A Greenwich Labour councillor has been criticised by two of his colleagues after they accused him of trying to lecture women on their personal safety at night.
The extraordinary exchange came as a committee of three councillors voted not to halt plans to expand a controlled parking zone (CPZ) in Eltham, despite warnings that the future of the 16th-century Tudor Barn venue in Well Hall Pleasaunce could be threatened if parking curbs were imposed in Kidbrooke Lane.
Drivers will face restrictions if they park in streets around Well Hall Road, a busy area with shops and homes. A mixture of permit parking and pay-to-park zones are planned.
Greenwich’s new transport strategy, agreed by the Labour cabinet last month, calls for CPZs to be extended across the borough. But Sarah Merrill and Miranda Williams, who represent the Eltham Page ward, said that staff at the Tudor Barn would be put at risk if they had to take public transport in the small hours of the morning.
The Tudor Barn’s owner, Suzie Bailey, said that her business relies on hosting weddings, but also depends on street parking after a previous arrangement with Blackheath rugby club was cancelled by the club’s chairman.
“There’s no way I’d walk to Eltham station car park,” she said. “I’ve been attacked twice. Members of my staff have been attacked. I don’t even feel safe walking up Kidbrooke Lane.
“It’s not a nice area. I’ve had 12-year-olds threatening me in a park and I’ve had to deal with that since 2009.”
Greenwich Peninsula councillor David Gardner, the chair of the borough’s highways committee, said that there were “strong public transport alternatives”, claiming that Eltham was served by six trains per hour – the figure is now four after government service cuts.
“A particular fallacy seems to have arisen, lots of people seem to have talked about an understandable fear of walking around at night, but these proposals make no difference at all on walking around at night because these [parking] restrictions end at 5.30pm,” Gardner said.
“I slightly despaired at what you said about women’s safety,” Williams told him. “Please don’t school us about perceptions of danger, when I’m the one that’s been followed home from the bus stop, or Suzie is the one that’s been attacked in the Pleasaunce. It’s not nice to feel unsafe where you live … or to leave Tudor Barn at 2am after a really long day at work.”
“Please don’t sit there and say these dangers are perceived when they are not.”
Williams said that a check of TfL’s journey planner showed no buses from the Tudor Barn until 5am. “Please don’t sit there and tell me there’s perfectly reasonable public transport at two o’clock in the morning.”
She added: “People can’t be leaving in the middle of a wedding service to move their car.”
Merrill – who was the cabinet member for transport until May’s council election – said Gardner’s comments were “objectionable”, adding: “There are no trains from Eltham station – we will not be told about that. I really did take offence at that.”
Gardner insisted that he “fully understood” concerns about women’s safety and that there would be little disruption “because those restrictions finish at 5.30pm”. He added: “If you started at 1.30, you would probably have to move the car. I’m sure that in the overall scheme of things that is manageable.”
The immediate area is not served by any night buses and the last train leaves at 12.35am.
“I’m not going to get a bus home at 2am and nor is my daughter,” Bailey said. “We support Shooters Hill [sixth form] campus, we take young people and train them. We’re not putting them on a bus at 1am or 2am. We have a duty of care to them. Trains don’t run at 2am – they’re stripping back the whole service as it is. All we have is the buses and all we hear every day is that bus services are struggling.”
“I get that you want to push people into walking and cycling and public transport, but for our industry it’s not suitable. If we can’t have a car park then you have to let me park in Kidbrooke Lane, and that’s all it is really.”
When one of the committee of three councillors, Labour’s Nick Williams, said that other venues paid for staff transport home, Bailey said: “We haven’t explored it because we simply couldn’t afford to do it. It’s not a viable option for us.”
Bailey said that the Tudor Barn was “the busiest wedding venue in the borough – we do four weddings a week. We don’t consider ourselves a pub any more.” She also said that she had not encountered any parking problems in Kidbrooke Lane in 14 years.
John Webb, the editor of the local SE Nine magazine, spoke for the Friends of Well Hall Pleasaunce, which campaigned to save the venue in the late 2000s. He said Bailey had transformed the Tudor Barn from “a no-go zone to a success story” compared with the “shambles” it had been two decades earlier. “Families don’t come on the bus. If it doesn’t get a certain throughput of weddings and wakes it’ll close,” he said.
Marcus Luck, a director of the Tudor Barn, said: “We set up the business shortly after the banking crisis and we’ve struggled to thrive ever since. If businesses are dependent on the motor vehicle, surely it is down to the council to do everything they can to support those businesses?”
Another Labour councillor, Simon Pierce, raised complaints from the Progress Hall, a community facility across the Well Hall Road from the Tudor Barn. “CPZs should only be introduced with the consent of residents,” he said. “They shouldn’t have schemes like this imposed.”
Merrill – who as cabinet member for transport scrapped the west Greenwich low traffic neighbourhood – said she had declined to sign off on the scheme when she was in charge because the restrictions were far tighter than other curbs in nearby roads. “We had a walk about in August last year and there was a general feeling that there was too much wrong with this decision at the time,” she said.
Averil Lekau, her successor in the role and the council’s deputy leader, said plans for a CPZ had been around for a long time and had “shrunk quite considerably” from the original scheme. Referring to the transport strategy, she said: “Given the direction of travel with the transport strategy I felt the time had come to move it forward.”
One of the three councillors on the committee, Conservative opposition leader Matt Hartley, said the decision should be returned to Lekau for a rethink. “I don’t think the objections been taken into account,” he said. “We heard early on that the reason this decision was taken was because of the direction of travel, but some people do need to drive and I don’t think those factors have been taken into account.”
But Nick Williams said: “It’s a really, really difficult problem. A comment that stuck with me earlier was that there’s no problem to fix on one of the roads adjacent to the Tudor Barn.
“The transport strategy that the council’s agreed on and voted through says there is a problem to fix. There is a car usage problem to fix, there is a climate emergency to fix and we need to do that. It’s not always just a localised issue.
Both he and the committee chair, Clare Burke McDonald, said that Merrill and Miranda Williams as ward councillors, and local MP Clive Efford, should work to find a solution to allow the Tudor Barn to use Blackheath rugby club’s car park.
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