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.
It’s coming… work began today on turning a corner of Charlton Park into a new skate park. Greenwich Council plans to have the new facility ready in October, and work is due to take place on the site between 8am and 6pm on weekdays.
Detailed designs were given final planning permission earlier this month. Already, a tree has been felled to make way for the new facility, which will curve around the outdoor gym.
However, with that battle lost, the group is looking for new members – so if you want to get in involved in the future of Charlton Park and its new skate park, application forms should be in the Old Cottage Cafe.
Noticed any changes in how clean your street is? Changes in Greenwich Council’s street cleaning services are being discussed by a panel of councillors on Tuesday – with a special focus on Charlton.
Internal changes in how the service is run means streets are now – apparently – swept on the same day as rubbish and recycling are collected. For most of Charlton, that will mean Monday, although for some streets towards Maryon Park this is Thursday.
A report presented by council officers reveals cuts in funding have hit a service which already gets less cash per resident than neighbouring Lewisham and Southwark boroughs, with street cleaning services predicted to overspend by £1.6 million this year (or 8/10ths of a tall ships regatta).
It also claims that “perceptions that streets are not as clean as they have been in the past” are just perceptions, as fewer people are contacting the council to complain – although in August, Greenwich borough failed more than one in ten inspections of street detritus.
A separate report admits there have been specific problems in Charlton – but not all streets are getting the attention needed to deal with the issue.
Earlier this year, part of Plumstead got an “environmental taskforce” to deal with flytipping and other issues. The approach, the report says, “proved successful”, so has resulted in similar teams “being deployed in the Charlton area following a meeting with the Charlton Church Residents Association [sic] in December 2015″.
So, if you live in the area covered by Charlton Central Residents Association – along with a stretch of Charlton Church Lane, Floyd Road and the Valley Grove Estate – you should be getting extra street cleaning and prompt attention to flytipping.
The report says: “The introduction of the Charlton Taskforce has improved the public realm, especially around the Charlton station area where litter was a particularly problem [sic] and in the vicinity of Charlton Athletic FC, where street cleansing operations are now more effectively co-ordinated to coincide with home game fixture timings.”
However, it appears the rest of the area is still being neglected – something highlighted by Greenwich’s annual struggle to deal with autumn leaf fall.
I’ve heard anecdotal reports of streets not being swept for weeks on end – and there’s certainly evidence of leaves being left in piles and abandoned on Charlton Road and elsewhere rather than being bagged and taken away.
Unfortunately, dealing with Greenwich’s street services teams can be like a war of attrition.
On Sunday 30 October, I took some pictures ahead of the supposed Monday sweep. Left is Wellington Gardens (in the area covered by the taskforce), right is Victoria Way.
On Wednesday 2 November, I returned. And guess what? The street covered by the taskforce had been swept. Victoria Way had been ignored. I later found a bag of leaves had been abandoned further down Victoria Way – it appeared a council cleaner had just walked off the job and left it there.
But even after presenting these photos to local councillor Gary Parker, who then pressed officers and senior councillors to act, it took Greenwich Council 10 days to bother sweeping the leaves off Victoria Way – and that was only after I copied local MP Matthew Pennycook into a follow-up complaint. There was no response to me from any of the council officers involved, although it was noticeable that neighbouring streets were ignored.
While the council is to be applauded for using the FixMyStreet system, it clearly isn’t using it properly – threeseparatereports of a dangerously bent lamp post on Victoria Way have been filed since last Thursday; nobody has acted on them at the time of publishing.
It’s also clear that council staff aren’t encouraged to report street issues themselves, as they are in Lewisham – refuse teams will have passed that bent lamp post three times on Monday.
FixMyStreet also reveals reports that anyone with a basic knowledge of the area will know have been simply ignored. They’ve been filed, but not carried out.
If the councillors take their job seriously, they should be looking at the map of complaints. And if council officers are recording a drop in complaints, it may be because people have lost confidence in the council’s ability to respond.
