Greenwich Council deputy leader apologises to academy chain over Sherington letter

David Gardner
David Gardner on a recent visit to Charlton Manor School (photo:

Charlton Champion exclusive: Greenwich Council deputy leader David Gardner has apologised to the academy chain hoping to run a Charlton primary school after criticising it in a letter issued to parents.

Sherington Primary School is in talks with Leigh Academies Trust about becoming joining its academy chain, which includes 18 schools across south-east London and Kent.

Earlier this month, parents at the highly-regarded school were handed letters from Gardner, which criticised the chain’s academic record. The letter was also published on The Charlton Champion.

But now Gardner, who is cabinet member for education, has backtracked on his criticism, with Greenwich Council saying “the words … could have been better chosen”.

In the letter, Gardner told parents that Greenwich had a strong record in running primary schools and there was “no pot of gold at the end of the academy rainbow”. He also criticised the high salaries paid to the chief executives and directors of academy chains, taken from a 5-10% “top slicing” of school budgets going towards their central funds, adding that Greenwich schools only paid 1% into central funds.

He also said: “Leigh Academy Trust does not have a good record. Its two secondary schools in Greenwich are among the worst performers and their primary record outside the borough does not match Greenwich’s performance.”

Leigh runs two Greenwich schools for which results are available – a third, Leigh Academy Blackheath, opened in Woolwich in September, and plans to eventually occupy the former Blackheath Bluecoat School site close to Sherington.

The first Leigh school, Stationers’ Crown Woods Academy in Eltham, has a Progress 8 – a measure of children’s progress between the ages of 11 and 16 – rating of “well below average”. But it has only run its second school, Halley Academy – the former Kidbrooke comprehensive school – since March 2018. Before that, it was known as Corelli College, and had also scored “well below average”.

Apologised to Leigh

Sherington Primary School
Sherington is a highly-regarded primary school

A Greenwich Council spokesperson told The Charlton Champion: “Cllr Gardner has played an active role supporting Sherington parents and staff wishing to remain as an outstanding community school. In this respect he has made some comments about comparative performance with an academy trust in Full Council and at a public meeting. He was asked to supply the thrust of his speech to parents which was then circulated.

“On reflection, Cllr Gardner realised the words used in the letter of what he said at the public meeting should have been better chosen and apologised himself to the Leigh MAT [multi -academy trust] accordingly. The main issue being that Leigh acquired The Halley Academy on 1 March 2018 (the former Corelli Academy). GCSE results for Corelli College in 2018 belong to the former Trust which operated the school and not Leigh.

“Further, the council recognise that Leigh has made a real effort to turn around Halley this year to improve the outcomes and life chances for our young people at that school. It also recognises the successful launch of Leigh Academy Blackheath which is already proving to be a popular local choice for parents.”

The council did not comment on whether Leigh Academies Trust had complained about Gardner’s statement. The trust itself has not responded to a request for comment from The Charlton Champion.

Strains inside Greenwich Council

While Greenwich Council’s Labour administration has sought to present a united front over academisation, Gardner’s apology highlights the strains between different factions within the Labour group over the issue.

Councillors and members on the left of the party are fiercely opposed to schools being taken out of local authority control and handed to academy chains that are directly funded by central government, and want the council to do more to oppose the likes of Sherington and John Roan schools becoming academies.

But the council’s leadership, which is on the right of the party, has attempted to build bridges with the chains while criticising the government’s policy of forcing “failing” schools to become academies.

Left-leaning members accuse the council of privately backing academies. A letter written by Gardner’s predecessor Miranda Williams to school governors in 2016 stated the council “has a pragmatic view on academies” and that schools “have benefited from the capacity created by school partnerships”. But last month, the council voed to “resist further academisation”.

Gardner, who fits in neither camp, has attempted to bridge the two positions in what is widely regarded as an extremely difficult role.

Campaigners against the potential academisation of Sherington primary school delivered a petition to the school governors on Monday

Parents at Sherington are fearing strikes as the row over possible academisation escalates. It was revealed in September that the school was talking to the Leigh and Compass academy trusts about joining them, and Rochester-based Leigh is now seen as the likely choice.

Teachers have already written to its governing body outlining their concerns at plans for the school to explore joining Leigh.

A mile away at John Roan secondary school in Blackheath, which faces becoming part of the University Schools Trust chain after a poor Ofsted rating, pupils have already lost two days of education because of industrial action, although plans for three more were called off last week.


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Woolwich Road roundabout ‘not fit for humans’, council deputy leader says

Woolwich Road roundabout
Edgaras Cepura died at the roundabout in May this year

East Greenwich’s infamous Woolwich Road roundabout, where a cyclist was killed earlier this year, is “not fit for humans”, according to a top councillor.

The junction of the A206 and A102, just west of Charlton, has been the centre of campaigns for cycle safety this year and the leader of Greenwich Council was quizzed on it last night.

Three cyclists died in the space of three weeks in south-east London earlier this year, with the third being Edgaras Cepura at the roundabout on 18 May.

