When I first went to a Public Realm meeting I was looking forward to seeing councillor Craske in the chair but he takes a back seat and is often to be seen staring into space and looking very bored indeed, not that anyone could reasonably blame him for that. Cheryl Bacon is the barely adequate chairman; maybe the “barely” could be dropped if she learned how to use the microphone, as it is she can be close to inaudible. She should take lessons from Jane Richardson, the council’s Deputy Director of Strategic Planning and Regeneration who is something of an expert in the field, every word comes across perfectly.
As is becoming the norm, I knew every one of the people in the public gallery by name. All eight of us; soon reduced to seven as will be reported later. Councillors Downing, Sawyer and Read were also in the audience but they didn’t remain until the end, the twit Read had an urgent appointment with his Twitter account to be kept. By the time the meeting ended at 21:50 only three members of the public had stayed the course.
Councillor Cheryl Bacon began the meeting by reminding members of the public that Bexley council is intent on defying government guidelines and that no form of recording was permitted. She was so keen on restricting that aspect of democracy that she repeated the message half way through the meeting. A “barely adequate” chairman shouldn’t be expected to favour a permanent record.
Councillor Bacon’s chairmanship did not get off to a good start. Councillors Tandy, Malik and June Slaughter all objected to the way she was unwilling to listen to possible issues with the minutes of the last meeting. She wanted them signed A.S.A.P.
Not for the first time Munir Malik was the only councillor asking sharp questions. He asked why the preface to the draft Parking Report compared Bexley with the very different boroughs of Camden and Newham and his colleague Brenda Langstead asked why it compared Bexley’s parking charges with the only nearby one which was dearer, namely the central tourist area of Greenwich. Mike Frizoni, Deputy Director of Public Realm Management excused the deceptions in the preface by saying that a table buried within the report provided more comparisons.
Far from sharp was the questioning of councillor Colin Tandy who was mugging up on road safety with a copy of The Highway Code by his side. He was concerned that ice-cream vans were parking on yellow lines and thought that the enforcement contractor should be alerted when it happened. Something along the lines of John Major’s ‘Cones Hot-line’ presumably. Councillor Tandy was so anxious that the ice-cream problem should be licked that he raised the issue twice. Or maybe he isn’t anxious at all and the repetition should be taken as a warning of impending senility.
Councillors Brad Smith and James Spencer were both interested in why the “myths” about Bexley’s draconian parking regime circulated so widely when, or so it was implied, Bexley is such a paragon of humanely administered benevolence. No answer was forthcoming from anyone.
With the debate centred on ice-cream and myth it was left to councillor Malik to demonstrate yet again that it is not mandatory for Bexley councillors to be ineffectual. The Thamesmead Tiger got into his stride…
Why is the parking regime in Bexley “barbaric”? Why are Bexley’s mobile camera cars displaying the wrong sort of warning sign on the wrong side of the road? Why (following the introduction of telephone parking I assume) are roads that were full of cars now less than 25% full? Why is pavement parking so severely frowned on when in many cases it is the sensible thing to do? We need “to play fair” he said, and “be more friendly to users of our streets”. Mike Frizoni conceded that parking revenue was indeed down but councillor Craske; are you ready for this? was sympathetic to Munir’s remarks about pavement parking. Maybe he hadn’t fully woken up at the time because he went on to attempt a justification for comparing Bexley with Camden.
Councillor Malik wasn’t finished. He claimed that “parking revenue was being used to keep down council tax” and both he and councillor Smith didn’t seem to like the implications of 6,459 penalty notices being cancelled on appeal. 841 cases went to the Parking Adjudicator and in 413 of them Bexley council was found to be at fault. Their point was that too many PCNs were issued incorrectly. Mr. Frizoni seemed to think that didn’t matter because the contractor didn’t get paid for such cases. Councillor Malik’s thoughts were with the several thousand Bexley residents a year who are put through unnecessary trauma and stress by Bexley’s “barbaric” parking regime. It is for that reason that five of the eight members of the public present were our motorcycling friends from Notomob, including Martin Peaple who Bexley council set their lapdogs on, Bexleyheath’s bovver boys in blue.
Among other things noted was that both councillor Malik and Deputy Director Frizoni had both met with Greenwich council over the County Gate issue - whether together or separately was not made clear - and that Greenwich promised to conduct surveys of nearby roads last month. Whether they did so or not is unknown. A possibly interesting statistic provided was that NSL (the parking contractor) is contracted to work 52,800 hours a year on behalf of Bexley but achieved only 48,995 hours. There was no talk of a penalty or rebate being imposed only that they hope to do better next year. Well it’s only taxpayers’ money wasted.
Something else that has so far proved to be a waste is the CCTV network. It was grossly over-specified because there were hopes that the spare capacity could be sold off to other local authorities with Bexley monitoring towns both far and near. At the time of writing none of this has come to fruition.
Despite councillor Read’s twitter shown above I have no note nor any recollection of any councillor talking about parking in Northumberland Heath.