Charlton’s Big Red Bus Club has been busy branching out recently – its latest venture is into summer sessions to help 11 to 13-year-olds rebuild their confidence through music and fun after a shattering 16 months. The club’s ANNIE DREWRY explains more…
March 16, 2020 was, for many children, simply the day the music died. For those kids that didn’t already have instruments at home or access to private online lessons, music simply disappeared.
In Charlton, like the rest of the country, music education not only came to an abrupt halt. Not just the lessons ending, but the community music programmes such as the after-school drumming clubs or choirs that were as much about friendship as they were the performances that resulted from them.
For your average 11-year-old, the summer is full of music. It’s when you head down to Primark to pick up your outfit for your final primary school disco, or the nervous excitement waiting to find out if you’ve got a song in your final school play. It’s endless practising for your final year assemblies, and the sharing of playlists among friends – the friends that you will leave as a memory of your childhood as you move to secondary school and make the friends that will see you become an adult.
The Big Red Bus Club has always believed in the power of the arts to build our community in Charlton, whether it be two toddlers sharing finger-painting or the mums in our Baby Blues Choir raising awareness of maternal mental health through performance. We know friendships are built when we create together.
So this summer, we are putting on two free programmes for Charlton’s 11-13 year olds.
Pump it Up, a week-long series of music workshops culminating in kids creating their own track and recording it, and Power Up, a whole week of activities ranging from pottery to engineering activities specifically for girls.
Last year was hard. At the Big Red Bus Club we want to bring the music back into kids’ lives, help them make local friends and to hang out and just be kids again.
You can help by letting local kids know that we are here.
Pump It Up: Monday 26 to Friday 30 July, 11-4pm, music workshops including singing, percussion and composition with a whole range of local artists.
Power Up (girls only): Monday 2 to Friday 6 August, 10-3pm, wellbeing workshops including pottery, yoga, engineering and a day trip.
Greenwich’s chair of planning was ticked off by a former council leader on Tuesday night after he clashed with residents over what new buildings on the Charlton Riverside should look like.
Labour councillor Stephen Brain challenged members of local lobby groups who are insisting that a masterplan drawn up to redevelop the area, involving building thousands of homes but keeping tall buildings to a minimum, should be followed closely.
But Dave Picton, who led Greenwich Council for two years in the late 1980s, said he was “surprised” that Brain was not following a ruling made last year which defined 10 storeys as “high rise” for the area.
Those same residents returned to the town hall last night to object to Aitch’s plans, which only include 40 affordable-rent homes and 10 for shared ownership – five percentage points short of the council’s target of 35 per cent “affordable” homes.
But in a meeting disrupted by Covid restrictions – the government has banned councils from holding their most important meetings online, despite the continuing pandemic – Brain and the residents started to fall out.
The masterplan suggests a maximum height of 10 storeys in the area to differentiate it from the Greenwich Peninsula and Woolwich’s Royal Arsenal, and to complement the low-rise nature of the wider Charlton area. But in the area where Aitch wants to build the new homes, the guidelines suggests three to six storeys. A further complication is that ground-floor housing is not allowed because of the risk of flooding around the Thames Barrier.
Roden Richardson, speaking for the Charlton Society, said that allowing a nine-storey block would be a “major departure” from the masterplan.
The “unacceptable heights” would set an “extremely worrying precedent” for the rest of the riverside area, he said, resulting in even denser development and the need for additional infrastructure.
But Brain said: “What special character does the area have currently? From the Woolwich Road down to the river – in terms of scrapyards and people who will take your wheels off your car if you stand still for more than five minutes.
“I don’t think this development, in my experience, is high rise. Any definition in any architecture book would define high rise as being above 11 storeys.”
Richardson responded: “The character is Charlton as a whole, not just the riverside.”
“But the application is for the riverside,” Brain said.
An irritated-sounding Richardson said: “We’re going back a long way with the creation of the masterplan – one of the key points of the masterplan was the riverside’s integration with Charlton as a whole.”
Brain replied: “I don’t want to be argumentative, but I’m going to be because I’m the chair, but in that case you should be building three-bedroom Victorian houses. Or from what I was hearing last week, perhaps it should be an estate of bungalows? Or bungalows on stilts because they wouldn’t comply with the environmental safety regulation.”
He then cut Richardson off to move on to the next speaker.
Denying that local lobby groups were looking for “three storey Victorian housing”, he said that the masterplan called for “reasonably high-density, mixed use, medium height development that promotes quite a different community … a blank canvas on which to build a new Charlton that avoids some of the mistakes of Woolwich”.
“I do understand masterplans,” Brain shot back at the end of Gayther’s contribution.
Picton referred to a planning inspector’s findings when plans for 10-storey blocks off Anchor and Hope Lane were thrown out last year. “The inspector differentiated between Greenwich [Peninsula] and Woolwich, and Charlton riverside.
