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News and Comment January 2020

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31 January - It’s Bollox to Broadway Day

I got to the top of Gravel Hill around 2 p.m. yesterday afternoon, checked the light was green and stopped at the boundary of the roundabout to wait for the traffic coming up from Watling Street until a gap appeared, pulled on to the roundabout and raised my gaze to look further ahead just as the next set of lights went red.

The driver in front of me decided to block a bus coming in from Broadway which was lucky for me because I was able to stop against the central island and able to claim it wasn’t me who was blocking the whole roundabout. It seemed to be gridlocked for ages but when the light eventually went green I let the bus, which had edged forward as far as it could, out in front of me, earning a quick blast on someone’s horn for my patience.

The Highway Department’s expertise had done its job once again. It is absolutely sure it knows what is best for us, something that became all too clear at the last Transport Users’ meeting when the cyclist took them to task for causing eight serious accidents in two years.

For my part I am sure of the incompetence because I have the expertise of the UK’s EU safety consultant to draw on. (I wonder if he is losing his contract today, I will ask when I see him tomorrow.)

I am not alone in thinking that Bexley’s Highway’s Manager is not really up to his job, a Bonkers’ reader sent me this a month or so ago. He reveals that he is one of the cyclist thrown off his steed by the lack of road design skills within Bexley Council. His opinion of them is very obviously much the same as mine, isn’t everyoneֹ’s?


1) Bellway towers continue to climb skyward. Fortunately I cannot actually see them from my house. Standby though for more traffic chaos when residents start to move in and expose the obvious folly to anyone with even half a brain cell but swallowed by Bexley Council planning that only a few will have cars. Many more parking spaces over and above the few included in the scheme will actually be needed from somewhere. Standby for even more draconian parking measures in surrounding roads.

2) Still waiting to hear whether Bexley Council intend to reintroduce the bee in their bonnet about closing Highland Road. For no particular benefit that can be seen only because they can.

3)The magic roundabout opposite Trinity Church which Bexley Council insist is a tee junction continues to cause confusion and a multitude of near misses. Many drivers have been observed having exited Church Road towards the Clocktower but actually wishing to go towards Welling then doing U turns in the tee junction to the consternation of everyone. Even police cars have been seen doing this!

4) The abnormally wide island on leaving the magic roundabout/tee junction towards Welling only allows one traffic line and unnecessarily obstructs traffic which wishes to turn into Church Road. It also continues to cause tailbacks up the Broadway and Albion road

5) Still waiting to see the anticipated hoards of cyclists (even a single solitary one) using the wide vastly expensive Albion Road cycle lanes. Even my very occasional use has now ceased since its poor design caused me to fall off and I do not bounce as well as I used to.

Between the vehicle lane and the cycle lane there is a line of kerb stones. No idea why since a white painted line would suffice. In some places the two lanes are flush and in other places the kerbstones are approximately two inches high. From a cyclists elevation the different sections are not obvious and if they try to move from the vehicle lane to the cycle lane where there is a two inch kerb then the cycle wheels follow the kerb instead of crossing over it and the rider falls off.

In addition whilst vehicles are provided with a smooth top surface cyclists are provided with a rough surface with granite chippings partially embedded no doubt especially designed to scrape off maximum skin when they can induce a cyclist to fall off.

The cyclist rep on the transport committee has been made aware of the above and he agrees poor design but whether he has raised them with the Committee is not known.

6) Mr. Bashford, the manager, promised wild flowers on the Albion Road roundabouts and the verge near the Bowling alley. It was said though that it was not the right time of year for planting and to be patient. That was two years ago. There is still not much to see of wild flowers merely furious weeds.

7) The usual Bexley Council Highways Dept. inability to design roundabouts is also very obvious as evidenced at the Albion Road roundabouts and the deep ruts caused by heavy truck wheels mounting the kerbs.

8) The provision of roundabouts at Gravel Hill to replace traffic lights was thought a good move. But then Bexley Council had to spoil it all by installing traffic lights as well as roundabouts and then to doubly complicate matters installed traffic lights both on and off the roundabout. A recipe for gridlock.

9) Royal Oak Road where it circles round behind Central library and Travel Lodge hotel was resurfaced recently but they omitted the section between the Working Men’s Club and the side of Primark. Now whenever it rains huge puddles form on the corner. This has been reported to the Highways Manager but no action taken, not even an acknowledgement.

Not much of the above is likely to change until Mr. B. can be induced to inflict his ‘talents’ on to some other local authority as far away as possible.

 

30 January (Part 2) - I’ve bin everywhere, man

Mark ChartersIt is him isn't it? Mark Charters, late of Bexley Council on £184,201 a year in 2011, architect of the “Inadequate” OFSTED report in 2012. Paid off handsomely and resurfaced in the Isle of Man, St. Helena (if I remember a newspaper report correctly) and New Zealand.

Now down on his luck in North Carolina and rated by most as “Needs improvement”.

 

30 January (Part 1) - Public meeting censored

I like to go to Councillor Seymour’s Places Scrutiny Committee meeting, the way he chairs it has always appealed to me and more importantly the subject matter affects every one of us very directly. One might say that the topics discussed are largely rubbish but it is important rubbish, literally in some cases. Recycling, rubbish ideas like concreting over parks and the disruptions caused by Andrew Bashford’s rubbish highway planning.

Last night the main Agenda item was the challenge of maintaining high recycling rates in flats. Given Bexley Council is planning to build flats wherever it can it is an important issue that threatens to knock Bexley from its recycling top spot. How can up to five bins be accommodated where no garden exists? Going further I am questioning why anyone should be happy to let Bexley Council take over nearly 20 square feet of their property rent free. Except for the garden waste bin they are all far too big for my needs.

TweetUnfortunately I didn’t manage to get to Melvin Seymour’s the meeting. I was running late thanks to an unexpected visitor and then the relief carer in East Ham failed to show up and the CCTV showed my aunt at her garden gate insufficiently dressed and waiting for her dinner and bed. By the time something was organised the webcast became the only option.

Not for the first time it was a let down. The audio quality is much better than it used to be, the buzzes and earth loop hums have gone but there was a short video presentation last night and they can never be seen.

However that wasn’t the main problem, it was the fact that the audio muted at various critical points, the Cabinet Member’s report for example was entirely missed as was his reply to Councillor Hinkley’s question about the recent Serco disturbances. There were nine audio mutings up to four minutes long and a few momentary ones.

Below is the audio waveform of last night’s meeting. When displayed on a big enough screen (the image is large enough to be OK at Ultra HD size) the nine gaps are easily visible.

Audio
It’s happened before.

 

29 January (Part 2) - Dancing maiden makes speech

This is my MP Abena Oppong-Asare making her maiden speech in Parliament. It must have been a daunting prospect and there is no way I could have done it. The subject was homelessness but Abena was almost five minutes into her six minute speech before she mentioned it.

Before that she paid tribute to her predecessor Teresa Pearce as well she might. I’m not so sure about the praise heaped on Teresa’s predecessor Ian Austin. I lived in Plumstead for a very short period in the 1980s and he once knocked on my door as a Greenwich Councillor. I remember the meeting well but not fondly.

AbenaAbena is to my mind an attractive young woman, perhaps Danny Hackett thinks so too, who worked hard to become the Labour Party candidate in a safe Labour seat despite adopting a low key approach to being a Councillor in Bexley. (2014 to 2018.) Inheriting a 10,014 vote majority from 2017 may make getting elected not the real achievement but she is nevertheless entirely justified in being proud of it.

On the other hand I feel totally underwhelmed.

I suspect Teresa Pearce and I did not always see eye to eye politically but I can do little more than suspect it because it never became an issue between us. I was her constituent and she looked after me - and some! I regarded her as a good friend and still do.

I can’t see Abena ever taking her place because Abena has given me the very definite impression that she is in Parliament only to look after her own supporters.

On three separate occasions in the first five minutes of her maiden speech Abena turned to the subject of her ethnicity and most of her publicity photos push the same agenda. The only thing of colour that I notice about Abena is her lipstick, always bright scarlet. Her speech referred to chips in Belvedere but I suspect that chips of a different variety may be found much more widely in the Erith and Thamesmead constituency.

