There was a new doorman at the Civic Centre on Thursday evening and he had no
concept of the term Public Meeting. He told me that I couldn’t go inside without
having arranged an escort or sponsor to accompany me. I was told to go away and
“sit down over there” until my escort turned up. No one did and eventually the
gate was opened and I passed through. Good timing. Once again
I found myself holding open the door to the Chamber for none other than Leader Teresa O’Neill.
Her few words were pleasant enough and we went our separate ways. During the meeting itself she came across to offer me a copy of a document that was being circulated to the Committee. Nothing like that has ever happened before and maybe I can assume ‘the war’ is over. I’ve no idea why she inflamed it by reporting me to the police for “criticising Councillors” all those years ago - probably poor advice from the Monitoring Officer or Chief Executive - but I shall try not to mention it again. A truce if not a complete laying down of arms.
I sometimes think the News Shopper is more critical of Bexley Council than Bonkers is except that it has a short memory and doesn’t highlight Councillors’ lies, deceptions and contradictions. If the Leader could reign in the excesses of the Terrible Two I might be able to go away and behave like your average 75 year old.
The meeting itself was one of the most boring in recent memory. Part of the problem was that it was dominated by Network Rail’s report on the Barnehurst landslip which was expertly presented by their Route Asset Manager, Derek Butcher, who had previously addressed the Transport Users’ Sub-Committee. Inevitably his story had not changed.
It was slightly clearer than before that the ground sensors sent an alarm signal at 03:30 on 11th February and a London bound train crawled through “on caution” with the driver on the look out for trouble which he saw on the down track on the London side of Barnehurst station.
Further precautionary work on that section of track is going to cause up to 13 days of line closure over the next two years, the first of them being for 27 hours on the last weekend in April followed by a whole weekend in May. it will cost “multi-millions of pounds”.
Councillor Linda Bailey who had not had the benefit of attending the Transport Users’ meeting, asked if there was any chance of “accelerating the work by doing it over three months and fixing it once and for all”. Mr. Butcher said that would from his point of view represent better value for money and current work on the Brighton line had demonstrated the advantages but he would have to consult Southeastern about a protracted line closure.
Councillor Borella (Labour, Slade Green & Northend) repeated his request for turn back facilities west of Barnehurst and again suggested that the line could be put in a tunnel as was done to solve a similar problem at Gerrards Cross. He asked how much each would cost and Mr. Butcher promised to get back to him but not before uttering the word “prohibitive”.
Councillor Nigel Betts (Conservative, Falconwood & Welling) said that when he was a boy every station had crossover points and they have all been taken away. He said that one should be installed somewhere between Bexleyheath and Barnehurst. The loss of services in February had caused his residents a great deal of inconvenience and threatened the survival of some local businesses.
The Chairman, Melvin Seymour (Conservative, Crayford), said that some of his residents were £40 out of pocket because of the loss of their train services.
Councillor John Davey (Conservative, West Heath) asked about tree management and was given the same answer as that provided on 14th March.
Councillor Sally Hinkley (Labour, Belvedere) was concerned that the retaining walls acted as dams and deflected the water elsewhere. Mr. Butcher said the official report would be covering that issue and added that while inspecting the site himself he noted that all the houses closest to the landslip had paved over their front gardens. He was unsure whether that was a good or a bad thing from a railway drainage point of view but would be looking into it.
Councillor Val Clark (Conservative, Crook Log) said that such paved areas must be made of permeable materials. (You would think as Vice-Chairman of the Planning Committee she would know that has only been the case since 1st October 2008.)
Councillor Teresa O’Neill (Conservative, Crook Log) thought the rail lines could do with some litter picking and that someone should be doing that and keeping an eye on the state of cuttings too. Mr. Butcher assured her that the cuttings and embankments were already regularly patrolled by degree qualified geological engineers - and separately - litter pickers.
Mr. Butcher said he would be willing to address residents directly if that would be helpful and Leader Teresa O’Neill volunteered to escort him from the building. She did not return.
Next up. Recycling issues. Where the hell will I be able to store four wheelie bins?