AS GREENWICH faces an unprecedented onslaught of simultaneous development, I am starting to wonder what is the point of the Greenwich Society.
One of its principal aims is "to protect the town's heritage." But on the two greatest threats of the moment to the town's heritage - the redevelopment of the market, and the Olympics events in the park - the Greenwich Society is a supporter and apologist for the heritage abusers.
Its committee fought tooth and nail a substantial number of members who wanted it to oppose the Olympics in the Park, as the Friends of Greenwich Park and the Blackheath Society have done. (Interestingly, the Friends and the Blackheath Society committees were also in favour of the Olympics, until forced to reverse their position by their members.)
Now, we find the Greenwich Society's spokesman, Ray Smith, actually appearing - complete with photo - in the PR material put out by the developers who would turn Greenwich Market from a bustling and vibrant part of the town's heritage into a modern shopping precinct and hotel with stalls attached.
Mr Smith says he is "pleased that Greenwich Hospital is bringing forward this planning application, which will help revitalise Greenwich Town Centre." In fact, it is the existing market which has already "revitalised Greenwich Town Centre" and the new one which threatens that revival.
Under the management of Urban Space, what was in the early 80s an almost derelict fruit and veg operation has been turned into space that is bursting with life five days a week. On Saturdays and Sundays, it is scarcely possible to move in the market, so dense are the crowds. How much more "revitalised" can you get?
The fact that the new market looks like an airport terminal is not the only problem with it. Tucked away in the minutes of the "key stakeholder consultation group" meeting for 26 November 2008 is the uncomfortable revelation that "it was confirmed that the scheme resulted in a net gain in retail space but possibly a decrease in the market stall space." More shops, less market - how can that possibly be described as a "revitalisation?"
One of the Greenwich Society's other "key objectives" is "effective traffic management." It is hard to see how the construction of a 104-bedroom hotel with its traffic entrance right in the middle of the flow of the one-way system can accomplish this.
I rang Mr Smith last night and asked him whether he had found anyone in Greenwich who actually liked the new market scheme. There was a short pause. "The members of the executive committee of the Greenwich Society like it," he said. Yes, but had they made any active effort to find out what anyone else in Greenwich thought? "We have a facility on our website which says 'tell us your views,' he says. "Nobody has said they like it and nobody has said they don't like it."
There's other problem with this. The item on the Greenwich Society website asking for people's views on the market was posted on 20 April - in other words, after the redevelopers' PR material was produced quoting Mr Smith as a fan of the scheme. So even if anyone had expressed their views, it would have made no difference to the Greenwich Society.
The real key to the society's acquiescence, I expect, is that "key stakeholder consultation group." The idea of such groups is seldom really to consult people, but to co-opt them into whatever has already been decided, while perhaps allowing them to make a few minor adjustments along the way.
Mr Smith did indeed say that they'd secured some changes since the original 2007 proposal - but as far as I can see, the changes since then (a 39% increase in the size of the hotel, a new roof, the removal of the cobbles) have only made the plan worse, are indeed among the most objectionable things about it.
Over the issues threatening our town, the Greenwich Society have by their own admission spent far more time talking to the likes of LOCOG and the Market developers than they have in talking to the people of Greenwich. Enfolded into the cosy embrace of "key stakeholderdom," the Greenwich Society have forgetten their actual purpose - to find out and represent the views of local residents - and have instead become adjuncts of, and advocates for, the developers.
They are providing PR cover for the forces seeking to mar Greenwich with unnecessary, unwanted and damaging development - which is, in fact, far worse than if they never even existed at all. We may not need to "revitalise" the town centre - but we certainly need to "revitalise," or perhaps replace, the Greenwich Society.