April 24, 2014 Leave a comment
March 18, 2014 2 Comments
Along with other councillors I visited the development site at the bottom of Vanbrugh Hill - Greenwich Square - last week to see the new swimming pools and library being built there along with a new health centre, shops and 645 new homes.
Like many developments that were conceived before the financial crash – plans were first drawn up for the site in 2006 and submitted to the council in 2007 – this one has been a long time coming. The development was given planning consent in 2008 but stalled when the developer First Base walked away in 2010, and after the incoming Government cut funds for affordable housing on the site it was difficult to make the development viable. But the plans were then modified, a new development consortium (Hadley Mace) was brought in in 2012 and work finally started on site later that year.
The good news is that the scheme has been kept alive with only minor changes to Make Architects‘ original plans, and 150 of the new homes will be available to local people at genuinely affordable rents (not Boris Johnson’s definition of “affordable” – 80% of market rents). Make are a great architectural practice founded in 2004 by Ken Shuttleworth, who had formerly been a partner at Norman Foster’s firm, and I am glad their design has not been dumbed down.
Local people could be forgiven for having forgotten the promise of the Greenwich Centre – a new library and leisure centre on the site, to replace East Greenwich Library and the Arches: the scheme has not been well publicised beyond its immediate neighbours so far.
But work is now progressing rapidly and the new public building going up on the corner of Vanbrugh hill and Woolwich Road, containing the library, leisure centre and a council “contact centre” alongside a new public square, has been topped out. While there is some affection for the Arches and East Greenwich Library, I hope the new building can prove that public services can be as well-built in the twenty-first century as in the twentieth, and be easier to maintain and adapt to future demands.
Elsewhere on the site the first 36 housing units – affordable homes to rent through L&Q housing association – are almost completed and are being handed over in April. A small Sainsbury’s on the site will open in July. A gym, dance studio, 25-metre Fitness poll, a 20-metre learning pool, creche and an 820 square metre library – three times bigger than the current East Greenwich Library – should be handed over to the council in November 2014 and open by the end of March 2015. A new NHS health centre, which will replace the Vanbrugh Health centre operating at the southern end of the site, will also open upstairs from the library next spring, and all the housing on the site should be completed by 2018.
Unlike many PFI developments, the council will have control of these buildings through a 999 year lease, and a seat on the management company that will own the freehold of the site.
The council now needs to seek appropriate new uses for the (locally listed) Arches building and the East Greenwich library building (which is statutorily listed), which will be replaced in spring 2015 by these new facilities. I would be keen to hear local people’s thoughts about how they should find a sustainable future (Blackheath Library on Old Dover Road, which was refurbished and had its opening hours extended in 2010, won’t be affected).
Deep within the site we were shown the two new pools under construction – the larger one is under a wooden hoarding but the smaller children’s pool is beginning to look like somewhere you could swim in (the steps into it are already in place). It is already just possible to imagine what the pools will look like when they are open (compare the computer-generated image above with the photo of the same part of site under construction below). The new library will be upstairs, in a prominent position right on the crossroads of Vanbrugh Hill and Woolwich Road. Read more of this post
March 13, 2014 Leave a comment
In 2013 proposals to savagely cut services at Lewisham Hospital - downgrading Maternity and A&E services and selling off a large chunk of land – were twice defeated by the High Court, which ruled that the Government was acting outside of its powers with its plans, thanks to an energetic community campaign.
But damaging cuts to Lewisham may yet emerge by the back door, and this is a threat we need to remind voters of in the run up to the May elections. Clause 119, hastily tacked on to the coalition government’s Care Bill, will make it easier for Trust Special Administrators (TSAs) to close down hospital departments with little meaningful consultation on proposals until it’s too late.
The clause was voted through on Tuesday evening (March 11th), opposed by Labour but with only six Conservatives and one Liberal Democrat MP voting against. As the Save Lewisham Hospital website reports: “The vote was lost in Parliament this evening – with Labour’s amendment of a strike out of the clause being voted down and with Lib Dem Paul Burstow withdrawing his support for his own amendment in weasly fashion at the last minute”.
Some concessions have been made – GP-led Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) will have more of say over hospital closures than the clause originally proposed – but it is now a lot easier for the government to close down hospital departments in the teeth of huge local opposition, as a good report on the OpenDemocracy website explains. If the new clause means that cuts to Lewisham are pushed through again, local Lib Dems and Conservatives will have a lot of explaining to do.
