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News and Comment June 2012

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30 June (Part 2) - Still taking the pee. Tasteless funeral parlours are us

W. Uden & SonsThe bright yellow cab signs down in Bexley Village may have made some residents hot under the collar but they are the pinnacle of good taste compared to those that desecrate the old public toilets opposite the Shopping Mall entrance in Townley Road.

The town centre public convenience was sold off by Bexley council as a demonstration of their minimal regard for public needs and councillor Gareth Bacon who pushed through the plan expected to get around £175,000 for the building. In the event W. Uden, the undertakers, coughed up £239,000. For that Bexley council must have been very very grateful. If you look at the premises now you might wonder exactly how appreciative they are. Just how are we supposed to interpret the slogan “Working with Bexley council”?

Festooned with adverts
Festooned with adverts
If I counted correctly the revamped toilets have ten ugly advertising boards visible from the street and the whole effect is tasteless in the extreme. Who would want to be seen dead there if that is the respect W. Uden & Sons has for the community and environment? And how come Bexley council has approved such over the top eye-sores?

Report from a suggestion by a Townley Road resident.


30 June (Part 1) - Queen Mary’s Hospital

Queen Mary's HospitalProbably I should have gone to the council’s Health Committee meeting last Tuesday given the revelations about the South London Healthcare Trust going bust but the fact is it is far too complex a subject for me to find time for and in any case Bexley council is in no position to change anything. It will take more than weasel words to fix that problem. All I have time to do is to offer a little support to John Hemming-Clark’s long running campaign to save the hospital. He wrote to me and many others as follows…

Radio 4 is preparing a programme “The Report” which is looking into South London Healthcare Trust’s PFI contract. If you would like to make a contribution to this programme please can you contact Kirsteen at Radio 4 on 020 8752 7774 as soon as possible to discuss any contribution you may feel able to make. She is looking for individuals who have experience of patient care having been compromised as a result, directly or indirectly, of the need to meet the PFI payments. The programme is due to be aired on 12th July.

I don’t think I have been to Queen Mary’s this millennium and I certainly wouldn’t choose to repeat my experiences there. Not life threatening but a total lack of consideration for me as a patient. I don’t think I’ll bother calling Kirsteen to tell her about it, she probably remembers anyway, she is my daughter. Maybe she will do a programme on obscene blogging if I ask her nicely.

John Hemming-Clarke. Tel: 020 8468 7945 Fax: 020 8295 0739.


29 June (Part 3) - Ask a busy woman

Gareth BaconKatie PerriorThey don’t make these things easy to find but hidden away four levels down from the Home page is Bexley council’s announcement of who is going to take up Craske’s poisoned chalice. It seems that councillors Katie Perrior and Gareth Bacon are going to share the load. Katie will do the Community Safety having apparently overcome the child minding issues that led her to bleat about them to the Bexley Chronicle last year and Gareth is well qualified to take on the Transport role equipped as he is with a free annual season ticket by the Greater London Authority.

To be fair the appointments seem to be a good solution to tide things over while Craske sorts out the personal issues that led to his resignation. Bacon can be a pompous ass at times but he appears to have his head screwed on properly and it saves us £13,000 a year.


29 June (Part 2) - End of the month Newsreel

Quote from today's Daily TelegraphAnother month has flashed by and what has it provided? Not a lot really, even Will Tuckley failed to get a mention so let’s put that right straight away. Have you ever wondered what he does for the quarter million a year he costs the borough? The Bexley Council Monitoring Group members who organised the petition against Tuckley being the sixth highest paid public authority employee in the country did. They put in a Freedom of Information request asking for a copy of his business diary for the month of May. Should be an easy one for any competent council to comply with but in a day or two’s time it will tip into the unacceptably late category.

It’s a rather nice question. If he edits out entries it will looks as though the councillors for Lesnes Abbey were even more right than they knew and if he adds false entries someone will likely do some checking. Perhaps we will suddenly find he has been on four weeks’ leave.

Cabinet Member for Public Realm - councillor Peter Craske

Councillor Peter CraskeCouncillor Craske resigned his cabinet post last Sunday for personal reasons and I’m not sure whether I should be pleased or not. He is the idiot who signed off the wrecking of Abbey Road, Belvedere without consulting those living nearest to it - those further away were sent a leaflet - and subsequently ignored every single objection made by residents. The lies told about that scheme and the attempt to fool me into believing they met all the requirements specified by expert reviews of road safety (†) is what prompted me to start this blog. I quite often wish I hadn’t.

On the other hand without the Purple Pygmy the blog would have been a far duller place. He has not been on top form lately but his constant lying used to provide an easy source for entertainment and ridicule. I think we might miss him.

At the time of writing the name of his successor has not reached me. God help us if it is some ignorant thicko like councillor Val Clark who I saw in action last night. No one could be impressed by that.

† It was very bad luck for Craske that the author’s boss was a friend of mine.

Bexley Cabs

Bexley Cabs FacebookWhere would we be without Bexley Cabs this month? All good fun perhaps for those who are able to watch from afar, but essentially it is just one big neighbours’ dispute. When the subject first arose it looked like Bexley council might be caught out by a contentious application by the deputy leader’s son but so far as can be seen from here they have never shown any sign of not applying the law correctly. Now that the Enforcement Notice has been served there is probably nothing more to say.

I made some new friends because of this squabble but I retained a sneaking admiration for the man himself. A Cheeky Chappy just like his dad. If only he had pitched his tent somewhere else. I hope he eventually extricates himself from the mess and makes a go of his business; just not in the middle of Bexley please.

When I passed his office just before ten thirty last night business was in full swing. I was tempted to get a quick ride home. Not that it was slow on the 229, the driver was a complete menace, causing me to injure my elbow as he was forced to an emergency stop in Erith’s West Street and began to scare me with the speed reached in the Craske narrowed Abbey Road.

Note: I found navigation through the council’s website to their Planning Portal which they call Public Access to be unreliable at best so I added a direct link from the Bonkers’ Home page menu. Not unnaturally it is under Links>Council. So far it has worked perfectly for me.

Cookie Policy

A month ago I was worrying about complying with the new EU law on website cookies. I said that Bexley council’s website was not compliant and I knew that Bonkers wasn’t. Saying “this site uses cookies, if you don’t like it bugger off” which was close to what I had said was only going to be a solution while the Information Commission had bigger fish to fry. And then he relented. Suddenly it was accepted that the EU rules were pretty much unworkable and the concept of ‘presumed compliance’ was adopted. Basically, tell visitors that cookies are in use and if readers don’t disappear at a rate of knots, then assume they must be happy customers.

Has there ever been another case of the UK not gold-plating EU law?

The obscene blog

Twice yesterday I was asked in the street certain questions about Bexley council’s obscene blog. Or to be pedantic the one they must have had something to do with. I know that someone has been interviewed about it but that’s it. I know what some people have said (I don’t live in a bubble) but not a shred of evidence has come my way. In case you haven’t noticed I am not on particularly good terms with Bexley council, so they are unlikely to tell me anything. When someone else asked a question Will Tuckley insisted he was entirely unaware of any investigation - so very obviously that has to be true. The police absolutely cannot say a word to me and the Detective Sergeant in charge of the investigation must be a damned fine poker player. It’s not worth asking a question and generally I don’t.

There have been rumours and circumstantial evidence in the past and to the best of my knowledge all that created was false trails and unnecessary embarrassment. There is no way I want to get into that again. Please accept that I don’t have any answers, only guesswork, and one of my guesses is that the best source of local news will be the News Shopper. They may have their methods but no one tells me anything!


29 June (Part 1) - As the crow flies

Bexleyheath Broadway map - You are hereAfter beating Bexley council’s anticipated walking times by more than 20% I was told I had chosen the easy routes. Try getting to Bexley station in 22 minutes was the new challenge. I didn’t much fancy that, there are too many busy roads to cross and the junction with the A2 looks like an accident waiting to happen, but on the other hand it is nearly all downhill. So I left Boris’s fancy new sign yesterday at 14:05 precisely on my wristwatch, ignoring the clock tower which is about three minutes slow.

I passed the Magistrates’ Court and avoided delay crossing Albion Road by walking along the central reservation. At the bottom of Gravel Hill I cut across the grass verge and nipped across the A2 slip road between two slow moving cars. Then I found myself on a short section of the A223 without any pavement; what is Bexley council playing at recommending people walk this route? The A2 bridge footway becomes perilously narrow when you are not driving but the slip road on the far side was mercifully free of traffic.

I passed by Bexley Cabs without hesitating, there was no sign of illegally parked cabs, ignored the path and took a straight line route across the station car park, finding myself in the booking hall just in time to see the 14:29 to Gillingham dead on time. My watch confirmed it. Maybe one second under 24 minutes but no more than that. So cutting corners wherever possible, risking life and limb on central reservations, walking my usual 20% faster than Bexley council anticipated elsewhere, and I am 10% behind schedule. I knew it was likely after just ten minutes and went as fast as I could without breaking into a trot. Bexley council should be thinking this one out again. Not just the timing which should be 30 minutes, but the very idea of suggesting tourists, maybe with young children in tow, should ever be recommended to walk to Bexley station. Get the 229 bus. About six minutes door to door.

