east greenwich library
Messy, cluttered, unwelcoming and illegible streets are the norm in many places

If you missed it, each year TfL gives every London Council millions through the Local Implementation Plan. Greenwich Council will again receive £3.5 million next year. There’s certain categories on where sums go but councils have a decent amount of flexibility and many use it to improve local centres and publicise schemes from an early stage. In contrast, Greenwich Council keep quiet and do very little for town centres.

Trying to get any sort of information on schemes is like pulling teeth.

I would give them the benefit of the doubt and perhaps be more patient despite these flaws, if I hadn’t seen how things were in previous years. But I have, so I’m not.

Very little information is out there again on where it goes in Greenwich and there’s been very little consultation on it, in contrast to other councils.

Transparent

Local Councillors havn’t covered themselves in glory. Instead of publicly revealing what they know or being open and pro-active in seeking information, engaging and publicising, many have ignored public questions and some insist every resident email them individually.

Areas like this overlooked again
Areas like this overlooked again

Some want people to email, then wait two weeks for a reply. And what they send back generally isn’t much use at all. And many people have got on to me about this. This does seem like a tipping point where many can see through the nonsense.

After an ineffective, vague reply residents then have to reply once more and wait another two weeks, if they’re lucky. Some don’t even get that.

This method of engagement, if you can call it that, reveals so much. Secrecy is the order of the day. Put the public off. They’re not welcome. God forbid councillors be pro-active in putting this info out there on a public forum.

Communication

Back to the emails about why no details exist on individual schemes. Some baffling things have come out.

When people ask for details it’s been stated that it’s silly to expect a fully formed plan at this stage. Well yes, but no one is asking for final schemes but details and plans as they stand on which to engage.

This mangled sentence was in an email sent by a Councillor:

“I am aware that bloggers and people using anonymous Twitter accounts have claimed that Lewisham Borough publish full details of Local Implementation Plan spending more fully”

Full details or more fully? Anyway, no one is saying Lewisham, or Islington, or Barnet, or the many other councils are putting out full details at this stage. What they are doing is giving more details to the public for them to engage with.

Unappealing public spaces seen borough wide. These funds could help
Unappealing public spaces seen borough wide. These funds could help

There must be some idea of what is lined up you’d think, or how do they reach these numbers?

How did they come up with the figure of £150,000 in Plumstead in the first place? And £50,000 in East Greenwich? And £120,000 in Abbey Wood? Presumably these weren’t plucked from the air?

Well, emails have more puzzling lines:

“What Royal Greenwich do is publish the headline plans, then work up the details after that.”

Surely that’s the wrong way around. Work out what is needed first not a headline figure and try to fit schemes into that? And they could work that out if there were long standing, embedded processes of engaging and consulting with locals and groups.

Consultation and meetings

The emails mention that consultation will occur. Yet just a week before this £150,000 spending on Plumstead High Street was revealed a stakeholder meeting was held in Plumstead where no details were revealed. This alone was a rare event of meeting local people in a town hall style meeting. That would have been an ideal time to publicise this and seek feedback. They didn’t.

Precedents

One reason I’m cynical about future consultation plans is that last year they didn’t add any more details to threadbare first draft documents on where millions would be spent all the way up to sign off. It went to the Highways Committee on 7th April 2016, as the financial year begun and chances for alterations much reduced. It didn’t matter though as the Committee barely asked for any more information according to the minutes and signed it off.

By April 2016 this was the extent of information on schemes for this year. That’s right, just a list with no description of each scheme. No detail had seemingly been built up.

rockmount

Can anyone send me details of any town centre, shopping parade, station area or public space that is now improved as a result of the £3.5 million spent this year?

Are we to believe that it would be different this time? It would likely get to April 2017 and be signed off with no more detail of what £150,000 is doing in Plumstead, or £50,000 in Greenwich, or the other schemes. And without that how can they be accountable?

We’ve had over 10 years of this. Think of all the small incremental improvements it should have provided. Instead the borough is littered with many of the worst local public spaces and centres seen anywhere in London.

Islington Council mention action in areas that Greenwich sorely need to address, such as estate neglect. Greenwich Council have nothing to say in their document on this issue. Here’s Islington Council’s basic priorities. They elaborate on these points further on:

islington-lip-2017

With so many neglected public spaces and estates wouldn’t it be good to see Greenwich recognise that and include that in their document?

Back to emails from Councillors, and other lines repeat the same theme, which is to answer statements that weren’t even made:

“I’m not sure why people would want the full details first rather than having the overview and then getting the opportunity to influence the details.”

