London mayor Sadiq Khan is pressing ahead with plans to cut bus route 53, which links Charlton with central London, despite widespread opposition from local councils and MPs.
The 53 will be cut back to run from Plumstead to County Hall from June 15, and will only run to Whitehall for night services, which will be renumbered N53. Day services will also be cut from every seven and a half minutes to every eight minutes.
The proposals have gone ahead despite opposition from Greenwich, Lewisham and Southwark councils, and local MPs Matt Pennycook, Teresa Pearce and Clive Efford, and a 1,900-signature petition from local bus users.
Pennycook said: “I’m extremely disappointed that they have chosen to press ahead with cuts to the 53 bus service despite the significant local opposition that was expressed.”
He said he would press TfL for guarantees that passengers would not have to pay twice for their journeys to central London – many 53 journeys last over an hour, meaning Khan’s “hopper” fare would not apply for passengers changing near the end of the truncated route.
The cut to the 53 was first revealed on this website last year. It is part of a larger programme of cutbacks to bus services, particularly in central London, to address a fall in ridership and TfL’s financial problems. The mayor’s transport agency had its funding cut by Evening Standard editor George Osborne when he was chancellor, while coffers are also being drained by Khan’s partial fare freeze and delays to Crossrail.
But while south-east London – with few Tube services – gets hit by the cut to route 53 as well as a separate cutback to route 171, which serves New Cross and Brockley, proposals for four cuts in central London, including routes along the King’s Road in Chelsea, have been abandoned.
Greenwich & Woolwich MP Matt Pennycook and Greenwich Council leader Danny Thorpe have hit out at Network Rail’s plans to close the Angerstein Wharf foot crossing, used by hundreds of Charlton residents each day.
The historic crossing, one of the last left in London, enables people who live near Fairthorn Road – which has seen new homes built in recent years – to reach Westcombe Park station.
It crosses a small railway branch, opened in 1851, used by aggregates trains heading to and from Angerstein Wharf. The crossing, which marks the modern-day point where Charlton becomes east Greenwich, was originally built for workers on the nearby Combe Farm, which occupied land at the foot of Westcombe Hill.
Residents only found out a few days ago that Network Rail planned to close the crossing permanently in letters sent to neighbours, which said that major upgrade work on the line would be carried out next week and the crossing fenced off.
One neighbour has attached a hand-written sign to the crossing, warning of the closure, adding in ballpoint pen: “Network Rail weren’t going to tell you.”
Network Rail’s regional press office has not responded to an enquiry The Charlton Champion sent on Monday asking it to clarify its plans.
Council leader Thorpe told a resident on Twitter this morning that Network Rail had “not followed any proper process or engaged people and this is clearly not acceptable. We have contacted them to advise of such and expect them to stop pending a proper consultation”.
A council spokesperson told The Charlton Champion: “The pedestrian crossing serves as an essential link between both sides of the railway line and has been in place, and in good use, for over 100 years.
“Whilst we recognise the attempt to improve safety and reduce pedestrian access to railway lines, we object to the closure unless full details are provided and a suitable alternative is provided.
“The crossing cannot be closed without consultation and a formal legal process. We were not made aware of the proposed works, which we should have been.
“We have written to Network Rail to request postponing the crossing closure until alternative options explored and until much better publicity has been issued locally. We will also be taking advice about enforcement options.”
In recent years Network Rail has closed many foot crossings on railway lines for safety concerns. The only other crossing left like it in London is in Hanwell, west London, on another freight line which serves the river.
Many of these homes overlook the Greenwich railway line and are within sight of Westcombe Park station, but no provision was made to improve access to the station with residents left to depend on the foot crossing.
Footpaths have less legal protection in inner London than in the rest of England. In the 2000s, a developer built housing – now called Bellfield Close – between Charlton Road and Old Dover Road, permanently blocking a path which had only been designated a cycle route a few years before.
London mayor Sadiq Khan took control of the planning application in August, weeks after Greenwich Council’s main planning committee threw out the proposed development, and a public hearing at City Hall is due to take place on 29 January.
Neighbours in Atlas and Derrick Gardens had complained that the development – likely to be the first development on the Charlton Riverside to get planning approval, albeit from Khan rather than the council – would loom over their homes, while Greenwich’s planning chair Sarah Merrill called it “reminiscent of Stalingrad”.
