After the media launch of its Bridge The Gap campaign was hijacked two weeks ago, I’d been wondering how Greenwich Council would try to breathe new life into its campaign to see a third Blackwall Tunnel built.
Here’s how it did it – it called up its mates.
You know when the council’s in trouble – when it issues a press release in time for the local papers to use it. So this image and the following release was issued on Wednesday afternoon, rather than on Friday evening, after deadline time at the Mercury and News Shopper. Nevertheless, you’ll surely see it in next week’s propaganda weekly Greenwich Time. GT’s been sent a comment from the No To Silvertown Tunnel campaign – I’m looking forward to seeing whether it’ll use it.
Among this crowd are some of the people who have the greatest influence over how Greenwich Council works. They include figures from O2 owner AEG, property developer Berkeley Homes and West Properties, which promised to build a cruise liner terminal for the Olympics but has so far failed to deliver.
Below is the press release, with some comments on those who took part. Wednesday’s photocall ties together heap of stories proving just how dependent Greenwich Council has become on a handful of large firms – shutting out even members of its ruling Labour party from decision-making. But both MPs and rank-and-file Labour members are revolting against the council’s stance. The fight against the Silvertown Tunnel has a long way to run yet, but another battle is erupting over who actually controls the council.
Considering the handsome salary dished out to Greenwich’s head of press, the council could probably have done without the legend “Softheads” above regeneration cabinet member Denise Hyland’s bonce, mind. Whoops.
ROYAL BOROUGH OF GREENWICH
16 JANUARY 2013
LOCAL BUSINESSES CALL FOR BETTER RIVER CROSSINGS
Community leaders, local businesses and entrepreneurs have thrown their weight behind a campaign for more river crossings in East London. The Royal Borough of Greenwich and Newham Council are jointly campaigning for a new bridge at Thamesmead and a new tunnel at Silvertown to ease congestion and to promote economic growth. Businesses have now staged a public show of support, saying that the lack of routes across the river in East London is a barrier to economic growth in the area and that new crossings are badly needed to secure future the prosperity of the region.
Actually, no “community leaders” have spoken out in favour – does anyone know any “community leaders”? – and none are in the photo. There’s a few politicians, though. As for Newham Council’s support of Silvertown, it’s lukewarm at best. It told told last year’s TfL consultation on the issue:
“Newham’s support for Silvertown Tunnel is conditional on traffic management and a commitment to a fixed link at Gallions Reach.”
Bear in mind that Boris Johnson is implacably opposed to a fixed link at Gallions, which means Greenwich Council’s campaign would be more likely to achieve only a Silvertown Tunnel, a situation Labour London Assembly member John Biggs told TfL last year would be “unsustainable”. Last week, Biggs told an Assembly seminar into road crossings it would just “funnel more problems into the area”, adding there was a “very deep anxiety in Newham” that it would be lumbered with just the Silvertown Tunnel.
Local politicians, business leaders and community representatives gathered to discuss the issue on a morning which saw severe transport problems in the local area with the Woolwich Ferry closed because of fog, interrupted DLR services south of the river and incidents in the Blackwall Tunnel and on the A2.
Again, no “community representatives” in sight there. Of course, an incident on the A2 would still hold up access to the Silvertown Tunnel.
Councillor Chris Roberts, Leader of the Royal Borough of Greenwich said:
“It’s no surprise that there’s such strong support amongst businesses for our Bridge the Gap campaign. Providing new river crossings is absolutely essential to solve the serious congestion in this part of London and to unlock the development potential of some 40 sites both north and south of the Thames. The value of land and property is determined by access to it and it’s essential for both our businesses and our residents that we are no longer pegged back by the river being such a barrier here. While we obviously work hard to promote walking, cycling and using public transport, new river crossings are needed to solve the existing congestion issues and to bring better jobs and prospects for our local residents and businesses”
Do businesses and residents benefit from high property values? Or do existing landowners and property developers benefit? There’s also no proof that new road-building solves congestion issues – in fact, researchers from the London School of Economics and the University of Toronto have found otherwise.
Nick Raynsford, MP for Greenwich and Woolwich said:
“For too long, Greenwich and Woolwich have suffered from inadequate provision for river crossings. Severe congestion at Blackwall, and also queues of lorries waiting for the Woolwich Ferry, are not just inhibiting economic development; they are also causing serious pollution. That is why we need new river crossings at Silvertown and Gallions Reach, imposed traffic management through the introduction of smart tolling, and improvements in transport access, together with enhanced environment safeguards particularly along the A102”.
