Naturally, it wasn’t an elected politician who brought it up – but Anthony Austin of Greenwich Cyclists. He asked just what the hell is going on with a project that should have been finished this spring, but now looks like it’s running a year behind schedule, with one tunnel liftless and shut at night, and the other completely closed.
“Who at Greenwich Council is managing the refurbishment of the Greenwich and Woolwich foot tunnels, and what was the original stated schedule of works and by how much has it been delayed?,” he asked in a written question.
Cabinet member for regeneration, enterprise and skills Denise Hyland responded:
“Firstly, I would like to apologise for the continued inconvenience to the public as a result of the partial closure of the tunnels and the shutdown of the lift service.
“The works to the foot tunnels are being carried out by contractors and consultants, whp also manage the works on a day-to-day basis, engaged by the Director of Regeneration, Enterprise and Skills. The original programme for the works as known at the time for these century-old structures was estimated to be complete in the spring of 2011. Additional works and site complexities will mean the tunnels are unlikely to open fully before early 2012.
“The funding for the project has come from Government and no council funds are involved.”
Mr Austin then asked a follow-up question, the response to which you can hear here…
Listening to that response, I’m not sure if Cllr Hyland is really on top of the situation – it sounds like a painful piece of improvisation. At present, Greenwich Foot Tunnel is open daytimes only, with no lift service, and Woolwich Foot Tunnel is completely closed.
“May I thank Mr Austin for his supplementary… and reassure him that we are doing our absolute level best to bring these tunnels back into full operation, with the Greenwich tunnel early in 2012. This has been a heritage project, bringing the 100-year-old tunnels back into full use, and we have had decisions to make where we have had hidden structures have been uncovered and further work has been necessary.
“Private contractors manage the work on a day-to-day basis… and we have put pressure on our contractors and worked with them in a positive partnership to bring a swift resolution to the tunnel [sic].
“Can I say – absolute apology on behalf of the council to pedestrians and cyclists, because although the tunnels are open [sic], they haven’t had the proper lifts functioning in the way that they should. So, er, y’know, complete apologies for that, and we are working hard for a quick resolution.”
There’s no mention of Woolwich Foot Tunnel at all in that statement, which gives the impression that Cllr Hyland believes it is still open. And what on earth are these “hidden structures”? Shouldn’t one of the only councils in the country to publish its own weekly newspaper be telling us what’s happening?
It’s also interesting to hear the tunnels now described as a “heritage project”. The Woolwich Foot Tunnel celebrates its centenary next year, the Greenwich tunnel opened in 1902. Yet when Transport for London started refurbishing the Blackwall Tunnel, built in 1897, that wasn’t called a “heritage project”. TfL’s work there is running ahead of schedule, while Greenwich’s work is now a year late.
So we’re still no further ahead with understanding just what the hell is going on in those foot tunnels. With the Greenwich tunnel’s stairwells looking largely untouched – and the Woolwich tunnel’s southern portal boarded up and deserted – what are the odds on the project being finished by the Olympics?