Police stations closed, police numbers down, crime up: how the Tories are ruining neighbourhood policing

PolicingThe “Safer Neighbourhood” Police teams of six police officers and community support officers in each council ward in London – introduced by Labour Mayor Ken Livingstone in 2006 and widely credited for a sharp fall in crime since then – are now under threat. Police numbers are falling, police stations are closing, there’s more and more centralisation, and the long-term decline in crime levels in London is starting to go into reverse.

Here in Blackheath Westcombe ward we have an excellent police team led by acting sergeant Tom Button and based upstairs from Marks and Spencers on Old Dover Road, at the very heart of the ward it serves. The team is held to account by an active Safer Neighbourhood Panel, with representatives from community groups and neighbourhood watch schemes across the ward, which meets quarterly. Since it started in 2006 Blackheath Westcombe ward’s police team has done a great job at reducing crime, tackling anti-social behaviour at the Royal Standard and elsewhere, giving out advice to householders to prevent their homes and cars being broken into, and recently putting in painted markings around cashpoints at the Royal Standard (the yellow boxes labelled “private” may be unsightly but are very effective: the number of robberies and distraction thefts has fallen to almost nil since they arrived).

Privacy markings around cashpoints at the Royal Standard: unsightly but effective at cutting crime

Privacy markings around cashpoints at the Royal Standard: unsightly but effective at cutting crime

Boroughwide, the police and the Labour council work together closely and have jointly funded a Violent and Organised Crime Unit (VOCU) which has helped cut crime in Greenwich by 10.5% from 2007 to 2013 – a faster fall in crime than most other London boroughs. The police, council and other agencies have also started a new project to tackle domestic violence, which is too common in Greenwich and which has not always been tackled as effectively as it should have been.

But after a long period of decline crime has recently started rising again: the Met’s latest figures show that there were 1,640 crimes in Greenwich in March 2014, up 8.5% on February (in Blackheath Westcombe, the increase was even higher: crime rose by 18% from February to March). In both February and March 2014, the number of crimes in Blackheath Westcombe ward was more than double the same two months in 2013.

Our local police are currently based on Old Dover Road - but for how much longer?

Our local police are currently based on Old Dover Road – but for how much longer?

While it may be unwise to draw too many conclusions from a short-lived rise in crime, it’s time to look at whether Boris Johnson’s decision to cut police numbers, close police stations and centralise many of the Met’s functions is to blame.

Although ward panels can still set three key priorities for their local neighbourhood police team, the “MOPAC seven” London-wide priorities take priority. Under Ken Livingstone, the police defined a “neighbourhood” as a council ward (about 10,000 residents): under Boris, a “neighbourhood” is now at least four wards (40,000-plus residents). Since local police teams were given less flexibility over overtime and shift patterns back in 2010, policing has got a lot less local.

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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.

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

All change! Kidbrooke Park Road traffic experiment begins – and more roadworks at the Royal Standard

Kidbrooke Park Road - old signLater this month a new traffic experiment will start on Kidbrooke Park Road, with potentially far-reaching effects which local residents will want to have their say about.

Ever since the Rochester Way Relief Road (the A2 between the Sun-in-Sands and Eltham) was built in the late 1980s, traffic has been banned from turning right from Rochester Way into Kidbrooke Park Road. This was part of a package of measures to deter traffic from rat-running through Eltham and Kidbrooke whenever the new road was gridlocked.

The problem is that a lot of vehicles ignore this rule, or else turn left and then perform dangerous u-turns in one of the cul-de-sacs off Kidbrooke Park Road just to the south of the junction. Since Thomas Tallis School was rebuilt a few hundred yards north of its previous site, these u-turns are taking place where many schoolchildren cross the road to reach school each day.

Kidbrooke Park Road - no right turn sign by Thomas tallis School

Given these safety concerns, the council’s Highways Committee agreed some time ago to lift the ban on right turns here, for a trial period. The experiment will last six months and will start later in November (the exact date is not yet announced). The Highways Committee’s recent report on the matter can be found here.

