Southeastern has insisted it did not snub Lewisham councillors by not turning up at a meeting to discuss the company’s rail cuts last night – because its representatives could not make the event in the first place.
The company’s managing director and another senior executive sat through a three-hour grilling by councillors in neighbouring Greenwich two weeks ago.
But they were criticised by their counterparts in Lewisham for not attending a similar meeting in Catford last night.
Southeastern announced in September that it would be cutting services compared with pre-pandemic levels – in line with Conservative government policy – leaving most stations in SE London with just four trains per hour while some, including Deptford and Greenwich, will have lengthy gaps between trains.
It is also removing trains to Charing Cross on some lines and Cannon Street on others to simplify the pressure on the junction at Lewisham, where different routes meet on a flat crossing.
Both decisions, made without consultation, have met with condemnation from travellers and politicians alike, but Southeastern says its new timetable will make it easier to add more services once demand grows.
While Greenwich holds a public meeting with transport representatives just once a year, Lewisham usually schedules quarterly meetings.
Luke Warner, a Labour councillor for Blackheath, said on social media this afternoon after urging his constituents to watch a live webcast of the public transport liaison committee: “I have just learned that [Southeastern] have pulled out of tonight’s meeting.
“The complete disregard they have for the people of southeast London and Blackheath is truly staggering.”
Southeastern said that it had already told Lewisham that it could not attend the meeting because its representatives were already booked to appear before another council, in Tunbridge Wells, Kent, and that it had sent written answers to councillors’ questions.
Representatives from Govia Thameslink, Transport for London and the Stagecoach and Go-Ahead bus companies did make the meeting.
But Lewisham councillors, who are all from the Labour party, seemed unaware of Southeastern’s absence until the day of the meeting itself.
Grove Park councillor Hilary Moore said: “It’s unfortunate to say the very least that Southeastern aren’t here this evening.”
James-J Walsh, who represents Rushey Green, said: “I find it quite disgruntling that Southeastern, which is now run by the government, have decided not to come along to this public accountability body today, particularly given that they are cutting services left right and centre.
“Southeast London is actually quite poorly serviced by lots of public transport, we don’t have the Tube in the same way. It’s alarming we don’t have a commitment from the government to southeast London.”
Walsh said that Lewisham needed to “urgently request a meeting” with Southeastern over the cuts. “I wasn’t consulted on this, my colleagues weren’t consulted, it’s really poor practice and really poor form,” he said.
Louise Krupski, Lewisham’s cabinet member for the environment, said she would try to get Southeastern in “some kind of room” so councillors could discuss the cuts with them.
James Rathbone, a Lee Green councillor and the committee’s chair, said Southeastern had offered a private meeting with councillors. “I think it’s really important that these companies are held to account in public,” he said.
A Southeastern spokesperson told 853 before the meeting: “We didn’t pull out of tonight’s meeting – we’d already committed in the diary to briefing another council this evening – the Tunbridge Wells public transport forum – and we have submitted responses to Lewisham’s questions in advance.”
Lewisham Council has also been contacted for comment.
In a briefing sent to MPs yesterday, London Travelwatch, the capital’s transport watchdog, said: “We are disappointed by the lack of consultation on these wholesale changes that are disruptive to individuals, communities and businesses right across the south east London ‘metro’ area and have made this clear.”
Last week Greenwich councillors voiced fears that rail cuts could affect regeneration schemes including Kidbrooke Village – a situation echoed in its western neighbour where towers are sprouting up next to Lewisham station and major development is planned for both Catford and Lower Sydenham. They also called for services to be handed to Transport for London.
At the weekend, Greenwich Conservative leader Matt Hartley launched a petition against one element of the changes, the removal of “rounder” services linking the Sidcup line to the Woolwich line, used by residents to reach Charlton Athletic matches and the University of Greenwich as well as the Elizabeth Line at Abbey Wood.
He said: “Southeastern have justified the whole of their appalling December in part on the arrival of the Elizabeth Line – but this decision takes away our area’s only direct link to it. It’s just one example that shows how disastrous this new timetable is – and why Southeastern should carry out a full public consultation.”
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