Greenwich Council’s leader has stepped into the crisis engulfing Charlton Athletic, writing to the football club’s owner Roland Duchâtelet urging him to pay staff the bonuses they have earned.
Backroom staff at The Valley and at the club’s training ground in Sparrows Lane, Eltham – many of whom are poorly-paid and work long hours on matchdays – have been told by the Belgian electronics magnate that they will not be receiving promised performance bonus payments because the club is in financial trouble.
Staff are considering legal action against Duchâtelet, whose four-year tenure at the club has seen the team relegated to League One amid a backdrop of instability, with a huge drop in income with the loss of TV rights money and fans staying away from The Valley.
“There is a huge groundswell of concern over this issue and is is a testament to the strong feelings… that so many fans are set to take part in a protest which could disrupt the match on Saturday,” he said.
He added that the club was “a source of great pride” in Greenwich borough.
A promised takeover of the club has, after many months, still not materialised, and Duchâtelet has instigated a cost-cutting regime, including denying academy players bottled water, cutting the use of electricity and taping up paper dispensers in toilets.
Thorpe’s intervention is the first time the council has got involved in the long-running saga at Charlton, although local MP Matt Pennycook has written to Sports Minister Tracey Crouch and the English Football League about the issue.
Two years ago, Thorpe’s predecessor Denise Hyland refused a request from a fan to talk to Duchâtelet about fans’ worries about the club’s future. The following year she even took part in a photocall with Eltham MP Clive Efford and Duchâtelet’s former chief executive to promote the redevelopment of the club’s training ground.
Last month, a south London newspaper ran a story claiming the long grass surrounding the graves in Charlton Cemetery was “disrespectful”. Ecologist and Charlton Champion reader JOE BEALE explains why the grass in the cemetery should be kept long, and explains what you can do to encourage Greenwich Council to maintain this space for the benefit of wildlife and biodiversity.
In early July, I visited Charlton Cemetery. I was immediately impressed – whilst the majority of the site was the usual short-cropped lawn, there was a beautiful section where long grass had been deliberately left and wildflowers studded the sward with colour. Small signs explained that this had been done for enhancing biodiversity. Knapweed, Lady’s Bedstraw, Bird’s-foot trefoil, Ragwort and Creeping Cinquefoil were amongst the most prominent wildflowers, with a soundtrack of chirping grasshoppers.
The next thing to catch my eye was the superb number of butterflies: over two brief visits I found ten species, including 120+ Gatekeepers, the classic southern hedgerow and grassland butterfly, on the second visit. Amongst these were plenty of Meadow Browns and, every now and again, jewel-like Small Coppers and Common Blues.
Another one of the “blue” family, the diminutive Brown Argus was a nice find – their upperwings are chocolate-brown with bright orange markings. It wasn’t just the butterflies of course, though these were the most distracting: a good variety of bees were busying, dark green and scarlet Six-spot Burnet moths buzzed between the flowerheads, Swifts trawled the air above and a Kestrel hunted in the long grass.
Happy with my visit and believing in giving credit where it’s due, I tweeted some images and a thumbs up to the Royal Borough of Greenwich for this enlightened approach. My “This is what we want!” tweet was liked by over 280 people and retweeted 80 times including by broadcaster Chris Packham, so by my humble terms I was quite chuffed.
In the meantime, I was told some worrying information that, due to a complaint that had reached local media, much of this conservation area was now being strimmed.
I spoke to a representative of the Parks and Open Spaces team who confirmed this. Apparently someone had thought it was being neglected and had interpreted the long grass as somehow being disrespectful to the graves.
The council had reacted by giving up on much of the conservation area. My view would have been entirely the opposite –if managed well, nature’s gentle colours and movement in would surely be a fitting way to mark a quiet place of rest and reflection, which at any rate was just one small part of the large cemetery. The news wasn’t all bad, though – the original core area had been retained, thankfully, but a lot of the recent areas that had been extended to become conservation areas were now strimmed back to lawn. While conservation areas such as this do need maintaining, strimming is much better in late summer/early autumn once the flowers have set seed and many of the insects have finished.
Apart from the fact that butterflies, bees and wildflowers are pleasant to see, this story raises other concerns. Firstly, UK biodiversity is in serious trouble and unless we change things we’re going to keep losing more and more of our beleaguered wildlife.
