That was how Saturday’s Blackheath fireworks display ended – good, wasn’t it? It felt a bit more low-key than last year’s display, but that wasn’t entirely a bad thing – no rubbish music, for a start. But it seemed like an almost perfect evening for it – mist and smoke hanging low over the heath, the streams of people walking from miles around, and that strange Close Encounters feeling of tens of thousands of people gathering on the heath. That crowd must have topped 100,000 this year, surely? It certainly seemed that way.
(3.10PM UPDATE – Lewisham Council has confirmed that numbers did indeed beat the 100,000 mark.)
So, was that the last display? After all, Greenwich Council pulled its £37,000 share of the funding, putting Lewisham in a spot – and the public knew it. It ended up as a sorry PR balls-up for Greenwich, pretty remarkable for a council whose actions are barely scrutinised by local press or politicians.
The huge crowd showed there’s still a big appetite for an event that’s held in a lot of affection. But there’s certainly no enthusiasm for the display from Greenwich Council’s leadership – before answering questions on it at the last council meeting, deputy leader Peter Brooks grumbled that it was “very difficult to get to Blackheath from my ward” – Thamesmead Moorings (472 to Woolwich, 53 to Blackheath, Peter) – before claiming it would be “inappropriate” to cough up the council’s usual £37,000 contribution.
Of course, nobody in the chamber bothered to ask him why it was appropriate for the council to splash out nearly £30,000 on a private party for the mayor and council leader in May.
There are those who’ll paint this as a choice between essential services or frivolities – but why is a mayoral booze-up so essential compared with the much-loved fireworks, which bring a huge business boost to pubs and restaurants in both boroughs?
Essentially, Lewisham taxpayers will have to cough up because of Greenwich’s decision – and there’s no reason why Lewisham should tolerate that state of affairs. I’ve heard a murmur out of Greenwich that it may try to help raise some cash for the fireworks next year.
But has Lewisham got the appetite to go through the whole thing again, or will it simply take its box of sparklers and hold a display somewhere more central instead? After all, councillors in Forest Hill or Brockley could complain they find Blackheath hard to get to as well…
Still, to squote an old election slogan, if Greenwich Council has its way, we’ll never see this sort of traffic problem again…