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Bonkers Blog June 2019

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15 June - Empty streets and sometimes empty promises

As you might remember I get an invitation to all the Abbey Wood Trader’s Association meetings which I suspect is mainly because they can lumber me with writing their minutes but I’m also an occasional contributor on Council matters. In retrospect it should perhaps have been called the Wilton Road Traders’ Association because it has no members beyond the handful of shops around the corner at its southern (Knee Hill) end.

It’s not appropriate to report those meetings here (†) although in practice there is rarely anything discussed that could be remotely described as ‘Commercially Sensitive’.

Wilton Road Wilton RoadWhat there is you can guess from looking at the road at pretty much any time. Generally empty. Ever since Network Rail moved into the area in August 2013 the number of shoppers has fallen steadily.

Bexley Council didn’t help by taking the Network Rail works as an excuse to further reduce on street parking facilities and massively increase the price of off-street parking. Nearby Gayton Road offers the second most expensive parking in the borough.

The Association has complained to and sought help from various authorities but little has happened. When the brothel operated opposite the Abbey Arms, Anti-Social behaviour began to get out of hand and the police took an interest. However their report was that Wilton Road was far from being the worst locality for ASB and said as much to both Councils. They can’t be blamed for accepting that at face value and turning their attentions elsewhere.

At around the same time as the Police were keeping an eye on things the two Councils hosted a traders’ meeting in the Community Centre. I was specifically excluded from the meeting, not by the traders who wanted me to be there but by the two Councils. Presumably they thought I might make comment and after a year and a half of waiting I am going to prove them right.

None of the six local Councillors representing Wilton Road (it is divided by the borough boundary line so three Councillors from each) were invited either, nor was Teresa Pearce MP.

Eight Greenwich Council Officers were present and three from Bexley plus a police officer from each borough. (The meeting pre-dated the amalgamation of the two borough police structures.)

Between them those eleven Council Officers took away seven action points.

It is exactly 17 months since that meeting was held and there has been no similar contact since. When the AWTA chased those action points ten months ago the Councils had to admit that not one of them had been followed up. Looking at the list of action points as I am right now I think one could say that one from Bexley is no longer an issue but as an illustration of how Councils exist to tick boxes and move on while doing as little as possible it is hard to beat.

But let’s not to be too negative; while the traders say they have had no help from the three Greenwich Councillors, on the Bexley side Labour’s Sally Hinkley takes a close interest and attends every meeting for which there is the slightest reason to do so.

Thanks to her interest the flyover is soon to boast bright blue signposts directing pedestrians and train passengers towards the Wilton Road shops. It is fair to say that Bexley Council were more than cooperative too.

The railway authorities refused to provide signs on their property and it may be a more serious problem than one might imagine. I recently came across someone who had lived in Felixstowe Road for seven years and had no idea that there were shops the other side of the railway line. Felixtowe Road provided a decent bed for the daily commute to London and everything else had passed her by.

The regeneration of Gayton Road ran months late and is an obvious improvement on what was there before but doesn’t look as attractive as what was planned as noted here on 5th June. In particular there are no trees and local resident Craig Jenkins organised a petition about it. Greenwich Council has offered kind words and Bexley Council which is the lead on this project has promised to do something about it come the next planting season.

I do hope they can find a place where they can dig a hole without piercing some vital underground service. I am not entirely confident of Network Rail's mapping. They once admitted to checking through my many photographs to see if they would help them locate a drain.

When Bexley Council restricted access to Wilton Road for six weeks earlier this year I was not alone in predicting traffic chaos but we were wrong. People stayed away and all the evidence is that they have never come back.

The permanent closure of the Post Office has also had a big effect on passing trade and until Peabody builds its tower on the Harrow Inn site there will be no suitable property nearby. The Peabody Tower is more than two years away from completion and the Post Office doesn’t want to wait that long.

And then The Abbey Arms shut down for major refurbishment work.

The loss of Crossrail services is having a major impact on trade right across London. The Traders’ Assocations’ market gurus CC EVents UK managed to interest the News Shopper in their plight which led first to a radio interview, then an item on the local TV news and just last week a Channel 5 film crew was in Wilton Road as part of a planned hour long documentary.

Some of our local traders spent very large sums in preparation for the anticipated Crossrail generated trade. The Councils said they were sitting on little gold mines. How wrong they were.

CC Events UK have proved to be the one and perhaps only bright spot for Wilton Road. Their markets in the Abbey Arms’ car park seem to attract bad weather but have been a resounding financial success. Many stall holders report it is their most lucrative venue, even better than those held in Hall Place in some cases.

Unfortunately there is no evidence that the markets are having any impact on trade beyond market days but there is a determination to carry on.

There will be another market in two weeks time whether the pub is open again by then or not. Don’t discount its garden being accessible to market visitors and refreshments of some sort being available. The new owner shows every sign of wanting to become part of the local community and doing whatever he can to help.

If the market continues to succeed it is more than likely that next year will see it go bi-monthly.

For news on Abbey Wood Village there is a new Facebook page. Expect to see traders’ special offers there soon.

Market Market
† This particular report was not exactly solicited by the AWTA but its Chairman will not be surprised to see it.

 

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