Thames Path closure: Greenwich Council grovels to developers

Lovell's Wharf, April 2010

Something this blog missed out on while I was away was the furore over the closure of the Thames Path in Greenwich between Ballast Quay and the Millennium Dome. As the hoardings came down on the first stage of the Lovell’s Wharf development, many were horrified to find the old riverside walk had been bricked off and destroyed, with a new path routed into the sales office for the Lovells Wharf development. There were no signs to help walkers find their way around, although these have since been installed.

The row even became a bit of an election issue, with a wannabe councillor making some hay with it (and blogging about it here) and a current councillor having to scurry around to find out what the blazes was going on. Somehow, to me it summed up everything that’d gone wrong with Greenwich Council; its reluctance to engage properly with local people, the perception that it was on the side of developers rather than residents, and plain old-fashioned incompetence – even some temporary signs would have been better than leaving walkers and tourists lost.

The farrago brought some sharp exchanges at a hustings I took part in, and it certainly looked as if Greenwich Council had been found guilty of taking one of Greenwich’s most precious rescources for granted. I’m sure the council must be aware of the strength of feeling over the path, so how is it seeking to make amends in the first issue of propaganda rag Greenwich Time since the election? With little time to wheel a freshly-re-elected councillor upto the riverside, how about a story on how the council is committed to restoring the path as soon as possible? Perhaps something on the plans for the riverside? Perhaps some useful information for residents about what’s going on?

Oh no.

Greenwich Time, 12/05/2010

Just a puff piece for the development, informing us that “occupants will have easy access to Greenwich town centre, Canary Wharf and the City” – er, just like everywhere else in SE10, then. It’s the sort of nonsense you’d expect in one of those glossy lifestyle-porn monthlies that pop through selected doors in the area, not from a publication funded out of our taxes.

The other thing is a bit odd – it claims the development “opens up access to a section of the Thames pathway which has been closed to the public for years”. It doesn’t – the old path has bricked off and planted over, and a new path runs straight into the developers’ sales office. Charming.

Thames Path, April 2010

Watching people walk up the stump of the old path, only to gaze mournfully about what’s been denied to them, is a new pastime. That section of the Thames pathway will be closed until 2012, so what I imagine Greenwich Time perhaps was trying to say is “when the development eventually fully opens, it will restore a section of the Thames pathway which will by then have been closed for five years so the development could be built”. Not quite so impressive. The image shown is a computer-generated one, so the piece has been written without even bothering to visit the site, where the first homes are nearly ready for occupation.

Finally, a patsy quote from a “local planning watchdog” that I don’t think I’ve ever heard of, reassuring us that it’ll be alright in the end. Because Greenwich Time said so, eh?

So, the message from the council on the Thames Path closure? Tough. Take a look at these lovely flats instead, wouldn’t you like to buy one? Paying for a council to promote itself is one thing, paying for a council to brown-nose and promote private developments is another thing entirely, and it certainly has nothing to do with “campaigning for an even greater Greenwich”.

The prospect of four more years of Greenwich Time is a depressing one – another story featured in this week’s soaraway issue is that the council’s street sweeping services are performing better than ever, which any walk around Charlton will confirm is complete cobblers. Of course, the power now lies with the newly-(re-)elected Labour councillors whose reputations are being dragged down by this patronising nonsense. Will they have the guts to change things? We’ll just have to wait and see.


  1. Oh I just want to scream and shout about this issue. It makes me so bloody mad!! I miss my Thames Path walking! W*NKERS. (sorry darryl).

  2. Darryl – I will probably deeply regret getting involved in all this. I don’t seem to be good at keeping quiet. All I can say about myself is that I do what I can and what is possible.

    I do feel at least I should defend Philip Binns who you describe above as ‘a patsy’. Philip works very very very hard (for nothing) on planning issues for local people. I have seen angry applicants threaten him with violence when he has spoken on behalf of local residents.

    Second – look – I have been with all of this a very very long time. There are enormous issues of change, development, and etc etc etc. I can’t even begin to go into them here. So much of it goes back to decisions taken many years ago, and to ideas which few people then questioned, and many endorsed.

    All I am going to say is – where were you when the planning application for all this work went through???

    And I know what the answer is – you didn’t know about it, it was too long ago, you didn’t see the notice, you didn’t read the paper, it didn’t look important, you thought it wasn’t for you, you didn’t understand, you were busy, you don’t have time to keep an eye on it all …….. and etc etc.
    (the person of course who could have helped you was Philip – would you like me to introduce you??)

