Have your say: TfL confirms 53 bus cutback – and it’ll be less frequent, too

Route 53 bus in Whitehall
Route 53 at Whitehall: It won’t go here again if TfL has its way

Transport for London has confirmed its plans to cut the 53 bus back to County Hall – and will make it less frequent too under new plans out for consultation today.

Plans to withdraw the 53, a lifeline for thousands of local workers, between County Hall and Whitehall were leaked last month. Now TfL is asking passengers what they think of the plans.

One aspect not previously highlighted in the leaked plans is that TfL plans to cut the 53 back to every eight minutes. TfL says it currently runs every seven-and-a-half minutes, but the full timetable shows it runs as frequently as every five minutes around 6am, when the service is heavily used.

The cut to the 53 – which runs from Plumstead via Woolwich, Charlton, Blackheath, Deptford, New Cross and the Old Kent Road to Whitehall – is part of 33 changes to routes in central London.

TfL, which is chaired by mayor Sadiq Khan, says: “The last time there was such a comprehensive review of the central London bus network was before the Congestion Charge was introduced. As a result there are some extremely complicated and inefficient sections of the road network. Some roads in central London, such as Kingsway in Holborn, are now served by more than 100 buses an hour, many of which are significantly underused. This oversupply of buses can cause congestion, slowing down journey times and worsening reliability, air quality and road safety.

“If no action is taken, GLA figures show that by 2041, three days would be lost per person every year due to congestion on London’s roads, and 50,000 hours would be lost to slower bus speeds in the morning peak every day.

“Passengers can now use the Mayor’s Hopper Fare to change buses unlimited times within an hour for just £1.50.”

A 7am journey on the 53 from Charlton Park School is timetabled to take one hour to reach Elephant & Castle, at 8am the journey takes 66 minutes.

The consultation can be filled in at: https://consultations.tfl.gov.uk/buses/16b1c48f/

‘Our plans will help reduce pollution’

Geoff Hobbs, Director of Public Transport Service Planning at TfL, said: “Buses have a crucial role to play in boosting the number of people using public transport, but they can’t do this without reflecting how London has changed. It is only right that we reassess the network after the significant changes in both London’s infrastructure and how Londoners choose to travel. Londoners expect their buses to be where they are needed and run in an efficient and cost-effective manner and that’s what this review is about.

“Our proposals to reorganise the bus network would modernise bus travel in London by matching capacity with demand, reducing bus-on-bus congestion while enabling year-on-year increases in bus services in outer London. In adapting underused and inefficient services in central London, our plans will help reduce pollution that has such a damaging effect on the health on Londoners.

“Ultimately these changes, which are predominately minor route restructures or timetable adjustments, would create an efficient modern network with buses in the right places at the right times.”

Greenwich & Woolwich MP Matt Pennycook has already labelled the cut as an attack on “working class constituents”.

He said: “As things stand in rush hour most 53 buses are frequently overcrowded by the time they get up the hill to Charlton.

“We need more frequent services on this route, not cuts to services.

“But my main concern is the impact on the large numbers of my constituents who get up at the crack of dawn to make the long journey into central London on the 53 to work low-paid jobs (if you think I’m exaggerating just catch one before 6.30am one morning and see for yourself).

“For them, the long journey on the 53 all the way to Whitehall is the only means of transport that is affordable into central London and it is therefore indispensable.

“As such, difficult to escape the conclusion that cuts to this service will punish my working-class constituents and at the very moment that a new Crossrail station is opened in Woolwich that will inevitably pile pressure onto our already over-stretched local transport network.

“So let me be as clear as I can possibly be: I will do absolutely everything in my power to fight cuts to the 53 bus service.”

The consultation into the 53 bus cut ends on 9 November.

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Charlton Riverside: Developer U+I plans to demolish former Siemens factory building

37 Bowater Road
37 Bowater Road is set for demolition under the developer’s plans (photo: Neil Clasper)

Developer U+I has revealed it wants to demolish one of the remaining Siemens cable factory buildings on the Charlton riverside as part of a plan to build shops, offices and up to 520 homes.

The property giant, which recently completed the Deptford Market Yard development, has asked Greenwich Council if it needs to carry out an environmental assessment into the plans to develop land, which covers two streets in the Westminster Industrial Estate on the Charlton/Woolwich border: Bowater Road and Faraday Way.

Until 1968, this was home to the giant Siemens cable works, and many of the buildings remain in place. Several of them have recently been given local listing status by Greenwich Council, which has created a conservation area. U+I wants to demolish one of them, 37 Bowater Road, and keep the others.

Charlton Riverside Masterplan
The masterplan backs riverside towers near the Thames Barrier

Just as with the recent Flint Glass Wharf proposal, this is in an area where 10-storey blocks have been permitted (see map above).

