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Bonkers Blog February 2019

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28 February (Part 2) - Pay to park by phone. Oh dear! Bexley Tories are lying again

I’m not sure who Tweedledum and Tweedledee are alluding to this time. It can't be me, not only because of my fairly regular criticism of Labour nationally, but also because the term ‘deeply unpopular’ has only been used three times on Bonkers. Two occasions predated phone parking and the third was about something else entirely.
Tweet News Shopper
Phone parking came to Bexley in August 2011 when mobiles were not as ubiquitous as now. I certainly didn’t own one.

In nine years of blogging the word unpopular, unqualified with deeply, has been used 22 times. Only one of them referred to phone parking after Bexley's own parking report had acknowledged that take up was poor and the News Shopper repeated the story.

Councillor Craske himself acknowledged that take up was slow. At the then rate of progress it was going to take 15 years for all of Bexley’s drivers to register. Fortunately people gradually gained confidence in phone Apps. Even I have one on my phone, but only the one!

The Tweedle Brothers appear to have forgotten that in its infancy the mobile phone payment system was failing to the extent Bexley Council had to change the contractor from Bemrose to Ringo. The Labour supporter may have been right, the original phone scheme was very unpopular. The News Shopper’s reporter certainly thought so.

 

28 February (Part 1) - Nice little earner

Bexley Bridge Bexley Bridge Bexley BridgeNo one wants to see huge lorries going through Bexley Village and not unreasonably they are banned from doing so.

Soon after the new bridge over the Cray was opened two years ago CCTV monitoring was installed. Bexley Council, never one to tell the absolute truth, imply the bridge cannot take vehicles over 7·5 tonnes which is nonsense, the real reason is that the village centre is far too small and the regular flow of double deck buses is quite bad enough.

The signs are not as helpful as they might be. If you get as far as the notice in Photo 2 and have the time to read down to the second warning it is too late to turn back.

As a result 1,184 drivers fell foul of the restriction last year.

 

27 February - Nearly there

Bexley Council did not meet its latest target for fully reopening the Harrow Manorway flyover but it did get close. At eight o’clock this morning the footpath barriers were being removed. By one o’clock the pedestrian crossing lights were uncovered and showing green.

By four thirty the barriers had almost entirely gone, the northbound temporary bus stop was moved to be alongside the new barely adequate shelter - just wait until it rains - but the traffic lights have been covered up again.

There are four polythene wrapped waste bins at strategic points. It’s undeniably progress but we are not there yet.
Harrow Manorway Harrow Manorway Harrow Manorway Harrow Manorway

There are a lot more pictures here.

The job was due to be completed in June but at least it was more or less completed in June like weather.

 

26 February (Part 2) - Catching up on things

In the gutter of public service
Remember this? It is the overflowing gutter at an L&Q managed house which causes all sorts of problems with damp. It was first published here in June last year although the video is actually several months older.

Nothing has changed apart from two things. The lady occupant says her doctor has written a supportive letter blaming damp for exacerbating her lung condition and L&Q has responded by limiting her ability to make complaints. Their equivalent of Bexley Council’s vexatious procedures. She also says her continued tenancy is under threat if she continues to complain.

Why is it that so many people who gravitate into public service jobs are totally unreasonable? My own theory is that they are bossy people who lack the intelligence to work their way into influential positions by dint of their own merit. They can only do so by hiding behind petty rules and regulations.


Spreading his tentacles wide
Kulviner Singh’s company has made another planning application. Not for the first time he favours old pubs and has the land behind The White Hart in Erith High Street in his sights. God help the neighbours.
18/03247/FULM

238 Woolwich Road
The notorious ‘nuclear bunker’ that encroaches on the Lesnes Abbey Wood and destroyed the immediate neighbours’ gardens is subject to yet another planning application. It’s to retain the walls that have been built in the back garden. Presumably someone thinks it stands some hope of overturning the enforcement notice issued a month ago.

It’s Kulvinder Singh’s company again. 19/00194/FUL

Freedom of Information
I occasionally take a look at the FOI responses that Bexley publishes on its website and it’s not difficult to feel sorry for the people who have to answer some of the questions. So much of what may be found there could easily be labelled trivia.

My last look made me wonder if Bexley Council is carefully censoring the things it would rather not make too public. I couldn’t find what I was looking for.

Last week someone sent me their FOI response, it listed every road and car park in Bexley that had been the subject of a PCN.

I found the figure relating to Yellow Box Junctions a little surprising. Seventeen months ago the departing Finance Director Alison Griffin let slip, maybe deliberately, that Bexley was looking to raise an extra £500,000 from merciless enforcement of Yellow Box Junctions in 2018/19. The FOI reveals that the number of PCNs issued last year was…

Broadway/Upton Road : 1,370
Central Avenue/Stephenson Close : 1,016

So about 2,400 a year some of which will be successfully appealed and many will be discounted to half price. At the very most it adds up to no more than £300,000.

In the whole of last year only two penalties were issued in my road and in the local shopping street, Wilton Road, there were only 13. Probably because continuing Crossrail related road works have destroyed the yellow lines.

Electric bikes
LimeBexley Council is considering throwing in its lot with bike sharing company Lime. They will cost 15 pence a minute. If you manage to go flat out and do 20 miles per hour that’s 45 pence a mile.

I think I will stick to my car. Costs nothing to run.

 

26 February (Part 1) - It’s the economy stupid

In my distinctly right leaning opinion there is only one reason for voting Conservative, to keep taxes low.

In that regard Bexley Council has not done very well in the 13 years they have been in power. In 2006 the outgoing Labour administration left them in 24th worst position in London’s Council Tax table. By last year they had somehow contrived to drop Bexley to 25th worst. Even worse is that they lie at every election by claiming that Bexley is a low tax borough.

It’s true that the government has not been especially generous with its grants but which government has been in charge for most of those 13 years? In just a couple of years time all of that will be irrelevant because there will be no grants. It will be interesting to hear Councillor Leaf’s anti-Labour spin when Bexley’s poor performance, compared to similar boroughs, continues.

Last night Bexley Council was called upon to make the following choice. A critical issue was recycling which dependent on whether Councillor Craske pushed his recycling arrangements to the next level or not might save either £1·29 million or £450,000.

As reported yesterday evening Councillor Craske fluffed his decision as a result of which Bexley Council has lost its opportunity to climb out of the worst quartile in London for thieving from your wallet.
TaxEvery Cabinet Member was required to justify their recommendation and every one of them seamlessly switched tack following the unexpected recycling decision. Slippery customers all.

Council Leader Teresa O’Neill kicked off the proceedings by saying “the decisions made earlier on will have an impact on this particular item”. A reference to Councillor Craske being over-ruled by his Luddite colleagues.

ThorogoodFinance Director Paul Thorogood did not say a lot but he had written a lot. His report took up 262 pages of the Agenda.

“I would stress that the decision to move to the 1-2-2 [recycling] option does provide a material reduction in savings efficiencies and transformation opportunities” or to put it another way Bexley Council’s cowardice is going to cost you money.

“I recommend to Council an increase in Council Tax to the maximum permitted which will provide an extra approximately one million pounds to the Council.”

LeafCouncillor Leaf then launched nine and a half minutes of nothingness while his Councillor colleagues passed the time in various ways. Councillor Reader became almost comatose staring at the far wall and never moving a muscle throughout the diatribe. Councillor Hall stuck his nose into his laptop and Councillor Dourmoush aimlessly flicked the pages of the Agenda. Councillors O’Hare and Jackson whispered to each other while Councillors Camsey and Clark appeared to be chewing sweets or maybe adjusting their dentures. The two Bishops were beyond my line of sight and Councilor Bailey is saved by my inability to read my own scribble.

Did David Leaf’s speech follow a familiar pattern? Unfortunately it did.

At one point he summed up his entire philosophy of speechifying; “I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again and members will hear it from me in the future too.”

On suggestions for the budget… “I wish to pay tribute to the Conservative Group for their emails and phone calls but we have had silence from the Labour opposition”.

“As Conservatives we never take decisions to increase taxes lightly [but] it would be prudent and sensible to propose a 2% increase Council Tax for Adult Social Care and increase the general council Tax Rate by 2·99%.” The maximum permissable.

He justified Conservative Bexley’s larger than necessary increase by saying that Labour controlled Greenwich, Lewisham, Hackney, Islington, Southwark had all done the same. He will be wearing a red rosette next.

“Our Council Tax bills are lower today than they were in 2006.” He justified that ridiculous statement by adjusting prices for general inflation but he cannot get away from the absolute fact that Council Tax rises in Bexley have been greater overall than elsewhere. The Council Tax tables do not lie.

He further justified Bexley’s steep increases by saying Income Tax was lower and wages were higher. The words of a true Socialist. We will give with one hand and take with the other.

Cabinet Member Brad Smith (Adults’ Services) went into his early intervention saves money routine which he trots out whenever he finds the excuse. He is no doubt right but I would like to know how it is that Bexley Council charges more for domiciliary care services than I pay a private company in Newham for attending to my aunt’s needs. And believe me their care is first rate.

Taking a Leaf out of his colleague’s book Councillor Smith took time out to criticise Labour Councillor Wendy Perfect. She had posted a budget figure on Twitter which was said to be “scare mongering”. The figure extracted from the budget proposals was “Fake News” because it represented “a massive increase.”

Councillor Phillip Read (Children’s Services) speaking of his department’s achievements spoke of its “success” and “high quality”.

He bragged about the Conservative’s election triumph last May and put it forward as an excuse to go against his own Conservative principles and raise taxes. “Unaccompanied asylum seeking children are a continuing and significant cost to Bexley’s taxpayers.”

His criticism of the Labour opposition was quite mild by recent standards. They are “ill-informed”.

Councillor Fuller (Education) proudly stated that his SEN transport rearrangements had “taken a bit of a battering” but produced a saving of £200,000 in the last three months alone.

Craske Councillor Craske’s main theme was criticising Labour Members for not putting forward an alternative budget which his party’s massive majority would allow him to thrash. Then in a cake and eat it moment said there was no point in them proposing any alternative because his ideas were so good. New playgrounds (£175k.), improved drainage (£800k.), anti-incursion measures around parks (£80k.), new footpaths in Danson and Lesnes Abbey parks (£70k.), new Thamesmead library £1·35m.), improving Central Library (£200k.)

“Two million pounds a year for the next three years on highways maintenance after the Mayor of London cut all funding and increased Council Tax by nearly 9%.”

He asked where are the people who object to his 3% tax increase when Labour put theirs up by 40%, implying that was in just one year which it was not. He said that people voted for necessary increases when they voted Tory nine months ago. Fine words apart from the 3% not being necessary and all his fault.

Looking at the opposition he said “they are all talk”.

SawyerCouncillor Sawyer’s theme was housing. “We have allocated five million to purchasing an additional 17 properties on top of the 205 properties we have purchased so far.”

Deputy Leader French was commendably brief. He didn’t like raising taxes but there was no alternative, conveniently forgetting the decision not to save the best part of a million pounds on recycling.

Councillor Daniel Francis the Labour Leader reminded the Cabinet that in 2016 and 2017 they agreed to cut the Adults’ Services budget by £11,500,000 but “it was never achievable. We are having to put not all of it but some of it back but Members opposite were adamant that it was”.

“This year alone we have taken £12 million out of reserves. The transformation reserve has reduced from £8·4m. to £3·9m. in twelve months and we have seen budget savings agreed, including £355,000 which never existed in the first place.”

“We are setting a deficit schools budget of £3·2 million because this government will not support our most vulnerable children. It is a disgrace.”

Taking money from reserves each year, as Bexley has done, “is not sustainable and local government is absolutely at breaking point”.

He thought the budget would have to be changed within a few months and described the current one as “fudging”.

Councillor Leader Teresa O’Neill had no real response to that and fell back on things being worse in 2006. Cabinet Member Brad Smith that the money spent on Adult Care had increased “in every single year”.

Councillor Ahmet Dourmoush said a few words which were entirely reasonable but Councillor Leaf could not resist the temptation to have the final say.

He said that Daniel Francis’s response to the budget proposals was “a diatribe” and ‘bluster’. He asked if Labour supported the investment being made following which he fell back on quoting figures from Labour’s 2006 budget when large sums were taken from reserves. A total of £5·7 million over four years.

“Did Councillor Putson (Labour, Belvedere) want to return to the days of Loony Left Councils? There is no place in society for that sort of politics today.”