  3. Mary – if people haven’t heard about it, surely that only underlines the problems with meaningful communication from Greenwich Council. I’ve never heard of Philip Binns and wouldn’t comment on what he does or doesn’t do, but surely these are matters for the Council to communicate, not a low profile local group with a fraction of the Council’s resources.

  4. Rather a pity that Greenwich Conservation Group don’t run a web-site. More widespread knowledge of their activities would almost certainly help.

    As for the actual changes on the ground, the overall site plans submitted for Planning Approval in 2006 are ambiguous as to whether the existing path atop the river wall is to be kept or not. I thought, ever optimistic, that it probably was; I appear to have been wrong. It is, though, quite clear that a network of paths parallel and close to the river is to be provided and that there will, indeed, be many more links back from the riverside to the existing roads than have previously existed.

    All this assumes that the scheme will be completed in accordance with those 2006 plans and that details approved later under ‘reserved matters’ will not materially change it.

    The question that remains in my mind is this: how much do we want the path atop the river wall to remain usable irrespective of what paths and landscaping may be provided further back from the river’s edge? The existing river’s edge path is not high enough to give necessary flood protection. (The ramped path just put in rises high to land atop the flood protection wall.) But that is no reason why it could not be preserved with parallel landscaped areas atop and behind the flood barrier. Keeping close to the river’s edge with full view of water, low-tide mud, clumsy sheet-piled river walls and so on strikes me as an essential part of the riverside experience. I fear that the move back away from the edge will lose it in favour of something rather outer-suburban in spirit. Think of the relative boredom of the ‘pedestrian motorway’ on the eastern side of the peninsula.

    It isn’t too late for the better solution to be implemented – if the developers and planners can be persuaded.

  5. You’ll notice I didn’t call Phillip Binns a “patsy” – I said it was a “patsy quote”. Which it certainly is. If his words were less flattering to the scheme, there’s no chance they would have been used. Who knows, he may have said less flattering words which may have been cut.

    I know what the answer is – you didn’t know about it, it was too long ago, you didn’t see the notice, you didn’t read the paper, it didn’t look important, you thought it wasn’t for you, you didn’t understand, you were busy, you don’t have time to keep an eye on it all …….. and etc etc.

    With the greatest of respect, Mary, comments like this show just why Greenwich Council has badly lost touch with the people it is meant to serve. Ordinary people can’t be expected to follow planning applications if they’re not on their doorstep, and neither the local press nor Greenwich Council’s propaganda paper covers these things. We only find out about these things when it’s too late. With little communication between the council and councillors and their residents – why do think there’s such a backlash when we suddenly discover what’s been approved in our name? And that’s why this ordinary person had a go at standing for council.

  6. The problem with planning applications is that officers have a set formula of who and how they communicate with on it. The whole process is very legalistic and mistakes can lead to very very real problems.
    When I was working in Docklands in the 1980s some of my colleagues put a lot of effort into ways of getting public interest in the vast numbers of planning applications being processed – and of course a lot of very serious research was done in the 1970s on this. But I can understand the difficulty people have first of all realising that this is something important to them, and then getting to grips with the process.
    I am trying to say that it isn’t easy and a lot of much cleverer people than me have tried to sort it out.

  7. Oh, of course. But we have very little local media now, but big redevelopments like this should be big news. I don’t recall hearing much about Lovell’s apart from seeing a Greenwich Society poster about it in a pub. (The Greenwich Phantom partly fills that gap left by market failure now, but that’s from one person’s voluntarily-provided observations and a network of tipsters.) All we need is information…

    (Speaking of which, please don’t keep quiet. You’re the gap in a brick wall of council silence.)

  8. I did try with Lovells – I really did- to get residents interested. There were however some local who were keen for the development to go ahead for a variety of reasons.
    Can I just pick up on one more thing – in answer to Otter above about the path. I think one of the overriding things which will determine the eventual path is the commitment to the National Route 1 cycle path. I know that it has been altered a lot since it was first agreed what must be nearly 20 years ago – but it did originally go up this stretch. If so there will need to be a standard wide flat path – and the cycling lobby will insist on that. I will however check out if it is still likely to be necessary.
    I will talk to the Conservation Group (in my local historian, not councillor, role) about a web site. Most of them are not very web friendly.

  9. But is there a commitment to yoke together the cycle route and the pedestrian route? There appears from the (much reduced) drawing I have that the cycle route is well catered for a few yards back from the water’s edge; the desire is to preserve a pedestrian way right on the water’s edge.

    I can’t see any practical problem in doing that. It would be regretable if there were political ones.

