The Gilligan files: Greenwich Council’s cycling sulk revealed

Almost Dutch-style in Greenwich - by the City Peninsula development
Almost Dutch-style in Greenwich – by the City Peninsula development

Cyclists in Greenwich borough face missing out on “superhubs” proposed for North Greenwich and Abbey Wood stations after Greenwich Council resisted NINE separate attempts to set up a meeting with City Hall cycling commissioner Andrew Gilligan, it has emerged.

The council’s attitude also appears to put plans for a cycle superhighway through Woolwich, Charlton and Greenwich to London Bridge in jeopardy.

Last week saw farcical scenes in a council meeting as the Labour leadership tried to avoid debating the issue with the Conservative opposition, who tabled a motion condemning leader Chris Roberts’ refusal to deal with the controversial journalist, charged by London mayor Boris Johnson with pushing his recently-published “vision for cycling in London”.

Chris Roberts and Mary Ney
Chris Roberts and Mary Ney pictured in this week’s Greenwich Time

But the council’s Labour mayor Angela Cornforth allowed an amendment to the motion from the leadership which avoided the issue entirely, leading to angry scenes at Woolwich Town Hall.

It’s since emerged that Chris Roberts cancelled a meeting of Labour councillors two days before the meeting which would have discussed the Gilligan motion. Instead, the meeting was moved to an hour before the full council meeting, denying Labour councillors the chance to fully debate issue among themselves.

Greenwich is the only one of London’s 32 boroughs to have refused to deal with Gilligan, and it has claimed it can still take forward projects outlined in the mayor’s documents. However, this appears not to be the case.

Now documents released by City Hall reveal the extent to which Chris Roberts has avoided communicating with Andrew Gilligan – and how even approaches to politically neutral officers appear to have been clamped down upon by the leader.

The emails were released after a request to the Greater London Authority under the Freedom of Information Act – however, what’s been released goes far beyond the Act, indicating that City Hall has had enough of refusals from Roberts and council chief executive Mary Ney, who is supposed to act in an apolitical manner.

The emails also document attempts by the mayor’s chief of staff, Sir Edward Lister, and Labour assembly member Len Duvall to persuade Greenwich to talk.

A covering letter from City Hall information governance manager Albert Chan sets out the picture clearly. Where they’ve been made available, you can download the documents through the links in the text.

“Mr Gilligan informs me that since his appointment in January he or others acting on his behalf (Transport for London officials or members of the London Assembly) have made a total of nine approaches to the leader, portfolio holder or officers at the Royal Borough of Greenwich.

“On 13 February, Mr Gilligan contacted the office of the leader, Cllr Chris Roberts, introducing himself and asking for a meeting, but received no response.” (A separate FOI response from Greenwich Council claims Roberts did not receive a letter.)

“On 15 February he emailed Cllr Harry Singh, the cycling portfolio holder, introducing himself and asking for a meeting, but received no response.

“He emailed Cllr Singh again on 20 February, but received no response.” (See both the emails here, obtained under a separate FOI to Greenwich Council.)

“On the publication date of the cycling vision, 7 March, Mr Gilligan expressed concern to the council’s cycling officer, Sam Margolis, who attended one of the launch events, at the lack of response from Greenwich. Mr Margolis promised to feed this back, but nothing further was heard.

During March, at Mr Gilligan’s request, Alex Williams, TfL’s head of borough partnerships, raised the issue with Cllr Denise Hyland, the cabinet member for transport. Mr Williams was assured that the council did wish to be involved in the Mayor’s cycling plans. Again, however, no contact followed.

“On 26 March, Mr Gilligan wrote to Mary Ney, the chief executive, and to Cllr Roberts expressing his hope that the council would still take part in the cycling programme and asking for a meeting. He received a holding response from Ms Ney on 4 April, saying that she would respond fully when she returned from holiday. No substantive response followed.” (See the letter to Chris Roberts, which mentions the hubs at North Greenwich and Abbey Wood, Cycle Superhighway 4 to Woolwich and Mary Ney’s response. Greenwich Council denies that a letter from Gilligan was ever received by Roberts’ office.)

