Andrew Gilligan

Andrew Gilligan: What legacy?

December 15, 2012 by  

I’ve been criticised in a few quarters for never saying anything positive about the Olympics in Greenwich, so let me find something good to say about it now: it’s over. Apart from the bill, of course. And the Games Makers’ Christmas single. Oh yes, and the damage to the park, that place of little importance - parts of which, at the time of writing, look a bit like the Somme.

More about the park later. In the meantime, however, let’s talk legacy. You know how keen I am to realise the full benefit for Greenwich of our Greatest Ever Summer. I will shortly be announcing my new Column Legacy Masterplan Framework for a world-class, 21st-century column, a column aimed at inspiring all SE10 residents to Go For Gold!

By no later than August 2136 (date subject to change), my powerful and dynamic vision will bring about the unparalleled transformation of Olympic-related online commentary. In a true expression of the spirit of the Games, it will totally regenerate grassroots column-writing, creating up to 10 million new hyperlocal bloggers (figure to be confirmed) in vibrant multimedia hubs throughout the Lower Lea Valley. Using only the latest exemplar sustainable word-processing technologies, our columns will deliver a lasting legacy for London of year-round sunshine, free drinks and England winning the football.

The real claims actually being made about the legacy of the Games are, in fact, scarcely less preposterous. This week, in an example of churnalism at its worst, the BBC did a story headlined “Olympic legacy report: 5,000 jobs created in Greenwich.” Alas, both the Beeb piece, and the council report it’s based on, only make clear obliquely that all these “5,000 jobs” were temporary. They were “created” only to disappear again. They no longer exist.

Indeed, it appears that the vast majority of even these “jobs” had a lifespan only slightly longer than the average mayfly’s. I was puzzled by the 5,000 figure: I’d thought that across London, including Stratford, only about 1,000 Greenwich borough residents were involved in building the Olympic venues. And indeed, the council report confirms that figure: 1,177 is the number it gives, plus a further 22 apprentices.

Incredibly, it looks like almost all the others in Greenwich Council’s claimed 5,000 total were even more temporary: staff taken on by Locog only for the period of the Games, that is, two to six weeks. Some of them may even have been volunteers – it’s not clear. Frankly, a fortnight’s work as a hot-dog salesman is not going to be the economic lifeline anyone is looking for.

The actual number of real, permanent jobs created for Greenwich residents by the Olympics is almost certainly nil, or possibly even negative. Careful reading of the report reveals that a much-ballyhooed link with China, under discussion since 2007, has so far produced rather more photo-opportunities and trips to Beijing than it has produced jobs for people in Greenwich.

Away from the fantasyland of councillor junketing, a big part of the area’s real economy depends on tourism – but despite the council’s attempts to spin the Games as “a substantial boost to an already thriving tourism industry,” shopkeepers tell me that trade is very sharply down this year.

That’s hardly surprising, since the centrepiece of the Greenwich tourist “offer” – the park and observatory – was completely closed at the height of the tourist season, and partly closed for the vast majority of the entire year. Several other attractions, including the 02, had reduced access, too. Non-Olympic visitors were explicitly told to avoid Greenwich. And even the Olympic crowds were coralled away from anything resembling a local business.

As I reported back in August, trade in the town centre collapsed at what is normally its busiest time. A couple of town centre businesses have closed and I would not be surprised if others had cut staff.

The rest of the council’s report does the usual trick of claiming as “Olympic legacy” a lot of things that were happening anyway – such as the three new hotels that have opened on Greenwich High Road. Hotels earn their construction costs back over a period of many years. The presence or absence of two weeks of sport cannot possibly have any bearing on the long-term viability of businesses like these.

Then there’s the line that Greenwich businesses secured “£28 million of contracts” with the Olympic agencies and their main contractors. Yes, but the vast majority of that £28 million was our own money, taken from us all in taxes. On a simple population basis, Greenwich taxpayers’ share of the Olympic bill was at least £50 million – in practice it will be more, since there are more higher-rate taxpayers in London than in the rest of the UK - so we actually got less back from the Games than it took from us.

