Charlton’s clean-up day or whitewash day?

Eversley Road, Charlton
Eversley Road, Charlton
It’s my pleasure to bring you exciting news that’ll no doubt bring a sparkle to your step this summer’s day. Yes, I can announce there’s going to be a clean-up day in Charlton. Yes – the streets are going to be swept!

Well, not in my street. And probably not in your street either. But it’s nice to know that some streets are going to be given a belated spring-clean.

The initiative comes courtesy of the Charlton Central Residents Association, which represents a block of streets between the railway line, Victoria Way and Charlton Church Lane, but not actually including those streets. I wrote about them in 853‘s predecessor blog, the last bus home, last year when I tried to join. They weren’t having it – I didn’t live in their streets, so I’d have to go through some tedious procedure to get co-opted in there. Probably for administrative convenience, but despite the fact that I buy my morning paper in their patch, I walk through there to catch a train or a bus, and I trip over the same unswept rubbish they do. A strange do, but there you go. They did let me hang around their annual meeting, though; a fellow Victoria Way resident who was there who was also denied membership decided not to bother.

They even referred to me in their newsletter (PDF, 3MB): “The aim of the Association is to create a safe and friendly community, present a unified voice on local issues and promote social links between residents. Though the area covered may increase in time, at the moment we want to keep things small but beautiful with a “village feel”. Sorry, Last Bus Home, for any inconvenience caused!” I’m not sure how allowing a couple of residents of neighbouring streets to pay a subscription and keep in touch with the group, perhaps offering their skills and help to achieve a common goal, would detract from that, but there you go.

Eastcombe Avenue, Charlton

Anyhow, their latest newsletter (PDF, 3.4MB) trumpets their “big clean-up day” – on Saturday 4 July. Apparently, the council will provide vehicles and staff to help, and this will be followed up by “an intensive clean of gutters, drains and pavements” by council staff.

This has got to be a good thing – but doesn’t this let the council off the hook? Surely this organisation – whose chair is a former Labour councillor – should be asking the authority why it doesn’t keep the gutters, drains and pavements clean in the first place; and demanding an assurance that once clean, they will stay clean? And making sure the three local councillors, who belong to the ruling Labour party, are pressing for just that?

Even the CCRA’s own poll suggests that its own people are unhappy with the way the council neglects the streets of SE7. A community clean-up day will, at least, get the street clean, but it is also, to an extent, doing the council’s job for it. I wonder if the participants will get a small council tax refund?

Here also lies the problem with Greenwich Council – it simply can’t deal with individual residents, it prefers to deal with friendly organisations. Unless you know the names of council officials and can bypass its call centres, you’ve got a problem.

A couple of years ago, a residents’ allocation of free tickets for the Red Bull Air Race were not handed out directly to the public – as organisers had intended – but given to residents’ organisations first. If you don’t live in an area that’s covered by one, you’re effectively disenfranchised. And if your nearest residents’ organisation won’t allow you to join because you live a few yards outside their territory, then you’ve a bigger problem.

Farmdale Road, Greenwich

Over at The Greenwich Phantom, commenter Valley Girl said of her own road: “The gutters have not been swept in so many weeks that there’s foot high weeds growing in the mud that’s accumulated. They used to be swept regularly every Tuesday morning, but I no longer see anyone doing the job.”

And you know what? She’s right. Eversley Road (the top two photographs) has been left looking a mess. And the weeds are breaking out all over neighbouring streets. In Tallis Grove, Charlton (below) and Farmdale Road, Greenwich (above), they look set to take over. The weeds are a living, breathing example of Greenwich Council’s neglect of our streets. And without a friendly residents’ association to work through, none of these streets photographed will get any help whatsoever.

Tallis Grove, Charlton
Tallis Grove, Charlton

And even some of the council’s more hard-working and diligent souls don’t seem to understand how their assumptions about how people live can be part of the problem and not part of the solution. Peninsula ward councillor Mary Mills, who represents the northern end of my street, read my post last week about the council dumping wheelie bins in the street and commented: “Note blogger 853 moaning about people leaving their bins on the pavement – round here people take them in for neighbours who are out!” It’s nice to know she lives in a place where people are in all day – unfortunately, in a street where most of the houses are divided into flats occupied by people who are working all day, that just isn’t going to happen.

Yes, local residents have their part to play. But they pay a tax to the council to provide a service – and when the council doesn’t provide that service, or communicate with individuals honestly and effectively, they shouldn’t have to fill the breach themselves. These things should be a partnership – and it’s about time the council pulled its finger out and fulfilled its part of the bargain.

(All the photos here were taken between 4pm and 5.30pm on Monday 22 June.)


  1. I am in two minds on this issue, as I actually think it is great that a small local group exists and that the residents are willing to get their own hands dirty and clean the streets.

    Some might argue, as you have, that it is the councils responsibility to clean the streets – but why is that?

    When did it become normal for people to dump their rubbish on the streets and leave it for some anonomous team of cleaners to clean up after them?

    I think it would be a really good idea if the councils encouraged local groups to manage their own patch and the council simply provided the logistics and equipment – the residents providing the man (and lady) power.