The Council Leader tried to calm him down but to no avail. He carried on shouting about “bluster, smear, exaggeration, no policies, no alternatives, no suggestions. Vote Conservative.”

There was much banging of table tops but you will pay 4·99% extra for what can only be Conservative failures. No one else has been in charge since 2010. Oh, sorry there’s been that ne’er do well Khan for a couple of years but under the rules you couldn’t possibly pay more than what Bexley is demanding.

Note: Last night I attempted to send a few Tweets from within the Council Chamber. I had not used a mobile phone for Tweets before but last week my service provider upped my meagre data allowance ten fold for no increase in price.

Whether I should so it again is uncertain. Listening, reading and Tweeting at the same time may be beyond my abilities; somehow or other I confused myself to the extent that I Tweeted that the Council Tax is to go up by 3·99% when very obviously it is 1% higher than that.

My only excuse is that I don’t always listen intently to every word at the meeting and rely on reviewing the audio recording later. Sometimes photography takes over. If I am to engage in live Tweeting again that relaxed approach will not be good enough. Apologies to those who thought Bexley Council was looking after their money better than it is.

 

25 February (Part 2) - The Grand Old Duke of York

CraskeAt this evening’s Cabinet Meeting Councillor Peter Craske went through his carefully rehearsed speech on recycling frequencies.

The man in charge of bins told us how residents had forecast that changes would cause a plague of maggots to descend on Bexley and the recycling rate would fall if the plans were implemented and then revealed, like the showman he is, that he was referring back to 2007 and none of those things had come true, far from it.

Councillor Craske expertly dismantled the consultation responses that said Bexley would stink as it became submerged in a sea of rotting food because no one was suggesting that food waste would no longer be collected weekly and residents had got him all wrong.

Going to three weekly collections would save nearly a million pounds a year he proudly proclaimed getting ever redder as he built his speech towards its climax.

He said that a great deal of food was currently ending up in the green bins and how the recycling rate could rise from 50% to 60% if only more residents could be forced into recycling food properly and that might happen if the green bins were emptied less frequently.

I wrote a Tweet to say that Bexley was going three weekly for its green bins and my finger hovered over the Send button, but then he did it. Crashed his gearbox straight into reverse.

He was sticking with the status quo on residual waste (green bin) collections.

Quite clearly someone had got at him or he was outvoted by the Luddites alongside him.

The Finance Director said the decision could hit all Council taxpayers in the wallet.

It’s not often one feels sorry for the old blogger but there is no denying that all the best ideas have come from him in the past couple of years. This time he has not been able to carry his blinkered colleagues with him.

 

25 February (Part 1) - Will he or won’t he?

CraskeWho and what?

Will Councillor Peter Craske be a proper Conservative and go for a three week non-recyclables collection at this evening’s Cabinet meeting and prevent Council Tax rising by an extra 1%?

I am trying not to be completely biased here because personally the only thing I might not like about such a system is remembering which day the collection is due. Being a singleton my green bin never gets full except when a neighbour borrows it.

Most likely Councillor Craske will not be popular if he grasps that particular nettle but he must be well used to it by now and I for one am fed up with Conservatives whose first reaction to every problem is to raise taxes. Because we have so many lily-livered Tories in government the total tax take in the country is higher than it has ever been before.

And back to recycling, the rate in Bexley has been stuck around the 50% mark for several years and a bold initiative is needed to bump start it. Craske’s assertion that 50% of what goes in the green bin is recyclable - assuming it is true, you can never be sure with that man - has to be addressed and carrying on as we are now is no way to tackle it.

There will be cries of more fly-tipping and that may well happen but policies should not revolve around pandering to criminals. My nearest recycling points right now are contaminated by mindless individuals who may or may not be my neighbours.

The paper bin is full of furniture and plastic, the glass bin contains quite a lot of scrap metal and the plastics bin is full of cardboard.

Bexley Council did all the right things when it reorganised recycling back in 20 whatever it was and it needs to be visionary now and force the reluctant recyclers to #doitforbexley.

A very quick fire rant I am afraid, I have to be in East Ham again this afternoon, back in QEH later after they messed up my Friday appointment and I will be lucky to scrape into the Council Chamber for 19:30.

Councillor Craske; be bold.

 

23 February (Part 2) - Oh Danny Boy!

HackettIt’s been a long time coming, I’ve been expecting it for months, but Councillor Danny Hackett has left the Labour Party and become an Independent.

It’s a shame that he has been forced into such a position by Momentum and Jeremy Corbyn’s kinder gentler politics.

I have known Danny for nine years and I’m sure his dream was always to help people by being a Labour politician.

After listening to him many times and sharing the occasional beer I've said more than once that he is far too honest to be a career politician, I only hope I am wrong, on the career bit that is.

Danny is a long way from being a leftie, in fact on one or two things he may be every bit as right wing as I am.

I once asked him why he didn’t grow up to be a Conservative, it wouldn’t be fair to tell you what he said, but I think we need more Tories like Danny.

Despite me seeing this day coming it is still a bit of a shock, but not traumatic like it it must be for Danny. He has seen his career path come crashing down because there are some very nasty people within what was his chosen party. Please wish him luck as the new Independent Councillor for Thamesmead East.

Teresa O’Neill should welcome Danny as someone who is absolutely straight, she could do with a few of them in her own party.

Resignation letter.

 

23 February (Part 1) - Backward Bexley

While looking at a Greenwich based Facebook page I noticed that residents in SE2 were complaining that they had to pay £57 a year for a permit to park outside their own home.

They were somewhat shocked when I told them that some SE2 residents had to pay £100 and had been doing so for the past eight years. Those SE2 residents were penalised for being in Bexley.

It was Cabinet Member Peter Craske who decided to triple (from £35) permit charges and who manufactured the lies to justify it. He claimed it cost £240 a year to administer the scheme, a figure achieved through creative arithmetic. A disproportionate amount of enforcement effort was loaded on to residents’ bays and on white paint. Around £6 per foot must have been spent on annual repainting to get up to £240.

Craske also referred to favourable residents’ surveys which Freedom of Information requests revealed had never taken place.

Bexley Council in 2011 absolutely excelled at lying.


Kingston Council chargesIt may be interesting to compare Bexley’s £100 fee with other boroughs; Newham for example hands out the first permit free, always has done.

Kingston Council gets quite creative, their scheme, see table, must be quite expensive to administer.

Kingston being a Lib Dem Council is big on green issues. One can perhaps understand that electric vehicles might be favoured, but hybrids too?

The government recently woke up to hybrids being a bit of a fraud and took away the subsidy available to buyers. Experience showed that some of the returned leased vehicles had never been plugged in.

You may have seen the TV adverts for the new Toyota Corolla “Self charging hybrid”. What’s that? A perpetual motion machine?

The adverts have been banned in several countries for being too far removed from reality. The Toyotas run on petrol and when pressed Toyota UK admitted they can only run for half a mile on electric power, after that it’s petrol driven like any regular Corolla.

Will Bexley follow Kingston in encouraging people to go green? I would doubt it and I’m not sure it is something they should be getting into. It’s bad enough that Sadiq Khan intends to push his Ultra Low Emission Zone out to the Woolwich Ferry from October 2021. Being a blinkered Socialist he has no concept of the commercial impact on London and will care less.

Is Bexley Council doing anything to encourage greener motoring? It has turned its back on it in the past, probably that will continue.

Their new budget allocated £90,000 for electric vehicle charging points next year and nothing thereafter. There are grants available and some companies are willing to install for nothing if offered a decent site. Maybe Bexley Council doesn’t know.

If Sadiq gets his way and makes large numbers of drivers go electric, Bexley will still be doing its best to ensure that they cannot charge while out shopping. Maybe it doesn’t care about the well being of its shopping centres after all.

It’s a subject upon which Greenwich Council appears to know what it is doing. The picture below shows just a small proportion of the total number of charging points available in Greenwich retail areas.

Bexley is simply not going to be able to compete in the future, it would rather stagnate in the past. Hence no tube, no DLR, no Crossrail, no Thames Crossing. Will it ever learn?
Podpoint

No, of course it won’t

 

22 February - Place your bets now

Harrow Manorway Rarely has a week gone by over the past three months when some Council source or other hasn’t put forward a date for the completion of the Harrow Manorway flyover.

FM Conway moved in on 1st March 2017 and expected to complete the job in about 15 months. Things did not go according to plan. Network Rail were slow to give access to the new station and the bridge wasn’t in as good condition as some had hoped. Now that a whole two years have gone by surely we must be on the brink of a grand reopening?

One would think so and this week’s message from within Bexley’s Ivory Towers is the first to exchange vagaries like mid-December or early January with a real date. That is a day of the week with a number attached.

Are you ready for this?

The announcement is that next Wednesday 27th February is pencilled in for the new pedestrian crossing to be powered up and the two new bus stops to be brought into use.

The nearest betting shop is in Wilton Road.

Harrow Manorway

There is no sign of a next bus departure display. That might be asking just a little too much. Are there any at all in the Bexley part of Abbey Wood?

 

21 February - Bexley’s road planners are a disaster for vehicle automation

My friend Teresa - no not that one silly - asked me how an autonomous vehicle could negotiate Bexley’s folly at Trinity Place. She asked me because she knows, at least I think she does, that my son is heavily involved in the development of autonomous vehicles.

He has advised all the big names in the industry, insurance companies and statutory bodies. That is how I came to know of the new speed obedient buses long before Councillor Val Clark did and there is a lot more of that sort of thing coming.

Silly roundabout Silly roundaboutSo I sent him these two pictures and asked him. I described how exactly a week ago I tried to use the Trinity Place roundabout as a T junction as instructed by the road signs but a bus driver waved me through because he was treating it as a roundabout.

I doubt I would be thanked for posting his complete reply here but from the tone of it I suspect he would agree with me that Bexley’s road planners are damned fools.

His answer is that such a roundabout could be negotiated “imperfectly but not disastrously” by a specially programmed pod. That is a vehicle such as those that have been on test in Greenwich on specified routes. Built in artificial intelligence would help it keep out of trouble in the longer term.

But for fully autonomous level 5 vehicles it might be a different matter.

“It is a great example for the autonomous industry and could easily be missed in development with adverse consequences! It might just throw its hands up in the air and give up or make a badly wrong choice.”

He goes on in polite terms to say that it would help if local authorities knew what they were playing at and observed standard good practice.

 

20 February - Bombing Hall Place

Even on days like today when there is no time for a proper blog - and not much material either - there are additions to Bonkers. Sometimes it’s the various Photo features and at other times Bexley’s Press Releases.

The latter are usually given no publicity at all on BiB but today’s is an exception for no other reason than I liked it.

As a child of the 1950s growing up in Farnborough Hampshire under a sky filled with supersonic Hawker Hunters, flying wings, flying bedsteads, Bristol Brabazons and Saunders Roe Princess flying boats, there were few aeronautical events unknown to those of us who were forever craning our necks. The Vickers Vimy may not have been a familiar sight in 1949 when I first lived there, although Spitfires were, but it was only 30 years since the Vimy was the first aeroplane to cross the Atlantic non-stop.

Alcock and BrownWhat I didn’t know is that like the air blowers that my father played with in the 1960s as part of Concorde testing, the Vimy, or at the very least bits of it, was made within our borough. I once saw a replica Vimy flying and now a whole one hundred years has gone by since John Alcock and Arthur Brown flew one into the record books.

Bexley Council has had the brilliant idea of celebrating the centenary at Hall Place and has today issued a Press Release on the subject. They should get Royalty down to do the honours, it deserves nothing less.

The Vimy was built as a bomber but never saw active service, most of the First World War heavy bombers that flew over Germany were made by Handley Page.

One of those Handley Pages en-route to bomb Constantinople suffered engine failure and crashed into the sea in August 1917. The pilot was captured and taken prisoner. He was Flight Lieutenant John Alcock.


Vickers Vimy

Above: From Purnell’s History of the World Wars.

Vickers Vimy history

Both Alcock and Brown were Knighted within days of their achievement but Sir John Alcock was killed just six months later when he crashed his Vickers Viking in fog in Rouen.

 

19 February - Cashing in on Crossrail

It’s the lull before the storm. Bexley’s Cabinet will present its budget next Monday prior to it being rubber stamped by Full Council in two weeks’ time. Bexley Conservatives are already trumpeting the best bits, but is there a catch?.

An announcement that caught my eye was the £1,500.000 they claim to be investing in order to finish off Harrow Manorway, the main thoroughfare between Abbey Wood and Thamesmead. Is it new money?

