City Hall officials have been asked to investigate the handling of Greenwich Council’s botched £11.5m redevelopment of the Greenwich and Woolwich Foot Tunnels, where work has been stalled for over a year.

Greenwich & Lewisham assembly member Len Duvall has referred the matter to auditors at the Greater London Authority to establish what went wrong with the project, which had been funded by the Government’s Homes & Communities Agency (HCA) before being switched to City Hall last year.

It’s emerged an HCA official signed off the project after a site visit in March 2011, handing the project over to Greenwich Council the following month, on the understanding work would be finished by September 2011.

The HCA stopped scrutinising the project after the site visit, and the matter was not looked at again until City Hall took over the HCA’s work in London in April 2012. Now Duvall has asked the authority’s audit panel and district auditor to investigate. The London Assembly’s budget and performance committee has also been asked to look at the issue.

Duvall’s move comes after campaigning from Greenwich Cyclists on the issue.

Both Greenwich and Woolwich foot tunnels remain in a poor state after the collapse of the project in late 2011, at around the time cabinet member Denise Hyland was blaming the problems at both tunnels on “hidden structures” which didn’t actually exist.

The council itself, which sacked the three contractors in charge of the job, admitted in October 2012 that there was “an unacceptable and deteriorating environment for users” in the tunnels.

Last November, it emerged Greenwich Council had previously told the HCA the work had been completed – even though that simply wasn’t the case, and that should have been clear on any site visit.

Indeed, when the Woolwich Foot Tunnel reopened in December 2011 after at least a 15-month closure, the poor state of the tunnel demonstrated the difficulty the project was in. When Greenwich’s lifts reopened in early 2012, lights were failing and lifts kept breaking.

In a letter to Duvall seen by this website, the GLA’s Housing and Land executive director David Lunts says “the project remains a concern for the GLA”, and says it is now in “regular dialogue” with the council as it struggles to complete the project.

No work has taken place at either tunnel for over a year, with no new contractors appointed to finish the job. Woolwich Foot Tunnel remains without lifts, Greenwich had new lifts fitted but they have been plagued by breakdowns.

Greenwich Council commissioned an independent report from John Willmoth into the fiasco six months ago. After completing a report into the council’s handling of big projects in general, he has yet to report back on the foot tunnels issue.

11.20am update: Len Duvall has told this site:

“What took place over the work on the foot tunnels work should not have happened.

Greenwich are learning from this experience internally and I look forward to the publication of the second of John Wilmoth’s independent reports examining what happened in this case more closely.

My intervention is to make the GLA take its responsibilities seriously, not just ‘shrug their shoulders’ when public money from bodies that have since become part of the GLA is involved. There are lessons for us to learn at the GLA and I hope that Greenwich Council are equally keen to ensure that events like this don’t occur in the future. Most importantly Greenwich need to press on with the completion of the works – monitored closely by the GLA – to ensure that both foot tunnels are accessible to everyone.”

35 replies on “City Hall asked to probe Greenwich Council foot tunnels fiasco”

  1. Compared to the Greenwich side, the north side is a still a complete mess with the blue site hoardings blocking off a large area around the rotunda. The beautiful flower beds we used to have there are just a distant memory. The hoardings used to carry notices proclaiming “Zero Harm by 2012”, obviously they have long since been removed!

  2. “independent report” commissioned by the council, paid for by the council, investigating the council’s conduct/management of the refurbishments. I’m not her to impune Willmoth’s integrity but there’s fat chance Greenwich will publish anything properly critical of their abject failure in these works. £11.5M of public money literally flushed down the river and if at all possible swept under the carpet. Safe to assume nobody of any rank at Greenwich Council ever uses either tunnel. If they had a grain of integrity they would set to immediately, putting the tunnels to rights using funds they’ve currently got earmarked for their litany of self agrandisement and property developer worship.

  3. Bernard – Is Tower Hamlets still showing a lack of interest in the Greenwich tunnel?

    I haven’t been there in a while, but I wonder if the north exit of the Woolwich tunnel still leads straight out onto the North Circular Road.

    SCN – of course, the tunnel is being overseen by the same council department (and cabinet member, Denise Hyland) that’s buddying up with property developers, and noisily backing the Silvertown Tunnel.

  4. I’d have to look back through my notes, but I believe the report into the tunnel fiasco itself is now long overdue.

    If I remember rightly after John Willmoth had reported back on capital projects in general he was going to look in detail at procurement on the tunnel project and one other – the Heart of East Greenwich project was suggested by Maureen O’Mara but it was unclear if this was chosen.

    Back in December it was estimated that RBG would have “safeguarded their position” with expert lawyers by April in order to start a new tendering and procurement round. Unpicking the labyrinthian contracts, sub-contracts, repsonsibilities and actual work done was proving problematic and had to be done carefully in order not to prejudice any resulting legal action.

    Yesterday’s cabinet meeting was cancelled and we should have expected some more information there. The next one is pencilled in for June 19th. Hopefully we’ll have the Willmoth and legal reports to look at a week before that.

