Adventure Education in Constitution Rise

Entrance to woodland on Constitution Rise
Entrance to woodland on Constitution Rise

Eltham based adventure learning charity WideHorizons plans to create an outdoor learning centre at a 5-acre woodland site on Constitution Rise, and has written to local residents to get their views on the idea. WideHorizons has a history that goes back to 1929, but was set up as a charity by Greenwich and Lewisham councils in 2004 to manage their outdoor centres. Subsequently Walsall council also became involved. They are now responsible for 6 outdoor centres, including their Environment Centre at 77 Bexley Road Eltham, and they provide adventure education experiences for over 30,000 children and young people a year.

WideHorizons staff and volunteers  will be at the woods on Saturday 15th February between 10am and 2pm if anyone would like to go and talk to them about their plans. The Google Map snippet at the bottom of this post shows the location of the woods in Shooters Hill.

Their letter to local residents says:

I am writing to you as a local resident to let you know about a recent change in management of a 5 acre woodland that is in your local area (see plan overleaf for reference).
Widehorizons Outdoor Education Trust is a local charity based in Eltham that provides outdoor and adventure activities for over 32,000 children and young people each year. We currently run 7 outdoor education centres including a day centre in Eltham, as well as providing professional teacher training and outdoor learning support services to schools, local authorities and youth services across London.
As part of our working partnership with the Royal Borough of Greenwich, who own the woodland, we have been granted a lease to manage and develop it for educational use. We would like to use the woodland site to ensure that local schools and young people can access inspirational adventure and outdoor learning activities to support their learning and personal development, as well as other activities to support their curriculum studies including science, geography and the environment.
We intend on providing opportunities for young people from schools and youth groups to get involved with the woodland management and learn skills including practical conservation, woodland management and project management.
We would also be keen to work with local people from the community who would like to get involved with the woods management, development and to be kept informed of the various woods activities.
Please be assured that the activities we propose are planned to be low impact on the woods and we aim to have as little impact on local residents and the surrounding environment. We want to ensure that there is community support for our plans and will welcome any suggestions, concerns or general questions. We are currently surveying the woods to establish what remedial measures are required and there are no planned activities to use the woods until the site is deemed safe and fit for use.
If you would be interested in meeting us, and knowing more about what Widehorizons do and our proposals, a number of our staff and volunteers will be at the woods on Saturday 15th February between 10am and 2pm. Access to the woods itself is through a set of blue gates on the corner of Constitution Rise and Moordown.
In the meantime, if you would like to contact us directly to discuss any aspects of the woodland management, or if you have any specific concerns related to our proposed activities, then please do so using the above address.

The woodlands on Constitution Rise are shown on the 1866 ordnance survey map when they were part of the grounds of a large house called The Rookery, which was still there on the 1914 map. I shall have to do some digging in the archives to find out more about it.

Google maps snippet showing location of woodland on Constitution Rise
Google maps snippet showing location of woodland on Constitution Rise

Free School in the Officers Mess

Victoria House, formerly the RAMC Officers' Mess
Victoria House, formerly the RAMC Officers’ Mess

I’ve often walked past Victoria House, the grand looking building on the corner of Shooters Hill Road and Academy Road, and wondered about its history. Recently I got the opportunity to get closer and have a look inside, courtesy of one of the (Interim) co-Heads of Greenwich Free School. While my main motivation for visiting the Free School was nosiness about the building, I found what I learned about the school fascinating and in itself worth the walk down the hill. My opinion of free schools, admittedly mainly influenced by newspaper headlines, was slightly negative: many free schools seemed to be motivated by ideology or faith, and I was appalled by the thought that creationism could be taught as though it were science. However I was very impressed by my visit to the Greenwich Free School.

The school opened in 2012 and will be based in Adair House once work on converting the building and constructing new facilities is complete. In the meantime they are using portakabins on the Adair House site, and have been granted planning permission to use Victoria House as temporary accommodation until September 2015. Whatever their provenance, the school is very much teacher led: their self-confessed geek teachers – enthusiasts for their subjects – are using the autonomy allowed by the free school system to pursue innovative approaches that avoid the target-driven micromanagement that blights many professionals’ working lives. In particular, I was told, they don’t focus on the C-D boundary as some do, which means not trying to improve the figures for the number of pupils passing 5 GCSEs at grades A to C by concentrating on those pupils expected to get a grade D. They are also determinedly Comprehensive, allocating places to equal numbers of children in each of the five ability bands decided by primary school tests.

