Labour’s petition for a better deal for rail passengers during London Bridge station rebuild

Labour candidates at London Bridge station

Labour candidates Cherry Parker, Paul Morrissey and Damien Welfare at London Bridge station

Labour’s candidates for Blackheath Westcombe ward – Paul Morrissey, Cherry Parker and Damien Welfare – have started a petition demanding a better deal for passengers during the rebuilding of London Bridge station.

The petition at change.org, which can be signed here, welcomes the rebuilding of the overcrowded and dingy London Bridge station, as it will improve the overall punctuality and reliability of trains into London in the long term.

But the rebuilding will have a major impact on passengers using Westcombe Park, Maze Hill, Blackheath and Kidbrooke stations: between 2015 and 2018, many trains will pass through London Bridge without stopping. As a result many passengers will need to drastically alter their journeys, starting from different stations and using buses and tube trains to reach their destinations.

This will make journeys longer, more crowded, and in some cases more costly for people who don’t use a season ticket. The problem has been covered extensively on this website over the past year (see here, here and here).

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OnBlackheath: getting the balance right between music and nuisance

On Blackheath logoSo now we know the line-up: the OnBlackheath music festival being held on the Heath on September 13-14 will be headlined by Massive Attack, Frank Turner and the Sleeping Souls, Imelda May, and the Levellers.

Up to 30,000 people are expected to come and enjoy a weekend of music, a Kid’s Stage, a farmer’s market, Street & Fringe Theatre, ‘Walkabout Entertainment’ and a  ‘Food Village’ featuring Gizzi Erskine’s Chefs Club, at the western end of the Heath just south of the A2.

This festival, sponsored by John Lewis and promoted by the legendary Harvey Goldsmith, has had a long and controversial birth: in 2011 the Blackheath Society unsuccessfully challenged the license it had been granted by Lewisham Council in the courts. Originally due to be held in the midst of the Olympics, it has been postponed twice, from 2012 to 2013 and then again to 2014. Greenwich councillors have expressed concern to Lewisham Council (on whose side of the heath OnBlackheath will take place) about potential noise problems and the cumulative impact of OnBlackheath taking place in September, shortly after the Good Hope Festival, which was to be held on the Heath on 2-3 August. Although the Good Hope Festival was granted a license in March, its organisers announced in April that it would be postponed until 2015.Blackheath - new signs 2008

The OnBlackheath Festival had aroused more concern than the Good Hope Festival had. Some local people regret Lewisham’s decision to grant a commercial music festival a license in the first place, although others welcome southeast London’s first major music festival.

There’s a big difference between the commercial OnBlackheath (which is promoted by Harvey Goldsmith and sponsored by the John Lewis Partnership) and the Good Hope festival, which is organised by the Jimmy Mizen Foundation, set up in honour of Jimmy Mizen, a teenager who was tragically murdered in Lee in 2008.

But whether we like it or not OnBlackheath is definitely now going ahead. Following discussions with the organisers the Blackheath Society is now largely happy with the way the event is being planned, and Lewisham has attached a number of new conditions: no more than 15,000 people can attend each day (the organisers orginally wanted 25,000), noise reaching nearby homes can’t be any higher than 70 decibels, everyone must go home by 1030pm, and no alcohol will be served after 930pm. A recent Blackheath Society statement says that the society is now “looking forward to being part of the process taking this event forward, engaging constructively with London Borough of Lewisham on the detailed plans (which we are still awaiting) and addressing local residents’ concerns.” The society adds that they are pleased that there is “a commitment to a full review” after the festival closes.

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Welcome to The Scullery – a Blackheath institution reborn

CIMG2406Congratulations to The Scullery Cafe, which opened on Tuesday (April 22nd) in what used to be Gambardella’s on Vanbrugh Park. Run by the Petrillo family for generations, Gambardella’s had been a Blackheath institution ever since 1927 and it was very sad when it closed in April 2013 after a family bereavement.

Run by Colin, the Scullery Cafe’s interior is almost exactly as Gambardella’s left it , with only some funky new orange lamps and a slightly healthier menu. While its sad that the old Gambardella’s signage outside (with the wording “High Class Refreshments”) had to go, it’s great to see Gambardella’s historic interior survive a change of operator (see the write-up the Classic Cafes websiteCIMG2411 gave to Gamberdella’s a few years ago here: sadly the yellowing Wall’s Ice Cream chest freezer no longer survives and the 1960s swivel seats were removed from the front section a few years back, though they survive at the back).