But perhaps the crowning inanity comes with virtually the only real “legacy” project in the whole report – almost the only substantial thing in Greenwich that really wouldn’t exist without the Olympics. Can you guess what it is? No? Well, at a cost of £3.1 million, the council will next year open a new “equestrian and horticulture centre” in Shooters Hill to offer courses in “horse handling” for those who want to get a “career in the industry.” Correct me if I’m wrong, but is this 2012 or 1912? Is there some redoubt, some pocket of hansom cabs and draymen that I’ve missed? Or isn’t the “horse industry” in London these days really quite small?

Ironically enough, part of the site was previously used for one of the few genuine equine enterprises that existed in the “Royal Borough,” pre-Games: the donkey rides that Len Thorne has offered on Blackheath for the last six decades. Mr Thorne was evicted from his traditional pitch, by the Greenwich Park gates, because of the Olympics. Then he found that he was also losing his stables, on Shooters Hill, to the council’s preposterous equestrian legacy project. He died in July, a few days before the Games started, a penniless man, according to his daughter.

The Shooters Hill centre was originally puffed as enabling disadvantaged children to take up horseriding – but a little line in this week’s Greenwich Time says its courses will now only be open to over-16s with “some experience of working with horses.” For its millions, the council is getting only a limited share of the centre’s time – so it could quite easily end up as essentially another middle-class riding school of the kind that exists perfectly happily across the Home Counties without the need for a taxpayer subsidy.

In one final element of the travesty, the centre has been built on what was supposed to be protected Metropolitan Open Land – so the legacy of the Golden Games will actually be less public space in Greenwich for sport and recreation than there was before.

What improvements does Greenwich need for the future? Less traffic, better schools, more jobs? No, silly, what Greenwich needs is less open space, and more horses!

Andrew Gilligan: Market Inquiry: Is It Just A Stitch-Up?

September 20, 2010 by  

Even before the public inquiry into Greenwich Market has finished, the developers who want to knock it down are behaving as if they’ve won.

Look on the website of Bespoke Hotels, the operator of the hotel proposed to replace the existing market buildings – and you will see them describing it as a fait accompli: “Greenwich Market Hotel is set to open in 2013 and will be the centrepiece of the total redevelopment of the market square,” the website says. “The new boutique property… will replace a block of buildings on the eastern edge of the market and will include an additional bedroom block on the upper floors in a new purpose-built property at the centre of the market.”

That raises the serious question of whether the inquiry - with its two weeks of hearings, its mountains of paperwork, its expensive lawyers – is merely a charade. Do Bespoke Hotels know something we don’t? Has a whisper been passed?

Until this disturbing development, opponents of the scheme seemed to have had the better of it at the inquiry. Massed ranks of councillors from all parties lined up to oppose the scheme – one, Maureen O’Mara, saying that it would “tear the heart out of Greenwich.” The council, true to its original, unanimous vote against the plans, has committed resources and people to fight the case that the development should not happen.

Transport – something first identified by this blog – has emerged as a key issue, with the inspector questioning why the developers had submitted no travel plan, as they were asked to by Transport for London, to back up their absurd claim that the new hotel would create no more than 16 extra journeys in the peak hour – with almost all of those people travelling by public transport. Guests arriving at luxury hotels with heavy luggage do not, of course, come by public transport – and there will be up to 200 of them staying each night, not to mention deliveries, staff, restaurant visitors, and so on.

The hotel’s main entrance will be in the middle of the one-way system, causing enormous disruption to traffic as coaches, taxis and cars drop off guests. A new transport objection may be that the hotel’s existence would sabotage the council’s plans to pedestrianise part of the one-way system. That, however, is a much less good argument. Not only would any pedestrianisation scheme be a mistake in itself, but it might actually solve the transport problems caused by the hotel – which could be served without disruption by turning King William Walk into a hotel-only access spur.

Much better to concentrate on the dozens of ways in which the development breaches the council’s own planning policy – the Unitary Development Plan – and the at least two ways it breaches national planning policy guidance.