TweetWhen the Crossrail project began Network Rail allocated £6 million to upgrade the surrounding public realm and Bexley Council has been busy spending it since May 2017. I know it seems a lot longer and it hasn’t helped that work should have finished last Summer.

Some have argued that it has been grossly over-engineered. Do we really need all those German granite blocks? Perhaps we don’t but it would be hard to argue that the finished article - those bits that are complete that is - look pretty good.

Do Bexley’s taxpayers really have to find another £1·5 million to finish the job? I scoured the published Agendas for clues. Is it all down to delays?

Looks like it.

£797,000 spent in 2016/17, £2,705,000 in 2017/18 and a year ago it was anticipated that £3,035,000 would be spent in 2018/19. They are now saying it is only £2,662,000.

That’s the six million of Crossrail funding pretty well mopped up and now it’s going to go one and half million higher.

Bexley Tories have cunningly dressed it up as a good thing and not because they somehow - it may not have been all their fault - overspent the original budget.

It wasn’t the only bit of bad news lurking in the bowels of the budget statement; a whole load of charges are going up.

Despite the recent recommendation that Bexley Council should encourage local shopping with short term free parking, it is in general going up in price.

The increases are mainly in the 10% to 15% range; how can they not see that raising prices by 10% whenever there is not an election around the corner simply drives people away? I have had four Amazon parcels delivered since last Sunday.

If you think 10% plus is bad, try delving further. 24 hour parking is up by between 20% and 30%. Some annual season ticket prices are up by 30% too.
Gayton Road

 

18 February - Refreshing

There was a technical problem with the website today with a file that has not been changed for at least 18 months so I have no idea what was going on.

The consequence has been some changed code, less of it but more complicated and it will probably disrupt the top banner area of the site. It corrects itself with a page refresh to force an update of the code. F5 on Windows.

 

17 February - Recycling. The choice is between “significantly worse” and “marginally worse”

Bryce-SmithThe recycling options presented to the Places sub-group and their recommendations to Cabinet have already been reported here. What you may not know is what individual Councillors had to say about the forthcoming changes.

Not a lot as it turned out, they spent only 20 minutes talking about changes which will affect every one of us. The Chairman said the report “was the most important bit of work he had ever been involved in. There had been a lot of disagreement between Members and Officers”.

Maybe I should declare an interest; my use of the recycling services is minimal, I could easily go four weeks between residual waste collections but accept that for families that is probably not practical.

Deputy Director David Bryce-Smith said “the chief conclusion was that staying as we are is not an option but there were two key options that Members felt we should look at. One of them which we called the 123 option involved moving to two weekly dry recycling, three weekly residual waste [and it] delivers the highest financial saving and had the most benefit in terms of improving recycling [rates]. The other main option was moving to two weekly dry recycling but not moving to three weekly residual waste collection”. One must assume that Mr. Bryce-Smith intends to retain weekly waste food collection but strangely he failed to say so. Nothing sinister I am sure.

“In terms of objective scoring against the key principles the three weekly residual and two weekly dry recycling scored highest, however the public consultation, the overwhelming majority of residents did not support moving to three weekly residual waste collection but they did support moving to wheelie bins.”

Councillor John Davey said “the issue of bin collection is probably uppermost on peoples’ minds. When you speak to people on the doorstep they say the only thing the Council does for me is to collect the rubbish. That’s not true at all but it is the one thing they are aware of. It’s a highly sensitive issue and we must take account of what the residents think. It is the one thing they care about. We want to make a saving but we are here to serve the public”


BaconCouncillor Gareth Bacon who was the responsible Cabinet Member when the existing waste system was introduced said he “was not at all surprised that residents are in favour of wheelie bins, the boxes break and rubbish gets blown down the street”.

He referred also to the proposed choice of wheelie bin size “based on evidence”. What was that?

David Bryce-Smith said "there was no such thing as a one size fits all and some parts of the borough have very limited space out front. In some parts we will potentially have to maintain weekly collections in boxes”.

Councillor Bacon didn’t think that answered his question. He was then told that there would be a choice of 140 litre or 240 litre bins but people who asked for a 360 litre bin would be visited. “They are quite large.”

Councillor Bacon said he was “very nervous indeed” about the proposal “for stronger enforcement against households who make no effort to recycle or do not use their boxes appropriately”. He wanted “to understand exactly what you mean by that.”

Mr. Bryce-Smith said “it was the view of some Councillors” but changes in the law meant that fines were only appropriate when the lack of recycling was “causing a nuisance. It is quite a high bar to prove but I would like to see more informal warnings. Anything more would be challenging under current legislation”.

Councillor Bacon said that “whichever option is adopted you are going to be downgrading, it will be either significantly worse than now or marginally worse than now and at the same time brown bins have been taken away from being weekly and are now fortnightly and chargeable. On top of that we are talking about taking enforcement action, I think we are taking a bit of a step too far there. I think people’s tolerance for that would be very very limited. If we provide the tools for them to do the job it is a matter for them what they do with their waste. I would be very very reluctant to have Council officers going around handing out penalty notices We should approach that with extreme caution.”

Councillor Geraldene Lucia-Hennis took a similar view.

If I may inject a personal note here, nearly two decades ago when the need to recycle first came to the fore I was very much against it based mainly on the fact that some Councils, mainly up north, were taking draconian action against residents who made even the simplest of mistakes. My rebellious streak came out and there was no way I was going to cooperate with such a system in Bexley.

However the system that Councillor Bacon wisely chose was so simple and so far removed from the big brother practices I had read about elsewhere that there was no reason not to cooperate fully and he completely won me over to his cause. Bexley Council will bugger that up at their peril. I suspect they won’t dare to and the Deputy Director appeared to strongly recommend the same. His main concern is that very nearly 50% of residual waste could be recycled and most of it is food waste. “Some residents just don’t recycle food waste at all.” I know I know, every Friday the footpaths along Abbey Road are strewn with the evidence.

He said some fox proof food bins were coming.

Councillor Stefano Borella said there were many complaints about Serco and recommended the Council set up its own trading company for waste services. The Chairman agreed with him.

If I might go personal again, the Serco blokes in my road do a pretty fine job. Sometimes they wheel my bins all the way back from the road to my preferred bin parking spot.

A decision will be made by the Cabinet Member at the end of the month. Maybe this will influence him? - Or this?

 

16 February - Art and Belvedere all in danger of being washed away

SeymourThe Valentine’s Day Places Scrutiny Committee meeting had three interesting things to deal with. The investment plans for Hall Place, the borough’s problems with water and what can be done to update the recycling arrangements to 2019 standards. Successful the recycling may have been for ten years but lessons have been learned and now is the time for change; one must hope for the better.

Those of us watching the webcast and easily amused will have noticed the Chairman Councillor Seymour say that London may run out of drinking water by 2020 while the Committee tables were festooned with water bottles that will all add to the plastic waste.

The meeting may have been unique in recent years by allowing a question from a member of the public. While it was established some eight years ago that Council procedures allowed for such a thing, never before to my knowledge has such a request not been rejected out of hand. That did not however inhibit the Chairman from saying “Too few people ask questions in this borough”.

The question was about the reduction in size of the Hall Place Art ‘Stables’ Gallery as a consequence of the planned expansion of the Gift Shop. Money rules!

Mrs. Sheila Ottley who has previously taken her campaign to the Bexley Times, said “in correspondence the Council has implied that it is investing in the Stables Art Gallery. We don’t believe that it is a positive investment for the gallery when a significant proportion of the exhibition space will be lost. Our voluntary organisation will struggle to survive”.

Councillor Peter Craske merely said “I don’t agree with that”. The Chairman did his best to soften the blow but just under six minutes after the question was posed the Arts supporters began to file out. Last time they were there they muttered “that was a waste of time”. I doubt things were any different this time around.


WilhelminaAfter Councillor Craske had thrown a bucket of cold water over the Arts Group’s aspirations Wilhelmina Drayton the Flood Risk and Development Manager gave the Committee an overview of Bexley’s flood problems. Ms. Drayton is what you might call an old friend of Bonkers.

In 2011 she was an Engineering Degree Student and asked me if I had any photos of the flooding in my part of town and a useful exchange of eleven emails ensured. It is good to see that she still retains her job after breaking the Council’s ban on corresponding with me. Perhaps the correspondence slightly predated it.

Bexley is lucky in that it has separate systems for surface and foul water drainage “virtually everywhere” but its capacity is being strained by a rising population. The infilling of previously green land is stopping natural drainage too. “Things become incredibly difficult and we have flooding and surcharging of manholes.” In the lowest lying parts of Belvedere when there is heavy rain and the Thames is at high tide the water has nowhere to go apart from bursting out of the manholes.

Bexley has taken a leading role along with 15 other authorities and a selection of consultants to produce a Sustainable Drainage Design and Evaluation Guide to encourage developers to follow good practice.

The law dictates that driveways and other paved areas, rear garden patios for example, must be made of permeable materials and this appears to be not a very well known requirement. Non-permeable materials require planning permission. “You can see companies go out and do a whole street at a time with impermeable surfacing. If metal gullies are installed planning permission is not required but they don’t always go anywhere” (Dare I mention Fendyke Road in Belvedere.)

“If I am honest I don’t think that as a Council we have necessarily been as great at enforcement as we perhaps could have been.”

The Chairman queried the viability of the Growth Strategy in Belvedere. "You {Ms. Drayton] are a statutory consultee and we may have to turn down some of the [planning] applications that come from the North of the borough where the bulk of the new building is going to be. It is an inherent problem going forward and ultimately if Mother Nature is going to give you a good hiding she will give you a good hiding. I worry about it and I don't think planners have taken it on board. We are putting so much into our Growth Strategy and you are the lady who is going to have to say No. From what I can see of it developers are not taking account of it at all.”

Ms. Drayton said that some developers are taking account of the problem.

Recycling report coming later.

 

15 February (Part 2) - Free money

BulbJust for the record…

The one week special offer to get £100 when switching to Bulb Energy produced £300 and £100 was passed on to Darryl Chamberlain to help him keep the 853 blog going.

It was Darryl’s efforts which put former Bexley Councillor Maxine Fothergill and Bonkers into Private Eye.

Nearly one quarter of the legal expenses occasioned by Councillor Fothergill’s efforts to silence the report of her High Court appearances were defrayed.

Again for the record, corrupt forces within Kent Police are still refusing to answer any letter or email on the subject of the various crimes alleged to have been committed by Ms. Fothergill.

The Police and Crime Commissioner for Kent, Matthew Scott, is also a former Bexley Councillor.

 

15 February (Part 1) - Tory lies destroyed

TweedledumThey said it again yesterday. What? That I am a Labour Party supporter. Who and where? Tweedledum and Tweedledee on Twitter of course.

If I am a Labour supporter then they are fully paid up members of The Raving Loony Party - on second thoughts, perhaps they are.

I have said it before and I will say it again that the only time I have voted Labour is at local elections when the candidate had become a personal friend and I didn’t want to stand in front of either of them and lie that I had voted for them.

The two pictured here wouldn’t have any such scruples, they lie all the time.

Here’s a selection of ‘Labour supporting’ things that have appeared on Bonkers in recent months.


• Sadiq Khan is an intellectual pygmy intent on wrecking London - 2nd February 2019
• …more parking spaces than the useless Sadiq Khan allows - 2nd January 2019
• Sadiq Khan has already proved himself to be very happy to spend our money and while he is in office things can only get worse - 28th November 2018
• Criticising Mayor Khan is such an easy target - 8th November 2018
• Corbyn and Co. are a bunch of Commies - 30th September 2018
• After a loud bang was heard in the Civic Offices : Was it the sound of Sadiq Khan being taken outside and shot for being the worst Mayor of any city anywhere? - 7th July 2018
• We are not all silly enough to believe Corbyn would make a good Prime Minister or Khan makes a good London Mayor - 4th May 2018
• Bexley Labour Party’s Retweet endorsing Jeremy Corbyn’s free bus travel for under 25s wheeze must be mad - 13th April 2018
• In my humble opinion Sadiq Khan is possibly the biggest (or should that be smallest?) idiot to ever be elected to high office - 8th March 2018


But I am a Labour supporter!

TweetIn yesterday’s edition of the Clueless Cretin’s Compendium of Crass Comments I am accused of saying that the £3·8 million investment in Lesnes Abbey (plus a 10% contribution from Bexley Council) would result in its “destruction”.

Nothing but lies.

The word destruction was used twice.