MapNote: This blog escaped prematurely and was available in a ragged unedited form for most of yesterday evening while I attended a council meeting, Someone saw it and wrote to tell me of a little known route using footpaths. The map alongside (Click to enlarge) with its circle indicating destinations within a 15 minute radius implies straight line routes. What do they think we are? Pigeons?


28 June (Part 2) - A chink in their defence

Bexley Cabs advert Bexley Cabs TwitterAs I said before, I do have some sympathy for Mark Campbell of Bexley Cabs. I am sure he is in more trouble than would be the case if his father was not deputy leader of Bexley council.

Jim Palmer reported the situation in yesterday’s News Shopper and headlined it ‘witch hunt’. Mr. Campbell is reported saying he was “accused of not following the planning process”. In my view his mistake was not to put his own name on the application. It was always going to look fishy that his own name wasn’t at the top of page 1. Neither did it help that the supporting evidence of police support proved to be untruthful.

If I were in Campbell’s shoes I might ask myself why I was the subject of “Chinese whispers”. I’d consider if setting up shop and assuming permission would be a mere formality might be seen as supremely arrogant and wonder if I had reneged on too many undertakings. The News Shopper reminds us that Bexley Cabs promised to “hire a marshall and install CCTV for safety”. What happened to that idea? Bar Lorca has been left to pick up the bill.

I suspect the problem can be summed up by Bexley Cab’s newspaper advertisement. “Situated in the heart of Bexley village.” That is what villagers regard as totally inappropriate and led to the rejection of the application. The slogan also blows away every argument that Bexley Cabs is only operating a telephone booking service. Calling those who wish to conserve their quiet village atmosphere “idiots” does little to heal the rift either.


28 June (Part 1) - Crossrail. Taken far too literally

Abbey Wood stationCouncillor John Waters was right about the downgrading of the passenger interchange facilities at Abbey Wood’s Crossrail station but just with their hand wringing over Queen Mary’s Hospital two years ago, Bexley council is powerless to do anything about it, the deed is already done.

A reader has drawn my attention to the current issue of Modern Railways magazine. The gist of their report as it affects Abbey Wood station is that the original design had Crossrail trains terminating in platforms sandwiched between the North Kent Line platforms. The redesign puts the Crossrail island platform on the north side of the station, with North Kent trains using an island to the south. This means that changing trains will involve either a footbridge or a subway, much less convenient than before.

The reason for the change is that Crossrail has specified some berthing sidings to be built at the Plumstead tunnel portal, which would be impossible to include if the Crossrail lines emerged between the North Kent running lines. The sidings will permit rolling stock to be kept near Abbey Wood overnight, reducing the need for empty stock movement back to Old Oak Common at the end of the day's service, and thus also extending the period that the line can be taken over for engineering work during the night.

The first plans I saw for Crossrail showed track extending for half a mile beyond Abbey Wood station towards Belvedere. I suspect that is still on the cards as several surveys and bore holes have been made in that area, but you can imagine how many carriage windows would be left intact if trains were parked overnight alongside Alsike Road.

Anyone who has been on a train between Abbey Wood and Plumstead is likely to have noticed that the ramp to the tunnel portal is to the north of the existing tracks and is wide enough for two tracks. Councillor John Waters is right but he has well and truly missed the boat. And the train.

Index to more Crossrail blogs.


27 June (Part 5) - I couldn’t possibly comment

Before AfterThe News Shopper is reporting that councillor Peter Craske is no longer a cabinet member of Bexley council.


27 June (Part 4) - Playing the planning system

Bexley Cabs on FacebookA phone call yesterday said that an Enforcement Notice was served on Bexley Cabs last Monday for trading from their office in Bexley High Street following the rejection of their planning application. A report this morning said the order was to be served today. Both reports had one thing in common, that it would be six months before anything could be done about any breach of planning regulations.

Bexley council’s Public Access website is working again this morning, after a fashion anyway, it still crashed my Internet Explorer 9, but Chrome did the job at the second attempt. It does not yet show an Enforcement Notice as being served. News Shopper report.


27 June (Part 3) - The obscene blogger

I am as disappointed as you may be but I have come to the conclusion that going beyond noting that the police have a suspect may prejudice my position as a potential witness in his or her prosecution should that arise. It may be some little while before I can return to the subject.


27 June (Part 2) - Cab wars

Taxi outside Jackson House Taxi beneath clamping warning Taxi beneath Clamping warningThe owner of Bexley Cabs isn’t being given any peace and nor apparently are his neighbours, disturbed as they are by late night door slamming. Cars have been seen overstaying their welcome in the 20 minute bays outside Bar Lorca and on the other side of the cab office cars are using the forecourt of Jackson House.

A source who has been 100% reliable hitherto has said the property owner is not happy about it and the clamping company has asked to be notified if anyone at all parks there. The same source has been notifying the council’s parking staff when there is a taxi in the 20 minute bays. It is only a matter of time before real hostilities break out. Already, the same source reports, the doormen at the Bar Lorca have had to be employed later into the night in an attempt to calm the situation. The photos are of a Bexley Cabs car parked beneath the clamping company’s sign.

As previously reported, Bexley Cabs may be entirely legal if it operates only a telephone booking service but I am assured that customers have been video’d hiring a cab in the office. If that reaches TfL it should provoke a reaction.

Other reports indicate that Bexley council have issued an Enforcement Notice against Bexley Cabs but that isn’t going to have any effect except in the long term. It’s not a situation where you can send in the police and arrest someone. Unfortunately Bexley council’s awful website has been in trouble since at least yesterday lunchtime and countless links have been leading to ’Page not found’ irrespective of the browser in use. I shall be looking again for that Enforcement Notice later.

I still cannot understand how any sane businessman is so intent on breaking every rule in every book and annoying so many of his neighbours. Maybe the clue is in the word sane.


27 June (Part 1) - Walk this way

Direction sign Direction signNew direction signs have sprung up in Broadway and elsewhere. Modern ones like those that may be found in central London. I think Boris has been dipping his hand into his, i.e. our, pockets again. Quite nice although some people have been keen to report that the walking times displayed are wildly optimistic, so I thought I would do a few test runs. I mean walks. I chose Crook Log Leisure Centre to the sign and the sign to Barnehurst station. I hope you can see that the council’s suggested times are 18 and 16 minutes respectively.

I have a reputation for walking too fast for most people but I tried not to regard it as a race and my road crossing delays were absolutely minimal although being stopped while close to Barnehurst station and asked for directions lost ten or fifteen seconds.

My times were 14 minutes and 45 seconds from the Leisure Centre and 13 minutes and 10 seconds to the station so I would say the figures shown are realistic for anyone reasonably fit, and if you aren’t fit you’d be jumping on a bus anyway. Don’t say I am always negative to everything Bexley council does!

While in Erith Road I saw a cab go by with a notice in the front window which proclaimed ‘Bexley Mini Cabs’.


26 June - Bexley’s obscene blog. Someone is in the frame

It is sometimes forgotten that when someone connected to Bexley council set up and filled it with hateful libellous filth it wasn’t just Elwyn Bryant and me who were the victims. Nick Dowling who had dissected councillor Craske’s fanciful accounting over the tripled price of Residents’ Parking Permits was falsely accused of certain acts in the Cinema car park. Someone who knew both our faces and with easy access to the CCTV system identified both him and me. Perhaps the man in overall charge. Who else would recognise us? Another victim of Bexley’s obscene blog was Olly Cromwell. All have a direct interest in the outcome of the police investigation. All have been kept informed of their slow progress.

It's not only the victims who have been informed. Two MPs, Teresa Pearce and James Brokenshire, without whose support the police would almost certainly have stuck to their original line that there was no evidence and saying anything about the case was not in the public interest; they must be kept in the loop. The News Shopper makes the occasional enquiry. Elwyn naturally tells his fellow Bexley Council Monitoring Group members. I have honestly answered a question or two from regular website correspondents and so the facts will gradually leak out. Yesterday things went full circle and someone asked me if I had heard the news. I also had confirmation that it had reached council ears; now seems as good a time as any to bring blog readers up to date.

Rumours that a cabinet member has been arrested are much exaggerated but someone has. Last week, the police served a search warrant on their suspect and “the individual” (the investigating officer gives little away) was taken away for interview. The suspect is currently on police bail while further enquiries proceed. The police officer encourages questions but quite why I am not sure, one never gets a straight answer. Among the questions were…

Is the suspect’s computer being sent for forensic examination? Does the car park CCTV recognition indicate a direct link to the responsible cabinet member? Did the suspect deny the charges? How sure are the police that they have the right person? How long before charges might be brought? And I learned absolutely nothing from them. So now you know as much as Elwyn and I do. We do not have a clue who had their home searched and was taken away for questioning. Every name we have floated by the police in the hope of picking up a reaction has met with failure.