  10. Otter – I will see what I can find out about what is in current consents and what is still outstanding. I would personally be very interested in keeping in touch with interested residents on all of this. You know where I am!

  11. I live in Lewisham, and there is even a lot of p*ssed off people over here about this.
    That walk/run past the Cutty Sark pub, round to the Dome was/is a lovely peaceful messy undeveloped breath of fresh air (figuratively speaking!). I know progress requires that it all gets tarted up and sanitised eventually, but it does make me sad.
    I can swallow the fact that the Council has to tread a fine line to avoid losing endless development cases on appeal etc, but the over-riding impression is that they have no empathy whatsoever with what local people might want, and developers just seem to be able to do what suits them. Is there no attempt to anticipate what might p*ss people off before the event. Normal people are just busy leading their lives, not checking every planning application out there – surely that’s what we elect a council to do – to try and tread a middle ground between interest groups, not to capitulate to corporate developers every time. And then print that drivel in Greenwich Time. Do we all look like idiots?
    …and to shut the river path just at the moment when the Park is going to get messed about, the foot tunnel closed etc etc….grrrr. I guess we might as well all just get in our cars and drive to Bluewater all weekend….

  12. I got TfL’s ”Cycling Revolution London” .pdf sent to me today. (

    It’s worth looking at it: it says that their plans for the Greenwich Greenway (combined cycle/walking path) – part of the Olympic Games legacy – ”follows the route of the Thames Path connecting Maritime Greenwich with the North Greenwich Peninsula and Woolwich.” (p58) The yellow route outlined on page 59 does not entirely follow the existing Thames Path.

  13. I must say i live in one of the new apartments in Lovells Wharf (Yes apartments!! not flats) and for £427,000 i would not expect to have a common walk way right outside. Would you all wish for a walk way through your back gardens?? No so why should those of us that wish to live on the river front have to put up with it. I would fight tooth and nail to keep the river walk closed in this area. surely the thames is long enough that you can find another part to walk along.

  14. Patrick, Patrick, – did you not research where the ‘apartments’ were built and understand that they had been built alongside a long-standing riverside path? IMHO, people are not seeking to walk through your ‘back garden’, but to continue to be walk along a pathway that existed long before Lovells Wharf, and which has been compromised by this development.

    Next you will be suggesting that any new house should have the right to prevent people walking along the pavement or driving along the road outside! Get real!

  15. I keep reading Patrick’s comment again and again an have come to the conclusion it it a wind up.

  16. Siimply those that choose and can afford the expense of waterfront living should be able to enjoy the views without a public walk way right outside. Lets face it, its been closed this long and nothings happened with the reopening of this path. If we wished to have a apartment with public footway outside we would have brought one elsewhere. That’s why we have been told by the developers there are no plans long term to replace the path.

  17. Patrick, seriously, suck it up. The path was there before you and will return. Dukes and Lords across the land have public footpaths through their huge estates and don’t feel the need to whine about it any more.

    They are also, to stoop to the kind of materialistic bollocks you seem to understand (and pinch an old sketch show line); ‘considerably richer than yoooow’.

  18. Patrick, firstly, as a neighbour to you, I welcome you to the area. I understand your position, I might even feel the same in your shoes.

    However, the facts are that the path was there before the development, was well used, and is very much missed at the moment. If we accepted that every riverside development should take water frontage precedence, we would have no riverside path left at all. I hope that when the path is reopened, and you use it for running, cycling or just walking with friends, you’ll see why people have been campaigning for it.

  19. I missed this whole story – I’ve been away for a few years, but grew up in East Greenwich. I used to love that stretch of the river walk; I’d join the path just before Lovell’s Wharf every morning to go to school. And the walk north – what an adventure that used to be. Sorry for the boring reminsicing.

    Anyways, I brought my partner with me a couple of weeks back and expected to see those rusty old cranes. I just couldn’t believe it. Okay, the fugly – yes Patrick, it’s repulsive – development was kind of inevitable, although I would have liked to have seen that old wall preserved, but the river walk “diversion” is just inexcusable. Surely you can’t just fence off a whole area. It doesn’t make sense.

    Being ignorant of all the legal issues here – I’d rather just take a sledgehammer to that offensive white hoarding and try to trudge through the wasteland. I think we all know it’s never going to get developed.

  20. […] At last, some welcome news on the Thames Path around the site of the old Tunnel Refineries plant (aka Amylum, Tate and Lyle, and Syral) – closed in March to enable the east Greenwich landmark to be demolished. The closure was due to last 12 weeks, but has so far lasted 34 weeks and was aggravated by the destruction of the old walkway at Lovell’s Wharf. […]

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