Abena sung the praises of a whole string of black MPs past and present for no good reason except that colour seems to motivate her above all else. One who she regards as a hero I know to be a crook, In the 1980s I both employed him and eventually sacked him - the last straw was blatant theft.

On a more positive note Erith, Belvedere and Thamesmead were all given welcome tourist style publicity.

If Abena is to be a successful MP she will have to remove the blinkers and encompass the wider community. The last election saw a poor Conservative campaign but despite it Erith and Thamesmead managed to become a Labour marginal.

The constituency still has a sizeable white working class population. I doubt they will take kindly to being sidelined as early indications suggest they are.

For a really good amusing speech you could do a lot worse than watch this one. It tugs at the heart strings occasionally.

 

29 January (Part 1) - A short report on a very short Cabinet meeting

Paul Thorogood speaking directly into a microphone only a few inches away from him, as I hoped, competed much better with the Unite hooligan’s antics than mine 40 feet away did.

We heard once again that the Council will overspend £1·9 million this year after injecting £2·4 of contingency reserves. About 2% of its budget when put together. Interest charges were blamed along with investment income being lower than expected.

Capital expenditure is rather different; £148 million of expenditure had been approved but only £78 million spent. The Agenda made it clear that there was an across the board underspend including Education, Public Health and Adults’ Social Care.

For the coming financial year a shortfall of £2 million is currently forecast increasing steadily and reaching £31·5 million in 2023/24. Exactly the same as reported a few weeks ago.
Cabinet meeting

Cabinet Member David Leaf said he would not repeat what he had said before but still managed to keep going for six minutes against the background of miscellaneous tunes from outside.

He thanked those who took part in the Budget Consultation, thanked Conservative Members who had commented on the proposals and defended the use of consultants - loads of them who have taken away six figure sums. Later he criticised Labour Councillors for not commenting outside meetings

That was about it really.

Cabinet Member Craske chose to report on some of the things that money had been spent on during the current financial year. A new footpath to Danson Park and a new jetty. A new Thamesmead Library under construction and similarly the new library in Sidcup and the associated cinema. “Millions of pounds into the Abbey Wood area and Harrow Manorway.”

The Thames Road rubbish dump has been improved, 200 more street trees and a fence around Shoulder of Mutton Green to prevent incursions by motorcyclists and the travelling community. Never happy unless he can take a swipe at Labour Councillors he said they were against it and wanted to take it away.

I don’t think that is true. As I understand it a teenager campaigned to have the fence removed and asked me to publicise his efforts which I did because I think youngsters showing an interest in the community should be encouraged. Three months later the individual came out for Labour at the election. I’m not even sure he is old enough to vote let alone be a Labour Councillor but when did Craske ever let the facts get in the way of his fanciful stories?

There was a minor spat between Councillor Linda Bailey (Conservative, Crook Log) and Councillor Daniel Francis (Labour, Belvedere) when she accused him of saying something he quite clearly hadn’t but there is probably nothing else from this meeting worth reporting.

Maybe just one thing; four Councillors (two from each party) were very welcoming and exchanged pleasantries as I arrived and when the Leader threw me out before the meeting went into secret session, she did so most graciously. I wasn’t unhappy to leave because I had run out of cough sweets. (Doctor’s appointment on Friday - only a week’s wait.)
Cabinet meeting

 

28 January (Part 2) - Bexley residents’ budget ideas

As I was half expecting, the Unite hooligans entirely obliterated large chunks of my audio recording and all of Paul Thorogood’s report is just as inaudible on the ‘tape’ as it was for me alone in the public gallery. I shall check to see if the webcast microphones being much closer to the speaker fared any better.

While Paul was speaking I passed the time by reading through the comments made by members of the public in response to the recent budget consultation. An interesting insight into the minds of those less well informed than Bonkers’ readers. Cabinet

About 135 people submitted ideas not all of which had any obvious relevance to the budget…

• Council tax should be increased to the level of wage inflation over the past 20 years. (I think we are going to get a refund. Band D was £750·18 in 1999 and £1678·88 in 2019. RPI has been 70% over that period and wage inflation nearer 80%.)
• Parking enforcement should be stepped up a notch “to make more money”.
• You ask for comment on Planning but people “don’t have a say”.
• Restrict school children in Broadway. (At least twice.)
• Stop stealing children and wasting money on court cases. (Several times!)
• We shouldn’t be selling off green spaces.
• Cut Council upper management posts.
• 23 London boroughs have lower Council tax than Bexley. “Why are we so high?” (I thought it was 24 but point understood.)
• Remove all Councillor allowances. (More than once.)
• Reduce agency staff.
• Significantly increase parking charges. (Yep, that should drive away the last remaining shoppers - but conversely…)
• The failing high street is because of the high parking charges.
• Increase parking fines.
• How much did freezing tax to buy votes before elections cost?
• Library charges are far too high.
• Your decisions should be made to benefit residents not to keep the Conservatives in power.
• Charges for fitness classes are far too high. (Fitness classes? Where?)
• Parking charges should be lower for electric cars. (Wasn’t me, honest!)
• Residents are cash cows.
• BexleyCo is not good for the area. (More than once.)
• No more house and flat building. (Lots of times.)
• End the pointless redevelopment work, e.g. Sidcup High Street.
• Get rid of the 301 bus. (More than once.)
• No more cycle lanes. (At least twice.)
• Install CCTV everywhere.
• Charge for recycling breaches. (Most would be illegal.)
• Too many services outsourced.
• Increase Council Tax for high earners. (I thought that was income tax.)
• No more speed bumps.
• Give the Lesnes Abbey cafe back to the successful operator instead of keeping it shut. (No recognition of Bexley Council’s spitefulness.)
• Opt out of the Greater London Authority. (Good idea, dump Khan.)
• Use sheep to keep the grass short. (We already have quite a lot serving as Tory Councillors so why not?)

Drowned out by Unite union hooligans.

 

28 January (Part 1) - My Old Man’s A Dustman

Unite Unite UniteIt’s been a long time since I rolled up to a Council meeting to find protestors on the steps outside. It was yesterday.

The flags told me the Unite Union was behind it and a Councillor told me they were Serco employees complaining about their conditions of employment. She said they were paid much less than their counterparts in Greenwich and had had enough of it.

That seems unfair if true especially - and I know this is not a universal view - they do a pretty good job in my street going beyond the regular call of duty by returning bins to the preferred place in my garden and not leaving them all over the road.

And then they went and ruined it all.

The Cabinet meeting had only just begun when someone thought it was clever to bang on the windows (from the car park to the rear) every second or two for around 20 minutes and loudly play Lonnie Donegan songs over their loud hailer.

Bad behaviour is too often the way with Lefty politics although I suppose I could name a small number of local Tories who are not above that sort of thing either.

The Finance Director’s report was pretty much inaudible in the public gallery and I gave up trying to hear what he was saying hoping that the webcast microphones would pick it up. It was surprising that no Cabinet Member commented directly or maybe that was another thing I couldn’t hear.

When I left 20 minutes after the racket stopped - thrown out while dirty deals were discussed in more detail - I noted a police car parked on the pavement outside. Maybe one of the security staff had done the necessary.

 

27 January - From flicks to flats

Rose Bruford CollegeIf you read the constant stream of planning news that is published on The Murky Depths website you will know that the eyesore at the junction of Station and Hurst Roads in Sidcup is going to be flats. 26 of them, none affordable.

Hardly news, everything in Bexley is going to be flats if our Council gets its way. 31,000 of them eventually.

The building pictured here looks like a cinema, and that is because it was until sixty years ago.

Oscar Deutch who founded the Odeon chain of cinemas opened it in October 1935 only to see a German bomber put a big hole in the roof nine years later. It was ten years before it showed another film but it survived for only seven more years.

Then along came Bexley Council and converted it into a swimming pool (Lamorbey Baths). It was there from 1967 until 2008. Bexley Council tried find a developer then but nothing came of it until in 2012 The Rose Bruford College offer of £750k. was accepted.