Someone, I suspect, may be acting a little strangely. Probably someone will notice. Possibly the news will leak back here, but apart from the words search warrant, arrest, interview and bail, everything else is speculation.


25 June - Filibuster? No, just a comprehensive reply

Teresa O'NeillBexley council’s Standards Sub-Committee has responded to a complaint about council leader Teresa O’Neill talking non-stop through public question time at a council meeting on the evening of 18th April. By doing so she was able to avoid publicly answering Danny Hackett’s question which sought her opinion on the suggestion by the three councillors for Lesnes Abbey ward that council director level salaries were excessive for the little work they do. She also prevented Danny and two other people asking their supplementary questions.

The excuses run to four pages of A4 paper though much of it is quoting the relevant legislation, a restating of the complaint, explaining most of it is irrelevant and won’t be answered, and a short history of Teresa O’Neill’s political career. What is left is just a couple of paragraphs of the best quality white-wash.

Apparently “there was no evidence to suggest that councillor O’Neill had deliberately talked the session out”. So it must have been an accident; in which case why did she not simply apologise for her misjudgment? There was ample opportunity.

The excuse sheet went on to say that Mr. Hackett “was not adversely affected by his unanswered question as he would receive a written response”. This completely bypasses the issue of the supplementary questions and totally ignores the part of the complaint referring to a young lady from Erith who was “visibly distressed” by O’Neill’s dishonest tactics.

The council’s excuse sheet includes a reference to the ban imposed, contrary to government guidance, on recording meetings. Apparently this is not to spare their embarrassment as everyone has supposed nor is it to protect the public as announced at every meeting, it is “because the council does not currently have the technology to record such meetings”. Last month the council told John Watson of the Bexley Council Monitoring Group that he could not ask a question about the council’s proposal to install the necessary technology in their new HQ because his supposition that they were to do so was “factually incorrect”. The fact they said they would install the kit more than a year ago and passed the ‘good news’ to the local newspapers was conveniently forgotten.

When Olly Cromwell kindly provided the necessary technology Bexley council’s response was to ban him from meetings and ultimately prosecute him and although they now claim that anyone is at liberty to seek permission to record meetings, permission is always refused. There is a simple explanation for Bexley council’s inconsistency on the subject. They are all liars.

Val Clark Alex SawyerIt’s a mystery why Bexley’s councillors go to such lengths to make asses of themselves. It must have taken a few hours for someone to write O’Neill’s filibustering diatribe and another hour or two to write the excuse note. And for what? It will have provided a giggle for the idiots with whom she surrounds herself but for the public who witnessed the event and the thousands who will read about Teresa and her silliness it will most likely lower their opinions of her yet again. It’s not in the same league of silliness as Bexley’s obscene blog - that was simply crass - and you can’t get arrested for filibustering, but it’s the same mindset at work. Juvenile.

The councillors asked to provide the justification for O’Neill’s 15 minute filibuster were Conservatives Val Clark and Alex Sawyer, himself a master of the art. What sort of council appoints Conservative ‘yes men’ to judge their own leader? A corrupt one presumably.


23 June - Justice gets a second chance

Melvin Seymour and Sandra BauerI am hoping that a Bexley councillor will soon be in court again. Not Bexley’s obscene blogger, that’s not impossible but 13 months and many setbacks after that criminal went to work one learns to be patient. No, I am referring to Olly Cromwell’s appeal against his conviction for menacing councillor Melvin Seymour and another of his female friends, the naive or lying, it’s hard to tell which, Sandra Bauer. I really would like to see her hauled into a witness box and cross examined by a barrister who has actually taken the time to study the case and able to see through Bexley council’s obvious lies and Bexleyheath police’s total confusion.

May I recommend reading the timeline on the left of this page and follow up with the list of errors made last time around?

The date to enter in your diary is 10:30 a.m. on 3rd August 2012 at Woolwich Crown Court, which is in Thamesmead.

Note dated 17th August 2012. At an appeal hearing where both Seymour and Bauer were called as witnesses and cross examined it became clear that it was Seymour who had dishonestly exaggerated the content of the Tweet in order to attempt a miscarriage of justice and Bauer had merely sent him a copy and took no part in its embellishment.


22 June (Part 3) - Have a good day

Bexley Cabs open for businessI have to remind myself of what Bexley council did to Olly Cromwell and tried to do to me to stop myself feeling sorry for Mark Campbell of Bexley Cabs who has the misfortune to be the son of a Bexley councillor. If it wasn’t for that family link I doubt he would have warranted a mention here. To an extent he is caught in the crossfire exchanged with a dishonest council. Not that Bexley villagers are seeing things that way, they just don’t like to see their conservation area desecrated by yellow signs and parking disrupted.

Mr. Campbell probably thinks he is having a bad day today. Olly Cromwell has been engaging with him on Twitter but that is the least of his problems…

Yesterday someone asked for a copy of my photo of Mark in his office and his sign on the pavement to add to their copy of his leaflet. They had been speaking to someone in the council’s Planning Department who said he would issue an enforcement notice if the evidence was sent to him. It landed on the planning officer’s desk this morning.

Someone else had a similar conversation with TfL - the Public Carriage Office as it used to be called. They asked for the evidence too, and finally a deputation of concerned villagers had a meeting with their MP James Brokenshire to tell him of their dissatisfaction with Bexley Cabs and the blind eye allegedly turned on certain things in Bexley by planners.

For the record, my interpretation of TfL’s rules is that Campbell’s telephone booking service doesn't offend their guidelines. They don’t approve of such services but as long as certain rules are observed they aren’t illegal. Operating from the centre of Bexley village in defiance of the council may well be a different matter.


22 June (Part 2) - Bexley council’s pedestrian attitude

The regeneration of Bexleyheath’s Broadway
There were only two topics of real interest at last night’s Public Realm Committee meeting and they were the council’s impressive plans for the regeneration of Bexleyheath’s Broadway and the continuing row between chairman Cheryl Bacon and Labour councillor Munir Malik who tries so hard to champion democracy only to see it trampled on by the Conservatives every time he opens his mouth. Let me deal with that issue first.

Councillor Munir MalikAt the February meeting councillor Munir Malik complained about the Agenda failing to reflect the previous meeting’s Minutes and was immediately slapped down by the chairman.

In March it was much the same after an irrelevancy about him had been included in the Minutes. Then when he asked to see a report so that he could judge what was going on in Sidcup, Cheryl Bacon jumped on him again. “No”, Malik must be kept in the dark said Bacon. Munir got the better of her by obtaining the report under FOI. What sort of council forces its own councillors to resort to the Freedom of Information Act?

At the meeting in May councillor Malik rightly objected to Cheryl Bacon’s report to the council’s AGM. Her minutes were false so they shouldn’t be approved was the drift of it which seemed reasonable enough. Bacon got angry and was close to shouting at Munir. The pen jabbing deaf abusing mayor Downing, being the hooligan he is is not averse to shouting, so he did. Munir was told to sit down and shut up in no uncertain terms, and for what? Trying to get the truth included in council records. Come on Munir, you must know by now that is not what Bexley council is all about.

Cheryl BaconAnd so we came to last night’s meeting and councillor Malik was still feeling sore about Bexley council’s dishonesty. His Labour colleague, Brenda Langstead opened proceedings. She complained that there is no procedure for voting against the minutes, “you either vote for them or you are ignored”. She got nowhere with that so Munir took over. “I won’t allow a discussion” said chairman Cheryl Bacon and after several similar exchanges announced a compromise. “You can propose an amendment” she said and Brenda Langstead duly did. “You can’t propose an amendment” said Bacon who must have been gradually losing the plot. She then resorted to the last refuge of a scoundrel and consulted that wily old petition bashing fox Fox, Head of Committee Services. The suggestion to allow an amendment was put to the vote and every single Conservative sheep present voted against democracy. What else would anyone expect?

Invective worse than any directed at Olly Cromwell for filming Biffa Bailey biffing him was heaped on Munir. I was expecting security to be called when Cheryl Bacon hollered “I am giving you one last warning to stop disrupting the meeting”. I think she meant to say stop disrupting the Conservative juggernaut but the woman was so out of control she probably didn’t know what she was saying.

Midway through the meeting hostilities broke out again. Councillor Malik tried to comment on some ‘indicators’, measures of achievement, but Bacon said that wasn’t allowed. “No comments or statements, only questions” she said. Munir asked for confirmation that he was limited to “questions and no comment” and was basically told that was the case. There was a vote and Malik was put in his place by the obedient sheep yet again. At least it was an opportunity for the Beckwiths to earn their keep, they never speak but they are still able to obey the command to raise their arms - and chew gum at the same time if the constant jaw movement is a reliable indicator. It's a good way of augmenting an old age pension.

At the end of the meeting councillor Biffa Bailey managed to bring up the subject all over again by waving in the air the document Munir wasn’t allowed to have just to antagonise him. Demented is the shortest way to describe her.