“He said explicitly that Charlton riverside was urban, it wasn’t metropolitan. In terms of height, he said very clearly that 10 storeys on Charlton riverside is high rise. That view was endorsed by the secretary of state and I’m surprised that you don’t seem to have picked that up.”
Contradicting his earlier remark, Brain said: “I thought mid-rise were defined as being between five and 12 storeys, and high-rises were 13 floors and above, and that’s my definition that I tend to work to.”
The levels of “affordable” housing also came under scrutiny, although one member of the planning board, Abbey Wood Labour councillor Clive Mardner, had to have London Affordable Rent levels explained to him – even though one of his other roles on the council is chairing the housing scrutiny panel.
London Affordable Rent is a policy of London’s Labour mayor Sadiq Khan. It sets levels at about half of market rent – higher than council or social rents offered to existing tenants, which are about 40 per cent of market rent – but are available to people on universal credit. The housing charity Shelter has questioned whether London Affordable Rent is set at a fair level, but it is usually the cheapest rent available.
When questioned why the development did not offer social rents, Greenwich’s principal planner Jillian Halford said that London Affordable Rent was “certainly affordable to borough residents”.
“We may disagree on that,” Mardner said. Greenwich Council itself uses London Affordable Rent for its new Greenwich Builds properties – schemes which Mardner has voted in favour of.
Asked by Glyndon councllor Sandra Bauer why “affordable” housing levels had dropped from 35 to 30 percent, Halford said that the cut had been made to keep the development viable after original plans for 10 storeys were dropped.
Brenda Taggart from Charlton Together, another lobby group, questioned the developer’s attitude to “affordable” housing after a series of upward and downward revisions, saying it “has more elasticity than my old grandma’s knickers”.
The planning meeting had to end after two hours because of Covid restrictions – the cramped 115-year-old Woolwich Town Hall chamber is he only meeting room fitted with cameras so meetings can be viewed remotely, and councillors can only meet for two hours with a 15-minute break to air the chamber.
At the time, it claimed that the crossing over the single-track line was “currently registered as the most dangerous of nearly 350 level crossings which we operate in Kent”.
However, after The Charlton Champion asked for the data that its statement was based on, Network Rail has withdrawn the claim – admitting that it is actually the 34th most dangerous crossing in the region.
There are also seven more dangerous foot crossings in the Kent region, it admitted.
Network Rail said that it was, in fact, “the highest risk footpath in south-east London” – however, there are no other foot crossings like it in south-east London. The track company did not respond to a request for clarification.
“Angerstein Footpath Crossing is ranked 8th out of the 162 footpath crossings in Kent and 34th out of 341 crossings in Kent. It is the highest risk footpath in South East London, not in Kent – the statement was a miscommunication on our press release and we apologise for any confusion caused,” Network Rail said in response to a request made under freedom of information laws.
A Network Rail press release – which was not sent to us at the time – calls the path “the most dangerous level crossing in south east London”. However, there is only one other level crossing on a Network Rail line in south east London, a mile away at Charlton Lane.
“Charlton Lane is ranked 43rd out of 341 for level crossing risk in Kent; however Charlton Lane is a fully protected, full barrier manned crossing which is one of the highest levels of protection for a level crossing,” it said.
While Network Rail claimed there had been “many incidents where drivers of trains had to apply their emergency brakes to avoid people on the track”, only one such incident had been recorded – on 28 November 2019, when a driver reported someone crossing as the train approached. Almost a year earlier, a driver told control room staff that someone had crossed after being told not to, but there was no report of brakes being applied.
In total, thirteen incidents were recorded, including seven trespass incidents with people seen on the line; one woman apparently carrying a baby in her arms and trying to access Westcombe Park station, another where youths were seen throwing rocks at cars on Bugbsy’s Way.
Others had little to do with its use as a crossing: a track worker was cut by a syringe inserted into a handrail in March 2019, the following month vandalism to a fence was reported, while in February 2020 it was reported that a recently-installed safety gate had come off its hinge.
The final incident was a “concern for welfare” when a driver saw “two teenage boys hanging around the foot crossing” – one which may raise eyebrows for any residents who grew up in the area and may have done the same themselves.
Network Rail did not respond to a request for further comment.
The crossing, originally built for farm workers in the 1850s, has grown in importance in recent years with the development of new housing on the old Thorn Lighting site between Victoria Way and Fairthorn Road. The newer Bowen Drive development off Victoria Way, which welcomed its first residents last year, offers a direct link to Gurdon Road and the crossing.
Two weeks ago Greenwich & Woolwich MP Matt Pennycook asked Network Rail for detailed evidence to back up its assertions that the footpath, which is one of just a handful of crossings, is unsafe.
The letter came after the track company held a consultation meeting with local residents, which Pennycook said had been followed by “uniformly negative feedback”.
In February 2018, Network Rail closed a footpath across the railway at Stone Crossing, east of Dartford and replaced it with a new footbridge. However, at the Angerstein crossing, it is expecting the 675 daily passengers to reroute via Woolwich Road to reach Westcombe Park.