As already noted,
the Places Overview and Scrutiny Committee meeting went off in an OK sort of way
and my slightly negative opinion is probably down to the problems with the
chairman’s microphone or his misuse of it. My recording confirms what my ears were
telling me at the time, that he alone required extra effort to follow.
It was a good idea to allow the senior officers present to tell the new committee members, i.e. most of them, first hand what their responsibilities are and that master of microphone technique Jane Richardson led the way.
From her we learned that she is now Acting Chief Executive of the Thames Innovation Centre but nothing else new.
David Bryce-Smith has been in charge of the Bexleyheath Broadway Regeneration and he reminded us that Phase 2 is now in the design stage.
Chairman Seymour next introduced “Mrs. Ainge” who is in reality Mrs. Ellershaw, Peter Ellershaw being her boss. She looks after parks, all 104 of them. Lesnes Abbey is to have £4 million of lottery grant spent on it soon. I’d love to know where she got her over 400,000 visitors a year from, it probably includes people like me who cut across it to get to New Road and the B11 bus stop. Another figure revealed that Bexley has 33 children’s playgrounds with assets worth about £8 million.
Mr. Frizoni is responsible for all the yellow lines and the frequently inadequate parking signs but he began his interesting talk with recycling. 57,000 tons of waste goes to the Belvedere incinerator at £103 per ton. He was less informative on the 60,000 tons of compost but only paper makes any money. He claimed the recycling rate in Bexley was best in London, a prize also claimed by Bromley council. His aim is to drive recycling up further, how, he didn’t say.
Mr. Frizoni confirmed the 2012 announcement that Serco’s 50 strong fleet of refuse vehicles must be replaced next year at a cost of around £6 million.
On road maintenance Mr. Frizoni blamed the four consecutive severe winters for the deterioration in road surfaces. My measure of a severe winter is if my garden pond freezes over and it definitely hasn’t during the past two years although maybe at only 30 feet above sea level this part of town has a different climate to the southern uplands of the borough. On average Bexley council repairs about 3,000 potholes a year. In my experience the road surfaces in Bexley are not at all bad, in Newham I could easily damage my small car in their many mini-quarries. Because of budget cuts there has been a reduction in planned maintenance of roads, street cleaning and grass cutting.
Around 400 lamp posts have to be changed each year and they are being switched on later and off earlier to save energy costs.
On parking Mr. Frizoni said the the next step would be to have a single shared parking enforcement contract with Bromley so it would appear that either NSL (Bexley) or Vinci Park (Bromley) is for the chop.
Later on the meeting produced several more useful snippets of information. Mrs. Richardson revealed that the Sidcup regeneration project had hit another snag, or more to the point, a contractor had hit a major power cable, and the completion date is now put back to the end of September, not far behind the original planned date. It will be good to see the high street “transformed”, as councillor Slaughter said it would be, and the traffic chaos reduced to normal levels.
Surprisingly, Mr. Bryce-Smith said the shops in Bexleyheath (more pedantically, the Business Improvement District) wanted the buses removed from the Clock Tower area because they tended to divide the town in two. Maybe they could ask for restoration of the arrivals indicator for buses going in the opposite direction (the Furze Wren stop) which were removed as part of the regeneration scheme more than a year ago and not seen since.
Bryce-Smith also said the cracks that had developed in Arnsberg Way would be investigated during the school holidays to see if specification or workmanship was to blame.
Councillor Stefano Borella challenged Mr. Frizoni over his assertion that not locking parks at night would not cause problems because only a minority have ever been locked with the implication that cancelling the Ward Security contract represented easy money.
Stefano suggested that Bexley could do the job more cheaply itself, maybe using volunteers. Mr. Frizoni did not think the job could be done on the cheap because Ward Security had to patrol with dogs to counter the problems they met. No one seemed to notice that Frizoni had thereby undermined his own case that not shutting parks was a trouble free no brainer.
Councillor June Slaughter said it was reported in her newspaper that more people were moving into Bexley than any other London borough so it must be a good place to live. I would suggest the reason is more fundamental, it offers the cheapest housing in London.
Councillor Nigel Betts thought the opening of Erith College, next door to the railway station, justified more trains, obviously oblivious to the fact that South Eastern are having to cut services because of the rebuilding work at London Bridge.
Readers with long memories may recall that £1·8 million was spent on a second hand pavilion from the Olympic Park to install at Sidcup & Chislehurst Grammar School. Councillor John Waters said that installation had not gone smoothly because it arrived as a flat pack with no instructions.
I must have missed an earlier meeting at which the subject of water meters cropped up but both councillors Seán Newman (Labour) and Don Massey (Conservative) were in full agreement that the Thames Water representatives were supremely arrogant. The councillors, as presumably will many of Bexley’s residents, seemed more than a little delighted that Thames Water had largely failed to install meters that didn’t leak and didn’t make a mess of the council’s footpaths. The whole project is now on hold with only 9% of the job done and unlikely to restart until next year. Thames Water will be invited to address the Scrutiny Committee at the February 2015 meeting. They would be well advised to wear their hard hats.
The meeting ended just after 9:30 p.m.