Bexley Town Centre RevitalisationA lavish document entitled ‘Bexleyheath Town Centre Revitalisation, presentation by Councillor Peter Craske 21 June 2012’ was available for members of the public to peruse and take away - all three of us that is. As artists’ impressions go it was a fine piece of work but Craske failed to show up to present it. I feared he might have had uninvited guests to entertain but it’s OK, it was said he hasn’t been feeling too well. Never mind, the borough is better off without him.

The plan is to spend £3·5 million of Boris Johnson’s money to brighten up the town centre from the junction of Church Road and Broadway - pretty much the view above - and the cinema. The existing pedestrian area is to be Phase 2, should that ever come about, and so you will be glad to know the extensive paddling pool that surrounds the clocktower is preserved for the time being - or until it stops raining.
Christ Church
David Bryce-Smith (Deputy Director (Development, Housing and Community Safety) is master-minding the project which given the disasters imposed on other parts of town, the obstacle courses, the non-negotiable roundabouts and artificially created congestion, whether it be his scheme or Frizoni’s, it doesn’t bode well, but on paper at least the latest wheeze looks rather nice.

Several sets of traffic lights will disappear, pedestrians will share space with vehicles and the whole route is likely to be protected by a 20 m.p.h. zone. F.M. Conway will commence work in September with a break for the Christmas shopping period and completion is scheduled for July next year. Soon afterwards the Civic Centre will come down and and the Tesco store development commence, ensuring that, what with the Crook Log fiasco and the Welling Corridor scheme, there will have been something like four years of continuous disruption to the Welling to Crayford route. Not many councils could have scored such a success. Councillor Malik made a similar point.

Phone parking. Great successOther relatively minor issues were Phone & Pay Parking. The number of registered users is now up to 10,895 but one of the participants in the Pay by Phone at a Shop scheme has dropped out. There have been only 55 users of that scheme so far, so not exactly a resounding success. Councillor Ray Sams asked how the income from Phone Parking compared to what was previously taken by traditional parking meters. Mike Frizoni, Deputy Director, Public Realm Management, didn’t know, but he said the system was very popular. You can see the evidence in the photo of Townley Road.

The Waitrose petition got an airing. Councillor Malik asked why a petition said to be the pet project of councillors Mike and June Slaughter - at this stage Munir was reprimanded by chairman Bacon for failing to prefix their names with the title councillor - was on the council’s website when Mike Slaughter had claimed the petition was his. Everyone but Munir wriggled but were unrepentant. The petition is going to take pride of place on the council’s stand at the Danson Festival.

Abbey Wood stationCrossrail statementFinally councillor John Waters was concerned that a plan to downgrade the Crossrail station at Abbey Wood would make interchange between the new and old lines difficult. He believed that if the interchange wasn’t easy as Crossrail is currently claiming, travellers would drive to Abbey Wood instead of using almost any other station in the borough and taking a connecting train. That is a very good point; there is little enough parking available around Abbey Wood station without a penny pinching redesign causing further problems.


22 June (Part 1) - Plod moves at a plodding pace

Chief Superintendent Dave StringerMy default position with the police is that they are uniformed thugs and that you will find a higher proportion of criminals inside a police station than you will on the streets. When I met Borough Commander Stringer last February, the man who was willing to see me prosecuted on the lying words of Bexley council leader Teresa O’Neill kept asking me to trust him. Until I see someone charged with obscene blogging and in the dock I will remain suspicious of all of them. Having said that, the Detective Sergeant detailed to keep me informed of progress hasn’t put a foot wrong except that I cannot see why it has taken all year to reach the stage he has. A fortnight might have been more like it.

Another default position is that I would like to keep readers fully informed - but there is a problem. It is possible that my cynicism is entirely misplaced and the police aim to feel a collar in due course. The DS assures me that is the case but his carefully chosen words have done nothing to convince me that his superiors don’t have a different agenda. Nevertheless it would be foolhardy to do anything that might jeopardise the DS’s chances of success. For that reason any news given here has generally been a couple of months behind the times. The meeting with CS Stringer on 10th February was not reported until March 26th. On one occasion, for strategic reasons, a report was not true at all.

Just over three weeks ago the police said they were going to ask a magistrate for a search warrant which is what drove Elwyn Bryant and myself to complain to the Commissioner about the way Bexleyheath police has handled the case. The tipping point was their refusal to accept or acknowledge our complaint that applying to a magistrate in Bexley where the words magistrate, councillor and council employee are virtually synonymous, and then sitting on it, as implied by Borough Commander Victor Olisa to Elwyn, was tantamount to forewarning every councillor in Bexley to cover his tracks before plod called.

Probably that is about as far as I can go in bringing you up to date with developments without treading on legal toes. Circumstantial evidence leads me to believe that one of two Conservative councillors, one a Cabinet member, wrote those obscenities. If Teresa O’Neill is still not worried about her criminal crew then she should be. If I were her I would be phoning every one of them to ask if they have had any unexpected visitors in the last day or two.


21 June (Part 2) - Open for business

Bexley Cabs Bexley Cabs Bexley CabsSoon after 7 a.m. yesterday morning the first message arrived to say Bexley Cabs was open for business. Later it became clear that the whole of the village had been leafleted. I didn’t find it difficult to get down there and find myself a copy. Click extract for full version.

Bexley Cabs Bexley CabsFrom the leaflet it does look as though Bexley Cabs might be offering a telephone only service from a home or other address but the office was open with Mark Campbell inside and a cab outside until at least 9:30 in the evening. So that theory flies out of the window. I was going to ask him to take me home when I left the area at 10:15 but by then he had gone. However Mr. Campbell can been seen in his office on the enlarged photograph taken at 21:21.

As a stranger said to me in the street, “who but a councillor’s son would have the cheek to go ahead after last week’s decision?” And just what was all that Twittering about which said it was wrong to report his plan to open anyway?


21 June (Part 1) - Read all about it

Philip ReidIt’s always obvious when a Committee meeting is going to be a pre-rehearsed charade, all the members troop out of their inner sanctum at the very last minute and get through the agenda pretty quickly with nothing much of interest coming to light. Yesterday’s Finance Scrutiny Committee meeting was such a meeting. The new Chairman is Philip Read, who makes false statements to the police hoping to see bloggers put behind bars. Having said that he proved to be one of the more effective chairmen, exercising his authority with generally good humour. He began by welcoming members of the public which consisted solely of Bexley Council Monitoring Group (BCMG) members plus myself. We were all given the usual warning of not being allowed to make recordings which is probably a good thing because I really wouldn’t want to listen to any council buffoon a second time.

With little in the way of interesting facts to absorb, the audience, well me anyway, looks forward to examples of that buffoonery and Mrs. Maureen Holkham is usually a good source. However this time she was an enormous disappointment. The best she could manage was an explanation of some divergent figures. “There is a difference between different things”. Then when, much later, someone asked a question that wasn’t strictly within the domain of the Finance Committee and Paul Moore, the Director, was unable to answer it she volunteered to do so. Her answer was that she didn’t know the answer but she knew a man who did.

Ms. Holkham briefly mentioned a survey of satisfaction with the council to be conducted over the coming year. The Electoral Reform Society is being paid to conduct it. Councillor Alan Deadman muttered something about “loaded questions” but nobody took the bait. Aren’t loaded survey questions the norm?

Waitrose petitionNo committee meeting is complete without a question or three from councillor Munir Malik. Chairman Reid said he was limited to two, no particular reason apart from ‘I’m in charge’. Munir pointed at the usage and revenue figures for Leisure Centres which have fallen badly. (15% below target.) Is usage “priced out” he wanted to know. Ms. Holkham said “I will respond” but if she did with anything relevant I failed to hear it. Councillor Malik proceeded with his second question which he said was a two part question. Chairman Read said that would make three questions but the argument was short lived. Munir as is usual carried on regardless launching into a speech about the council’s neglect of Sidcup and the “unethical” petitioning by Bexley council of Waitrose. Read told him off for making party debating points which was a bit rich coming from the leading proponent of the cheap political trick. Has Read never listened to himself at a council meeting?

Councillor Mike Slaughter said the Waitrose petition was not Bexley council’s but his and his wife’s. Funny then that it is given pride of place on the front page of Bexley council’s website.

Councillor Malik failed to notice the costs imposed on another leisure activity, viz. licking ice cream cones at Hall Place. The cost of Mr. Whippy’s licence has been jacked up by £5,000 a year. Now I know why the stuff is so stupidly expensive. Bexley council has its corporate tongue on your lolly.

After £152,561 a year Paul Moore again failed to answer a question, councillor Alan Deadman who was in particularly good form murmured “Get back to you. Get back to you.” His microphone made it all too clear. A moment or two earlier he had forgotten to switch it on and a BCMG member brought it to the attention of the Chairman. Both he and Alan Deadman responded with alacrity. Read is evidently not nearly as stupid as mayor Alan Downing who ensured his reputation for all time a couple of months ago.

