Open House Weekend

St George mosaic at St George's Garrison Church after first phase of restoration
St George mosaic at St George’s Garrison Church after first phase of restoration

St George’s Garrison Church will be open for London Open House weekend, despite not appearing in the Open House brochure. Between 10am and 5pm on the 19th and 20th September we’ll be able to see the marvellous mosaics after phase 1 of their restoration and the new tensile fabric roof that protects them. It is planned to have a mini-autumn festival at the church, with food and arts and craft stalls. There is no charge for stalls, if you’d like to take part contact Julie Ricketts, the Heritage Project Officer, on Also contact Julie if you’re interested in helping other Friends of St George’s to show visitors round on either of the two days.

It’s a mystery why the restored church isn’t included in the Open House brochure, especially when an article about the restoration and the new roof appeared in the RIBA journal. The only reason I’ve heard is that they “had too many churches already”.

New tensile roof protecting  St George's Garrison Church
New tensile roof protecting St George’s Garrison Church

The weekend of 19th and 20th September looks like being packed with interesting local events. As well as St George’s Garrison Church and London Open House, Shrewsbury House is hosting its own open house on the Saturday, there’s the Woolwich Carnival also on Saturday, Severndroog Castle are holding an autumn festival as part of their Open House on Sunday,  and The Walking Time Machine has a Battle of Britain Anniversary Special walk on Sunday. More about all of these below.

Shrewsbury House‘s Open House is free and runs from 12 ’til 4 on Saturday. It includes:

Activities & Presentations by User Groups
Photography, Yoga, Keep Fit, Singing, Fencing, Wine Making, Short Matt Bowls, Tai Chi, Beavers, Jujitsu, Pilates, etc etc
Children’s & Family Activities
Toddler & Pre-School activities, Face Painting, Ballet & Street Dance.
Live Music & Dance
in the Princess Charlotte Room
Bubbly & Cake on the Kent View Balcony
A Pop Up Indulgent Cafe with a View complete with Millinery, Hand Made Jewellery & More
Tours of the House
with Spoken Guide by Local Historian

There is also a “What do you want your Shooters Hill to be?” wall chart quiz which sounds interesting.


Shrewsbury House open house poster

Woolwich Carnival is on Saturday 19th between midday and 5.00pm. Sounds good from their description:

Inspired by the diverse and active community groups in the Greenwich area the Woolwich Community Carnival Committee are bringing back carnival to Woolwich this summer on Saturday 19th September.
Woolwich Carnival will be a celebration of local culture and community. There will be a parade, costumes, live music, dance, community stalls, food and crafts, steel drums and plenty of good vibes – a great way to bring neighbouring communities together for a day of collective summer festivities.
This year’s theme is Feeling Good – all things that make us happy.

The local highlights of London Open House for me are the Gordon Square walk and talk and the opening of the Christ Faith Tabernacle Cathedral (formerly Granada Cinema), both on Saturday, and the Severndroog Castle Autumn Festival on Sunday.

The Gordon Square walk and talk is intriguingly entitled “Many Ways to Sit: The Social Dynamics of Gordon Square“.

Meet: Sat 10.30am next to the big TV screen, General Gordon Square SE18 6HX. First come basis. N D T
A tour and talk looking at the problems and potential of seating in public places, focusing on Gordon Square, Woolwich. A ten minute documentary film will be shown in a nearby venue, made in collaboration with users of Gordon Square.
Gustafson Porter 2011.

An unexpected highlight of Open House a couple of years ago was a walk and talk about the Woolwich Squares. This gave a fascinating insight into the challenges of designing and developing Gordon and Beresford Square and the solutions that were adopted, often with tricky negotiations, such as the late addition of a requirement to have the large screen in Gordon Square. The description of the project to transform the square has some fascinating snippets:

This project aims to transform Woolwich into one of London’s best-connected, most sought-after riverside areas. Developed with the local community, the landscape masterplan draws on the town’s rich architectural and military heritage to create two multi-functional, fully-accessible spaces called ‘Garden’ and ‘Ballroom’, connected by Greens End’s revitalised streetscape.
Gordon Square is a daytime garden which can be layered with different uses, including specialist markets and public events. A scrim of water in its lawned amphitheatre can also be transformed into an ice rink. Beresford Square is a more formal space supporting a daily market. Its east side illuminates with the setting sun and changing patterns of light encourage local residents to linger and meet against the dramatic backdrop of Arsenal Gate.