  5. I am a frequent user of the Greenwich tunnel – walker and cyclist.
    The council’s handling of this affair is abysmal.
    The council are our agents and we entrust them to spend public money and run projects on our behalf.
    We’ve all had ‘dodgy’ builders, but the council gives no transparency to what was happening, and what now is going to happen. I would at least expect their website to give a time line to whats happening with updates to progress.
    I dont feel safe using the tunnel as there seems to be no cctv in the lifts, the cameras in the entrance by the lift doors seem to point in the wrong direction, and I wonder how good the pictures are in the new cameras in the tunnel. The scaffolding around the stairs makes passing other people awkward if they are carrying anything and again, no cctv on the stairs is not good. The barriers to stop cycling in the tunnel are ineffective and just annoy cyclists and pedestrians (who have to wait for the steady stream of cyclists to go by) – but I think the council thinks barriers up, job done. I see interest in feedback to whether they solve the problem of cyclists speeding down the tunnels.

  6. Darryl – As far as Tower Hamlets is concerned the tunnel might as well not exist, it never gets a mention in the Council newspaper. It’s pretty disgraceful that on this side of the river the Council has absolutely no interest in keeping its residents informed about the tunnel renovation work – we have to rely on you for that information.

  7. Sounds like a cock up by at least three bodies. Presumably you only blame Greenwich Council as you only have a vendetta against them.

  8. “Sounds like a cock up by at least three bodies. Presumably you only blame Greenwich Council as you only have a vendetta against them” Not sure how anyone could say that this is a ‘vendetta’ The simple facts are that Greenwich Council accepted public funds to modernise 2 tunnels under the Thames. Years later works have yet to be completed despite the council claiming to the funders that works were complete. Or am I missing something?

  9. I also note that one of the companies that Greenwich are looking to sue, Hyder Consulting is the same company that is still being commissioned to consult and design projects for the council.

  10. Hi,

    The foot tunnel issue did get approved last night to be on the next year’s overview and scrutiny work plan. I’m not sure when it will be discussed but will let you know (I’m on that committee). Cock up or conspiracy, there have clearly been serious multi-organisational failures and some of them will rest with the council. I hope that the paper to scrutiny will address what happened, how we sort the tunnels out now (a good clean would help) and how we make sure it doesn’t happen again. My main bug bear has been the lack of information about the err intermittant service of the lifts during the process and I can assure you that will be one of my many questions. If you have others between now and the meeting (whenever that is) please tell your local councillor. It’s their job and they would like to hear from you. As for scrutiny in general, Council’s serve the public and spend their money, everyone should be inquisitive, sceptical and hoepfully interested. To me that’s not a vendetta, it’s a vital part of a healthy democracy but that’s by the by. The tunnels need sorting and I hope Len’s work at the GLA helps to sort these issues out sooner rather than later.

    I declare an interest as a previously annoyed cyclist who has had to carry the damn thing up the stairs when the lifts weren’t working.

  11. Hayley,
    I was making the point that several agencies were at fault, but Daryl has labelled it Greenwich Council’s fault. I hope we can successfully hold ALL the bodies that failed to account, which I agree INCLUDES the Council. I do feel that Daryl is so concerned about criticising the Council that he is in danger of letting the others off the hook

  12. Hi,

    I disagree with that characterisation. I thought the piece clearly pointed towards the HCA as well as other bodies as did Len’s comments. In any event, I think criticism of any public body, including the Council so long as it’s fair, is welcome. Overall, I just want the issue sorted so that cyclists and pedestrians know they can rely on the tunnel and not arrive there in the evening on their commute to find the lift broken or walk through a filthy tunnel.

  13. Mark, your ad hominem attacks are now getting tedious, but you must have missed the quote from Len criticising the GLA’s inaction, and my own reference to the Homes and Communities Agency officer who passed the project as complete when it wasn’t.

  14. It does seem that both the HCA & GLA were at fault for trusting Greenwich Council’s reports that work was progressing without problems and now for only agreeing to follow up after pressure from users, residents and now politicians. Ultimately the council were responsible for bidding for funding to renovate 2 key river crossings and it can’t be argued that this has been done. All people are trying to do is find out what went wrong with the project. The old adage of ‘follow the money’ comes to mind and the council had the money.

  15. Thanks for the update Hayley.

    As the first Willmoth report went before cabinet first I had naïvely assumed the same would happen this time. I’m glad to hear that Overview and Scrutiny will be considering this too. John Willmouth had some interesting ideas about in-house tendering and contracts when discussing his last report in December.

    There’s a bit of a backstory to this one, Mark. Anthony Austin from Greenwich Cylists and Darryl himself were the first to spot there was a problem with the works on the tunnels and they were met with obstruction and obfuscation when attempting to find out what was happening.

    Have a read of http://8 from the bottom up for the full story.

    Greenwich have now held their hands up and admitted the problems at their end. We should really be concentrating on getting the tunnels fixed properly.