Councillor Maxine Fothergill asked how many of the current 1,701 Bexley council employees were temporary staff. Paul Moore was caught out again as he dealt with FTEs. Full Time Equivalents. What did become clear is that there are just over 100 vacancies. Send your CV to the Civic Centre…

One thing I’ve always thought odd about Scrutiny Committees is that the relevant Cabinet Member is not asked to formally say anything but this meeting was different. Chairman Read seemed to be as surprised as I was. Councillor Colin Campbell addressed the meeting for five minutes. Campbell always does his True Blue Conservative Cost Cutting stuff well. He ranged over the savings made by sharing services with Bromley, Croydon and Kent County councils and was looking at sharing transport and building maintenance services. Transport he said was very expensive. How long one wonders before Bexley Cabs is bidding for the contract. Perhaps his most noteworthy point was that in the four years beyond 2014 the council will need to save another £20 million or so.

This being the Finance Committee a little time was spent on considering investments. Council Officer John Peters was every bit as boring as you would expect an accountant to be but unlike Maureen Holkham he had all the necessary answers at his fingertips. The council gives precedence to security over yield which is probably wise but why would anyone put 24 million into JP Morgan at 0·56% interest when you could take it down the Post Office and open a National Savings Account? Total investments currently stand at £118,400,000.

Read can be a total twit on Twitter and happy to make a false statement in a police station but as a chairman his silly grin was very nearly justified.


20 June - Beware of Bexley council and rogue traders

House extensionThis is what Mrs. Rita Grootendorst’s house should have looked like now if her builder had proved to be more capable. As it is she is left with an insecure house open to the elements and a large hole in her finances. To some extent she has only herself to blame. Bexley council didn’t believe she was serious about an extension, suggesting the plan was a delaying tactic to defer her malicious prosecution. She was therefore in a hurry to prove them wrong.

I would have thought that a minimum requirement when engaging a builder for a job of this magnitude is to look for evidence of professional qualifications, ask to see examples of previous work, then expect him to have a waiting list because the quality of his work makes him a popular choice. In my case, because I hate the things, I’d also avoid like the plague a builder who can be contacted only via a mobile phone number.

Rita and her builder failed all those elementary tests. He quoted a price, Rita haggled only a bit and he started immediately with a five figure sum thrust into his hand.

Builder's addressDuring the two months he was on site, Chris McGuinness who is MAC Construction, didn’t achieve a lot. I found another nearby house with a very similar extension, that was begun on the same day as Rita’s. The owner said that the new outer skin was complete and watertight in two weeks. After seven weeks all that was left to be done was internal decoration. In that time all MAC Construction achieved was a film set - for a drama set in 1940. A bomb might have done less damage.

Mr. McGuinness had some bad weather to contend with, but then so did the other builder, but where he might claim to be unique is having the constant attention of Bexley council armed with cameras. No builder would welcome that and Mr. McGuinness would be no exception. Maybe he feared the standard of his work might come in for comment. Perhaps he was concerned about what else might come to notice, his prices for example.

£5,000 for removing electricsOne demand for more money was the somewhat excessive £5,000 for taking out redundant electrics. One might have thought that the new stuff could be put in for far less than that. Mrs. Grootendorst not unnaturally queried the next demand for money. Mr. McGuinness was never seen again. This is how he left her house…

Devastation Devastation Devastation Devastation

Scaffolding DevastationThere is more than one room with no floor and one has a doorway which if one absent-mindedly passed through presents an eight foot drop without warning. The photo to the left shows an attempt to clear up a room which is wide open to the world. What sort of builder is so disorganised that the whole house is disrupted at the same time?

I have looked at other nearby houses being similarly extended and whilst admiring a particularly tidy example the owner invited me inside. Apart from some missing ceiling boards exposing a few beams one would not know it was a building site. He told me how much he was paying. To avoid giving away too much personal information let us assume that Mrs. Grootendorst was asked to pay a total of £10,000 in five instalments. Please remember these figures are in effect percentages and not actual figures.

Rita negotiated the price down to £9,038 although the builder later disputed this. The helpful home owner undertaking a broadly similar job was quoted prices from £5,192 down to £3,077. He accepted the lowest. As a relatively young man willing to do some of the work himself he was going to tackle some of the plumbing and decorating himself. He also expected to pay for his windows separately. But Mrs. Grootendorst’s quote didn’t include the cost of radiators or a new boiler either, nor any restoration of the destroyed kitchen or any internal decoration, so the quotes were not totally disparate.

Rita has so far parted with £3,846 (all figures for comparison purposes only) and has asked to have some of it returned for work not done. Unsurprisingly she got nowhere with that approach. I suggested another and drafted a two sentence email asking how much money Mr. McGuinness wanted to complete the job. Rita embellished it more than I felt necessary but the message was essentially the same. She was rewarded with an almost immediate response confirming that MAC Construction would not fulfill the contract at any price. At least the contract is now formally broken.

In a conversation with Rita’s legal advisor I discussed the reasons why a builder would walk off a job as Mr. McGuinness has done. He was in no doubt at all; “Bexley’s building control would have warned him that doing a job for Rita would ensure his work would forever come in for particular scrutiny. I’ve seen it all before”. Not a word perfect quote but pretty close. With Rita’s permission I emailed Chris McGuinness from my Bonkers email address explaining that I needed to know if the suggestion was correct to ensure my report was fair and balanced. A week later and despite a reminder there has been no reply. Why would a builder be unwilling to accept any money he asked for to complete a contract that could end up seeing him sued if he wasn’t under some other pressure?

Meanwhile the Grootendorsts are left with an enormous problem and cannot leave the house unattended for fear someone will remove the scaffolding. Their house is open to all that a British summer can throw at it, Bexley council is keen to persecute them at every opportunity and they must find a builder who is able to put the damage right and who normally works outside the borough so as to be largely beyond the reach of Bexley council. The only bright thing I see in the situation as that despite handing Chris McGuinness nearly £4,000 - or should I say 40% of the price asked - there may still be enough left in her budget to cover the whole job from a more competitively priced and hopefully more competent builder.

There would appear to be two lessons to be learned here. Don’t cross Bexley council without expecting them to impose whatever sanctions they can, and avoid the name MAC Construction when looking for a builder.

Index to Grootendorst related blogs.


19 June - Excuses, excuses

Tuesday is never a good day for me and blogging as I have too many other commitments that day. Tuesday’s blog must be written on Monday or I am in trouble - and for various reasons it didn’t get done yesterday.

So all I have time for is a quick reference to Bexley council’s webpage imploring us to keep our trees well watered - which one of my correspondents found amusing. It is but perhaps no more so than countless other out of date pages on their website. Then there was another report of councillor Philip Read being an idiot on Twitter, but that is not exactly news is it?

I have been provided with a potted history of Mark Campbell’s chequered business career which may see the light of day one day, but I must remind myself that Mark Campbell isn’t Bexley council and it is wandering a bit off topic. Not that that stopped me from constructing an Index page to his Bexley Cabs venture which may make it easier to refer back to earlier blogs on the subject.

If you are interested in police matters the Met. Commissioner’s webchat on Thursday may prove interesting.

There are two council committee meetings this week so normal service should be resumed as soon as possible.


18 June (Part 3) - Opening anyway

Bexley Cabs. TwitterI don’t know if you’ve noticed but Bexley Cabs have been busy rebutting everything said about them here. When it was reported that there was a promise to “open anyway” after the Planning Committee rejected Ms. Byrne’s application - it was Mark Campbell’s really but I am being pedantically correct - Bexley Cabs Tweeted that it was untrue.

When it was made clear that it was Mark’s business partner who had said it - confirmed from four sources - Bexley Cabs Tweeted that that wasn’t true either. Both “did not say a word. Fact”, were their precise words. Bexley Cabs “wish that people would report the truth” and invite readers to phone “me” - who I assume to be Mark Campbell, son of Bexley council’s deputy leader Colin Campbell. He says his phone number is on the planning application. True, it is, but scrubbed out by the planning department for reasons of confidentiality.

Even if there was no promise to “open anyway ” the fact they did makes it all rather academic. Reports came in on Friday that their sign was out saying that Bexley Cabs were open for business, confirmed by two others on Saturday. Now someone who is “bored by all the lies” has sent me a photo. It is taken closer than might be ideal but it is interesting none the less.

Opening Soon We Are Open We Are OpenThe first photograph is of the sign I took through the office window on the 2nd of June. The next was taken last Friday and the third is an extract from that photo showing just a bit of the pavement on which it was standing. It says nothing about Opening Soon, it says “WE ARE OPEN”. What could be more definite than that?

I imagine that as permission has been granted for the free-standing advertising sign and it would be technically possible to operate a cab company from the end of any telephone anywhere that might be a neat way of circumventing the spirit of the law. However we know from earlier Tweets that the advertised phone number is installed in the office, but maybe it has been put on a redirection service which might be another neat trick. But try as I may I can’t find any excuse for “Apply in office”. Bexley Cabs has denied the “opening anyway” comment but how do they explain the photo? Adobe Photoshop perhaps?