It was reported they had a plan for it but if they did it too came to nothing and they put it up for sale at £1·9 million. A million pound profit. Rose Bruford were obviously well advised and Bexley Council wasn’t. Which is a bit odd because the people involved bore a remarkable similarity to each other.

 

25 January - Conspiracy theorist?

As I probably said before, an unprecedented number of anonymous messages have come through the new Contact Form; maybe it is because it is easier to use than the the previous one or maybe it marks increased levels of discontent in and around Bexley Council. I suspect the latter.

I’ve had the following one (oblique text) for six weeks. It looks superficially interesting and I spent quite a long time on it to see if the loose ends could be tied up but the vital missing link remains, well, err, missing.


Jacky Belton [Bexley] Executive Director of Resources was made redundant in April 2015 from Newham. She was on £160,000 and her pay off was nearly £200,000 so more than 52 weeks work. Quite a lot more than predecessor Gill Steward when she resigned from Bexley.


This appears to be true, a matter of public record.


To keep herself active she partnered Daniel Hudson. Probably had she gone straight into employment she would have to repay money as she was not entitled to Job Seekers’ Allowance.


The first bit is definitely true, it can be checked out at Companies House.
Companies House
Of the second assertion I have not a clue, I have no detailed knowledge of employment law.


In May 2015 an Interim Director of Children’s Services at Lambeth Council is appointed. Her name is Annie Hudson.


Lambeth Council’s website confirms the appointment.


Then in September 2015 Jacky Belton gets her big job at Lambeth but still keeps Kelling Associates going. It expands. Around a year later without advertisement or interview Annie Hudson is made permanent Director in Lambeth. Shades of Bexley’s opaque appointment processes here.


Lambeth CouncilThis too appears to be true. Here they are pictured together on Lambeth Council’s website.


You may want to check if Annie Hudson has any link with Jacky’s business partner Daniel Hudson. Must be a coincidence but hopefully you can find out.


But here the trail goes cold and what looked like being an interesting story fizzled out. I should never have given up that Ancestry subscription.

Note: This is more to assure anonymous posters that their comments do not get thrown straight into Trash than anything else. Without the link it is just an everyday story of how senior Council employees everywhere are motivated only by helping each other up the greasy pole.

 

24 January - For one week only

Gayton Road Gayton Road Gayton Road Gayton RoadIt’s only a week since Bexley’s Highways Manager announced that the work around Abbey Wood station was pretty much completed. Earlier the same day I had photographed Gayton Road (Photo 1) almost clear of the obstructions that had blighted it since October 2018. A finish date of June 2018 had been promised originally.

It seemed more than likely that it would be fully finished only a year after the revised completion date. The Manager said that a few trees would be planted to disrupt pavement parking so when I saw holes being dug I thought that might be happening except that one hole was in the middle of a parking bay.

In fact it is UK Power Networks “installing service lamp”. Could no one have forecast that need?

It will be interesting to see how well the restoration work is done, many of the blocks have been badly damaged.

Finally a postscript to yesterday’s blog. One of Mr. Thorogood’s Finance Fans asked if his sidekick Nickie Morris said anything to justify her expensive appointment. No, not a word. I don’t know what Mr. Thorogood has done to upset finance people but one goes on to ask why he doesn’t shave. “His financial incompetence is second only to his ability to be smart.” His associates really have it in for him but I am a little sympathetic. I recently remarked on the rubbish quality of Gillette razor blades but now I find you cannot buy shaving soap in sticks for love nor money. I should perhaps add that there is a Female Finance Fan who likes Paul’s stubble. She doesn’t say how close she has been to it.

Shaving soap in ‘stick’ form was never easy to find, the local Sainbury’s has never stocked it and when I found it elsewhere I would buy half a dozen or more. The last batch 50 pence each in Wilkos and they lasted more than a year but now the shelves are empty and Google tells me that the last two remaining manufacturers gave up on it early in 2019.

Hmmm. Now what?

 

23 January - Resources and Growth Scrutiny meeting

It was an unusually short Agenda and Chairman Councillor Andy Dourmoush easily wrapped it up in an hour and three minutes, even Cabinet Member Leaf couldn’t stretch it out any longer.

ThorogoodFinance Director Paul Thorogood had his protégé Nickie Morris by his side who he had smuggled in from Barnet’s financially mismanaged Council via, according to enough anonymous messages to suggest it might be true, a nefarious route of dubious legitimacy.

Councillor Joe Ferreira (Labour, Erith) asked Mr. Thorogood when certain financial investments which had lost value but recently regained all but £50,000 of it might be sold. No decision had been taken yet but it will be within the next two or three weeks.

Councillor Wendy Perfect (Labour, Northumberland Heath) noted that next week’s Cabinet papers forecast yet another overspend to add to those in previous years. Had it affected liquidity planning?

It was not considered to be “a particular issue. Debt can easily be funded by borrowing from the money markets with rates under 1%”.

The Council is engaged on another of its regular hunts for illegitimately claimed single person’s Council Tax discount. Councillor Ferreira said fewer people are being caught out so was a two year interval still appropriate? Do we recheck on people who have been accepted as OK in the past?

Mr. Thorogood said that all 23,000 discounts would be looked at, “there would be a full review of all of them. Capita would look at all available data sources”.

Questionable claimants are given four months to respond after which the discount is removed.

Many years ago my 25% discount was queried and I’m afraid I just told Capita to go away but I suppose things have been tightened up since. How would I begin to prove a negative? Would I have to invite Paul in to see if there are any ladies toiletries in the bathroom - there are none - but what about the two pleated skirts at the back of my wardrobe? I have no idea how long they have been there but they certainly wouldn’t fit anyone I know.

But my name has not been flagged up since goodness knows when so presumably the checks are more careful than they used to be. A pity really, I would quite like to do battle with Capita again.

The current review began in September and 96 discounts have been removed so far and more will go at the end of January pending final Capita checks.

The two year interval will be retained.

Cabinet Member Leaf said he would spare the Committee his 30 minute report which will be delivered at next week’s Cabinet Meeting - relief all round - but then he admitted it might get extended over the weekend.

Councillor and Vice-Chairman Steven Hall asked which services would come back in house when the facilities company Amey loses their contract? Print, post, building operatives, reception staff, customer services and the contact centre were all on the list.

Councillor O’Hare congratulated everyone on bringing services back in house. “Well done”, which makes one wonder why it was outsourced in the first place. (It was the Leader’s belief that it would save the Council money. Wrong again!)

Cabinet Member Louie French said that an exciting announcement about the Carnegie Building (Erith) was imminent. Councillor Hall asked about BexleyCo and the Cabinet Member told him that Graham Ward was now interim Managing Director (surely everyone already knew that?) and a new Chairman has been appointed following the resignation of Mr. Blakeway.

Councillor Ferreira asked Deputy Leader French about the housing strategy and was told “the Leader has taken control” and she wasn’t at the meeting so little came to light.“It will be in the wider arena as soon as possible.”

Note: As the photo may indicate I watched the Resources and Growth Scrutiny Scrutiny meeting via the webcast (but live) and the Chairman noted that not a single member of the public showed up. Earlier in the day I planned to go and packed the usual gear but in what may be a sign of increasing age or perhaps taking too much note of the daily Facebook reports of violence and disorder in Bexleyheath, I went off the idea, especially after looking at the less than sparkling Agenda. Parking one’s car and walking through the mean streets of Bexleyheath I no longer look on as nonchalantly as used to be the case. The place is becoming an unwelcoming dump. The flu is still hanging around six weeks after it arrived too.

Coronavirius next?

 

22 January (Part 4) - Who are they spying on now?

Abbey Road camera Abbey Road camera Abbey Road cameraBexley Council doesn’t only rely on residents to spy on each other, they also keep a surreptitious eye on us themselves. Not for crime prevention, the CCTV system hasn’t been monitored for several years, they prefer to sneak in less obvious surveillance to benefit themselves. Yellow boxes, No right turns, that sort of thing.

I don’t know how long this spy cam has been watching over us on Abbey Road, I pass by most days but I only noticed it last week. What is the point of it? It’s not a prime fly tipping site and although I have once or twice seen the odd bag left by the side of BT’s broadband cabinet there would be better vantage points from which to spy on it.

