Greenwich Council leader Denise Hyland has admitted its legal fight to save its weekly newspaper Greenwich Time is set to cost £120,000.
Hyland accused the government of wanting to “censor democracy” by trying to force the closure of GT, one of only two weekly council papers in the country.
The admission came during Wednesday’s council meeting, when new Conservative leader Matt Hartley pressed her on the costs in a written question.
Hyland revealed the council has spent £30,000 on the action so far – including £22,320 on outside legal advice, with total costs expected to reach £120,000.
The answer also indicates that the council, which claims publishing GT weekly saves it money, is planning to claim that a government ban on publishing its own paper would be against its freedom of expression, as enshrined in the European Convention of Human Rights.
Greenwich is seeking a judicial review of the decision by former communities secretary Eric Pickles to direct it to close GT, following a new law prohibiting councils from publishing newspapers or magazines more than four times a year.
As well as undercutting ad rates in existing local newspapers, Greenwich Time has been accused of bias and misleading information. The only other council to publish a weekly newspaper, Tower Hamlets, recently saw its elected mayor ejected over charges of corruption.
Hyland told the council chamber: “I’m just amazed, actually, that the Conservative group over there are so against the democracy of Greenwich Time to be untrue, that you will actually support the Department of Communities and Local Government in censoring information going out to residents.
“It is beyond belief, frankly.”
She added that the council would be studying the results of its recent tender for advertising, a possible replacement for GT.
Speaking slowly, she said: “We will make our decisions strategically, and be advised by coun-sel – a QC – and we will take each stage as it comes. We have been assured by our QC that we have a strong case and we expect to win.”
The legal process is set to take some months yet, meaning residents will still get GT for the time being. At the last council meeting in March, Hyland mocked those who signed a petition against the newspaper, accusing them of being Conservatives or Liberal Democrats. “I didn’t know they had so many members,” she said.
Also at Wednesday’s council meeting… a motion protesting about the 53 bus being cut short at Lambeth North turned into a political squabble.
Hyland also defended the £20,000 private mayor-making event held for new mayor Norman Adams, saying any attempt to open it up to the public would increase costs.
In a written answer to Matt Hartley, she called it “a good opportunity for key players and residents to meet”, adding that “a broad range of partners and community groups and residents from across the spectrum of Greenwich life were represented at the event”.
“I would be happy to explore ways that the event could be opened up but, should we wish to retain the current community involvement, it could further increase costs.”
When asked by fellow Tory Matt Clare if representatives from political parties not represented on the council were invited, she replied: “The Mayor’s inauguration is not a political event. It is a civic reception with an invited audience of guests from across the spectrum of Greenwich life. including: Faith Leaders, businesses, community representatives, Civic Award winners, voluntary groups, Borough tenant
representatives, MPs, stakeholders, representatives of the Armed Forces, all members of the Council as well as a broad range of partners and community groups and residents from across the borough.
“All members of the Council are the elected representatives of local people – the public have made their choice of who they want to represent them.”
Regeneration and transport cabinet member Danny Thorpe said he would welcome an extension of the London Cycle Hire scheme to Greenwich town centre, following Boris Johnson’s backing for the proposal last week.
But told Conservative councillor Matt Clare the council would not pay the £2 million other boroughs – such as Tower Hamlets and Hammersmith & Fulham – have paid to see the bikes, now formally known as Santander Cycles, extended to their areas. When the scheme was first implemented in 2010, boroughs did not have to pay.
Thorpe said it would be “a fantastic opportunity”, adding he had discussed the idea at a scrutiny meeting last year, joking: “I know you call them Santander bikes because they’ve gone red, just like City Hall will next year.”
He added: “We’re open for business, we’re always happy to chat to Andrew Gilligan, the cycling commissioner, but Greenwich will not go above and beyond in terms of paying for what other boroughs have had for free.”