The strange tale of Eltham High Street and what it really means for Plumstead

Following the revelation that £40,000 has been spent on a large, illuminated, wooden sign to remind the good people of Eltham where they live, Twitter is alight with comments after Greenwich Council’s Deputy Leader tried to justify the expense.

In answer to a question from Pat Greenwell at the full Council meeting last week, Shooters Hill councillor and Eltham resident, Danny Thorpe, failing to manage Pat’s name correctly, accused her of playing “party politics” and said:

Thanks to Eltham’s SEnine magazine we can now see what the fuss was about. Civic pride hasn’t been encouraged going by the comments on Facebook and they seem to think the cost may have been closer to £50,000. Perhaps Danny forgot about the VAT.

The infamous "Eltham" sign

The infamous “Eltham” sign

The current round of £6.5m investment in Eltham is mainly funded by Transport for London (TfL) through their Major Schemes and Bus Infrastructure funds with the aim of “reinvigorating Eltham High Street, with improved conditions for pedestrians, cyclists and public transport users”.

Danny Thorpe and Denise Scott-McDonald meet Boba Fett

Danny Thorpe and Denise Scott-McDonald meet Boba Fett

Of course, this is on top of 2008’s £17m Eltham Centre which contains an 8-lane pool, children’s pool, 100-station fitness centre, crèche, spa, dance studio, CAB, library, coffee shop and council offices.

Plans are also well underway for a £14m cinema, Nando’s and late-night “sky bar” complex on Eltham High Street to replace the old Greggs and Poundland. These plans were notoriously unveiled with a £17,000 cast of celebrity lookalikes, along with many cabinet-member “selfies”.

We still don’t know how much it cost to buy this prime high-street land on top of that as the information is being held back under Schedule 12A of the Local Government Act 1972, on the grounds that “it contains information relating to the financial or business affairs of any particular person (including the authority holding that information)”.

So, that’s at least £37.5m for regeneration in Eltham in the space of a decade on these projects alone. A wooden Eltham sign, although laughably extravagant whether £40k or £50k, is probably greater than the sum total of major investment in Plumstead in the same period.

But, what about the £11.5m Plumstead Centre?

Councillor Thorpe and others are keen to repeatedly point out that £11.5m is being spent on Plumstead in the form of a proposed new “Plumstead Centre”. Unfortunately, it’s nothing like the previous Eltham, Woolwich or Greenwich Centres in terms of facilities or size.

Plumstead High Street after Greenwich Council's "Day of Action"

Plumstead High Street after Greenwich Council’s “Day of Action”

A council report at the time stated that only £800,000 would be required to repair and renovate the two existing buildings. Plumstead is in dire need of love and investment, in more than one location, so the “value for money” and impact this vanity project will have is questionable at best. In fact, much like the heralded “day of action” in Plumstead last week.

What he also won’t tell you is that the £11.5m will be funded by selling off our current Leisure Centre, along with various other Council properties around the area, and we will be facing a loss facilities as a result.

One of those buildings being sold is the old Kinara Family Rescorce Centre at 236 Plumstead High Street, a few doors down from the library, which was the subject of a Mayor’s Fund bid by the Plumstead Hub project back in 2014. The council belatedly applied for the same funds with a last-minute pitch and neither bid was successful.

In the meantime, it has also come to light via Eltham North councillor Spencer Drury that much of the money allocated to individual councillors for local community projects remains unspent. For Plumstead ward that’s £26,544 remaining out of £30,000 and the time limit is rapidly approaching. Glyndon and Shooters Hill wards have £4,000 and £7,350 left respectively, even though Glyndon was one of the three wards borough-wide which refused to join the other fourteen in funding a mobile food-bank van.

Potentially losing this money is shocking; especially at a time when every penny counts and community efforts like the volunteer-run Plumstead Make Merry receive little financial support and are fighting for survival, The Friends of Plumstead Common (the Plumstead Common Environment Group of old) need £1k of funding to remove a fallen tree from Slade Ponds after the council refused to help, and the new Plumstead and Abbey Wood Regeneration Committee is fighting a difficult battle to make the council enforce standards on the high street. Despite assigning two planning enforcement officers the council have managed to receive a response from less than a quarter of businesses and even penalised the better ones in the process.

There are many other local community organisations facing similar hurdles too.

As for “creating a sense of place” and “encouraging civic pride” – our council and local councillors appear to equate this with a few anti-flytipping banners and a once-a-year deep clean. Even a bid for planters and hanging baskets out of the remaining £26k ward budget was finally offered at far below the amount required to make a difference, and too late to do well.

Why is this happening and what can I do?

One of the reasons nothing has happened here has to be the iron-grip of single-party rule. Eltham, as marginal territory with opposition councillors, is always far more likely to be treated favourably and receive far greater scrutiny.

This isn’t about Plumstead versus Eltham – I like it myself and admire the residents for getting their fair share of investment. It’s just a pity it’s so hard to get to from here by public transport.

We all want better for our neighbourhoods and the only way to do it is ask, all the time. That’s why I’ve set up The Plumstead Party and I’m asking you to put your normal allegiances aside in order for us to work together, and gain a seat at the top table at Greenwich Council.

We won’t get everything we want, and we won’t always agree on everything in the world, but on the key issues of recognition, respect and funding for our own town we can make a big difference. National party politics should play no part in local issues.

Please get involved in any way you can – the 2018 local elections are looming and we need to make our voice heard at last.

Edited on Monday 25th July at 11:48 to clarify the position on Plumstead High Street baskets and planters.

Edited on Monday 25th July at 16:33 to add a link to the original Plumstead Hub funding bid on Spacehive.

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