For those unfamiliar with the area, it is opposite the north western corner of Lesnes Abbey park.

 

22 January (Part 3) - She’s in for a surprise

My occasional forays into electric vehicles provoke quite a lot of interest as, I assume, people weigh up the pros and cons of their next car purchase. I could argue both for and against.

Unrelated to that is my disillusionment, despair maybe, with the enormous number of usually idiotic accusations of racism and sexism that abound in the media. The Daily Mail has however managed to combine the two subjects.

Petrol pumps it asserts on behalf of a female motorist are sexist; phallic perhaps but how can they be sexist?

According to Melanie Morgan they are too big for ladies to handle, clearly they are because along every road you see stranded female motorists who are unable to fuel their cars.

Melanie’s solution os to buy an electric car. Sorry Melanie, I don’t think that is going to help. Below is a picture of an electric vehicle charging plug.
Idiot Plug

Daily Mail report : CCS charging plug. There are other types but this one has become the standard outside of Japan.

 

22 January (Part 2) - Snoopers’ Charter

Bexley leafletA new Bexley Council leaflet dropped on to my doormat this morning, it asks us to shop anyone whose front garden is not spick and span. Actually when I looked into my file I found it wasn’t new at all, it was the same as one that was delivered in December 2018.

My next door neighbour has had a shopping trolley in his front garden for, I don’t know, maybe five years, but I’m not going to report him for it.

What I might do is report him for having four multi-coloured plastic wheelie bins right in my field of view, and while I am about it I may report the whole street for the same offence.

Bexley Council really doesn’t know what they should waste our money on next. They have gone out of their way to make every street ugly but if your garden is not to some standard they have failed to define they will do you for it.

 

22 January (Part 1) - Newham looks forward, Bexley looks backward

I have cut my number of cross river trips to three a week. I mainly use the train because the standard of driving in Newham is appalling. The people who sit behind the wheel in that area have no patience whatsoever and much prefer to apply thumb to horn than foot to brake. A few of the drivers can barely see where they are going behind their face coverings. And then there is Newham Council.

Like every every other rotten borough they have cameras pointing at almost faded away yellow boxes the location of which must be memorised because they are invisible in the rain or after dark. Their latest trick is to put access time restrictions on residential roads so you have to read each sign and check the time on approach.

Sooner or later a red light jumper or a Council camera will catch you out so late night emergencies aside I leave my car at home.

On the other hand Newham Council allows 30 free visitors parking permits a year to residents who do not own a car so I now have a stock of more than 50 and residents are given one free parking permit per household. Compare that to Bexley where Cabinet Member Peter Craske gave residents the most expensive permits in London back in 2011 (£120 a year in some locations) and justified the price with a tissue of lies. Bexley Council has not had the audacity to increase the price since but it is still twice as much as in Greenwich.

Like all good things Newham’s generosity is soon to come to an end. Their monthly magazine (fortnightly until very recently) has been hinting at parking charges for the past year and the Council recently consulted on the subject. Newham’s Cabinet confirmed in December that the consultation changed nothing and their plans will go ahead. All that remains unknown is the new charging schedule.
Newham Magazine
The charges will be hooked to the Green Agenda, that catch-all beloved of bureaucrats everywhere to justify increased taxes. Diesel cars will pay more than petrol powered cars and fully electric ones will be free. Second cars will be charged more and there will be a limit on the number of permits per household. Given how many residents cram into some houses in Newham I can imagine some having five cars and maybe a Council limit of three permits resulting in two people on the dole queue. It is part Communist and part Green but I am not sure there is a lot of difference between the two anyway. (These are example figures, the real limit has not yet been publicly stated.)

I have mixed views on free parking for electric cars. Nice for early adopters but it can’t go on for ever.

As Bexley has gone nearly ten years without changing its over-priced Residents Parking scheme can we look forward to them adopting the Green Agenda too? I can imagine Bexley Council thinking about charging more for diesels and maybe more for additional vehicles even though the number of cars a family needs is none of their damned business but a price reduction for electric cars would be anathema to the money grabbers and their pathetic response to street charging displays little enthusiasm for locally pollution free transport. Probably they will continue with the 2011 rip-off until it begins to look cheap.

For the record Bexley’s Council Tax is 26% higher than in Newham and most Newham houses are in the lower tax bands. Newham claims that only 50% of their residents run cars. Bexley has the highest level of car ownership in London.

 

21 January - Buses, Bikes and Bashford

Transport Committee
The Transport Users’ meeting ended with buses, roads and which piece of Bexley the Council plans to dig up next. For the record it is the Mayplace Road junction near the bus garage. You can expect delays until April with five weeks of total closure. Once again to the delight of all local businesses, the place to go shopping is Bluewater.

The worst performing bus routes remain the 229, 469 and 269 but the 469 has improved marginally. The B14 is not up to standard either and tends to run early. The operator is being given suitable guidance.

TfL said that some of their financial restrictions have been lifted such that roads might be maintained properly again and 2,000 fully electric buses are in the pipeline - over what period was not stated. From next October all buses will meet Euro 6 diesel standards or better it.

Bexley Council is to purchase two e-cargo bikes (from the TfL Healthy Streets grant money) to allow it to shuttle around goods to the community fridge for example, pollution free.

The cycling representative said that in the early stages of the Albion Road reconstruction his organisation had advised the Highways Manager Andrew Bashford that the dedicated cycling track was potentially dangerous. His words had been ignored. “Nothing was done.”

Two years on he knew of six serious cycling accidents that had put people in hospital and currently one is still off work a month later. “It was quite concerning.” In all cases no other vehicle was involved but there were problems with poorly designed and unmarked dropped kerbs. “They are not the intended safe routes.”

Another legitimate cycling complaint was that the Thames Path closure was given no publicity beyond an obscure Pedestrian Prohibition Order among the Public Notices in December. The detour is three miles along busy dual carriageways and the closure might last six months, The Erith to Woolwich cycle route is effectively closed and people setting out on such a ride would have no notice of it.

Mr. Bashford did a Sadiq Khan and blamed everyone but himself, TfL included, for the problems in Albion Road. The Chairman promised an early meeting between cyclists and Council staff to hopefully resolve both issues.

Bus stopMr. Bashford routinely lists the major road works going on in Bexley at the Transport meeting. This time he said the three years of disruption in Abbey Wood was coming to an end - which it is - and the Bexley Village gateway improvements were complete. Public Realm improvements in Falconwood were in progress.

As Abbey Wood residents will know, the Felixstowe Road improvements were scheduled for completion very nearly two years ago. They are currently four months behind the revised schedule and still unfinished with no progress over the past four or five weeks. Mr. Bashford said that this was due to ongoing negotiations with the adjoining land owners.

At the end of the meeting I was able to speak to the TfL bus man and tell him about the wrongly identified bus stop outside Abbey Wood station. It has been like it since 27th February 2019 and systematically ignored or refuted by TfL’s customer service agents. It says it is in Lensbury Way and the bus numbers are not correct for Abbey Wood station. It also spells Harrow Manorway wrongly. He said something about customer service agents which I had better not repeat here.

Note: I consider Andrew Bashford to be one of Bexley-is-Bonkers founder members. In 2009 he told me that one of his road designs was in accordance with the recommendations of Transport Research Laboratory reports 641 and 661. I think the aim was to baffle me with science and thereby shut me up. However what Mr. Bashford did not know is that my son was at the time TRL’s chief road vehicle safety consultant and co-chairman of an EU committee on the subject. When he saw what had been done in Bexley he said that the road design did not even begin to comply with the recommendations. He was unsure whether incompetence or malice towards motorists was involved.

I concluded that Mr. Bashford had knowingly lied to me and decided that Bexley’s lies should be exposed. It has kept me busy ever since.

Bexley Council however does not agree with my views, they promoted Mr. Bashford.

 

20 January - No trains for nine days 15th to 23rd February

Network Rail slide showI thought the most interesting part of last Wednesday’s Transport meeting was likely to be Network Rail’s report on the forthcoming Bexleyheath line closure; their report on last year’s landslip was very informative but sadly their new 17 slide presentation was probably not of widespread interest.