18 June (Part 2) - Hedge. Funds

Mrs. Grootendorst's hedge Chris McGuinessMrs. Grootendorst who is being prosecuted by Bexley council for a back garden which includes too many sheds for their liking has been distracted from gardening by the enormous problems caused by a rogue builder contracted to extend her house who disappeared with half her funds, leaving it in an unfinished and dangerous state. Other builders brought in to look at the damage have suggested that the current stage should have been reached in a couple of weeks and not two months as is the case; albeit through atrocious wet weather.

Realising that she has been neglecting her garden Rita is determined to improve the front and rid it of the builder’s mess and, it has to be said, some of her own. On Saturday the hedge was severely pruned and Rita was up at dawn yesterday attacking it again. She sent me today’s photo before 10 a.m. yesterday.

Much more acceptable I think you will agree; there is no point in handing Bexley council a real reason to pursue their vendetta. From the rear upstairs window Rita’s garden looks more attractive than her neighbour’s but the same could not be said of the front. That is about to change. Fill that skip and have it taken away Rita. Don’t let the Bexley buggers get you down.

Rita’s previous builder is still lying low. That’s him in the picture.


18 June (Part 1) - Metropolis. Superman’s city

Hogan-Howe acknowledgmentThe first anniversary of Bexley council’s obscene blog was marked with a letter to Met. Police Commissioner Bernard Hogan-Howe complaining about the lack of progress by Bexleyheath police and their initial attempts to dismiss the crime report as a tit for tat. The Commissioner has now sent a formal acknowledgement. He has asked his Directorate of Professional Standards to look into it.


17 June - Weekend roundup

Our train expert Colin Tandy was quite right to remind us of the loopline trains from the north to the south of the borough at the Public Realm meeting last March. Abbey Wood to Sidcup by train is far quicker than the 229 bus and wanting to be there as well as Bexley and Crayford yesterday it was the obvious route for me to take. A pity I failed to check for planned engineering work but it only caused a 20 minute delay. Still quicker than bus and less chance, in my experience, of encountering someone with an aversion to soap.

Mrs. Grootendorst's hedge Mrs. Grootendorst's hedge MAC Construction. 07956 305345My first port of call was Mrs. Rita Grootendorst’s house to see if it could really be true that she took my advice to cut her hedge. I found her still working on it. There is still a way to go and the front facing bit needs to come down further but it is progress. The first photograph was taken at the beginning of the month and the second yesterday. The hedge used to be high all round; the neighbour should be pleased.

The third photograph reveals the name of the construction company that has wrecked - there is no other way to describe it - Mr. & Mrs. Grootendorst’s house. I have asked ‘MAC’ if it can be true that Bexley council put him under pressure to pull out of the contract but he refuses to confirm or deny it. I’m inclined to think that if it is true, he has, leaving money issues aside, done Rita a favour. A bigger shambles would be hard to imagine. The time is fast approaching when more photos of MAC’s work must go on line.

Jackson House Bexley CabsTwo stations down the line in Bexley I tried to find evidence of what had been reported in connection with Bexley Cabs. I hope my informers appreciate that I cannot publish information without firm evidence, it doesn’t mean I don’t believe them but I must be as sure as I can be that what is written here is correct; so I was pleased to hear from an impeccable source that I know I can trust that on Friday Bexley Cabs did indeed have a sign outside their office stating they were open for business - but it wasn’t there yesterday.

What I heard in Bexley Village yesterday was exactly what I’d heard from others by phone. Either they have a very well coordinated story or it is true. How is it that a man can attract 23% of the votes cast, a majority of close to 3,000 over his Labour rival, and be described as “the most hated man in Bexley” and linked so frequently by detractors to buff coloured letter wrappers? All the more reason to keep plugging away I suppose.

The first photograph aims to show the local environment. On the left is Jackson House, soon to be converted to flats I believe; then there is the wood merchant and cab office and beyond the pedestrian crossing the Bar Lorca and the clocktower above Freemantle Hall. Guess who controls that? The advertising boards are for the Ironing Shop, not Bexley Cabs. The truck was parked there for quite some time; a good job there were no taxis plying for trade at the time.

Crayford Fun Day Weight liftersCrayford was next on the tour only because I was so close and the Rotary Club was holding some sort of Fun Day in the Water Gardens alongside the River Cray. At least the weather was kind to them. This was what the Erith Riverside Festival should have been like if it wasn’t for the day long deluge. There were numerous stalls set out by local charities and a group of ‘strong men’ flinging weights into the air with varying degrees of success.

I had hoped to see more councillor support but I spotted only Howard Marriner adorned in Rotary Club garb - a T shirt or vest - doing his bit for the community. No sign of Melvin Seymour whose patch it is.


16 June - Claim and counterclaim

I still don’t know for sure who is telling porkies down in Bexley Village. News came in yesterday that the taxi office had been open for business until mid-afternoon but it is equally possible that it was just the owner going in and out as he is entitled to do. On the other hand there are rumours that the drivers have been asked to report for work on Monday. Why all this readiness to heap the dirt on one man? Has the name Campbell become so toxic that it will always provoke opprobrium whether justified or not? Is the son being penalized for the sins of the father?

Mark Campbell said at the planning meeting that he had permission to park on nearby land but this is now said to be disputed by the owner. Similarly the plan to erect an extra set of gates is reported to be fiction because there is an established right of way at that point. Supposition or fact?

Ordinarily this subject would not make it on to these pages, it is here only because of the suspicion that the deputy leader of Bexley council might have been planning to pull strings. Who in their right mind would set up a business with high set up costs and advertise for staff with no guarantee of getting permission to operate? Those suspicions remain but there has been no other indication that they are justified. Councillor Colin Campbell has been observed going in an out of the cab office but there has been no hint of involvement at any other level. However a great deal of distrust has manifested itself between the local business fraternity and the Campbell clan. Clearly they are not popular and are being closely monitored for any transgression from the straight and narrow.

TwitterSomething where I feel I am on firmer ground is the claim to open anyway made at the end of the planning meeting. I sought confirmation of it from one of my colleagues immediately after it was said and while making my way home along Broadway someone I had never met before was keen to be sure I had heard the promise to open and repeated the relevant words.

I think it would be madness to open but then, like most people, I do not knowingly break the law. If Bexley Cabs really does open for business it will speak volumes for the standards by which the senior echelons of Bexley council operate. However the associated Twitter comment is correct, it wasn’t Mark Campbell who said it but his alleged business partner. Yesterday’s blog has been amended to make that point more clearly.


15 June - The wheels come off. Bexley Cabs won’t start

Planning meetings are always much the same; councillors ask questions, occasionally very silly questions, and the planning officers provide a ready answer. These guys do not provide any Linda Tottman or Maureen Holkham moments; ignorant fudging and bluffing is not their way. What Mr. Stone and his gang don’t know is not worth knowing. An example of a silly questioner was councillor Mike Slaughter who asked how vehicles could access some premises, not realising that the outline car shown on the plan was there to illustrate how vehicles would make an exit, it wasn’t an immovable fixture.

Then you get the grandstanding councillors, anxious to show they are on their voters’ side by saying how much they deprecate the application, knowing full well there is nothing that can be done to stop the approval. Last night the role of King Cnut (†) fell on councillor Melvin Seymour adorned with his trademark glasses on his head and from my angle of view, constantly draped by the blonde behind him, conjuring up images of a 1940’s spiv. His contribution might be summarised as “Which Cnut would open a business like this?”

Another spectacle seen only at planning meetings is one Conservative councillor arguing against another. This time it was councillor June Slaughter who put forward a well argued case only to see councillor Val Clark attempt to debunk it. The latter’s case fell apart when a photograph was produced to prove she was talking bunkum.

And so we eventually got to see the main bout of the evening, the heavyweight contest between Bexley Cabs and the massed armies of objectors. Who would prove to have been telling the truth? I am not sure there was definitive proof either way, but the circumstantial evidence was compelling.

The police had said about the claims made by Ms. Byrne in her application…
Police statement
Need one say more? If so maybe the comment by the owner of Bar Lorca will prove conclusive.
Bar Lorca statement
Mr. Mallen made the same point even more forcibly when he addressed the Committee. The Chairman of Bexley Village Pubsafe said none of their members had been approached by anyone from Bexley Cabs.

Mark Campbell begged to differ and claimed some publicans supported him. He presented a Jeremy Clarkson style figure with his jeans and Jack the Lad demeanour but made some good points. He said the proposed exit from his premises adjacent to a pedestrian crossing was replicated at the two other crossings in the village, and I checked later; he is right.

Mr. Campbell tried to explain that a modern taxi dispatching system is not how one might imagine it to be. I suspect that it is an integration of mobile telephony, computers and sat navs and he may well be right that there would be little need for cars to be stationed on the premises. There are lots of cab companies on high streets without parking facilities. However he conceded that he could be operating up to 30 cars and clearly his eye is on the business to be generated by the village night life and customers would probably expect to be able to get a cab at a cab office. There was scope for an interesting debate, but there was none.

