Greenwich Council discusses cycling, councillors fail to show

A Monday night at Woolwich Town Hall? Well, there’s been better ideas for start-of-week thrills, but turning up to the catchily-titled Sustainable Communities and Transport scrutiny panel was the only show in town if you wanted to catch up on what Greenwich Council is doing for cyclists.

There’s a fair bit going on below the radar – you can read about it here – and if you listened to Greenwich Council’s officers talk, you’d feel that cyclists (and potential cyclists) were in safe hands.

But there were not one, but two elephants in committee room 4 last night. One was council leader Chris Roberts’ personal refusal to speak to London cycling commissioner Andrew Gilligan.

The other… where were all the other councillors?

On the seven-strong committee, only two – chair Hayley Fletcher, and Peninsula councillor Mary Mills – bothered to show up, along with independent Tory Eileen Glover, co-opted onto the panel. Labour councillors Mick Hayes, Don Austen, Matt Pennycook and Dick Quibell clearly had more pressing concerns than showing up to a meeting they’re paid to attend. The same went for Tories Nigel Fletcher and Adam Thomas.

One councillor had an illness in the family and another was on holiday; while Nigel Fletcher’s day job meant he, oddly, was at the Labour party conference. Matt Pennycook may well have been electioneering. As for the others… heaven knows. It’s not like these people get paid to represent us or anything. Oh.

So the meeting limped on, unable to make any decisions because there weren’t enough members there, but the discussion was interesting. Direct mention of the Gilligan farrago was delicately sidestepped by the officers, and it was made clear that council officers were trying to get hold of every (other) piece of funding available. But Greenwich’s senior transport planner, Kim Smith, added that these “paled into insignificance” compared with the sums available under the schemes Gilligan is promoting.

Not that Greenwich would have been able to get all of the loot. It was confirmed that Greenwich wouldn’t have been eligible for the “mini-Holland” funding which is being offered by City Hall, having been firmly told it doesn’t count as outer London, but neither does it qualify for sums being offered to central London boroughs. (This was a subject cabinet member Denise Hyland seemed a bit clueless about at back in July.)

But as for what Greenwich would be entitled to, we were told TfL hadn’t been in touch with the council for nearly a year on Cycle Superhighway 4, which is due to run from London Bridge to Woolwich. While all the routes are up for review, Andrew Gilligan told Lewisham Cyclists last week that CS4 will be the last to be developed because of the intransigence of Greenwich’s political leadership.

Beyond this avoidable mess, though, there was discussion of those under-the-radar things discussed earlier – work on finally sorting out Cutty Sark Gardens so people can legally and safely cycle through it to the foot tunnel; the “missing link” in the Thames Path between the Thames Barrier and King Henry’s Wharf in Woolwich; some work on Canberra Road, a useful cut-through in Charlton; pointing out to Royal Parks that its signs for cyclists in Greenwich Park aren’t much cop; a joint scheme with Lewisham (cripes!) to link Greenwich station with Deptford High Street and onto New Cross; and some work going on in Avery Hill Park, Eltham.

Nothing fancy and showy, but all good solid work. And if Greenwich councillors actually cared, they might even get some more work done.

It wasn’t just cyclists let down tonight – anyone that’s cursed trying to get from the south of Greenwich borough to the north by public transport also found their concerns ignored, as the councillors missed a report about just that. We learned Transport for London has decided Kidbrooke to North Greenwich is a “priority corridor” for a public transport boost, but also that there’s no news on the final “DLR on stilts to Eltham” report – commissioned by the council two years ago, but not through the transport department. Odd.

There were other issues raised too, but hey, if Greenwich’s councillors can’t be bothered to show, why should you be interested? Was it laziness, or pique at the Gilligan issue, or just a dreadful coincidence? Who knows?

Here’s a map showing how low the rates of cycling are in Greenwich compared with other London boroughs (click it for a larger version). If Greenwich councillors really want it to change, they’ll have to do a lot better than they did last night.

But perhaps this current crop of councillors simply don’t want it to change.

