A Monday night at Woolwich Town Hall? Well, there’s been better ideas for start-of-week thrills, but turning up to the catchily-titled Sustainable Communities and Transport scrutiny panel was the only show in town if you wanted to catch up on what Greenwich Council is doing for cyclists.
There’s a fair bit going on below the radar – you can read about it here – and if you listened to Greenwich Council’s officers talk, you’d feel that cyclists (and potential cyclists) were in safe hands.
But there were not one, but two elephants in committee room 4 last night. One was council leader Chris Roberts’ personal refusal to speak to London cycling commissioner Andrew Gilligan.
The other… where were all the other councillors?
On the seven-strong committee, only two – chair Hayley Fletcher, and Peninsula councillor Mary Mills – bothered to show up, along with independent Tory Eileen Glover, co-opted onto the panel. Labour councillors Mick Hayes, Don Austen, Matt Pennycook and Dick Quibell clearly had more pressing concerns than showing up to a meeting they’re paid to attend. The same went for Tories Nigel Fletcher and Adam Thomas.
One councillor had an illness in the family and another was on holiday; while Nigel Fletcher’s day job meant he, oddly, was at the Labour party conference. Matt Pennycook may well have been electioneering. As for the others… heaven knows. It’s not like these people get paid to represent us or anything. Oh.
So the meeting limped on, unable to make any decisions because there weren’t enough members there, but the discussion was interesting. Direct mention of the Gilligan farrago was delicately sidestepped by the officers, and it was made clear that council officers were trying to get hold of every (other) piece of funding available. But Greenwich’s senior transport planner, Kim Smith, added that these “paled into insignificance” compared with the sums available under the schemes Gilligan is promoting.
Not that Greenwich would have been able to get all of the loot. It was confirmed that Greenwich wouldn’t have been eligible for the “mini-Holland” funding which is being offered by City Hall, having been firmly told it doesn’t count as outer London, but neither does it qualify for sums being offered to central London boroughs. (This was a subject cabinet member Denise Hyland seemed a bit clueless about at back in July.)
But as for what Greenwich would be entitled to, we were told TfL hadn’t been in touch with the council for nearly a year on Cycle Superhighway 4, which is due to run from London Bridge to Woolwich. While all the routes are up for review, Andrew Gilligan told Lewisham Cyclists last week that CS4 will be the last to be developed because of the intransigence of Greenwich’s political leadership.
Beyond this avoidable mess, though, there was discussion of those under-the-radar things discussed earlier – work on finally sorting out Cutty Sark Gardens so people can legally and safely cycle through it to the foot tunnel; the “missing link” in the Thames Path between the Thames Barrier and King Henry’s Wharf in Woolwich; some work on Canberra Road, a useful cut-through in Charlton; pointing out to Royal Parks that its signs for cyclists in Greenwich Park aren’t much cop; a joint scheme with Lewisham (cripes!) to link Greenwich station with Deptford High Street and onto New Cross; and some work going on in Avery Hill Park, Eltham.
Nothing fancy and showy, but all good solid work. And if Greenwich councillors actually cared, they might even get some more work done.
It wasn’t just cyclists let down tonight – anyone that’s cursed trying to get from the south of Greenwich borough to the north by public transport also found their concerns ignored, as the councillors missed a report about just that. We learned Transport for London has decided Kidbrooke to North Greenwich is a “priority corridor” for a public transport boost, but also that there’s no news on the final “DLR on stilts to Eltham” report – commissioned by the council two years ago, but not through the transport department. Odd.
There were other issues raised too, but hey, if Greenwich’s councillors can’t be bothered to show, why should you be interested? Was it laziness, or pique at the Gilligan issue, or just a dreadful coincidence? Who knows?
Here’s a map showing how low the rates of cycling are in Greenwich compared with other London boroughs (click it for a larger version). If Greenwich councillors really want it to change, they’ll have to do a lot better than they did last night.
But perhaps this current crop of councillors simply don’t want it to change.