Interesting, too, that the council’s barrister has focused on the developers’ somewhat sharp practice in reporting the results of its public consultation. As we have noted in the past, true to the finest traditions of “nonsultation,” a large number of respondents who in fact raised significant objections to the proposed design were counted as supporters by the developers. Another piece of alleged manipulation brought up at the inquiry was the developers’ selective use of photographs in their planning application to make the new scheme look more acceptable than it is. Bespoke Hotels describes its new concrete slab as “brimful of character,” which is a pretty clear indicator of the mindset we’re dealing with.

As well as the council and councillors, the objectors included dozens of local residents. Perhaps most interestingly, the developers’ changes to the scheme appear not to have convinced any of the original objectors. The Government’s heritage watchdog, the Commission on Architecture and the Built Environment (CABE), said the revised scheme was still ‘alien’ and the scale of the proposed hotel still ‘dominating.’
While the retention and refurbishment in amended design of the existing roof in place of the previously proposed canopy roof was welcomed, CABE remained concerned that the relationship between the roof and the proposed cantilevering building was still not ‘fully resolved’.

The circular layout of the new central block, CABE said, did not address the needs of the proposed retail units, and along with the amount of hotel accommodation, appeared ‘alien’ in the context of the existing market.

It all sounds quite promising – but then there’s that worrying confidence of the developers. Let’s hope they’re just getting ahead of themselves – and that their arrogance may, as it has all along, prove counterproductive. But there’s still the distinct possibility that this is all a stitch-up.

Andrew Gilligan: Small Shops Under New Threat As Sainsbury’s Comes To Town

August 25, 2010 by  

Greenwich town centre is to get a new Sainsbury’s supermarket, triggering a potential new threat to the town’s remaining independent shops.

The motorbike accessories store in the same Greenwich High Road block as the existing Co-op is closing down. On its windows are statutory notices announcing that Sainsbury’s is applying for an alcohol licence for the premises. The new store – about the same size as the Co-op by the looks of the site – will be the third new supermarket chain to open in recent years, after the M&S Simply Food at the Cutty Sark and the Tesco Metro on Trafalgar Road.

The post-Tesco fate of the other shops on Trafalgar Road – closure for some, reduced business for many - could be a worrying portent of the future. The new Sainsbury’s will be within a minute’s walk of Greenwich’s main cluster of independent food shops – the greengrocer, butcher, cheese shop, fishmonger and general grocery on Royal Hill.

True, these places have managed to cope with the Co-op, for years. But Sainsbury’s stock is likely be more directly competitive with them – more fresh food, more bourgeois comforts and more upmarket stuff than the Co-op – meaning that it’s a more serious threat.

And the competition between the two neighbouring supermarkets may also (temporarily) drive down prices on the basics and staples to an extent which damages Royal Hill. I found last year that the prices of the Royal Hill shops were suprisingly competitive with the Co-op (then Somerfield). If both of the retail behemoths are prepared to sell things at a loss as they battle it out, however, it seems unlikely that the smaller players will be able to compete on price. That could do them great damage.

At the same time, perhaps the most consuming retail issue in Greenwich – the fate of the market - is about to come to a head. Planning permission for Greenwich Hospital’s hateful scheme to knock down the market was refused exactly a year ago. But the Hospital’s appeal against the decision will be heard by a planning inspector at a public inquiry between September 7th and 17th.

Greenwich Hospital’s changes to the scheme – principally keeping, though reglazing, the roof – don’t seem to have convinced anyone. The existing shops will still be demolished and the number of stalls, and the food court, reduced. The site will be dominated by a 100-bedroom hotel.

On Sunday, as we covered on the site, there was a demo against the plans, with the three local councillors handing out leaflets claiming that even the revised proposals “will see the end of Greenwich Market as we know it.” This is true – because the cost of the redevelopment will almost certainly mean that the Hospital will have to raise the rents to a level beyond that which the existing independent traders can afford. Hays Galleria or Spitalfields, next stop!

The cynical view is that the tourists won’t be able to tell the difference. But of course they will – and we most certainly will. The market was so rammed this weekend that, to the rage of passing motorists, the demonstrators had to stand in the road. If it’s turned into a feeble appendage of a 100-room hotel, with added chain-stores, it won’t be anything like as much of a draw to the town.