London Cycle Revolution map


  1. Thanks for the information Darryl. Let’s hope that the “improvements” to the Charlton Road cycle route gets rid of those bonker bits where the cyclist is supposed to swerve onto the footpath, then observe a give way sign before swerving back into the traffic stream. I have tried out the new paths in Avery Hill Park (not quite finished) but it means that cyclists can now go down Butterfly Lane and emerge in Sparrows Lane without having to pedal across a football pitch.

  2. Good to hear that Mary Mills was once again working harder than most other councillors. Good that she’s been reselected by her Labour ward. Sorry, what did you say?

  3. Darryl – I do think you have to take on that many councillors are double or treble booked most evenings. OK – so I came to the Scrutiny Panel last night because I had Chaired the Cycling Review and that was the main item. However I had been invited to another event which I couldn’t make – and no doubt their local blogger is writing right now about ‘councillors who couldn’t be bothered to turn up and support us’. There was also another meeting – happily just along the corridor in the Town Hall – which I had looked into earlier and said I would get back to if I could. Its not good and the only result is you are always in trouble.

  4. Great update Darryl about a very important issue. Thanks

    I’m amazed the council report you attached had no thoughts or comments on bike facilities at the new Crossrail station in Woolwich – when I went to the local consultation last year they said there would be THREE slots for bike storage – compare that to availability at all the major London stations.

    Should we be raising this now to ensure the developers make proper provision.

  5. Could someone please resolve this? The green colour of the cycle lanes doesn’t detract from the colour of the rest of the road surface colour. When upgrading cycle lanes could the colour not be changed to blue? As an example the round about under the Woolwich flyover the cycle lanes visibility is very poor

  6. Were the improvements to the riverside cycle path in Woolwich/Charlton ever completed, or is that what is referred to? Where it has to detour from the riverside near factories. If so I remember writing a blog post about improvements planned for it – that was years ago and I thought the upgrades were supposed to be imminent! Ok, just found the post –

  7. Without wishing to argue against better cycle routes you have to be realistic about the amount of cycling that will be achieved in Greenwich until they flatten that hill between the river and the rest of the borough.

  8. In all my years bringing up a family I had a lot to do with doctors, nurses and teachers. Not once did I turn up to an appointment or meeting and find the person had double booked their diary and was too busy to come and do their job. So why are councillors an exception? If you are too busy to do the job then you shouldn’t be taking the money.

  9. Joan – these are not double bookings which I have made myself. What happens is that other people set up a meeting or event on dates which they decide and then ask a councillor to come along to it.
    The dates for Council meetings are set in advance but sometimes altered. Resident’s groups, official bodies and all sorts of others set up meetings/events and then invite you to come. None of these dates and times have been decided by me – but woe betide me if I don’t turn up. Often I just run round doing half an hour at all of them.

    That evening was a good example – there were three events all at the same time and I was not consulted on the dates of any of them.

    It was a relatively easy decision for me that evening to go to Scrutiny – but suppose I had been asked to go to a residents’ meeting and talk to them about a major problem they were having? Which should I have chosen to go to? That sort of clash happens all the time.

    You just have to cope with it as best you can – and I am not moaning about it because it is one of the facts of the job. And sometimes you are asked to pick a date which suits you – and thank you, thank you to those who ask first.

  10. Cycling is important, but the biggest issue here is how the council operates as this goes across the board. Whatever happened to time management? If you can’t manage your diary are you up to making the decisions that affect thousands of people? I would not trust most of the present councillors to pour hot water into a coffee mug. Not because they are incapable, but because they have lost sight of the idea of what public service really means and need watching like a bunch of naughty kids.
    All the time that there is a power monopoly in Greenwich then this nonsense will go on and on. People like Mary Mills are honorable exceptions, and you tremble for Hayley Fletcher who seems very much her own person.
    Keep up the good work 853.

  11. Frank, point taken, but since cycling’s most effective for short journeys, the existence of the hill shouldn’t be a deterrent. I met a woman in her 60s recently who uses an electric bike to solve the hills issue – something the mayor’s office is keen to explore.

    There’s 2-metre wide cycle lanes being installed on Woolwich Road as we speak, btw.

