Greenwich Council says 2014's Tall Ships festival brought 1.1 million people to Greenwich and Woolwich

Next year’s Transatlantic Tall Ships Regatta in Greenwich and Woolwich has been hit by news that major engineering works will cancel most National Rail trains in the area that weekend, making it harder for visitors to attend the spectacle.

The event, which is costing Greenwich Council £2 million, will take place over Easter, from 13 to 16 April. It follows 2014’s Tall Ships Festival, which the council says brought 1.1 million visitors to the area, generating a claimed “£17 million of economic activity”.

Between 35 and 40 ships are due to be moored at two sites, in Greenwich and Woolwich, across the weekend. The ships will then sail across the Atlantic and back, with stops in Simes, Portugal; Bermuda; Boston; a to-be-confirmed Canadian port; Quebec; and Le Havre, France.

But visitors will find it much harder to reach the event as the National Rail line through Greenwich will be closed all weekend to accommodate Thameslink Programme rebuilding works at London Bridge station. There will be no service at Deptford, Greenwich, Maze Hill and Westcombe Park stations all weekend, with Charing Cross and Waterloo East closed on Good Friday and Easter Saturday.

Lewisham station, 2015
Lewisham station has suffered from overcrowding due to Thameslink works

According to a report to be presented to Greenwich Council’s overview and scrutiny committee next week, Southeastern is planning to run a miserly two direct trains per hour between Victoria or Charing Cross and Woolwich Arsenal, with an additional service running to and from New Cross, with passengers expected to change for central London trains at Lewisham.

One solution to provide an additional service to central London, which would avoid possible overcrowding at Lewisham station, could be to swap rail services around so the New Cross trains run in and out of Blackfriars instead. This happened during the early stages of the Thameslink Programme closures, but there is no sign that this is being considered.

Buses could also be hit if there is a need for road closures in Greenwich town centre to accommodate expected crowds – but a whole closure of the town centre, which happened in 2014, is being ruled out because of the effects of the cut in rail services.

The report says: “In order to accommodate the crowds expected at the event in Greenwich Town Centre, some temporary road closures may be required.

“Road closures will improve the festival ambience, encourage visitors to use the shops in the town centre, and improve pedestrian safety. The newly available space can be animated with performers and temporary stalls. The proposed closure… is still to be agreed internally and with TfL and other stakeholders.

“Subject to internal and external agreement, the likely road closure will resemble the arrangements made for the successful Greenwich Car Free Day with the addition of Welland Street closed to traffic to accommodate a queuing system for the Cutty Sark DLR station.”

Travellers are to be advised to use Docklands Light Railway services – which will run every five minutes to Greenwich and Woolwich Arsenal across the weekend – and Thames Clippers boats.

Woolwich Royal Arsenal, 2014
Businesses in he Royal Arsenal development benefitted from the Tall Ships event in 2014

Conservative councillors tried to cancel the Tall Ships Regatta last year, saying the money should be used to help vulnerable residents and improve local engagement. Their budget amendment was thrown out after the council’s Labour leadership said the event would help boost businesses in the area.

But this month’s report reveals scepticism from Woolwich businesses that 2014’s Tall Ships festival benefitted the town.

While most said the event benefitted “Royal Greenwich” (it is not made clear whether this means Greenwich borough or Greenwich itself), 65% of businesses strongly disagreed that the Tall Ships Regatta was a good thing for Woolwich or Woolwich residents, adding that most of the benefits were felt within Berkeley Homes’ Royal Arsenal development rather than the town centre.

The report points out that Woolwich has fewer hospitality businesses than Greenwich, and outlines plans to better link the town centre with the Arsenal complex.

It adds 84% of businesses did not take on extra staff for the 2014 event.

Next year’s festival has also been sluggish at attracting tall ships trainees, who will sail with a ship on the first leg to Portugal. The council originally hoped to attract 179, but estimates have been scaled back after just 39 signed up. Greenwich taxpayers are due to pay for 30 trainees, at a total cost of £27,000, although 31 are paying their own costs.

The report also reveals £20,000 in sponsorship from the controversial London City Cruise Port at Enderby Wharf (whose impact on the environment is discussed in this Radio 4 documentary) and £12,500 from developer U+I, which last week announced major plans to develop part of the Woolwich/Charlton riverside. Intercontinental Hotels is donating a venue (costed at £30,000) for the Captain’s Party, while Charlton Athletic Football Club – currently in turmoil with its own supporters – is also offering The Valley (£1,500) for a crew party.

It also admits some staff working on the event may not get London Living Wage. “All contractors will be encouraged to pay staff working on the event London Living Wage or higher, although the nature of some business sectors, where staff may be sub-contracted, makes enforcing the payment of London Living Wage difficult or impossible,” it says.

10 replies on “Easter rail cuts to hit Greenwich and Woolwich’s Transatlantic Tall Ships Regatta”

  1. Whilst one committee has revealed this information will it be followed up by the Regeneration and Transport Committee I wonder? Considering it’s looking like they are having a six month gap in meetings, despite numerous events requiring analysis and scrutiny, it doesn’t look promising.

    Chalk this up alongside cuts to Greenwich Line trains since August, the Thameslink consultation and possible cuts on the Greenwich line long term and/or on the Lewisham link, Tube and bus issues at North Greenwich, and a whole bunch of stuff that should be looked at regularly. Oh, and the possible TfL takeover of course. Crossrail too.

    Cllrs get paid extra to be on committees. With so few meetings is that justified?

  2. A point of clarity Darryl, they can’t route trains up to Blackfriars because the track isn’t there anymore. That’s what they are doing over Easter weekend, reinstating it. Thus Waterloo East and Charing Cross also closed.
    The DLR should do the job, has a more frequent service anyway and there are no drivers to go on strike at the same time.
    The Tall Ships can be a lot of fun, in the 60’s I was involved with “The London Sailing Project”, a charitable foundation that introduced schoolboys to the joys of sailing big Ketch’s, however RBG’s promotion of it is just another vanity event, and a waste of ratepayers money. I’d love to see some audited figures that prove it made £17m for the local economy.

  3. Yes, but it’s a very roundabout route. They would have to go via the Victoria link line and divert off after Peckham Rye up to Blackfriars, and also Lewisham is not on the Greenwich line. Once at Blackfriars visitors to Greenwich would have to get back, and the only way to do that is tube to Tower Gateway, and then DLR. What’s the difference?
    Yes DLR train captains can strike if they want, but generally are not as militant as RMT members who drive. (IMHO)

  4. What a joined up and connected society we don’t live in. Unfortunately the neglect of infrastructure under many previous governments is giving us this pain now. Moral of the story. Stop at home. Agree about the council’s vanity projects. Last time I went to the tall ships at Woolwich the price of merchandise and food was beyond the pockets of far too many people. So the event was not for them but for much richer people likely to spend lots and lots of cash. And of course it provided lots of photo opportunities for the good councillors. Bah humbug or something similar.

  5. Mr. Murky Depths – councillors only get paid extra for Chairing committees, any other councillors that turn up don’t get anything extra – although I would very much agree that they should turn up and encourage members of the public to come along too.

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