I had only just started to summarise the Cabinet Report on Bexley Council’s
long term plan for Erith when Jonathan from the Erith Think Tank sent me his. I
have not had time to study the plans for Erith in any detail and tend to leave that sort of thing to
Hugh Neal and his Erith based blog. Lazy I know but one
cannot poke one’s nose into everything.
Bexley Council devoted eight pages of the Agenda and eight and a half minutes of Cabinet discussion to Erith at their meeting last Tuesday which may be indicative of their deep interest in the subject and perhaps their tendency to secrecy.
Jonathan’s thoughts are his own of course and perhaps a bit too long and detailed for a blog so the following is a cut down version and edited for an audience probably less knowledgeable than Erith Think Tank members.
I found out via Twitter after the event that Erith’s regeneration was to be discussed at the Public Cabinet meeting on Tuesday 12th November. It was particularly disappointing that despite exchanging emails with Deputy Council Leader Louie French on the 11th requesting better communication between the Council and the Think Tank AND with Erith Labour Councillors Joe Ferreira and Nicola Taylor on the 12th none of them thought to mention that Erith was to be discussed. Despite the warm words in support of good engagement the Think Tank was not at the fore-front of their minds when the regeneration plans were up for Cabinet approval. Think Tank members may have wished to attend and ask questions. [No they wouldn’t, no one other than elected Members are allowed to ask questions]
Cabinet Member French’s response was to the effect that the Think Tank should learn to follow the Council on Social Media more closely.
The statements from Council officers and the responses from Councillors was most illuminating. I now know more about the future of Erith’s regeneration than I learnt from the two hours of Bexley Council’s presentation to the Think Tank in October and my research to date. The webcast reveals that much of the Council presentation to Think Erith was obfuscation but the Cabinet meeting made it clear that ultimately there will be 6,000 new homes and 2,000 new jobs over the 30 year Growth Strategy.
• At 70 Pier Rd, the old Bank chambers, the Council has already engaged architects and will seek planning permission for the £4·2 million pound project. It is said that it will be redeveloped into offices and residential units whilst at the same time claiming the site will be protected. Quite how requires serious examination.
• Open a community kitchen at 66-68 Pier Rd in partnership with a Greenwich based co-operative. It will offer a cafe, a professional kitchen for hire and cooking sessions for local families. The Council believes there is room for two publicly funded cafe’s in Erith.
• Negotiate and purchase a lease for 28-40 Pier Rd (above Farm-Foods) and let it as offices.
• Progress the feasibility and concept design work for the Erith links program and submit a bid to TfL for ‘Liveable Neighbourhood’ funding. A significant project for which the Council are bidding for funds that would see the movement of traffic, cyclists and pedestrians dramatically remodeled in the town centre and thereby improve the high street, air quality and congestion through Erith. Pier Road will become the main street in Erith. Bids for such funds have not been successful previously but a new bid will go in on the 29th November.
• Develop proposals for the redevelopment of Erith’s western gateway. (Walnut Tree Road, Bexley Road and Erith High Street.) That’s more housing and shops. The existing tower blocks will remain as will the former Town Hall, Running Horses pub and the Post Office corner.
• Explore a potential partnership with Orbit housing who are the major landowner in the area.
• Continue to acquire properties in the Pier Road area. Properties are being quietly bought by the Council at market value, one significant freehold interest and five long leasehold interests so far. They will be part of the new high street and provide pedestrian access from the station and via this road to the pier.
It is clear that there is a secret Masterplan for Erith and the Council are pushing towards it quickly whilst not being open with Erith residents.
Several Councillors spoke at the meeting, including Louie French and Philip Read in support of moving forward. Councillor Nicola Taylor argued for more affordable and social housing and for regeneration not to become gentrification. The partisan party political framing of the statement was met with a frosty partisan party political response from Leader of the Council, Teresa O’Neill, which did little to change anyone’s mind. No part of the document under consideration was challenged.
One has to question whether Councillors mean what they say when they talk of good community engagement and if the quality of the scrutiny at meetings is serving Erith well.
So a newcomer to Council watching has a similar view to me. Secretive and an almost total lack of serious scrutiny while ignoring what little there is. Jonathan will be circulating a more detailed version of his summary to Erith Think members.
Missing from the above is the detail behind financial bids to TfL. They are to remodel the Queen’s Road roundabout, simplify the junction at the bottom end of Walnut Tree Road, reverting roads to two way working to improve bus services and possibly reopen Avenue Road.
You may join Erith Thank Tank via their website.