It reported in great detail what Network Rail has done to publicise the closure and how public awareness was much higher than following any similar campaign held elsewhere. The figures were undoubtedly very impressive and clearly Network Rail has put in a great deal of effort but public interest is likely to be what will actually happen before, during and after the week in question, not the planning that went into it.

Despite the slide show disappointment a few useful facts emerged.

As is to be expected train tickets will be valid on TfL bus services and also from North Greenwich to London Bridge on the Jubilee line. Rail Replacement buses will consist of two buses per hour going along the route, Dartford to Lewisham. Two buses per hour will shuttle between Barnehurst and Slade Green, four buses per hour will run from Bexleyheath to Welling and on to Abbey Wood. Four more buses per hour will connect Welling to the Sidcup line at Falconwood and Eltham. There will be another four between Kidbrooke and Blackheath.

These services will allow all passengers the choice of either going along the Bexleyheath line route, to the North Kent line or south to the Sidcup line.

Passengers who normally use Bexleyheath station and who live on the 301 bus route will be able to use it to Abbey Wood. All the station staff will be out at the bus stops assisting travellers and an explanatory leaflet is in preparation.

All the Bexleyheath line rolling stock will be deployed to the other two lines. The Sidcup line will gain 35% capacity in the morning with North Kent gaining 55%. In the afternoon the figures will be 35% and 74% respectively. The Charing Cross terminal restricts the use of 12 car trains with its several short platforms but trains will be lengthened when possible.

Trackside residents, 4,600 of them, have been sent four letters each since November to explain the situation. Work will be 24/7 with noisy operations restricted to between 7 a.m. and 9 p.m. Being in a deep cutting, noise and light pollution will be naturally attenuated.

Preparatory work has begun already and some embankment trees have been removed. They will not be replaced because they “undermine” the cutting.

New Road in Welling will accommodate one of the site storage depots with some impact on local traffic levels. There will be another in the Barnehurst station car park. Some work will continue beyond the nine day closure period until April and will cause some as yet undated weekend line closures.

Chairman Val Clark thanked the Network Rail staff for their help and cooperation and thought “we have come up trumps with this one”. It looks to me she is right, a good choice of alternative routes and the end of constant land slips. A good job all round.

 

19 January - White elephants?

Car charging point Car charging point Car charging pointThere was a gratifying number of responses to my admission that I hadn’t found the Nuxley Road electric vehicle charging point. (I had lazily only driven round the Albert Road triangle.) They came by email, web form and Twitter notification. There was a map reference and photographs too but perhaps the most useful guidance was “outside the ugly new flats”. They weren’t joking, how on earth did they come to be approved?

Whether it shows an interest in electric vehicles or how Bexley wastes money I have no idea.

Anyway, I went there this morning and found the charge point easily enough. I would have parked right by it but in a sign of things to come one of the bays was occupied by a German Gas Guzzler. There will of course be two bays but therein lies a problem. As is very often the case, Kia, Hyundai, Nissan, MG, Renault, my charging point is at the front of the car. Nuxley Road being a one way street it would have been quite impossible to use the second bay and charge because the cable isn’t long enough.

The charging point said it was Awaiting Commission but the water had got there first. The display panel was unreadable because water had found its way inside.

I know I am spoiled with my electric car, it will take me more than 300 miles on a single charge and I can charge it for very little money at home, but I still can’t see the point of Bexley’s chargers.

When I bought my EV 16 months ago the 7kW AC charge points were generally free to use, subsidised by shops or a tourist attraction as their Unique Selling Point and most still are. A very large number of the 50kW DC units were also free as introductory offers from various small start-up companies. The latter is no longer true. I don’t know of any DC chargers outside Scotland (where the Government seems to provide everything for nothing) which remain free. Some revert to free when their phone signal goes down but generally speaking you pay.

16 months ago there were privately owned 50kW chargers in Bexley that were either free (Lidl) or as little as 9 pence a kWh (Starbucks). Lidl now demands 23 pence a kWh and the going rate elsewhere has risen so 35 pence plus. One of the European operators has just announced a five fold increase to 80 pence a kilowatt hour making EV running costs higher than diesel. It may be tolerable on convenience grounds on a once a year cross country trip but not for day to day motoring.

But back to Bexley’s puny 7kW units. What use are they?

For me none whatsoever, I charge at home. How about those not so lucky?

A 7kW charge point will deliver about 30 miles of range per hour, nearer 20 on a large luxury vehicle. How long can one stay charging for? Two hours maximum? 50 miles possibly? Not very practical for someone who might want to charge overnight for the daily commute and no long distance driver will want to divert to Nuxley Road and get only a handful of miles per hour.

In the UK it is mandatory for all new charging units to accept contactless bank cards and that costs the operators money, both the mobile phone link and the individual bank transfer fee. For a unit which will be used rarely with perhaps one transaction every two hours at best the financial overheads are enormous. It isn’t a problem only for Bexley of course, it is a nationwide chicken and egg problem.

The solution is to charge only for the 50kW plus DC units which can fill a battery every 30 minutes. The 7kW units chosen by Bexley Council only make sense when provided as a free attraction at supermarkets and National Trust properties etc. where a pound’s worth of electricity per hour is easily absorbed into a multitude of marginal costs. Will Bexley Council have had the foresight to put a bank of free chargers in the Hall Place car park? No sign of it yet.

One of my new EV correspondents says that electric cars only make sense on long journeys. In my view that is entirely back to front. If I exclude the occasional long journey my motoring consists of pottering around Outer London for no more than 100 miles a week. For that sort of motoring an EV is at its most economical. Mine consistently says it will do well over 300 miles at such speeds. The highest I saw was 384 miles but 340 is more usual. Even on my full price day electricity tariff that is only £8 and the maintenance costs are next to nothing. The annual dealer service is under £80.

BP Chargemaster, Bexley’s charging contractor, does not currently give a price for Contactless payment on its website for 7kW units but their minimum published tariff on more powerful units would cost me £20 and leave me parked by the roadside for ten hours. Who is going to pay Bexley’s prices when 7kW charging is free at Sainsbury’s, Tesco and Lidl?

Meanwhile Bexley remains the only London borough with no public charging points.

Note: 7kW charging cables are provided with the car or bought as an accessory and are not found at charging points. DC units are chargers because they feed the battery directly via an attached cable. AC units are charging points because they supply electricity to the charger built into the car. Most are rated at 7kW but there have been 3kW units and 11 (three phase so not often useful) is beginning to be more common.

 

18 January (Part 2) - Train issues. Stef versus Southeastern

Stefano BorellaAlthough the longest discussion at the Transport Users’ Sub-Committee meeting was the imminent Bexleyheath line closure more mundane rail affairs were not overlooked thanks to Councillor Borella’s persistence. He was not happy about the level of service provided to Albany Park and Falconwood stations.

He said that it only needs one train to be cancelled and there can be an hour’s wait for the next one. The reason was the [idiotic] station skip policy. He was “very well aware” that the timetables are padded because he has a collection of timetables going back 30 years which prove it and “in my view these are high density Metro service like the Underground and I do not see the value to residents of this [station skip] policy. I think it should be ceased.”

If I may speak as a twice weekly user of Abbey Wood, trains there arrive three minutes early having skipped Belvedere and if they skip Plumstead too, always in my experience with no announcement, they arrive at Woolwich a couple of minutes early. Good for my DLR connection but a very poor service for many travellers and it benefits no one apart from Southeastern.

The Southeastern representative said that station skipping improves punctuality and surveys had shown that people would prefer to have no service at all than a train that runs a few minutes late. He put it the other way around to make the choice appear to be more logical but I would suggest his survey must be asking a very leading question designed to get the ‘correct’ answer.

Councillor Borella (Labour, Slade Green and North End) repeated his complaint that of our three cross-borough railway lines, Bexleyheath is the only one to have no turn around facility anywhere along its length. He went on to say that Slade Green is “an absolutely appalling station” and Southeastern should go and take a close look at the 1970s concrete construction. The Network Rail representative said she would do that.

