Council’s town centre car parks are south London’s most expensive

December 21, 2012 by  

Burney Street Car Park

GREENWICH town centre now has the most expensive council-run car parks in the whole of south London, research by Greenwich.co.uk has found.

The council almost doubled charges in its three town centre car parks at Cutty Sark Gardens, Greenwich Park Row and Burney Street in 2011.

Visitors now pay a minimum of £2.50 an hour to park. Councils in neighbouring Bexley and Lewisham charge just £1.00 and £1.40 respectively.

Greenwich Council intends to raise its parking charges again to £2.70 an hour next year.

Use of Greenwich town centre car parks has dropped by around 40% as a result of the new charges, with just 13% of visitors now coming into town by car.

Visitors also spend far less than in other nearby town centres. A study by TfL found that people spend an average of just £20 per visit in Greenwich compared to £31 per visit to Woolwich, £33 per visit to Bexleyheath, £39 per visit to Bromley and £48 per visit to Croydon.

Just 26% of those surveyed say that they come to Greenwich to shop. This is lower than any of the other 14 London town centres in the study.

Our research found that it is now cheaper to park in parts of central London than Greenwich, with Southwark Council charging just £1.50 an hour for its car parks.

Only one other council-run car park has a higher hourly charge in South London. Buckner Road car park in Brixton has an hourly charge of £3. However, unlike Greenwich, visitors are able to pay to park for less than one hour, with prices starting at just 20p.

Research by the Conservative group on Greenwich Council found that the number of parking hours paid for in Greenwich town centre car parks dropped between 37 and 42 per cent since the charges were raised.

Meanwhile parking revenues have only increased by relatively modest amounts. In Greenwich Park Row car park, the council have increased takings by just 10% despite raising charges by over 90%.

Greenwich council admitted earlier this year that the new charges have raised less than half of the extra revenue they expected.

The Leader of the Conservative group on Greenwich Council Spencer Drury said today the cost of parking was hurting local businesses:

“Raising parking charges in Greenwich has clearly reduced the number of people travelling to the town centre by car. Many people I speak to are actively choosing to go elsewhere as a result of the expense of parking in Greenwich, for example with many watching films in Bluewater rather than the wonderful Picture House because it costs an extra £10 to park in Burney Street as opposed to nothing out of town.

"With the Olympics reducing car visits still further, the Council must not put charges up any more in 2013, as I think any potential gains in revenue from parking will be lost with lower business rates as shops lie empty."

The latest census showed that car ownership has dramatically dropped in London over the past ten years, with many more people now using public transport.

However, TfL found that fewer people use the bus to visit Greenwich than all but one other London town centre, with visitors highlighting “less traffic” as the main priority for improvement in the area.

The council today defended the increased charges, saying that they “compare very reasonably with other key destinations in London.”

A spokesperson told Greenwich.co.uk:

“Greenwich Town Centre is in a World Heritage Site and is one of London's biggest tourist destinations. We therefore have to very carefully manage parking within the town centre and part of this is to set charges accordingly. Parking charges within the town compare very reasonably with other key destinations in London.

"The town centre also benefits from excellent public transport links - DLR, rail, river and bus access, which we would encourage residents and visitors to use to travel to our renowned shops and attractions.”

Asked whether they will proceed with plans to raise charges again in April, the spokesperson said they would be “happy to review” the charges and “discuss the implications with traders.”

Greenwich fire stations threatened with closure

September 26, 2012 by  

FIRE stations across Greenwich borough could be closed under dramatic cost-cutting plans by the London Fire Brigade.

The Mayor of London Boris Johnson has instructed the brigade to save £65 million over the next two years. Up to 30 stations, 30 fire engines and 840 jobs across London are now under threat.

Greenwich borough is a particular target for cuts according to an internal report leaked to Greenwich.co.uk. Members of the London Fire authority were told recently that:

"One appliance stations are an expensive way of providing the service… In Greenwich, it costs some £940k pa more [than similar boroughs], because it is delivered mostly from one-appliance stations"

Greenwich, East Greenwich, Eltham, Woolwich, and Lee Green fire stations are all currently run with just one fire engine. Only Plumstead fire station has two. By contrast Bexley has just three fire stations covering the whole borough.

Under a proposal being considered by the brigade, only one-appliance stations will be targeted for closure.


Excerpt from leaked document

Any closures could significantly increase the time it takes firefighters to reach incidents in the borough. According to internal brigade statistics, response times for two-appliance stations are up to three times longer on average, than for areas covered by single-appliance stations.

The proposals have reignited fears of strike action. A spokesperson for the Fire Brigade Union told Greenwich.co.uk:

"It is very difficult to see at this stage how they will be able to carry out such deep cuts without compromising public safety and reducing the level of fire cover in parts of London. When it comes to fire, seconds count, and quick response times are crucial. If we believe any proposals would jeopardise the safety of Londoners, we will do everything in our power to resist their implementation.”

Asked about station closures earlier this month the Mayor’s chairman of the Fire Authority James Cleverly pointed out that the number of fires across London has dramatically reduced in recent years. Over the last 12 years the number of fires in London has fallen from 48,000 a year to just 27,000.