The charity Buglife is pressing councils to keep road verges and other green spaces for wildflowers and bees which will help our pollinating insects and others as well as saving maintenance costs. According to Butterfly Conservation the commonest butterfly on site, the Gatekeeper, is in decline – as is the Small Copper. In fact, Charlton cemetery had more Gatekeepers than any other I’ve visited in Greenwich borough this year. Kestrels too have declined nationally.
These little sites are vital oases for wildlife in an increasingly concreted and chemical-saturated environment and, for people, seeing wildlife has been shown to be beneficial to mental health by reducing stress, fatigue, depression and anxiety according to the Wildlife Trusts and many others. But as we “tidy up” more and more, it’s death by a thousand cuts for some of our most beautiful and beneficial species as we seek a uniform blandness.
This can’t continue – the countryside is experiencing massive losses of insects and birds due to intensive agriculture and habitat loss, while urban areas often contain surprisingly important refuges. As we build on open spaces and concrete over gardens we must at least strive to do something proactive for biodiversity with our public green spaces.
It is a cemetery, and of course, there are sensitivities involved. What worried me was that Greenwich Council had responded to a vocal complainer but had not heard the many people who thought the biodiversity approach was wonderful.
Having asked the Parks and Open Spaces team about how they were thinking to resolve this, they told me they were already looking at less contentious parts of the cemetery to replace the conservation areas lost. This is good news, but it is hoped that the council will be able to stand up to the inevitable few who want a neat and tidy approach across the whole site.
We are only human, we all get set in certain ways of thinking about what’s right and wrong at times and changes can be difficult, but it can and should still be done if done sensitively and for good reasons. The vast majority of the cemetery will remain neat lawn anyway. More generally, the council is now starting to acknowledge the national drive for helping biodiversity and the benefits this brings people and wildlife – and even the council’s purse.
This is where the public can help, by encouraging their efforts and showing that it is popular – through tagging @Royal_Greenwich in tweets and writing emails to express support for work they’ve done.
All too often councils only get complaints, but these may not be representative of wider public opinion.
If you can, visit the remaining conservation area at the cemetery during butterfly season and spend a few minutes taking in the sights and sounds. If you have a nice walk there, or in any Greenwich Council-maintained green space that’s been part-managed for biodiversity, let them know and let others know the joy it brought you! Let others know that an exquisite azure butterfly amongst the straw-coloured grass made you forget your stressful day for a few moments, or that a hovering Kestrel brought back happy memories of a childhood holiday.
Let’s hope the new conservation areas in the less sensitive areas of the cemetery will be a good compromise for all and, with clear illustrated signs, visitors will realise this is not some kind of neglect but a much-needed, active policy to help our struggling wildlife.
Greenwich councillors have voted to sell car parking spaces at The Heights to a private developer, promising to invest the proceeds in new council housing.
The small plot of land, which overlooks The Valley, will be sold to developer Pocket Living, subject to a consultation with council tenants who live nearby.
Pocket believes it can build 45 one-bedroom flats in a four-storey building.
Greenwich Council’s cabinet also voted to sell two other plots of land to the same company – one off Kidbrooke Park Road and the other on the Orchard Estate in Lewisham, providing 151 one-bedroom flats across the three sites.
The developer, which specialises in “affordable compact homes for first time buyers”, will sell the homes to Greenwich residents at a 20% discount, with a covenant in place to ensure they cannot be sold for a year after purchase. No parking permits will be issued to buyers.
80% of the proceeds from the sale will go into new council housing, with the remainder being used to improve the immediate area in the housing estates affected.
Regeneration director Pippa Hack, the senior council officer in charge of the scheme, said developing all three sites would deliver between £100,000 and £130,000 in council tax receipts.
“All the homes will be for sale to people who live or work in the borough, and 70% of buyers who buy through Pocket have incomes of up to £40,000. They will be sold at 20% discount compared to the local market, there will be a restrictive covenant that secures the properties in perpetuity, so there will be no sub-letting or no sales in year one,” she added.
Asked by deputy leader David Gardner what the council would do if the consultation revealed significant opposition to the scheme, Hack said officers would need to judge if the concerns outweighed the benefits of the scheme.
Cabinet member Averil Lekau added: “It seems obvious to me that you will listen to the views of residents and you will weigh that up. We would never say we would go to consultation unless it was meaningful.”
