The man pictured on the right is best-known now for selling an insurance comparison website on television. But, strange as it may seem now, John Prescott was once one of the most powerful men in the country.
He made his mark on Greenwich, too. During the early years of the last Labour government, he was the man in charge of the regeneration of the Greenwich Peninsula.
In summer 1997, he clambered along the beach by the yacht club for the cameras, picking up a jar containing a crab. “Hello Peter,” he said – a dig at a man who’s now a fellow member of the House of Lords, Peter Mandelson. He was there to launch his vision for a “millennium village” on the peninsula, just down the road from the under-construction Dome.
The first residents moved in at the end of 2000, and it’s grown slowly since. Maybe too slowly – those first residents had to wait nearly 10 years for any decent shop in the development.
In that decade, it’s fair to say there’s some mixed feelings about the place. I started out not being a fan – seeing flats on what used to be publicly-owned land sold as “investments” for foreign property speculators enraged me. We were sold the redevelopment as something to revive the fortunes of our neighbourhood – what we got looked very much like a yuppie village. With huge hoardings boasting of unaffordable homes and “investment opportunities”, it seemed a triumph of the selfish over the needs of the community.
The community’s more balanced now, and the “yuppie village” tag doesn’t stick like it used to, although Ferraris still race up John Harrison Way to creep into underground car parks. My own feelings on the place are more mixed now. Wander around on a sunny day, and it feels like a lovely place to live – easy to walk around with the bonus of the ecology park right on the doorstep. But around Christmas time I rode through it by bike at night – deserted, and deadly quiet except for the wind howling through the blocks and the banners slapping against lamp posts. It felt like a seaside town out of season.
For many, GMV is something they just pass through on the bus, wondering what the hell it’s like inside, and wondering why some many of its residents queue to use those buses to go just one stop to North Greenwich station. Greenwich-based architecture writer Owen Hatherley has branded it a “a microcosm of New Labour’s wasted opportunities”. But it feels a lot more human now there’s the row of shops there, and hopefully future development will smooth some of GMV’s more uncomfortable edges, and integrate it further into the wider neighbourhood. It’s still early days.
So, with all that in mind… what’s all this about, then?
“We are a group of disgruntled residents and owners living in the Greenwich Millennium Village. Over the years, we witness the village going from an exclusive development of working professionals and peaceful families to a council estate overrun by hordes of feral kids, gypsy camps, violent social residents and people who visit them.
“We fall victim to our neighbors [sic] stealing our mail, stealing our bicycles, vandalising public spaces, peeing and defecating in the lifts and corridors and disturbing the peace. We can’t even park cars on the road, but gypsy encampments are being left alone by parking wardens happy to issue £120 tickets to anyone who parks with a tyre touching the kerb.
“We are tired of council tenants turning the Greenwich Millennium Village into a council estate and driving the property prices down.”
Those damn council tenants, eh? Actually, the travellers have been there for a lot longer than anyone else on that peninsula. (Even if one of their dogs did run at me a few weeks ago, although only to jump around and bark, the useless mutt.) Anyway, what else are these people upset about?
– A man arrested in the “notorious core of Metcalfe Court facing the Oval Square, occupied by both shared ownership residents and social tenants.” – cripes!
– “Imagine coming back home from work to your £300k+ flat…” and finding someone’s honked up in the lift! Blimey. Imagine how you’d feel if your flat cost £500k and you came back to that! And presumably, if your flat was on the social…
– “Social tenants are free to urinate in the lifts and corridors, nick your parcels a reckless mailman left in front of your apartment instead of concierge office, burn the flats into a crisp and generally make a proper mess of the whole area.” Really?
– GMV residents get abandoned by “the TfL” because of a Jubilee Line shutdown which includes Christmas Day – “I just pity the ones who bought into the whole “global warming” champaigne socialist propaganda and do not have a car – they will have to rely on their legs, I guess, or minicabs.”
– A rip-roaring expose of how it SNOWED a whole inch in the relatively isolated Millennium Village yet nobody did a thing about it and yet there was no snow in Canary Wharf!
– How dare an eco-friendly village install electric car parking spaces! “Some people will obviously be desperate and still park there and council will have an opportunity to make a quick buck and slap them with a £120 parking ticket – unless they are Gypsies.”
It goes on, with another highlight being a particularly unpleasant post about a fire in a flat last year, dispelling my suspicion that the site was a spoof.
Now, I’m not stupid enough to think that all people who bought in GMV are as misanthropic as this particular cyber-vigilante seems – “what are you 11, grow up and start acting like an adult,” chides one respondent. But this is what gave GMV a bad name in the first place – the impression that it was somewhere people with money went to escape from the rest of us. It’d be nice to think lessons have been learned from the Greenwich Millennium Village’s growing pains – but it seems not, with homes on the redeveloped Ferrier Estate also now being touted to foreign speculators.
So what the hell is going on here? Is the Millennium Village dream really going wrong – or is this just a collection of nasty rants? I know there have been real problems with the village’s management company’s attitude to its residents, too – with the quality of the buildings and with the heating systems, and with some of those environmental claims not coming up to scratch.
Unfortunately, we hear very little from GMV – its residents’ forum website has been running for years, but is closed to non-residents. “They were worried about people calling it a yuppie village,” I was told by one resident. (Whoops.) I hear the denziens of the GMV forum aren’t happy with GMVsucks.com – and understandably so.
But hopefully this will prompt the majority of GMV residents who aren’t nasty little snobs to open up a bit more. The best way to fight against bad pictures is to paint a better one yourself. Come on, tear down those walls on your forum, we can help with those queries about what to do when the Tube’s on strike. Or set up a blog – being part of a growing district must make GMV one of the most fascinating areas of London in which to live. It’s prime territory for a hyperlocal site. Instead of the braying minority with no time for their neighbours, it’s time we heard from the real residents of GMV. Come on in, the water’s lovely…