Greenwich Council’s leadership came under pressure last night for not revealing its full plans to boost walking and cycling in the borough in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic – with the new cabinet member for transport asking people to “be patient”.
Town hall chiefs submitted a £4m bid to Transport for London on Friday for a number of Streetspace schemes across the borough. However, details released to the public were vague, leaving residents in the dark about just what the council was hoping to achieve.
With access to public transport severely cut, town halls are keen for people to walk and cycle for their journeys. Some details of Greenwich’s plans to achieve this had previously been released – such as a £969,000 plan to create a cycle route from Eltham to Greenwich Park. But others were left vague, such as a £1.1m line simply marked “Shooters Hill”, while a £150,000 bid for “low traffic neighbourhoods” contained no detail whatsoever about where these would be.
By contrast, other boroughs have undergone short borough-wide consultations with residents, while neighbouring Bromley published a detailed list of funding submissions, down to costings for traffic islands.
Plumstead resident Paul Billington told last night’s full council meeting that the council’s documentation looked “hastily put together with only a single line entry for each area and all that’s offered for residents to go on”.
“Why does the council supply such scant information on important matters like this? If there are more detailed plans then why not make these available and engage with residents to allow us all collectively to walk and cycle in safety,” he asked.
Sizwe James, who is the new transport cabinet member, said he was “not sure if Mr Billington has seen the latest update on the council website” – even though that was what Billington was referring to.
“We are working hard to get our bids in and to ensure that they are as comprehensive enough in terms of what we’re putting out in the public domain,” he said.
“The issue here is that we are spending so much time talking about what we are planning to do instead of getting down and doing it, which is what we are concentrating on.”
He did, however, acknowledge that councillors were calling for more transparency.
“Members are saying, let’s have as much transparency as possible, and that’s something we’re going to do but I would ask the public and members to be patient because these are very difficult circumstances and we are trying our best to be as transparent as possible but we are focusing on actual delivery.”
Later, Conservative councillor Matt Clare picked up the same point. He congratulated the council leadership on progress made so far – such as wider pavements in Greenwich town centre and Eltham High Street, and thanked James for involving opposition councillors in discussions.
But he added: “The council isn’t providing enough information, which doesn’t help us as councillors from all parties to help get residents on board.”
“We don’t want a repeat of what’s going on in Lewisham,” he added, referring to the problems encountered in a low-traffic neighbourhood scheme at South Row in Blackheath.
Council leader Danny Thorpe said that Greenwich had done nothing to keep opposition councillors in the dark.
Referring to a Transport for London scheme – Local Implementation Plans – where boroughs bid for money for local works, Thorpe said: “The work we carried out at speed very much complies with our transport strategy and LIP programme, so that direction of travel is clear.”
“Prior to Covid we were also out to consultation on massive improvements across the borough particularly Greenwich to Woolwich cycle lane and dealing with the Angerstein roundabout. I would ask that everyone continues to state our clear ambition for improvement – far from not having any details out there I think we’ve been crystal clear about the kind of changes we want to see.”
Earlier in the meeting, Conservative councillor Geoff Brighty said Lewisham Council’s closure of South Row, which is on the border of the two boroughs, had been a “monumental mess-up”. He asked James if he had asked his counterpart at Lewisham, Sophie McGeevor, to withdraw the scheme.
Planters blocking the notorious rat run were removed last week after drivers simply ignored them, while Greenwich complained it had not been consulted about the plan.
James said he had not asked Lewisham to stop the scheme, adding: “We talked about going forward how we can improve dialogue between the boroughs, it was accepted we were not given sufficient notice but I didn’t ask them to stop.”
However, James clammed up when asked by another Conservative, Charlie Davis, what Lewisham had told him about another scheme on the boundary – closing roads at Upwood Road and Cambridge Drive in Lee, which Davis said “would act as a hard border” between the two boroughs.
“Can you confirm when you first became aware of it and can you confirm what contact you have had with Lewisham about it and the impact it will have on Greenwich residents?,” Davis asked.
James said: “It’s a sensitive issue so I want to make sure I get the answer exactly right because people are going to create some mischief over this perhaps so I’ll provide a written response.”
The “mischief” comment could have been a reference to 853‘s story on Saturday that Greenwich had not been consulted about the South Row scheme; this was based on a quote from James supplied by his council’s own media team.
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