latest issue of the Bexley magazine (Winter 2013) is a thinly disguised Conservative
election leaflet and it portrays the borough as a wonderful place to be. To be
fair there are good things going on and if only the political leadership could
stop themselves from lying to cover up their sins old and new I would happily go
away and do something else in my spare time. Unfortunately you never have to look far
below Bexley’s surface gloss to find things that arouse suspicions and distrust.
On Page 17 of the current issue is a brief feature on the new Bexley College campus taking shape in Walnut Tree Road in Erith. The redevelopment of that derelict site can only be a good thing and Bexley council is claiming some sort of credit for it. Teresa O’Neill was recently seen burying a 50 year time capsule in its grounds.
The only thing that I can find that Bexley council actually did for the college was to stand aside and not use the site itself.
When the council was umming and ahhing over which of three options it should approve for its new HQ; redevelopment of the existing site (cheapest), refurbishing the old Woolwich Building Society HQ (said to be £36 million at the time) or a purpose built town hall opposite the Carnegie Building in Walnut Tree Road (£42 million but with a much longer lifespan); it opted for the site in Bexleyheath. The Labour party’s request to more seriously consider Erith was rejected. Officially that was because it would cost more but as the public was excluded from all meetings related to costs no one can be sure of that. I suspect it is much more likely that Erith is not the Conservatives’ favourite place and there was a deal to be done with Tesco.
Refurbishing the Woolwich HQ was always going to be less than ideal; it was built when data was commonly kept on paper filed in dusty rooms with high ceilings and network cabling was almost unknown and webcasts were science fiction. Not surprisingly Bexley council says the conversion costs have risen to £42 million and councillor Colin Campbell has referred to the public areas not being large enough. I even have an email message from the inner sanctum saying that the Woolwich building is creating all sorts of accommodation problems.
When I repeated what was said at the council meeting which approved the move to a News Shopper reporter he created a headline which got me into a certain amount of trouble with their readers. He shortened the Woolwich refurbishment “might be seen as shortsighted” to something rather more definitive. Maybe the News Shopper reporter had it right. Not only will the Woolwich building always be a bodge and, one must suspect, chosen primarily to serve the needs of Tesco, the brand new three storey college designed for 2014 and beyond cost only £20 million. Less than half what is being spent on tarting up something built 30 years ago.
Now we have Teresa O’Neill planning to cut services to save ten million next year. Maybe she should have listened to her officers who warned that refurbishing the Woolwich was not the most efficient option.
Photograph © by permission of Arthur Pewty’s Maggot Sandwich.