The Greenwich Free School has proven popular with parents, and it is the most oversubscribed school in Greenwich with over 700 applications for its 100 places. This is despite, or maybe because of, its reputation for strict discipline and its extended working day. Pupils attend school between 8.30am and 5.30pm, a third longer than most children, though they aren’t set homework in year seven, and some of the additional time is spent on extra-curricular, enrichment activity.

I was guided on a tour of the school by one of the pupils. They have quite a few visitors, so every class has a “learning champion” who comes over to describe what the class is learning. One class was learning the basics of the Python programming language. They study computer science rather than ICT, and have some Rasperry Pi computers lined up for the class later on. In another classroom pupils were quietly reading, but rather than being seated at desks, as we always were when I was at school, they were all in their most comfortable reading position, whether that be seated, lying on the floor or otherwise draped over the furniture. That’s definitely the best way to read! At the end of my tour I talked about Shooters Hill local history to a pupil who was doing a project on the subject, and we had an interesting discussion about the history exhibited by the fabric of Victoria House.

Entrance lobby at Victoria House
Entrance lobby at Victoria House

The building’s history is most vividly illustrated in the entrance lobby, shown above. Victoria House was originally the Medical Officers Mess: the Locally listed buildings in Royal Greenwich list describes it as:

Medical Officers Mess (opposite the Herbert Hospital)
Built in 1909, graceful 2-storey building in the Classical style in two types of red brick; yellow terracotta detailing. Slated roof with Dutch gables to ends of building and centre dormer with semi-circular pediments extending into roof on either side of main entrance. Round headed windows to ground floor.

It was clearly once a grand entrance hall for the officers of the Royal Army Medical Corps. It is a well-proportioned room, with some elegant iron work on the balcony. On the floor, in mosaic tiles, is the cap badge of the RAMC which, as wikipedia says, depicts “the Rod of Asclepius, surmounted by a crown, enclosed within a laurel wreath, with the regimental motto In Arduis Fidelis, translated as “Faithful in Adversity” in a scroll beneath”.

Cap badge of the RAMC in mosaic tiles in Victoria House
Cap badge of the RAMC in mosaic tiles in Victoria House

Another sign of the building’s origin as posh lodgings and a mess for officers of the RAMC can be seen in the room to the right of the entrance lobby. At each end there is a handsome wood framed fireplace, the top panels of which are carved with the initials of the then reigning monarch, King Edward VII. This is also repeated in stone over the entrance, together with the date 1909.

Carved crest in wooden mantelpiece in Victoria House
Carved crest in wooden mantelpiece in Victoria House

Finding out more about the history of the Officers Mess has been quite difficult. The date over the door would seem to indicate that the Mess was built in 1909, but according to  the Woolwich Common Conservation Area Character Appraisal, 1909 was the year the “estimates passed”, but it was built later, though there is no supporting evidence for that statement, or an actual date. Who was the architect for the building? I don’t really know: the closest I’ve got so far is an entry in the catalogue at the National Archives:

Woolwich Barracks: Royal Medical Hospital. Royal Army Medical Corps Officers’ mess and quarters. Foundation plan and ground plan. Record plans. Scale: 1 inch to 8 feet. Signed by Harry B Measures, FRIBA, Director of Barrack Construction, War Office, 80 Pall Mall, London

Harry Bell Measures was an architect who, amongst others, designed many of the buildings for London Underground’s Central Line. However in 1909 he was also the Director of Barrack Construction at the War Office and it was probably in this capacity that he signed the plans rather than as the architect. Seems like yet another good reason for a trip over to the archives at Kew to see if there are any clues there about who the architect was.

Another possible source of information about the RAMC Officers Mess was the the library at the Wellcome Collection, which includes the “Royal Army Medical Corps Muniment Collection”. It’s another place where time can slip away very quickly, absorbed in the collection of old documents and photographs. I found quite a few about the Royal Herbert Hospital, including pictures and photographs of Royal visits by Queen Victoria and Princess Margaret, but nothing about the RAMC Officers Mess. I’ve still got a few leads to follow up, but if I find anything it will be the subject of a future post.