“Leaves and litter piling up at the beginning Canberra Rd, junction with Marlborough Lane and Charlton Road” (28 October)
“Rubbish needs sweeping up. Lots of paper rubbish and tree rubbish needs clearing up – it’s not been done for a few weeks.” (Marlborough Lane, 22 August)
“The top section of Victoria Way beside the shops has been getting more and more littered over the past few months. As well as being unsightly, it is encouraging or at least condoning littering in the area. Yesterday, I had to ask someone to pick their litter up when I saw them dropping crisp packets right on the pavement.” (15 August)
“This road has not been swept in months, leaves are now a major issue, causing blocked drains and dangerous conditions for pedestrians walking down Charlton Lane” (10 November)
“After 2+ months this side of the road on Bramhope Lane still hasn’t been swept.” (6 October)
It goes on. There are also numerous reports of flytipping in Charlton Lane and at the Woolwich Road end of Victoria Way, as well as Gallon Close – another reminder that the “taskforce” appears to be far too narrow in scope, and perhaps has been partly influenced by lobbying rather than data.
Has the taskforce worked for you? Did you even notice any difference? Please share your experiences below.
Wednesday update: Did you go to this? Let us know in the comments below what you thought…
Most fair-minded observers would agree that Greenwich Council’s recent history of engagement with the public isn’t brilliant – the saga of the Charlton skatepark, a potentially good thing but made more difficult because it was imposed on people without discussion, being the perfect example.
We’ve tried to do our bit to improve matters here by carrying updates from Charlton councillor Gary Parker. Now the council’s holding public meetings – the first for about a decade – in parts of the borough to get views on local areas and how they could be improved.
They’re called Better Together, and the Woolwich & Charlton event is on Tuesday 20 September at Charlton House. If you’re around during the day, you can come to drop-in sessions from 2-6pm, and there’s a formal meeting from 7pm to 8.30pm. You don’t need to sign up in advance.
The meeting covers most of Charlton as well as Woolwich – Charlton, Kidbrooke with Hornfair, Woolwich Common and Woolwich Riverside wards. (An event covering Peninsula ward was held on Monday in Greenwich.)
What to bring up? Current gripes include the state of the streets from litter – in November, a council scrutiny panel will discuss “particular challenges in maintaining the state of the environment in Plumstead and Charlton” – to general maintenance, it could be road safety (have the 20mph zones worked?), reviving the fortunes of Charlton Village or fathoming out what the hell is going on at Charlton Lido.
Of course, the council can’t do everything – but raising an issue here might start a ball rolling.
Charlton Park is all lined up to get its skate park after councillors backed the scheme at a planning meeting on Wednesday evening.
The new skate park is funded by £365,000 from Berkeley Homes, which is building on the site of an old facility at Royal Arsenal Gardens, Woolwich, and £15,000 from Greenwich Council.
Councillors on the borough’s planning board voted by 10-1 to endorse outline proposals for the scheme.
The meeting saw Denise Hyland – the only council leader in London to regularly sit on her borough’s main planning committee – withdraw after objectors pointed out she had voiced support for the scheme at a council meeting last year.
But councillors criticised objectors for stereotyping young people as troublemakers, and voiced the hope that the facility would help residents become fitter and more active.
Objectors had submitted a 50-page dossier of local newspaper reports focusing of allegations of anti-social behaviour at skateboard parks elsewhere in the UK, while one, John Tidy, said: “It’s the wrong design, and it’ll get covered in graffiti.”
One resident, Geoff Cooper, claimed wheelchair users were at risk of falling into the skate park, which will be dug out of ground behind the outdoor gym, meaning a tree will be felled and two table tennis tables will be moved. Another called skateboarding “a minority sport”, adding it would be “unfair that the majority of [park] users won’t want to use it”.
Two local councillors, Charlton ward’s Gary Parker and Kidbrooke with Hornfair David Stanley, backed the objectors, but on the surer ground of the facility’s management.
Parker said there was no management plan for the park, adding that Charlton Lido operator GLL was interested in being involved if the skate park was in nearby Hornfair Park.
