Blue badges: another botched Coalition “reform”

Coalition consequences logoChanges 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.

Blue badge sign

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).

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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 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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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

One person’s ‘freedom’ is another’s nuisance: what Cator Estate parking tells us

coalition consequences logo

The law of unintended consequences is already taking its toll on Blackheath’s Cator Estate, where a new ban on the clamping of cars on private land may paradoxically make it more costly for people who have parked their cars wrongly, and less easy for local residents to enforce sensible parking restrictions.

The coalition government’s Protection of Freedom Act, which came into law in May 2012, makes it a criminal offence for a private person on private or public land to immobilise a vehicle (e.g. by clamping or obstructing), or to move

IMG00620-20120713-1426 (2)a vehicle, with a view to denying the owner access to it.

The Act also included several sensible changes to the law about fingerprints and DNA profiles taken from persons arrested for or charged with a minor offence, which will now be destroyed following either a decision not to charge, or acquittal.

But the Act’s ban on clamping of cars on private land, which may also seem sensible on the face of it, has also caused a number of problems. It is not just cowboys who clamp cars on private land – sometimes, on non-adopted roads, it is the only way of making sure that parking is  not a free-for-all.

The Cator Estate is a good example: a few yards away from Blackheath station, parking restrictions have been in place for years to prevent  its streets becoming a free car park for rail commuters. As the roads are not adopted, the residents there cannot rely on council controlled parking zones as on other nearby streets. Read more of this post

St John’s Park: gothic masterpiece or overflow car-park?

Pat, David and I (the three Labour candidates for Blackheath Westcombe ward) visited St John’s Park last Saturday to see the parking problems that residents have been reporting to us.

The road is one of my favourites in Blackheath, going from the motorway to the Heath with some very fine Victorian buildings (mostly converted into flats) – some red brick and other larger ones in yellow brick. It has an intriguing feature in that it goes round St John The Evangelist church, which is a glorious traffic island of Ragstone gothic at the junction with Stratheden Road.

Less romantically, the road also functions as an overflow car park for the shops and offices in the Royal Standard area, and Blackheath and Westcombe Park railway stations, as parking on St John’s Park is uncontrolled.

The council, responding to residents’ concerns, has just surveyed people living and working here and on Old Dover Road about possible changes to the rules to allow people to park here short-term to visit the shops, but discourage all-day parking by commuters. It will be a careful balancing act to ensure there are spaces available for residents and visitors, without making it impossible for shoppers to park short-term, but I hope the council gets it right.