“On 4 May, Mr Gilligan emailed Ms Ney asking for a response, but received none.

“On 20 May, he emailed again and received a response stating that the council would not meet him.

“In mid-June, Mr Gilligan, the Mayor’s chief of staff, Sir Edward Lister, and Len Duvall, the local Assembly member, agreed to make a final approach to Greenwich, through Mr Duvall. However, the council continued to refuse to meet Mr Gilligan and stated publicly that it would not do so.”

The email from Sir Edward Lister to Roberts states: “I was surprised to learn that Greenwich, alone in London, has declined to work with Andrew, stating that there is a conflict of interest. Both Greenwich and the Mayor in fact share a common interest in ensuring that cycling in the borough is as attractive and safe as possible. We are extremely keen to work with, and to fund, Greenwich on cycling.”

SIr Edward Lister letter to Chris Roberts

But there was no joy, and the email trail ends only eight days ago, on 29 July, with an email from Gilligan to Len Duvall. It reads: “This issue has been decided by Ed [Lister]. He’s quite clear, and has asked me to tell TfL, that Greenwich must deal with me, and can’t go through Isabel [Dedring, deputy mayor for transport], if they want to benefit from any of our new cycling funding, infrastructure or routes.”

Gilligan also discusses the Tories’ motion and voices his fear that it will drive Greenwich “even further into the bunker”. A month previously, Gilligan also turned down an offer from the London Cycling Campaign to make a fuss about Greenwich’s refusal for the same reason.

Why this matters - the memorial placed for 66-year-old Stella Chandler, who was hit by a lorry at Vanburgh Hill, Greenwich, in 2009
Why this matters – the memorial placed for 66-year-old Stella Chandler, who was hit by a lorry at Vanburgh Hill, Greenwich, in December 2009

It appears the events of last Wednesday have persuaded City Hall that there’s nothing to lose by abandoning the softly-softly approach. What’s striking is that Chris Roberts doesn’t even have the guts to respond to Gilligan to tell him to go away – it’s as if he’s scared of him. He either hides behind Mary Ney, or simply orders council staff to block all contact. A parallel FOI response from Greenwich to me denied that Roberts’ office received any correspondence from Gilligan – a claim I now know to be false.

Indeed, this whole episode goes far beyond a spat over personalities and cycling, for it reveals just how dysfunctional Greenwich Council really is.

But for the sake of the people of the borough of Greenwich – and not just its cyclists – does anybody on that council have the guts to do anything about it?

PS. To put Chris Roberts’ refusal to talk about cycle safety improvements into context, Monday saw a cyclist die in a collision with a lorry at the Archway roundabout in north London, while there was an unconfirmed report of one being hit by a bus at Dog Kennel Hill in East Dulwich.


  1. I am really shocked to read that. How disgusting that the council puts some kind of personal issues before the safety of Greenwich residents. That’s a new low for the council

  2. I attended a London Cycling Summit organised by New London Architecture last week, which featured a keynote from Andrew Gilligan and a panel discussion with London boroughs (Ealing, Hackney, Camden), among other things. Gilligan and Ben Plowden (TfL) talked about GoDutch hubs, and Greenwich was mentioned at one point – but, unsurprisingly, there was nobody from LB Greenwich at the event. It was galling to hear the positive approach to cycling by Ealing, and contrast that with the head-in-the-sand shun-Gilligan-at-all-costs approach of the borough to which I pay Council Tax.

  3. If the FOI requests are yielding no information, which you now know to be false, the council should be prosecuted. FOI requests are a legal thing and with proof there’s absolutely no way it should not be used to charge.
    “deliberately destroy, hide or alter requested information to prevent it being released.” – this is the only way you can breach the FOI act in a criminal way and it sounds for certain like this is the case here.

  4. This is simply astonishing.

    Last week Angela Cornforth violates the Borough Constitution to avoid responding to this issue.

    Now we learn that Borough officers have LIED in response to an FOI request.

