Greenwich Tories protest over council’s cycle tsar snub

Trafalgar Road, Greenwich

Greenwich Council’s refusal to deal with London’s cycling tsar Andrew Gilligan is to be raised by Conservative councillors at this Wednesday’s full council meeting.

It’s a move that will raise eyebrows among watchers of the capital’s cycling issues – Conservatives on the London Assembly have walked out of debates on cycling safety in tantrums over unrelated issues.

But as often happens in Greenwich borough’s through-the-looking-glass politics, the Tories are staking out a position to the left of the council’s authoritarian Labour leadership.

Council leader Chris Roberts is personally refusing to deal with the journalist, appointed by mayor Boris Johnson to be his one-day-per week cycling commissioner earlier this year, and launched an ambitious – if only partially-funded – programme of improvements to boost cycling and make it safer.

Roberts has ordered that the whole council should have nothing to do with Gilligan, who lives in west Greenwich and has criticised the leader and his council in his Telegraph and columns – even though this means Greenwich is believed to be the only one of London’s 32 boroughs to refuse to speak to him.

Last month, cabinet member Denise Hyland attempted to justify the snub, saying Gilligan “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”, adding that the council would deal with officers at City Hall and TfL rather than with Gilligan.

The Tory motion reads:

Council disagrees with the Cabinet Member’s suggestion that Mr Gilligan has “an irresolvable conflict of interest” and considers that his superior knowledge of our Borough should be something which works to Greenwich residents’ advantage.

Council regrets that Greenwich is the only Borough not to meet with the Cycling Commissioner to help plan spending on infrastructure to support cycling across London.

Council considers that the actions and comments of the Leader of the Council and Cabinet Member with regard to the Cycling Commissioner places our residents at a clear disadvantage as plans are developed to improve cycling across London.

In particular Council wishes to express clear support for the ‘Mayor’s Vision for Cycling in London’, most notably in its plans for a network of direct, high-capacity, joined-up cycle routes. In addition Council supports the Vision’s plan for ‘Mini-Hollands’ in the suburbs and Mr Gilligan’s support for the linked Dutch ideas of bike-specific traffic lights, station cycle hire, and streets designs that could be implemented in London.

Council calls upon the Leader of the Council or Cabinet Member to meet with the Cycling Commissioner as soon as possible to ensure that Greenwich residents (like Mr Gilligan) are not disadvantaged by the Executive’s failure to engage fully with the Mayor’s Vision for Cycling in London.

While it’s good that this issue is being given a proper airing in a council meeting – especially from a party which, nationally and at a London level, has a poor record in taking cycling seriously – the motion is certain to fail, and be replaced by one praising the council’s current approach, which backbench Labour councillors will be bullied into voting for, with a few digs at the coalition and Boris put in for good measure.

Indeed, it wouldn’t be surprising if the motion has been placed with one eye on giving outgoing leader Roberts maximum discomfort at the last council meeting for three months. Greenwich certainly isn’t an anti-cycling borough, but under the current regime improvements and welcome initiatives such as creating a borough-wide cycle map have been given a low profile. It’s something some potential new leaders may be keen to change, to emulate other Labour boroughs such as Camden, Hackney and Lambeth.

Incidentally, this London-wide map of where people cycle to work from is telling – based on figures from the 2011 census, you can see how figures fall off sharply beyond Charlton and Blackheath (apart from an area around Woolwich Common – cycling squaddies?) – obviously distance is a factor, but if there’s any politicians in this area who want to take cycling seriously, there’s a challenge for them to consider.


  1. Darryl,

    Great article – but I think Gilligan is paid and works 3 days a week as the Mayor’s Cycling Commissioner.


  2. TfL figures show that the number of cyclists injured in Greenwich in 2012 was exactly the same as in 2008 – fifty six – while every other Borough has experienced an increase and the London wide figure is 40% up over the four years. I’ve no idea why this is but the Greenwich performance looks rather good on the face of it.

    Of course if the Labour leadership in the Borough cared more about road safety and less about settling scores they would be beating a path to Gilligan’s door suggesting that other Boroughs could learn from Greenwich.

  3. Thanks for the figures, Paul.

    I hate to stay it, but the increases in other areas may well be down to the massive increases in the numbers cycling elsewhere. Looking at the 2001 and 2011 census data I see that Greenwich is consistently ranked the lowest “inner” London borough for cycle use and the growth that is there is far below the inner London average.

    This is no doubt in part due to the Barclays cycling scheme never reaching these parts, LCN and LCN+ being little more than a few signposts on (mainly) quieter roads and the delays to cycle superhighway schemes for SE London.

  4. I’ve often argued that the stats are probably influenced by the relative lack of new cyclists in and around Greenwich. I love cycling, and have tried on many occasions to get my girlfriend to take up the pastime with me. But she is not confident on the “open road”, and cycle path routes are very limited. Even where they do exist, they are poorly signed and hard to follow in places.

    She won’t be alone in her resistance, and that is very sad.

    It is also “sad” that a personal vendetta is influencing Council policy. Lets hope you are wrong Darryl and the “back-benchers” stand their ground and get the point across.

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