Greenwich Labour has wrongly claimed the borough’s recycling rate is going up in its manifesto – when the town hall’s own officers have told councillors that the rate is actually going down.
While other boroughs have seen councillors and candidates get together for manifesto launches, Greenwich Labour’s set of promises for the next four years was announced on Wednesday in a tweet from council leader Danny Thorpe’s personal account.
Most of the points in the manifesto had already been announced or are too vague to be scrutinised, while some, like “continuing to deliver the best possible social care services we can for all residents who need them”, are the basic jobs of any London borough.
The manifesto boasts that Greenwich Council’s recycling rate has increased to 37 per cent. But six months ago council officers warned that the figure had gone down to 31.7 per cent, largely because of the fast-growing number of flats in the borough.
Greenwich is due to switch to fortnightly non-recyclable waste collections – collected from black-topped bins – next year, a pledge not mentioned in the manifesto. Keeping the weekly collection was a pledge at the last election.
The blunder – on one of the few council services that all residents use – is likely to further increase tensions in the fractious Labour group, with Thorpe due to face a leadership challenge after the poll in two weeks.
With an influx of new and younger councillors due to take their seats next month, Thorpe’s position is said to be in jeopardy, with a vote on his leadership due just days after the poll on May 5.
“The campaigning’s already started now,” one Labour figure said.
Asked about the recycling blunder in the manifesto, the figure added: “Well, the manifesto was only written by one person.”
Thorpe may well have got confused with the council’s aspirations to increase recycling rather than his town hall’s actual record. His officers think they can increase it to 36.7 per cent once fortnightly black bin collections are introduced. Lewisham saw a dramatic increase when it made a similar move in 2017.
The strongest pledges are on housing, including repeating a promise to build 1,000 new council homes in the next four years, as well as refurbishing the rest of the borough’s housing stock, something agreed by the council’s cabinet in March.
Greenwich is just short of a pledge to build 750 council homes made when Thorpe took over as council leader four years ago: most are on the old Thomas Tallis school site in Kidbrooke, while others are on spare pieces of land on existing estates.
While the council is likely to continue its policy of using “infill” sites on existing estates, it is unclear where the major schemes would be to make the total up to 1,000. The town hall has been quietly building up land holdings on the Charlton Riverside, while it could also do a deal with a developer.
Getting up to 1,000 would also suggest building tall in some places – something which Labour councillors have complained about in the council’s own Kidbrooke scheme, while affordable-rent homes in Charlton were rejected last year because the building was seven storeys high.
The other main pledge on housing is to push for half of all new homes in the borough to be “truly affordable and for local people who are on our housing waiting lists”. At present, in most big developments, a maximum 24.5 per cent of homes hit this level – being available for London Affordable Rent, which is at about half market rate.
However, this pledge is vague enough to suggest a bigger role for Meridian Home Start, the council spin-off company building homes for about 65 per cent market rents, which are also available to people on waiting lists.
With Greenwich under pressure from City Hall to deliver 2,800 homes a year, and the council planning to build 1,000 homes over four years, this could mean private developers – or housing associations – having to build about 460 extra homes a year for people on the waiting list.
However, this will need extra funding, and the manifesto is silent on where the money could come from.
Other pledges include an extra £1 million for parks, £1 million to be spent on public safety schemes, 200 apprenticeships for young people and the continuation of the council’s “holiday hunger” scheme, offering food to children when they are not in school.
There is also a pledge to roll out “beat stops” for police to be able to work from and meet people in libraries and other community facilities; however, this pledge came as a result of lobbying from Tory councillor Charlie Davis over the closure of Eltham police station, as police in the area now have to work out of Sidcup. Davis asked a question about the police station at nearly every council meeting for four years, originally suggesting they work out of the Eltham Centre.
A pledge in 2018’s manifesto to lobby for Woolwich Arsenal station to be placed in both zones 3 and 4 has been dropped: a freedom of information request made by this website in early 2020, just before the pandemic broke out, found that neither Transport for London nor the government had been directly approached on the issue.
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