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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Credit where it’s due: TFL now want to make Shooter’s Hill Road safer

Shooters Hill Road 4 - pedestrian crossingAt 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. Shooters Hil Road-stratheden road proposal map 2014

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.

Alex Grant by speed indicator device on Shooters Hill Road 2008 - 2Details 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.

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

Blackheath: a birthplace of rebellion, not just Golf

William Ewart Gladstone (1809-1898) giving an election address on Blackheath, General election February 1874

William Ewart Gladstone (1809-1898) giving an election address on Blackheath, General election February 1874

The Blackheath Societys new digital archive of photos and prints is a reminder that Blackheath is not just a sleepy Kentish village, famous only for the invention of Golf, that became a south London suburb. Blackheath also has a proud radical past.

The archive was subject of a week-long exhibition at Blackheath Halls in late September, which I was lucky to be at the launch of. Though the exhibition is now over, all you need do is go to www.blackheatharchive.org, register with your name and email address and you can browse all 1,500 images collated so far.

The archive is an organic thing and needs to grow further. The Blackheath Society welcomes donations of photos (I am donating some of my own limited archive of photos of places, and political events, in Blackheath and Westcombe Park from the last 15 years). Read more of this post

How TFL has its priorities all wrong

Sun in sandsAnyone living near the Sun-in-the-Sands roundabout take note: Transport for London wants to transform the road junction into  a site for “LED Media displays” featuring  a” digital display… of static adverts which will change sequentially no less than every ten seconds”.

In other words, TFL want to put illuminated screens on the bridges facing north and south, 3m high and 12m wide, showing ads to drivers on the A2/A102 motorway that passes underneath, with different images flashing up six times a minute. (May 18th update – GOOD NEWS: the Royal Borough of Greenwich has refused TFL’s planning application, although they could yet appeal against this refusal.) Read more of this post