Stanley said there was “no evidence of a proper noise assessment”, adding that there were already anti-social behaviour issues at the Canberra Road entrance to Charlton Park. He added that there were already many sporting facilities in Charlton and Kidbrooke and a better skatepark could be placed in the east of Greenwich borough “where there is more social deprivation”.
Former councillor Jim Gillman told the meeting: “If council officers look hard enough, they can find a more suitable place.”
But the skate park’s backers found support from Charlton ward councillor Miranda Williams and fellow cabinet member Jackie Smith, who said Charlton Park was the only site that fulfilled the criteria for a skate park, including accessibility by public transport.
“If there is anti-social behaviour we will deal with it. But there won’t be,” she said. “Skateboarders currently use General Gordon Square [in Woolwich] and there is no graffiti.”
Andrew Donkin, who organised a petition in support of the skate park, said there would be no problems in a skate park that could not be solved. “It’s not like landing a man on the moon,” he added.
Local skateboard fan Kevin First explained how we was still riding a board at the age of 38. “It’s not just for teenagers,” he said, adding that a similar facility in Clissold Park, Stoke Newington was barely visible to the public. Another supporter said skateboarding had given him confidence that had helped him start his own business.
Stuart Hopper, of the Greenwich Skate Park Co-Op, said the park should help boost social integration, and that “oversight” – having plenty of people near it – would help it become a safer facility.
Planning decisions in Greenwich often fall on party lines, but Conservatives Matt Clare and Geoff Brighty also supported the scheme, with Brighty even suggesting he might try skateboarding after hearing evidence from older enthusiasts.
The only dissenter was planning chair Mark James, who objected to the effect on the Charlton Village conservation area.
Councillors backed the scheme with conditions including no construction work on Saturdays. But before that work can go ahead, the council’s agent will have to return to the planning board with more detailed proposals that meet those conditions.
If they are quick, the park could be in place next summer – it’s understood concrete skate parks can’t be built in winter, so the earliest work could start is next spring. But considering the glacial pace of this scheme, perhaps summer 2018 is more likely.
Charlton Champion comment: While Wednesday’s decision looks like bringing the saga to an end, the skate park battle has been dispiriting even by the low standards of Greenwich borough politics.
Few come out of this with any credit, except the council staff lumbered with polishing up the scheme, and the local parents and skateboard fans who have taken the idea and backed it.
A well-maintained facility would Charlton Park’s appeal. But the consultation-free choice of location raised eyebrows considering the council opened a BMX track in Hornfair Park only a few years back – with some suspecting Charlton Park was picked as a salvo in long-running squabbles in the local Labour establishment, with some of the council leadership’s fiercest internal critics living nearby.
Critics also suggest there is no overall strategy for the skatepark – or the park itself – and raise questions about its future funding. Essentially, Woolwich is losing a skate park because Berkeley Homes did not want it anywhere near its luxury homes, and gave the council money to build it elsewhere, albeit within three miles of Woolwich.
A recent Freedom of Information request revealed that there is just a £62,000 annual budget for all playgrounds and skate parks in the borough. There is no evidence of an plan to secure outside funding.
So it looks as if much of the onus for caring for the skate park will fall on those who use it. This may not be a bad thing – skate park fans are a resourceful and passionate bunch – but it helps if the council has a plan for how to incorporate the energy and talents of the park’s users.
But many critics over-stepped the mark with lurid claims that the skate park would increase crime, as they did at Wednesday’s meeting. Council staff rebutted these claims in a recent petition response – pointing out, as Miranda Williams did on Wednesday, there is evidence that they can be good for local communities. It all felt like the failed campaign to stop the Olympics coming to Greenwich Park.
Objectors were right to highlight council leader Denise Hyland’s role on the planning board – an issue which has been highlighted elsewhere and will continue to cause problems for the council. One exchange saw Hyland ask objector Frank Salmon: “Do I know you?”. “Yes, you abused me at a council meeting,” he responded.