More recently, after it ceased to be the Officers Mess, Victoria House has hosted a number of different organisations, including a doctors’ surgery, a pre-school and the Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Families Association (SSAFA) Forces Help charity. In 2007 planning permission was granted, on appeal, to convert the building into a 75 bed care home. The conversion would have retained the front facade but the rest of the building would have been demolished. This was still the plan in January 2013 when the planning approval was renewed. However the Land Registry records that in June 2013 the building was bought by “The Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government” for £4,800,000 plus £960,000 VAT. The plan now for the former Officers Mess is that it will become a primary school, and the Greenwich Free School Group has submitted a proposal to the Department for Education to set up this new primary school. It would adopt the same ethos and educational approach as the existing Greenwich Free School.

I hope they don’t lose the historical reminders of the Officers Mess in the process of creating the new primary school. The Heritage Statement submitted with the planning application only talks about the impact on the heritage represented by the nearby former Royal Herbert Hospital and Woolwich Common, not on Victoria House itself, but perhaps this is just an oversight.

Edward VII initials and date over the entrance to Victoria House
Edward VII initials and date over the entrance to Victoria House

Save the Woolwich Grand Theatre

Proposed replacement for the Woolwich Grand from the planning application
Proposed replacement for the Woolwich Grand from the planning application

As expected a planning application has been submitted to demolish the Woolwich Grand Theatre and replace it with 46 flats and a cafe. The application description says:

13/2798/F | Demolition of existing buildings and the construction of a building comprising a lower ground level with 6 storeys providing 163sqm of A3 / A4 / D2 space on the ground floor and 46 residential units comprising 15 x 1 bed units and 31 x 2 bed units with associated disabled car parking, cycle storage and refuse storage. (REVISED DESCRIPTION) | 38 WELLINGTON STREET, WOOLWICH, LONDON, SE18 6PE

The application was submitted on behalf of a company called Secure Sleep Limited, which was incorporated just this year, on 14th January and a company called 38 Wellington Street Limited which is in administration. According to the current Title Register at the Land Registry the Grand Theatre is owned by 38 Wellington Street Limited who bought it on 13th March 2003 for £900,000. The register says that an agreement was made on 9th May 2013 to sell the property to one of the named directors of Secure Sleep Limited.

The application makes barely a nod to comments at the consultation event in September about the importance of the Grand as a cultural hub in the Bathway Quarter of Woolwich – an area that the Woolwich Masterplan says should have “bars, galleries and artists’ studios together with other uses such as a jazz club and creative industries such as architect’s studios.” The Design and Access Statement, which contains most of the details of the application, includes the plan below purporting to show how the proposed commercial area at the front of the new building could be used to screen films. I’m surprised they bothered – it’s not very convincing.

Plan showing use of cafe area for film screening
Plan showing use of cafe area for film screening

How can we help to save the Woolwich Grand? Well firstly we can sign the petition started by Stewart Christie calling on Greenwich Council to List the Woolwich Grand Theatre as an “Asset of Community Value” under the Localism Act 2011. It’s got over 200 signatures already, in less than a week.

Secondly we can object to the planning application. This can be done very simply on-line through the Royal Borough of Greenwich’s planning pages. If the link doesn’t work then use the simple search to find 13/2798/F. Or we can object by letter, quoting reference 13/2798/F,  to:

Georgina Galley
Directorate of Regeneration, Enterprise & Skills
Woolwich Centre, 5th Floor,
35 Wellington Street,
London SE18 6HQ

Comments need to be submitted and letters arrive before 17th December.

The third way to help the Woolwich Grand survive is to go along to their events. They have a number arranged for the next month, listed below, and their Facebook page and web site are kept up to date with new ones.

“Gentlemen of Horror”
27th 28th 29th of November
7pm Red room. £7.50 plus concessions

Peter Cushing and Christopher Lee defined an era of British horror, starring in Hammer Horror films together for 26 years.
When they first worked together in “The Curse of Frankenstein” and “Dracula”, Peter Cushing was one of the most famous actors in Britain, while Christopher Lee was unknown. For the next quarter of a century, these two killed each other again and again and became firm friends. As Christopher Lee became internationally famous, Peter Cushing gradually retired into a life of quiet obscurity. And yet neither quite lost their taste for blood…
In the Peter Cushing centenary year, The Gentlemen of Horror takes you backstage on Cushing and Lee’s relationship, into the dressing rooms of the films they made together. The play will be followed by a screening of Dracula A.D. 72, starring Cushing and Lee.
Actors: Simon Kane and Matthew Woodcock
Writer: James Goss
Directed by Kate Webster

