Labour candidate Leo Fletcher pledged to defy his council’s leadership last night and vote against plans for the Silvertown Tunnel and London City Cruise Port.
Fletcher, who is standing in Blackheath Westcombe ward for 3 May’s Greenwich Council election, told the audience at the Westcombe Society’s hustings: “If I feel strongly about something, I will stand up and speak my mind. I represent you.”
But put under pressure by a campaigner against the cruise port, which got through on Labour councillors’ votes at a planning meeting in 2015, he declined to say whether he would vote to depose current council leader Denise Hyland, a vocal supporter of both projects.
Nine of the ward’s 13 candidates – Tory incumbent Geoff Brighty and fellow candidates Malcolm Reid and Thomas; Turrell; Greens Jannet Mathers and Fiona Moore; Labour’s Fletcher, Mariam Lolovar and Sabiha Shazad and Official Monster Raving Loony candidate Trevor Allman – took part in the debate, held by St George’s church off Westcombe Hill, which also helped organise the event.
It was the first of several hustings to be held across the borough ahead of the poll to elect 51 councillors.
While questions at the hustings covered a whole range of topics, many were about the impact of pollution on the area – which is bordered by the Blackwall Tunnel approach road and is downwind from the proposed cruise port at Enderby Wharf, east Greenwich, where berthed ships will use their own diesel generators rather than plugging into onshore power supplies.
Fletcher said: “Am I opposed to the cruise terminal? Yes. Should it have on-shore power? Yes. To stop it, all you have to do is say to the cruise companies, you can’t dock here unless your ships run on shore power like they do in Southampton or New York.
“The MP, Matthew Pennycook, has begun cross-party talks on the issue with the Conservatives, so I think we should listen to what he has to say. But I don’t think it should be built.
“It’s very similar to Silvertown Tunnel. I suppose it’s easy for me because I haven’t been a councillor, I’m just a candidate, but do I want Silvertown Tunnel? No, because of the pollution. Do we want the ships docking there? No, we don’t.”
Challenged by a member of the audience to say whether he would vote against the port, he said: “Yes, I would, and I’d vote against the Silvertown Tunnel.”
Neither project, both of which are backed by Hyland and her deputy Danny Thorpe, has been the subject of a vote in a full council meeting.
A decision is expected on the Silvertown Tunnel from Transport Secretary Chris Grayling shortly after the election; the current cruise liner terminal plans were passed by the council’s main planning committee – which, uniquely for a London borough, includes both the leader and deputy leader – in 2015.
Green candidate Fiona Moore recalled watching one of the Labour councillors at that planning meeting “trembling” as she attempted to support a postponement.
No Toxic Cruise Port campaigner Laura Eyres pointed out to applause: “The main problem is the current leadership [of the council] is strongly in favour of the cruise liner terminal. On that basis, would you be prepared to vote for a change in leadership in Greenwich Council because that is the only way anything will change?
Fletcher batted away the question saying: “You’ll have to ask the leader of the council. I might not get elected on May 3rd. But if I am, I will oppose the cruise liner terminal.”
But Fletcher’s claims were dismissed by Trevor Allman, a former Labour councillor and Green candidate now standing for the Official Monster Raving Loony Party: “It is interesting to hear Labour councillors [sic] say they will do this, that and the other – they are a political party, they are whipped to do things, as I found when I was a councillor; I defied the whip because I was elected under a certain manifesto in 1986, but within 48 hours it was scrapped.
“I continued to vote on the manifesto I was elected on because I didn’t want to be shown up as being a liar. For that, I destroyed my own political career. So it’ll be great to see if these Labour councillors [sic] who stand here and say ‘yes, we’ll oppose this and we’ll oppose that’… if they really will have the guts to destroy their own political career and stand up against their own party and stand up for the people they are elected to serve.”
Current Tory councillor Geoff Brighty, who has sat on the council on and off since 1982, reminded the audience he had voted against Ikea and the cruise liner terminal while on the planning board. “It’s all very well for Labour candidates to say what they would do, but it was their Labour councillors who forced this through. Both of those things were voted through by Labour councillors, and they need to answer for that.”
Fletcher responded to Brighty: “It’s easy to blame the councillors already in the town hall…”
“But they’re the ones responsible!” Allman shot back.
Fletcher continued: “If I feel strongly about something, I will stand up and speak my mind. I represent you. I don’t represent me, I represent your views. And your views I will stand up and put forward in the town hall and I’m sure my [fellow] candidates will do the same.”
Video of the candidates’ summing up at the end of the meeting, introduced by chair Neville Grant, can be seen here:
Blackheath Westcombe candidates (3 councillors are elected): Geoff Brighty (Conservative), Malcolm Reid (Conservative), Thomas Turrell (Conservative), Leo Fletcher (Labour), Mariam Lolavar (Labour), Sabiha Shahzad (Labour), Jannet Mathers (Green), Fiona Moore (Green), Victoria Rance (Green), Usha Badrinath (Lib Dem), Suzanne Miller (Lib Dem), Franklin Steves (Lib Dem), Trevor Allman (Official Monster Raving Loony). Polls are open from 7am to 10pm on Thursday 3 May.
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