In December 2014 Bonkers ran a feature entitled ‘Destruction Centre’ which was about the demolition of the old Council building at Hill View in the middle of the borough and going for an alliterative sequence referred to the demolition of the old visitor Centre at Lesnes Abbey as Destruction North.

The ‘D’ word was used again when vandals destroyed the Lottery Fund sign and at the same time Bonkers commented on the fact that back in November 2015 I had yet to find anyone with a good word to say about the work seen up to that time.

And that’s it. The word destruction was not used again in connection with Lesnes Abbey and criticism was reserved for the two year delay to completion, and even then excuses were offered up.

Is poor quality lying the only thing that Bexley’s second rate politicians can find to do with their time?

Keeping a log of four and five year old Bonkers’ blogs can only be a brainless obsession. Funny they never actually find any factual errors.


Lesnes Lesnes Lesnes Lesnes

 

14 February (Part 3) - All forgiven?

Hugh Neal (Arthur Pewty’s Maggot Sandwich) reported to me earlier this evening that the Bookstore restaurant at the newly opened former Carnegie Library in Erith proved to be a resounding success attracting more than 60 customers to breakfast and lunch. Comments were very positive and he was looking forward to more people gathering at the bar later on.

A quick look at his photos suggest he has been forgiven for the following comment - for which I was threatened with arrest by Bexley Police who came under pressure from Teresa O’Neill to not bother too much with the evidence.
Flaming torches
The police later told me that I, not Hugh, had been accused by O’Neill of violence - with a pitchfork - and arson - with a flaming torch.

Hugh added the word metaphorically later because, I assume, he realised that the Council Leader’s cohorts were not only “scheming” but also lacking in literary knowledge. Read and Co.

Councillors Phillip Read and Nicola Taylor. Sarah Batten (the power behind the restoration) and Hugh Neal (blogger).

 

14 February (Part 2) - Three week bin collection is not popular but it is one of Bexley’s preferences

It was always going to be touch and go whether all of today's commitments could be completed in time to leave for this evening’s Scrutiny Meeting; in the event near gridlock all the way from Bexley Village to the top of Knee Hill put paid to it.

Not having to turn out again is something of a relief but the Places Scrutiny Committee is usually well worth attending as its subject matter affects us all and never more so than tonight.

The Sub-Group on Recycling is going to make its recommendations.

The options under consideration and the recommendations to Cabinet were…

Options Recommendations

Options and Recommendations

 

14 February (Part 1) - Kent Police. Still intent on dodging every issue

Every so often my commitments pile up to the extent that something has to give. There is only me doing this blog and attending a Council meeting and then writing two, three or even four reports about that meeting can easily take ten or twelve hours. Is it worth it?

The web stats have always suggested that readers are mainly interested in scandal and dishonesty and Bexley Council is no longer a reliable source of either. For dishonesty and corruption one has to blog about the police but to do that justice would be a full time job.

My last email to the Chief Constable of Kent’s Staff Officer, Miss Sonya Gransden cc.staff.officer@kent.pnn.police.uk, was sent exactly a month ago and a reply is still awaited. It is very difficult to get any response from a corrupt police force and I am inclined to think there isn’t any other sort.

When family members have had a brother murdered on the orders of senior police officers in order to silence them it is very difficult to believe anything good of them at all and I make no effort do do so.

For someone who has never stepped outside the law even down to the level of parking, speeding or Bexley’s latest bête noire, littering, I sometimes shock myself at the degree of hatred I have for the police. I suspect I would never help them in any circumstances and hope not to have to put that to the test.

I am not alone with that thought as the video below confirms. It relates how some police officers think they are above the law and think they can libel anyone they don’t like with impunity.

Meanwhile BiB is going to have to take a back seat while I catch up with other things. Friends have dumped four computers on me this week which have all gone wrong together and there are the AWTA minutes to write and I cannot put them off much longer.

And there is an increasingly untidy house to sort out too.

Yes it is a blank white screen, but click the Play button anyway.


Source video.

 

13 February (Part 3) - Erith’s Carnegie (former) Library reopens

CafeJust before Christmas I was given a tour of the partially restored Carnegie Library in Erith. For some unaccountable reason I didn’t take any pictures and the one here is ‘borrowed’ from Hugh Neal who has been very much involved in the restoration.

The restorative work is far from complete but is magnificently done and I found it difficult to distinguish new from well preserved old in several places. The toilets with their precious tiling largely intact were impressive.

The refreshment area was pretty much complete and I was able to partake in a small pre-Christmas beverage. Thanks Hugh.

Tomorrow you will be able to do something similar yourself because the restaurant will be open to the public. Sample menu below.

Hugh Neal will be there with his camera and no doubt the former library will feature in his next blog.

Menu

 

13 February (Part 2) - Houses in Bexley. Too expensive and too small

FerreiraThere was a couple of unusual items on last night’s Resources Scrutiny meeting Agenda, both there at the request of Labour Councillors. Joe Ferreira’s (Erith) was about housing, or “housing delivery” as the Agenda called it. It’s a subject that practically all politicians have failed to successfully tackle.

He opened with his trump card; not a single affordable home was built in Bexley in the last financial year. Not one.

His question was simple. “Why?”

Mrs. Richardson (Assistant Chief Executive - Growth) began with a statement of the obvious. “They are annual figures” but went on to say they should be looked at over a period of time. The target was exceeded in the previous year and “the planning approvals [for last year] would probably have been given two or three years ago”. She asked Members to look at the trend. “The houses under construction paints a much healthier picture”

Cabinet Member Louie French said that in the current financial year Bexley had seen “197 affordable starts and 140 affordable completions” which compares well with other London boroughs.

Councillor Howard Jackson decided to hit back at Councillor Ferreira by asking if Mayor Sadiq Khan had hit his targets. Councillor Daniel Francis rightly pointed out that this was a Bexley Scrutiny Committee looking at Bexley’s policies and achievements if any and not a GLA Scrutiny Committee. Councillor Jackson defended his question saying it was reasonable to contrast Bexley’s achievements with those elsewhere. The Conservative Chairman backed the Conservative Councillor.

Cabinet Member French said that Sadiq Khan had only built half the affordable homes he had promised despite being given £5 million by government to help him hit his target. To meet the target would require “more creative accounting by the Labour party supported by Dianne Abbott’s calculator”.

Then without a hint of irony he said that “housing should not be used as a political football”. Twice!

Councillor Francis took full advantage of the Chairman’s ruling that Scrutinising other London was a legitimate activity, asked how many other London boroughs had scored zero for affordable homes. Councillor French got away with that one fairly easily. He said other boroughs had not published their figures.

Allegedly embarrassing correspondence from Housing Associations revealing what the Council had told them to do was in Councillor Francis’s possession but could not be discussed because the Assistant Chief Executive had not seen it. Convenient.

Councillor Francis was concerned about the steeply rising number of people on the housing waiting list. 5,548 to 7,760 in just two years. He was told that renewing very poor quality housing resulted in a reduction in the housing stock. Larner Road, Arthur Street etc.

Whilst it was not specifically discussed at the meeting the Agenda gave some clues of the consequences of building homes as cheaply as possible.

Of the 679 homes built in the financial year 2017/18, 40% of them had only one bedroom, another 40% had only two. 18% three bedrooms and just 13 dwellings had four.

 

13 February (Part 1) - Improving the retail experience

It would take a lot to entice me to shop in Bexleyheath - or anywhere else if truth be told. I won’t use my car and run the gauntlet of yellow boxes and parking regulations in Bexleyheath if it can be avoided and I have pretty much given up on the buses, far too slow and unreliable.

In the whole of last year I only bought one item that went beyond a bottle of milk in Belvedere’s Asda and a few minor DIY things in the B&Q next door. That one thing was a bed plus a rather elaborate base and headboard. £1,100 delivered and fitted by Hamsey’s and it was significantly cheaper than the same thing available on line at the time.

However Bexley Council relies on a thriving retail centre for a chunk of its income so is keen to make things easier for traders. Maybe not screwing motorists might be a good idea but let’s try to be less cynical.

ChairmenAt last night’s Resources Scrutiny Committee ably Chaired by Councillor Ahmet Dourmoush (Conservative, Longlands) it was revealed that a group of Councillors had put forward a 14 point plan. The ideas included finding the funds to improve shop fronts as was done in Wilton Road, Abbey Wood, allowing time limited free parking, installing taxi pick up points and of most interest to me, allowing car parks, little used at weekends like the one in Gayton Road Abbey Wood, to be used for niche events such as ‘artisan market stalls’.

Just what is Bexley Council on these days that is provoking all these bright ideas?

BaconAnother of the bright ideas was the introduction of free wi-fi which Councillor Cheryl Bacon (Conservative, Sidcup) did not think was something that the Council should be spending money on. “Isn’t it something that businesses ought to be providing for themselves if there is a cost to us?”

Fortunately the Council officer behind the idea was not an enthusiast for logging into a new hot spot every time a customer left one shop and entered another.

He said that the equipment would be affixed to lamp columns and belong to Bexley Council and “we will use the intelligence that comes from that for our own needs and to share with businesses. There will be a benefit to the Council”.

Councillor Louie French (Conservative, Falconwood & Welling) said it was not a particularly new idea, it began development three years ago and will come to Public Cabinet in April.

Very sophisticated electronic footfall counters were now available and observers with mechanical clickers were no longer needed. Councillor Daniel Francis (Labour) wondered what use they might be when some stores on the Broadway were well used shortcuts to the Shopping Mall.

Deputy Director Jane Richardson entirely agreed that in practice the footfall counters “do not tell you a huge amount. As you might imagine, at half past three in Bexleyheath the town centre is thriving but no one is taking any money”. An amusing reference to the grey uniformed hooligans that emerge from the failed (Special Measures) Academy in Woolwich Road.

He was however rather more interested in the Local Plan, due for consultation imminently, which includes an entirely new Town Centre in his ward, Belvedere but only Conservative Councillors appeared to have been involved in its development so far. Councillor Louie French, the Cabinet Member, said that there would be another opportunity to discuss the Local Plan at the Scrutiny Committee meeting on 26th March.

Councillor Bacon suggested that the 14 points should be reviewed when the Local Plan consultation was concluded as “some items may feed into this”. It was accepted that her idea was a good one.

 

12 February - Along County Lines

Detective Inspector Andy Furphy made the long trek from Lewisham last Tuesday evening to contribute to the discussion on safeguarding Bexley’s children. His specialism is County Lines, the practice whereby urban gangs supply drugs to rural and market towns using dedicated mobile phone numbers.

Council officers said that since the police Borough Command Unit reorganisation last November there had been no problems with “a lack of police presence”. The D.I. confirmed that his area of operation “was very well staffed”. The Lewisham Greenwich Bexley BCU is the only one in London to have operated “as it was designed without the model being changed”. On “safeguarding, knife crime, gangs and things like that we are doing quite well”.

Using a tracker - a term that was not explained but maybe software data based - in Lewisham “a huge number of young people [were discovered] that we had not recognised before”. Use of the tracker has been expanded into Greenwich and Bexley. 520 people are currently known to the tracker and all are involved with County Lines.

In Bexley the numbers are increasing but still only 23 and most in the north of the borough. It is not a gang problem. “I see no correlation with gangs. It is organised criminal networks.”

In the main they are run by 19 to 25 year olds.

580 teaching staff in Bexley schools (most but not all of them) have been trained in the signs to look for to combat County Lines. Fire arms officers and ex-offenders have been into schools with “hard hitting” messages and in return have “received self disclosures from young people”.

The amalgamation of the three boroughs has been an “amazing” benefit because it has “provided additional resources and a much broader understanding of what has been happening and what is cascading into Bexley. It is so much better than it was previously”.

Deputy Director Toni Ainge confirmed it. “The relationship with the police has improved one hundred fold.”

(Maybe Bexley Tories will not be so keen to say that were against the BCU amalgamation and Labour was in favour in future.)

D.I. Furphy concluded the discussion by saying that one of the ways to reduce the County Lines problem is to put adult “exploiters in prison for a long time. They are a very negative influence on young people. They are looked at as being rich with a decent car; we make efforts to put those people in prison ”.

Not long ago “we made 58 arrests in New Cross, not one of them was a child. 28 were arrested in Catford. We have done similar jobs in Southend and Gloucestershire with 17 and 26 arrests respectively.”

Criminal Behaviour Orders have successfully been used to restrict the movement of young people so that they cannot be exploited by County Lines. Older offenders involved with County Lines or found to be in possession of a knife are being disqualified from driving and their cars crushed.

