Greenwich borough’s political map faces being torn up and redrawn under new proposals to change where residents elect their councillors – which largely follow a Tory proposal rather than the council’s own plans.
At present, Greenwich borough is split into 18 wards, which each elect three councillors. But with the area’s population rising fast, the map is being redrawn to accommodate 55 councillors rather than 51.
Greenwich Council had originally backed the proposals to increase to 55 – but then backtracked to propose an increase to 56, to the surprise of the borough’s Conservative councillors, who were mocked by their Labour opponents at a council meeting in November which discussed the plans.
Now the Tories have their revenge, with the boundary commission opting to follow its plans for 55 councillors rather than the town hall’s proposal for 56. The Local Government Boundary Commission for England now wants the public’s views on the proposals.
While the commission would normally visit the area to hear and see evidence, the lockdown meant had to settle for a virtual tour instead. Neighbouring Lewisham and Bexley have already had their boundaries redrawn by the commission.
The council had wanted to see a new ward map largely based on the current system, which has been in place since 2002, but may now have to put up with major changes which will see most residents placed in new or renamed wards.
Main changes include new council wards centred around the new developments at the Royal Arsenal in Woolwich and Kidbrooke Village, which would both elect two councillors each; Greenwich Peninsula and West Thamesmead getting their own wards, as well as the area around Deptford Creek; new wards for areas including Plumstead Common, Charlton Hornfair and Woolwich Town; while council leader Danny Thorpe’s Shooters Hill ward would be shrunk and cut from three councillors to two.
In Eltham, the high street will no longer be a dividing line, while in another change that may benefit the Conservatives, all of the affluent Cator Estate will be brought into the Blackheath Westcombe ward – which has been split between Labour and the Tories since it was created in 2002.
In February 2020, Greenwich’s Labour councillors backed an increase in councillors to 55; but by November, they revised their stance to ask for 56 instead – to the frustration of the Tory opposition, who had also backed 55 and were surprised to see the change of heart at a council meeting. (See Labour’s proposal and map.)
“I think residents can only conclude that they haven’t done the work,” council leader Danny Thorpe said at the time. (watch from 01:53)
However, the Tories did put in a submission to the commission, which said: “The Conservative group provided a large amount of high-quality evidence regarding community identity across the borough, detailing the communities in each of its proposed wards. We were persuaded by this information, and our observations during our virtual tour of Greenwich reflected the information that it provided.”
It added: “The council proposal also offered evidence of community identity, but was based on a ‘least change’ model that sought to reflect existing wards as far as possible. While some evidence of community identity was provided, generally we considered this to be less strong, and matching less well with evidence from residents, than that provided by the Conservative group.”
Only one Labour councillor – Greenwich West’s Aidan Smith – is recorded as having contributed to the commission’s call for evidence, while all nine Conservative councillors did engage with the process, along with Labour MPs Matt Pennycook and Abena Oppong-Asare.
Alex Grant, a former Labour councillor in Blackheath Westcombe, said on Twitter that Labour had been “well and truly stuffed” after submitting a poor set of proposals.
“If these plans are adopted, the Tories will probably hold more seats in Eltham than they feared they would. The ultra-marginal Blackheath Westcombe ward is tipped in the Tories’ favour, gaining the south part of the Cator Estate but losing the strongly Labour-voting Kidbrooke Park Estate,” he said on Twitter.
“It is astonishing that the council proposed splitting nearby Kidbrooke Village in two, which would make new boundaries even more illogical than current ones. Oddities like this seem to have convinced the commission to reject council’s proposals & pay much more heed to the Tories’. Long faces at RBG, I expect.”
The changes will take effect from the May 2022 council election and will not affect the four by-elections planned for the spring. They also do not affect MPs’ constituencies or Greenwich’s boundaries with neighbouring boroughs, which were last changed in 1994.
Residents are now being invited to comment on the proposals on the Local Government Boundary Commission for England website.
Help 853 continue reporting on public interest issues in Greenwich and southeast London – we are the only outlet regularly producing original journalism in the borough, and we can only do it with your funding.