While the clause was being debated in Parliament on Monday night, Labour held a public meeting in Greenwich to discuss the ongoing Tory threat to the NHS. All the meeting’s speakers – including two who work in the local NHS, QEH Midwife Debbie Jordan and Lewisham GP Brian Fisher - said that the huge improvements that Labour made to the NHS between 1997 and 2010 are now under threat. When the Tories were last in government in the 1990s, they introduced a 18-month target wait for hospital treatment which the NHS struggled to meet because of a lack of resources: even a two-year wait for a heart operation was common. Under Labour, the maximum wait for hospital treatment was reduced to just 18 weeks. Read more of this post
March 6, 2014 Leave a comment
At long last Transport for London is putting forward proposals to make Shooter’s Hill Road (the busy A2) safer for pedestrians and cyclists. Consultation has just started on proposals to improve the junction of Shooter’s Hill Road, Stratheden Road and Prince of Wales Road on the northern edge of the heath.
TFL are proposing to install new cycle lanes, remove the ‘sheep pen’ in the middle of Shooter’s Hill Road and make the crossing there straighter. A stranger part of the proposals is to put a new island in the middle of Prince of Wales Road, narrowing the left filter lane so only cycles will be allowed to turn into the A2: cars would no longer be able to make this turn. This is opposed by residents living on the slip road on the south side of Shooter’s Hill Road, who would have to drive via the Standard or Blackheath Village to join the A2 towards London. As this would increase traffic flow but do little to improve safety, I hope TFL will reconsider.
Overall the scheme is not revolutionary and won’t do much to make it safer to cross the junctions from east to west (there still won’t be a proper pedestrian crossing from one side of Stratheden Road to the other). But it’s a start.
There have been safety concerns about this junction for more than a decade, and it’s high time TFL made it safer: there are four schools (Invicta, Blackheath High, Pointers, and Blackheath Nursery & Prep) nearby and if we want children to walk to them we have got to make junctions like this safer. As these old Westcombe Society minutes record, back in the summer of 2002 a school pupil was very seriously injured in a collision here and had to be taken to hospital by air ambulance.
A speed indicator device (a sign that flashes “30″ at drivers that exceed that speed, pictured here with yours truly) was put in on Shooter’s Hill Road eastbound in 2008, but despite repeated requests from the council TFL have refused to put one up on the westbound side of the road, which has more of a speeding problem. Further east at the pedestrian crossing by Vicarage Avenue, it took several years of lobbying before TFL finally agreed in 2010 to allow people two more seconds to cross the road in safety: their first priority always seems to be keeping the traffic moving, not pedestrian safety.
Details of TFL’s latest proposals can be found here: please note any comments have to be sent to them by Friday March 21st.
TFL is also promising details next month of new measures to make the Woolwich Road roundabout (under the A102 flyover) safer for cyclists and pedestrians. I hope TFL continue this burst of activity by doing something to screen those living near the A102 from noise and pollution, too, and fixing the broken Charlton Road bridge over the A102, using some of the income they will get from the advertising screens that they have just got planning permission for at the Sun-in-Sands roundabout. I’m not holding my breath.
March 4, 2014 Leave a comment
Good news from the Planning Inspectorate last week, who turned down a proposal for 131 new homes on the Huntsman site, a disused playing field just off the Cator Estate.
Although everyone accepts the land will end up being developed as housing (its designation as Metropolitan Open Land was lifted some years ago as part of a land-swap to enable the Ferrier estate to be redeveloped as Kidbrooke Village), the proposed development was wrong in many respects. Above all it would have turned its back on the neighbouring Kidbrooke Vision development it was supposed to be part of. As this map shows, all the traffic would have gone onto the Cator Estate’s narrow (and privately-owned) roads to the west, via a dangerous new entry junction on the corner of Manor Way and Brooklands Park.
It is pleasing that for once a planning inspector has agreed with the council and local residents, and refused the scheme on traffic grounds. It was clear at the public enquiry earlier this year that residents across Blackheath, who organised an effective campaign called No to the Huntsman, felt that this was the wrong scheme both for them, and the borough as whole: although the site is about a half-mile south of Blackheath Westcombe ward (whose southern boundary is Blackheath Park) I was contacted by many concerned residents living north of Blackheath Park as well as south. The Planning Inspectorate’s judgement, issued on February 26th, can be read here.
