town Centre, some temporary road closures may be required.
“Road closures will improve the festival ambience, encourage visitors to use the shops in the town centre, and improve pedestrian safety. The newly available space can be animated with performers and temporary stalls. The proposed closure… is still to be agreed internally and with TfL and other stakeholders.
“Subject to internal and external agreement, the likely road closure will resemble the arrangements made for the successful Greenwich Car Free Day with the addition of Welland Street closed to traffic to accommodate a queuing system for the Cutty Sark DLR station.”
Travellers are to be advised to use Docklands Light Railway services – which will run every five minutes to Greenwich and Woolwich Arsenal across the weekend – and Thames Clippers boats.
Conservative councillors tried to cancel the Tall Ships Regatta last year, saying the money should be used to help vulnerable residents and improve local engagement. Their budget amendment was thrown out after the council’s Labour leadership said the event would help boost businesses in the area.
While most said the event benefitted “Royal Greenwich” (it is not made clear whether this means Greenwich borough or Greenwich itself), 65% of businesses strongly disagreed that the Tall Ships Regatta was a good thing for Woolwich or Woolwich residents, adding that most of the benefits were felt within Berkeley Homes’ Royal Arsenal development rather than the town centre.
The report points out that Woolwich has fewer hospitality businesses than Greenwich, and outlines plans to better link the town centre with the Arsenal complex.
It adds 84% of businesses did not take on extra staff for the 2014 event.
Next year’s festival has also been sluggish at attracting tall ships trainees, who will sail with a ship on the first leg to Portugal. The council originally hoped to attract 179, but estimates have been scaled back after just 39 signed up. Greenwich taxpayers are due to pay for 30 trainees, at a total cost of £27,000, although 31 are paying their own costs.
The report also reveals £20,000 in sponsorship from the controversial London City Cruise Port at Enderby Wharf (whose impact on the environment is discussed in this Radio 4 documentary) and £12,500 from developer U+I, which last week announced major plans to develop part of the Woolwich/Charlton riverside. Intercontinental Hotels is donating a venue (costed at £30,000) for the Captain’s Party, while Charlton Athletic Football Club – currently in turmoil with its own supporters – is also offering The Valley (£1,500) for a crew party.
It also admits some staff working on the event may not get London Living Wage. “All contractors will be encouraged to pay staff working on the event London Living Wage or higher, although the nature of some business sectors, where staff may be sub-contracted, makes enforcing the payment of London Living Wage difficult or impossible,” it says.
Greenwich, Charlton and Woolwich could get direct trains to Luton Airport under plans that are about to go out to consultation.
The plans would see trains seven days a week from Luton to Rainham, Kent, via Blackfriars, London Bridge, Greenwich and Dartford.
More services through London Bridge to north London and beyond will be possible when the Thameslink works are completed in 2018.
It would give passengers at Deptford, Greenwich, Maze Hill and Westcombe Park – who currently rely on trains to Cannon Street – a choice of London terminals after trains to Charing Cross permanently ended in January 2015.
The new lines through London Bridge to Blackfriars will run in between those to Charing Cross and Cannon Street, severing the old connection between Greenwich and the Charing Cross lines (although trains can still run in emergencies).
Trains would also stop at Charlton, Woolwich Arsenal, Plumstead, Abbey Wood and Dartford, but not at Woolwich Dockyard, Belvedere or Erith.
As well as connections to Luton Airport, passengers would also have direct links to Eurostar at St Pancras and Crossrail at Abbey Wood, as well as north-west London destinations at West Hampstead.
The trains would be operated by Thameslink rather than Southeastern, and the consultation is now on its website.
Elsewhere in south east London, Govia Thameslink Railway’s proposals also include increasing the miserly train service through Crofton Park and Catford from two to four trains per hour.
Meanwhile, local MPs have been pressing goverment ministers on the state of Southeastern with little success. Transport minister Paul Maynard couldn’t be bothered to answer a question from Lewisham East’s Heidi Alexander on whether Southeastern would be given new rolling stock in a debate on Thursday morning, although he was more forthcoming when asked for a meeting about Southeastern by the Conservative MP for Bromley, Bob Neill. Pressed by Eltham’s MP Clive Efford, he confirmed all local MPs would be able to attend.
But asked by Greenwich and Woolwich MP Matt Pennycook if he backed plans to devolve SE London’s rail services to TfL, transport secretary Chris Grayling was non-committal, saying he wanted to see proposals from mayor Sadiq Khan first.
1.15pm update: What gets given can also be taken away, and buried away in the full proposals are plans to cut little-advertised direct trains from New Cross Gate to Gatwick Airport and other destinations in Surrey and Sussex, with passengers expected to take slow Overground trains and change at Norwood Junction.
There’s a huge consultation survey, which covers a vast number of changes and makes some peculiar assumptions, available to fill in. The new Greenwich line trains are covered by questions 15, 16 and 31, Catford line in questions 17, 29 and 30 and New Cross Gate cuts in questions 45 and 56.
Greenwich Council has drafted in the UK’s former top civil servant to lead a commission to recommend policies to help it combat poverty in the borough.