A spokesperson for the London Fire Brigade said today:

"Like virtually every other public service, the brigade is facing the need to make savings. The Mayor has given a target for these savings, and we are considering our response to this. All options are being considered but no decisions have yet been made.”

A full list of stations threatened with closure will be released in November.

UPDATED

Nick Raynsford MP provided this comment in response to the story above:

"As the Government's austerity programme bites harder, it is clear that serious spending cuts are being considered at City Hall affecting the Metropolitan Police Service and the London Fire Brigade. These could well have a disastrous impact on front-line services, including the downgrading of Neighbourhood Police Teams, the loss of fire appliances and closure of Police and Fire Stations.

While not opposed to efficiency savings which have no adverse impact on public safety, I will be scrutinising very closely any proposals which could increase the risk of harm to the public through crime, fire or other emergency, and will strenuously oppose and such cuts that threaten the safety of Greenwich and Woolwich".

Late for school: Halstow reception classes delayed by a week

September 6, 2012 by  

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Parents at a local primary school have reacted furiously after they were given “insanely short notice” that their children could not begin school at the start of term.

Parents of children in the new reception classes at Halstow Primary School in Halstow Road were told just two days ago that work on a new school building had overrun. They will now have to start a week later than other pupils.

The children had been due to begin their first day at school today.

Executive Head Mary Whitehead told parents: "I am sorry to inform you that I have had to take the decision to delay the start of term for reception children by one week... The new building is nearly ready but the flooring and toilets are not fully completed. I can only apologise for the late notice and the inconvenience this will cause. Please be assured this decision was not taken lightly and my only consideration has been that your child starts Halstow in safe and organised surroundings."

One angry parent told Greenwich.co.uk: "I was absolutely stunned when I received the email. The school had assured us that the building work would definitely be finished in time and that even if it was not, that alternative accommodation could be found for the children. This is a big inconvenience.

"I spoke to another parent yesterday who was in floods of tears about it. They have only just got back from holiday and now they are going to have to tell their boss that they need another week off at insanely short notice. The children are also very disappointed. I am not happy at all about the way Halstow has handled this. How can we be sure it will even open next week?"

A newsletter sent to parents in July promised that all renovations would be completed over the six week summer holiday. A source at the school explained that electrical works had overrun meaning that they had no choice but to delay the start of term for some children.

Halstow’s website today made no mention of the delayed start.

The school’s management were contacted for comment yesterday but had not responded by the time of publication.

Car parking charges “driving people out of the area”

July 23, 2012 by  

Burney Street Car Park

Greenwich Council has been accused of "literally driving people out of the area" after it was revealed that significantly fewer people are now using town centre car parks, following big increases to parking charges.

Last year the cost of parking in Greenwich town centre was almost doubled from £1.30 to £2.50 an hour. Parking permits and on-street parking charges were also dramatically increased in an attempt to make an extra £1.1 million a year.

However, last week officers told the Overview and Scrutiny Committee that the council had actually netted less than half this amount. They claimed that this was mostly due to delays in implementing new charges in Eltham and Old Dover Road.

However officers admitted that the number of tickets sold at off street car parks was also significantly down from previous years, suggesting that the increased charges are keeping people away.

The council intends to raise charges even further to £2.70 an hour next year.

Councillor Alex Wilson, recently elected as Deputy Leader of the Conservative group, told Greenwich.co.uk:

"If you increase charges to this extent then you are going to literally drive people out of the area. They will happily pay a pound extra in petrol to drive somewhere like Bluewater because they can park there for free. And one of the things about it is that you have to pay for a whole hour, so if you want to stay for an hour and 15 minutes then that's £5.00. That has to have an impact."

Wilson warned that the Council may end up actually losing revenue overall, when government plans to give local authorities 50% of business rates go through.

Officers said that they have not conducted any studies into the impact of the increases on local businesses. However, they insist that many shoppers may simply be using public transport instead.

Figures released to this website last year showed that the council had made only modest increases in revenue following the increases.

The figures released last week show that increased charges for off street parking raised the council just £71k extra last year, half of what they had expected.

The council believes that expected parking revenue could fall further once the huge new Tesco development is completed in Woolwich later this year.

The committee were also told that increases to parking permit costs may be causing more residents to pave over their front gardens. Officers warned that this could increase the risk of flooding in some areas.

Front garden dumping on the increase

More and more people are dumping large items like mattresses and sofas in their front gardens, following sharp increases in collection charges.

Last year the council raised “special collection” charges from £4 to £7 per bulky item. Labour councillor Hayley Fletcher told the Overview and Scrutiny Committee:

"I've noticed an increase not only in fly tipping but also in the number of residents who are leaving these items in their front gardens and not having them collected and some parts of my ward it is quite an eyesore. And maybe what we could go away and consider is the environmental impact, because you're talking about an increased number of people who are all going to community sites rather than one van going around and collecting these items."

Committee chairman Mick Hayes suggested that the increased charges may have been a mistake:

"Big concerns were raised at the time that whatever we raised from extra charges might be offset in other ways by additional fly tipping but we were in a position where we had to make x amount of savings and really what's happened is for members need to bare in mind when we consider increasing charges in future."

