Hustings highlights: Plumstead councillor joins ‘toxic’ Greenwich cruise port rebellion

Matt Morrow at Plumstead hustings
Plumstead councillor Matt Morrow added his voice to those who want on-shore power at Greenwich’s cruise liner terminal

Plumstead councillor Matt Morrow added his voice to the growing rebellion against his own council’s endorsement of the planned London City Cruise Port in east Greenwich – backing calls for the terminal to force ships berthed at the terminal to use power from the National Grid instead of highly polluting marine fuel.

The cruise port was backed by Labour councillors at a planning meeting in 2015, yet under current plans, ships using the proposed terminal would use their own generators while docked close to thousands of homes – giving off emissions equivalent to 688 idling heavy goods vehicles.

Residents on both sides of the Thames recently relaunched their No Toxic Cruise Port campaign to coincide with 3 May’s elections to Greenwich Council, which has consistently endorsed the plan. The terminal site at Enderby Wharf is currently up for sale.

Cabinet members Averil Lekau, David Gardner and Denise Scott-McDonald have all recently spoken out against the scheme using marine fuel, while local MP Matt Pennycook has backed residents’ concerns since the start.

Lekau, a contender for the Labour council’s leadership after the election, said earlier this month the council should “listen to our residents and say plug in or ship out” – in contrast to current leader Denise Hyland and deputy Danny Thorpe, who both sat on the planning committee that took the 2015 decision and have consistently supported the project as it stands.

Asked about the issue at Monday night’s Plumstead ward hustings, Morrow – who lives close to the terminal site – said he backed calls for the terminal to use on-shore power. He added he still supported the principle of having a liner terminal there.

“We need to combine good, strong environmental policies with job creation,” he told the audience at the hustings, held by the Positive Plumstead Project at Bannockburn Primary School.

Fellow candidates Ese Adjekughele (Renew), Melvyn Fernandez (Plumstead Party) and Paul Roberts (Green) all also supported on-shore power at the terminal, with Roberts – a former council planner – backing the Greens’ stance of investigating whether the council could revoke the 2015 planning decision.

Morrow’s fellow Plumstead councillor Angela Cornforth – who supported the current terminal plans in 2015 after initially proposing a motion to defer a decision – did not speak and was not asked to speak on the issue.

Liberal Democrat and Conservative candidates did not attend, while the audience was told that sitting Labour councillor Rajinder James was on maternity leave.

Tensions boiling over

The hustings – the first to be held in Plumstead – were a largely good-natured affair. But tensions between the Labour Party and the Plumstead Party, set up by residents unhappy with what they say is a lack of attention and investment in the area, were not far beneath the surface, with a group of Labour supporters – including Lekau – positioning themselves in front of Fernandez and the Plumstead Party’s other candidate, Alison Miller.

One asked a question which was a dig at Plumstead Party concerns about placing a temporary library on a temporary car park on Plumstead High Street while the current library is rebuilt to incorporate a gym – “are 14 car parking spaces more important than retaining library facilities?”

At one point, the Labour contingent objected to a one-minute time limit on answers after Miller compared Greenwich’s record on building council homes with fellow Labour-run council Croydon.

Bad feeling boiled over at the end, when resident Paul Billington spoke from the floor to say that Matt Morrow had implied he lived in the ward – which he does not.

In answer to a question about “multicultural integration” in Plumstead, Morrow said he “moved here in 2000” – although he did not say he moved across the borough to east Greenwich in 2012.

Morrow reacted angrily to deny misleading the audience, while Billington was shouted down by a man sitting next to the Labour contingent, accusing him of being the Plumstead Party’s candidate for Glyndon ward.

“It’s not important!,” the man shouted, before getting his phone out to briefly film the audience and candidates.

Morrow later clarified the issue on Twitter.

Billington later commented on the row.

‘Plumstead’ Crossrail entrance

It was easy to see where the rift had opened up between the incumbent Labour councillors and more engaged residents. Candidates backed the idea of an entrance to Woolwich’s new Crossrail station facing Plumstead – Cornforth said she hadn’t heard of the suggestion before, although one audience member later said the idea had been first mooted 10 years ago (and discussed on From The Murky Depths three years ago).

And when the Plumstead Party’s Miller said her summing-up that money from a development in King’s Highway had been used to fund works in Cutty Sark Gardens, central Greenwich, Labour councillor Morrow denied it. But the figures are there, labelled as “local community” spending, in an answer to a Freedom of Information request submitted in 2016 by this website and later reported on by From The Murky Depths.

S106 data
Greenwich Council figures showing Plumstead money funding Cutty Sark Gardens improvements – taken from this 2016 FOI answer

Angela Cornforth also repeated a claim that Greenwich Council had not closed any libraries or children’s centres – Ferrier Library was closed without replacement in 2012, while under-fives’ play centres were saved by closure by voluntary groups.

But the Plumstead Party also managed to veer off-message occasionally. An off-the-cuff comment from Melvyn Fernandez about betting shops, a controversial issue in the area after a council blunder gave William Hill permission to set up on the high street – “I’d shut the betting shops down, if people have a gambling problem, let them go to Woolwich, there’s enough police there” – was condemned later on by Greenwich & Woolwich MP Matt Pennycook.

And Alison Miller complained about developers’ money going to a special educational needs school on Eltham’s Middle Park Estate – even though these facilities are there for children across the whole borough and beyond.

Video of the candidates’ summing up at the end of the meeting can be seen here:

You can see some other parts of the hustings not mentioned in this story on this YouTube playlist.

An earlier version of this story had a resident mixed up with a Plumstead Party candidate – apologies.

Plumstead candidates (3 councillors are elected): Ese Adjekughele (Renew), Angela Cornforth (Labour), Mervyn Fernandez (Plumstead Party), Patricia Gillard (Conservative), Andreas Heiner (Conservative), Rajinder James (Labour), Cheryl Levett (Plumstead Party), Alison Miller (Plumstead Party), Matt Morrow (Labour), Felix Parker-Smith (Conservative), Mark Smith (Lib Dem), Dan Wallace (Lib Dem). Polls are open from 7am to 10pm on Thursday 3 May.

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