While the plans have been altered to reduce the impact on the two cul-de-sacs, Pennycook says in a letter to Khan’s planning team that more needs to be done to make the scheme acceptable.
Rockwell is holding two brief exhibitions this weekend about the proposals from 9am to 11am today and tomorrow at the Anchor & Hope pub, while comments about the scheme need to be sent to VIPtradingestate[at]london.gov.uk by Monday to be considered by the mayor’s team.
Pennycook says the scheme remains too dense and should be cut from a maximum of 10 storeys to six storeys, while it also needs more family-sized homes. He also calls the design “sterile and monotonous”, and says there needs to be a cut in car parking.
“If approved, this application would constitute the first major development within the Charlton Riverside masterplan area and would set a clear precedent for all other developments that would follow,” he said. “That is why I have always argued that it is critical that we get this development right.”
“The masterplan stresses that the development of Charlton Riverside requires a very different approach to that taken in other parts of the borough, such as Greenwich Peninsula. Yet in too many respects, this revised application is at odds with the spirit of that masterplan.
“I continue to support development on Charlton Riverside but I urge the mayor to refrain from approving the application until the applicant is persuaded to bring forward further amendments along the lines I have suggested.”
Greenwich & Woolwich MP Matt Pennycook has told the developers behind controversial plans to build 771 homes off Anchor & Hope Lane that they should respect the masterplan developed for Charlton Riverside – and build more affordable housing.
Pennycook spoke out days after London mayor Sadiq Khan blocked Greenwich Council’s refusal of the scheme by developer Rockwell to build five 10-storey blocks and other buildings on land surrounding Atlas and Derrick Gardens.
The mayor, who has designated Charlton Riverside an “opportunity area” for development, will now decide whether or not the plan goes ahead.
Khan’s decision came with criticism of Greenwich Council for not allowing enough “affordable” housing in recent years – Rockwell’s scheme would have 32.4% “affordable” housing.
Local businesses have also voiced fears that they will have to move or close, saying the new development’s residents will not want them as neighbours.
Pennycook said on his Facebook page that Rockwell needed to be making the blocks smaller and providing more “affordable’ homes.
He wrote: “I fully understand the pressure the Mayor is under to build more homes in London as the market falters, I’m deeply disappointed that City Hall have chosen not to back Greenwich Council and stand behind the local community’s very strong objections to the proposed scheme.
“I will of course look carefully at any modifications that the Mayor is able to secure over the coming weeks/months and I trust that there will be extensive consultation with local residents and community groups as well as with the developer.
“However, City Hall must appreciate that there is a very strong feeling locally that we not compromise on the vision set out in the 2017 Charlton Riverside masterplan.
“That is why it’s crucial that development across the entire Charlton Riverside opportunity area, including any modified proposals from Rockwell, respect the vision of an exemplary urban district set out in that masterplan document.
“For Rockwell’s site that means not only a higher level of affordable housing, and a modified dwelling mix, but also reductions in the proposed height of buildings. If that requires reductions in the total number of units then, in my view, that’s what needs to happen.”
While the Charlton Riverside masterplan does not rule out 10-storey blocks, it says they should be an exception, preferring to see buildings of between three and six storeys.
Khan’s letter to Greenwich Council announcing he was taking over the planning process said the Rockwell scheme “has potential to make an important contribution to housing and affordable housing supply”.
Pennycook’s intervention was greeted with scepticism by journalist Paul Wellman, who tracks London’s developers for Estates Gazette. “Want more affordable housing? Generally the compromise is more private and greater heights. The below scenario is hugely unachievable,” he tweeted.
Want more affordable housing? Generally the compromise is more private and greater heights. The below scenario is hugely unachievable. https://t.co/m9U40BcKhh
Hounslow had refused a scheme with 421 homes, including 40% “affordable”, citing the possible effect on nearby Kew Gardens. But Khan approved a revised scheme with 50% “affordable” housing and 441 homes.
Khan said: “This scheme shows how we can unlock the potential of an underused site to build more of the genuinely affordable homes Londoners so urgently need. I’m clear that to fix the capital’s housing crisis Government must play its part, but we can make a difference now by ensuring developments include more genuinely affordable housing.