London Assembly candidate interviews: John Russell

May 1, 2012 by  


John Russell (Photo: © Vijay Naidu)

“If I was a young black man I would hate the police” says John Russell, Liberal Democrat candidate for the London Assembly speaking to Greenwich.co.uk last month.

“I would hate the police because I would know that I was ten times more likely to get stopped and at the moment we have black kids dying and to be honest about it because they’re not white and middle class they’re not seen as important. They’re not as important. If we had same number of killings happening against upper class white kids there would be outrage.”

John Russell is young, passionate, articulate, and outspoken. Maybe a little too outspoken. As I begin my interview with him we are suddenly joined by one of his party colleagues who I get the distinct impression is here as a minder.

As our companion looks on I ask John how he feels about the Liberal Democrats being in coalition with the Conservatives.

“I’ve had issues with the coalition on a personal level. I think a lot of Liberal Democrats have struggled with it. Not very many of us ever saw being in coalition with the Tories. Personally I find the Tories abhorrent in the main.”

Abhorrent?

“Look nobody who stood in London signed up to the coalition agreement. We are going to be to the left of that and it was very clear from the start”

It’s true that London Liberal Democrats have distinguished themselves from the party nationally. On the London Assembly they regularly attack the Mayor from the left, have formed a coalition with the Green Party and Labour, and their manifesto was described as “a properly liberal and progressive agenda” by the Guardian. Yet they have also campaigned against things which are arguably a direct result of cuts made by their party nationally. How does John manage to square those two things?

“It can be difficult. You can’t be in government and completely ignore everything you’re doing in government. The London elections are on London issues so that’s my focus. Obviously we only managed to get 23% of the vote and we’ve managed to get three quarters of our manifesto implemented in government. Obviously the economy was a mess. Obviously Labour left us in a terrible state. Obviously horrible difficult challenging decisions have had to be made and obviously that’s had an impact on Londoners.”

The Lib Dems have traditionally been a party of protest, picking up seats against whichever party happens to be in government at the time.

With that role taken from them, they have instead focused relentlessly on local issues. In this part of London that has meant campaigns on the closure of the Greenwich and Woolwich foot tunnels, and a campaign to highlight how much the council has spent on becoming a Royal Borough.

“I do think it was over the top. I have no issue with Greenwich becoming a Royal Borough. What I do have an issue with is the fact that they have been so secretive and have suddenly found such a lot of money. And for the ordinary resident in Greenwich, they got a fireworks display, there was a weekend where lots of lovely things were done, but generally a lot of people thought that it was a three day celebration for councillors, for people in power. And actually I don’t particularly get the sense walking around Greenwich that the average citizen thinks that money was well spent or particularly beneficial to local people.”

As part of this campaign John has attempted to get full costs for the celebrations from Greenwich Council. The council restricts public questions at full council meetings to two per person, and they can only be asked by residents of the borough.

In March, John tweeted:

"I have been putting in questions. 11 this time. They will not let me put in questions in my name as I live in Lewisham!"

Wasn’t this a misuse of council resources in order to further his election campaign?

John’s colleague jumps in: “it’s true that there’ve been a miraculous number of questions from the gallery which may or may not have been Liberal Democrats.”

So was John using assumed names I ask again?

“No” comes the reply from our companion.

“There’s nothing wrong with me putting in a question is there?” says John to his colleague, now looking a little worried, before quickly recovering himself:

“I work with local members so that I can get answers and where I can’t do that I put in Freedom of Information requests. I’m not writing questions and they’re going in verbatim I’m raising issues with Greenwich members and encouraging them to use the avenues available to them as Greenwich citizens to raise questions and I have absolutely no issue with that.”

Any protest votes in this election that John does manage to get will be against the Labour incumbent Len Duvall. I ask him what he makes of Duvall’s record as Assembly Member.

“Look I’m not into personally attacking other politicians that’s just not where I come from. I don’t think Len is the worst politician. I certainly don’t think he is the best. I think Len is very busy with certain projects, whether that’s his land company that he’s on the board of, or whether it’s being chair of the London Labour Party. To be honest in my canvassing in Lewisham and Greenwich I have not come across a single person who knows who he is yet.”

Would that be something he would change?

“Yes. One of the things that upsets me is that the Assembly is over ten years old. Nobody knows what it does. Nobody knows who their local member is. Nobody knows how the voting system works. Nobody knows what its powers are. Nobody knows what it does. And whoever is on the Assembly next time what we really need is to tell Londoners what it is, what it does, how it affects their lives and how they can engage with it. And frankly it’s appalling after ten years that every voter I talk to still has no idea.”

Is Duvall partly to blame for that?

“Look on Len’s website, actually he doesn’t have one, but look on his London Assembly site. Have a look at when his last press release was. He doesn’t have a website. He does a little bit of tweeting. He’s never produced a leaflet outside of election times. He doesn’t do much to stay in touch with voters. Frankly I don’t get the sense from Len that he’s fired up, that he’s passionate, that he cares, that’s he’s spending all day every day working to make improvements to Lewisham and Greenwich. I was a councillor in Lewisham for four years and he rarely got involved in issues. He wasn’t there on the ground.”

