Greenwich’s Conservatives have promised to press for a Docklands Light Railway link to Kidbrooke and Eltham using the Silvertown Tunnel as part of their manifesto for next week’s council elections.
The Tories are also pledging to push for new links across the Thames at Charlton and Thamesmead, cleaner streets, more neighbourhood planning and a debate on the way the borough is run.
Labour has been in charge at Woolwich Town Hall since 1971 and the Tories, who currently have nine councillors, concede that they are unlikely to win.
“Instead, we are focused on the important role we play as the only opposition to Labour locally,” they say in their manifesto, which was published at the weekend.
With widespread anger at the lockdown-breaking parties in Downing Street, and Boris Johnson’s refusal to leave No 10, the Tories will be hoping the local focus helps them hold on to their strongholds in the south of the borough.
The Tories have eight councillors in wards covering Eltham and Mottingham, and just one in the north of the borough – Geoff Brighty in Blackheath Westcombe.
Next Thursday’s elections will be fought on new boundaries that mean there will be one fewer councillor in the south of the borough, but the Tories will also be looking to test their strength in Greenwich Peninsula and Woolwich Arsenal, where thousands of new residents have settled in recent years.
One of their main pledges is to repackage an old Labour idea – using the Silvertown Tunnel route to extend the Docklands Light Railway to Kidbrooke and Eltham, using the route of the A102 and A2.
Greenwich Council commissioned a feasibility study into the proposals more than a decade ago, with consultants recommending a route which would be partly on stilts above the Blackwall Tunnel Southern Approach. However, the idea was quietly dropped without explanation.
The Tories pushed for the DLR to run alongside the Silvertown Tunnel in 2015, although without success.
But the party revived the idea last year when Greenwich Council finally debated the tunnel for the first time, only to run into a bizarre row over which party thought of the DLR idea first.
With a route from Canning Town to Eltham costing at least £623 million at 2012 prices, Eltham not being a major development area, and Transport for London still facing a financial crisis following the collapse of the business model imposed on it when Johnson was mayor, the project is unlikely to happen.
But the call does shine a light on how over 6,000 new homes have been approved in Kidbrooke without significant improvements to local transport – an issue rarely acknowledged at the town hall but something councillors of both parties are uncomfortable with.
More realistically, the Tories are also lending their support to a crossing at Thamesmead, where TfL hopes to build a DLR extension, and at Charlton, where a team of architects are pushing for a pedestrian and cycle-focused Thames Barrier Bridge.
Other policies include scrapping the council’s fortnightly Greenwich Info newssheet, and calling for “the reversal of Labour’s cuts to street cleaning and pavement washing, and call for investment to make streets more attractive for residents and pedestrians”.
The Tories also want to push for more neighbourhood plans – community-led schemes where local people can have an input into planning policy. So far three neighbourhood forums have been set up in the borough but no plans have been approved.
The way the council is run is also in the spotlight, with the Tories calling for a debate on returning to the committee system that governed councils until two decades ago.
At present, Greenwich is run by a leader who then selects a cabinet of councillors, who make most of the council’s decisions, leaving most backbenchers relatively powerless.
Some councils, such as Kingston and Sutton, have returned to having cross-party committees making those decisions – and the Tories want the issue to be considered.
While a good result for the Tories will be hanging on to most of their seats, one councillor at risk of losing his place on the council decided to have some fun with his own online quiz.
Questions set by Spencer Drury, fighting for a place in Eltham Park & Progress, include asking which Eltham landmark was removed from a list of sites for redevelopment after Tory pressure, how many Labour councillors have been convicted of fraud, and whether council leader Danny Thorpe wanted a statue of himself in Woolwich.
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