Silvertown Tunnel councillor returns to cabinet as Greenwich deputy leader

Denise Scott-McDonald and Danny Thorpe
Denise Scott-McDonald at the opening of Woolwich Public Market in 2018 – photo from

The councillor in charge of Greenwich’s policy on the Silvertown Tunnel will return to Danny Thorpe’s top team as the council’s deputy leader, it was revealed last night.

Denise Scott-McDonald, who had been cabinet member for transport, originally lost her place on the council’s ruling cabinet after a vote of her fellow Labour councillors in March. But Thorpe has brought her back from the backbenches as his second-in-charge following the death of Christine Grice last week.

Grice had originally been chosen to succeed David Gardner in the position, and her appointment was brought forward before the Kidbrooke with Hornfair councillor died.

While councillors vote on who should be in the cabinet, the choice is indicative, giving the council leader room to bring in his own choices. The leader also chooses the roles for each councillor. The final line-up was presented to Labour councillors last night, and will be ratified at the council’s annual general meeting next Wednesday.

Scott-McDonald lost out in the councillors’ poll after a series of poor performances in the council chamber over the Silvertown Tunnel, an issue which has sharply divided the Labour group. She will be the interim deputy and cabinet member for skills and employment – an important role as the borough recovers from the coronavirus crisis – until the Labour group meets to decide on a new deputy later this year. This role was held by Denise Hyland, who will become the deputy ceremonial mayor.

Any councillor could stand against her – but if a backbench councillor won that poll, then it is possible that Scott-McDonald could stay in the cabinet and another member is ejected.

Anthony Okereke
Anthony Okereke becomes the new housing cabinet member

The former planning chair Sarah Merrill becomes the cabinet member for regeneration in another key appointment – in effect, jumping from being poacher to gamekeeper. Merrill had led a combative planning board for two years – pushing back on planning applications that would have sailed through under previous council leaders Hyland and Chris Roberts. Her appointment may now signal a more robust approach to major development issues in the borough.

Former regeneration cabinet member Sizwe James switches to environment, sustainability and transport – effectively swapping places with Scott-McDonald. Jackie Smith retains her post as cabinet member for community safety.

Newcomer Anthony Okereke becomes the new housing cabinet member, overseeing a pledge to start 750 council homes before 2022 as well as the work of spin-off company Meridian Home Start. Outside the town hall, the Woolwich Common councillor works as an account manager for property consultancy Curtin & Co. Chris Kirby moves from housing to take Christine Grice’s old role as finance cabinet member.

Adel Khaireh, another newcomer, becomes culture and communities cabinet member. The Glyndon ward councillor works as head of youth services at the Greenwich Islamic Centre in Plumstead. He replaces Miranda Williams, who switches to health and adult social care.

The final newcomer, Plumstead councillor Matt Morrow, takes the children and young people portfolio.

A range of other roles will also be confirmed at Wednesday’s meeting, which will be held remotely and streamed on YouTube. Nigel Fletcher will take up his role as opposition leader, replacing fellow Conservative Matt Hartley, while Charlie Davis becomes his deputy.

Ann-Marie Cousins, a Labour councillor for Abbey Wood, will be named deputy chief whip, weeks after sharing a petition to halt the rollout of 5G telecoms networks based on discredited theories that they are harmful.

Council chamber
The meeting will be held remotely rather than at the town hall

The virtual AGM will mark another step in the council trying to resume some of its committee work after it ground to a halt in the middle of March, days before the country went into lockdown. It will be preceded by a brief meeting to freeze councillors’ allowances, a piece of formal business which was originally planned to take place on 24 March, and followed by a further short meeting to decide the make-up of licensing committees.

This afternoon will see the council’s first ever virtual meeting, a planning board meeting to decide on a development on Greenwich High Road. In a first for a Greenwich planning meeting, it will be officially streamed on YouTube, beginning at 2.30m.

Councils across London are doing the same: neighbouring Lewisham held its first virtual committee meeting last week, while Bexley’s cabinet members will gather around their webcams for the first time tonight.

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