Greenwich snubs cycling tsar Gilligan over council criticisms

Top-notch Greenwich Council cycling infrastructure off Western Way, Thamesmead
Top-notch Greenwich Council cycling infrastructure off Western Way, Thamesmead

Greenwich Council has admitted it is refusing to deal with City Hall’s cycling commissioner Andrew Gilligan because he has criticised the authority in his work as a journalist.

Cabinet member Denise Hyland told a council meeting there was an “irresolvable conflict of interest” because he had written about “public policy” in the borough.

Greenwich is the only one of London’s 32 boroughs to have refused to speak to Gilligan, who launched plans to make cycling in the capital easier and safer earlier this year.

Hyland’s admission that the council wasn’t speaking to Gilligan came two days after a cyclist was killed in a collision in Lewisham, just outside the borough boundary.

In a written reply to a question from Greenwich Cyclists co-ordinator Anthony Austin, she said the council was engaging with TfL over the Mayor’s Vision For Cycling – just not with Gilligan.

“I can confirm that Officers have met with senior representatives from Transport for London to discuss the Royal Borough’s priorities and how they relate to both the Mayor’s Vision for Cycling and the funding packages available. The meeting was extremely constructive with Transport for London indicating that they were very supportive of the work the Borough has undertaken so far and confirming they would work with us to bring forward future proposals in line with the Council’s agreed priorities.

“In relation to the Mayor’s Cycling Commissioner, this is a part time post awarded to a Greenwich resident who is a journalist who has blogged and written about significant issues of public policy within Greenwich and it is our view that he has an irresolvable conflict of interest.

“The Leader of the Council met with his boss, the Deputy Mayor for Transport [Isabel Dedring] to agree that liaison on cycling matters would continue to be, as previously, through the officer networks and where necessary at senior political level.”

Gilligan, who lives in west Greenwich, wrote regularly about issues in the area in a column for for two years until 2010 and has also touched on local issues in his work for the Daily Telegraph. Abrasive and provocative, his targets included the Olympics in Greenwich Park, market owner Greenwich Hospital, the Inc chain of bars and restaurants, and this very website as well as the council (“forty-watt burghers“).

But Gilligan’s criticisms of Greenwich are nothing compared with his trenchant attacks on Tower Hamlets, whose elected mayor Lutfur Rahman he brands “extremist-linked“.

However, Tower Hamlets council seems to have a thicker skin than Greenwich – it’s co-operating with Gilligan on the cycling plan. Indeed, even TfL’s top brass are having to swallow their pride to work with someone who repeatedly dubbed it “Transport for Livingstone”.

Whatever your views on Gilligan’s skills or failings as a journalist, it’s pretty clear that he got to council leader Chris Roberts. In 2010, Roberts yelled “chicken run, my arse!” at an election count following a Gilligan story about him doing a ‘chicken run’ to a safer seat.

With this background, they were never going to be best buddies. But the leader’s ego means Greenwich is set to miss out on improvements which could make the streets safer for all road users, providing many with a new way of getting around the area.

Indeed, even Bexley Council has announced it’s bidding for “mini-Holland” funding to try to significantly boost the low levels of cycling in its borough. Cyclists in Greenwich will have to wait until at least the next council election in May before such enlightened thinking is seen on the streets of the self-styled royal borough.


  1. Great, so over 200,000 people miss out due a disagreement with one person.

  2. Abhorrent behaviour by Greenwich Council. It is now openly doing what is best for those within the top tier of the Council and ignoring the needs, and more importantly the welfare, of the people of the borough who put them in power. Denise Hylands arrogance is only matched by her complete incompetence.
    If a single cyclist is killed on Greenwich roads that could have been saved by dealing with Gilligan, the whole lot of them should be up on manslaughter charges.
    I am sick of Greenwich Council’s complete disregard for the people of the Borough.

  3. I’ve really tried, but I don’t see how this can possibly be a “conflict of interests” (COI). A COI would arise if the Council considered that Gilligan’s integrity as TfL cycling commissioner was compromised by his allegiance to some other organisation or cause, and that would in any case be something for TfL to be concerned about. What it is, of course, is a conflict of opinions and it’s ridiculous for the Council to dress it up as something more objective. And actually, just to stir the pot, Gilligan might consider any suggestion that he has a COI that should prevent him from being commissioner as defamatory.

  4. Yes, I was just going to say very much the same as Brian: ‘conflict of interest’ doesn’t mean ‘because we don’t like him’ or ‘because we say so’. I would be very interested to hear more about the detail of how this conflict could arise and affect either the Council’s or Gilligan’s work.

    (although having said this it’s a later question in the same public questions document that I find even more depressing; ex-councillor asks question about use of office space as foodbank storage, councillor uses this as an opportunity to have a pop at the LDs, and insinuate that the asker doesn’t care about the destitute as much as Greenwich Council. We all think the LDs have messed up nationally. Not one single person’s life is made better by this point-scoring and evasion.)

  5. Hot on the heels of the Peninsula ‘Affordable Homes’ story this is another depressing (but well researched) read. I thought a lot about the Affordable Homes issue and, reading the planners report, I sensed that between the lines the issue was basically ‘Developer offers to build less than promised affordable homes if they get to exclude the oiks from the Posh End, or Developer says will build hardly any affordable homes if forced to stick to original plan’. If that was the case I can forgive the council putting pragmatism ahead of idealism and going with the exclusion zone, if it means at least some much needed affordable homes are built asap. But in this case there is no such possible explanation. It’s just (seemingly) one man – who doesn’t feel the need to explain himself – not wanting to work with another man who he doesn’t like. And then getting a Councillor to read out some mealy-mouthed words about COI, which embarresses her and shames him.