 

11 February - Bexley’s Budget. Conservatives ask no questions; no one has any bright ideas

Rather more often than I would like the meetings of the Abbey Wood Traders’ Association clash with something arguably more important in the Civic Offices.

Such was the case last Wednesday but the AWTA has to take precedence. All that can be revealed about that meeting is that the Abbey Arms has apparently got a three-ish month reprieve and will not close in March after all.

Refurbishment and a greater emphasis on food remains the likely outcome.

As a result of my absence Councillor Andy Dourmoush ran his Joint Budget Overview and Scrutiny meeting before an empty public gallery but fortunately the webcast audio problems had been fixed.

TweetThe Chairman said what the meeting was for. “It is to draw from the results of the consultation and to move ahead and make recommendations or alternative proposals to the Cabinet going forward.”

He made it clear that he did not want to hear any political grandstanding of the kind so loved by certain Councillors.

Councillor Joe Ferreira (Labour, Erith) asked when the “temporary accommodations pressures” were first noticed and built into the budget. Also how many properties the Council owns that could be used for temporary accommodation but weren’t and how many affordable homes had been built.

Deputy Director Bryce-Smith said “the TA problems had been known for some time and were particularly acute in the last year. There had been a big TA procurement exercise. We were looking at moving to over 400 contract properties, a 5% increase but we actually ended up with a 20% increase.”

“The Council has invested over sixty million in buying over 200 properties, some needed some work but we are looking at only two or three void properties.”

“There is new affordable housing being built but we are seeing a loss overall because of the need to regenerate the borough. The loss is one of the reasons for the increase of TA. The loss will continue into next year.” An extra £2·2 million will have to be spent next year assuming certain savings (half a million) prove possible.

Deputy Leader Louie French said that “affordable housing approvals [in Bexley] are at a higher rate than London as a whole. 41% versus 33%.”

Councillor Brenda Langstead (Labour, Slade Green & North End) pointed to  the large overspend” on Adults’ and Heath Services. Cabinet Member Brad Smith said that everything had been done to keep the overspend under control but there had “in a demand led service been unrealistic expectations”.

Councillor Linda Bailey (Conservative, Crook Log) asked if there was confidence on the Children’s Services budget and Cabinet Member Read said there was. “The needs of children are at the forefront of everything we do.”

Councillor Stefano Borella (Labour, Slade Green & North End) noted that Bexley was to contribute less money to the GLA’s concessionary fares schemes. “What are the reasons for this?”

A complicated answer said it was all to do with rolling averages but “the reduction was real”. The Hopper Fare had had an impact.

Councillor Cafer Munur asked if the Council knew where its care related equipment was because the NHS apparently didn’t. Deputy Director Stuart Rowbottom said he knew where it was but maybe collection wasn’t as good as it should be.

Councillor Eileen Pallen (Conservative, Bexleyheath) referred to the higher charges proposed for domiciliary care services and “the 16% uplift given to care providers. How much of that 16% went on increased quality assurance?” The Cabinet Member for Adults’ Services said “there is no direct link” but some of the care agencies have spent the money on improving their own data systems. The Deputy Director said that “the straight answer is none”.

Former Adults’ Services Cabinet Member Councillor Pallen did not think any of that was good enough but the Deputy Director said that Bexley’s Care Agencies had moved “from being in the lowest quartile to better than average”.

Councillor Wendy Perfect (Labour, Northumberland Heath) was concerned about the sustainability of the expenditure on high needs children; (Educational, Health and Car Plans). She was told that the costs would certainly rise and the Council Leader said it was a nationwide problem and she had written to the Secretary of State about it.

Councillor Langstead wanted to know what the assessed charges for equipment, crutches etc. were to be based on and what they might actually be. The Cabinet member batted the question across to his Deputy Director who said “it depends” but he would seek “full costs for care”. There was “national guidance which the Council follows”.

Unless I misunderstood it that answer did not answer the question.

Councillor Munur (Conservative) asked what was in place to help people who found themselves subject to the sudden “hike” in care charges. He was told that if clients reduced their level of care it may indicate a reluctance or inability to pay the increased charges “and alarm bells would ring”.

Councillor Borella asked about garden waste services and in particular the charge for additional bins. A charge of £38 for the first bin and £35 for subsequent bins will go forward to Cabinet. Cabinet Member Peter Craske said that the increased charges were supported by those who participated in the consultation. Councillor Borella said that in the consultation only 39% of respondents were in favour of the increase.

Councillor Borella also wanted to know about the revenue for the Westfield Lane (Welling) and Avenue Road (Bexleyheath) car parks which had their charges reduced a couple of years ago because they were uncompetitive with the nearby railway station car parks. Mr. Bryce-Smith said without any obvious enthusiasm that the £1 reduction “had resulted in some improvement”. There is still spare capacity at those car parks.

Councillor Ferreira said that a table of savings did not appear to add up properly. The discrepancy of £355,000 was confirmed.

Councillor Perfect had another question on SEN transport costs and was sceptical about how a new software tool could save £800,000. She had put the question to the Cabinet Member at the beginning of December and was told he was confident that the saving was realistic. In the 25 working days since then the projected saving has reduced by £400,000. Is the Cabinet still confident it can be achieved? The Director of Children’s Services got pretty close to admitting that back in December they didn’t know what they were doing.

Cabinet Member David Leaf said that budget processes get refined and that Councillor Perfect should not be shocked. Councillor Perfect said she was shocked. She had asked her question twice and Councillor Diment had queried it too but they received definitive assurances.

Councillor Leaf came back with a 15 year old Labour budget with which to taunt Councillor Perfect. It too had changed. Councillor Leaf was the first to ignore the Chairman’s plea to rise above such juvenile behaviour.

Councillor Ferreira queried two more minor budget savings and the Director of Finance reassured him on both. Cabinet Member Leaf went into echo mode as he usually does.

Councillor Borella asked about the reduction in grants to the voluntary sector and the Community Libraries and did they support it? Had the Cabinet Member had conversations with these people? Cabinet Member Craske refused to give details of any meetings. The libraries had been “busy generating their own income. They are flourishing. Blackfen has doubled its number of members.” Councillor Craske took the opportunity to ask if anyone had any alternative proposals.

Councillor Perfect came back with yet another question, this time about School Forums. Was its budget subject to annual review. Yes it would be.

Councillor Borella was back to the waste services again. What were the financial implications of reducing the frequency of collections? Cabinet Member Craske said it would be fundamentally wrong to make decisions on an unpublished Sub-Committee report.

Surely that sub-Committee must know the financial implications of the various options? Councillor Borella very obviously took the same view but he still didn’t get an answer.

He asked several more obscure questions about the services provided by Serco and their employment of about 25% agency staff. Deputy Director Bryce-Smith provided some inevitably technical answers.

Councillor Ferreira came back with another set of obscure questions on housing and once again Mr. Bryce Smith provided suitably complex answers.

Councillor Borella - him again. Were the redundant waste bins going to be collected when the wheelies were rolled out? Yes, probably.

Councillor Langstead. Is the £2·9 million Disabled Facilities Renewal Grant from the government going to be passed on to residents? Cabinet Member Alex Sawyer said that subject to means testing it would be.

And after a less than scintillating 90 minutes the meeting came to an end. A non-stop barrage of questions from Labour councillors and pretty much nothing from the Conservatives, whipped into subservience no doubt.

The Chairman indicated his disappointment that no Councillor Conservative or Labour came up with any new ideas for saving money. I'm not sure why he would expect Labour to be pushing for more cuts than there are already: they correctly questioned some of the arithmetic and reasons that lie behind them.

 

10 February (Part 3) - Watts at IKEA?

With nearly every other local blog commenting on the new IKEA in Greenwich why not Bonkers?

I only once went to an IKEA. Many years ago my aunt in East Ham wanted to go to one so I took her to Lakeside after which she said she never wanted to set foot inside one again. I very much agreed with her.

My only interest now is that I make three trips a week by public transport to East Ham but on alternate Thursdays go by car.

The route takes me immediately behind IKEA but last Thursday, the day it was due to open, the traffic at 1 p.m. was if anything lighter than usual.

IKEAAs I hesitantly mentioned a month ago, I have been driving an electric car for the past five months and in the opinion of many, take up of electric vehicles (EVs) is being inhibited by an inadequate charging infrastructure. One could write a small book about that and one of the problems has been a multiplicity of rapid charging standards.

There is a proprietary system originally adopted by Tesla, the Japanese one used only by Nissan - even on their forthcoming 2019 model - the 43kW AC standard used only on the Renault Zoe - and the European Combined Charging System (CCS) that was finalised for use on the 12th October 2011. It has been adopted as the standard throughout Europe.

To comply with that standard Tesla recently augmented their system with CSS in Europe and Renault sensibly announced it will do so shortly.

Only Nissan is still using the Japanese standard which goes by the ridiculous Anglo French name of Charge de Move; usually abbreviated to CHAdeMo. If they don’t make the change to CCS they could before very long find themselves out on a limb. Recently manufactured chargers do not include CHAdeMO.

So what have IKEA done for electric car drivers in Greenwich? They have put in AC chargers and an old CHAdeMo unit.

Oh well, I wasn’t going to go there anyway.

I can’t quite get my head around IKEA installing electric car chargers at all although I acknowledge it is their standard practice but I thought in Greenwich they were trying to discourage car use. And why should anyone use them? Across the road in the Brocklebank Centre there are 15 double headed Fast Chargers which are entirely free to use.

IKEA’s units charge 30 pence a unit (kilowatt hour) although apparently not right now because the communications system isn’t working yet.

The self-appointed experts on EV discussion forums are saying that installing only AC and CHAdeMO is contrary to current law although that is what is often found at Motorway Service Areas where installation predates the law.

It will not of course be IKEA’s failure, they contracted the utterly useless Ecotricity network to install the chargers. Ecotricity has a reputation for not maintaining its outdated charging network and is often held up as a major reason for the relatively low take up of EVs.

I suppose I will be told off if I say that if you can afford the exorbitant cost of an electric car you ought to be able to afford better quality furniture?

Note: Most of the charging points in the photo are 7kW AC (Fast) chargers which most EVs can use but they are slow. About ten hours to fully charge my own car.

The unit being criticised is the larger box to the right which is a 43kW AC/50kW DC (Rapid) unit. Without CCS it will be unable to service any modern fully electric car. Audi, BMW, Hyundai, Jaguar, KIA, Tesla or Volkswagen

 

10 February (Part 2) - Made in Erith

Generally speaking I only use Twitter to announce the more significant Bonkers’ posts and for countering the lies told by @bexleynews. Following that rule I very nearly didn’t Tweet about yesterday’s blog which had nothing to do with Bexley and it was on line for several hours before I changed my mind.

I was wrong about there being little interest in a brief life history but it bumped the number of web hits considerably and provoked more emails than blogs usually do.

I was also wrong about it having nothing to do with Bexley because I have been told that the air blowers shown in the engine test facility photo (white things on left) were made in Erith. I walked around those motors several times as a teenager and remember my father speaking of both the GEC and Parsons engineering companies and visiting their HQs. I did not realise that they were really one and the same company because Parsons took over GEC, or at least the bit of it that made the compressors.

Here’s another view of ‘Made in Erith’.
Blower Blower
As my knowledgeable reader, an apprentice with GEC Erith when the various bits and pieces were made, correctly says, the steam turbine was used to spin eight synchronous electric motors up to speed and the combined half million horse power was the force behind the Mach 3 wind tunnel.

if you were wondering a month ago why I lived in a town that still had gas lighting well into the 1960’s you have your answer. There was no spare electricity, in fact when those motors were switched on our TV pictures would shrink as the voltage went down.

My father always refused to speak of what he did while with Special Operations Executive and the Halifax to Cairo story was only got out of him during his final months. He wouldn’t speak of the Liberator to Casablanca trip at all and merely listened while his sister - the old lady in East Ham - related what he had told her, and presumably shouldn’t have done, many years before. The only bit of the story that came directly from my father was the bit about getting airborne within 30 minutes.

Since it appears to be of some interest here are the notes I made back in 1987 suitably sanitized and slightly modified for publication.


In 1987 Dad was dying and I took him out by car at weekends if he was well enough. One day we called in at the aviation museum at Tangmere which was little more than a couple of corrugated iron sheds filled with a variety of aircraft artefacts and memorabilia. One of them was a badly broken Rolls Royce Merlin engine that had been dug from the ground after a Spitfire crash.

