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.
At 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.
And 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.
A 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.
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.
Other 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.
Finally 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.