Hansel and Gretel
1st December 1:30pm and 4pm

A Family Adventure packed with life-sized puppets and interactive storytelling.
Abandoned in the woods, Hansel and Gretel must escape the clutches of a hungry witch with their courage and cleverness. Follow the breadcrumb trail to the gingerbread house for interactive storytelling, live music and a set good enough to eat.
‘If you think there is nothing new to be found in traditional tales, this approach could surprise you – they’re well worth seeing’

King of Comedy night
6th of December at 7pm

Comedy again on the 6th of December at 7pm till 11pm in the red room in the form of King of comedy night.
The principle is simple 10 acts battle it out for the prize of king or queen for the night the audience decides who the winner is. This interactive principle is proving very popular among acts and audience members alike.
So come down and enjoy the show, get involved and have a laugh on us.

Roller Skating
7th December

The next roller skating event which will take place on Saturday 7th of December in the main hall. The evening will be split into two sections, from 3pm to 6pm there will be a family skating session followed by the adult session from 7pm to 11pm.

Family Skate Session:
With Skate Hire – £7.50
Without Skate Hire – £5.00
Spectator – £3.00

Roller Disco:
With Skate Hire – £10.00
Without Skate Hire – £8.00
Spectator – £3.00
Our aim is for everyone to enjoy both these fun events, see the flexible space available at The Woolwich Grand and have a great time as well as taking in other events that we’re staging at The Grand.

“A Boy who Cried Wolf”
7th/8th December
21st/22nd of December

Gem and Ren take you on a journey to a perfect town where nobody lies at all… Or do they? We need future superstars, ballerinas, firemen and teachers to help us sing, dance, shout and shimmy our way through the story of A Boy Who Cried Wolf… Or did he?
To book tickets fellow link:

I suspect it’s not going to be easy to save the Grand, but what’s the alternative – a Woolwich of flats and betting shops?

The Woolwich Grand - under threat of redevelopment
The Woolwich Grand – under threat of redevelopment

Grand Plan

bptw partnership and whiteroom architecture Proposed Scheme for 38 Wellington Street
bptw partnership and whiteroom architecture Proposed Scheme for 38 Wellington Street

The Woolwich Grand Theatre will be demolished and replaced with a six storey block of flats with room for a café at the front if current proposals are implemented. There will be 46 one- and two-bedroom flats of which 20% will be “affordable” according to the consultants from bptw partnership and whiteroom architecture at the consultation event last week.

Their original plan was for a seven storey building, but this was reduced to six following discussion with council planners. The design of the proposed red-brick building aims to harmonise with the adjacent Town Hall, with strong verticals and horizontal lines which continue the Town Hall’s. The flat’s are arranged around a central courtyard which also mirrors a space in the Town Hall.

The consultants said that the “commercial space” at the front of the building could be used as a café, and that it could be let to the Grand’s impresario Adrian at favourable rates to continue as a cultural space. They also said that it is larger than the current Red Room café at the Grand, and that it could be arranged to show films to people sitting at café-style tables. This seemed to be stretching things to me, and there is no getting round the huge reduction in space available for performance compared to the Woolwich Grand as it is now.

The developers had wanted to hold the consultation event at the Town Hall but were refused permission, and their time at Gunnery House was limited. There had not been a huge number of visitors, and I was the only person there with the consultants when I dropped in. They sent out a pdf containing the consultation displays today, and indicated that I could communicate them to people who could not attend. The two images in this post are taken from their pdf.

Planning permission will be applied for in a few weeks; we’ll get another chance to say what we think then.

bptw partnership and whiteroom architecture Lower Ground Floor Plan for 38 Wellington Street
Lower Ground Floor Plan for 38 Wellington Street from bptw partnership and whiteroom architecture

Woolwich Grand Under Threat?

The Woolwich Grand - under threat of redevelopment?
The Woolwich Grand – under threat of redevelopment?

Is the Woolwich Grand Theatre under threat of redevelopment? Yes, it is, if the leaflet sent to people living nearby is true. It is an invitation to a consultation event about  a proposal to redevelop the site. The leaflet I saw said:


Proposals for 38 Wellington Street

You are invited to view and comment on proposals for the site of the former Grand Theatre and Regal Cinema at 38 Wellington Street for a mixed use development incorporating commercial on ground floor with residential uses

Event details:

Thursday 26th September 2013 from 2pm to 5.30pm at 9-11 Gunnery Terrace, Room 22 Gunnery House, Woolwich Arsenal, London SE18 6SW

The leaflet I saw had no indication who had produced it or who was running the consultation event. I couldn’t find any application for planning permission for the redevelopment of the site, so I guess this must be an early stage consultation before permission is applied for.

