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News and Comment October 2012

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11 October (Part 2) - Public Realm meeting report

Cheryl BaconThe agenda for last Tuesday’s meeting was jam packed with interesting facts and statistics yet the meeting itself was deadly dull. Probably the following report reflects that. Possibly the calibre of questions asked by councillors was a factor but chairman Cheryl Bacon doesn’t help with her paper boat on a rough sea approach to her job. She is no Alex Sawyer or Philip Read who can keep a meeting on a tight rein.

Neither is there the honesty - I can hardly believe I am writing this - of Read who declares a personal interest in staffing matters and vacates the chairman’s seat when necessary because his wife works for Bexley council. Cheryl is in charge of the Public Realm meeting but never mentions that her husband Gareth is cabinet member for Public Realm. If they stitched us up over breakfast we’d be none the wiser.

Councillor June Slaughter was first to get stuck in, she said the borough wide statistics on empty shops were not good and wanted to know Sidcup’s figures. “Without detail they are not a lot of use to us.” Councillor Waters agreed and councillor Malik asked for the details to be circulated without managing to precipitate a war with the chairman who usually denies him the tools to do his job.

Councillor Malik wanted some figures for new homes built. The agenda‘s report table was all blanks. The council officer whose name may have been Heatley but there was no line of sight to his nameplate and the acoustics aren’t perfect, said getting the numbers was “complicated”. What can be complicated about counting houses?

Councillor Slaughter said “I view with enormous concern the ability [under new planning rules] to build enormous extensions on the back of homes” and the fact “we have to approve potentially inadequate parking facilities”. Perhaps she should have gone to that conference in Birmingham and directed the question to the real villains rather than hapless council officers.

Councillor Howard Marriner wanted to know if the relaxation of planning rules “would allow religious organisations to open up in former industrial premises”. The council officers were “unable to say at present”.

Councillor Brenda Langstead was concerned about business premises being changed to residential. “There is a large number of empty [business] properties which may be suitable for residential use but there is no suitable local infrastructure”. Again there was no definitive answer. “It is a still emerging proposal.”

Councillor Slaughter returned to her parking theme. There are too many flats being built, not enough houses and there is very little amenity space - especially parking. She said members (councillors to you and me) are “not kept up to date and they ought to be.” Perhaps because Mrs. Slaughter hasn’t much by way of competition, her questions and observations often appear to be a cut above the average.

Gareth BaconThe infamous County Gate affair was back on the agenda. Now that the equally infamous councillor Peter Craske is an absentee freeloading councillor there has been some progress. Greenwich and Bexley boroughs have drawn up joint plans to discourage access to County Gate and the adjacent and similar Greenwich roads. A funding request will go to Transport for London after which residents will be consulted and with luck the work will get done next year or in 2014. However the scheme is not yet safely in the bag.

Cabinet member Gareth Bacon said that if TfL does not come up with the money he would find it for County Gate, but he would not be stumping up for the Greenwich roads. No surprise there but Greenwich, he said, probably wouldn't go out of their way to fund the scheme and then the whole issue would go full circle because fixing County Gate in isolation would most likely shunt the traffic problem across to Greenwich and they would invoke the law to stop Bexley doing anything at all.

On parking, cabinet member Bacon said that only 0·82% of parking penalties are taken to the adjudicator and go in the motorist’s favour. Given that the agenda said that 50,155 tickets were issued, that 2,178 had to be cancelled locally and another 412 were cancelled by the adjudicator, claiming that only 0·82% of tickets is an adequate measure of failure is disingenuous. As councillor Malik has said at previous meetings, how much unnecessary misery and anxiety is Bexley inflicting on its residents?

Green grid mapCouncil officer Heatley, if that was his name, came in for some criticism for his report on the All London Green Grid Framework. In particular his map with little detail and no legend.

Elsewhere the agenda was more useful. It told us how it is Tesco payback time for Bexley’s recent generosity towards the company. They are to open a packaging and distribution centre on the old Pirelli site in Belvedere. Bike Alert plc is moving its headquarters from Lewisham to Crayford and Phase 2 of the Crayford Town Hall redevelopment will see 44 more flats added to the 144 of Phase 1. It would seem that councillor Slaughter is right to say the house to flat ratio is going badly wrong.

Road accident statistics were generally reducing and compared well with both Bromley and Greenwich but pedal cyclists were a concern as has been noted before.

Council officers confirmed the agenda statement by saying that “64% of London boroughs showed an increase in the number of casualties when compared to their 2010 levels” at which point Mick Barnbrook of the Bexley Council Monitoring Group (BCMG) slipped me a note saying “What’s 64% of 32?” My pencil helped me to the number 20·48% and I thought no more about it. The meeting droned to its eventual close just after 9 p.m. when the chairman said the ordeal was over and the meeting closed. Most people headed for the door, but not Mick Barnbrook who went the other way. He told me later he had asked Mike Frizoni, the council officer in charge of road safety matters, if 64% of London boroughs meant 20 or 21 - why complicate and confuse the issue with a percentage? However chairman Cheryl Bacon sent him away saying he was interrupting her meeting. You expect these people to be rude and unwilling to answer questions but you might also expect they would at least come up with an excuse which is beyond ridicule.

There were six members of the public present at this meeting, five from the BCMG and me.


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