As well as the local councillors, the influential Commission on Architecture and the Built Environment – the Government’s design standards watchdog- has attacked the revised scheme. In their response to the planning inspector, CABE said the new plans were still ‘alien.” They criticised the proposed layout of the market, the ‘dominating’ scale of the boutique hotel and the detailing of the glazed roof.

They branded as “awkward” the proposed new route from Greenwich Church Street into the market. And they said that the relationship between the roof and the proposed new buildings on either side was still not “fully resolved.”

I’ll be covering the saga of the market and the public inquiry in more detail within the next two weeks. But we should look at the onward march of the supermarkets – a Waitrose and a further Tesco are also rumoured – with just as much alarm.

Andrew Gilligan: Eight days to save the market

July 22, 2010 by  

“You pig,” said the text message on my phone. “You are such a low life. You kill Dr Kelly again, you putzer.”

As you might guess from the somewhat obscure nature of the deadly insult (whatever is a “putzer?” Even the OED can’t tell me) it was another billet-doux from Greenwich’s Favourite Restaurateur, Frank Dowling, showing all the courtesy we have come to expect from his much-loved industrial catering empire.

Frank often reacts badly to criticism. Last year, after I pointed out that some of his most expensive outlets had failed their hygiene inspections, he rang me up to call me a “c***.” My report of this conversation is still the top item when anyone Googles you, Frank!

Let’s wait to see if anyone from Greenwich Hospital sends a rude text after this week’s column. I’ve been looking in detail at the changes submitted to the planning inspector as part of the Hospital’s appeal against the refusal of planning permission last year.

The Hospital – no doubt hoping to head off inconvenient calls for the whole application to be re-run – itself describes its changes as “minor alterations.” They are indeed relatively minor, and therefore change few of the objectionable features of the scheme which led to its unanimous rejection by councillors.

The most significant change is that the existing market roof will be kept, certainly an improvement on the Bluewater/ Stratford Bus Station combo we were promised before. However, the shops at the sides will still be demolished and a large new hotel, rising to four storeys, will still be built. The number of rooms in the hotel has been reduced fractionally (but is still “approximately 100”) and its roofscape profile has been slightly changed by removing louvres from part of the central block.

The overall effect of the changes is to reduce the built footprint of the hotel by just 2.6 per cent – from 5625 square metres to 5477 sq m. The overall built footprint of the scheme will fall by 4 per cent. This still represents a more than doubling of the footprint on the site, an increase in density which lay at the heart of the council’s reasons for rejecting the scheme.
As the council’s decision notice stated, the new build would have “an unbalanced and detrimental relationship with the established urban fabric of the area;” would be “visually obtrusive…to the detriment of the adjacent Grade II listed buildings;” would be “out of keeping with its historic surroundings;” would have “an adverse effect on the Maritime Greenwich World Heritage site in which it is located;” would cause “the overdevelopment of the site and…adversely affect the existing patterns of development;” would “lead to ‘town cramming’;” would “impact on the free flow of traffic;” and would “result in additional congestion and obstruction on the local highway to the detriment of pedestrian and highway safety.”

All these objections are related to the height and density of the hotel, which would poke visibly up above the existing buildings, and none has been significantly changed by the Hospital’s “minor alterations.”

The Hospital continues to make the ridiculous claim that its redevelopment will create only 18 extra person movements per hour, 16 of them by public transport, a proposition rejected by councillors. The proposed hotel alone will accommodate around 200 guests, with the vast majority (since they are carrying luggage) likely to arrive by car, taxi or coach. The hotel’s main entrance is in the middle of the one-way system and will almost certainly cause significant congestion.

Do not for one moment imagine that the retention of the roof should end objections to this scheme. The eviction of traders during the construction period (without enough space in the temporary market for many of them) will drive many out of business. The mix of shops and traders in any new market/ shopping centre is likely to change fundamentally, since higher rents will need to be charged to recoup the cost of the redevelopment. Whatever the Hospital says now, a redeveloped market has a Hays Galleria and Starbucks future.