But the sudden emergence of a Friends of Charlton Park group in response to the skatepark proposals was as disingenuous and cynical as anything to come out of the town hall. Charlton Park is an amazing but overlooked facility – it deserves better than being squabbled over by two equally cynical sides.
There’s also been a lack of leadership from local councillors – unwilling to publicly stand up the council leadership, or to bother selling the skateparks merits to local people until the day of the meeting itself. If councillors feel unable to speak publicly on a local issue in their own ward, this is not healthy.
We’ve no doubt that the skate park will be a success – just as the outdoor mini-gym has been. There’s certainly the demand from young people for sport in the park, as a look around Charlton Park at weekends would tell you.
But this could have been handled so much better. We hope those who want the skate park get the facility they want and deserve – and the politicians and their friends at Berkeley Homes step aside and allow skateboard users to take the plaudits when the opening day finally comes.
Charlton ward councillor Gary Parker has sent us a report on what he’s been up to over the past few months. We’re presenting this in two parts – the first is about his work on the board of the Royal Greenwich Heritage Trust, which runs Charlton House.
The Royal Greenwich Heritage Trust was formed in 2014 and I have been a board member since its inception. The special report below highlights the work myself, staff, volunteers and trustees have been involved with recently. The Trust launched a range of leaflets and promotional materials earlier this year, along with their new website where details of all events can be found at www.greenwichheritage.org.
You can also follow the Trust on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, join the mailing list, or sign up to the newsletter online for regular updates. Some recent projects include:
Here Come the Girls – The Heritage Lottery-funded project has been a great success this year. The project introduced Ivy the Nurse, Nell the Munitionette and May from the Progress Estate, 3 local women who share their stories of the First World War with the people of the borough.
Ivy was a Nurse at Charlton House, and the Family Fun Day there in the summer was a huge success. Charlton residents came to meet Nell, the rest of the nurses, and some wounded soldiers in a convalescence hospital recreated for the day. The project continues to tour the Borough with further events in Eltham and Woolwich before the end of September.
Making Woolwich – Generously supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund and Royal Artillery Museums Ltd, including the Friends of Firepower, this new gallery for the Greenwich Heritage Centre will tell the story of a Royal Artillery soldier from 1716-2016.
World Monuments Fund – The Trust’s work with the World Monuments Fund continues. Thanks to WMF funding, Donald Insall Associates have now completed the Condition Survey and Measured Drawings at Charlton House. Yale University Scholar, Lily Higgins, recently presented the findings of her research work over the summer to the Friends of Charlton House, Trustees and other invited guests. The Trust are now working on next steps toward a Heritage Lottery Fund application in partnership with the World Monuments Fund.
Other activities – The Trust delivered a programme of heritage events that continue throughout the year including Summer activities for children through August. London Open House takes place this year on Sunday 18 September, from 10am – 4pm supported by the Friends of Charlton House.
Your Devoted Frank is a dramatic performance inspired by First World War love letters found in a Plumstead home. The performance, first delivered for Valentine’s Day at Greenwich Heritage Centre, will come to Charlton House on Friday 11 November at7pm. Tickets are available from Charlton House for just £8.
I have been using my professional skills to advise the Trust on fundraising and how to generate income. I briefed Tracey Stringfellow, the CEO, on this recently and there are likely to be some new initiatives coming forward including a potential crowdfunding project – watch this space.
Charlton House continues to be a fantastic community resource and I am working with many others to improve and develop it.
The second part of Gary’s update will follow in a day or two. If you want to contact Gary Parker or any Greenwich councillor, find their details on the Greenwich Council website.
Want to get your bike checked out, brush up on your cycling skills, or go on a ‘social ride’ around the local area? The council’s running a series of events at Hornfair Park on the 3rd Sunday of the month, with the next sessions taking place tomorrow (15th May). More info and booking for the cycling skills session and social ride can be found here: http://royalgreenwich.gov.uk/bikedays.
As ever, we’d love to hear your feedback if you go along – tell us about it in the comments box below!