What a set-back for Woolwich town centre this would be – removing one of the few places where cultural activities such as  film, music and other events can and do take place. And how discouraging for the people who have worked hard to bring such cultural activities to the town.

Also it doesn’t seem consistent with the Woolwich Master Plan which states that the cultural use should be promoted in the Bathway Quarter where the Grand is located. It also says:

The protection of the town centre’s important heritage value should continue. This will be enhanced by the refurbishment and bringing back into use of historic buildings within the Bathway Quarter. This area should also be given additional heritage protection to conserve its distinct character, as should Powis Street and Hare Street.

I wonder what happened to that additional protection, and the proposal to designate the Bathway Quarter and Powis and Hare Street as Conservation Areas?

It’s a shame that the consultation event is during office hours, but I hope that won’t stop people going along to support the Woolwich Grand.

Mayor to decide Woolwich Fire Station closure

Woolwich Fire Station – London’s oldest operational fire station
Woolwich Fire Station – London’s oldest operational fire station

After all the months of consultation, 24 public meetings with 1,330 attendees, 23 council and scrutiny meetings, 13 petitions with a total of 21,770 signatures, 2,323 questionnaire responses at a cost of at least £172,377,  the decision on whether to close 10 London fire stations, including Woolwich, comes down to one individual: Boris Johnson.

The consultation did result in some changes to the London Safety Plan: Clapham and New Cross fire stations would remain open, East Greenwich fire station would gain an additional fire engine and Chelsea fire station would keep its two fire engines. I couldn’t find anything in the consultation report and revised safety plan that mentioned the commitment made at the Greenwich consultation meeting to reconsider the closure of Woolwich Fire Station in light of the expected massive increase in the population of Woolwich Riverside. Coincidentally the day after the report was published I received a letter from the Royal Borough of Greenwich informing me that they had given planning permission for a further 2,032 homes in the Arsenal site – this is the plan for a series of blocks of flats up to 22 storeys high along the river front. That’s 2032 homes on top of the thousands already being built in the Arsenal site, just down the road from the fire station.

It seems from the consultation report that public opposition to the closure of Woolwich Fire Station wasn’t as strong as for others in the capital. Only 156 people signed the petition to save Woolwich Fire Station, compared to over 8,000 for the 3 petitions  to keep Bow Fire Station and over 6,500 for those to save Clapham. Also no-one specifically mentioned Woolwich in their response to the questionnaire: other fire stations were named by respondents opposing their closure. The consultation meeting back in May was dominated by politicians, it was even commented during the meeting that very few “ordinary citizens” asked questions, though this may have been influenced by holding the meeting in Greenwich rather than Woolwich.

The YouGov analysis of the responses to the consultation questionnaire showed that an overwhelming 94% of respondents opposed any fire station cuts, graphically illustrated in the snippet from the report below.

Snippet from Appendix F of Fifth London Fire Safety Plan Report
Snippet from Appendix F of Fifth London Fire Safety Plan Report

Despite the opposition the Fire Commissioner presented the new plan, but the London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority (LFEPA) voted by 9 to 8 to reject the proposed cuts. Their e-mail on the subject said:

A majority of LFEPA Members (by 9 votes to 8) approved the following amendments – That:

1.       The Authority instructs the Commissioner to delete from the Fifth London Safety Plan, supporting documents and appendices all references to station closures, appliance reductions and consequential operational post reductions, including reductions in Fire and Rescue Units, reductions in crewing levels of Fire and Rescue Units, alternative crewing of specialist units and reductions in officer numbers, and to make the subsequent changes that are necessary.

and also:

7.       This Authority recognises and respects the single clearest issue raised during the consultation process: that Londoners do not want to see local fire stations closed. The Authority notes that the 1.2% Council Tax cut implemented by the Mayor came at a cost of £9.4million and that the Mayor’s plan to cut it by 10% over his four-year term will cost a further £70million making some £80million in total. Consequently the Authority calls on the Mayor to reconsider his policy of a 10% council tax cut and instead work with officers and members of the London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority to develop an approach that preserves London’s fire cover, saves London’s fire stations and balances the budget into the longer term.

The decision now rests with the Mayor of London, though a tweet from the London Fire Brigade Union yesterday reported that he is “minded” to overturn the LFEPA decision and close the fire stations.