I’ve never heard the water feature called a “scrim of water” before, and love the thought that it could be turned into an ice rink, though the slope might make it interesting!

The former Granada Cinema at the end of Powis Street, which is now the Christ Faith Tabernacle Cathedral, is a very welcome new addition to Open House this year. It will be open on Saturday between 1.00pm and 5.00pm. Its description in the Open House guide barely does it justice: “Lavish and atmospheric former cinema with interior by Theodore Komisarjevsky, converted to Bingo Hall in 1960s. Grade II* listed.” Komisarjevsky, once a stage designer for the Russian ballet, designed the interior in gothic style and used motifs from European cathedral buildings such as Amiens, Rouen and Lyons in the auditorium, so it doesn’t seem inappropriate that it is now used as a cathedral. I was allowed to have a look round the cathedral last year, some of my photos are here on Flickr, and was very impressed both by the building itself and by the care with which it had been restored. Well worth a visit.

 Christ Faith Tabernacle Cathedral, formerly Woolwich Granada Cinema

Christ Faith Tabernacle Cathedral, formerly Woolwich Granada Cinema
Detail of auditorium at Christ Faith Tabernacle Cathedral, formerly Woolwich Granada Cinema
Detail of auditorium at Christ Faith Tabernacle Cathedral, formerly Woolwich Granada Cinema

Severndroog Castle is always worth a visit, both for the building itself and the excellent views from the top. For this years Open House the volunteer team are also planning an Autumn Festival, with “singers, musicians and folk or Morris dancers. Also, local food producers, in particular fruit and vegetables or cheese.” The castle will be open on Sunday between 10.30am and 4.30pm, with tours every half hour.

On Sunday it would easily be possible to combine a visit to St George’s Garrison Church and Severndroog Castle with an afternoon guided walk, the Walking Time Machine Battle of Britain Anniversary Special, led by local archaeologist Andy Brockman. Andy’s last guided walk was fascinating, and this one promises to be equally so. It starts at at 2.00pm at the Oxleas Wood Cafe, and is described in the History Mill Facebook group:

To remember the 75th Anniversary of the Battle of Britain and the Blitz the History Mill invites you take take part in a special guided walk to see how in the Autumn of 1940 Shooters Hill and Plumstead prepared to face the Luftwaffe and a possible German Invasion.
Where: Meet at the Oxleas Wood Cafe
When: 2pm Sunday 20 September 2015
Duration: Approximately two hours ending at the Old Mill Pub, Plumstead Common.
The Battle of Britain and the Blitz are part of the mythology of modern Britain but seventy five years ago they were all too real.
In September 1940 the sky above London was criss crossed with the vapour trails of Luftwaffe bombers and British Spitfire and Hurricane fighters while down below the ARP Service, the Home Guard and other civilian services worked with the anti-aircraft and barrage balloon crews to help protect London and its civilian population from the German onslaught.
At the back of everyone’s mind was the fear of a German invasion which could come at any moment and would inflict on London the damage wrought in Madrid and Warsaw.
This special anniversary History Mill timewalk will be led by conflict archaeologist Andy Brockman and will visit the sites associated with that momentous Summer of 1940 on Shooters Hill, including some of the sites seen in the Time Team “Blitzkrieg on Shooters Hill”, and demonstrate how the local landscape was taken over by a Total War, the effects of which we are still seeing today.
Families and well behaved dogs welcome.
Please dress appropriately for the weather and wear comfortable footwear suitable for a two hour walk on pavements and through local parks.
Free: Donations to the Plumstead Make Merry welcome.

What a great weekend in prospect, I feel exhausted just thinking about how to get round everything. Oh, and I almost forgot that Woodlands Farm has its Autumn Equinox Walk on Sunday at 10.00am too.

Detail of decoration at Severndroog Castle
Detail of decoration at Severndroog Castle

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

The Magnificent Mirf

Recycling pile at one end of Greenwich MRF
Recycling pile at one end of Greenwich MRF

“That’s about 2 days worth of recycling”, said our guide, Danny Easton,  pointing to the massive pile of rubbish that had been emptied from the Borough’s recycling trucks. We were at the start of a tour of the Greenwich Mirf, as the Materials Recycling Facility in Nathan Way is known. We’d already seen where the compostable material from the green bins is deposited, and learned that the methane from the composting waste is piped off to the gas grid.