Lord Kerslake, who as Sir Bob Kerslake was the head of the Home Civil Service for five years until 2015, will chair the Greenwich Fairness Commission, which will have “a particular focus on tackling child poverty and making Greenwich a fairer place for our residents”.
The council’s decision to launch the commission is an acknowledgement that developers’ investment in the area isn’t trickling down to those who need help – or in Woolwich’s case, across the A206. While unaffordable residential towers sprout up by the Thames, the council report announcing Kerslake’s appointment notes “a sharp increase over the past two years in the number of people presenting to the council as homeless”.
Five other London boroughs – Islington, Camden, Tower Hamlets, Croydon and Redbridge – have already set up commissions, making recommendations aimed at making sure disadvantaged residents have the best chance of improving their lives and getting out of poverty.
For example, Islington’s recommendations aimed to tackle issues such as childcare, literacy, poor health, use of community space, and public safety.
The appointment of Kerslake, who was also the permanent secretary to the Department of Communities and Local Government under Sir Eric Pickles, will no doubt be aimed at hushing grumbles from local Tories that the commission will simply be a stick to beat the government with. One council cabinet member – likely to be community wellbeing member Denise Scott-McDonald – is likely to sit on what is otherwise billed as an independent panel “drawn from the local private, voluntary and further/higher education sectors”.
That said, Kerslake is not an entirely disinterested party – these days, he is chair of Peabody, the housing association which is now redeveloping much of Thamesmead, on the borough’s eastern boundary.
The commission will hold four or five meetings to gather evidence and is expected to cost £20,000. It will report back to the council by the end of the year.
In a separate development, a vital stage in attempting to rejuvenate Woolwich’s fortunes has been reached, with Greenwich Council’s cabinet set to ratify a decision to sell the crumbling block containing Woolwich’s covered market to developers St Modwen and Notting Hill Housing Association to build 650 homes, a cinema and a new public square.
20 months after Marks and Spencer revealed it was closing its Woolwich store, it was revealed last week that it’s returning. But not to the traditional town centre.
It’ll be opening a food store by the new Crossrail station – good news for Royal Arsenal developer Berkeley Homes, but not so good for beleagured Powis Street, where a pound store now occupies the store giant’s old site.
Karl Whiteman, Divisional Managing Director at Berkeley Homes, said: “We are delighted to announce that Marks & Spencer will be joining our development in Woolwich, adding to the growing commercial and cultural offer in the area. Royal Arsenal Riverside is becoming a first rate destination for people to live as well as a place where visitors can shop, eat and relax, surrounded by historic buildings and the River Thames.”
Nothing, of course, about the rest of Woolwich. M&S’s arrival entrenches the growing division of Woolwich into two towns – the struggling one south of the A206, with the rich new one rising north of the dual carriageway.
The job of being Greenwich Council leader demands complete loyalty to Berkeley Homes, and Denise Hyland obliges in its press release announcing the move.
Cllr Denise Hyland, Leader of the Royal Borough of Greenwich, said: “We shared the disappointment of local residents when Marks & Spencer departed Woolwich town centre 18 months ago, and have kept in close contact with the company since then. News that they are to return so soon is a clear sign that they recognise that Woolwich is growing and developing – with the Crossrail link acting as a key driving force in that growth.”
It’s nothing of the sort. If anything, it shows that Woolwich is moving – not east towards Tesco as first envisaged, but north, across the Plumstead Road, leaving everyone else behind. Each evening, commuters scurry out of the DLR through deserted Beresford Market and across the road, without much of a reason to look up and notice the battered old town around them.
Absurd divisions between newcomers and established locals aren’t uncommon in London – try visiting Brixton or Peckham. But the Woolwich of 2016 is even more unsettling because the newer arrivals are tucked behind a big brick wall. Once Crossrail opens, how many will be crossing the A206 at all?
How to fix it? Hyland herself floated a dramatic solution at a public Q&A held before Christmas – burying the A206 into a tunnel at Beresford Street.
But there appear to be simpler solutions – the rotting covered market could become home to a Lewisham Model Market-style venture (gentrification fears notwithstanding), new traders could be encouraged to diversify the traditional Beresford Square market.
Instead, though, the council seems to be reinforcing the divide, with propaganda weekly Greenwich Time regularly droning on about the “creative quarter” it is trying to create inside the Arsenal, filling the hole left by the failed Firepower museum. (This council press release talks about putting the area “on the map”, but doesn’t name Woolwich until the seventh paragraph.) With old buildings lying empty around Woolwich town centre – and the Woolwich Grand Theatre now rubble – opportunities to bring creative businesses to the area already exist. But they’ve just been ignored.
There’s no help from City Hall, either – there’s no interest from TfL in rezoning Woolwich Arsenal to zones 3/4, despite successful lobbying from Newham to get Stratford and nearby stations shifted to zones 2/3. If an incoming mayor freezes fares, it’ll reduce the scope for a similar move to be done to benefit Woolwich.
There’s also now an opportunity for new thinking on Powis Street itself. Around the time M&S pulled out of Woolwich, most of the freeholds around the town centre were sold by the secretive Powis Street Estates. They are now owned by investment firm Mansford, which promises “refurbishment” and “residential development”. What Mansford does with its estate will be worth watching – and will show if the decline is terminal, or if there’s life in old Woolwich yet.