I’m not sure exactly what politicians mean when they are “minded” to do something. Have they just not quite made up their minds? Have they decided but are trying to avoid the criticism that a bad decision will attract? Whatever …  it is starting to seem likely that Woolwich Fire Station will close after a hundred and twenty six years of operation.

Woolwich Fire Station – five-storey, round tower on an octagonal base

Eaglesfield Mast – Olympics Dish Not So Temporary

Eaglesfield Road Fire Station and Mast
Eaglesfield Road Fire Station and Mast

‘But Mr Dent, the plans have been available in the local planning office for the last nine months.’

‘Oh yes, well as soon as I heard I went straight round to see them, yesterday afternoon. You hadn’t exactly gone out of your way to call attention to them had you? I mean like actually telling anybody or anything.’

‘But the plans were on display …’

‘On display? I eventually had to go down to the cellar to find them’

That’s the display department.’

‘With a torch.’

Ah, well the lights had probably gone.’

‘So had the stairs.’

‘But look, you found the notice didn’t you?’

‘Yes,’ said Arthur, ‘yes I did. It was on display in the bottom of a locked filing cabinet in a disused lavatory with a sign on the door saying Beware of the Leopard.’

Arthur Dent‘s experience with his local planning department came to mind today as I tried to get hold of the documents detailing a new planning application, 12/2933/F – Permanent retention of 1x300mm diameter transmission dish.  LFEPA MAST, EAGLESFIELD ROAD, PLUMSTEAD, SE18. When I first saw the application online yesterday it didn’t include any information describing what was proposed, just correspondence.

I was greeted at the Woolwich Centre by a friendly man who directed me to a booth in the corner where planning documents were kept and gave me a phone number to use on the courtesy phones if the documents I needed weren’t there. They weren’t, so I dialled 5222 and spoke to another friendly, helpful council officer. We mostly spoke mostly about an old application that I was looking for, but I discovered that due to shortages of storage space the council no longer keep the paperwork for planning applications over 4 or 5 years old, which is a problem when the process takes longer as it does sometimes for significant developments. I tried the council PC in the phone booth, but it had a version of the council web site from 2012 with a non-working link to planning searches.

12/2933/F  is a recent application so I was directed to a pair of large filing cabinets downstairs in the corner of the library. Here the folders containing application paperwork are tightly packed in numerical order. The one I wanted wasn’t there, so I checked a few either side in case of misfiling then went to ask the library staff if it could be somewhere else, waiting to be refiled. “We don’t deal with that.” I was informed, “That’s the responsibility of the Planning Department.”

Back to the filing cabinets where I searched through the drawers of applications, but no luck. Back upstairs and dialled 5222 again. “Ah, maybe someone up here has the file.” Which they did, and it was brought down to me in the library. I finally photocopied the documents about an hour after arriving at the Woolwich Centre.

When I got home all the documents were now online!

The application documents were equally annoying. They referred to the application about a year ago for the temporary installation on the Eaglesfield mast of an extra microwave dish to support Olympics’ security. The Design and Access Statement from that application said (the text in bold is in the original):

It needs to be borne in mind that the proposed development is for 1 additional temporary microwave dish which is required to be installed for use during the Olympic period. The dish will be removed by 30/09/12.

So not only is the dish they promised to remove by last September, nine months ago,  still there, but now they’ve changed their minds about it being temporary and want to keep it. To rub salt into the wound part of the justification for keeping this new dish in a conservation area is that “The Dish is already in situ and as such there will be no alteration to the appearance of the site.” You couldn’t make it up.

Location Plan from Application 12/2933/F
Location Plan from Application 12/2933/F

The dish was originally installed  to provide a  back up communications link, required for security reasons during the Olympics.  It  provided a direct microwave link to another TETRA communications mast within 50km. The new application is also to provide a communications link, replacing their existing system based on the BT kilostream product. The application doesn’t say what the link will be communicating with, but it appears to be pointed towards London City Airport according to the maps supplied. The snippet above shows the beam directed over the old fire-station and then down Eglinton Hill.

The application includes an ICNRP Declaration, which declares that the dish conforms to the International Commission on Non-Ionising Radiation Protection (ICNIRP) requirements for radio frequency (RF) public exposure: effectively declaring the design safe. As it transmits “only 50 milliwatts, approximately a thousandth of the energy of a light bulb, and 200 times lower than the energy from a mobile telephone base station”, there is less concern for safety. It is also focused in a narrow beam pointing above the roofs of nearby houses.