I’d been trying to get a tour of the MRF for a while, wanting to know how the mixed-up contents of our blue top bins were separated out, but had been told that the old regular tours no longer run.  A couple of years ago, in lieu of a visit,  I was sent an interesting DVD describing how the recycling centre operates, but it’s not the same as seeing it for real. An enquiry card dropped into a box at the recent Great Get Together/Armed Forced Day event solved the problem, leading to an invitation to a personal guided tour.

The technology at the MRF is very impressive, and it utilises a wide variety of forces to sort the different materials: gravity, vibration, magnetism, induced electrical currents, infra-red, optical recognition and compressed air  are all part of the process. The Veolia web site describes the technology and processes really well, so I won’t repeat it all here. I was most impressed by the the huge Trommel near the start of the process, after the bag splitter. The Trommel looks a bit like a massive tumble drier, 3 meters in diameter and 12 meters long, which rotates 12 times a minute separating containers from paper and cardboard. Then later on the infra-red auto-sort for plastic bottles which is able to detect the difference between coloured, clear and opaque plastic bottles whizzing past on a conveyor belt  at 30-40 mph and adjust a blast of compressed air to direct them to different places. Amazing!

The MRF undergoes maintenance for 20% of the time, though it can usually be run safely at the same time. Partly this is for routine, scheduled work – for example the moving parts on the conveyor belts need to be cleared of dust and broken glass particles – but sometimes the machinery is stopped by material that shouldn’t have been put in the recycling. Textiles are a problem, particularly for a machine called the V Screen which separates mixed paper.  Also old VCR tapes get broken and release hundreds of feet of tape that gets wound up in the mechanisms and need staff to come in on Sunday to cut it away with Stanley knives. So we can help by not putting VCR tapes and textiles in our blue top bins, and by removing the caps from bottles and tetrapak cartoons so they can go to the appropriate place in the MRF.

Separated bales at the other end of Greenwich MRF
Separated bales at the other end of Greenwich MRF

As much as possible of the separated waste is sent on to UK companies for further processing, though some does go abroad: for example old tyres are shipped to Holland.  Greenwich waste that cannot be reused, recycled or composted mostly goes to the South East London Combined Heat and Power energy recovery facility near Millwall Football Ground, where it is burnt to generate electricity. The train into London goes right past the SELCHP site. This means that Greenwich has one of the lowest figures for the percentage of waste that gets put into landfill in the country. For 2008/9 an FOI Request revealed that “Greenwich Council sent less waste to landfill than any other local authority in the UK. This was around 3% of the household waste generated.”  However 2011 data on recycling on the Guardian Datablog indicated that Greenwich was the third lowest council for “Percentage of municipal waste sent to landfill”, with a figure of 6%.

The Guardian Datablog data also shows that Greenwich is a middling performer on amount of waste recycled, at 37%. The best council in London was neighbouring Bexley at 51% and the worst our northern neighbour Newham with just 15%. However the Greenwich percentage has shown quite an increase from the 11.5% in 2003 when it was agreed to build the MRF. There is still a way to go to meet the requirement in Chapter 5 of the London Plan to exceed exceed recycling/composting levels in municipal solid waste (MSW) of  “45% by 2015, 50% by 2020 and aspiring to achieve 60% by 2031.” Greenwich is working with other South-East London boroughs to achieve this.

Snippet from Guardian Datablog: Recycling in England: the map
Snippet from Guardian Datablog: Recycling in England: the map

Another interesting thing I learned during the tour was what drove their efforts to improve recycling quality and quantities. As well helping to save the planet, obviously, the need to meet European directives is important, but also economics plays a major role. For example the best grade of recycled paper currently fetches £150 a ton, and aluminium is £700 a ton. This makes it worthwhile to recycle waxed  tetrapak type cartons which contain a thin layer of Aluminium. I remember from school chemistry how energy intensive it is to extract Aluminium from Bauxite, so this is a benefit on many levels.