    It is worth bearing in mind that this was a £11.5m project and the lessons learned will help with any future capital projects. Recent talk of Greenwich funding and project managing a £700m bridge at Thamesmead would be extremely worrying if this was brushed under the carpet. Have a read of the initial Willmouth report too.

  16. Daryl,
    I was referring to your headline describing it as “Greenwich Council fiasco”. Thanks for confirming that this is inaccurate.

  17. Hayley,
    I was suggesting that the headline was unfair for focusing on Greenwich Council. As Roger’s comment suggests, there are some out there who think it is simply all the Council’s fault. It is important to put these things in context. I hope you have success getting to the bottom of it.

  18. Mark, the council was in charge of the project.

    It has failed, along with those supervising the spending of government grants at the HCA (and latterly the GLA) and, it is alleged, the contractors (Dean & Dyball, Hyder Consulting, and Swett).

    Greenwich Council runs the tunnels. It is the body closest to us, and the body which has been unable to communicate simple information over whether the tunnels were open or not. It should not have got itself into this position. It is Greenwich Council’s ineptitude, if not outright dishonesty, that has been the running theme of the foot tunnels story.

    The foot tunnels, sadly, are a monument to a culture of complacency and cowardice which has corrupted our local politics and administration.

    None of us want to get involved in time-wasting barneys – we want a council we can talk to, that’ll listen, and that will act quickly on mistakes – which hasn’t happened here.

    Perhaps, Mark, as someone who is loser to the council than most, you should be pressing for a more open culture at the council, one that engages with people, and not one which seeks to ignore, deflect or crush criticism.

  19. Actually Daryl I broadly agree with that last comment of yours. Fair criticism is a valid part of the political process. I’m afraid I currently have very little influence. Other readers of yours have far more than I and I am glad to see that they use it constructively.

  20. Stewart, thank you for the information. Once we know when the item is going to scrutiny your views on the paper will be much appreciated. H

  21. Mark
    Don’t forget that Darryl is a Greenwich resident and council-tax payer. It’s only right that he should air his exasperation with Greenwich Council in his blog, even if other bodies are not blameless.

  22. He’s also a London precept payer so should be interested in the GLA and a taxpayer so should be interested in the HCA as was. If all three are to blame, as it looks to me, we should be asking questions of all of them, not kicking just one.

  23. Greenwich and Lewisham Cyclists are hoping to help launch a Friends of the Foot Tunnels together with walking and local amenity groups, including our those on the north bank. And we should remember that all cyclists are, or should be, walkers in the tunnels. I hope this would help look forward and get better information from all of our public servants around the continuing dysfunction of both tunnels. At least all are now agreed that the refurbishment needs to be completed.

  24. Hi Ian, great news about the Friends of the Foot Tunnel group. As an ordinary cyclist (who doesn’t cycle in the tunnel!) I’d love to know how it progresses or come along to any meetings. Alternatively, if you get established and want to present to the transport scrutiny meeting, let me know.

  25. Whilst I some sympathy over a contractor failure, it’s shocking how long the Woolwich tunnel has been left without working lifts. I can only guess that the reason for such a delay is simply because so few actually use the Woolwich tunnel these days so the councils can afford to let the tunnel continue to dilapidate.

  26. It’s not clear to me who the owner of this project was. What I believe is that Greenwich council received a grant for the work from the GLA, and GC were running the project. The GLA had oversight to ensure that the funds were used correctly.

    Is this correct? If it is correct then surely yes we should hold GC to blame for this. If it’s not correct then could somebody please explain it to me like I’m five so I can understand who was in charge of the work.

  27. You’ve got it right, except that the GLA has taken over the project from the HCA.

    So it’s Greenwich Council running the project, with the GLA (was HCA) in charge of making sure the money’s not wasted. If you look back through past posts, the GLA (ie, Boris) initially took a “not us, guv” approach when the council’s failings were pointed out (by Lib Dem AM Caroline Pidgeon).

  28. This is very similar to how boroughs spend what is called LIP money from TfL. Boroughs bid for funding every year and are allocated circa £3m. Throughout the year they update progress on a TfL non public website and then claim back the money they have spent from TfL. So at each stage of the process TfL supposedly know at what stage the project is at. The tunnel monies may have been the same. If you the funders and each month progress looks OK as to the written returns why would you think otherwise – after all we are talking about local authorities and you wouldn’t expect them to tell porkies. If at the end of the project you are told that its substantially completed you wouldn’t go and check – well TfL don’t normally unless they know something is not right. It might be possible to ask FOI questions about the monthly/quarterly returns but they would most likely be pretty vague.

    We live in a world of trust but if you go and look at the Woolwich foot tunnel you have to wonder what went wrong.

    Both Greenwich and Lewisham Cyclists are investigating setting up a ‘Friends of’ group – watch this space as they say.

  29. I thought as much. So the council saying the GLA should take some of the blame is essential them saying it’s not our fault – nobody was watching us properly so of course we ran a mock. Just like my 4 year old does.

    In my view the GLA are liable for not ensuring the money was appropriately spent but the council are to blame for the utter failure of the program of works.

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