Dad had worked on Merlin engines and I recall him, bragging almost, that it was the first engine to develop more horsepower than it weighed in pounds. On the side of the damaged Merlin engine was a panel inscribed with a notice to the effect that only Rolls Royce authorized personnel were to remove it. Dad muttered something about there being times when such things had to be ignored.

In early November 1942, towards the end of Montgomery’s campaign in North Africa, he said that there was an urgent need for small arms and ammunition to be ferried to Egypt. Six Halifaxes were suitably loaded and flew from Tempsford, Bedfordshire in two groups of three. Each group had the normal flight crew and because the flight was to be such an unusual one each group carried an engineering officer and a munitions expert. Dad was the engineer for his group of three ’planes.

They flew directly over France to Malta where they stopped for at least one night. Dad said the crew thought it easiest to sleep on board the Halifaxes but the local authorities forbade it because of the danger posed by Luftwaffe attacks.

Next day they flew on to Cairo where their load was safely delivered. For the return journey they loaded with forces’ mail and took off bound for Gibraltar. At some point in the journey the flight crew called Dad forward to look at the instrumentation of one engine and he instructed them to shut it down. They continued on their journey but another engine failed and all the mail had to be thrown into the sea while they struggled to keep aloft long enough to reach the north African coast.

Finding themselves stuck in a desert with two failed and two failing engines, with little food and no defences was something of a predicament.

A day or two later an army appeared on the horizon and very fortunately it was American and not German. They were in awe of such a large aeroplane stuck in the desert but perhaps unsurprising given that they were army and not U.S.A.F. They had plenty of food and fuel and oil.

Given hope of survival Dad began to dismantle the Merlin engines and discovered they had sucked in a great deal of sand. After a lengthy strip down and clean the Polish crew took off and headed off around the Bay of Biscay and home.

The pilot was ecstatic about getting airborne again and as Land’s End came into view he dived at it and continued the flight back to Bedfordshire at tree top height. When they got near to their base he circled the nearby village of Potton where Mum was staying and she added to the story by saying that she was in the garden hanging out the washing when the Halifax circled around at low level and she knew it had to be Dad’s after an absence of more than three weeks.

Dad went on to say that he didn’t think any of the other five Halifaxes returned but two crews managed to get home by overland routes.

He got home just before Christmas which was a good one because the Americans had stocked the Halifax with food and fruit which wasn’t easily available back in wartime Britain.


There are records on line of Halifaxes being lost over the Mediterranean at the appropriate time but nothing about exactly how many and whether some got home.

 

10 February (Part 1) - Where are all the kids?

Very nearly an hour and a half was spent at last week’s Scrutiny meeting discussing vulnerable children.

There are children that do not have a school place at all, there are those that do but are nonetheless missing and there are those supposedly being home educated.

There are also children who live with parents or are in care and who simply run away, some very regularly. The Council monitors the problem closely and keeps a daily tally. The number in Bexley is higher than the national average and higher than in other nearby boroughs.

Another vulnerable group is those who are exploited by criminal gangs, moving money and drugs. The so called County Lines problem.

Home education is a parent’s legal right and the number who choose that course is growing nationally and is around 230 in Bexley despite the Council persuading 75 to return to school last year.

Councillor Camsey (Conservative, Crook Log) harking back to her days as a Headmistress, was concerned about schools ‘off rolling’ troublesome pupils. She was assured it is not happening in Bexley but if any evidence arose it would be jumped on severely.

She was also very interested in the reasons for home schooling which are principally to avoid permanent exclusion, bullying, to avoid prosecution for non-attendance and dissatisfaction with schools generally.

One of her concerns was that pupils who are permanently excluded, for example, for carrying a knife become particularly vulnerable to the criminal gangs; what are we doing to re-educate them and their families and what were the police doing about it?

She was told the Governors and Youth Offending Team would most likely become involved.

The police officer present said they were training school staff on how to spot County Lines activities and the police would like to be told at the first sign of behaviour likely to lead to exclusion.

The first indicator of County Lines activity is not usually the carrying of a weapon but that a child goes missing and it is only when the exploitation becomes severe that they choose to carry a knife.

Councillor Wendy Perfect (Labour, Northumberland Heath), drawing on her experience of working in schools, believed that it was “low ability students” who were fuelling the rise in home schooling because they “struggle with the curriculum which is far too academic”. People would be shocked by what goes on in schools”. Pupils who can barely write or get through the first page of a maths test. Home schooling “reinforces their inadequacies”.

“Is there a plan to change the curriculum to engage these young people?” She was reminded that the Council cannot set the curriculum.

DimentCouncillor Richard Diment (Conservative, Sidcup) said that he had heard of pupils being encouraged to take a knife to school so that they would be excluded and quickly recruited by a criminal gang. The implied question did not get a direct answer. Schools were asked to tell the Council if they saw a risk.

Councillor John Davey (Conservative, West Heath) knew of one case where a school had asked a parent to home educate a child, He wondered how common that might be.

Councillor Alan Downing (Conservative, St. Mary’s & St. James) had noticed that children who were an hour late home were being recorded as missing persons. “At what stage do they become a missing person?”

A very long pause followed as Council officers scratched their heads. Eventually the Director of Children’s Services was heard to say “right, let’s see if we can unpick this.”

In summary, if a child in care is asked to be home at a particular time and they are not but their whereabouts is known the carer will still report the child as missing.

Councillor James Hunt (Conservative, Blackfen & Lamorbey) asked how the traveller community fits in to Bexley’s arrangements and in particular home education.

The answer was that they are visited but the numbers of children were not known to the Council Officers present at the meeting. An offer was made to provide the statistics “in the coming days”.

He also asked about the arrangements made for the children of Bexley residents being temporarily housed outside Bexley. A fair enough question but once again there was no answer.

To be continued.

 

9 February - From Charlton to Concorde via Cairo and Churchill

SS Burma ReportToday should have been, is?,  my father Leslie’s one hundredth birthday.

He was born at 82 Victoria Road, Charlton, Kent, renamed Victoria Way in the 1930s and later absorbed into Greater London. When just a few months old his parents moved to Burma where his father Alfred had grown up before joining the Merchant Navy and being torpedoed in 1915.

Badly injured he was taken to the Dreadnought Hospital in Greenwich and when discharged went to work in Woolwich Arsenal. While there he met and married Gladys from Canning Town who was 20 years his junior.

Leslie was home schooled in a suburb of Rangoon (Bassein) until both he and my grandfather contracted typhoid and were lucky to survive. In 1930 the decision was taken to return to London for health reasons and the family took up residence in Victoria Dock Road but Alfred died the following year.

My father was accepted into the local Shipman Road School where he consistently scored zero in mathematics tests until well into 1931.

Nevertheless the Shipman Road Headmaster gave a glowing testimonial as to his character and practical skills which got him a place at West Ham Technical College where he progressed to become Head Boy.

Armed with a Certificate from the Institution of Mechanical Engineers for which he had to pay 7/6d., he was apprenticed by Troup Curtis & Co (ship’s engineers) of Victoria Dock Road and paid eleven shillings a week.


Knight Completing the course in March 1940 Leslie briefly worked in the Arsenal designing a Bakelite hand grenade but due to a mix up with the papers relating to his exempted employment status there was a minor brush with the law and in February 1941 he joined the Royal Air Force.

Following training in Skegness he was allocated to 138 Squadron and sworn to secrecy. It was Special Operations Executive which took on a variety of tasks including dropping spies into occupied France and collecting them.

In the Autumn of 1942 Leslie as Flight Engineer took a Halifax bomber to Cairo via Malta to supply Montgomery with small arms and crash landed it into the Sahara Desert when the Merlin engines filled with sand on the return trip. Two Halifaxes in the same group were lost into the Mediterranean presumably for the same reason.

He took the Merlins apart and and cleaned and mended them over a period of three weeks. A passing unit of the American Army provided food and oil and a Polish aircrew got the plane back to Bedfordshire but not before a roof top level run and celebratory circle of my mother’s house who didn’t even know where her husband had gone let alone was a month later. She told me just before she died that she knew immediately what that circling Halifax meant.

Two months later he took Winston Churchill to Casablanca and back in a heavily fortified Consolidated Liberator. It suffered technical problems in Casablanca but was quickly repaired and the Prime Minister never knew. “You have 30 minutes to get that crate airborne or else.”

ConcordeFor those achievements Leslie was Commissioned at Cosford later in 1943.

Having achieved a reputation for his engineering skills Leslie was recruited when the war ended by Frank Whittle to help develop his gas turbine engine. That led to a move to Farnborough, Hampshire in 1949 and a lifetime developing various jet engines.

Perhaps the most newsworthy was the Bristol Siddeley (later Rolls Royce) Olympus which started life in the very early 1950s and at that time delivered just over 9,000 pounds of thrust.

As part of the long forgotten project to develop a Mach 3 bomber my father and just a couple of other people designed the engine test facility. I still have all their original sketches. The half million horsepower low pressure wind tunnel was used to push the Olympus engine to an incredible 38,000 pounds of thrust and successfully power Concorde. The development team thought that 42,000 pounds was possible but as usual the government of the day cut the budget.

Leslie Knight was a Fellow of the Royal Aeronautical Society and the Institution of Mechanical Engineers.

Halifax

138 Squadron, Special Operations Executive 1942.

Calculations

His arithmetic improved.
Torque calculation of Armstrong Siddeley Mamba Turboprop engine circa 1949. Scroll or click for more.

My father died from too much smoking 32 years ago. What a waste.

 

8 February - Socking it to the Domestic Abusers

SawyerA part of last Tuesday’s Joint Scrutiny Committee dealt with Domestic Abuse and Cabinet Member Alex Sawyer kicked off with “an overview of the Domestic Abuse Service in Bexley”.

It had taken two years to produce and the focus was the recommissioning of the core service which has seen the transfer of the High Risk service to the Council and a proposal to develop a High Risk Abuse Strategy.

“The subject matter is too serious for there not to be a pan-Council approach of ideas. It is important that the Strategy has as its aim the desire to improve the situation of women and men who suffer from Domestic Violence. We have a roughly 90/10 [gender] split in the borough.”

The borough does not have the budget for a preventative programme but external funding will be sought.

Councillor Richard Diment (Conservative, Sidcup) drew attention to the significant under-reporting of DV in Bexley that had been estimated by an outside body. (Safe Lives.) “Could it be reduced?”

He went on to say that significant numbers of Bexley children are educated in other boroughs (and vice-versa) and believed a lack of cross-borough reporting might affect the statistics being collected. Deborah Simpson (Domestic Abuse & Sexual Violence Strategy Manager) confirmed that that was indeed a problem but one that was being addressed.

Councillor Sue Gower (Conservative, Bexleyheath) was also concerned about under-reporting and told of a case where an eight and a half months pregnant lady suffered a third assault in three months but the health services did not immediately recognise she was a victim.

Only when it reached “a flashpoint did she get any support”.

Deputy Director Toni Ainge said that “multi-agency training” was now in place to recognise problems at an early stage.

The police officer present said that last year every officer in the Met. had been given Domestic Abuse training. Perhaps because of that Bexley had seen a 13% increase in recorded Domestic Abuse.

Councillor Sybil Camsey (Conservative, Crook Log) said that schools have an important role to play in reporting Domestic Abuse. It was disappointing that only 50% of schools had signed up for DV reporting and she suggested that Governors be approached to remedy that.

 

7 February - You’re far too fat. (Yes we have no bananas)

Newton MunurThis week’s Scrutiny meeting was another of Bexley Council’s combination jobs bringing together all the Councillors and officials with Adults’, Children’s and wider Communities interests.

Not being a ‘standard’ Scrutiny Committee meeting it required a Chairman to be elected. Councillor Cafer Munur who normally chairs Adults’ and Children graciously suggested that Councillor Caroline Newton who chairs Communities should do the honours at the joint meeting.

This was of course a pre-arranged sham but a necessary one. Councillor Newton could not have done the job as well as she did without preparing for it in advance.

The Joint meeting of the Children’s and Adults’ Services and Communities Overview and Scrutiny Committees was the second big Council meeting in the space of a week in which members of the public were not constrained by a barrier, a nonsense introduced by Chief Executive Gill Steward who left Bexley under a cloud last July.

The aforesaid MoPs consisted of just me.

Committee
The meeting was remarkable for another reason too. The number of Councillors who have never acknowledged my presence at Council meetings over the past nine years fell from 24 to 23. One more to go and more than half of them will have at least made a nod in my direction. What an unpleasant bunch most of them appear to be.

