Charlton Road shows how cycling can be made easier and safer

CIMG2376Good to see that work by Greenwich’s Labour council to widen the cycle lanes on Charlton Road (and move parking bays so lanes are no longer blocked by parked cars) is almost complete, making cycling between Blackheath Standard and Charlton a lot easier and safer.

Greenwich has not got as many cyclists, or cycle lanes, as London boroughs like Hackney and Lambeth but this is changing. A new Cycling Strategy, agreed by the council’s cabinet earlier this month, includes an ambitious Action Plan for a new network of cycle lanes and Greenways including a new east-west route along Kidbrooke Gardens and Westbrook Road, making Kidbrooke Park Road safer for cyclists, and a new north-south cycle route parallel with Westcombe Hill (exact route yet to be decided).

The percentage of all journeys done by bike has tripled from 1% in 2005 to an estimated 2.9% now. The strategy sets a target to increase this to above 5% by 2025, and to double the percentage of adults cycling weekly from 7% in 2010 to 16% in 2020. Thanks to new cycle lanes and a lot of training in schools cycling has already got a lot safer: the number of cyclist injuries in Greenwich halved between 1999 and 2011. And according to maps included in the strategy’s ‘Evidence Base’, residents of Blackheath Westcombe ward are already cycling more, and are more likely to take up cycling, than most other wards. Read more of this post

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

All is forgiven, planners: you are now needed more than ever

Huntsman mapped

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 herePhotos July 2008 029

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

Taking pride in our streets and public spaces

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Here are seven words that should be said more often: Hats off to Greenwich Council’s highways department.

The council has just completed the resurfacing of the Royal Standard one-way system (the first half was done in June and the second in November). This busy junction now has no potholes and new road markings, and the work was completed smoothly over four nights with very few complaints about noise. This follows work in the spring to make the corner of Charlton Road and Westcombe Hill, where cars often used to zoom round the corner at high speed, safer for pedestrians to cross.

I am sorry that local Conservatives keep claiming that Greenwich’s Labour council neglects the Standard: as well as the recent highways works, over the last five years the council has  frozen shop rents on Old Dover Road, planted more trees, refurbished Blackheath Library and extended its opening hours, and helped to get an office for our local police team opened above Marks and Spencer’s – and helped defeat Boris Johnson’s recent plan to close it.

Half a mile south of the Standard, the council’s Highways department has just responded to residents’ concerns about the ridiculous amount of signage on the mini-roundabout on the corner of Kidbrooke Gardens and St German’s Place. The council’s highways engineers simply took half of the signage away, within just a couple of weeks of a site visit in late October. Read more of this post

Coalition consequences: soon Greenwich Park visitors will have to pay to use the loo

coalition consequences logoThe Royal Parks – the government body that runs Greenwich Park – is having to make difficult choices. Their annual budget has already been slashed by 25% by the Coalition Government, and is likely to be cut by another 10% in 2015. To help balance the books, visitors will have to pay 20p a time to use the toilets in Greenwich Park once turnstiles are installed next summer.

Disabled toilets, and toilets in children’s playgrounds, will apparently be exempt. But the charges will stick in the throat given that visitors have already paid for the Royal Parks through their taxes.

One of the toilets in Greenwich Park: currently free, but soon it will cost 20p a visit

One of the toilets in Greenwich Park: currently free, but soon it will cost 20p a visit

After the Coalition Government was elected in 2010, the Royal Parks were told that their annual grant from the Department of Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) would be reduced from £17m in 2010-11 to £15.3m in 2014-15 – a cut of 25% in real terms. In fact the cuts have been even steeper than feared – the grant for 2013-14 is only £14.3m.

Ten years ago, the annual  grant given to the Royal Parks was £22.1m – equivalent to £29.4m today. That means the Parks have had a real-terms funding cut of more than 50% over ten years, with more cuts expected in 2015-16 – not just a bit of prudent belt-tightening. No organisation could withstand this kind of cuts without making difficult decisions. Read more of this post

TFL puts advertising income ahead of protecting A102 neighbours from noise and pollution

Sun in Sands from south - showing ad positionI’ve posted before about TFL’s crazy plan to put two huge illuminated adverts on the Sun-in-the-Sands roundabout – see here. The advertising panels, 3 metres high and 12 metres wide, would go on the bridges facing north and south with different images flashing up six times a minute. They would distract drivers on the A2/A102 motorway, and be a nuisance for neighbours, as these mocked-up images show.

Greenwich Council thankfully refused TFL’s planning application in May 2013, because of the impact the signs would have on the adjacent Blackheath conservation area, as well as road safety concerns.

Sun in Sands from north - showing ad positionBut TFL are not taking no for an answer and are determined to get advertising revenue from the site.  In August TFL lodged an appeal against the refusal, arguing that “the proposals will improve the tired condition of the underpass and will signify investment into the area.” That’s right – TFL thinks this part of Blackheath is so economically deprived that it must have advertising hoardings to show it’s open for business. 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