A simple and informal ceremony this morning saw the present day firefighters from Greenwich Fire Station honouring their Second World War counterparts, twelve of whom were killed at Invicta Primary School on the night of 14 November 1940 when the school was in use as Station 54X of the Auxiliary Fire Service.
Ironically, it was a quiet night in London, with the main focus of the Luftwaffe’s attacks being the city of Coventry. It was because of this lack of activity in the capital that the firemen based at Invicta Road were still at their station when the parachute mine that was to destroy the school drifted down. The explosion buried the men under tons of rubble and apart from the twelve firemen, three civilians, including the school caretaker, were killed.
The Education and Skills Funding Agency plans to demolish buildings, formerly used by Blackheath Bluecoat before its closure in 2014, and build a new school with a capacity of 1,150 pupils.
Officers said the school needed to be built so there was enough future school places, and that rejecting plans would place the council in a tough position.
Playing field worries
Concerns were raised, however, over the academy’s plan to use the Hervey Road playing field, a five-minute walk away from the site – meaning groups of schoolchildren would be forced to cross Shooters Hill Road to get to PE classes.
Charlton ward Labour councillor Gary Dillon said: “I want to know if there are any road crossings that can be put in on the junction of Old Dover Road and Shooters Hill Road. It’s quite a busy road if the kids are going to be crossing over.”
Officers said a crossing already existed across Shooters Hill Road, meaning it wasn’t necessary to have another “in close proximity”.
“Surely it would be quicker and better for child safety to have another crossing,” Cllr Dillon said. “If my kids were there I would want it.”
Councillors were told it was common for schools to use nearby open spaces for exercise, and that pupils would be supervised along the route.
Neighbours also protested, saying the school would be bigger than Blackheath Bluecoat, and that roads and buses would not cope with extra traffic and more students.
Several neighbours complained a bigger school would bring pressure on the single-decker 386 which, according to them, is already packed with pupils from the John Roan.
According to officers, the school will not be bigger than Blackheath Bluecoat – the latter was just unpopular.
‘Safety is our priority’
Emma Smith, the school’s principal, said it is policy to have staff at school gates and bus stops to ensure students behaved well.
She said: “The feedback we’ve had is that whatever we are doing is very positive. We are very active at the gates and the safety of our children is priority.
“That’s how we plan to manage our children going forward. We will need more staff as we grow – but we will uphold our standards.”
The Leigh Academy opened in September 2018, starting at Victoria House, a former army building at the foot of Shooters Hill, while plans for the Old Dover Road site were finalised.
The site is currently home to St Mary Magdalene School, which is now moving to a permanent home on Greenwich Peninsula.
The new school will be split across two adjoining buildings, a main teaching block and a sports and drama studio.
Councillors approved the proposals, aside from Cllr Norman Adams (Labour, Kidbrooke with Hornfair) who voted to reject the plan.
Tom Bull is the Local Democracy Reporter for Greenwich. The Local Democracy Reporter Scheme is a BBC-funded initiative to ensure councils are covered properly in local media. The Charlton Champion uses LDRS content to supplement its own coverage.
Transport for London has confirmed its plans to cut the 53 bus back to County Hall – and will make it less frequent too under new plans out for consultation today.
Plans to withdraw the 53, a lifeline for thousands of local workers, between County Hall and Whitehall were leaked last month. Now TfL is asking passengers what they think of the plans.
One aspect not previously highlighted in the leaked plans is that TfL plans to cut the 53 back to every eight minutes. TfL says it currently runs every seven-and-a-half minutes, but the full timetable shows it runs as frequently as every five minutes around 6am, when the service is heavily used.
The cut to the 53 – which runs from Plumstead via Woolwich, Charlton, Blackheath, Deptford, New Cross and the Old Kent Road to Whitehall – is part of 33 changes to routes in central London.
TfL, which is chaired by mayor Sadiq Khan, says: “The last time there was such a comprehensive review of the central London bus network was before the Congestion Charge was introduced. As a result there are some extremely complicated and inefficient sections of the road network. Some roads in central London, such as Kingsway in Holborn, are now served by more than 100 buses an hour, many of which are significantly underused. This oversupply of buses can cause congestion, slowing down journey times and worsening reliability, air quality and road safety.
