Eltham High Street’s new street furniture is in need of cleaning

A £31,000 jet-washing machine bought just three years ago with money from Transport for London is set to be taken out of regular use as part of a programme of austerity cuts.

The machine was bought as part of a 18-month long, £6.5m programme to revamp Eltham High Street, which was funded by TfL and completed in the summer of 2017.

With the high street being repaved, the washer was meant to help keep the shopping street clean. Now the cleaning is to stop as part of a programme of a £7.1 million, four-year package of cuts to go before the council’s cabinet on Wednesday. Greenwich says it will save £79,000 by stopping pressure cleaning of pavements in Greenwich, Woolwich and Eltham town centres, and Plumstead High Street, from April. Other areas never had this service.

Other cuts to be considered by cabinet members on Wednesday include (see full list):

  • Increasing charges for social care, as reported by 853 in October and earlier this month
  • Charging for garden waste collections, as reported by 853 in November
  • Removing dog waste bins from parks and not locking park gates, among other cuts to the parks budget
  • Handing bowls clubs over to their members
  • Cuts in the flytipping removal service
  • Moving Coldharbour library and adventure play centre in Mottingham to Coldharbour Leisure Centre
  • Closing the Glyndon adventure play centre in Plumstead
  • Cuts to environmental health teams
  • Increasing income by introducing CCTV for local traffic offences and increasing fixed penalties in parts of the borough

Despite its decision to buy the machine, the council has never had a budget for the service – instead opting to pay overtime to cleaning staff to do it during spring and summer evenings.

“Pressure washing needs to be carried out during times of low footfall and when businesses are closed to minimise health and safety risks to the public and impacting customer access to businesses,” a document to go before the cabinet says.

“The staff undertaking this duty on overtime are already allocated to BAU [business as usual] duties in the daytime. The work is carried out by staff with specialist training in the use of the pressure washing equipment for 6 months of the year so it is not practical to employ staff to undertake this duty only.”

Greenwich Council told 853 the Eltham washer would remain to cover one-off incidents and to clean up after events, for which the organiser would be expected to pay.

Greenwich Labour councillors Jackie Smith, Matt Morrow and Angela Cornforth were keen to promote pressure cleaning in Plumstead in the months before 2018’s election

But the decision has angered Eltham’s Conservative councillors, who have frequently raised high street issues in council meetings – particularly when the Eltham machine started appearing in Plumstead High Street as part of a publicity drive ahead of 2018’s council election, when residents formed their own party to challenge Labour.

The budget comes as Eltham High Street shows the wear and tear of a winter without cleaning, with an ornamental sign installed at the junction with Well Hall Road covered in dirt. It also comes as the council faces continued pressure on social media about the notoriously tatty state of its public realm in other parts of the borough.

In October 2017, Greenwich Council cabinet member Jackie Smith promised residents in both Plumstead and Eltham that they would see twice-yearly deep cleans of their high streets from 2018. The cost of a single treatment of Eltham High Street was put in an council meeting answer to Pat Greenwell – now a Conservative councillor – as £9,196.

Eltham High Street is showing the wear and tear of winter

Eltham North councillor Charlie Davis told 853: “After much pressure from ward councillors, the council agreed to increase the deep cleaning of Eltham High Street and the Eltham sign from twice to three times a year.

“This poses a number of questions, what will happen to the street cleaner purchased with the money given by the then mayor, Boris Johnson, to improve the high street?

“Given the current climate on our High Streets, do the council really think the solution across the borough is to leave our public realm to decay? The council should be looking to improve the public realm of our town centres rather than abandoning them in their hour of need.”

A council spokesperson told 853: “In the event that a decision is made to stop our programmed schedule of pavement washing, the council will continue to use all the machines to respond to individual request, such as spillages, and to support clean up after events, which would be charged to the event organiser.”

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