Once again, no one is asking for full details at this stage. And Greenwich aren’t even providing a real overview. This is an overview, from Lewisham Council about improvements to Grove Park. Just a few paragraphs but a decent insight:

grove-park-lip

Now we look at Plumstead and the £150,000 to be spent.  Will there be more crossings? Will street clutter be removed? Will pavings be widened?

We don’t know as this is what Greenwich Highways Department and Councillors seem to think is an overview:

plumstead-lip-2017

That’s it! Who needs words and descriptions when you have ticks? Here’s the full list:

lip

Each scheme here should at least have a couple of paragraphs detailing what is envisaged. Not what is set in stone, but planned. Something for locals to respond to.

And as I said, this level of non-information in previous years persists all the way up to the start of the financial year and sign off.

Other boroughs

So why does the Lewisham document have more detail and seem to draw from a long build-up time of research and planning?

Well each ward in Lewisham generally meets once a month where issues like this are discussed and future plans progressed. Look on Lewisham’s Council meeting calendar here to see the schedule. Then compare with Greenwich Council here.

Recently in Lewisham there were Assembly town meetings for Sydenham, Lee Green and Ladywell. Last week Forest Hill had their turn. This week is Downham. Many London boroughs do this. Nothing formal like this happens in Greenwich where people can put ideas forward.

Greenwich don’t like engaging like that. Nor in other easy ways to keep the public informed. How many Councillors have regular blogs to engage with people? To their credit a couple in Charlton put updates on Charlton Champion, but the vast majority do little to engage.

Why isn’t there a monthly meeting for Woolwich residents, for example? So much is happening there.

plumstead common road 3
Struggling local shops

And other council meetings such as those on Regeneration and Transport barely meet. Once in six months looks likely. And the chair gets £9k a year in addition to the £10k basic allowance all Councillors receive.

Much potential

This is money that can do much. The lack of transparency and scrutiny, going back many years, is a big reason so many High Streets, local shopping parades, stations, streets and busy public spaces are a mess and unappealing.

lakedale-road
Cluttered, crowded, congested and drab

It’s why many people don’t walk to their local area centre or High Street but jump in a car and drive elsewhere. Taking their money elsewhere. And not meeting their neighbours as local centres are so poor. Not walking or cycling and worsening health levels as a result. The effects of neglecting local centres runs deep. Civic pride is non-existent in many places.

lakedale-road-2

Twitter

Even before email replies were seen the lack of engagement from Councillors to their electorate was quite something. Instead of seeking answers they put up barriers or ignore.

On Twitter, after many people pointed out to various Councillors just how limited details were in Greenwich Council’s report on where these millions from TfL would go, we were told it was not lacking in detail and referred back to the very list that is lacking. A nice example of not getting the point at all. When that was pointed out silence descends with no responses to any questions from numerous locals on that Twitter thread.

It’s 2016. They should be providing this through engagement on Facebook, Twitter, online sites and blogs, including the Council website.

Distractions

When sources of funding for improving areas have been brought up other distractions appear from Councillors. When questioned in rare public meetings on why the Council are secretive on where money from developers goes, instead of routinely publishing it like other councils, some Councillors started talking absolute nonsense about the EU and austerity.

Let’s be clear – those things have no impact whatsoever on what happens with the millions from TfL and the millions coming in from developers through section 106 payments and Community Infrastructure Levy payments to mitigate the impact of large developments. They are ring-fenced and not directly altered by events elsewhere. To suggest otherwise suggests worrying ignorance at best.

What is happening is a conscious choice by Departments, aided by Councillors, to not focus on improving many areas but send much to pet projects or select areas. And not reveal it.

I wrote about how Lewisham Council will now put details of developers contributions and where it goes into the public domain as a matter of course. Tower Hamlets did the same in October. When will Greenwich Council put it on their site for all to see?

Next steps

Things are changing. As I said, rarely have I received so many emails and private messages through Facebook and Twitter. The secrecy and failure to engage is obvious to many now. Sadly next year, like so many before, could see yet more chances of improving town centres and busy communal areas across the borough go begging as millions are mis-spent due to a lack of clear plans, publicity and consultation.

So we’ll see what the consultation brings. And when information is placed online. It’s been a very poor start with a lack of engagement and public responses to questions, plus email replies that take an age to receive and reveal very little. Me and many others are now watching to see when and if changes now occur. The days of being able to get away with few questions are gone.

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Anyone with information can email me at fromthemurkydepths@gmail.com

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