TwitterCouncillor Kerry Allon lost no time in destroying his chances of becoming a Cabinet member. He said he was struck by the lack of local support, the health and safety issues, the environmental impact, the police recommendation and that of the planning office. Everyone is against it he said and without more ado moved to refuse the application, and he was supported unanimously. The game was over. Or was it?

The audience response was low key, no cheers or cries of Shame, just the sound of Mark Campbell’s supporter telling the objectors the business was going to open anyway and it would take three years to be shut down. If the statements and presentation had not provided absolute proof of who was the fibber, a promise to ignore the refusal probably would. If it proves to be more than loose tongued bravado villagers can always complain to their ward councillor. His name is Colin Campbell and may be found at 25 Camden Road, Bexley, DA5 3NS. Telephone: 01322 525456.

† The Danish spelling of King Canute. If you don’t believe it, look it up.


14 June - Concede a battle to win the war

Untidy garden Another untidy gardenI took the train to Sidcup yesterday to take another look at Mrs. Rita Grootendorst’s house and her latest bundle of documents. I have said it before and it needs to be said again that I think she does herself no favours by letting her front garden become untidy.

I know that she has been badly let down by a builder and he has left all sorts of clutter lying around but together with the overgrown hedge which hides an assortment of objects which don’t belong in a front garden, it makes for a distinctly grubby overall appearance.

I’ll not be popular in a certain quarter for saying that but I try to deal only in facts. Mrs. G’s secluded back garden, currently the subject of legal action by Bexley council can be quaint and unorthodox and remain acceptable but front gardens should not be used as a long term store for ‘useful’ objects more appropriate to an industrial scrap yard.

Rita will rightly point out that street facing gardens only a couple of minutes walk away are worse than hers (see pictures) but their owners do not have a long history of criticising Bexley council and so they are not on Bexley’s hit list. Digging one’s heels in against a vindictive council is always tempting but leaving mess in the front garden, whether it be the builder’s fault or not, is just playing into the council’s hands.

The builder has a lot to answer for. No one should be asked to live through the devastation he has caused. There are holes in the upstairs floor and walls through which one could all too easily fall to the ground floor. I almost did. And then there are the holes in the roof under which lie buckets and water damage.

I walked around some nearby streets and found six similar houses undergoing near identical extensions. Enquiries revealed what sort of prices were being asked for such extensions and the disparity with what Mrs. G.’s builder has already taken for doing not a lot is truly shocking. I suppose it is what one might expect of a builder of house extensions who consistently misspells the word. Ditto one who has only a mobile number on his letterhead.

I suspect it will not be long before I wander a little from my preferred subject and show you some of the photos of his handiwork as a warning to others about to embark on such a project.


13 June - Lull before the storm?

Bexley Cabs on FacebookNot just a comment on a rare sunny morning - more rain is on the way - but also a reference to it being another quiet news day. In retrospect Sunday’s headline (Watch this space) doesn’t look very clever; nothing worthy of mention has come to notice since then and today’s report is primarily to assure enquirers that the blog is not yet dead.

I had expected to be reporting last night’s Cabinet Meeting this morning but it was cancelled - at least that’s what the council’s website said, but I do sometimes wonder if they say that only to deter observers and have their meeting away from the nuisance which is the public.

From Bexley Village there have been more reports that Mark Campbell, the man whose name I have yet to find on the planning application for Bexley Cabs, (†) is still campaigning locally in an attempt to get people to see things his way. Those taking his side have not been calling me so I am in danger of presenting a one-sided report, but one specifically discredited the latest (Monday 11th June) Facebook claim. It will be interesting to see who is right tomorrow evening. Meanwhile yet another phone call said I am to be sued for my reports on squabbling villagers. Mark Campbell denies it is him, someone must be leading me up the garden path.

Other news is that Bexley council’s perverse view that telling a deaf man to “sit down and be quiet” is not dismissive has been officially challenged. Mrs. Grootendorst has been to court to challenge Bexley council’s view that her house and garden is a blot on the landscape and delivery of the complaint to Met. Commissioner Bernard Hogan-Howe about Bexleyheath police’s failure to seriously investigate Bexley council’s obscene blog has been confirmed. These things should provide interesting news in the days to come but meanwhile there is not a lot going on.

The letter of complaint to Hogan-Howe has now been added to the website’s published documents but with some redactions, necessary to avoid prejudicing any enquiries which may not yet be completely dead. When the time is right the redaction will be lifted.

† Update: I have been referred to a planning document which states the applicant’s name to be a Ms. Byrne but Mr. Campbell is given as the contact for site visits. Technically his name can therefore be found on the planning application.

As a Bexley resident living at the other end of the borough I have no interest in this case except to watch that Bexley council follows correct procedures and so far they appear to have done exactly that. I have received more than the usual number of comments from readers about Bexley Cabs but they have almost all come from sources which were previously unknown to me. For that reason it has not been possible to report much as being absolutely factual and unless things become clear tomorrow evening all I know is that not everything reported to me can be true. I am fully prepared to be surprised.

The first mention of Bexley Cabs on 2nd May referred to conflicting reports and contradictions have abounded ever since. The application itself seemed to be a well written document and lacking in local knowledge I saw no reason for its rejection. A bit of me still hopes it will go through, but my reasons would be unmitigated self-interest. It would make for a better story!


10 June - Watch this space

Bexley Cabs signs movedWithout any doubt at all, the appearance of brilliant yellow signs outside a new cab office in Bexley Village, created in advance of planning permission by the son of deputy council leader Colin Campbell, has provoked more telephone calls than any other subject reported here. Not knowing the area intimately I have struggled to keep up with developments but it has seemed a little bit like the Wild West at times.

We have had Baddies knocking on Goodies’ doors attempting to influence the result of next Thursday’s Planning Meeting, intimidation was the word being used to describe the visits and the introductory “Do you know who I am?” was the common theme.

Other reports speak of the yellow signs being moved because of a falling out between landlords and tenants. Today’s photo shows they have been moved from the frontage of the hardwoods shop to the taxi office and in retrospect it does seem a little odd to have put the cab office signs on a neighbour’s premises, but then arrogance and high-handedness has been the cause of the entire scandal.

My view that the Planning Committee Meeting will be an anti-climax and the sheriff has little choice but to gun the application down is not shared by the village posse who claim the outlaws are letting it be known they have a surprise in store. Will the gang-leader be able to railroad another of their bullion trains through this one-horse town or will the Campbells dangle on the end of a rope? Metaphorically of course.


8 June - Justice knocked into a cocked hat

Alan DowningThe little matter of mayor Alan Downing being disrespectful to the disabled rumbles on. The Deputy Director of Human Resources, Nick Hollier, wrote what appeared to be a reasonable letter in April about the steps the council needed to take to meet its obligations under the Equalities Act of which one was to circulate a briefing note to all councillors.

The Bexley Council Monitoring Group (BCMG) asked under Freedom of Information legislation to have sight of it, presumably so that they could monitor councillors’ conformity with the guidance at future meetings. You won’t be surprised to hear that Bexley council responded with a ‘Public Interest Refusal Notice’. Maybe that is because they never actually issued the guidance or perhaps they realise that keeping ‘rules’ out of the public domain allows councillors to get away with a greater number of misdemeanours.

The BCMG also made official complaints about mayor Downing and he was found to have acted disrespectfully but apparently not dismissively or arrogantly (†). Considering that I heard Downing tell the deaf man to “sit down and be quiet” and face him down with jabbing pen and “didn’t you hear what I said, the meeting is over” I would have thought the question of dismissiveness was an open and shut case.

When told that his behaviour would inevitably result in an official complaint, mayor Downing indicated his contempt for and expected immunity from anything so clearly beneath him. He said “Good, I will look forward to that. Did you hear what I said; I will look forward to that?” If that isn’t arrogance I’m not sure what is. I understand an appeal against the Standards Committee’s decision is in preparation right now.

Another missive that will be landing on a desk about now is a complaint about Bexley police’s failed 12 months old today investigation into Bexley council’s obscene blog. How can anything excuse their taking a whole year to achieve nothing? Commissioner Hogan-Howe has been given chapter and verse. The content of the letter cannot be made available at this stage for reasons that will be come apparent later this month or next.

† The conflicting information contained in the two separate replies to BCMG members would appear to be due to a ‘cut and paste’ error made while the author cobbled together one letter from another. Downing was definitely found to be disrespectful.


7 June - Recommended for Refusal

Bexley Cabs Bexley Cabs ReceptionBy the time I got to Bexley Village yesterday the large signs over the cab office doors had been replaced by small ones saying ‘Reception’ and ‘Office’. Another development was that the Agenda for the next Planning Committee meeting (14th June) was published.

As was already known, although the business is registered to Mark Campbell, the son of the deputy leader of the council, and it was him who was seen discussing the matter in the council offices, his name appears nowhere on the application or in the document to be placed before the Planning Committee.