There were two big subjects up for discussion loosely described as looking after vulnerable people and looking after over-weight people.

One of Bexley’s claims to fame is that its residents are the fattest in South East London and its children are the second fattest in London. The fattest areas of Bexley are Thamesmead, Belvedere and Slade Green in that order. An excess of takeaways was said to be a major factor but Councillor Mabel Ogundayo (Labour, Thamesmead East) doubted it, she was aware of only one Chicken Shop in the whole of her ward.

The problem was described by Joanne Ferry who describes herself as Bexley’s Senior Public Health Specialist as “an obesity epidemic”. Three out of ten of the borough’s youngest children are overweight and the majority of adults. She is looking for a 2% reduction in numbers over the next five years which will mean reversing the current upward trend.

She aims to work with “local business and food outlets to provide healthier options”. Limiting new fast food outlets, too many of them are in close proximity to schools, and introducing “healthy streets” (for easier walking and cycling) along with better use of parks are all on the table.

There has been “a normalisation of obesity” and to combat it more breast feeding, “best infant feeding options”, and vouchers for fresh fruit and vegetables are all being looked at. Inspiration and motivation are the dominant themes, not compulsion.

The nicely rounded Councillor James Hunt asked what had happened to all the other obesity strategies introduced over the past five years. “Are we starting again?”

He didn’t want to see “tyrannical” health visitors insisting on all mothers breast feeding either. “It didn’t suit everyone” and he was told it was not the only option.

He asked how it would be possible to restrict new fast food outlets within 400 metres of a school. He was told that it was “an explicitly stated” directive from Mayor Sadiq Khan. Apparently his ambitions extend to preventing children’s access to chips but not to their supplies of cutlery.

Dr. Anjan Ghosh (Director of Public Health) chose to answer the starting again question. He said that “whatever we did before hasn’t worked” and the problems are now being “tackled on an individual by individual basis”.

DowningCouncillor Alan Downing (Conservative, St. Mary’s & St. James) who is very good at putting his finger on the real world problems faced by real residents suggested that Dr. Ghosh get himself down to Homeleigh (homeless accommodation) where 24 rooms share a kitchen which has one microwave with no work surfaces, no tables and no chairs. Residents are effectively compelled to go with their children to the nearest take away. It has been left that way for two and a half years, he said. “Homeleigh is disgusting.”

Councillor Eileen Pallen (Conservative, Bexleyheath) noted that children used buses even for 100 yard hops and thought that TfL should limit the number of totally free rides. “It will be doing the children a favour.” Most readers will think that is a very sensible idea but it did not go down too well with Ms. Ferry.

Councillor Cafer Munur (Conservative, Blackfen & Lamorbey) thought that over eating for reasons of comfort and stress reduction and other possibly mental health related issues was missing from the strategy and “wondered what we should be doing about that”. His point was accepted.

Councillor Esther Amaning (Labour, Thamesmead East) said that while helping out in food banks she noted that a lot of food being distributed could not be described as healthy eating.

Councillor Sue Gower (Conservative, Bexleyheath) suggested that the Strategy looked back at the work done within the Sure Start and Children’s Centre programme which identified a shortage of fresh fruit and vegetable supplies, for the less well off community presumably. “You cannot buy fresh bananas on a Monday morning in Erith. Morrisons is a bus ride away, families will just buy what is available.” The problem is that “parenting skills have not been transferred down and the cheaper cuts of meat are unknown”. She said parents should be shown how to use slow cookers.

“The Cinema and the Bowling Alley, even if you do want something healthy you can’t get it because they don’t sell it. Preloading by young people [with alcohol] is calorific. I was told the other day of a young person going out who could not afford many drinks who drank half a bottle of port.”

Councillor John Davey (Conservative, West Heath) said that the fast food outlets were there because there was a demand for them so the demand should be tackled. Sometimes it is down to people’s culture but referring to a the map of Bexley’s takeaways he backed Councillor Ogundayo’s observation. There is no correlation between their number and obesity.

He made the point that people coming from abroad where there are frequent famines may be feeding their children extra when they can because that is their culture. More education is required.

Councillor Sybil Camsey (Conservative, Crook Log) thought that the Strategy’s emphasis on education would put extra pressures on schools which they could ill afford. Some are already struggling with the free school meals budget and the price of meals pushes parents towards packed lunches.

That‘s it. I’m off to raid the fridge.

 

6 February - Harrow Manorway flyover. Far too slow and far too quick

Bexley Council held a joint Adults’ and Children’s Scrutiny meeting last night which went on for an astonishing 172 minutes. Interesting stuff but condensing it into a few paragraphs presents something of a problem especially when this afternoon is going to be mostly taken up with preparing for this evening’s Abbey Wood Traders’ Association meeting. Being at that meeting will prevent me attending the Budget Scrutiny meeting tonight which is a big disappointment and if the technical issues with the webcast remain it will prove to be a total disaster as @bexleynews will be able to lie about it for ever more unchallenged.

Tweet Leaflet
As a quick and easy filler Bonkers will return to something bonkers. The ongoing saga which is the Harrow Manorway flyover.

Reconstruction was supposed to be completed by Summer 2018 and more recently someone passed on to me a Council email which said it would be finished my mid-December.

Then another that it would be completed by the first week of January and then last week a third that said it would be finished “this week” which in my naivety and having looked at the state of the flyover I assumed must mean the end of this week, 8th February. But no, it was confirmed they meant 1st February.

Yesterday Bexley Council announced that the bicycle rack and Poundshop bus stops “will be up and running shortly” with no hint of an apology for the six month delay.

For the bus shelters to be useful the eastern footpath will need to be opened which may not be difficult; there is no obvious reason for it not to have been opened a week or more ago.

Yesterday I discussed the matter with a lady emerging from Sainsbury’s and walking slowly with a stick. She said that to get home Bexley Council was unnecessarily making her use the western footpath and then cross three lanes of traffic at a necessarily slow pace. It is not a route I have to take so for me the dangers had gone unnoticed.

It is the same junction point about which a cyclist complained at the Transport Users’ meeting. For them it is incredibly dangerous and now a stick reliant lady is saying the same thing.

However it is not always a lot better for motorists.

I drove over the flyover in a southerly direction soon after 8 a.m. this morning and stopped at the pedestrian crossing outside Sainsbury’s. The driver of the white Audi A1 (LY15 GGJ) behind me was not happy about that, I got a blast from her horn.

When the light turned to green I made a quick get away but was blasted by the horn of the tailgating Audi again. A glance at my Head Up Display speedo (bragging, sorry) said I was doing 28 m.p.h. which in my opinion is quite fast enough on the flyover.

Having since looked up the specification of a 1·4 litre Audi A1 LY15 GGJ I know I could have left it for dead if I had a mind to but I am too old for boy racing so merely continued on my way.

As I approached the Knee Hill roundabout the Audi shot past me on the inside and then violently changed direction as it headed towards Abbey Wood Station.

Ladies on sticks would not have stood a chance.

I followed the white Audi along Wilton Road and waited behind it while the driver ran into the station and the passenger slipped into the driving seat. I am pretty sure it is the same pair of bottle blondes who unleashed a stream of obscenites at me for taking photos on the flyover a year ago. They were blocking the traffic on the flyover while they performed the same stop and swap manoeuvre and I was merely waiting for a clear view of the station.

I really should get myself a dashcam.
Harrow Manorway

 

5 February - Keeping it in the family

While thumbs are twiddled waiting for the next round of Scrutiny meetings and I sit hoping that Bexley Council’s webcast audio problem has been fixed, let’s look at a few more old faces.

When I began to keep an eye on Bexley’s Councillors I was surprised to see that very nearly a quarter of the Conservatives were married to each other and that was just the heterosexuals. They even had senior managers married to each other marking their own annual reports.

Like so many things at Bexley Council, things are much better now, the figure for couples is down to only 10% and a bit.

However it is more than likely that Councillors hand their jobs from one generation to another, not that that is a bad thing, at least they should have gained some idea of what they were letting themselves in for before running around with blue rosettes begging votes.

Davey French French French
Newton Sams Slaughter

You will note that French was a common name (pointer pop up, Photos 2, 3 and 4) - there was even a Brian Francoise at one time - but whether Liz and Mike French (Photos 2 and 3) were related to the current Deputy Leader Louie French must be in some doubt. They were both Labour Councillors.

Margaret Davey, Liz French, Mike French, Ronald French, Leonard Newton, Rita Sams, Michael Slaughter.

 

4 February - The survivors

Bacon Bailey Betts Clark Craske
Downing Francis O'Neill Perfect Slaughter

Some of these pictures of current Bexley Councillors are 25 years old and several faces do not look an awful lot different.

You must know who they are but if not pointer over image should provide the answer.

 

3 February (Part 4) - From Belvedere to Hinkley’s Point

Bexley Council has been touting its plans for a shopping centre in Belvedere for the past couple of years and I had assumed, perhaps wrongly, that it would be built along the more northerly section of Picardy Manorway and be close to where the Morgan restaurant and Starbucks, shortly to be joined by Lidl, currently are.

There are signs that I was wrong

Bexley Council has asked the GLA for the £150,000 required to pursue “a master plan” for Belvedere. Nothing will happen immediately if for no other reason that it is to some extent Crossrail dependent. Remember that? There was a plan to provide a new rail service to Abbey Wood and perhaps beyond. Whatever happened to it?

The Council has in mind “a significant net increase in new homes, a reinvigorated retail offer, reprovision of services for children and families, high quality public realm improvements and creating new employment and training opportunities”.

The map below and the Council’s statement suggest that Orbit Housing may do something drastic with their housing stock within the red boundary line. They have “commenced an initial engagement exercise with their residents”.

Mrs. Richardson who is Bexley’s Assistant Chief Executive and responsible for Growth and Regeneration spoke on the subject recently.

She said that while development plans for Thamesmead and Erith were well advanced the same did not hold true for Belvedere but it is “essential that we have a clear vision here as well”.

The map has gone to the Mayor’s Office as part of the bid for money to fund the detailed plans and Mrs. Richardson noted that the Belvedere public house to the south of Station Road will be included despite the line indicating otherwise.

If the Mayor fails to come up with the £150k. contingency plans are in place to cover it.

Deputy Leader Louie French said he hoped that the Mayor shared Bexley’s ambitions and that “he put his money where his mouth is. There is is huge potential under the Growth Strategy for regeneration in the Belvedere area”.

HinkleyCouncillor Sally Hinkley (Labour) who represents the area thanked Jane Richardson and her team for the work put into the Belvedere scheme. “Belvedere is an integral part of the future [of the North of the borough].”

“Belvedere was once and maybe still is perceived by some to be the poor relation to Upper Belvedere and the rest of Bexley but the area is evolving and big names are investing in the area already. The number of young professionals willing to call Belvedere home is growing.”

“We must be careful to protect what makes Belvedere such a strong community. Some of the traders [within the red line] have been there for generations.”

She made the same point about the housing stock. “It is not a transient population and many residents have been there for many years. They take a pride in their homes and have very substantial roots in the area.”

She wanted “wide ranging consultation” and for the Council to “listen to their voices”.

Cabinet Member Louie French said he would want to see consultation “but at present we are at a very early stage”.

Belvedere map

 

3 February (Part 3) - BexleyCon?

Both of today’s earlier blogs featured Bexley Council’s plans to add to its property portfolio and sell what it can to BexleyCo. The details came mainly from what was said at last week’s Cabinet meeting and what was written in the Agenda. The latter was perhaps not as clear as it might have been hence the vague reference to some property having been disposed of already or would be soon.

That was not the only vague reference, for example there was another to “recently acquired properties in Slade Green Road”. A mole within the Council drew my attention to the Council’s asset register which is supposed to list their property assets. Many are schools and car parks and of no great interest if one discounts things like Wickes in Fraser Road, and it is too out of date to include 63 Belvedere Road. Nevertheless it enables the piecing together of what a secretive Council may be up to in Slade Green.

The recently acquired units are 176 and 178 Slade Green Road which just like 63 Belvedere Road have an interesting neighbour. In Slade Green Road it is the Community Centre.

Together those properties will form a large and valuable corner plot ripe for redevelopment.

Last week’s BexleyCo report was not only vague in places it would appear to be a long way from telling the whole story.

How many more sites are being secretly put together for future sale?

 

3 February (Part 2) - House buying ramps up

Belvedere Road Belvedere RoadBexley Council announced last week that it expected to buy about 17 houses in the coming financial year to help solve its housing problem. It has already been helping to force up prices by buying property over the past couple of years, sometimes entering bidding wars and depriving ordinary people - Councillors even - of the opportunity to buy starter homes.