    This is corruption, pure and simple.

    Greenwich Labour Councillors: you need to get rid of Chris Roberts and Mary Ney NOW. The people of Greenwich cannot afford to wait until the elections next year.

  5. It’s a shame that we don’t get a chance to see what a post-Roberts labour Council would be like BEFORE the next London Council elections. I don’t want to vote for a party that has been behaving this badly (not just on this issue of course); neither do I want to vote for the currently pathetic opposition parties. What’s the alternative?

  6. @ Steve

    I don’t won’t to vote for the opposition either but these guys need to be taught a lesson that we have had enough.

  7. Steve – the only alternative I can see is to stand as an independent yourself and get out there talking to as many people as possible. As has been noted elsewhere on this site, there is a website with information on how to do this – – and there is no deposit to lose.

    With the size of the wards you’d be looking at contacting 10,000 people and knocking on 5,000 doors on average. With some it may be as many as 15,000 and 7,500 respectively. The thought of doing this on my own was one of the major things that put me off myself in 2010.

    I’m all for as many people standing (and voting) as possible. The sooner that the issues with governance in Greenwich reach the wider population the better as far as I am concerned. Not enough people are aware at the moment and that is partly down to the rot of Greenwich Time painting a very one-sided, rosey picture of local affairs.

  8. Steve

    Stewart beat me to it (as usual) – you should consider standing as an independent!

    Knocking on 5,000 doors sounds daunting, I know – but how else can we bring the Council back under local residents’ control?

  9. I am sure those who oversee local government would be interested in looking into incorrect FOI responses. Smacks of maladministration to me.

  10. This is disgusting, indefensible, and childish behaviour.

    Any members sitting on the current Council have just lost my vote.

  11. Steve – your comments about the “pathetic” opposition I find profoundly depressing.

    Maybe you were at the Council meeting on Wednesday night – if so you would have heard opposition parties, from the gallery and the floor, attack the Labour Council in a very robust and mature way. We were treated to the usual rant by the cabinet and accused of most of the crimes of humanity.

    The way “democracy” in our borough is conducted and a FPTP voting system means that the vast majority of Greenwich Borough will be Labour. Always. Period. I don’t mind spending what free time and cash I have on trying to change things. But I am mad because, as everyone keeps telling me, whats the point? You’ll never win, you get called a “F**king yellow Tory B**stard” on the street when you campaign so why not go down the pub, watch telly, tap on a keyboard, instead of getting out and grinding away in all weathers to try and effect a better life for the people of Greenwich. Yeah pathetic isn’t it.

  12. Darryl –

    In your view, does the response you received from Council officers denying that Roberts’ office received any correspondence from Gilligan violate the Freedom of Information Act?

    From the ICO website: “section 77 [of the FOI Act] states that it is a criminal offence to alter, block, destroy or conceal information.”

    If in your view the FOI Act has been violated, have you reported this to the ICO and/or police? This seems extremely serious to me.

  13. (Off-topic comment deleted – can we please stick to Greenwich Council, cycling and Gilligan – and that applies to local politicians too. Thank you.)

  14. Why anyone with a ounce of sense would vote for Labour is beyond me, but this really takes the local cronies to an all-time low. It sounds like the parish-politics that I left behind me in Ireland, but it seems politicians are as corrupt as each other the world over.

    Like Lewisham, Greenwich will always be run by Labour as when they were in power they showered unaffordable public services onto run down areas like Woolwich. It is no coincidence that Unemployment Black-spot = Labour Heartland.

  15. Of course, if anyone in Greenwich Labour would like to defend or otherwise comment on this situation, they will be more than welcome.

  16. It’s in their own interest to respond I’d have thought. The longer this story goes uncommented on the more chance that those newshounds over at Greenwich Times smell blood in the water and this story goes national!!

  17. Paragraph A1.7 of Greenwich Council’s Constitution allows five members to call for a special meeting. In view of Darryl’s revelations, especially the Gilligan/Duvall eMail and the possibility that Greenwich might lose cycling projects, I think it would be justified if Conservative (or even Labour) members were to take advantage of this.

