A Greenwich councillor has pulled back from a threat to report the local Green Party to police after it published a newsletter explaining how Labour representatives supported the controversial Enderby Wharf cruise liner terminal.
Peninsula councillor Stephen Brain saw red after the Greens condemned his party’s record on pollution, noting that “in 2012, Labour councillors unanimously approved a plan to turn Enderby Wharf into a huge terminal for cruise ships… in 2015, they voted in favour of an even bigger terminal on the site, ignoring more than a hundred residents who demonstrated against it”.
“It’ll be Labour’s cruise terminal,” the newsletter – promoting election candidates Matt Browne, Dan Garrun and Jenny Murphy – added.
Brain, who was not directly involved in those decisions, fired back on Twitter, saying: “Before you libel opponents again, check Rep of People Act 1983 Sec 106. During an election period this is a CRIMINAL ACT… #GreenParty speak to #GreenwichGreens before our lawyers and police do – don’t distribute Peninsula leaflet, v.unwise to do so.”
But Brain now says his threat was a “friendly warning” adding: “I really wouldn’t want to see someone get a criminal record through an error of judgement, that would be daft.”
The Greens are looking to oust Brain plus fellow councillors Chris Lloyd and Denise Scott-McDonald at the council election on 3 May. They say the council can revoke planning permission.
The row over the cruise liner terminal comes as residents launch a campaign, No Toxic Cruise Port, which aims to force the terminal’s operator to use shore-side power when vessels are berthed there, rather than allowing ships to power themselves with their own highly-polluting engines.
It launches with a photocall at the slipway on Drawdock Road, at the north end of Tunnel Avenue and close to the entrance to the O2’s Intercontinental Hotel, at 11am on Saturday.
Current plans for the terminal will see ships belch huge amounts of unfiltered diesel into the air next to new and existing homes on both sides of the Thames.
Were the Greens right? Broadly speaking, yes
The cruise liner terminal was first approved in January 2011 (rather than 2012) by the council’s main planning committee, the Planning Board, which is – in name, at least – supposed to be free of party influences. Back then, concerns about air quality were little-understood.
It was passed unanimously by both Labour and Conservative councillors, while then-council leader Chris Roberts had gone on TV to promote the scheme.
A larger scheme came back before councillors in July 2015, a year after Brain was elected to the council and when air quality worries were more widely known about. This was passed 6-3.
Brain and fellow councillor Chris Lloyd spoke against the scheme at the 2015 meeting, but the cruise liner terminal has always enjoyed political support from the Greenwich Labour group’s leadership, who mainly hail from the south of the borough.
Leader Denise Hyland – the only council leader in London to sit on her council’s main planning committee – told residents they should have complained about air quality at the first meeting.
Deputy leader Danny Thorpe, who also sits on the committee, brushed off air pollution concerns and claimed at the time that dirty air in east Greenwich was solely down to buses and the Blackwall Tunnel.
While both Brain and Lloyd have both been opposed to the terminal, as well as the Silvertown Tunnel and the under-construction Ikea store, all three have been pet projects for their party’s leaders in recent years.
Both have been very sensitive to suggestions that their opposition to these schemes is compromised by their membership of a Labour group which has pursued, promoted and defended them.
Was Brain’s threat correct? No
Stephen Brain’s legal threat referred to the Representation of the People Act 1983, which governs conduct in elections.
He told 853: “It could be judged to have broken Section 106 because it misrepresents my views – OK in USA but not in Great Britain.”
Section 106 says: “A person who…makes or publishes any false statement of fact in relation to the candidate’s personal character or conduct shall be guilty of an illegal practice, unless he can show that he had reasonable grounds for believing, and did believe, that statement to be true.”
It is very rare for these cases to go to court, but it has happened. In 2007, a Labour councillor in Waltham Forest was fined and ejected from her seat for lying about a Liberal Democrat opponent’s personal life.
But Section 106 refers to named candidates rather than party groups. And in this case, the Greens’ statements were not only broadly correct – because Greenwich Labour councillors did back the terminal – they also did not refer to Brain as an individual, meaning he would have no civil or criminal claim to make.
However, councillors have gone to police before on flimsy legal grounds and have had cases followed up. Earlier this year, Bexley blogger Malcolm Knight was pursued by Kent Police after publishing a true story about Conservative councillor Maxine Fothergill. A harassment charge was dropped earlier this month.
Brain himself has also previously threatened to sue the author of the From The Murky Depths blog over claims that he and fellow councillors were ignoring concerns over the impact of new developments in his ward.
‘It’s bullying and needs to be called out’
Peninsula Green candidate Dan Garrun was scathing about Brain’s threat: “It’s bullying, plain and simple and it needs to be called out. They don’t like us talking about the terminal and they will try any dirty trick to make us to stop. No chance.
“As far as libel goes we don’t mention anyone by name in the newsletter, certainly not the sitting Labour councillors – we took care not to do that. So by definition it’s not libel.
“And our facts are straight, Labour councillors voted the cruise port through. They didn’t bat an eyelid at the hundred plus residents standing there asking them to consider what affect the accumulated pollution would have on their families.”
Garrun added: “I’ll bet you a green tea that next Labour will circulate a newsletter saying the Tories are coming and that there’s a danger of them winning here to scare folk into voting Labour.
“Which is hogwash, Greens came second here in the last election and the Tories are so busy in the south of the borough that they haven’t even dropped a single flyer. They know we have a growing base of support and they’re rightly worried.”
Brain told 853: “It was a friendly warning of the risk their leaflet was taking, maybe they did not know?
“Put it down to youthful exuberance – they are not being pursued by me but did misrepresent my position on air quality, Silvertown [Tunnel], the cruise liner terminal and Ikea, so quite unfair and misleading potential voters. I hope they don’t repeat it.”
He said of the election, being held in a borough that has been controlled by Labour since 1971: “Let’s have a fair and open election and boot out the Tories.”
The renewed campaign against the current cruise liner terminal plans comes as the site has been put on the market by investment bank Morgan Stanley, with developer Barratt withdrawing from the housing side of the scheme.
The East Greenwich Residents’ Association, which has led protests against the scheme, says it would cost £6m to connect ships using the port to the power network, to prevent them from having to use their own generators.
“The figure is based on the developer’s own assumptions and represents a small investment to save peoples’ lives and health. It will also prevent the port from becoming a white elephant as under UK law an alternative to burning diesel fuel will have to be found by 2025,” it says.
“No cruise ship will happily dock in London unless shore side power is installed. The community will see to that.”