Campaigners and councillors have criticised the junction for being notoriously dangerous for cyclists.

Council leader Danny Thorpe told a Q&A meeting at Woolwich Town Hall: “In relation to the tragic deaths of a number of cyclists over the last year particularly at the roundabout we held a visit with TfL and officers because its a very hard thing to resolve on your own.

“We don’t control all the infrastructure around there but we have to make sure there are changes because it is one of the most horrendous places to be if you’re on foot or bike.”

The council has carried out some safety improvements such as road markings but the road is under the control of Transport for London.

‘Awful roundabout’

It comes as London mayor Sadiq Khan revealed designs for the roundabout are being brought forward.

He told City Hall last month that TfL was working with the council on designs and funding to improve the roundabout “as soon as possible” ahead of a larger scheme of the cycle superhighway.

Cllr Thorpe added: “We have been lobbying hard to make sure a cycle superhighway is extended from Greenwich down to Woolwich too. In this area there is such enormous potential and demand we need to tap into.”

It comes as a wider plan for safety schemes was passed at a cabinet meeting last week.

Deputy leader Cllr David Gardner said: “That is an awful roundabout, it is not built on a human scale. It’s not built for human beings, it needs drastic surgery to make it safe.”

LDRS logoTom 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. Find out more about why we are part of the scheme.

Charlton Athletic crisis: ‘Pay your staff their bonuses’, council leader tells owner Duchâtelet

The Valley
Fans are planning a protest at The Valley on Saturday

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.

Fan group CARD (Coalition Against Roland Duchâtelet) has organised a protest in The Valley’s car park at 2.15pm on Saturday ahead of the match against Fleetwood Town – past protests have resulted in matches being disrupted. In 2016, a match against Coventry City was halted after plastic pigs were thrown onto the pitch.

Danny Thorpe has written to Duchâtelet today to urge him to “do the right thing” and cough up.

“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.

Today’s Evening Standard reports that a staff member was even told to ask permission to eat crisps while at work because Duchâtelet wanted to save money on cleaning costs.

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.

18 months on, work has halted at the training ground.

The council has close relations with the Charlton Athletic Community Trust, a separate body from the football club.

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Conservation in Charlton Cemetery: Why the long grass matters

Charlton cemetery before…
…and after strimming. Photos © Joe Beale

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.

Charlton cemetery. Photo © Joe Beale

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.

Charlton cemetery. Photo © Joe Beale

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.

Sutton Shopper
The story in a south London newspaper that changed Greenwich Council’s policy on Charlton Cemetery… for the worse

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.

This is a Gatekeeper in Charlton cemetery. Photo © Joe Beale

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.

A Brown Argus in Charlton cemetery. Photo © Joe Beale

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.

All photos provided were taken on site.

Joe’s blog covers wildlife in Greenwich borough and beyond; you can find him on Twitter, too: @Joe_beale. To contact local councillors about Charlton Cemetery, visit or contact the cemeteries team directly.

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Greenwich Council set to sell The Heights parking spaces to ‘compact homes’ developer

The Heights
The plot of land sits above The Valley and Sam Bartram House

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.

The Heights
The entrance to the site from The Heights

The Heights
The land between The Heights and Sam Bartram House is contaminated

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.

The proposal has been criticised because of the small size of Pocket’s homes, and the fact the council had opted to sell to a private firm rather than Meridian Home Start, the company it set up to deliver housing at 65% of market rents. Neither criticism was directly addressed in the meeting.

The Heights
Residents currently use the land for car parking and recycling

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 October, Greenwich councillors approved plans to build 37 new homes at nearby Fred Styles House, on Charlton Church Lane, a scheme that was later switched to Meridian Home Start.

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Charlton Riverside gains two new conservation areas

Cory boatyard, Charlton
The Cory boatyard is now in a conservation area

Greenwich Council’s cabinet has approved two new conservation areas around Charlton Riverside, which it hopes will preserve the area’s historic character as it prepares for huge redevelopment schemes.

One area includes the old Cory boatyards, the Anchor & Hope pub, Atlas and Derrick Gardens and Stone Foundries. The other, Barrier and Bowater, includes remnants of the old Siemens plant, the Thames Barrier, housing on Woolwich Road, the old Clancy’s pub and part of Maryon Park.

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.

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  • Vote for Charlton’s Big Red Bus Club to get new windows from council fund

    The Big Red Bus Club
    “We need new windows!”

    Charlton’s Big Red Bus Club children’s centre wants your backing in a council-run vote to get £8,000 to replace its windows.

    Residents in most of Charlton are eligible to vote in the poll in how to spend the Greenwich Neighbourhood Growth Fund, which is money taken from a levy the council has to charge on developers.

    Greenwich councillors decided last year to divide the borough into four areas, which would hold their own online votes on how to spend the money. Most of Charlton has been grouped with Woolwich and Kidbrooke for these votes.

    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.

    To vote, you need to open an account on the council website – – then once that’s one, vote at, picking area three.

    Council website typo

    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