Another big issue for John locally is the Olympics. Although the party officially supports having the games in London, John is critical of many aspects of it:

“I’ll be honest with you against my party’s policy I’m not a huge fan of the Olympics. The Olympics are here. They’re happening. I think it’s great that Greenwich has Olympic venues but the security issues and the impact on the local citizens raises a whole host of questions. My primary concern is about the security impact of placing missiles in Oxleas Wood and Blackheath. Obviously the Olympics are a terrorist target and the government need to work with security personnel to make sure that citizens are safe during the games, but step back and look at what’s happening.

“We have more troops than we have in Afghanistan. We have the largest ship in the Royal Navy docked at Greenwich. We have surface to air missiles in three sites in London presumably with the power to shoot down any single aircraft of any type straight into central London airspace and this is a worry for residents. And I think that the military and the government need to be clearer and more open in communicating with residents so that they know what is happening and why it’s happening.”

Surely it’s better to be safe than sorry I ask him? What exactly is he worried about?

“I understand that the people guarding those missiles are unarmed and I’m actually worried that they’re going to end up in terrorist hands. What happens if there is an attempt to capture those missiles?”

It’s certainly an alarming prospect and one that John will have a chance to put to the organisers directly if he is elected. Why should voters choose him?

“At the end of the day what matters when you’re elected is not what party you’re from but do you talk to normal people, do you work hard, do you have sensible ideas, are you diplomatic and if you can tick all those off then you’re going to make a difference and if you can’t then you won’t. For me as a candidate in Lewisham and Greenwich that is what I aspire to do. To work hard, to be an effective politician and to improve the lives of people who live in the two boroughs.”

Elections to the London Assembly take place on May 3rd. Get more information from London Elects.

You can read our interviews with Green Party candidate Roger Sedgley and Labour’s Len Duvall here.

London Assembly candidate interviews: Roger Sedgley

April 30, 2012 by  

I meet the Green Party’s London Assembly candidate Roger Sedgley at his award-winning architect’s practice in Greenwich. A long term resident of both Greenwich and Lewisham, Roger is dismayed at the quality of many of the recent developments in the area.

“I think it’s a real shame” says Sedgley talking about the buildings recently unveiled at Greenwich Pier. “It’s just corporate architecture. I’m very disappointed with it. I was sitting in the Old Brewery the other day looking at it and I just thought this is a glorified McDonalds or Frankie and Benny’s, or whatever it is. I think it’s a real missed opportunity.”

Sedgley points to the resurrected plans to build a hotel above the town centre market:

“The idea of putting a prestigeous hotel above the market just seems unnecessary. It’s trying to force something into a space where it just doesn’t fit. I think a lot of the way architecture is commissioned is very commercially led and so often in this country they go for the lowest common denominator. Everything has to be built as cheaply as possible”

Sedgley is more enthusiastic about the cable car currently being built on the Peninsula by the Mayor Boris Johnson. Wasn’t that originally a Green Party idea?

“It may well have been a Green Party idea but it was certainly [this company’s] idea. We entered a competition back in the 90’s organised by the University of Greenwich to celebrate the Millennium and our proposal was for a dome on the Peninsula and a cable car from the top of the General Wolfe statue down to the dome. So I think the notion of a cable car is a nice idea. It’s very expensive but it’s going to be built so let’s enjoy it.”

Somehow I suspect that building a cable car through the centre of Greenwich Park would have been even more controversial than plans to hold the Olympic equestrian events there have been. Was Roger in favour of those?

“No. The whole thing is just sad. Unfortunately there’s nothing we can do about it now so there’s no point me saying “it should be stopped” because it can’t. I think the way that Locog handled their relationships with local people was dreadful and I think people are right to be concerned about the park. If trees are being cut down rather than being gently pruned then I think they’re right to be alarmed. And I play cricket in the park and we can’t play up there now. It’s a shame. A great sadness.”

When the Olympics do come to Greenwich, all eyes will be on the park and the town centre. What about the rest of the borough?

“The south east is a forgotten part of London and if you look at something like Time Out the listings magazine, it’s almost as if it doesn’t exist and I think it’s really sad because I think it’s one of the best parts of London to live in. So the council’s planned DLR extension is a great idea. I’m absolutely in favour of it. It’s a logical way to link Eltham to the rest of the world. And these are the kinds of things we should be investing in, not just clogging our roads with more tunnels.”

Unlike the Labour and the Conservative candidates, Sedgley opposes all plans to build any new road crossings across the Thames:

“There’s a famous line in traffic planning that says if you build it the cars will come. You build something and it gets filled up immediately.”

But the roads approaching Blackwall Tunnel are already blocked up with cars pumping pollution into the air. How can we deal with that exisiting situation?

“It’s about getting the motorist to pay a greater share to use the roads to pay for the problems they cause and to invest in better public transport.”

Sedgley seems well versed on local issues. But when I ask him about the specifics of his party’s policies, his knowledge seems far sketchier.

One long-term idea proposed by the Greens is a London-wide “pay as you drive” scheme which would track drivers via satellite and charge them accordingly. In the meantime the party plans to introduce a “gas guzzler” charge on higher polluting vehicles. I ask Roger how much people would expect to pay:

“I will have to come back to you with the facts and figures. £13 seems to stick in my mind. I’ll have to come back to you on that one.”