Finally Stefano put in a plea for a better service for the disabled who require ramps. They get on trains and communication is so poor that there is no help to get off.

 

18 January (Part 1) - Police: Bexley’s biggest transport problem is “kids in the Broadway”

Safer Transport TeamTwo Metropolitan Police officers from The Safer Transport Team attended the Transport Users’ Sub-Committee meeting this week, basically they do for buses what the British Transport Police do for the railways. They said that Bexley is at the lower end of the scale for transport related crime and over the past three months it has reduced further. Since 1st January there had been only three reported crimes on buses, most bus crimes are pushing, shoving and verbal abuse.

The mains problem In Bexley is “kids congregating in the Broadway. They do not always realise that their behaviour can be intimidating”. Low level bus crime by children will usually result in a letter to the parents and repeat incidents a home visit. In the worst cases TfL is asked to withdraw the free travel passes. In Bexley there have been 28 withdrawal requests in the past three months alone.

There have been attempts to interest school teachers in the ‘Broadway child terrorism’ problem and with some degree of success but their unions are pulling in the other direction. It is “Bexley’s biggest transport issue”.

 

17 January (Part 2) - Once it was the Bottle, now it’s jam jars

Leather Bottle Leather Bottle A handful of vans and a couple of cars on the site of Ye Olde Leather Bottle has expanded somewhat over the past six weeks.

Has Kulvinder Singh moved into the used car business?

Recognisable number plates: RJ04 WTU, YP08 VOA, WR55 BYM, AF08 ERE, L115 MSO, LM52 TTY, EN54 WLD, GL53 RKO, FV05 TCO, MT52 VBJ, NV08 UXN, W711 RFM, GU03 FNZ, LY10 AXJ, WX51 PZV, LB05 EXL.

Leather Bottle Leather Bottle Leather Bottle Leather Bottle

 

17 January (Part 1) - Which of Bexley’s bright sparks could be so incompetent?

EV Charge PointThere were two references to electric vehicle charging points at last night’s Transport Users’ Sub-Committee meeting. Councillor Stefano Borella (Labour, Slade Green and North End) without whom very few useful questions would be asked, brought up the subject of electric vehicle charging points supposedly being introduced by the Mayor of London. The TfL representative said he was pushing for more rapid charging points (50 kilowatt and over DC units) across London because the priority was serving taxis and commercial vehicles which cannot afford to be out of use while charging for long periods. A 50kw charger will give a decent range extension in half an hour or less.

Some money had also been made available to Councils for car charging and Bexley was in the process of getting 13 units but the TfL man did not know if any more would be forthcoming.

Councillor June Slaughter (Conservative, Sidcup) asked the Chairman if the [7 kilowatt AC] unit which had been hiding under a black sack in Hadlow Road for the past two months was ever going to be commissioned.

Cabinet Member Peter Craske provided the answer.

“There have been some issues with it; the installation of electricity to the actual bays. Some work started on some of them before Christmas and it is carrying on now so we will probably have to wait until they get around to it. Traffic Orders will have to be issued to get the work done.”

So Bexley Council gets some money from the Mayor to install 13 double headed 7 kilowatt charging points each of which will by definition require two 32 amp power supplies and the penny doesn’t quite drop that they will need a beefy electricity cable to connect them. Only now are they getting the Traffic Orders that will allow the roads to be dug up. How could they be so silly? It took an electrician three hours to install a unit technically more advanced that that seen here in my garage.

Having such a device at home means I have no real need of street charging points in shopping centres. EV discussion forums I follow suggest that the handful of units found at Tesco etc. are fairly useless. You cannot be sure the bay will not already be occupied by another electric vehicle and worse, something between 50 and 100% of bays will be ICE’d. That is occupied by Internal Combustion Engined vehicles. The latter need to be severely fined.

The 13 locations chosen last year were Bellegrove Road, Welling; Blackfen Parade, Blackfen; Danson Lane, Welling; Erith Road, Barnehurst; Methuen Road, Bexleyheath; Nuxley Road, Belvedere; Picardy Street, Belvedere; Sandford Road, Bexleyheath; Sherwood Park Avenue, Blackfen; St. John’s Road, Sidcup; The Oval, Blackfen; Walnut Tree Road, Erith and Waterside, Crayford. (Hadlow Road mentioned by Councillor Slaughter is not included on the original locations list.)

Photo from Councillor Richard Diment’s Twitter feed. I went to Nuxley Road to photograph my own local charging point but failed to find it. Maybe it’s one of those awaiting a traffic order.

 

16 January - The Bulb blub continued

BulbI was reluctant to impose the Bulb tribulations on readers yesterday, it’s not something that I would want to do often and in the past such treatment has been meted out only to Sainsbury’s, Openreach, Newham Hospital and Scottish Power.

However the blog provoked a number of responses from Bulb customers who were similarly dissatisfied and one from someone who felt relieved that his application to join fell down a black hole. He has been waiting seven weeks for a promised email. It would also appear that an email response which says only that Bulb is too busy to answer emails is not unique to my friend.

However the blog also had the desired effect. In less time than it took for the first response to the aborted Webchat, Bulb sent me a message. As it was not really my complaint I gave them my friend’s contact details so that they could deal with their customer directly, however Bulb did kindly keep me in the loop. Unfortunately I didn’t think much of their supposed remedy.

To ‘fix’ the absence of an Economy 7 meter they changed my friend’s meter reading log-in so that it led to a web page which no longer asked for an Economy 7 reading and they confirmed the cheap overnight tariff was no more. The dual rate tariff had been withdrawn and the standard one imposed without consultation or permission. I queried it and gained the impression that it was something Bulb had not thought about.

At present there is no resolution but having looked at the two tariffs I do wonder why my friend is on Economy 7. I have therefore asked him to take meter readings as he goes to bed and before breakfast so that we can get some idea of when he is using power and defer a decision on reverting to the dual rate tariff. (On second thoughts, find some old bills!)

I have two addresses on my single Bulb account, mine and the one in East Ham, the latter being Economy 7. I had better do some calculations on that too.

 

15 January - Broken Bulb

BulbApologies for going right off topic but it’s to fulfill a promise and maybe it will give would-be Bulb Energy customers an idea of what they might be letting themselves in for.

A year ago I recommended the energy company Bulb as a cheap source of green energy and a number of Bonkers’ readers took advantage of the £100 transfer bonus. As far as I know all of those new customers are happy with their choice but the mark of a good company is one that is able to sort out problems quickly and efficiently when they arise. On that score Bulb fails miserably.

Around 18 months ago I made a similar recommendation to a friend who is not as relaxed about computers as most of us. He is 83 years old, perfectly capable of submitting on-line meter readings but perhaps a little out of his depth when it comes to email. if there is anything slightly out of the ordinary I deal with it for him. In fact I have an email account set up on this computer which impersonates him when the need arises.

All went well with his Bulb account until late summer last year when he told me that Bulb wanted to fit a Smart meter. I had had the same offer myself and declined it but when I looked into the situation more carefully I realised that all Bulb wanted to do for my friend was to swap out his bog standard consumption meters because they had reached the end of their reliable life. So he gave permission for Bulb to install new ones in the cupboard under his stairs. Two meters because he has Economy 7 or whatever Bulb call their cheap overnight tariff.

It was probably around the end of October when someone came and did the job - or so we thought. A week later Bulb asked for the regular monthly meter reading and it was then that we discovered there was no Economy 7 meter. It simply wasn’t there any more.

My friend phoned Bulb on I think three occasions and no one could understand what his problem was. Too outlandish to be true perhaps? Along the way he discovered why in a recent Which? survey Bulb scored the longest telephone wait time. 40 minutes.

An email produced a response to the effect that Bulb was too busy to answer emails. I think there may have been two more emails, certainly at least one but no replies.

I tried Webchat but that was hopeless. I asked a question and it was about 20 minutes before any response came back. That of course asked a security question and that too took 20 minutes to extract a response. I discovered that Bulb had run out of Economy 7 meters but I gave up pursuing things further. Webchat with a minimum delay of 19 minutes for each response was not going to get anywhere in a reasonable time.

