As a revelation, I know the following will rank alongside the religion of the Pope and the sanitary habits of bears in woods. But Greenwich Council has not been straight with us.
They promised to give three months' notice of the dates when the foot tunnels would be closed. In fact, they gave eleven days. The closure - between 9pm and 6am weekdays in Greenwich, and between 6.30am and 8pm weekdays in Woolwich - was announced on April 8. It took effect this Monday, April 19.
I particularly enjoyed the council's claim that "alternative crossing arrangements have been made to reduce the impact of these closures." No new crossing arrangements have been made. The only alternatives are those which already existed - the erratic Woolwich ferry, and the Thames Clipper riverbus between Masthouse Terrace and Greenwich piers.
The last departure on the latter is at 11.18pm northbound, and 12.37 southbound. There is also the DLR, but that shuts before 1am too, and does not carry cyclists, a big component of the tunnel's users. There will be no way at all of crossing the river at Greenwich for more than five hours.
And I mean no way. To add to the pain, this week it emerged that "Transport for Livingstone" is further extending its highly controversial closures of the Blackwall Tunnel. The tunnel is already closed to southbound traffic between 9pm and 5am, five nights a week, and between 1am and 8am on Sundays. Now, it will be closed the entire rest of the weekends, too. The exact number of weekends is still to be announced. Who knows, maybe it'll be all of them!
The closures will run continuously from 9pm on Friday to 5am on Monday, meaning that this vitally important tunnel will spend more hours in the week closed than it spends open. The next step, no doubt, will be the arrival of men in white boiler-suits and gas-masks to seal Greenwich off with giant plastic sheeting, like in the film Outbreak.
The Blackwall closures will last until 2012 and the foot tunnel a fair while, too. Last year one faithful Labour blogger, with a reliable record of being wrong about most things, bought the council's spin that the foot tunnel closures would be "short." The shutdowns will, in fact, last for at least eleven months - even longer than I predicted. And it was only sustained pressure from Greenwich Cyclists and others, including this column, that persuaded the council to keep the Greenwich tunnel open at all during the day. Woolwich users, lacking the same voice, have been stuffed.
Despite the damage limitation exercise we managed to do, the whole foot tunnel project still makes me very angry. It symbolises, on a local scale, our rulers' addiction to spending money we do not have on things that we do not need.
For the £11.5 million the project is costing us, we get not just months of disruption, but a finished facility in some ways significantly worse than before. The claimed objectives of the refurb include “improved safety” and a “more welcoming environment.” The council's own study showed that the main deterrent to use of the tunnels was that people felt unsafe using them, especially at night. But this project will see the lifts permanently de-staffed and all human presence removed.
For £11.5 million, we could afford to double-staff both tunnels, with a lift operator or security guard at each end, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, for the next 23 years. That might be worth spending money on. It would even create a few jobs, as well as improved "safety and welcoming."
Instead, at Greenwich, our money is paying for "feature lighting" to “allow colour and animation to be subtly manipulated to create different moods at different times of the day." This will provide “the infrastructure for contemporary art installations so that the tunnels can contribute to cultural life in the locality.” Walking through the tunnel will become "an event in itself." Let's hope the event's not a mugging, eh?