And what about fares. The Green’s mayoral candidate Jenny Jones insists that she could cut transport costs as well. How would she pay for that given the cuts to TfL’s budget?

“I’ll have to come back to you because I can’t remember exactly what it is in the manifesto and I can’t remember exactly how we’re going to pay for it. It has been costed though and it can be justified.”

Given that these are two of the central planks of his manifesto, it is pretty surprising that he hasn’t got a response. I move on to ask Sedgley what he thinks of the current Labour incumbent Len Duvall:

“I’ve had quite a bit to do with him. I came across him a lot when he was leader of Greenwich Council and he never really inspired me or impressed me. I met him a few times at Labour Party meetings. He’s just a lifer really isn’t he? He’s there. He doesn’t have a very high profile. You don’t ever hear too much about him. I mean what does your Assembly Member do for you? It’s not like your constituency MP or your local councillor. Can you go and knock on their door and ask them to do things for you? I suppose you can.”

These are questions commonly asked by Londoners, with polls showing that only a minority can describe who their Assembly Member is, and what they do.

But for one of the candidates for the job itself to be asking these questions is slightly more worrying and suggests that whoever wins this week has got a lot of work to do.

Elections to the London Assembly take place on May 3rd. Get more information from London Elects.

London Assembly candidate interviews: Len Duvall

April 26, 2012 by  

Len Duvall campaigning in Woolwich

“I’m not exactly high profile in the media” says Len Duvall speaking to Greenwich.co.uk earlier this month.

“I will enter the media if I feel like I have to, and no disrespect to my colleagues, but the job is about more than getting your name in the papers or the party’s name in the papers.”

If Duvall wins next month then he will begin this fourth term as the London Assembly Member for Greenwich and Lewisham. But despite being in the job for over a decade, many people in the area will struggle to name him.

Like long-serving Greenwich MP Nick Raynsford, Duvall is a quiet operator who seems more interested in getting on with the job than becoming a political celebrity.

But it is Duvall’s dedication to that job that is now being questioned by his opponents, some of whom have criticised his role as director of developers Tilfen Land.

Tilfen have extensive business in Greenwich Borough and his position there was the subject of a complaint to City Hall by one former Greenwich Liberal Democrat councillor. The complaint was ultimately resolved in Duvall’s favour:

“Anyone who knows me knows that I have been very scrupulous about those interests. I’ve never lobbied for Tilfen Land in terms of Greenwich Council and I’ve kept away from that. There’s one particular liberal Paul Webbewood who’s made a number of accusations against me on a whole number of issues that have been odd over the years. Good luck to him but I always say if you’ve got something then it should be investigated. I’ve got nothing to hide.”

Duvall is chair of the London Labour Party, and the party’s candidate Ken Livingstone has attacked Boris Johnson for being a “part time Mayor.” Is Duvall a part time Assembly Member?

“Look, I spend roughly ten to twelve days a year on Tilfen Land and not even whole days. That’s my other interest. I also do voluntary work for Firepower, the Royal Artillery Museum Trust. I don’t regard that as part of my role. I do that because my dad and my grandad were gunners. But if that’s the only thing my opponents can say about me then I’m not particularly worried.”

Livingstone has promised that he will not do any other outside jobs if he is elected as Mayor. Shouldn’t Assembly Members make the same pledge? “This job isn’t going to last forever. I do need to keep in touch with the world outside of politics.”

Duvall points to his role in securing the Cutty Sark DLR station as evidence of his commitment to the borough and says that he has been “humbled” by the responses he has received on the campaign trail.

“There is nowhere where we have not been to. There has been activity in all wards and I enjoy campaigning. It keeps your feet on the ground listening to people and not just your own supporters.”

The polls show that while Labour are likely to win more seats on the London Assembly, they will struggle to unseat the Conservative Mayor Boris Johnson.
Duvall is highly critical of Johnson’s decision to cancel the proposed Thames Gateway Bridge at Gallions Reach, but he says he is in favour of the mayor's alternate proposal, a road tunnel at Silvertown.

“I am in favour of having both the Silvertown crossing and the Thames Gateway Bridge. It’s better to keep vehicles moving rather than being forced to make long unnecessary detours. We cannot continue as we are.”

Duvall admits that his support for these crossings "will not be popular." Nor will his insistence that both Blackwall Tunnel and any new crossing should be tolled:

“I can’t see in this current period of time with the government’s attitude to infrastructure investment how we can do this without tolling and I think Boris is being disingenuous by not saying that these are going to have to be tolled.”

But couldn’t new crossings be funded by private investment and sponsorship like the Mayor’s new cable car on the Peninsula?

“We were told that the cable car was going to be all paid for by the private sector at one stage and it’s ended up that the public sector are going to have to pay for most of it And Emirates seem to have got a very good deal. Their contribution has fallen far shorter than what was promised.”

Will he be jumping aboard later this year?

“It’s a thing I would take my grandson on. It’s not a thing I would consider using unless I was going to the Excel Centre direct. If it was going to Canary Wharf then maybe that would be different. I could have seen people using that then as an alternative to jumping on the tube or bus. But I’m just not sold on it as being a strategic part of the transport infrastructure. It’s laughable.”

