Regeneration in Greenwich borough was up for discussion at a council meeting last night which looked at various hot topics and how services will recover from covid.
Transport was a big issue what with Low Traffic Neighbourhoods and cycle lanes – as was leisure centres. The meeting begun with representatives from Greenwich Leisure Limited – who trade as Better – giving presentations and taking questions. Cllr David Gardner started by asking about the Greenwich Card and private gyms in new developments plus the Waterfront and impact upon visitors when the car park closed.
Richard Gallagher at GLL (Better) stated that low cost gyms were “damaging to our business” and the key lies in offering a wide range of services. In terms of Waterfront and car park usage it was a factor. However, it wasn’t noted in the meeting but other gyms also saw similar falls long before covid.
Cllr Matt Clare asked about outside classes. GLL state they were hoping to start in late March with some outside activities.
Cllr Ann-Marie Cousins mentioned no gyms are in from Abbey Wood with most people needing to travel. The GLL/Better rep somewhat inevitably responded with the new Plumstead Centre which is beside the old leisure centre – which is ok for some, though as a long term resident of Abbey Wood I always skipped it and went to a gym elsewhere which had other things around – shops, train stations nearby etc. If I had to travel anyway I might as well go somewhere with more to offer.
If a private operator opened in Abbey Wood they could well clean up and further hurt GLL/Better. Perhaps they will in the tower now rising or other developments such as hundreds of homes at Eynsham Drive. It’s hard for Better to fight that but a small low cost gym could have got in first. In fact, the council were planning a library beside Sainsbury’s when a perfectly good library already existed and allocated Section 106 income from the development to do so. They’ve scrapped that plan which makes sense given what already exists. Would a low cost Better gym have been more suitable aided by S106 money? It’s immaterial now, as after five years empty a shop is now taking it on.
Cllr Aidan Smith talked about ideas and activities away from centres such as cyclists or joggers meeting as Greenwich Centre then heading through Greenwich Park. He also mentioned staff cuts.
The Better/GLL representative stated some redundancies were made. Figures were not given with a claim that it was a “very small” number. It moved on without clarification. In December I covered how a council report stated 40 jobs.
Cllr John Fahy talked about the long term business plan. Gary Starkey from Better/GLL stated they expected 80 per cent to return. What impact that has on finances we will have to see. Given some centres were already seeing annual falls in double digits, is the 20 per cent in addition to that?
Next it was onto libraries where Greenwich tend to excel yet of course it’s not a great money raiser. A successful leisure centre operation can cross-subsidise library services. Paul Drumm spoke on how Woolwich library second busiest in London and third across the UK.
He also mentioned that Eltham is seeing refurbishment and the various activities offered during lockdown – and how ebook rental has grown.
Green issues and carbon neutral
Next up was Cabinet Member Cllr Sizwe James to give an update on the council’s carbon neutral plan.
He first mentioned cycle training which is good, but something that’s been around for so long and not achieved a great deal in terms of modal shift. What will help is safe cycle routes and well known, public cycle hire schemes such as Santander cycle hire which Greenwich have long been reluctant to fund. With a vast increase in income ringfenced to transport in coming years as the use of 60 CCTV cameras completes by mid 2021, alongside bringing parking enforcement in certain areas back in-house, this is something that could well be part-funded in future. That’s my personal opinion and those funding streams were not raised by Sizwe James
A lot of what he stated did appear as tinkering around the edges. There was no mention of why public realm so often ignored by Greenwich’s Planning Department in agreements with developers for spending income.
Cllr Aidan Smith talked about reaching groups who tend not to cycle. On a personal note, it is stark how different it is in many other European cities, with cycling practised by a wide range of people. Almost none are in lycra. Compare to how much of the UK has been for a long term. Many people are reluctant to give cycling a go and only the hardcore often take it up. There are now some slow signs of change. Many cities where change occurred have access to decent cycle lanes – many of which were controversial when installed but then became widely used across society.
Cllr Sizwe James said to wait until consultation ends to talk about measures. That makes sense in terms of local specifics, but this is an issue with a lot of precedent and research already undertaken in many areas. There should be some idea but if there is, none was mentioned.
Cllr John Fahy raised the issue of children cycling to school and funding for bikes, and schemes such as donating old bikes in sheds sitting unused as kids grow up for other children to use. Perhaps via schools. A great idea. He brought up the issue of new developments and building design. This is an issue, but often new developments do contain many cycle racks in secure areas, but are then situated in streets where cycling is extremely undesirable due to poor street design.