Nick Raynsford’s connections with the construction industry are well-documented. Of course, he infamously backed the universally unpopular redevelopment of Greenwich Market, since scrapped. He even backs the ‘Boris Island’ scheme to build an airport in the Thames Estuary.
Also among those gathered this morning, Rebecca Kane, General Manager of The O2 said:
“At The O2, AEG has created the world’s most popular music and entertainment venue, attracting more than 40 million visitors since it opened in June 2007. Throughout this time congestion at the Blackwall Tunnel has been an inherent problem for our customers, tenants and partners. AEG strongly supports the proposal for a tunnel crossing at Silvertown and a bridge at Gallions Reach. This will provide much needed relief to the area, support AEG’s next development phases on the Greenwich Peninsula and indeed stimulate similar growth on both sides of the river”.
Most O2 visitors arrive by public transport – the bigger threat to the O2 was the botched Jubilee Line resignalling project. Since 2007, AEG has done nothing to help ease the traffic congestion caused by the O2 arena outside North Greenwich station. Perhaps it might look after its own backyard first? AEG’s development plans include a controversial hotel scheme which has had council approval since 2010, when the planning board split on party lines, with Labour councillors voting for it. Which it’s believed locally that it’s behind the mysterious appearance of an open-air stadium in the council’s Greenwich Peninsula development masterplan. AEG representatives are regularly invited to the council’s functions, while the council rents a hospitality box in the O2 arena.
John Anderson, Chairman of Berkeley Homes said:
“Berkeley is very supportive of the two new River crossings at Silvertown and Gallions Reach Thamesmead which are essential for the continued growth and regeneration of this strategically important part of South East London.
We strongly believe that in order to gain the maximum sustainable benefits the Gallions Reach Crossing must be a bridge link and not a ferry.”
The links between Greenwich Council and Berkeley Homes are well-known. Council leader Chris Roberts even bought a flat in the Royal Arsenal from Berkeley for £270,000 in December 2009. Meanwhile, Berkeley has been doing its bit for the local housing crisis by, um, hawking homes in Kidbrooke Village – the old Ferrier Estate, handed to it by Greenwich Council – to Malaysian investors. It’s also been trying to wriggle out of paying for the fit-out of Woolwich’s Crossrail station, which sits inside the Arsenal development – the deadline for which is weeks away.
Berkeley Group chairman (and Conservative Party donor) Tony Pidgley was knighted in the New Year honours list. He’s called for homebuilders to be given spare government land cheaply. Berkeley are also regularly invited to council functions.
Donal Mulryan, CEO of West Properties said:
“This area has such huge economic potential which is already being realised to some extent, but it’s essential to future prosperity that we get a new river crossing in this part of London. It would be of great benefit to properly connect north and south here and will undoubtedly bring new jobs and investment to this area”.
West Properties promised to build a cruise liner terminal in east Greenwich in time for the Olympics. There’s been no sign of it yet, and so far has brought no new jobs or investment to the area. The company, which also hit problems with developments in Manchester after being caught up in the Irish property collapse, is also regularly invited to council booze-ups.
Roger Arnold, of Arnold Martin Associates said:
“East London has suffered historically, both economically and socially, due to the lack of connectivity between the two sides of the river. With the success of the regeneration of the Olympic site in Stratford and the commitment to Crossrail, this is an opportune moment to secure the future of East London and the campaign must be supported by local residents, communities and businesses to enhance the further potential of East London and the Thames Gateway.”
Martin Arnold Associates – yep, the council got the firm’s name wrong – are chartered surveyors and construction consultants involved in the redevelopment of the Olympic Park. It’s also supported the council’s Greenwich Starting Blocks charity for young athletes.
As for the other outfits featured, they include council building contractor Lakehouse; London Stone Properties, which flogs properties on the Arsenal; construction logistics firm CSB; Plumstead minicab firm Abbey Cars; printers SMP; Woolwich-based printers Scorpion Press; Woolwich diner Favourite Inn; solicitors Grant Saw; Murphys Waste, whose trucks regularly thunder through Greenwich; and, bafflingly, the Woolwich Grand Theatre. I wonder how many of the smaller firms without a direct interest in construction or property actually realise what they’ve signed up to? I’ve asked the Woolwich Grand Theatre and am waiting for a reply.