“If no action is taken, GLA figures show that by 2041, three days would be lost per person every year due to congestion on London’s roads, and 50,000 hours would be lost to slower bus speeds in the morning peak every day.
“Passengers can now use the Mayor’s Hopper Fare to change buses unlimited times within an hour for just £1.50.”
A 7am journey on the 53 from Charlton Park School is timetabled to take one hour to reach Elephant & Castle, at 8am the journey takes 66 minutes.
Geoff Hobbs, Director of Public Transport Service Planning at TfL, said: “Buses have a crucial role to play in boosting the number of people using public transport, but they can’t do this without reflecting how London has changed. It is only right that we reassess the network after the significant changes in both London’s infrastructure and how Londoners choose to travel. Londoners expect their buses to be where they are needed and run in an efficient and cost-effective manner and that’s what this review is about.
“Our proposals to reorganise the bus network would modernise bus travel in London by matching capacity with demand, reducing bus-on-bus congestion while enabling year-on-year increases in bus services in outer London. In adapting underused and inefficient services in central London, our plans will help reduce pollution that has such a damaging effect on the health on Londoners.
“Ultimately these changes, which are predominately minor route restructures or timetable adjustments, would create an efficient modern network with buses in the right places at the right times.”
He said: “As things stand in rush hour most 53 buses are frequently overcrowded by the time they get up the hill to Charlton.
“We need more frequent services on this route, not cuts to services.
“But my main concern is the impact on the large numbers of my constituents who get up at the crack of dawn to make the long journey into central London on the 53 to work low-paid jobs (if you think I’m exaggerating just catch one before 6.30am one morning and see for yourself).
“For them, the long journey on the 53 all the way to Whitehall is the only means of transport that is affordable into central London and it is therefore indispensable.
“As such, difficult to escape the conclusion that cuts to this service will punish my working-class constituents and at the very moment that a new Crossrail station is opened in Woolwich that will inevitably pile pressure onto our already over-stretched local transport network.
“So let me be as clear as I can possibly be: I will do absolutely everything in my power to fight cuts to the 53 bus service.”
The Oak, which is many Charlton residents’ local pub, still has two separate bars as well as a beer garden and regularly hosts live music and other events.
Clements and his staff were praised for how they look after their beer and glasses, with judges noting “they even consider what type of water is available in their local area to determine how much product is used”.
It beat pubs in Coventry and Stafford to scoop the prize.
The 53, which runs from Plumstead, Woolwich, Charlton and Blackheath through Deptford, the Old Kent Road and Elephant & Castle to Whitehall would be cut back to County Hall from March 2019 under proposals to “reduce bus flows” across Westminster Bridge and along Whitehall.
The scheme affects routes from across London, and will also mean the 171 from Catford, Brockley and New Cross to Holborn being cut back to Elephant & Castle.
Transport for London’s proposals come as it battles financial worries after a complete cut in day-to-day government funding instituted by Evening Standard editor George Osborne when he was chancellor. It is also having to deal with a four-year fare freeze from mayor Sadiq Khan, and a fall in bus passenger numbers.
A consultation on these new proposals will come in mid-September.
The 53 proposal is likely to face stiff opposition. The service – which in its heyday ran as far north as Parliament Hill Fields and Camden Town – is the last remaining bus link to central London from Blackheath, Charlton, Woolwich and Plumstead, and terminating at County Hall will leave passengers needing to switch to another service.
It was last cut back in 2002, from Oxford Circus to Whitehall, with the 453 from Deptford Bridge picking up the slack.
TfL is predicting falls in central London bus passengers once Crossrail opens in December – bus in the 53’s case, the Elizabeth Line will still be a bus ride away for many of its passengers.
Some industry insiders have speculated that TfL would like to cut the route even further, to the Elephant & Castle, but can’t do so because of a lack of space for buses to terminate.
(Updated 12.10pm Thursday) Transport for London told The Charlton Champion the proposals were still at an early stage and needed to be discussed with boroughs.
Director of public transport service planning Geoff Hobbs said: “Buses have a crucial role to play in boosting the number of people walking, cycling and using public transport.