The law says that the appeal ought to be decided on whether the council properly applied its planning policy, the Unitary Development Plan, and national planning policy guidance. It seems clear that it did. The council said the original market proposals contravened the UDP in ten places, and also breaches national planning policy guidance twice. The amended plans are still in breach of PPG and of at least nine policies of the UDP.

The public inquiry into the proposals will be held on 7 September. You have until 30 July to object to the Planning Inspectorate. The address is: Alan Ridley, Planning Inspectorate, Room 4/02, Temple Quay, Bristol, BS1 6PN.

Andrew Gilligan: Greenwich Market: Hospital may get rid of even more stalls

July 15, 2010 by  

GREENWICH Hospital’s issuing the food stalls in the market with notice to quit has prompted an outcry. But it may be only the first part of the Hospital’s plan to undermine the market in order to clear the way for its redevelopment.

Traders believe that the Hospital’s new managing agents, Nelson Bakewell, are considering adopting a proposal with which they did considerable damage to another market they managed, Covent Garden. After the food stalls go, this website has been told, the Hospital is considering getting rid of all stalls which sell “manufactured” goods. In other words, only people who make their own wares will be allowed to remain. (The second-hand day won’t be affected.)

Between 20 and 40 permanent stalls – out of around 90 – would go, and a similar proportion of the casual traders. A committee may be drawn up to decide which traders are “creative” enough to remain and which need to be ejected.

You can see a sort of purist, idealist logic in this – making it a truly “craft” market. It’s true that there’s a certain amount of tourist-targeted tat in the place at the moment. But in the end it displays a fundamental misunderstanding of the mix that is needed to make a market successful. It also risks quite a seriously large number of empty spaces if the hoped-for creative geniuses do not materialise.

The Hospital has dropped Urban Space, the manager which revived the market to its present pitch of success. Nelson Bakewell, the new agents, have decided, in the words of one source, that what they want from the market is greater “predictability” – of income and takings, which of course also equates to greater predictability of content. Hay’s Galleria, here we come!

“They say they can predict the shops, but not the stalls,” said one source. “They want to look at a spreadsheet and know what’s going to happen, but successful markets don’t work like that. You’ve got to be more flexible and more creative.”

The Hospital and Nelson Bakewell have also parted company with two key people running the market – Shaun Hose, a consultant engaged to draw up a “creative vision” for it after councillors rejected the redevelopment plan last year, and Patrycja Nowak, the market manager inherited from Urban Space. Both resigned over what other sources say was their concern about the direction in which the new management was taking the market.

“I simply do not believe they know what they are doing,” said one person closely involved with the market. “We have been waiting for months for them to tell us what their vision is for the stalls part of the market and we still don’t know. I think the problem is that they don’t know themselves.”

The Hospital not knowing what it is doing would be one possibility. But the other possibility is that they know exactly what they’re doing. I’ll cover the Hospital’s new, revised plans for the redevelopment – now being considered by the Planning Appeals Inspectorate – in more detail in next week’s column. But, just as in the plan that was rejected, it appears – and our sources confirm – the floorspace available for the market stalls and their associated storage will be less than it is now, even without the demands the proposed new hotel is likely to impose on that same, limited floorspace.

Less space implies, of course, fewer stalls. But if lots of the stalls have already been chucked off, they won’t be in a position to complain about the redevelopment. And the quieter the market becomes, the less justification there is for not redeveloping it.

The eviction of the food stalls is blamed by all our sources on Greenwich’s second least-favourite institution, after the Hospital, Frank Dowling’s Inc Group. Dowling – all our sources say – demanded that the food stalls be removed because they were damaging the trade of his pubs and restaurants.

I can quite understand the deadly peril for Frank’s third-rate catering empire of having to compete for business with outlets that might be quite good – though Frank, it should be said, last night denied to me that he’d made any such demand over the food stalls and “didn’t even know” they were going.

But whatever motivated it, the moves on the market appears to be part of a wider agenda. Just as I described in my previous column with the shops, Greenwich Hospital appears to be hollowing out the retail core of the town to reduce resistance to its still overbearing and inappropriate redevelopment plans. As I’ll explain next week, I have a feeling it’s not going to work.

PS – Sorry about the long gap since the last column. I’ve been on holiday – back regularly now!

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