    I should point out there were other things on the agenda at that meeting, including 20mph zones – something that’s considered important in other boroughs. I know some councillors are busy people, but I’d suggest the busiest were at the town hall on Monday.

  12. I agree with 853. People like Mary work hard and Hayley Fletcher seems another who takes it seriously, but I remain unconvinced by the valiant defence of colleagues who may not deserve it. I wonder what their availability would have been if it had been the mayor’s jolly and meeting important stake holders?

  13. You made reference to the open meeting which Lewisham Cyclists arranged with Andrew Gilligan, held last week at Lewisham Town Hall. You said, using information from a blog by someone who attended that meeting that it “was confirmed that Greenwich wouldn’t have been eligible for the “mini-Holland” funding which is being offered by City Hall, having been firmly told it doesn’t count as outer London, but neither does it qualify for sums being offered to central London boroughs.”
    While the blog you quote was a good summary of the meeting, this quote is a little misleading and I will send you a copy of our own minutes once they are finalised. The Mayor’s Vision for Cycling has several elements and Greenwich is as eligible as Lewisham or any other borough outside Central London, (not the same in this plan for London’s new cycleways as Inner London) to bid for the funds available to develop the Quietways strand which involves changes to road infrastructure and which Gilligan termed the hard measures. There is also funding being made available for what is being termed soft measures, parking and training included here, and Greenwich is also just as eligible as anywhere else to bid for this. And of course, there is still the Cycle Super Highway network, which while needing the support and involvement of local boroughs, the funding for these stays in the pocket of TfL. The funds available to central London boroughs are to develop what is being termed the Central London Grid, a network of routes for cycles which are planned to link with the Qietways and the Cycle SuperHighways. The central London Grid will not extend into Lewisham either and our council is therefore not eligible for these funds either. And, like Greenwich, or any other Inner London Borough, Lewisham was not eligible to bid for the Mini Hollands funding. The only thing stopping Greenwich from getting access to any of the funds available to them on an equal basis with Lewisham, is a refusal, so far, from the council to work with Andrew Gilligan.
    Lewisham Cyclists have, we believe, managed to rebuild a good working relationship with the council, especially the team responsible for delivering the Cycling Vision in Lewisham. It’s early days yet, but we have already had meetings with the Cycling Programme manager in Lewisham, Nick Harvey, and there does seem to be a positive commitment to increasing cycling in the borough. As I have said before, if you, or anyone else in Greenwich interested in developing sustainable transport, would like any information from Lewisham Cyclists about any common issues (of which there are many between our two boroughs), you are very welcome to contact me at any time. Best wishes, Jane Davis, Lewisham Cyclists Coordinator

  14. Thanks for commenting, Jane.

    The comment about mini-Holland funding came from the Greenwich Council meeting, not the Lewisham Cyclists meeting.

  15. Hello Jane. My blog post only said that Lewisham is not eligible for mini-Hollands, or the Central London grid. I mentioned quietways briefly in relation to LCN22, and talked about CS5 and 4, but I didn’t mention anything about Greenwich’s eligibility for funding. That is a matter for them!

    Look forward to seeing your minutes of the Lewisham meeting, which will no doubt be infinitely better and more detailed than mine, which really focussed on what I was particularly interested in.


  16. Yes, but my point was to clarify the position about the basis of eligibility for funding and a possible misconception of unfairness in the criteria set for eligibility. Which was also in the blog you quoted, with reference to Lewisham. Not deliberate, I know, but I thought worthy of clarification. It seems quite obvious to us in Lewisham that the only thing stopping Greenwich for accessing these funds is a refusal to negotiate with Gilligan. Greenwich residents, especially the cyclists amongst them shouldn’t be misled into thinking there is any implicit unfairness in the funding criteria that penalises Greenwich, or any other borough, in any special way. Does anyone know how the council officers in the relevant departments feel about it? It is a tricky position for them to be in, as public servants charged with a duty to provide the best they can for Greenwich residents and yet unable to access public money for which they are absolutely eligible to do just do just that. And also, because of their position as council employees, not able to speak out, I guess.