Why only one MP? While Nick Raynsford was happy to be at the launch, where was Eltham’s Clive Efford? Clive seems to be pushing his own scheme – a Silvertown Tunnel and DLR extension (which TfL isn’t consulting on). That’s the infamous “DLR on stilts” scheme, which Greenwich Council is spending £70,000 on a report investigating. Nothing about Gallions Reach – it’s believed Efford is vehemently against a bridge there, fearing it’ll eventually end in a return to the axed East London River Crossing scheme, which would have driven a motorway through Oxleas Wood. Sadly for him, his constituency now includes Kidbrooke, which would be badly affected by extra traffic on the A2. He’s in a no-win situation. Meanwhile, Erith & Thamesmead’s Teresa Pearce doesn’t seem too keen on Silvertown, judging by this tweet.
TfL says Silvertown WILL increase A102 traffic: TfL’s head of borough co-ordination Colin Mann admitted to a panel of Greenwich councillors last November that Silvertown was “likely to attract a lot of traffic” to the A102, and that no environmental impact assessment had been carried out.
Local Labour parties revolting over Bridge The Gap: Labour parties are tight-knit organisations which wouldn’t even tell you which brand of biscuits (Co-op, of course) they serve at their meetings. But Blackheath Westcombe Labour Party passed a motion condemning the Silvertown Tunnel scheme last week, and I’m told the Peninsula ward party tore a strip off Denise Hyland when she turned up there last night. Understandably so – there’s an election coming up next year, and marginal seats are under threat as residents discover what the council wants to do. More resolutions are planned in other local parties, including one for the whole Greenwich & Woolwich party, which is guaranteed to result in fireworks. Its chair, David Gardner, has already signed the petition against Silvertown, as have other members. Who runs Labour in this area – property developers, or local members? We may find out in the coming months.
Councillors admit air quality an issue: At last week’s planning meeting into opening a new Sainsbury’s in Charlton, three councillors – Clive Mardner, Hayley Fletcher and, unbelievably, Denise Hyland, brought up air quality along the Woolwich Road as an issue. Fletcher even voted against the scheme after calling the data “frightening”. Yet all three councillors are part of a Labour group which voted behind closed doors for a scheme which would make air quality much, much worse. Strange.
Council’s case ‘conjecture’, admits transport planner: At the London Assembly seminar on river crossings last week, Greenwich Council’s transport planner admitted that without evidence of the benefits of more crossings, the debate was mostly “conjecture”. Interestingly, the RAC Foundation’s David Quarmby observed that TfL wasn’t promising Silvertown was about regeneration – but according to Greenwich, it is. You can watch it here – including the ex-GLC transport chief who said Silvertown would cause “critical” congestion as it “put all the eggs in one basket” – but unfortunately you have to sit through all 150+ minutes of the meeting.
Council silent on A102 widening: A token letter against Silvertown made its way into Greenwich Time this week. No answer to the question, though, just like we’ve had no answers throughout this bizarre, and shaming episode.
City Hall has now placed some more data about crossing plans online, and there’s a detailed discussion at Greenwich.co.uk, although it’s the questions that have been detailed, not the answers. There are also meetings in Poplar and Greenwich to be held by Friends of the Earth, which is against both crossings. No public meetings from Greenwich Council, sheltering behind its developer friends and propaganda newspaper.
(Post updated Friday 12.05pm, to include TfL quote on Silvertown and petition quotes below.)
PS. Here’s some quotes from the petition so far:
“We should not add to traffic and pollution on A102 until all other possibilities have been properly investigated and implemented” – Richard Dinkeldein
“Emissions in the area are bad enough already this will make things far worse. Shame on you Greenwich Council.” – Tessa O’Connor
“I live close to the A102 and a family member’s asthma will only get worse with more traffic on the route.” – Stephen Craven
“More ways to cross the river in the East are needed. This however, is not the solution in an already congested area.” – Matt Drewry
“I live in the shadow of the Woolwich Road flyover and experience the fumes from the amount of traffic passing 24 hours a day and the sooty fallout on the windowsills etc. I suffer with asthma.” – Linda Brittin