    Probably cheaper for the council (lower council tax bills), and while I am dubious that a few hours cleaning streets per month is going to make everyone best buddies and the neighbourhood akin to the 1940s, it certainly would make a lot of people think twice about casually discarding their empty coke cans as they walk along the path.

  2. Well, since we pay a tax to the council which is supposed to do the job, then the council should do the job. Once upon a time, the council *did* regularly clean the streets. It doesn’t any more, yet the tax bill hasn’t been reduced to compensate for this lack of service.

    I agree with you that it is good that local groups exist to do this – but those left outside the remits of those groups are left in the cold. I’m in an odd position where we’re so close to this group, setting up our own group to do it would be peverse.

    And to get our streets cleaned, we shouldn’t have to go through the faff of this sort of thing.

    As far as councils delegating this sort of thing completely – can’t see it as a goer because the council’s is responsible for the infrastructure itself (roads, drains). That said, I don’t see anything wrong with discounting council tax for anyone who’s prepared to get their hands dirty a day or two each month.

  3. “The weeds are a living, breathing example of Greenwich Council’s neglect of our streets”

    The fact that there are weeds, and that people are complaining about them is not indicative of the Council’s neglect. EVERYONE has neglected them – the residents as well as the council. Is it beneath people to bend down as they go past and pull a weed up? Or do the people who are complaining not bother to pull weeds up in their own gardens either?

    If youre that bothered by the weeds, then get yourself some weedkiller from the £1 shop and apply it.

    And if I’m walking down the street and there’s a plastic bag or a McD’s wrapper blowing towards me, I pick it up as I go past and put it in the next wheelie bin. Its called Civic Responsibility.

    But I take your point about the Residents’ Association demarkation lines being extremely petty. That’s just stupid.

  4. When was the last time you sprayed the street with cheap weedkiller, then, or bent down to pull out a weed?

  5. I’m not sure local pet owners would be too impressed with people dousing the streets in cheapo weed killer.

  6. But that’s a guerilla gardening thing – something I think’s a great idea, and I know a patch near here that could do with some of that…

    This is about street maintenance – and people ultimately having to do a job which they’ve already paid a local authority to keep at least keep a watching brief on. The council doesn’t communicate with its tax-payers properly – preferring to hide behind call centres and a propaganda newspaper – which doesn’t really help empower people to get into action.

    Of course there’s responsibility on both sides – but a long-term project to renovate a neglected war memorial that you’re confident will make a difference – especially because it’ll make a greatly visible impact – is not the same as doing a job which could easily be taken for granted by a council which should be doing it anyway.

  7. I’ve been told that the council is wringing its hands in collective environmental angst at whether to use weedkiller or not.

    I’ve cleaned the weeds outside of my house and am wondering if I should clear the whole street but am peeved that yet again the council is dodging its responsibility.

    You’ll note that west Greenwich isn’t looking quite so tropical.

  8. my point is: I’ve pulled up weeds. Which you rather sneeringly suggest that I havent. I’m only suggesting that you pull up a couple of weeds as you go past and stop complaining about them.

  9. Thank you. I think we’ll cut the personal abuse here, eh Russell?

    To be fair, I wouldn’t be entirely pleased if the council liberally splashed Agent Orange all over my streets. But if they did their job properly, this wouldn’t happen in the first place – and I’m sure there’s plenty of other local authorities who could offer advice how to do it properly.

  10. @Sue – I was thinking the same thing 😉

    @darryl – at least Lewisham cleans its streets! Mind you, it needs to the amount of dog mess that gets left.

  11. One of the biggest nuisances in my street is dog mess (despite notices claiming that offenders will be fined – the owners I should think not the dogs). Nobody much cleans that up… there are very few responsible dog owners, some days it actually physically smells.

    On the subject of weeds the problem was randomly solved on a very small section of pavement in our street by having it pulled up and re-laid. No weeds any more! A bit expensive to solve the entire borough that way though!

  12. I’m a bit confused on two fronts.

    Firstly my street (in Bromley) is entirely free of weeds of any kind, least of all the triffids (sp?) which seem to be sprouting over there in SE7. So if Bromley council can do it in a tiny backwater one-way street, why shouldn’t Greenwich pull its finger out?

    And secondly, why can’t a man moan about the weeds? Its his blog.

  13. A nerd writes…

    Why are there weeds growing in our streets ?

    1) In the past, most Council’s sprayed pavements to control weeds a couple of times a year. Climate change and less toxic, but less effective chemicals mean that most councils now spray 3 times a year with low toxicity chemicals. Greenwich Council may have sprayed my street for weed control this year, by the photos posted by Daryl suggest they haven’t.

    2) Weeds grow on pavements, if there’s an accumulation of crud (called detritus in the street cleaning world) which the weeds root in. The crud is rotted down litter, and leaves. The build up of crud and weed growth is a sign that streets aren’t being swept thoroughly: the worst of the litter amy get picked up, but it indicates ther isn’t a regular or proper sweep to remove the crud.

    The evidence shows that the Council’s “Cleansweep” isn’t sweeping and certainly isn’t achieveing anything that can be described as clean.

    Should residents take some responsibilty ? I would hope so.

    Should we rely on the random efforts of residents to keep the streest clean ? No ! Its too important to all of us, its one of the things our Council tax pays for, and the Council has a legal responsibility to keep the streets clean to a good standard.

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