37 Bowater Road
37 Bowater Road is the building on the right of the new “missing link” cycle route

‘One of London’s largest factories’

A heritage assessment of the area commissioned by Greenwich Council says: “The south side of Bowater Road represents a step change in the scale of the works development from about 1911.

“The first building to be constructed is a much larger L-shaped building of 5 storeys plus basement was built for making rubber coated copper wire cable. It adopts new structural technologies, made possible by new regulations granted in the London Building Act of 1909, and employs a reinforced concrete frame beneath a Fletton brick shell.

“The adoption of new technologies made it possible to include much larger steel framed windows externally and wider spans between support columns internally, creating a lighter and clearer working environment overall.

37 Bowater Road. Photo: Neil Clasper

“The building was designed by Herbert and Helland, Siemens’ in-house architects. This was one of London’s largest factories when built and an early adopter of the new construction methods.

“The building has a matching extension of 1942, built at the height of the wartime production effort, after extensive bomb damage on the adjacent site must have placed extreme pressure on the works’ resources.” (You can read the rest in Chapters 3 and 4 here.)

The striking white building which runs along the north of the site, 18 Bowater Road, is proposed to be kept, although it is currently in poor condition. (See page 14 here for a map of the site.)

This is still a relatively early stage of the planning process, so no designs or details on “affordable” homes have yet been submitted.

37 Bowater Road
37 Bowater Road is on the left of this photo

For more details, and to comment on the proposal, search for 18/3148/EIA at planning.royalgreenwich.gov.uk.

See also From The Murky Depths‘ take on the scheme.

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Charlton and Woolwich Free Film Festival 2018: What’s on this year?

Journey's End (photo: Lionsgate Films)
Saul Dibb’s war drama Journey’s End will screen at Charlton House

This year’s Charlton and Woolwich Free Film Festival has revealed its line-up, with World War I drama Journey’s End leading the selection of movies being screened at Charlton House.

2018’s event, to be held between 7 and 15 September, sees a range of films being shown at venues across Charlton, Woolwich, Plumstead and Shooters Hill. There’s no charge – just turn up, and throw some coins in the bucket if you can help with the costs of putting it on.

Director Saul Dibb’s adaptation of RC Sherriff play Journey’s End will be on at Charlton House on Tuesday 11 September (7.30pm, doors 6.30pm). Written by a captain wounded at Passchendaele, it depicts a handful of British soldiers “waiting to be killed” in a trench near the end of World War I. Charlton House was used as a military hospital towards the end of the Great War, and historian Clive Harris will give a talk at 7pm about about the real-life events that inspired the production.

Charlton House also plays host to the festival’s third short film competition on Thursday 13 September (7.30pm, doors 7pm), which this year has the theme Diversity and Future. There’s a £500 prize waiting for the winner.

On Friday 14 September (7pm, doors 6.30pm) comedy The Dish rounds off Charlton House’s contribution to the festival. Set in 1969, Sam Neill plays an Australian sheep farmer who has to steer the satellite dish – and its eccentric crew – to bring the Apollo 11 moon landings to the world’s TV screens.

Woolwich’s big screen in General Gordon Square will open the festival on Friday 7 September with The Greatest Showman. and close it with Sister Act on Saturday 15 September (Update 5 September: Sister Act has been cancelled).

Severndroog Castle on Shooters Hill plays host to Young Frankenstein on Friday 14 September, while nearby Shrewsbury House Community Centre screens both Yellow Submarine and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.

Other highlights include Silver Linings Playbook at Stir Cafe in Anglesea Road, Woolwich and Do The Right Thing at ArtFix cafe, also in Woolwich.

For more on what’s on – and how to get involved – visit the Charlton and Woolwich Free Film Festival website.

The Charlton Champion provides news and information about issues and events in London SE7.
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Whitehall no more: TfL plans to cut bus route 53 back to County Hall

Bus route 53
Route 53 currently runs as far as Whitehall

Transport for London is planning to cut the 53 bus route back to County Hall as part of a huge swathe of cuts to services in the centre of the capital.

The 53, which runs from Plumstead, Woolwich, Charlton and Blackheath through Deptford, the Old Kent Road and Elephant & Castle to Whitehall would be cut back to County Hall from March 2019 under proposals to “reduce bus flows” across Westminster Bridge and along Whitehall.

The scheme affects routes from across London, and will also mean the 171 from Catford, Brockley and New Cross to Holborn being cut back to Elephant & Castle.

Transport for London’s proposals come as it battles financial worries after a complete cut in day-to-day government funding instituted by Evening Standard editor George Osborne when he was chancellor. It is also having to deal with a four-year fare freeze from mayor Sadiq Khan, and a fall in bus passenger numbers.

It has already planned to cut bus services between Greenwich and Woolwich by re-routing route 180 to North Greenwich station instead of Lewisham. There have also been a series of cuts to bus frequencies, especially on night services.