My friend, the Bulb customer, was by now becoming very agitated about Bulb’s refusal to talk to him. Not everyone can cope with the stress and he believed, maybe wrongly, that he was being overcharged for his electricity.

TwitterIn desperation I took to Twitter (†) to see if public exposure might provoke some action. It did. On 11th December Bulb blamed Siemens for going around allegedly changing meters but in practice simply disconnecting them. The following day they promised to sort it out. “Yep, we’re working on getting this sorted out!”

And absolutely nothing happened. No phone call, no email, no Twitter Direct Message.

I let it go a month and asked again; specifically is the overnight electricity being metered at the day rate or is it not being metered at all? I also noticed something my friend hadn’t; that monthly billing had ceased, the last one was dated October 2019.

My friend wants to change supplier but I advised that a transfer was likely to fail for an address that has no meter.

There has been no response to the further complaint which included a promise to send the case to OFGEM by next Friday and go public with Bulb’s incompetence here today.

Things go wrong in all walks of life and maybe Siemens have in effect been defrauding Bulb by undertaking a meter exchange programme when they haven’t the materials to fulfill their obligations; but nothing excuses Bulb’s customer relations incompetence. Near impossible to phone and impossible to extract any sense from them that way. A refusal to answer emails, a Webchat service that is not fit for purpose and Tweeting useless assurances or remaining mute.

Maybe this public exposure will provoke a response when everything else has failed.

There has been no significant problem with my own Bulb account but if something does go wrong I think it might be best to cut one’s losses and simply move elsewhere as quickly as possible.

† Not my regular account.

 

14 January - Bringing home the Bacon

Five years ago Bexley Councillor Gareth Bacon found himself headlined in the London Evening Standard as the highest paid Councillor in London. In Bexley he was Deputy Council Leader and Cabinet Member for Finance, Chairman of London’s Fire Planning Committee and a Greater London Authority Member in his own right. He was raking in £108,000 of public money every year. One by one he gave up some of the jobs until only the GLA Membership and Bexley Councillor for Longlands remained.

No sooner was he elected MP for Orpington a month ago than the Bonkers’ post bag reminded me of Gareth Bacon’s financial good fortune and it has happened again today so maybe it is appropriate to set the record straight.

The GLA Membership will be retained until the scheduled elections next May. Until then his salary will be reduced.

In Bexley Gareth will resign from being a ward Councillor on a date timed to provoke a May election. To do so earlier would likely cause a by-election in the immediate future and that would cost Bexley Council - and taxpayers - a lot of money.

If it can be run on the same day as the GLA election the additional costs will be negligible. It makes a lot of sense and the decision does not deserve the criticism I heard again today.

I think Gareth Bacon did a pretty good job for Bexley especially after the Conservative victory in 2006. I love the little video in which he shows up Mayor Sadiq Khan for the lying numbskull that he is. I never tire of looking at that one.

 

13 January - Does nobody at Bexley Council stop to think?

Bench Bench BenchIn two weeks time completion of the Gayton Road rebuild (alongside Abbey Wood station) will be a whole year late. Considering it isn’t even 100 yards long that is quite an achievement.

However there are signs of the job coming to an end; the plastic barriers separating the road from the footpath largely disappeared just before Christmas and a week into the New Year a couple of nice wooden benches appeared.

This being Abbey Wood the drinking fraternity soon found them attracted by the bottle rack design.

On the other side of the railway an identical bench appeared with a new lamp post by its side. This being a Bexley Council project it was placed in the silliest position they could find.

Who in their right mind obscures one sign with another?

 

12 January - “I think L&Q are trying to kill me”

I’ve taken a trip to Groombridge Close in Welling every few months since October 2017. It’s the house that L&Q wrecked. I simply cannot understand how any property owner can happily stand by and see a house systematically made near uninhabitable by a succession of unskilled demolition workers. I found the photographs taken two years ago shocking but the complaints eventually encouraged L&Q to put a partial ban on reporting problems.

Underlying it all is a damp. It doesn’t matter what time of the year you drop in, you can feel the dampness. I was invited to take another look a couple of weeks before Christmas but it’s a case of one bodged job looks much like any other. I took a few photographs of peeling paint and anything else that I thought might be worse than when I was last there. What I would really have liked was to witness the water puddling on the window ledge and the snails in the bathroom but the evidence exists only as video on an i-Phone. I had not gone equipped to take a copy and the landline internet connection to the house had been lost a couple of months earlier. The state of the wiring may be a factor. (Photos 11 and 12.)

The planned pre-Christmas return visit to get hold of the video fell victim to the flu so I didn’t get back there until yesterday.

The house was cold as well as damp and the lady occupier took ages to come to the door. She was clearly unwell, breathing very badly, hands shaking and on her own admission not recently able to wash because of some problem with the boiler which presumably accounted for her using the oven grill as a source of heat.

I felt I should be calling for medical help but unsure what that might lead to. In the event we stuck to trying to extract the video from the i-Phone and transfer it to my laptop. On Android it’s easy but Apple would only let me look at the still images. In the end I resorted to pointing my own phone in video mode at the Apple. Technically dreadful but it may give some idea of the standard of workmanship which L&Q deem to be acceptable.

The house is a sponge sitting on top of a puddle largely of L&Q’s making and the lady did look sufficiently unwell for her forecast of her own premature demise to be a possible consequence of L&Q’s neglect.

L&Q L&Q L&Q L&Q

Peeling paint.

L&Q L&Q L&Q L&Q

Generally damp.

L&Q L&Q L&Q L&Q

Window handles don’t match. Pipe brackets broken. Phone cables broken.

Earlier reports…
14th October 2017.
4th June 2018.
5th June 2018.
23rd August 2018.
26th February 2019.
29th August 2019.

 

10 January - Calling all accountants

Not fully reporting on an important Council meeting has a habit of coming back to bite you and so it is with last July’s Cabinet meeting. The debate on Connected Communities and the state of Welling was reported but the budget report was given a miss, judged to be pretty much business as usual.

Tom Bull the Local Democracy Reporter found something to say about it before the Cabinet discussed the issues. In particular he said “Finance officers are predicting a cumulative budget gap of more than £38m by 2023/24”. Bexley Times
A reader asks where that “more than £38 million by 2023/24” comes from. The figures in the Agenda (see below) only go up to 2022/23 and a later document reports £31·884 million for the following year. There was no alternative but to listen to my recording of the Cabinet meeting held on 9th July 2019. 50 odd minutes into it the Finance Director says “going into 2023/24 we have an anticipated budget gap over that period of thirty eight million, so that’s increasing by seven million from the thirty one million that we had previously”.
Budget
The reader’s question is that while the Finance Officer has admitted to a £38 million black hole by 2023/24 the cumulative figure by then is more like £116 million than the £38 miliion reported in the newspaper. He says that he has asked his Councillors for an explanation but there has been no reply.

This is a question that used to intrigue me too. The old example was when Councillor Craske destroyed Bexleyheath’s William Morris water fountain and said it would save taxpayers £20,000 a year. And maybe it did but fountain closure didn’t appear in the accounts for later years. If the accounts worked that way Bexley Council would still be claiming to be saving due to its decision to sell off the municipal tramways or whatever in nineteen dot.

My guess is that most of the savings and cuts introduced this year will have an ongoing effect on the numbers for future years. To invent a silly example, if the Council decides that the Mayor should travel by bus in future it might save £40,000 on the car lease and the chauffeur’s salary and the size of the black hole would reduce by a cumulative £200,000 over the next five years.

If Bexley Council has saved £100 million over the past eight or nine years (see Bexley Times report) it will likely be a dozen or so million which was reflected into each year. If they went back far enough and added all the savings together they could claim to be saving more than their total annual expenditure. I suspect Bexley Council plays whichever financial game makes them look best but I am relieved to discover that two Councillors don’t seem to have a straight answer to the question either.

 

9 January (Part 2) - If only… 😢

Come on Bexley Council, the General Election was four weeks ago. Give the poor woman a well deserved rest! Bexley Council web page
Screenshot taken at 13:02 today.

 

9 January (Part 1) - Sods at the end of a spade

United LivingAfter blighting Bexleyheath with a town centre tower block due to a combination of poor decision making and bad luck Bexley Council is embarking on another unpopular venture. High density housing on Sidcup’s Old Farm Park.

