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might think that after the Labour group’s
Motion that any spare cash would be
better spent on people than trees was rejected and
the Conservative’s budget
proposals were voted through without amendment, that there was no more to be
said. But you would be wrong. The Capital Programme had to be agreed.
Council Leader Teresa O’Neill began the debate by boasting about past achievements. The £42 million restoration of the Woolwich Building Society HQ which now serves as the eye-catching but ultimately less than satisfactory Town Hall was first on her list.
“Parts of Thamesmead had been demolished and the replacement will be the place to be in London. Erith Quarry is an exciting new project in an area that has been unloved. There is a new school in Crayford and others have been expanded. There is a new college in Erith. Sidcup and Welling High Streets are thriving as is the Broadway.”
“Queen Mary’s Hospital is still open and a cancer centre will open this year saving residents going elsewhere for treatment. There is a new bridge in Bexley Village and we have improved playgrounds and sorted out the mess left at Belvedere Splashpark. These are just a few of the many achievements of this administration that are blatantly obvious to anyone who travels around our borough.” You will not need to be reminded that only one of these changes was funded by Bexley Council - which is probably a good thing. But to claim all the credit?
“We have been lobbying hard to get the Elizabeth Line extended to Ebbsfleet stopping at Belvedere, Erith and Slade Green. The infrastructure will help regenerate nine kilometres of brown field sites. We want to make a success and to make London even more successful and our previous delivery has shown we are capable of it. Residents will benefit through our new development company which is a new direction for Bexley. We have the vision, would anyone trust the benches opposite?”
Councillor Alex Sawyer (Conservative, St. Mary’s) said the Capital Programme was “bold. Over half of it was directed at growth and transport infrastructure. The roll out of LED lighting is delivering brighter streets and saving £300,000 a year.”
“Crossrail is central to our growth strategy and will have a huge impact on regeneration.” What a pity that Bexley Council was so against growth when Crossrail was at the planning stage. Bexley is not going to get a two track extension towards Dartford in the foreseeable future. The as yet uncompleted Abbey Wood station would need to be partially torn down and the area has already suffered quite enough during its construction.
Councillor Stefano Borella (Labour, North End) threw a spanner into the works by distributing an Amendment to the Capital Programme. Labour Councillors had identified several millions of pounds of unspent S106 money which had come with long forgotten planning applications. He proposed that £1,139,390 of it dating from 2010 and 2013 should be spent on more Public Realm improvements.
Finance Director Alison Griffin confirmed that his figures made sense and did not unbalance the budget.
The Amendment called for £1·1 million of the several identified S106 payments be directed towards improving the Public Realm around twelve transport hubs in much the same way that Wilton Road in Abbey Wood has been improved. It was perhaps an ambitious target given that £300,000 was spent on Wilton Road, however that was not the Conservative’s objection.
They were never likely to like an idea that was not theirs but the Cabinet Member’s official response was that he didn’t see why Council money should be spent on improving Network Rail stations. “Giving away money is typical of the Labour opposition”.
Cabinet Member Don Massey had not actually read the Amendment which called for no such thing?
Lord Rochester’s comment would be unworthy even of Gromit the dog.
“Aren’t most of the stations owned by Network Rail?” And what has that got to do with anything?
Councillor Caroline Newton (Conservative, St. Michael’s) also said “it is surely Network Rail’s responsibility
to improve their stations”. Councillor Newton does not often speak at Council
meetings and it might be better if she said even less. Who said “Better to remain
silent and be thought a fool than to speak and to remove all doubt”?
Councillor Louie French (Conservative, Falcon Wood & Welling) said the Amendment was not properly costed. It fell to Labour leader Alan Deadman (North End) to spell out what was clearly written in the Amendment. The improvements would be made following consultation with ward Councillors, residents and traders and does not include railway stations. “We have just heard Conservatives saying how proud they were to have improved Abbey Wood, this is the same but on a smaller scale.”
Council Leader Teresa O’Neill said that further Public Realm spending would put “the whole of the borough’s growth agenda at risk”.
The vote went the same way that votes in Bexley always do. No Conservative who ever bucked the trend has ever survived the next electoral selection process.