TFL gives a masterclass in how not to repair a motorway bridge

CIMG2373Transport for London has just put up ugly temporary fences on both sides of the Old Dover Road and Charlton Road bridges over the A102 – without consulting or notifying local residents or councillors, and with no regard to the impact on local views.

And now TFL can’t even say how long the fences will be up, what work is to be carried out behind them, and how high the bridges’ railings will be once work is complete.

According to one nearby resident, the new fences “look ugly, look scary, ruin the view and make you feel that you are in prison”. Another resident describes them simply as “hideous”. “Monstrosities,” says another.

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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

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

Safe in their hands? Coalition changes law to make it easier to cut services at Lewisham Hospital

Lewisham_Hospital_Victory - July 2013In 2013 proposals to savagely cut services at Lewisham Hospital –  downgrading Maternity and A&E services and selling off a large chunk of land – were twice defeated by the High Court, which ruled that the Government was acting outside of its powers with its plans, thanks to an energetic community campaign.

But damaging cuts to Lewisham may yet emerge by the back door, and this is a threat we need to remind voters of in the run up to the May elections. Clause 119, hastily tacked on to the coalition government’s Care Bill, will make it easier for Trust Special Administrators (TSAs) to  close down hospital departments with little meaningful consultation on proposals until it’s too late.

The clause was voted through on Tuesday evening (March 11th), opposed by Labour but with only six Conservatives and one Liberal Democrat MP voting against. As the Save Lewisham Hospital website reports: “The vote was lost in Parliament this evening – with Labour’s amendment of a strike out of the clause being voted down and with Lib Dem Paul Burstow withdrawing his support for his own amendment in weasly fashion at the last minute”.

Some concessions have been made – GP-led Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs) will have more of  say over hospital closures than the clause originally proposed – but it is now a lot easier for the government to close down hospital departments in the teeth of huge local opposition, as a good report on the OpenDemocracy website explains. If the new clause means that cuts to Lewisham are pushed through again, local Lib Dems and Conservatives will have a lot of explaining to do.

The Greenwich Labour banner on the march to save Lewisham Hospital,  January 2013

The Greenwich Labour banner on the march to save Lewisham Hospital, January 2013

While the clause was being debated in Parliament on Monday night, Labour held a public meeting in Greenwich to discuss the ongoing Tory threat to the NHS. All the meeting’s speakers – including two who work in the local NHS, QEH Midwife Debbie Jordan and Lewisham GP Brian Fisher  – said that the huge improvements that Labour made to the NHS between 1997 and 2010 are now under threat. When the Tories were last in government in the 1990s, they introduced a 18-month target wait for hospital treatment which the NHS struggled to meet because of a lack of resources: even a two-year wait for a heart operation was common. Under Labour, the maximum wait for hospital treatment was reduced to just 18 weeks. Read more of this post

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.

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