A consultation on these new proposals will come in mid-September.

The 53 proposal is likely to face stiff opposition. The service – which in its heyday ran as far north as Parliament Hill Fields and Camden Town – is the last remaining bus link to central London from Blackheath, Charlton, Woolwich and Plumstead, and terminating at County Hall will leave passengers needing to switch to another service.

It was last cut back in 2002, from Oxford Circus to Whitehall, with the 453 from Deptford Bridge picking up the slack.

But it has twice in recent years been temporarily cut back to Lambeth North because of roadworks.

A petition from The Charlton Society was launched at the time, followed by a Greenwich Council motion calling on TfL to restore the full route.

TfL is predicting falls in central London bus passengers once Crossrail opens in December – bus in the 53’s case, the Elizabeth Line will still be a bus ride away for many of its passengers.

Some industry insiders have speculated that TfL would like to cut the route even further, to the Elephant & Castle, but can’t do so because of a lack of space for buses to terminate.

(Updated 12.10pm Thursday) Transport for London told The Charlton Champion the proposals were still at an early stage and needed to be discussed with boroughs.

Director of public transport service planning Geoff Hobbs said: “Buses have a crucial role to play in boosting the number of people walking, cycling and using public transport.

“As set out in the Mayor’s Transport Strategy, we’re currently looking at how we can adjust and reorganise the bus network to ensure it reflects a rapidly changing London, including planning for year-on-year increases in bus kilometres in outer London. We need to modernise and simplify the network and ensure that bus capacity is in the right places at the right times.

“We’re currently working closely with London’s boroughs on a potential set of proposals and they are helping shape our plans. These changes will also be subject to full public consultation before they’re put in place so we can hear from customers.”

For full details of the bus service cuts, see the story on 853.

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Woolwich Common fire: Major blaze wrecks neglected open space

Woolwich Common
Residents have long complained about the neglect of Woolwich Common

Fire crews are damping down this evening after a major fire destroyed a large area of Woolwich Common, leading to road closures and a plume of smoke that could be seen for miles around.

Grass and shrubland the size of four football pitches towards the south of the common was alight at the height of the blaze, when 125 firefighters were tacking the incident. It was the second fire on the common in a week.

Land near the old Royal Military Academy on the east side of the common was still smouldering at 9.30pm this evening.

The fire brigade was called at 3.51pm, with the blaze brought under control at 8.06pm. Crews from across east and south London attended, with engines from as far away as Homerton and Shadwell seen at the scene.

London Fire Brigade said earlier this evening that 70 firefighters remain in place, and will be there for some hours yet making the area safe.

“Firefighters are using water jets and fire beaters to ensure this fire is out. We will be here for a number of hours damping the area down to ensure it can’t smoulder in the undergrowth and reignite.

“At the height of the fire large plumes of smoke were drifting across the area near to a hospital grounds and local roads. Firefighters worked extremely quickly is very difficult conditions on one of the hottest days of the year.

“London is tinder dry at the moment and a stray cigarette or even a glass bottle is enough to set a fire like this one. I can’t stress how important it is for smokers to really ensure cigarette butts and matches are out properly and never leave barbecues unattended.”

Woolwich Common
Woolwich Common
Woolwich Common
Woolwich Common fire

The common is controlled by the Ministry of Defence, which still uses it for military exercises, and residents have long complained about what they see the neglect of the open space.

Debris left behind by travellers who occupied part of the common in early June is still strewn across the land close to where the fire spread, six weeks after they departed.

Woolwich Common was used as a venue for the 2012 Olympics, which led the King’s Troop Royal Horse Artillery – whose barracks are just off the common – to use Charlton Park for its exercises. However, delays in restoring the common led to this temporary arrangement lasting for some years.

Comments are open below if you’d like to share your experiences of the fire or the management of the common.

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Thames Path ‘missing link’ is launched – with council hoping to open it all night

Cyclists on the Thames Path missing link
Cyclists and walkers gathered on Wednesday for the opening of the Thames Path’s ‘missing link’

The “missing link” on the Thames Path between Charlton and Woolwich opened on Wednesday – with Greenwich Council pledging to finish the job by trying to open it 24 hours a day.

After 15 years of lobbying by Greenwich Cyclists, the £1.5m route from the Thames Barrier in Charlton to King Henry’s Wharf in Woolwich was officially launched by London cycling and walking commissioner Will Norman and Greenwich Council cabinet member Denise Scott-McDonald.

Scott-McDonald, the cabinet member for public realm, told guests that while the connection – which passes through an industrial estate – would “initially” open from 6am to 9pm seven days a week, “our ambition is for it to open 24 hours a day, for everyone”.