“As set out in the Mayor’s Transport Strategy, we’re currently looking at how we can adjust and reorganise the bus network to ensure it reflects a rapidly changing London, including planning for year-on-year increases in bus kilometres in outer London. We need to modernise and simplify the network and ensure that bus capacity is in the right places at the right times.
“We’re currently working closely with London’s boroughs on a potential set of proposals and they are helping shape our plans. These changes will also be subject to full public consultation before they’re put in place so we can hear from customers.”
One in four of the bank’s branches are being closed after parent group RBS said use of its branches by customers had fallen 40% since 2014.
The Old Dover Road outlet – the nearest bank for many Charlton residents – has been known as the Blackheath & Westcombe Park branch since the 1990s, when it took on the responsibilities of the closed Blackheath Village NatWest.
NatWest branches in Greenwich, Lewisham and Woolwich will remain in business.
The closure means Barclays will be last remaining bank at Blackheath Standard. The former Woolwich Equitable building society and the long-gone Greenwich Building Society – swallowed up into Portman, now part of Nationwide – also once had branches there.
The last bank remaining in Charlton itself – a Barclays – was demolished 20 years ago to accommodate a new exit for Charlton station.
A Greenwich Council planning blunder means residents of Westcombe Hill may get a mobile phone mast at the end of their gardens – despite planners refusing permission for it.
Residents who thought their protests against the mast had paid off were shocked to find diggers turning up last week – and had to persuade contractors to stop work.
Agents acting for Vodafone and O2 applied for permission to build a mast on land off Siebert Road, next to the Blackwall Tunnel Southern Approach in September 2016. The land sits between homes on Westcombe Hill and the dual carriageway, which divides Charlton and Blackheath.
Council planners refused the application in November after protests from residents, citing its “prominent location, height, design, scale, appearance and poor siting would lead to a cluttered and an over-dominant appearance within the location and when viewed from the neighbouring conservation area”.
But the council took too long to reject the application – under planning law, a council needs to respond within 56 days to prevent this type of application. Greenwich took 57 days to respond, meaning Cornerstone Telecommunications Infrastructure Ltd (CTIL), which runs Vodafone and O2’s networks, has permission to build the mast by default, so long as the property owner agrees.
Land ownership confusion
However, there is confusion as to who actually owns the land – it had been believed it was owned by Greenwich Council, but Land Registry documents indicate that it is actually owned by Transport for London. The planned location of the mast is on the route Bramshot Avenue used to take before construction work started on the A102 in 1967.
Confusion over the land ownership and relevant permits meant contractors had to stop work, while residents have been urged to lobby TfL to refuse permission if it is confirmed that the mayor’s transport agency owns the land.
A letter sent to residents by senior planning officer Victoria Geoghegan and seen by this website says: “Regretfully and due to a systems error, the application wasn’t determined within the 56-day period which means it is deemed to be consented and the mast can now be installed provided all other permissions are obtained.
“It is extremely unfortunate that the application wasn’t determined in 56 days given representations objecting to the scheme were made. I can assure you that the system now now been corrected to ensure this will not happen again.”
Greenwich Council sorry
Residents are lobbying local politicians and starting their own campaign, Westcombe Hill Against the Mast (Wham), to fight the proposal.
A spokesperson for CTIL told this website: “Vodafone and O2 customers expect to be able to use their mobiles and devices where they live, work and travel. Base stations are low powered devices which cover approximately half a mile in radius, therefore we have to put base stations close to our customers.
“Vodafone and O2 identified that they need to improve the coverage to their customers in Blackheath and we now have consent for a base station on Siebert Road. We have received a query on the land ownership at the proposed location and are currently investigating this point.”
A Greenwich Council spokesperson said: “The Royal Borough listened and responded to residents’ objections to this phone mast. Planning permission was refused on 14 November 2016. An IT fault regrettably resulted in this decision coming after the legal 56 day period and therefore planning permission was attained ‘by default.’ We apologise to residents and are determined, going forward, to make sure that all works on the site only proceed with the landowner’s permission.”
More on this story, including other planning mistakes in the borough, at 853.