Leader Danny Thorpe said: “There have been some comments online about these particular schemes and our decision to dispose of the land; I would point out that on The Heights in Charlton, that is actually contaminated land that we are looking to dispose of; and while I appreciate that there have been some concerns about that, we have to address the housing crisis in any way we can.
“The land we are looking at here is land that we haven’t been able to make the best use of as an authority, so that conversation with residents will hopefully be a positive one when we explain what we’re doing.
“And also, we can utilise some money directly for us to build our own homes, council homes at social rents. It won’t provide us with the funds to provide all the homes we need, but it will provide us with some. And we have to start somewhere.”
One resident of the housing opposite The Heights plot was unaware of the scheme when The Charlton Champion visited the site on Wednesday. When told what the council was planning, she responded: “What? But we need that for our car parking!”
Last week’s cabinet meeting heard from local residents, and senior planner Victoria Geoghegan said the decision would “bring a positive approach to placemaking”.
Council leader Denise Hyland said: “We’ve got eight and a half miles of riverfront, and we have to celebrate that and look after that waterfront.”
Woolwich Riverside councillor John Fahy has previously reported on his Facebook page that council planners had come under pressure from a developer to abandon the idea because of the cost of maintaining the buildings.
The only Charlton project in this round of voting is for the Big Red Bus Club, the free children’s play centre in Charlton Park.
It wants £8,400 to install new windows: “The project aims to replace windows at Charlton Under-5s Play Centre and refurbish the locks of the metal security grate, bringing both into use after decades of disrepair. It is currently home to the Big Red Bus Club, a family wellbeing centre that runs a range of free services for local families.”
The other projects in the vote are Greenwich and Lewisham Youth Theatre, based in the Royal Arsenal, and a digital inclusion programme on the Woolwich Common Estate.
Please note: it’s definitely windows they’re replacing. Windows.
Live in Peninsula ward? One quirk of this scheme is that if you live in Peninsula ward (north of the railway line and west of Ransom Walk), you’re included in Greenwich and Blackheath’s vote.
Projects very near Charlton vying for your vote in that poll include a digital inclusion programme at Mycenae House, an equipment upgrade at the Blackheath Westcombe Autism Support project based at the Montessori school on Westcombe Hill, a pond-dipping platform at the Greenwich Peninsula Ecology Park, and new outdoor play equipment for The Bridge play centre in East Greenwich Pleasance. More at www.royalgreenwich.gov.uk/growthfund.
Plans for 37 new council homes to replace a 1980s sheltered housing block behind Charlton Village were backed by Greenwich Council’s main planning committee last night.
The council’s Planning Board endorsed the scheme by three votes to one, with two abstentions, after concerns were raised about the way the council had gone about consulting people who live next to Fred Styles House, which faces demolition.
The block will be replaced by three 1-bedroom and five 2-bedroom flats, along with 16 one-bedroom, seven 2-bedroom and six 3-bedroom houses, all for social rent.
While the current block only allows access to Charlton Church Lane through a gate, the new scheme will see two pedestrian walkways linking it with Fletching Road, which runs behind The Village.
Residents of the homes that surround Fred Styles House have voiced concerns that turning their area into a pedestrian thoroughfare will lead to an increase in crime.
One resident, who lives next door to the proposed development, told councillors she only found out last week that the development would come right up against the side of her house – building over a path she uses to access her front garden, particularly when emptying bins.
Another complained that construction of three one-bedroom flats would block out daylight and lead to two homes being “enclosed like caves”, while one objector said residents’ questions had been met with “stock answers, don’t knows or ‘we’ll get back to you'”.
One of the architects behind the new development told the meeting that he wanted the site to feel “much more villagey” with a “traditional approach to housing”. His aim was to create “a little neighbourhood”.
Several councillors indicated they were unhappy with the way the residents had been consulted. Council deputy leader Danny Thorpe said there was “potential for an off-line discussion” about giving existing residents communal bins to ease the problems caused by losing space near their homes. Kidbrooke with Hornfair councillor Norman Adams voiced concerns about the homes having flat roofs so close to a conservation area.
Planning chair Mark James said he backed the scheme but wanted the applicant – the council – to “engage further” with residents, adding that open walkways actually reduced the risk of crime.
The council was spared the embarrassment of seeing its own housing proposal thrown out, with three councillors – James, Thorpe, and Mark Elliott – backing the scheme to one – Clive Mardner – against. Two – Adams and Geoff Brighty – abstained.
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.