The Planning Department’s report makes interesting reading and the council officers appear to have played a very straight bat. They note that the application claims to have the support of the police and nearby traders but record that they are among the 23 people who have objected to the plan - police included - who label some of the application “false”.

The new cab firm proposes to stop cabs from other companies using the area shown in the photo to pick up passengers from Bar Lorca (situated immediately behind the camera position) which seems to be a recipe for trouble. The Highways department predict that the scheme will cause traffic hazards and the publicans who were said by the applicant to be supporters have proved to be very much the opposite, going as far as to say they don’t believe all the statements made in the application are true.

The man from Sherbets Cabs situated in the railway station approach reveals what inebriated customers get up to outside his premises, saying in effect, it is bad enough for that to happen away from the village, it shouldn’t be transferred to its centre. His comments are well worth a read.

Before reading the Planning Department’s report I might have put money on this application going through, but it looks as though not putting the Campbell name on it, which appeared to be a cunning trick at the outset may have back-fired; and including so many fibs hasn’t gone down too well either. Three cheers for Head of Planning, Susan Clark and her team!


6 June (Part 2) - Lots of smoke, a little bit of fire

Bexley Cabs There have been two reports this morning that there has been no change to the signs at Bexley Cabs; later today I shall go to check for myself.

One report provided rather more information about developments in Bexley Village which made it sound like a hotbed of intrigue. Some research will be necessary.

Bexley Village is not the only place about which rumour abounds. Over in Sidcup some are blaming Waitrose’s reluctance to take up residence on excessive parking restrictions and others suggest that Waitrose were looking for Business Rate concessions. If it were true it would make Bexley council’s Waitrose petition look a bit of a fraud.

Bexley Cabs on TwitterOther gossips claim that Wilkinson fell out with Bexley council over some trivial arrangement of a dropped kerb and so won’t be moving into the old Somerfield store. Seems a bit far fetched to me. On the other hand according to the Sidcup Community Group, Bexley council killed off the plans the High Street traders had for a Diamond Jubilee street party, road closure and street cleaning being a major obstacle.

I wonder how much the council charged themselves for holding up traffic in the Broadway for an hour or two on Sunday?


6 June (Part 1) - BoJo and Tere’O. No dough. So no go. Deffo

Teresa O'NeillThe Greater London Authority was quick off the mark. They have said there is no Get Out of Jail Free card for council leader Teresa O’Neill, it is more a case of Go to Jail, Go Directly to Jail and Do Not Collect £200.

After a follow up question the GLA immediately confirmed that when they said that O’Neill had never been offered paid employment by the Greater London Authority their answer also covered any personal invitation from or conversation between her and Mayor Boris Johnson. No one at City Hall has offered her a paid job is their final Freedom of Information response.

This is in marked contrast to what she said at April’s council meeting. The answer to councillor Munir Malik’s question wasn’t true. Can one believe any Conservative’s answer in Bexley? Probably not.


5 June - Our house. Madness!

Wrecked house Wrecked house Weather proofingPhotos one and two show how a builder left the Grootendorst’s house after deciding he had had enough of being caught in the cross-fire of Bexley council’s war of attrition on the owners. He disappeared without a word. When all the facts become clear I may let you know his name, address and phone number.

As you can see, the roof was left open and the rear entrance was inadequately secured. Fortunately not all builders are so useless.

Last Saturday men working on the roof of a nearby church got to hear about the situation and with heavy rain forecast rushed to the rescue with their tarpaulins and some security improvements. They were not very complimentary about some of the earlier work and those parts may have to be redone.

Bexley council and John Waring of their Environmental Health Department played a role in precipitating this grave risk to environmental health. What an utter disgrace he is to look the other way when such a serious situation develops right under his nose.


4 June - Not a day for taking the bus to Bluewater

Buses Tower PlaqueA few minutes before mid-day the sky was grey and the crowds were thin but at exactly the right time there was a hint of warmth and the sun burst through, proving, presumably that it doesn’t only shine on the righteous. Accompanied by some marching bands a dozen or more councillors walked from Christchurch to the 100 year old clock tower where a decent crowd of shoppers stood for long enough to hear mayor Alan Downing address them.

Well I assume they heard him but maybe only those not too far away. I am not sure what the mayor said because although I was only thirty feet from the speaker system it was only just audible and would have required quiet and concentration to easily absorb his words.

It should have been louder but no one dared to ask Downing to turn up the volume. I suspect he was telling us about the clock tower’s new plaque which he unveiled. Later a lady from the Bexley Historical Society provided some details and we learned that the plan is to put a bust of Queen Elizabeth II on the vacant plinth by this time next year. A public appeal for funds is to be made.
Mayor Ros Downing Melvin SeymourIncluding those who were merely observing or working at charity tents there were about 20 councillors present. Councillor James Hunt recognised me and graciously passed the time of day but whilst mayoress Downing smiled and waved in my direction I have my doubts that I was her target.

Councillor Melvin Seymour appeared to have acquired an unfortunate eye-infection, either that or he was dressed to meet up with his in-laws later. Those who boast about their serious reputations for committing violence.


3 June - The Erith Riverside Festival - Cold and wet

Erith Erith Erith
Erith Erith ErithAlongside a very grey Thames some very courageous charity workers struggled in the wet and cold to give a welcome to the few visitors who ventured away from central heating radiators and TV screens.

The weather could not have been much worse and one’s sympathies must be with the organisers who booked dancers (who were unable to perform in the slippery conditions), hired Portaloos and a DJ (who was doing his level best to put on a cheery act against all odds) and struggled with licensing authorities and a host of regulations only to see grey skies and constant drizzle. I noted councillor Brenda Langstead showing an interest in events and a supportive councillor Peter Catterall looked in.

Queen of HeartsOne of the commercial stands was offering psychic services. He couldn’t have been any good or he would have had the foresight to stay at home in the warm.

I had a word with the organisers and they may be able to provide a brief report on what is involved in running an event under the watchful eye of Bexley council. A mixture of the helpful and the obstructive from what I could gather.

It is all a far cry from 59 years ago when mothers organised a celebratory party on the green at the end of my road and nobody asked any questions.


2 June - Bexley Cabs; ready to take you for a ride

Bexley Cabs Bexley Cabs Bexley Cabs has not yet obtained Planning Permission. At the time of writing it is yet to appear on any Planning Committee Agenda but the Campbell’s business is pretty much ready to go. Their premises are adorned with smart new signs and the office is kitted out. Without guarantees from Bexley council who would risk that sort of expenditure without planning consent? Who but a councillor or his son would get away with putting up the first set of signs without permission?

The ‘Opening Soon’ message on the external signs has gone, it looks like arrogance and assumption has usurped the Planning Laws.

I would guess that when the plan is eventually considered by the Planning Committee it will go through, it is quite persuasive. Any of its members who might listen to the objectors and go against council deputy leader Colin Campbell’s ambitions to take over Bexley Village might kiss goodbye to his own political ambitions.

Bexley Cabs Bexley Cabs TwitterTo adapt Bexley Cabs’ slogan, “Let Bexley council take the worry out of your planning application. Get the power of the deputy leader behind you”.Later.

Hmm. Maybe not so easy after all.


1 June - Did he or did he not? Did she or did she not?

Mayor Alan DowningThe man who was abused by councillor Downing for daring to be hard of hearing sent me the letter he received from the Standards Committee. I haven’t got it any more but I quoted from it on 16th May. It said that councillor Downing’s response could be considered disrespectful.

What I didn’t know is that two members of the Bexley Council Monitoring Group also complained. I’ve just received copies of the council’s replies and I'm confused. Whilst one confirms Downing showed “disrespect” the other declared him innocent. I shall assume the former, I remember it well, but apparently not everyone does.

Downing opened his mouth before engaging his brain appropriately enough at the Crime and Disorder Committee meeting, a meeting at which Fire Commander Cyril O’Brien was present. Members of BCMG engaged him in conversation at the recent police meeting. He claimed not to be able to remember anything at all about Downing’s outburst. Fire! Fire! Pants on fire?

Note: Paragraph 3 of the Members’ Code of Conduct says “You must treat others with respect” and “you must not do anything which may cause your authority to breach any of the equality enactments (as defined in section 33 of the Equality Act 2006).

Teresa O'NeillAnother issue revisited is the FOI response from the GLA about council leader Teresa O’Neill’s claim that Boris had offered her paid employment at City Hall. Mick Barnbrook, an English Democrat candidate at the recent election had made the Freedom of Information request to see if Boris had made offers. The response was an emphatic “No” but I have just spotted a possible Get Out of Jail Free card for Ms. O’Neill.

Mick’s response answers a different question. i.e. the GLA had made no offers. Mick definitely asked if Boris Johnson had offered which isn’t the same thing at all and bureaucrats have this nasty habit of twisting words to mislead the unwary. Mick has been sent back to the GLA to get his actual question answered and not one they may have preferred him to have asked.


News and Comment June 2012

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