    Meanwhile, the people who could shed some light on the subjects, and perhaps give perfectly reasonable explanations, remain silent. Strange, there were enough Council-affiliated bods responding on here a week or so back when they were defending their selections and selection processes.

    That said, you have ‘blogged locally’ Darryl so perhaps the council have decided not to engage with you and your readership due to your blatant COI (don’t think we don’t know this blog is cover for a revolutionary counter-council ready to take up arms and overthrow the legitimately elected Labour Council at a moments notice!)

  6. If any Greenwich Labour members would like to justify Hyland’s actions, they’re more than welcome to. But they rarely do. It feels like the old criticism of the royal family – they never apologise, and never explain.

    In some ways, Gilligan has swallowed his own words to do the cycling job – I’ve watched him praise bloggers where he used to lay into them. I’m no fan of his journalism, and have been attacked by him myself, but I’m happy to give him a chance with the cycling job. It’d be nice to see our council do the same.

    Of course, that “irresolvable conflict of interest rules me out from ever doing anything, or anyone who comments or criticises anything that ever happens in Greenwich. That’s actually rather sinister. It’d have been better if they said “we don’t like him” and left it at that.

  7. Seems fair enough to me. They’re dealing with officers and having constructive discussions with them, so what’s the problem?
    Gilligan is just a figurehead given the job because he’s a mate of Boris Johnson’s. He’s hardly an expert in the field so why should they waste their time talking to him.
    He hates Greenwich Council and has spent a lot of time slagging them off because he’s offended that his neighbours voted for them. If he’s going to do his job properly it’s up to him to climb down from some of his more extreme attacks and make peace. However, because he’s got an ego to match anyone on Greenwich Council, that’s not going to happen.
    For all their faults, the council were at least elected. No one has ever voted for Gilligan and nor would they, he’s a self serving crony of London’s self serving mayor.

  8. Thanks for commenting, Thomas.

    Shouldn’t Chris Roberts and Denise Hyland climb down from their positions here? After all, his criticisms of Greenwich are nothing compared to what he’s said about Tower Hamlets.

  9. I have to agree with Thomas. One certainly cannot condone the Council Officer’s stance on this matter, but it is not the case that there will, as a result, be no consultation whatever with City Hall on cycling issues I the Borough.

  10. A disappointing attitude from RBG. I would feel less troubled if I felt that the council was pushing for genuine improvements in cycle facilities in the borough, but there’s little sign of that. All we can do is hope for a better attitude once Chris Roberts has gone.

  11. Confused.
    Are Greenwich not in breach of data protection by naming him as a resident. That information is protected. It’s okay for him to declare it but certainly not the Council.
    It would also suggest that they are ignoring his legal rights as a resident of the borough and effectively discriminating against him for using his right of free speech.
    I would, as a resident, be suing the arse off them if I was Gillingan.

  12. Paul, if you were Gilligan presumably you’d be off looking for your credibility after the Greenwich Park fiasco.

    As pointed out its handbags, if Greenwich can find a way of making it work then fair enough.

    I believe that Mr Gilliigan has made his residency of this borough a matter of public record quite enough!

  13. Politics often means having to lay down your sword and talk to your erstwhile enemies, but in Greenwich that doesn’t need to happen. The Labour Council know they will be in power in Greenwich, with an overwhelming majority, until hell freezes over so, frankly, they can do what they like.

    Nikkii – With regard to the Q about foodbanks, I think my LD colleague somewhat opened himself up to that response to be honest. Nevertheless every council meeting I have been to descends into a national policy attack as a way of wriggling out of awkward local questions. It also emphasises the political sweet spot Labour are in – the benefit of local incumbency (aided by Greenwich Time) and the benefit of national opposition, thereby they can take the praise for success and blame failure on the “horrible Con-Dems”.

  14. But given that the monkey’s been put up as the figurehead, and every other borough is talking to the figurehead, I’d have thought it would be better to be seen to join those conversations rather than take a stand which appears puerile at best.

  15. We’ve picked up a troll, John, whom you inadvertently fed. We’re all hoping he’ll go away if denied food.

  16. (I hadn’t actually followed the link when I asked … I suspected it was aimed at me though.)

    I had a fairly good view of how Mr Adams chooses to interact at http://8 – I wasn’t particularly trying to engage with him or, especially given his statement elsewhere that he was no longer ticking the ‘notify of follow-ups’ box, expecting a response.

    Thing is, that behind the language of organs and monkey-grinders, there’s a substantive point. OK, so most of the groundwork and most of the concrete detail will be established at officer level, and to that extent whether Greenwich chooses to engage with Gilligan or at a higher level may not be terribly relevant.

    However, sometimes being seen to participate in a process has a greater value than the participation itself – I’m quite happy to believe that there won’t be much benefit in the talks or interaction that Gilligan will lead, or at least not much that can’t be made up in other parts of the process. But I’d also think that there’s potential for such a visible refusal to talk to Gilligan to be damaging to Greenwich’s position overall.

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