Everyone who lives near the mast, 627 addresses altogether, should get a letter inviting comments on the application. I haven’t received mine yet, I assume it’s in the post.

The planning system had one last aggravation for me. I decided to track changes to 12/2933/F using the online system, but it requested that I register first, something I’ve been trying to do since April. I entered all my details again only to get the same error message that I reported to the council 3 months ago yet again:

Error Message on trying to register with the Royal Greenwich Online Planning system
Error Message on trying to register with the Royal Greenwich Online Planning system

Severndroog Castle Restoration Starts

Severndroog Castle
Severndroog Castle

Steve Daly, one of the Trustees of the Severndroog Castle Building Preservation Trust, contacted me to say that the long-awaited restoration work on the castle had started. He wrote

Restoration work started at Severndroog Castle on Monday 10 June with completion due mid-December.

The contractor is Hilton Abbey a company based in the borough of Greenwich.

The Trust would appreciate support from the local community in reporting to the police any suspicious activity/vandalism at the Castle while building work is in progress.

Hilton Abbey, the Greenwich-based company selected to do the work, have previously worked on The Royal Observatory and The Queen’s House in Greenwich. Work on the latter was highly commended by the Painting and Decorating Association.

The trust were recently granted planning  permission and listed building consent for  for applications 13/0228/F and 13/0229/L  which describe the programme of repairs and alterations to the castle. The Design and Access Statement that forms part of the application includes this statement about the future use of Severndroog:

The restored building would provide for the following proposed uses:
• Education for all ages: children, elderly people and people with learning disabilities.
• An exhibition about the Castle and its history.
• Visits to see the view from each storey and from the roof.
• A focus for walkers and wildlife visits.
• Light refreshments served indoors and outdoors.
• Private hiring for weddings, functions and meetings.

I’m looking forward to seeing the views from the top of the castle again.

View from the top of Severndroog Castle
View from the top of Severndroog Castle
Severndroog Castle Turret
Severndroog Castle Turret


Save Woolwich Fire Station Petition

Detail of Woolwich Fire Station - built 1887
Detail of Woolwich Fire Station – built 1887

A petition has been started by Greenwich Councillor John Fahy asking the Mayor of London to stop the closure of Woolwich Fire Station. Woolwich is one of 12 stations that are proposed for closure across London as part of the Draft Fifth London Safety Plan which is currently out for consultation. In addition it is proposed that 500 fire fighters will lose their jobs and  there will be 18 fewer fire engines.

London Fire Brigade have recently published the results of their modelling of the impact at ward level of the proposed reductions. They summarised the results as:

The new modelling indicates that 40 wards would move from within target to outside target as a result of the proposed reductions. However, those 40 wards would join 267 wards in London that are currently performing outside target.

The target time for the arrival of the first appliance at a fire is six minutes. The first appliance figures for Greenwich wards are shown in the table below, together with the increases and the percentage increases. For Shooters Hill there is an increase in first appliance arrival time from 6 minutes 35 seconds to 7 minutes 1 second, an increase of 26 seconds, just over 6.5%. The new time is just over a minutes over target, or 17% over. It may not seem like much, but every second counts if your home is on fire.

The worst impacts in Greenwich are in the Woolwich Common ward, where the response time increases by nearly 20%,  and Woolwich Riverside with a huge 50% increase.  Both these wards will no longer meet the 6 minute target after the change, whereas they do now.

Impact Figures for Greenwich Wards
Impact Figures for Greenwich Wards

How can we make our opinions known? As well as signing the petition, there is the  consultation on the Draft Fifth London Safety Plan (LSP5) which runs until the 28 May 17th June 2013 and we can express our views through an online survey.

London Fire Brigade have also organised 24 public meetings in different boroughs to discuss the Safety Plan. In Greenwich this will be held on Wednesday 29 May from 7-9pm at Lecture Theatre 315, King William Building, University of Greenwich, 30 Park Row, Greenwich, London SE10 9LS. Seems a bit odd that it’s the day after the consultation ends. I get the impression that attendees at the equivalent meeting in Southwark were vociferously opposed to the cuts. I can’t imagine Greenwich will be less vociferous.

Woolwich Fire Station doors - to close for good?
Woolwich Fire Station doors – to close for good?