  17. I do think it’s quite odd that Lewisham and Greenwich (and presumably other boroughs that are inner but not central) seem to fall between two stools. But that’s only my opinion. I’m very positive about the things that Lewisham are doing, both with Gilligan and without him.

  18. To return to the main topic, what really concerns me is why Greenwich councillors (save for Mary and a handful of others) don’t respond when they are criticised in places like this.

    What could they be scared of?

  19. I thought the main topic here was the commitment of councillors to developing Sustatinable Transport in Greenwich and surely ensuring that their officers have access to the maximum funds possible is pertinent to that. I am not personally bothered whether or not they respond to criticism on blogs, but whether they respond to the needs and demands of the people they represent. I know that some of those people may well be amongst those commenting here, but individual councillors may not think that answering particular criticisms here is the most efficient way of communicating with the wards they represent. And, personally, if I have an issue with the way I am represented by my councillors, I contact them personally.

  20. Details of individual councillors’ attendance are on Greenwich’s web site

    The six absentees on Monday (Austen, N Fletcher, Hayes, Pennycook, Quibell & Thomas),all seem to have pretty decent records, so the inquorateness was probably just bad luck.

    It’s fortunate that Don Austen seems to take his duties at the Town Hall seriously and manages to drag up the Glyndon ward average…

  21. I have thought for a long time now that Chris Roberts should be challenged to cycle from Woolwich into Greenwich (along the river route) and then back via the main roads (Trafalgar Road). Round trip of about 10 miles, I’d say. Should be easy, right?

  22. This blog often states the Councillor Roberts is a man of strong opinions and a strong will to see them carried out. It is well known that cycling is a very sensitive subject with the Councillor and from all I read he has backed himself into a corner by refusing to engage with the proper authorities who can unleash some serious funding for cycle schemes. Maybe the absent councillors actually took a pragmatic line by staying away in such numbers that there was no quorum, no decision making but equally no explaining to do to He Who Must Be Obeyed. Wonder what will happen as and when the Councillor exits left from his leadership role?

  23. Clogsilk, I meant no criticism at all of your excellent blog post (and blog) referring to the Lewisham meeting- thanks for your support- (and keep on coming, we need committed and informed support like yours) I just wanted to clarify the position re the funding allocations and the way which, it seemed to me, a perception was buiding here (partly by using the link to your blog which could have perpetuated that, in this context) that Greenwich, or any particular borough was being disadvantaged in the way funding is designed. There is extra funding available across London- for all boroughs but the way they have parcelled it up depends how that borough fits into the Cycling Vision. We might disagree with how that vision was formed, but as I see it so far, boroughs like Lewisham or Greenwich are still eligible for a big slice of the pie- as long as they put in a decent proposal to Gilligan. And that’s what sustainable transport campaigners in Greenwich need to be getting across to their council- and very quickly. I believe the deadlines are approaching (October/November). Greenwich Council will be doing Greenwich residents a great disservice if they let this chance slip by.
    (I also didn’t mean to imply that the possible misperception I highlighted was being fostered deliberately, by anyone. It just happens sometimes through the internet, in the way we link and quote- I have done it myself and am always pleased when it’s pointed out). Now I’ll shut up!

  24. Of course, it’s not just Greenwich residents who are being done a disservice by the council’s refusal to talk to Gilligan. We don’t all cycle only within our home boroughs after all. They are doing a disservice to anyone who wants to cycle safely in the area. If the deadline is October/November then there isn’t time to wait for Cllr Roberts to disappear, something needs to happen now. I hope that (as Gilligan implied last week) he has finally agreed to talk.

  25. Jane’s idea of cycling pressure groups putting the squeeze on their elected representatives to make Roberts see sense is fine. Except the councillors seem more scared of him than they are of the electorate. Until and unless that changes, no change for cyclists in Greenwich. Hope the rumours that Roberts HAS agreed to climb down are true. And then of course the U-turn will be forgotten and it will be spun as a triumph for You Know Who in RBG’s very own Pravda.That’s the game of politics.

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