“I am committed to using the full strength of my planning powers to get London building more affordable homes.
“This is another important step as we work towards my long-term strategic goal for 50 per cent of housing in all new developments across the city to be social rented and other genuinely affordable homes for Londoners.”
Greenwich & Woolwich MP Matt Pennycook says “leadership” is needed to deal with dangerous levels of air quality in the area after a community study found illegal levels of pollution outside a primary school.
The study from the Valley Hill Hub group, conducted in October 2017 and released last week, shows nitrogen dioxide pollution of 70.2 microgrammes per cubic metre outside Windrush Primary School on Woolwich Road – well above the legal limit of 40µg/m3.
Official levels are recorded over 12 months, but the Valley Hill hub study provides a snapshot that is consistent with figures recorded in recent years by campaign and residents groups such as No to Silvertown Tunnel and the Charlton Central Residents Association, as well as Greenwich Council’s own readings.
The worst level of pollution in the study, which covered an area between The Valley and Little Heath was found at the bus stop at the foot of Charlton Lane (77.5μg/m3), while Charlton Village opposite the White Swan recorded 49.5μg/m3.
Away from main roads, the roundabout at the Charlton Lane/Thorntree Road junction recorded a not-illegal but still harmful 36.5μg/m3. The lowest level was 22.8μg/m3, recorded in the middle of Maryon Wilson Park.
The study was funded by Greenwich Council’s ward budget programme after the Valley Hill Hub found that much of its area was not covered by the council’s own air pollution monitoring scheme.
Volunteers placed tubes on lamp posts and left them up for four weeks before sending them to a lab for analysis.
‘Results are extremely concerning’
Pennycook said: “The results of the Valley Hill Hub monitor project are extremely concerning. They provide yet more evidence of what is beyond doubt a public health crisis.
“No one is immune from the impact of toxins present in the air we breathe, but air pollution disproportionately affects the most vulnerable among us including young children attending Pound Park Nursery, Thorntree Primary School and Windrush Primary School.
“We need leadership at all levels if we’re to reduce pollution and improve air quality across London.”
‘Greater priority needed for traffic reduction’
The study was conducted with Network for Clean Air, which has worked with other local groups in examining pollution in their own neighbourhoods, as well as No to Silvertown Tunnel in looking at the issue across south-east London.
Its co-ordinator Andrew Wood said: “The air pollution monitoring done by Valley Hill Hub showed levels of air pollution much higher than the annual permitted legal limit beside Windrush Primary School on the Woolwich Road, and near the limit at Kinveachy Gardens too.
“The local authority should undertake continuous monitoring at these sites, and action is needed to reduce emissions from buses and traffic. Greater priority is needed for cycling and traffic reduction in the Charlton area.”
Furthermore, council-backed plans for the Silvertown Tunnel, the recent expansion of Charlton’s retail parks and the under-construction Greenwich Ikea have heightened fears that pollution will only get worse with more traffic coming through and to the area.
At a London-wide level, some measures have been taken to clean up the bus fleet – particularly on services running through the congestion charge zone – but the Greenwich, Charlton and Woolwich areas have been overlooked for “clean bus zones“, although they will benefit routes that run through Lewisham and New Cross.
At present, most of the area is represented by Labour’s Matt Pennycook as part of Greenwich & Woolwich, with a small area to the south of Charlton Park – the area in the Kidbrooke with Hornfair ward – coming under Clive Efford’s Eltham constituency.
Peninsula ward, which covers the area of SE7 north of the railway line and west of Ransom Walk, would go into a Greenwich & Deptford seat stretching to the New Cross, Brockley and Lee Green wards of Lewisham borough.
Meanwhile, Charlton ward itself, along with Woolwich Riverside, gets parcelled off into a “Woolwich” seat which includes the western half of Thamesmead, but reaches down into Bexleyheath (or, strictly speaking, the St Michael’s ward of Bexley borough).
Oddly, this seat splits Woolwich too, with the Woolwich Common ward joining Kidbrooke with Hornfair in an enlarged Eltham seat.
It’s hard to see the links between the two ends of the “Woolwich” seat, although bus users may note that it roughly follows the line of route 422.