Protected Prospects

Snippet from Draft Core Strategy showing local views
Snippet from Draft Core Strategy showing local views

The Greenwich Draft Core Strategy policy protecting local views has been inherited almost unchanged from its predecessor, the Unitary Development Plan. As well as the two “strategic views” of St. Paul’s Cathedral from Greenwich Park and Blackheath Point it provides protection for 11 specified local views, listed below, which are deemed essential to the character of the borough, especially where they include the River Thames and its banks.

Policy DH(g) Local Views
Planning permission will be given for development which would not have a materially adverse effect on the overall perspective and essential quality of the Local Views as listed below and as identified on Map 1:
1. Shooter’s Hill to Central London;
2. Shrewsbury Park towards the Lower Thames;
3. Castlewood towards S.E. London;
4. Eaglesfield Recreation Ground towards Bexley and the Lower Thames;
5. Eltham Park (North) to Central London;
6. Winns Common to the Lower Thames;
7. Thames side panorama from the Thames Barrier open space;
8. St. Mary’s Churchyard towards Mast Pond Wharf and beyond;
9. Docklands panorama from the Wolfe Monument;
10. King John’s Walk to Central London;
11. Millennium Dome from Central Park.
12. Others as set out in the Conservation Area Appraisals

Number 12 is the only addition to the list in the Unitary Development Plan.

The first four views on the list are from various points on Shooters Hill. Number 1, Shooters Hill to Central London, is the breathtaking view,  now dominated by the distant Shard, towards the iconic skyline of London.  I think the panorama is best seen as  it is gradually revealed  from the upper deck of a number 89 bus, with the Shard and BT Tower first, followed by the emerging Walkie-Talkie and Cheese Grater as you go down the hill.

A similar view, and one I find more impressive even though it isn’t listed in the Core Strategy, is that from the top of Occupation Lane towards Central London. Here the horizon stretches from the Strata SE1 building via the London Eye, Guys, the Shard, BT Tower, City of London buildings such as the Walkie-Talkie, Cheese Grater, and Gherkin round to Canary Wharf’s ever multiplying set of towers. I’m looking forward to the reopening of Severndroog Castle, the panoramic view from the top is just amazing.

View from Shooters Hill to Central London
View from Shooters Hill to Central London

There are several views from Shrewsbury Park towards the Lower Thames (number 2 on the list). Up at the top of the hill, looking north-west-ish there is a long view over towards Abbey Wood, Dagenham and the rolling hills of Essex beyond. Further round, on the Rowton Road side just up the hill from the allotments there’s the prospect of Woolwich shown below. Over to the left the new, strangely decorated, Tesco-fronted monolith of Woolwich Central has started to spoil the view. To the mid-right the towers over the Crossrail station box are growing, and someday approximately in the centre of the view will be the 21-storey towers of the Berkeley Homes’ Royal Arsenal development.

Will this have a “materially adverse effect on the overall perspective and essential quality” of the view? Clearly the Council Planning Committee don’t think so.

View from Shrewsbury Park towards Woolwich and the Thames
View from Shrewsbury Park towards Woolwich and the Thames

From the map I think Local View number 3, Castlewood towards S.E. London, is the superb wide-open misty vista, pictured below,  from the Oxleas Cafe over a wide area of south-east London and Kent, towards Sidcup and Orpington. Then there’s the fourth protected view, Eaglesfield Recreation Ground towards Bexley and the Lower Thames, eastwards in the direction of the Dartford Crossing.

View from Oxleas Cafe towards South-east London and Kent
View from Oxleas Cafe towards South-east London and Kent
View from Eaglesfield Park towards Bexley and the Lower Thames
View from Eaglesfield Park towards Bexley and the Lower Thames

Should more local views be protected? Does the policy condition that a development should not have a  “materially adverse effect on the overall perspective and essential quality” of a view make it clear what’s acceptable?  We have until midnight on the 14th May to comment on the Greenwich Draft Core Strategy, which will guide all planning decisions until 2027. This can be done through the council’s consultation portal, or by e-mail to (ensure you add “in response to Royal Greenwich Core Strategy and Development Management Policies”  in the subject section), or by using the council’s representation form.

My favourite views from Shooters Hill are the those I can see from my bedroom window, especially the dramatically colourful sunsets over the city such as the one shown below, and the different but equally dramatic colours when the sunrise catches canary wharf’s towers. I don’t think the Planning Inspectorate will allow that in the Core Strategy.

Sunset from Shooters Hill
Sunset from Shooters Hill