The link uses a ramp to pass from the Thames Barrier site into the Westminster Industrial Estate – the old Siemens factory, which dominated the area before closing in 1968 – before passing Thames-Side Studios and the Arts Cafe. A second ramp at the end of Warspite Road then takes walkers and cyclists above the riverside before rejoining the existing Thames Path at King Henry’s Wharf.

Closures by developers aside, the completion of the “missing link” now means near-uninterrupted access to the Thames right through Greenwich borough from Deptford to Thamesmead and beyond, as well as improving cycle access to both North Greenwich tube and the forthcoming Woolwich Crossrail station.

Will Norman, who wheeled a bike through the link as part of the opening ceremony, said: “This really sits at the heart of what the mayor and his team are trying to do: to enable more people to be more active, to get out of their cars and actually enjoy exploring the city and finding new spots. Far more people can access this and use it as part of their daily lives.”

New signage indicates that the link will eventually be joined to Quietway 14, a cycling route which currently runs from Blackfriars Road to Canada Water station.

A Greenwich Council spokesperson told The Charlton Champion that signs directing users to “Greenwich Peninsular” would be corrected.

While the new route will be welcomed, actually getting to the Thames Path can be a challenge for cyclists – particularly crossing the Woolwich Road, which has seen plans for a segregated cycle lane – Cycle Superhighway 4 – dropped. Cyclist Edgaras Cepura was recently killed at the Woolwich Road roundabout in east Greenwich – nine years after Adrianna Skrzypiec died on her bike at the same spot.

Will Norman told The Charlton Champion that the A206 from Greenwich to Woolwich had been identified as one of the top 25 in London that needed action to make it better for cyclists – but that work on the Greenwich one-way system would come before the rest of the route.

Will Norman
Will Norman takes his bike along the “missing link”

He said: “CS4 was separated out under the previous administration into chunks, and the section from Greenwich to Woolwich was downgraded as part of that decision.

“We recently have been looking at the Liveable Neighbourhood programme, and working with the borough to address concerns around the [Greenwich] gyratory and making that safe, which as you know has millions of people coming to visit the Unesco world heritage site.

“Then clearly the next section is to work with the borough on the next part of the route, with borough officers and politicans and coming up with the best way to tackle that.” (See more at our sister site 853.)

Thames Path missing link crowd
Cyclists and walkers gathered for the openeing ceremony (Photo: Charlotte Brooke)

Fixing the missing link was one of the ambitions of campaigner Barry Mason, the former co-ordinator of Greenwich Cyclists and neighbouring Southwark Cyclists, who died in 2011.

Mason was well-known for leading a “midsummer madness” ride on 21 June each year, which would start from the Cutty Sark at 2am and arrive at Primrose Hill to see the sun rise on the longest day of the year.

The Charlton Champion provides news and information about issues and events in London SE7. Help us by telling us your stories – or buy the author a coffee.

Charlton and Woolwich’s Thames Path Missing Link finally due to open

Thames Path missing link
It’s coming… thanks to Paul Stollery for the photo

After years as a council pipedream, then a much-delayed period of planning and construction, the Thames Path’s “missing link” between the Thames Barrier in Charlton and King Henry’s Wharf in Woolwich will finally open next week.

Greenwich Council cabinet member Denise Scott-McDonald and City Hall walking and cycling commissioner Will Norman will open a link between the two sections of path on Wednesday 20 June at 3.30pm. (Want to go? Sign up here, and thanks to Greenwich Council for letting us know.)

Missing Link invite

The pathway – which includes a ramp from the Thames Barrier site into the adjacent industrial estate, and an elevated path at Warspite Road on the Woolwich side – will end years of aggravation for walkers and cyclists who have had to divert onto the unpleasant Woolwich Road when travelling along the Thames.

It also removes one of the few significant blockages of south-east London’s stretch of Thames Path – including an almost-interrupted riverside pathway (save for one or two blocks) through Greenwich borough from Deptford Green to Thamesmead – and makes it easier for people to cycle from riverside parts of Woolwich and Thamesmead to North Greenwich station.

However, signs on the route indicate it will only be available from 6am to 9pm. Signs also eventually indicate it will be added to Quietway 14, a cycling route from Blackfriars Road to Canada Water station.

Although someone may need to change the spelling mistake on the signs before it opens…

While the route will be welcomed by cyclists, last week saw a “die-in” at Woolwich Town Hall protesting after three riders were killed in separate collisions in Greenwich and Deptford, including two on the A206 through Greenwich, one at the notorious Woolwich Road roundabout.

Organisers demanded the reinstatement of the full Cycle Superhighway 4 scheme between London Bridge and Woolwich, which was shortened to run between Tower Bridge and Deptford Creek Bridge by mayor Sadiq Khan.

The Charlton Champion provides news and information about issues and events in London SE7. Help us by telling us your stories – or buy the author a coffee.