Residents in historic almshouses in west Greenwich have been left in “despair, shock and sadness” by news of their possible closure, councillors heard last night.
Tenants in Queen Elizabeth College, Greenwich High Road, have been told they may have to leave under plans by its owner, The Drapers’ Company, to redevelop it.
Local councillor Maureen O’Mara presented a petition, signed by 140 people, to Greenwich Council at a meeting on Wednesday night.
Some 70 residents live in the almshouses, which opened in 1818 to house the “poor elderly people” of Greenwich. More recently, it has been open to residents from both Greenwich and Lewisham boroughs.
Tenants were under threat of being moved to “destinations unknown” by the livery company, Cllr O’Mara (Labour, Greenwich West) said.
“They are in a state of despair, shock and sadness,” she added. “The decision was made with no reference to either the local MP or local councillors.
“We know the council has no influence over the decision, but we hope the oxygen of publicity will make The Drapers’ Company think again.”
The Drapers Company told greenwich.co.uk that it was in regular contact with councillors and Greenwich & Woolwich MP Nick Raynsford.
No firm decision had been taken to close Queen Elizabeth’s College, clerk Alistair Ross said, but the City livery company hoped to eventually build new almshouses elsewhere to replace the Greenwich site and its other homes in Southwark and Tottenham.
Redeveloping the current site was “unlikely but had not been ruled out”.
“As soon as a decision is made and plans formulated the residents and borough officials will be informed and consulted, however, it is likely that the whole process will take a considerable time,” Mr Ross added.
A 13,000-strong petition against Olympic equestrian events in Greenwich Park gathered by campaigning group NOGOE was also presented to the council, this time by Blackheath Westcombe Conservative councillor Geoff Brighty.
Organising body LOCOG is due to submit the planning application for a temporary stadium and other measures next month. Cllr Paul Webbewood (Lib Dem, Middle Park & Sutcliffe) attacked coverage of the 2012 Games in council newspaper Greenwich Time, saying an issue earlier this month had “made the council look disreputable”.
But council leader Chris Roberts (Labour, Peninsula), dismissed the criticism. “I hope there will be a full and frank discussion on what LOCOG actually submit, and not on what people think they are submitting,” Cllr Roberts said.
Councillors from all three parties threw out the possibility of Greenwich switching to a system of having an elected mayor like neighbouring Lewisham.
All London boroughs were required by the government to hold a consultation on the issue, but only 20 residents replied to Greenwich’s call for responses, with 14 of those backing the current system where the council is led by a leader and cabinet.
Cllr Roberts said that despite the low number of responses, “we are some way off the worst – one council only had one response”.
Westminster politicians should leave local councils to to decide how to run themselves, he continued, adding that the tradition of having a ceremonial, non-partisan mayor representing the council would be lost under the different system.
“Having a civic mayor is like parliament saying, ‘let’s have a president and abolish the monarchy,'” he said.
Conservative leader Cllr Spencer Drury (Eltham North) said sticking with the current system was “the least bad” option.
Lewisham has had an elected mayor, Sir Steve Bullock, taking most of its key decisions since 2002.
Bulky Rubbish Collection
Greenwich Council’s £12 charge for collecting bulky household rubbish was a “very good deal”, insisted neighbourhood services cabinet member Maureen O’Mara.
The fee was introduced for non-council tenants two years ago, and Liberal Democrat Cllr Paul Webbewood said he thought it was leading to a rise in fly-tipping.
Last month, Labour councillor Janet Gillman told a residents’ group in Charlton that she would be pressing for a review of the policy.
But Cllr O’Mara defended the system, adding that residents could get rid of up to three items for their money.
“Bexley Council charges £25 for the same service,” she added.