The one-year countdown to the Olympics started around here in predictable fashion – with North Greenwich station being briefly closed because of a fire alert. Despite millions being thrown at Tube upgrades, new rail lines and a boosted Docklands Light Railway, transport remains next summer’s biggest worry.
With the test event arena still being dismantled in Greenwich Park, how can next summer be made easier and – heck, enjoyable – for locals who are going to have their lives turned upside down for a fortnight. Let’s get one thing straight – there’s a significant core of people who don’t want to enjoy next summer, who are going to make our lives a misery by complaining the Olympics will make their lives a misery. Not even a free ticket to the 100m final, with free helicopter ride there, will change these people’s minds.
But what about the rest of us? It’s a different situation in Greenwich to the main site in Stratford – or even Woolwich, which is seeing spin-offs such as its new square – as the physical legacy from the Games will be minimal. The hope is for private investment – like hotels – rather than creating permanent sporting reminders. So we’re in the odd situation of knowing the Olympics will change Greenwich – but we’re not quite sure how.
Here’s some thoughts about how people in this part of London can be kept happy – or a little bit less disgruntled – as the eyes of the world (© all media outlets) gaze upon our fair capital city. Your constructive suggestions to add to these thoughts would be welcome.
1. Information, information, information. The test events went off well, with much of the park opening ahead of schedule. But some of the information was still faulty – a surprise gate closure and a lack of information displays on the worst-affected east side of Greenwich Park didn’t help. This isn’t tough – put up notice boards at every entrance to the park, and update them fortnightly or monthly with the latest news.
2. Common sense closures. Speaking of the east side of the park, closing all of that side of the park – and denying access to the flower garden except from the Blackheath gate – was hugely inconvenient. Yes, as much of the park should stay open as possible – but access to what’s open should be kept as wide as possible.
3. Tell us more about our park. Another problem with the information given is that nobody knows the names of the gates and roads within the park. Anyone know where Lovers’ Walk is? With three gates on Maze Hill and one just off it, which one is Maze Hill Gate? And then which is Maze Hill House Gate? With months of small-scale closures coming up, perhaps it’s time for Royal Parks to invest in some tasteful signage so we know our Great Cross Avenue from The Avenue. (Here’s a map.)
4. Alternative parks. I’m looking forward to the Olympics, but even I found myself feeling bereft at losing a chunk of the park for the test events. I’m not sure Olympics organisers, or some of the local decision-makers who live elsewhere in Greenwich borough, have really though through the impact of having the park padlocked for a month will have. But Greenwich Park is not the only green space in south-east London. Greenwich borough has some wonderful green spaces, as does neighbouring Lewisham. Never been to Manor House Gardens in Lee? Or checked out the wetlands in Sutcliffe Park? You’re missing out. It’s time to promote these green spaces.
5. Let us see what’s going on. One great omission from the test events? A big screen so those without tickets could see what was going on inside. As we know, there’s hundreds of thousands of people who were let down by the 2012 ticket sale – yet they deserve to be part of the action too. I’ve still got fond memories of the fan park in the centre of Berlin during the 2006 World Cup – while a massive effort on that scale is going to be impractical, there’s no excuse for not peppering Greenwich and its neighbouring areas with screens.
I understand a big screen is planned for Cutty Sark Gardens. But the equestrian and pentathlon will have to become Greenwich events to win people over – so as many people as possible should be able to see what’s going on inside. Keep that screen in Cutty Sark Gardens, but have one on the peninsula too. Why not screens in East Greenwich Pleasaunce and St Alfege Park as well? Lewisham Council should get in on the act too – a screen on Blackheath would be a big draw.
6. Think again about the Olympic route network. This has been done to death elsewhere, and I’ve a funny feeling the ORN will collapse as the games go on. But the Blackwall Tunnel approach aside, the Greenwich area actually gets off pretty lightly – the biggest pinch point, as far as I can tell, will be on Shooters Hill Road between Charlton and Kidbrooke. But losing a lane on the Blackwall Tunnel approach will have knock-on effects elsewhere in the area. Short of flying a plane over Kent telling motorists to bugger off if their journeys aren’t necessary, it’s going to be one of the weakest links in the whole Olympic jigsaw. Ken Livingstone is right – the ORN should be opened up to buses and taxis. And extra buses should be laid on to get people through the A102 bottlenecks. It could be the best advert that the public transport network has ever had. An idle thought – could the ORN work as a contraflow on the approach road?
7. Reverse the Southeastern Olympic service cuts. The train company still plans to cut services at Deptford, Maze Hill, Westcombe Park, Woolwich Dockyard and Kidbrooke. If you’re telling people to take the fortnight off, and telling people to stay out of their cars, don’t make it more difficult for them to take trains to go about the rest of their business. The worst example of pig-headed idiocy in Olympics planning – and our mayor doesn’t seem to care.
8. Let’s have a party. Sat in the Old Brewery late last night, listening to the Divine Comedy waft over the walls, it dawned on me – why not have a free concert in the week before the Olympics? The Greenwich Summer Sessions may not happen next year because of the Games, which would be a great shame – but what’s really needed is a show for everyone to enjoy. We should be planning as many free things – like Sail Royal Greenwich – as possible to attract visitors who might be deterred by the loss of the park and museum.
9. Neighbourhood pride. A renewed commitment to keeping the streets of Greenwich clean would be nice. This isn’t the council’s strongest point – but if we’re meant to be feeling proud of our neighbourhood, more effort should be made to sort out the area’s tatty streets. Incidentally, we should go to town on putting banners up – costs can be recouped by selling them afterwards.
10. Free tickets for schoolchildren. Greenwich Council leader Chris Roberts is right – it’s a disgrace that most local children are being locked out of events. It’s not too late to change this.
11. Be visible and listen to local residents’ ideas. Open up that 2012 shop in the market. Have a suggestion box in there. Just listen to people. This has to be a Greenwich event (and I mean Greenwich itself, not the borough), instead of feeling like an event imposed on Greenwich by outside forces and local politicians. Leaving Greenwich Park untouched will be a challenge – but so will leaving the people of Greenwich feeling like it’s all been worth it. It can be done, though.
Any more ideas? Your suggestions – as opposed to complaints – would be appreciated.
Want more? The latest In The Meantime podcast discusses Olympics issues across the whole borough.