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.