Duvall was the former leader of Greenwich Council. I ask whether he supports the campaign being led by Labour councillor Rajwant Sidhu to return to a committee system.

“I worked with the committee system and campaigned against it. There’s good and bad elements to both structures but the committee system wasn’t that wonderful. That said, I think there are issues with transparency with the current system which is why I’m in favour of councils moving to directly elected mayors instead.”

Should the council continue publishing the Greenwich Time newspaper, despite new government guidelines discouraging such papers. How does this help with transparency?

Duvall admits that “the style of Greenwich Time does cause some controversy” but insists that it has “done some excellent work post riots.”

“When I was leader we didn’t have it on a fortnightly basis, but I do like Greenwich Time. I don’t see it substituting local newspapers and I think we’re very lucky in Greenwich and Lewisham to have the Mercury, South London Press and the News Shopper, albeit they’ve all done stories that you would balk at.”

One newspaper that Duvall has regularly balked at is the Evening Standard. At the last mayoral elections, the paper campaigned vigorously against former Labour Mayor Ken Livingstone, leading to charges of bias.

Following a change in ownership, the paper promised that it would be far more balanced in it’s coverage with sources close to Livingstone insisting that they were promised a “fair crack of the whip” at this election.

Duvall does not believe that they have received one:

“Sometimes you get the press you deserve” says Duvall after another week in which the paper has splashed with damaging front pages for Labour's mayoral candidate.

“But sometimes you look for a fair level playing field and I don’t want to attack individual journalists but there have been some occasions when I think the scrutiny of Boris over the past four years, I think they pulled their punches and other occasions they did a reasonable job. And why do I say that? Do I only want to see the negative stuff about Boris? No. I just want to see a level playing field. And of course it’s right that if they think the Mayor has done well on certain issues and they want to give him some column inches, but there have been some interesting stories which others thought were worthy of prominent coverage. How comes the Standard didn’t? That’s the charge.”

“There was the pension scandal at Visit London. There was the failure of the young black mentoring project. Where was the Standard there? They were crusading on that issue four years ago and then nothing. I think these have been news stories that would have been of interest to their readership and there was an editorial decision to suppress them.”

I’m interviewing Duvall soon after the paper's owner told the Leveson Inquiry that he is a personal friend of Boris Johnson. It’s new editor Sarah Sands is also reportedly a close family friend of the Johnson’s. Does he think that this has been a factor in their coverage?

“I think Leveson will be dealing with some of these relationship. Look, when [Lebedev] took over, the Evening Standard said that it would be goodbye to the biased coverage they had in the past. They said it. It wasn’t me saying it. They said it. Have they stood by what they said at the time? I don’t think so. I’m not going to go to war with them. It’s their choice but could they be a bit fairer? Yes. We dust ourselves off and I’m certainly not attacking individuals. I think there’s either a culture thing or an attitude issue there. Maybe friendships are more important than political ties. Who knows?”

For a politician who claims that he doesn’t engage with the media very often, this seems like an extraordinary intervention.

Len Duvall on…

The closure of Blackheath Bluecoat School:

“It might well be controversial for the folk there but actually some drastic action needed to be taken, and I think you could argue that it should have been taken much earlier. We’ve worked with supporting the diocese and there may well be another Blackheath Bluecoat school emerging elsewhere but for those arguing to retain it, they’ve got to realise that the finances just didn’t stack up and it was killing the other schools by taking money away from them. And educationally it hasn’t served people well. It is a hard thing to confront. It’s not taken lightly. We don’t get out of bed to take these kind of difficult decisions that cause so many people worry and consternation.”

Preparing for the Olympics in Greenwich

“The conversation between TfL, Locog, the council and locals now needs to become much more public. Not a whispering campaign for the chosen few. We need some very good publicity to enable the public to plan.”

Breakdowns in Blackwall Tunnel:

“They’ve got a new system of removing the breakdowns which I think is working well which means they’re getting out the breakdowns much faster. I don’t think they’ve got the penalties right. Many of these vehicles breaking down are from big companies. They’re not single self-employed people. They’re big companies who should know the rules and are taking a chance. I think we should increase the penalties for recovery and if necessary impound their vehicles for a day. Let them have the inconvenience as we have to suffer the inconvenience.”

On Jubilee Line delays:

“TfL have identified the Jubilee Line as being most at risk of going down during the Olympics. And it’s a great piece of infrastructure but it seems to have been dogged by problems with the upgrades. I’m increasingly worried about it and it’s difficult to get to the bottom of it. I’m told there are issues around the number of staff on the line and incidents about Canary Wharf station exits being closed, because of staff cutbacks. But when you ask TfL about it they say everything is hunky dory.”

On Southeastern:

“The provision of information when things go wrong is just very poor. The snow hits the line and then everybody is in bloody chaos because even the staff can’t give you any answers. And I think they’ve worked hard since then and understand that so things can only improve. But I think there’s an argument when contracts come up to look again and question what the operators have been doing… I personally think there should be a Rail Board for London, a sub board of TfL overlooking this.