It was a  very interesting tour and we  were buzzing with fascinating facts when we handed our safety helmets and protective glasses back to Danny on the way out. Some amazing technology, and  key to decreasing the amount of our rubbish that gets buried in landfill sites and increasing how much  is reused in some way.

Disposal of Rubbish in England from Guardian Datablog
Disposal of Rubbish in England from Guardian Datablog

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?

River Crossing Results

Woolwich Free Ferry at Sunset
Woolwich Free Ferry at Sunset

Transport for London have published the results of the River Crossings Consultation which they ran earlier in the year. It shows that more than 70% of respondents supported a Bridge or Tunnel at Gallions Reach (71%), and a tunnel between the Greenwich Peninsula and Silvertown (77%). Smaller numbers, just over 50%, supported a new ferry at Woolwich (51%) or Gallions Reach (52%).  The TfL diagram summarising the results is included below.

Interestingly Greenwich was the borough with most respondents, 34% of the total replies came from the borough. Greenwich people showed the highest percentage level of support for a new ferry at Woolwich and the highest level of opposition to the Silvertown tunnel. Those from Bexley had the highest level of opposition to a ferry or bridge at Gallions Reach, with 25% strongly opposed to a bridge out of 31% expressing opposition. Not surprising given the anticipated appalling impact of increased traffic on narrow roads in the borough such as Knee Hill.

Snippet from TfL Report on River Crossing Consultation

What happens next? Well TfL will be considering the issues raised and will produce another report responding to them later in the summer. However they do give some indicative milestones. For the Woolwich/Gallions Ferry options they are:

… the overall indicative milestones for progressing the review of Woolwich/Gallions Reach options are set out below:
• April – September 2013: Traffic modelling, engineering, economic analysis and development potential, charging strategy and wider benefits
• October – December 2013: Gallions Reach options consultation
• March – April 2014: Presentation of Gallions Reach consultation to the Mayor
• May 2014: Mayoral announcement on Gallions Reach preferred option
• Future milestones depend on option chosen but, subject to funding, it is possible to implement a ferry by 2018 or a fixed-link by 2025

And for the Silvertown tunnel:

… the overall indicative milestones for progressing the Silvertown tunnel are set out below:
• April 2013 – February 2014: Traffic modelling, engineering, economic analysis and development potential, charging strategy and wider benefits
• March – May 2014: Preparation of DCO consultation for Silvertown tunnel
• June – August 2014: Statutory public consultation on proposed DCO for the Silvertown tunnel (i.e. post decision on Gallions Reach which is planned for May 2014)
• September – October 2014: Analysis of results of statutory consultation and presentation to Mayor
• October 2014 – June 2015: Preparation of Environmental Statement and associated documents to submit DCO application to Mayor and Board for approval for submission
• June 2015: Submit DCO application for Silvertown tunnel plus any additional consents required
• June 2016: Commence procurement process with OJEU notice
• December 2016: Decision by Secretary of State on Silvertown tunnel
• July 2018: Contract award
• 2018 – 2022: Silvertown tunnel construction

If the Mayor gives the go-ahead the detailed analysis of the options – Traffic modelling, engineering, economic analysis and development potential, charging strategy and wider benefits – will be done by September this year for the eastern-most options and February next year for the Silvertown Tunnel. I suspect it is only then that the real debate can start.

I won’t repeat what I think about the proposals, it’s been covered in previous posts, apart from one observation. On the Bluebell Walk through Oxleas Woods last weekend, in the midst of the historic cants of coppiced Hazels and Chestnuts deep in the wood , the walk leader Barry Gray pointed out an old metal tube sticking up a couple of feet out of the ground. This, he explained, was a relic of the water table analysis of the proposed route through the ancient woodland of a motorway from the A2 to a bridge at Gallions Reach. There seems to be a consensus that the roads leading to the Gallions crossing are inadequate for the expected traffic flows. If we’re not careful the woods will be threatened again.

Oh, and of course it will be the end of the Free Ferry: the new crossings will all be tolled.