    Andrew Gilligan & Len Duvall both seem to have behaved pretty well here.

  18. And another thing. At the Council meeting last week Chris Roberts suggested that his meeting with Isabel Dedring the previous day proved that Gilligan’s involvement wasn’t needed (thanks for audioboo Darryl). Yet the Gilligan/Duvall eMail suggests that ID intended to use this meeting to make clear to CR that City Hall insisted on Gilligan being their main man.

    Chris Roberts may have misled Council as to City Hall’s position.

  19. Two days on, still no comment from anyone in Greenwich Labour. David Prescott, a possible candidate to stand for Labour in Greenwich & Woolwich at the next election, has, however, tweeted that the council should talk to Gilligan:

    Another possible, Annie Keys, is going about it in a rather roundabout way by launching a survey about cycling:

    Meanwhile, a London Councils survey says more people would cycle if roads were safer – and mentions European funding which Lambeth and Southwark have applied for, but, surprise surprise, not Greenwich:

  20. Overheard in the Town Hall:

    “Shhhh, just ignore the ranting rabble of usual suspects and they’ll give up and go away.”

    Do keep us informed about the ICO’s response, Darryl.

  21. Great reporting! Here’s Cllr Hyland’s recent email response to me when I asked why the council refuses to engage with Andrew Gilligan:

    Dear XXX,

    Firstly I’m delighted to hear you’ve joined the increasing number of cyclists in the Borough.
    I assure you the Council is actively engaged with Transport for London regarding the Mayor’s Vision for Cycling. I can confirm the Leader has met with the Deputy Mayor for Transport, Andrew Gilligan’s boss, and 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 directly awarded by the Mayor to Mr Gilligan, 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 a conflict of interest currently exists.

    Liaison on cycling matters will continue, as previously, to be through the officer networks and where necessary at senior political level. The Leader of the Council is again scheduled to meet with Isabel Dedring, the Deputy Mayor for Transport later this month.

    Royal Greenwich is striving to improve road safety for all vulnerable road users, including cyclists, and the current edition of Greenwich Time details some of the schemes and projects we’re implementing to achieve these. In relation specifically to work we are doing to improve facilities for cyclists.
    In 2011 we commissioned a Best Value Review (BVR) to analyse current cycling provision in the Borough, and measures required to encourage more and safer cycling. This BVR included stakeholder workshops with a variety of interested parties, culminating in an action plan which reports to the Scrutiny Panel for Sustainable Communities and Transport every 6 months. You can see the latest progress report, which outlines a range of measures (both infrastructure and ‘behaviour change’ schemes) currently being implemented, here: (see item 6).

    The same report (section 3.7) highlights changes in cycling levels in the Borough over recent years, showing increased cycling which we hope to build on through the continuation and development of programmes shown in the document. At the same time we are continuing to roll out other measures which will increase safe cycling in the Borough, such as the implementation of 20mph zones across Royal Greenwich.

    We feel that a combination of these measures are contributing to improved safety for cyclists in the Borough, and indeed the most recent statistics from TfL show that by 2012 we had achieved a 36% decrease in pedal cycle casualties (of all severities), despite increased numbers cycling, compared to the 1994-1998 baseline data.

    Thanks again for writing to me. I am copying in the Member for Greener Greenwich, who has a shared responsibility for Cycling in his portfolio.
    Cllr Hyland
    Cabinet Member for Regeneration

  22. see how they failed to deal with correspondence……I obviously meant to say!

  23. RBG has a long, long, long history of ignoring residents who disagree with whatever the party line is on any issue at all. They hope that if the big silence goes on long enough you will forget all about it and go away. WIth that history no wonder they try it on with ANYONE they don’t agree with. Have no idea what the borough motto is, but can I suggest one addressed to the council tax payer by the Chosen One Roberts?

    PAY UP and PUSH OFF.

    Could have been earthier than that but I think you get my drift

Comments are closed.