On Ken’s critics within the Labour party:

“I don’t want to close down debate and there are right times to criticise campaigns or what candidates say, but do you really want to give ammunition to your opponents? Why would you want to do that? What is that about? And I just question the motives of some of those individuals.”

On another term of Boris:

“I do think he’s getting bored. He’s got his eyes on other places. The worst thing we could have is a mayor who isn’t engaged. Who is leaving it to others. People will soon notice that. If there’s no buy in. If you’re just looking around for a Parliamentary seat and poking sticks at your mates because you want their jobs. That’s not good for London. You see it in council leaders that want to go off and be MPs. They lose their authority. And Osborne and Cameron are not going to keep taking these sticks from Boris. They’re going to start fighting war by proxy. You will start seeing some of the things the government needs to support London with suddenly not being supported.”

Elections to the London Assembly take place on May 3rd. Get more information from London Elects.

EXCLUSIVE: Cabinet member’s secret backing for council democracy campaign

April 16, 2012 by  

Cllr Rajwant SidhuA GREENWICH Council Cabinet member is secretly campaigning to overhaul the leadership structure at the council, Greenwich.co.uk can reveal.

Days after it emerged Cabinet member Cllr Rajwant Sidhu would be leaving the Cabinet following Labour's internal elections, the internet name DemocracyGreenwich.co.uk was registered - with Cllr Sidhu's address listed in the domain's registration details.

The website name redirects to an online petition calling on the authority to change from the current ‘leader and cabinet’ system to a committee system in order to "bring Power back to the People."

Although DemocracyGreenwich.co.uk is not registered to Councillor Sidhu by name, a Land Registry search revealed that the domain registrant's address belongs to the Woolwich Common councillor.

Councillor Sidhu refused to either confirm or deny his role in the campaign when contacted by Greenwich.co.uk.

When asked whether he had set up DemocracyGreenwich.co.uk, he replied that "this is not something which I can comment on."

Greenwich.co.uk revealed last week that Cllr Sidhu would be exiting the Cabinet at the council's AGM next month. In a move which has left some local Labour members "fuming" according to 853, he is to be replaced by Cllr Harry Singh.

The committee system that 'Democracy Greenwich' are calling for limits the direct power of the council leader and would give greater powers of scrutiny and decision-making to individual councillors.

The committee system was commonly used by local authorities until the introduction of the Local Government Act 2000.

A local referendum can be called on changing the leadership structure of a local authority if 5% of local electors petition for it. However, the new Localism Act gives councillors the power to change the system themselves without the expense of a referendum, by way of a majority vote on the council.

Two local authorities including the London Borough of Sutton recently voted to revert to a committee system.

The campaign to reform Greenwich Council is being led by members of the local Labour Party who are believed to be unhappy about the powers held by the current leadership.

Controversial changes to local masterplans are also thought to be a key factor, with some local party members believing that the proposals are being “forced through” by the leadership.

One senior party figure willing to put his name to the campaign is the chairman of Greenwich and Woolwich Labour Party David Gardner. Gardner was one of the first signatories on the petition, but could not be reached for comment today.

The Conservative group on the council withdrew a motion at the last full council meeting calling for a change to the leadership structure after Chris Roberts said that officers were already looking at the proposals.

Greenwich Council decides to shut Blackheath Bluecoat school

January 18, 2012 by  

Greenwich Council's cabinet last night voted unanimously to close down Blackheath Bluecoat school despite overwhelming opposition from staff and pupils.

The school has failed to reverse a decline in pupil numbers in recent years, in spite of improving exam results.

It will close its doors for the final time in August 2014, with some year groups leaving in 2013.

Council leader Chris Roberts blamed the school's troubled reputation for their decision, saying that "popular mythology" about pupil behaviour was keeping new admissions away.

He also said that the increasing financial deficit racked up by the school, could not be maintained:

"The question is, could the school sustain the improvements it has made with the level of cuts that would be necessary? My view is that it could not."

Decreasing numbers of pupils have not been matched by cuts in staff numbers, leading to the school accumulating a £1.5 million deficit.

Cllr Jackie Smith, the cabinet member with responsibility for schools, said it was unfair for this deficit to continue to impact on other schools in the area.

But in a passionate speech, executive headteacher Jeffrey Risbridger defended his decision to maintain staff numbers, pointing out that results had improved at double the rate of other schools in the borough:

"There has been funding coming to the school that was in excess of funding that we would otherwise have received. But all that has done is allowed us to build confidence and to appoint exceptionally talented, hard-working committed staff who have delivered the goods in the classroom and improved the life chances of pupils as a result. Yes that has costs but was it worth it? You bet your life it was."

He also attacked the council for ignoring the results of their own consultation, which found 91% of respondents opposed to closing the school:

"It could not be clearer that there is no community will in this borough to close Blackheath Bluecoat School. To continue with the closure despite of this is therefore perverse and undemocratic."

He urged councillors to give him more time to turn around the school, and said that the three year window afforded to him by the council had not been a "realistic" period in which to reverse its decline.

The council’s decision means that Greenwich borough will no longer have a Church of England secondary school. CofE schools in neighbouring boroughs are currently oversubscribed.

Chris Roberts admitted that this situation was "not sustainable" and floated the possibility of a new CofE school to be built on the Greenwich peninsula.