Bexley Council made a particular fuss about buying 63 Belvedere Road which is next door to Teresa O’Neill’s favourite park, Burr Farm. All the other purchases slipped by unnoticed giving rise to speculation that there was something special about 63 Belvedere Road.

Would it one day provide a gateway to housing on Burr Farm which has been closed for many years?

Who knows? Never underestimate the deviousness of Councils.

Since it was purchased Bexley Council has had the builders in. Some windows have been replaced and very recently a disabled access ramp has been installed.

Buy

 

3 February (Part 1) - BexleyCo business plan : Selling Bexley by the pound

BexleyCo you may wish to be reminded is a company set up by and wholly owned by Bexley Council to allow it to screw over residents in ways that as a Council it would not be allowed to do but with the prospect of its profits being fed back to the Council.

At last Wednesday’s Cabinet meeting it was agreed that five valuable pieces of land would be handed over to BexleyCo. Old Farm Park, West Street Small Park, Lesney Road Park, 221 Erith Road which is a former health service facility alongside Burstead Woods and the Felixstowe Road Car Park in Abbey Wood.

A further four sites, Northumberland Heath’s Wilde Road, the former Nag’s Head Car Park in Welling, the Community Centre in Slade Green and the Walnut Tree Road Depot in Erith have either gone the same way or will shortly do so.

Cabinet Member Louie French said that BexleyCo will ensure the quality of housing to be built on those sites would be “very high”. Like it was when BexleyCo submitted plans for Wilde Road presumably.

The Felixstowe Road Car Park has had a confusing history in recent years. Commandeered by Crossrail in August 2013, Peabody sought outline planning permission to build what they called their Gateway Quarter development on it when the site was relinquished. A gateway to the larger schemes proposed for the Coralline Walk (The Lesnes Quarter) and Binsey Walk (The Lakeside Quarter) schemes. They since appear to have lost interest in it.

FerreiraTo the joy and relief of Abbey Wood residents and commuters Bexley Council recently indicated that it would restore the Felixstowe Road Car park but monetary realities appear to have triumphed. Abbey Wood folk will instead be condemned to suffer parking difficulties for ever more while the site is occupied by commercial or industrial units or as many as 170 homes. How can that be when only 66 are proposed for the nearby Harrow Inn site? The final decisions for Felixstowe Road have not yet been taken but a building start date of August 2020 has been pencilled in.

Councillor Joe Ferreira (Labour, Erith) made a plea for rented homes instead of the proposed For Sale signs but was rebuffed by the Deputy Leader with tales of economics and high finance. The money has to be available to build the infrastructure; schools and GP surgeries and the like.

No subject is exhausted at Cabinet until Councillor Leaf has had his say.

He spoke of how BexleyCo would repay its loans and whether it would be sustainable and viable and able to deliver returns to the Council.

And that was it, in just six minutes another batch of parks and redundant sites was approved for disposal.

 

2 February - Bexley’s budget. When 18 minutes seems like five years

There were 4,165 responses to Bexley Council’s budget consultation and Council Leader O’Neill described them more diplomatically than I did. She said they have “shown up some misunderstandings”. Total ignorance might be more accurate.

ThorogoodPaul Thorogood the Director of Finance provided the formal statement. He forecast a balanced budget for the financial year about to start but there is an overspend for this year of just over £3 million. Provision of temporary accommodation is the main cause; the supply of houses has halved while the number of new homeless has gone up by 20%. He is planning for £19m. to cover growth in services and another £14m. for inflation.

64% of Business Rates is going to Bexley Council and the remainder to the GLA.

LeafCabinet Member for Finance David Leaf was as rambling as Mr. Thorogood was succinct. He droned on for 18 minutes and 27 seconds at his characteristic break neck speed pausing only to slag off the opposition party and neighbouring Greenwich Council. His address added nothing of interest to the debate and no part of it is worthy of highlighting here and its only merit was the amusement and occasional laughter he provided for his colleagues whose yawns were ill-disguised.

On reflection, Councillor Leaf did say one thing that attracted my attention. He said that one consultation respondent said that a four weekly residual waste collection should not be a problem and that a two to four month interval should be considered. That was not me but it could well have been. A two month interval would not usually represent a problem. I know of one household basically the same size as mine that manages to fill two bins most fortnights. Where do they get it all from and why do they have two bins anyway? #doitforbexley

Apart from quoting some of the sillier budget responses like a complaint that Teresa O’Neill is paid £280,000 a year he got through his budget speech without adding one iota of useful comment. Quite an achievement.

My old sparring partner Councillor Peter Craske came out with more good information in his one minute and eight seconds after first making a joke at Councillor Leaf’s expense.

He is going to use his budget to replace 1,200 old steel and concrete lamp posts which have come to the end of their life and will replace old style Keep Left bollards with new low maintenance illuminated ones. £600,000 will be spent on flood prevention schemes and there will be additional funding for the new Thamesmead Library.

He was critical of the London Mayor’s decision to cut the road maintenance budget but he plans to make up some of the deficit. Half a million will be spent on stabilising the Fraser Road embankment which slipped last year.


SmithCouncillor Brad Smith (Adults’ Services) was almost as brief and proud of being able to meet the increasing demands of the homeless. Costs have been reduced overall while services have improved due to efficiency improvements which is something he has said many times before. His evidence for it is that complaints have reduced.

Pay for care workers has been significantly increased which is yet another indication of Bexley Council’s all round improvement over the past year or three. Councillor Smith’s predecessor was cock-a-hoop when he announce he had screwed payment to care agencies down to the lowest possible level, by contrast Councillor Smith plans a £3·9 million budget increase.

Cabinet Member Philip Read (Children’s Services) was pleased that the vast majority of budget consultees appeared to be happy with the way things were going. He largely resisted the opportunity to bask in the glory of his OFSTED achievements but clearly intends to build on them.

FrenchDeputy Leader Louie French was concerned at the way the costs of homelessness were running well ahead of budget predictions. He wanted to take “a firm line with any form of fraud”.

“The success of the borough’s businesses was key to its future prosperity. They help to reduce the tax burden on local people.”

He was “disappointed” at Mayor Sadiq Khan’s decision to increase his tax take on Bexley residents by 9%. “His management of City Hall’s finances continues to cause grave concern for all local people in Bexley. He is ignorant of alternatives.”

Instead of spending money “on 1,300 front line [police] officers he has spent it on his PR department”.

I think Councillor French was telling us that Sadiq Khan is an intellectual pygmy intent on wrecking London, which of course he is.

Cabinet Member Alex Sawyer, always one for a good joke and calling a spade a spade, said he had aged five years since Councillor Leaf started to speak.

Being the last Cabinet Member to speak there was little left for him to say but indicated he would if necessary be critical of the new Police Borough Command Structure and labelled the homelessness situation in the country “disgraceful” and “spectacularly wrong”. He was pleased that the budget allowed “the purchase of about 17 more properties”.

Councillor Daniel Francis (Labour, Belvedere) drew attention to the fact that “here we are now three months after the Scrutiny meeting in October and the overspend for the financial year has almost quadrupled compared to what was previously presented”. He wondered “how on earth we are going to fill” next year’s £19m. projected budget gap. “Three months ago the Scrutiny Committee Chairman was refusing to answer questions. We were held in contempt quite frankly.”

“People in this building must have been aware of the overspend at the time.” He planned to ask his detailed questions at the next Joint Budget Scrutiny meeting.

The Chairman of that Committee, Councillor Andy Dourmoush said every Member of the Council would be encouraged to come forward with alternative budget proposals at his next meeting. (Let’s hope the webcast audio is corrected by then as I am unable to attend due to commitments elsewhere.)

Councillor Leaf managed to waste another three and a half minutes by contradicting Bexley’s Peer Review. He said “the Scrutiny process works very well indeed and Councillor Francis’ criticism was beneath him”.

The budget proposals were moved by Councillor Leaf and seconded by Councillor Craske and approved unanimously.

 

1 February - Hall Place - You are going to have to pay

Wednesday’s Cabinet meeting started well, or at least the lead up to it did.

The barrier introduced by the late but unlamented Chief Executive Gill Steward had gone leaving Bexley’s mad axe murderers free to run amok without the need to be an Olympic hurdler. Fortunately there is an absolute dearth of Bexley residents intent on assaulting Councillors although the reverse is not absolutely true.

Another welcome move was that Council Leader Teresa O’Neill descended from her top table to ask the dozen ladies in the audience if they were there to hear the Hall Place discussions. They said they were and the Leader kindly shifted that subject from the back end of the Agenda to the beginning. I have seen other Chairmen, notably Peter Reader, do that but this may have been a first for the Leader.

It was a good move but it probably didn’t win over the Hall Place ladies; as they left 30 minutes later two of them said to me “Well that was a waste of time wasn’t it?”

I’m not sure what they expected. The meeting was an opportunity for Cabinet Member Craske to tell us how his ideas have developed over the last three months, not an opportunity to tell him where he has gone wrong.

Personally I am not at all sure he has. Yes the garden admission fee has doubled but the original low price was barely enough to pay the wages of the gateman and if all his plans come to fruition quite a lot is on offer for the price of a beer.

So what did Bexley Council’s premier showman have to say?
Cabinet
The site currently costs about £200,00 a year to run which is a lot less than in 2015 when it was run by trustees. Back then Hall Place was soaking up more than £500,000 by one means or another.

£620,000 from The Heritage Lottery Fund will pay for a new children’s playground, a new shop and an artisan market place plus improved seating. Beyond that the Welling District Model Railway Society will relocate its track from Falconwood to Hall Place and there should in due course be a new bridge over the river.

The proposed charge is £4, Senior Citizens £3 and Children over four years of age £2 with a 50% discount for Bexley residents and Peter Craske’s absolute guarantee of no charging for the car park. Garden access would remain free at least until after the new playground is built.

CraskeCouncillor Craske said that Hall Place was “one of the greatest places in London and the South East. The house was built in 1537 and is a Grade I listed building and the garden covers 65 hectares and the topiary has been in place since 1953.”

“It is very expensive to operate and keep in good condition and it needs to generate an income which makes it financially independent.” Since the Council took over from The Heritage Trust “it has been bursting with life and has more visitors than ever before”.

In response to questioning Councillor Craske said the entrance fee will be for the formal gardens and not those close to the car park and the £8 fee for entering the house itself will include garden admission. Contrasting the admission fees with those extracted by the National Trust etc. he said the £4 maximum would be fully justified by the investment and he was looking into Season and Family ticket pricing.

The detailed design stage has not been reached and they will require planning permission which will give an opportunity for comment and dissent if there is any. He hoped his plans would “not become a political matter, we should all be supporting them.”

Councillor Borella (Labour, Slade Green & North End) welcomed the plans particularly the introduction of model trains. He went on to say that passengers alighting at the nearest bus stops “would not know where Hall Place is” because there are no signs and there were none from Bexley Village and the station either.

He said he understood that car parking charges could not be applied because of the contract with Miller & Carter and he is absolutely correct and the situation has been confirmed at Scrutiny meetings in the past. Bexley Tories have recently distanced themselves from any suggestion that they have ever sought to impose charges at Hall Place despite Cabinet Member Craske having proposed their introduction in the Council’s Strategy 2014 plans.

Councillor Stefano Borella quickly recognised that it is impossible to embarrass Councillor Craske so he quickly moved on but later in the meeting Councillor Craske was emphatic that there would be no parking charges. Council Leader O’Neill was more circumspect. Contracts can change. “Charges could actually be introduced but we are not choosing to do so.”

Stefano was not entirely happy with the imposition of charges for the garden. He said in the past the Council had invested in Public Works without the imposition of fees. “Council Tax payers in Bexley will wonder what they pay their increased Council Tax for.” He didn’t say so but it is not totally dissimilar to the Bin Tax. Suddenly there is a charge for what used to be free but you don’t absolutely have to pay it. Hall Place charges will be very easily avoidable.

He was absolutely right when he said that he “did not think many residents knew this was going to happen” and then added “and it is bad news”. Opinions on that will no doubt vary.

Councillor John Davey (Conservative, West Heath) was “a bit concerned” about the lack of space for the art gallery.

Councillor Linda Bailey said she visited such attractions around the country and never been to one where she did not have to pay. She thought the opposition comments were unjustified.

Note: Some of the figures given above came from Deputy Director for Leisure, Toni Ainge.

 

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