March 6, 2014 Leave a comment
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.
Translated into plain English, this means that the planning inspector thinks that TFL are the best-qualified people to judge whether flashing adverts are safe on a road run by, and bringing revenue to, TFL itself. Hmm. Read more of this post
January 15, 2014 Leave a comment
Changes to the application process for Blue Badges are leaving elderly and disabled residents in Greenwich in the lurch – with some having to wait weeks or months for their badges to be renewed, and a doubling of refusals.
The Conservative/Lib Dem coalition has come up with a new system that is slow and bureaucratic, with local councils forced to administer the new rules, pick up the pieces and get the system back on track.
The Government announced in February 2011 that it was overhauling the Blue Badge system (the first thorough overhaul since Blue Badges were introduced in 1971, thanks largely to Labour MP Alf Morris). The government claimed that ”tens of thousands of people” were abusing the scheme at a cost of £50m a year to the taxpayer, citing Audit Commission figures which showed that 16,535 blue badges were still in operation even though their registered holders had died.
There’s nothing wrong with clamping down on fraudulent applications for, or abuse of, Blue Badges. As the Badges give people the right to park just about everywhere for free in London and avoid the Congestion Charge, the scope for abuse is beyond doubt (the annual value of benefits to holders is estimated to be more than £300m, or more than £100 per badge).
January 9, 2014 Leave a comment
Just before Christmas a group of eight councillors visited the Greenwich Foodbank‘s headquarters in Eltham. We were all impressed by the hard work and determination of its volunteers, led by Alan Robinson who showed us around.
Although a foodbank had been set up by two churches in Thamesmead in 2009, demand shot up after the coalition’s welfare cuts started in 2010, with people from all over Greenwich and Bexley boroughs beating a path to its doors. With help from the Trussell Trust, the Christian charity that helps foodbanks across Britain, a new borough-wide foodbank was set up in October 2012 by 45 Greenwich churches (including St John’s in Blackheath, which acts as a collection point for donations).
The Greenwich Foodbank is a very well-organised operation that gives out three-quarters of a ton of food and other goods each week. Increasingly, toiletries are given out as well as food: Office of National Statistics figures show that unemployed people on the breadline are going without soap and shampoo to afford to feed themselves. People can only receive a week’s food if they have been given a voucher by an authorised person working at the sharp end: in Social Services, the NHS, Police, Probation service, or the voluntary sector (need is the only factor: the Foodbank helps people regardless of their religious faith).
Normally, no-one is allowed to redeem vouchers more than three times: the Foodbank is determined to help people out of poverty, not make them dependent on handouts. As well as giving out food, the Foodbank has put together a cookbook (many of its clients are used to fast food, and find it hard to make a nutritious meal out of the ingredients the Foodbank provides). Giving out food helps alleviate some of the immediate effects of the cost-of-living crisis, but it is not a long-term cure on its own, which is why the Foodbank acts as a “signpost” to other services so its clients can find a long-term solution to whatever problems they face.
But no-one should be pleased that more and more Foodbanks are starting in Britain in 2014: everyone should afford to feed themselves and their families without the indignity of going to a Foodbank. Dave Wilcox, a veteran labour councillor in Derbyshire who helped his local foodbank get lottery money, recently wrote of his “sadness in success”. Like many, he hopes that one day foodbanks will run out of customers, return their money to the lottery, and that everyone will have enough money to buy their own food rather than need handouts. How right he is. Read more of this post
December 15, 2013 2 Comments