However, officers said that there was "no funding stream" currently available for such a school.

Around a hundred pupils and staff marched on the town hall last night to protest against the expected closure of the school and there were chants of “shame on you” as councillors left the building.

Speaking to Greenwich.co.uk after the meeting, executive headteacher Jeffrey Risbridger said:

"I'm shocked and disappointed because it seems clear that the cabinet members didn't listen to any of the points that were put forward either in the consultation or in what was said this evening and have made a decision that is not right for the pupils in the school and for the future of Church of England education in the borough. I accept that these are constrained financial times but I think that children's education is more important than short term financial loss."

He conceded that the council's decision to close the school was "unlikely" to be reversed but said that they were "considering our options."

He also congratulated staff and pupils on a hard fought campaign:

"I think they've done superbly and I'm proud of the very mature, controlled and sensible way in which they've handled themselves. I want the pupils and staff to continue to work as hard as they have to achieve the very best public examination outcomes that they possibly can do, not only for themselves but to demonstrate to the council just how wrong they were to close the school."

Spencer Drury on 2012, Schooling and the General Election: Interview Pt3

March 11, 2010 by  

This is part three of Adam Bienkov’s interview with Spencer Drury – Conservative candidate for the Greenwich & Woolwich parliamentary seat and leader of the Conservatives on Greenwich Council. Part one and part two were published on Tuesday and Wednesday of this week.

Olympics

Hosting the 2012 Olympics has a been a polarising issue in the borough, but the Greenwich Conservatives have so far been relatively quiet about it. Drury himself has mixed feelings about the Games.

He tells me that while the cross country equestrian events will be “fabulous for the park” and an “amazing event” he admits that "this is not the line that NOGOE would like to hear.”

However, he also thinks that the temporary stadium is a “sticking point”:

“The 20,000 seat stadium I have got serious questions about. I mean the fact that it’s a temporary stadium, I’m already thinking is that worthwhile? But where they’re planning on putting it will actually ruin the views down the park to Maritime Greenwich. I mean if you put a great big stadium in front of that then you’re ruining the very views that they seem to want. That seems to me to be self defeating."

He also believes the Council have missed a big opportunity to capitalise on the Games.

“The Olympics have got tonnes of money and as far as I can work out Greenwich as an area is going to have no legacy from it. Well I mean I say no legacy, but there might be trees chopped down but no legacy from it in any positive physical way.”

So will the Games be good for Greenwich overall?

“Well if you could sort out the congestion as a legacy then I think that people in Greenwich would take the rough with the smooth but at the moment we are just getting the rough.   We’re just getting problems from it and we’re getting damage to a much valued park although I don’t think it will be as bad as NOGOE are making out. I really don’t feel that.”

Are NOGOE representative?

"I think they are representative of a certain group of people in Greenwich but when you go out knocking on doors, I mean I was out in Greenwich last weekend and not one person mentioned it to me. Not one person. Schools, bins and recycling are the things that come up. People are more concerneed about other things. I think that is why you won’t see political parties focusing on it in a major way because on the doorstep it is not the major issue that people are concerned about.”


Schools

I’m speaking to Drury after the announcement that the John Roan school will no longer be moved to the Peninsula. He is relieved:

“The plans to put the John Roan school on the peninsula were always ridiculous. They were planning to put a bigger school on a smaller site, five stories tall with a playground on the roof. It was madness.”

While pleased about this, he believes that it is symptomatic of a wider problem:

“The Council’s education policy is in chaos frankly. We’ve still got the worst GCSE results in London.  They’ve improved a lot but they’re still the worst in London. So our kids are leaving education at a substantial disadvantage to most other kids across London.  And that’a huge blow to us and a massive shame”

He supports the Conservative plans to create smaller “Free Schools” run by parents:

“Parental choice is absolutely vital in this and we know parental choice is already happening in Greenwich because so many hundreds of kids at eleven go out of the borough, whether to private or to Grammar schools.  But what’s interesting when you look at the figures is that they are not just going to the Grammar schools they are also going to Welling and other schools along the border with Bexley because they are better run than Greenwich schools frankly.”

The General Election

Drury is set to stand against Nick Raynsford in Greenwich later this year. I ask him if he knows him well. He tells me that while he sees him annually at the borough's Remembrance Sunday event, he hardly ever comes across him otherwise:

"I think Clive Efford [Labour MP for Eltham] marked himself as a local MP who didn’t care about Westminster very much. Well I think that Nick Raynsford is the opposite to that. There is a local area. He’s aware that it exists, but Westminster is where his heart is."

Like Efford, Drury has a close attachment to the area. Raised in Woolwich and a long standing councillor in Eltham, Drury still lives within the borough.

With boundary changes giving the Conservatives a real chance of winning Eltham, I ask him why he didn’t choose to stand in his home town again:

“I did [consider it] but it was for various personal reasons. My daughter had been in hospital for two months and then my wife became ill as well. It was in the run up to the selection for the parliamentary seat and I came pretty close to just packing it all in frankly. And ironically it was a letter from Chris Roberts asking if everything was okay that changed my mind.

“It made me think think that maybe politics isn’t just about doing silly stunts and playing silly games. That maybe there is a point to it"

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