I suspect that grinning like Cheshire Cats while plunging the first spade into a much loved park will be an image soon to be regretted.

Bexley Council set up a subsidiary company to do the dirty work of building on parks; BexleyCo was formed nearly three years ago and has so far failed with every single one of its endeavours and gone through a number of bosses already. Currently Graham Ward is at the helm, he was a Deputy Director in Bexley even before BiB came into existence and maybe not popular with some of his staff.

BexleyCo one is tempted to say has no skills in anything so building a housing estate on a park is well beyond its capabilities, for that it has brought in that well known national housebuilder, United Living. No, me neither but I should have.

United Living built that gold coloured monstrosity only half a mile from Old Farm Park. The Fold.

“Enhancing existing parkland.” WTF!!

 

8 January - Bellway Homes promotes tower blocks. Bexley Council promotes failure

Bellway Homes which is building 518 flats in Bexleyheath (known as The Eastside Quarter) issued a Press Release this week which was dutifully regurgitated by what remains of our local press yesterday. I read it and laughed out loud.


“London is easily accessible with Bexleyheath train station a short drive away, which takes you into the city in less than 40 minutes.”


How funny is that?

The anti-car Mayor of London wanted to see zero car parking spaces on Eastside but Bexley Council managed to get the number up to 208 but only by rushing through the planning permission before Khan’s new dictat came into play. Some might argue that the scheme should not have been approved at all but Khan would likely have over-ruled such a decision. In the event the scheme was approved only after Councillor Val Clark craftily managed to cast two votes in favour.

As for “less than 40 minutes” I’m not sure where 208 new commuters would park at Bexleyheath station which is the best part of a mile away and where are these fast trains anyway? A quick consultation with National Rail Enquiries shows one train to Cannon Street that takes 37 minutes followed by two which take 42 minutes - on repeat throughout most the day.

Eastside QuarterThe Eastside site has a long history not all of which reflects well on Bexley Council.

Ten years ago the Council Offices were where these new flats are being built and they were well past their sell-by date. Two hundred yards down the road Tesco had plans to build a supermarket which was not favoured by local residents. After turning their back on the cheapest option which was to spend close to £30 million on rebuilding the Civic Offices on Broadway, Bexley Council arranged a profitable swap, They sold their Broadway site for £25 million.

At a projected £36 million (ultimately £42 million) refurbishing the old Woolwich building was not a totally unreasonable decision. It placed the new Tesco store in a much more convenient position and still kept the Civic Offices close to the town centre.

In the event the Tesco plans for a huge superstore with 550 free town centre parking places came to naught when Tesco ran into financial difficulties and sold it on to Sports Direct for - reports are - rather more than the £25 million they paid for it.

They had plans for shops and a gymnasium and those plans also hit the buffers. Along came Bellway Homes intent on making a profit from the misfortune and mistakes of the previous owners, none more so than Bexley Council.

Bexley’s mistake was not writing an overage clause into the original sale agreement. Former Labour Councillor Munir Malik was always going on about it but he had somehow incurred the wrath of Bexley Conservatives long before I began to take an interest in their juvenile infighting. If only Bexley’s Finance Officers had had the foresight to take a cut from any subsequent selling of their site taxpayers would have seen some benefit. Labour Councillors Stefano Borella and Seán Newman continued to criticise that decision long after Councillor Malik left the Council in May 2014.

More than six years went by before a Cabinet Member for Finance came up with an official excuse for failing to profit from Tesco’s land sale. Councillor Don Massey claimed that Tesco sold to Sports Direct as a loss and and Sports Direct also lost out on the Bellway sale. Even if that is true - and I am not sure I would trust Massey to tell me the date - does it excuse the original decision? Informants claiming to be in the know are sure his story was less than truthful.

Hindsight has shown that Bexley Council made several wrong decisions over their Civic Offices. They could have had a purpose built town hall in Broadway for around ten million pounds less than the far from ideal bodge which is 2 Watling Street and the centre of Bexleyheath would not be dominated by a 12 storey tower block. They could have benefited from rising property prices.
Eastside Quarter Eastside Quarter Eastside Quarter Eastside Quarter
The Eastside prices currently vary between £267,000 and £401,000 and if the average is close to £300k. it tots up to about £160 million. Who in Bexley Council will be profiting from that? Not resident taxpayers that’s for sure, but most of the people who took the decision to forego an overage clause are still at Bexley Council are profiting from their failures by being promoted - either within Bexley Council or by heading up BexleyCo.

 

7 January - Doomed to disappointment

The bloody flu has gone, went almost like flicking off a light switch nearly five weeks after it arrived. A bit of a cough left over but from now on a lack of blogs can be blamed on no news or very possibly laziness.

Hiding under a blanket does not of course prevent half an eye being kept on Twitter and several Tweets have caught my eye already this year. I was intrigued by the underlying contrast between these two which appeared a few days apart, the first (a Retweet) from the President of Erith and Thamesmead Conservative Association and the second from the MP for that constituency. One I rather liked and one I most definitely didn’t.
Priti Patel Abena Oppong-Asare
Priti Patel is both Home Secretary and MP for Witham in Essex, a place I know of only because my Great Grandfather was born there in 1860 and was promptly deposited in the local workhouse. Priti is a lady of Asian origin who is proud to be British. Good for her.

Abena Oppong-Asare on the other hand appears to be rather more occupied with continuing on the course that keeps the Labour Party aloof from traditional British values. How will they ever attract talent with a policy that further restricts their shallow talent pool?

I wish Priti the best of luck, I think her heart is most probably in the right place but I would put money on her failing to achieve her ambitions while Boris Johnson is Prime Minister. They both might learn something about the path the country is taking if they travelled on the Underground regularly, in east London in particular. Far too many people there show a total lack of consideration for civilised society. Pray that Priti does not allow Newham to become the norm.

 

3 January - Any answers?

Every morning I think the flu is going away and by mid-afternoon it is back sapping all energy. Maybe there is not much to report in Bexley anyway but if there is I’ve not the energy to look into it.

There was another of those anonymous email messages earlier today, one that asks a question but does not permit a reply. I don’t know the answer to the enquiry. I know that in Newham there are only two refuse bins, one for things that can be recycled and another for things that can’t. Separating things is entirely possible, Bexley Council is taking the technique a step further right now.

But mixing food waste with paper? Not heard of that one before.


I have been reading your blogs for years and was wondering if any of your other readers have witnessed the council’s bin men throw all residential paper waste into the same bins as the smelly, mouldy, greasy food waste? Surely this will contaminate the paper, rendering it unrecyclable?

I’ve seen this on a number of occasions and can’t seem to get an answer from either the bin men at the time, or from the council via email. I’d be interested to know if there is a legitimate reason, or if they are just plain lazy?


The writer reveals he lives in Brampton Road.

 

2 January - Abbey Wood beggar moves into Belvedere

Begging in and around Abbey Wood is a frequent occurrence so much so that I very rarely carry cash. I feel a lot better saying “sorry I have no money with me” when it is actually true.

The local Facebook Group which I look at most days but no longer Follow has been relating how a lady has been plaguing Abbey Wood with the same old story about having no money to pay for electricity for the past month or so. Today she reached Coptefield Drive.

Same old story, she lived at number 12 but she couldn’t feed her children because the meter had run out and her husband wouldn’t be home until three.

No. 12 is almost directly opposite me and I had never seen her before. The description exactly matches Facebook reports from earlier today. Maybe this image will help people avoiding falling for her story in future.

There is no audio with this video clip.

I intercepted her via my side door. See trousers at end of clip.

 

1 January - Just a temporary (?) filler

There is an exceptional number of anonymous messages to wade through and in some cases research but can I first make a plea? If you ask a direct question like whether or not your new bin should have arrived by now maybe total anonymity is not a good idea. No Reply email address makes things difficult but no Post Code puts an additional obstacle in the way.

For the record Blackfen Road addresses will not all be given bins and those that are due a delivery will have to wait until mid-February - according to Bexley Council’s web page.

 

News and Comment January 2020

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