Cllr Sizwe James responded by mentioning subsidised bike schemes and mentioned maintenance cost assistance before talking about budget pressures. He appeared to miss Fahy’s point that it was a free recycling scheme which can help families who cannot afford a bike – subsidised or not. The budget line is a bit tired when tens of millions of additional income is expected. We’ve heard this for so many years when various funding streams are there.
Cllr Matt Clare raised hostility from many on social media to cycle lane and Low Traffic Neighbourhoods. I do notice a difference between demographics on Twitter and Facebook. Many on Twitter are for cycle schemes, many on Facebook against. Many younger people have given up on Facebook and so that could well account for that. You look on Facebook and can gain the impression most people think one way, then go on Twitter and think the opposite. Social media – particular if only viewing one outlet – can easily skew impressions. I suspect once in place, many lanes (IF well designed) would be readily used by many. Perhaps not so by those wedded to a car for decades. It probably doesn’t help that some street design almost seems designed to increase hostility between groups through poor implantation.
Clare raised the issue of the proposed Eltham to Greenwich cycle lane and whether more people could be brought on board without an LTN alongside.
With all these issues I keep thinking back to last spring when roads were dead and many took to their bikes. THAT was the time to act quickly to lock in changes which would have avoided so many problems. Other cities in Europe and beyond completely showed up London. When people started back to school and work, public transport was heavily limited and with so few schemes in place many jumped straight into cars again. To now have major schemes underway almost a year on has led to queues and frustration.
Cllr Gary Parker then brought party politics into the meeting and referred to a Tory councillor stating “your chancellor” did little in the budget for sustainability. While true in many ways, Tory Matt Clare is a big supporter of public realm improvement and cycle lanes so it seemed a little unnecessary. It also gets my back up a bit to see this as it offers an outlet for the council to again do little and blame Westminster. Central government do hold much blame for various issues in terms of public transport and funding but it does not exclude the local council from using powers and funds they do have. We’ve seen years of mistakes such as failing to secure fine income due to illegal parking on Housing Department land while the council ignored rules, and not embracing CCTV use in certain areas for 16 years while 29 out of 32 London councils – Tory and Labour – did so. That is all down to local decisions and mistakes. As is how they use developer income.
David Gardner raised how targets can be met with Silvertown Tunnel forthcoming with a dedicated lane for HGVs currently blocked from Blackwall Tunnel. Sizwe James responded (view here at 1:09hrs) to say it was not helpful to talk about it.
Aidan Smith raised the issue of electric charging points for vehicles on new developments, including high fees to use on New Capital Quay so people stopped using them. They were then switched off. He also mentioned changes to local roads in regards to the impact of Silvertown. This was one of the first times I have heard a senior Greenwich politician finally mention the southbound afternoon impact from the tunnel as Sizwe James did raise it, which TfL have long predicted but the Mayor ignores and only refers to northbound morning alleviation when talking of the tunnel.
Cllr Sizwe James then spoke of how LTNs often become accepted and defended by residents after initial hostility. Anecdotally, I’ve seen that in two areas I’ve lived. Opposition, fears, then acceptance and finally support. Cllr Charlie Davis then spoke about how residents in Horn Park oppose – though it hasn’t gone in yet which was James’ point. Davis then followed with how plumbers and electricians can move about which James didn’t really answer.
Matt Clare then made his opposition clear to people driving to central London when they have alternatives rather than electricians and plumbers who require a vehicle. He also criticised people in Kent who drive in to the borough to park or use through roads.
It ended with talk about Greenwich Council staff and how some get to work, with some parking in Tesco in Woolwich rather than use public transport or walk and cycle where possible. All in all, a lot of decent questions this time around from many though not too much new info. Currently, Greenwich meetings are generally are not seeing written reports submitted by departments while most other councils are still doing it and instead it verbal reports. It ensures some perhaps unwelcome news and data isn’t being shown. How long that persists remains to be seen.
The Regeneration, Transport & Culture Scrutiny Panel can be viewed here. I watched the whole 1 hour 40 minutes to bring you this post update and hopefully it’s of value. If you like the site and can assist – not only with helping me find the time to follow events as well as hosting costs for the site – please donate here.