River Thames at Gallions Reach
River Thames at Gallions Reach

Greenwich Core Strategy

Detail of Assembly by Peter Burke in the Royal Arsenal
Detail of Assembly by Peter Burke in the Royal Arsenal

Commenting on the Royal Borough of Greenwich Draft Core Strategy is hard work. It’s not just that the Strategy itself is 235 pages of planner-speak, but there are also a large number of supporting documents, such as the Sustainability Appraisal and the Tall Buildings Assessment. Some of them, like the  Areas of High Archaeological Potential document and the Biodiversity Action Plan, are quite interesting but still a lot of information to try to assimilate.

But it has to be done, even if these consultations seem to be cynical. The Core Strategy and other documents that make up the Local Plan will be the basis of planning decisions in Greenwich until 2028 ao it’s important that they are right. The strategy is wide-ranging. For example it proposes building an additional 32,235 houses in the borough by 2027 – the population is expected to increase by 22.5%, more than a fifth, from 2010 levels to 288,000 by 2027. It also enshrines support for the Silvertown Tunnel in policy C3, critical transport infrastructure. But it doesn’t mention betting shops anywhere.

The current consultation is the last opportunity for public involvement in deciding the planning strategy before it is submitted to the Planning Inspectorate. The Planning Inspectorate will then chair a formal “Examination in Public” (EiP), which is likely to be a number of round table hearings depending on the volume of comments. However only people who have made comments at this stage of the process, and who have indicated that they want to attend, will be able to participate.

The London Tenants Federation have been holding workshops to help tenants and other community groups  to influence planning policy. For example,  providing guidance on how to make comments on the Greenwich Core Strategy: they should be on the basis of whether the plan is a sound document, which means:

  1. Positively prepared – the plan should be prepared based on a strategy which seeks to meet objectively assessed development and infrastructure requirements, including unmet requirements from neighbouring authorities where it is reasonable to do so and consistent with achieving sustainable development;
  2. Justified – the plan should be the most appropriate strategy, when considered against the reasonable alternatives, based on proportionate evidence;
  3. Effective – the plan should be deliverable over its period and based on effective joint working on cross-boundary strategic priorities; and
  4. Consistent with national policy – the plan should enable the delivery of sustainable development in accordance with the policies in the Framework.

The LTF will be holding a workshop on 7th May which will provide guidance  for community groups who want to make written responses to the consultation. Jenny Bates from Friends of the Earth will provide analysis of the  environment & climate change and transport sections of the strategy. It will also cover topics such as Housing, Economic Activity and Employment, Regeneration and Transport. Email for details.

The closing date for comments of the Greenwich Core Strategy is 14th May 2013. You can do so through the Greenwich Consultation Portal.

The Places of Greenwich according to the Core Strategy
The Places of Greenwich according to the Core Strategy

Bridge Going Nowhere

The Ski Jump in Beckton
The Ski Jump in Beckton

The bridge going nowhere in the photo above is known as the ski jump.  It’s a section of road over in Beckton that was built in preparation for the Thames Gateway Bridge, but  currently leads to nowhere apart from a dangerous drop.  Maybe it’s a metaphor …

I’ve been enjoying reading about the  various attempts to create a river crossing between Thamesmead and Beckton over the last few days. It’s a fascinating tale: from  the Ringway suggestion back in the 1930s which became Ringway 2 in the 1960s, then the East London River Crossing in the 1980s and 90s, the Thames Gateway Bridge early this century and now TfL’s Gallions Reach Ferry proposal and the Royal Borough of Greenwich’s campaign for a bridge.

The historical background and  story of People Against the River Crossing is well told in David Black’s “The Campaign to Save Oxleas Wood” which details the inquiries and court cases, both UK and European, that eventually led in 1995 to the dropping of plans to put a motorway through Oxleas Wood and Plumstead and build the East London River Crossing. A group of local residents known as the Oxleas Nine risked financial ruin from  huge legal fees to appeal to the High Court against the compulsory purchase orders needed to allow the roads and crossings to be built.

Unfortunately the documents relating to the 2005 Thames Gateway Bridge Public Enquiry are no longer available online, but those I have seen show a similar level of opposition from local residents concerned about issues such as the health effects of air pollution and the risk to Oxleas Wood from the need for improved road links to the A2.

My reading about the bridge also led me to the Beckton ski jump. It can be seen circled in red on the Google Maps snippet below; it is also one of the possible routes for traffic to TfL’s proposed Gallions Reach Ferry.  Its other claim to fame is that it appeared in a car chase in the TV series Bugs, which culminated in a car driving off the end of the ski jump to explode in the waste land beyond. It’s on YouTube here, starting at about 46minutes in.

