More than a decade of documents from Greenwich Council meetings have been dumped from the council’s website, making it harder for residents and researchers to search for why some of its most controversial decisions were made.
Councils use specific systems to host documents and agendas about meetings and decision-making, usually allowing the use of RSS feeds, which enable people to track which new documents have been published. This enables the media, residents’ groups and other interested parties to follow what happens at the town hall.
853 stories which come from council meetings and agendas usually provide links to those papers so readers can study source material for themselves. For issues covered here and on other sites, linking to those documents also means they are easier to find in future; across local government, documents are often very hard to find without knowing the date of a specific meeting or decision, or exactly which committee discussed the matter.
Greenwich’s Modern.Gov database contained documents from as far back as 2004, with comprehensive coverage beginning in the late 2000s. This system is still used in Lewisham. However, this was switched off in Greenwich late last year in favour of a new system, CMIS.
The switch has broken hundreds of links into the council website, making it impossible for readers of stories on this website and others to look at documents referred to in stories published before the end of last year.
RSS feeds have been broken and their replacement feeds do not appear to work, making it difficult for those outside the town hall to track decisions or agendas for forthcoming meetings.
A whole chunk of the council’s recent history has also been wiped altogether, with the council meetings archive now only going back to December 2015 – effectively erasing evidence of decisions and discussions made before then, including under the controversial leadership of Chris Roberts, whose 14 years at the council helm ended amid allegations of bullying in 2014. Minutes of his standards hearing from December 2013 after he left an abusive message on the voicemail of a fellow councillor, John Fahy, are among those documents that have been deleted.
Documents relating to the early period of austerity and how the council spent its money before that, the London Olympics, the building of Kidbrooke Village, the decision to part-fund the Crossrail station in Woolwich and the council’s campaign to build the Silvertown Tunnel have been wiped. Reports from council departments to scrutiny committees have also disappeared.
Hundreds of papers from planning meetings have also disappeared. While the actual planning documents, which are kept on a separate system, remain online, the recommendations given to councillors and minutes of meetings have gone. They include a host of controversial decisions such as the approval of east Greenwich’s Ikea store and the two decisions to approve a cruise liner terminal nearby. Papers relating to the development of Greenwich Peninsula, the Royal Arsenal and the area around Deptford Creek have also gone. The rejection of plans in 2009 to build a hotel at Greenwich Market – which were then approved by a planning inspector before being scrapped – has also disappeared.
Greenwich Council said the new system offered better value for money, and residents who wanted to look at the old papers could email the town hall and ask staff to send them the documents.
A spokesperson said: “The council has a responsibility to retender when existing contracts come to an end to ensure the best value for money for our residents and assess the benefits of alternative providers. The new system costs us less to operate and makes our reports more accessible on mobile devices, which saves on printing costs and provides a better user experience.
“Our legal advice was that we needed to migrate papers from the past four years across to the new system. Migrating older documents would have incurred additional costs.
“The council is committed to transparency – if anyone needs a copy of an old paper they can email corporate-governance[at]royalgreenwich.gov.uk.”
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