The Huntsman is not the only large planning application causing concern locally. In Kidbrooke Village itself, Berkeley Homes are beginning to consult on a proposal for a 30-storey tower by Kidbrooke station, with a public exhibition being held later this week. The new proposal is much higher than the building heights that Berkeley already have outline permission for. As most of the new development in Kidbrooke Village has so far been top-quality, let’s hope it won’t be ruined now: see here for a discussion on Skyscraper city, an online discussion forum about tall buildings, and here for SE9 magazine’s coverage (it’s on page 18). Read more of this post
Rail passengers face triple whammy: no more Charing Cross trains on the Greenwich line, no chance to change at London Bridge, and then trains won’t stop at London Bridge at all
February 24, 2014 Leave a comment
If you were given a leaflet about the “Thameslink Programme” at a London railway station recently, make sure you read it very carefully. The Thameslink Programme is not just about changes to Thameslink services between Gatwick Airport and Bedford: it also involves the complete rebuilding of platforms 1-6 of London Bridge station between 2015 and 2018.
Anyone travelling through London Bridge faces a difficult three years of missed connections, longer journeys and overcrowding. Given that London Bridge is the UK’s fourth-busiest railway station, and Crossrail is no use as an alternative as it won’t start until 2018, it’s still far from clear how people will commute to and from work over this three-year period. And worryingly, while SouthEastern may not be as bad as their predecessor Connex, they were recently judged to be one of the least popular train companies in the country, before the worst disruption at London Bridge even starts.
The service changes are complex and have not been well-explained to rail passengers, many of whom are confused by the project’s branding as the “Thameslink Programme”, rather than something more sensible such as “London Bridge station rebuilding”. In summary, from early 2015 until August 2016, all Charing Cross-bound trains will pass through London Bridge without stopping. From August 2016 until early 2018, all Cannon Street-bound trains will pass through London Bridge without stopping.
Network Rail and SouthEastern railway are, at last, beginning to do more to inform passengers of the chaos in store, thanks to pressure from a new Greenwich Line Users’ Group (GLUG) and the Labour-run council. A new credit-card sized information leaflet was handed out at London Bridge station in January (much of the content of this can be found online here and here) and more publicity is promised in April.
But the disruption now looks even worse than previously feared (see here and here for previous posts). All rail passengers in south-east London will be hit but Deptford, Greenwich, Maze Hill and Westcombe Park stations will be particularly badly affected, as all their trains go to and from Cannon Street off-peak (other lines have a mixture of Charing Cross and Cannon Street trains).
This means a triple whammy: from January 2015 onwards all trains on the Greenwich line (including during the rush hours and on Sundays) will run to and from Cannon Street only. Secondly, from 2015 to 2016 there won’t even be any trains from London Bridge to Charing Cross to change onto. Thirdly, from 2016 to early 2018, all Greenwich line trains will go through London Bridge without stopping on their way to and from Cannon Street: anyone wanting to reach London Bridge, Waterloo or Charing Cross will have to travel by bus or tube from Cannon Street.
January 29, 2014 1 Comment
This is the view that drivers will have from the A102 later this year. Despite objections from local Labour councillors, the Blackheath and Westcombe societies and the Greenwich Conservation Group, a planning inspector has just allowed Boris Johnson’s Transport for London to put up huge electronic advertising panels, 3m high and 12m wide, on the Sun-in-the-Sands roundabout. A mock-up of the north-facing one is shown here, with the south-facing one below.
The plans were turned down by Greenwich Council in 2013 but TFL wouldn’t take no for an answer and appealed to the Planning Inspectorate, which held a hearing on January 7th to consider the appeal. (For previous posts on the story see here and here).
The Planning Inspector’s judgement, published on January 29th, can be read here. The inspector has added some conditions limiting the brightness of the illuminated adverts, ordered that images should change no more frequently than every ten seconds, they the images should not move, and that it should not take more than a second to change from one image to another. But generally this is a bad day for drivers on the A102, who may well be distracted by flashing adverts, and the roundabout’s neighbours who will now have to live alongside them.
The inspector’s report is a dry read, but tucked away in the text are two intriguing details.
Firstly, the inspector seems to have been swayed by the fact that Transport for London had, funnily enough, not objected to their own planning application:
In reaching this conclusion, I have given considerable weight to the lack of objection to the proposal from the highway authority and to the compliance of the advertisement displays with the guidance adopted by the highway authority in relation to proposals of this nature. Whilst I note that, in this case, the highway authority is also the appellant, the evidence before me indicates that the highway safety assessment of the proposed advertisements is undertaken separately to any commercial assessment of site suitability and is subject to a safety audit. In the light of this lack of objection, whilst I have had careful regard to the concerns of the local planning authority, including those relating to drivers potentially breaking the speed limit, I have not found the evidence presented by the Council in this respect to be compelling and, as such, I am not satisfied that it would be appropriate to find against the proposal for this reason.