Gambardella’s had always been one of my favourite meeting places in Blackheath but it usually closed at about 5. The Scullery now has an evening license so will be opening for supper, with wine served (currently the only places at the Standard serving evening meals are the Royal Standard pub itself, and the legendary Sun Ya Chinese restaurant).

Gambardella's Cafe 2013 - closed

Gambardella’s old frontage

CIMG2410The Scullery Cafe is just one of several exciting new businesses to open at Blackheath Standard in the last few years – others include the chemist next door, Mara Interiors & Coffee Shop on Westcombe Hilland over on Old Dover Road the children’s toy and bookshop Ottie and the Bea, the cookshop Blackheath Cooks and Moca Cafe (in what used to be Fosters, and reviewed here on the Blackheath Coffee Shops blog).

The Royal Standard has done well to survive the recession and the slow recovery since without any shops standing empty for long. It has cemented its reputation as the place to go for the sort of distinctive, independent shops and cafes which are becoming rarer in Blackheath Village and Greenwich town centre because of rent rises – by contrast, the council has frozen shop rents on Old Dover Road ever since 2008. The Royal Standard Business and Traders Association is looking at how to market the shops better, with help from the council’s e-Business programme, and a new Shopwatch scheme has been set up to help traders work together to prevent crime. The Royal Standard is on the up, and long may it thrive.

New pools and library at Greenwich Square on schedule to open in spring 2015

Greenwich Square - CGI

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.Greenwich Square cgi

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.

New swimming pool at Greenwich SquareBut 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.

Swimming pools under construction at Greenwich Square

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

Is IKEA a good idea for Greenwich?

sainsbury-greenwichHow quickly do the architectural innovations of the late Twentieth century become redundant in the Twenty-First! The iconic Sainsbury’s store on Peartree Way, with its partly glazed roof, curved lines and timber cladding, is due to be made redundant once a much larger Sainsbury’s opens down the road off Bugsby’s Way in 2014.

IKEA have now put forward plans to take over the site – and knock down the Sainsbury’s building, which was nominated for the Stirling Prize and won the prestigious RIBA Sustainability Award in 2000. Until now it had been hoped that a new retailer would adapt the building, not demolish it.

Tony Duckworth, one of the Environmental designers of the Sainsbury’s store, predicted last year that the most likely outcome was its demolition (see a blog post from 2012 here). I’m sorry that it seems he has been proved right. Read more of this post

Street trading: separating facts from fiction

Old Dover Road 2013There has been a lot of discussion in the local media recently about the Royal Borough of Greenwich’s new policy of charging shops and cafes for putting merchandise, or tables and chairs, on the public highway – the so-called “Pavement Tax”.

As a Labour candidate in Blackheath Westcombe ward, and as chair of South East Enterprise (a business support agency based in Greenwich town centre) I have spoken to lots of people about the impact of the new policy on businesses in Greenwich town centre, Blackheath Standard, and elsewhere in the borough.

There are good arguments for some kind of regulation of trading on the public highway. Most people would agree that it is fair, in principle, to charge businesses for using pavements and highways for commercial purposes. A small minority of shops and businesses – not in Blackheath, but in other parts of the borough – do put excessive amounts of merchandise on narrow pavements, impeding access for pedestrians.

Most other London boroughs (Tory, Lib Dem, and Labour-controlled) already have a charging policy so it is reasonable for Greenwich to do the same. The charges introduced (£7 for the first square metre per week, and £3.50 per week for any further square metres) are lower than what most other boroughs charge.

However, the council needs to be mindful of the impact of the policy on small businesses, which are feeling the pinch due to the failure of the Tory-Lib Dem coalition to deliver proper economic growth. The new charging policy was not well explained to traders, and there was not enough consultation with traders groups. Read more of this post

What the 2011 Census belatedly tells us: home ownership levels down since 2001, private renting up by 50%

Photos July 2008 029Better late than never: ward-level data from the March 2011 census has finally been released in, er, 2013 (it takes two years for the Office of National Statistics to crunch all the data).

What does the census data tell us about how society has changed since the previous census in 2001? The big news in Blackheath and Westcombe Park, like so many other parts of London, is the steep growth in private renting in the last ten years: up from 16.8% of households in 2001 to 24.5% in 2011.

One in four households in Blackheath Westcombe ward is now rented from a private landlord: a decade ago it was just one in six. Read more of this post