Google Map snippet showing the Beckton ski jump
Google Map snippet showing the Beckton ski jump

The map also shows another complication to building a bridge here – the proximity and orientation of the runway at London City Airport, which limits the possible height of the bridge. Campaigners in favour of east London river crossings make much of the disparity in the number of crossings to the west and east of Tower Bridge. Two obvious reasons for the difference are that the Thames is wider the nearer it gets to the sea, and large ships sail up the Thames to Central London (and potentially to a cruise liner terminal in Greenwich). Consequently bridges need to be wider and higher and  are more expensive to build, which seems to lead to them having to carry more traffic. The artists impressions of the proposed Thames Gateway Bridge, below,  from TfL’s brochure show the likely size of a bridge at this location.

Artists impressions of bridge from TfL's The Thames Gateway Bridge A new bridge for East London
Artists impressions of bridge from TfL’s The Thames Gateway Bridge A new bridge for East London

The required height of the bridge means that it has to have longer run-up roads so the overall length is much longer than just the distance across the river, making it very pedestrian unfriendly. Not to mention the high winds in the middle.

When I started writing this post I intended to focus on traffic modelling. I’m not an expert, but it seems to me that changes to the road infrastructure need to consider the whole network because increasing capacity in one place will simply move the bottlenecks to somewhere else in the network, so improvements should be across multiple sites to try to even out the flows.  Also traffic management measures need to be included to discourage cars and lorries from small, residential roads. I’m still searching for some comprehensible detail on modelling, but I notice that the recently released East London River Crossings Assessment of Options mentions this issue and confirms my feelings about the impact that a Gallions Reach bridge would have on roads through Plumstead and Bexley:

6.285. The modelling for TGB suggested that it would provide relief for the Blackwall tunnel as well as opening up new travel opportunities further to the east. However, a  key issue is that the road network on the southern side is much less developed than on the northern side, where the road would meet the grade separated A406 and A13 as well as linking (via the A406) to the M11.
6.286. To the south, the road would meet the east-west South Thames Development Route, a useful distributor road along the southern side of the Thames, but this is lower capacity than the northern access routes, and is generally not grade separated, with congested junctions in Plumstead, Woolwich and Erith.
6.287. Other routes on the southern side are poorer still, with the roads south into Bexley being largely two lane single carriageway roads, fronted by suburban housing. There was some strong local opposition to the scheme arising from concerns over the impacts in these areas. This led ultimately to the opposition of the London Borough of  Bexley to the scheme.

This suggests that a ferry at Gallions Reach would be a better option than a bridge because there is a natural capacity limiting effect from a ferry  that will reduce the amount of traffic heading in that direction, though additional action to encourage traffic along suitable roads and away from smaller roads may be needed too. And by analogy with west London perhaps having many smaller scale crossings would be better than one or two  massive congestion generating grand projects like multi-lane bridges and tunnels; an argument in favour of  keeping the Woolwich Free Ferry as well as the new one. I’d be interested to see the results of traffic modelling with this scenario.

Are there any other possibilities for small east London river crossings, I wonder, and what is the current state of technology for swing bridges?

We have until 1st February to make any comments on the Transport for London  proposals using an online survey with just 14 questions, or by e-mail to There is also an online petition against the Silvertown tunnel.

Friends of the Earth have arranged two public meetings  about the crossings  – one north of the Thames tonight and another at the Forum in Greenwich next Monday, 28th. They e-mailed with the details:

North side of the river:
Monday 21 January 2013, 7-9 p.m.
St Matthias Community Centre, 113 Poplar High Street, E14 OAE
Nearest station: Poplar DLR
South side of the river:
Monday 28 January 2013, 6.30-8.30 p.m.
Forum@Greenwich, Trafalgar Road, Greenwich, London SE10 9EQ

Contact us

Nearest station: Maze Hill station

-Air Pollution expert Dr Ian Mudway of Kings College London
-Transport expert John Elliott, Transport Consultant

Underneath the ski jump at Beckton
Underneath the ski jump at Beckton
On top of the ski jump at Beckton
On top of the ski jump at Beckton