Twenty-five years after the new motorway opened, it may be high time to look again at the local road network, and ask whether abolishing the ban on right turns here would make the road safer (longer term, the road network will need to be looked at very carefully if and when any new river crossings on the Peninsula are given the go-ahead, though a decision on these is some way off).

But Labour councillors want to see a careful analysis of the effects this experiment has, and proper consultation before any change is made permanent. Lifting the ban on right turns may make the road safer near Thomas Tallis School, which is important, but if it means permanent traffic jams up Kidbrooke Park Road northbound then another solution may need to be found. At the same time, I am asking the Highways department to extend double yellow lines northwards up Kidbrooke Park Road (currently they only go a little way past St John Fisher Church), due to unsafe parking there.

Please let me have your views – by email at alex.grant@royalgreenwich.gov.uk or by commenting below.

Royal Standard 2013 - 4

Over at the Royal Standard gyratory, further resurfacing work will take place overnight on Monday November 18th and Tuesday November 19th, starting at 19.00 and finishing at 06.00 the following morning. The gyratory will be completely closed to through traffic over both nights, apart from the section where you enter from Westcombe Hill and exit via Charlton Road (towards Woolwich), which was resurfaced earlier this year. It is possible, though unlikely, that further works may have to take place on the Wednesday night if bad weather delays works on Monday and Tuesday.

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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

We Love the NHS

Nick Raynsford and Clive Efford at Queen Elizabeth Hospital

I was proud to attend two events in the last few days  to celebrate the NHS and stand up for it against the onslaught of the Tory-led Government’s Health and Social Care Bill.

On Saturday morning Labour held a street stall outside M&S on Old Dover Road,  getting messages of support for the campaign against the Bill. There was a slightly more formal event at Queen Elizabeth Hospital on Tuesday (Valentine’s Day), where the staff were presented with a Valentine’s card by local MPs Clive Efford and Nick Raynsford, and a big crowd of wellwishers, to show how much the NHS is valued by local people, as well as their MPs.

Labour’s Street Stall at Old Dover Road

A lot has been said about the Bill. My favourite comment of all is from a local GP, speaking at a public meeting at Mycenae House organised by the Labour Party last year. He said the reforms “combined the worst aspects of pre-revolutionary France, seventeenth century England and Stalinist Russia.” Which would be a very funny line in the Monty Python mould, were the very future of the NHS not at stake. Read more of this post

Thank You to Blackheath Westcombe from Pat Boadu-Darko

PatTo all the people of Greenwich and Woolwich who have seen a regenerated Borough, a stronger NHS, safer streets, improved public transport and the cutting of carbon emissions,and who believed in Nick’s pledge for: more jobs locally, better educational standards, an even better NHS, continued Improvements to neighbourhood policing, and further action to tackle climate change, there was a simple act from the re-elected MP last Saturday 22nd May, 2010 at the Royal Standard in the Blackheath Westcombe ward of the Constituency to show appreciation.

‘Thank You’, two simple words that bring a smile to anyone’s face.

It was a joy looking at the faces of people on the streets that morning going from one of bewilderment to surprise, then a broad smile when they are handed the letter from Nick, and they get to know that it was not asking for their votes this time, but just to aknowledge and appreciate their recognition of a hard-working MP who’s always been near his people and who works in the interest of the borough that he’s been given the mandate to represent for 18 years!

One needs to just go through Woolwich to see some of the regeneration…that Nick won by a 10000+ margin is testimony in itself to the interest of the people he has at heart! So really, he could just have taken what was rightly his due, and not been there that morning at the Royal Standard…BUT, that is the difference between an MP who is forever near his people, not just when he needs their votes, but one who genuinely respects his constituents!

These are difficult times, and whilst we in Greenwich and Woolwich are lucky to have returned our Labour MP, and a Labour Council, we need to remember that their continued success depends on our co-operation.
It is really up to us, the good people of Greenwich and Woolwich to assist our MP, and Council to keep the re-generation of our community in track…Let’s all give our Councillors a hand and ensure that Greenwich and Woolwich remains the Royal Borough ,

and a great place to work and live!!

Pat Boadu-Darko