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Bonkers Blog November 2014

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2 November - Drowning in hogwash

Splash ParkBexley council’s proposal to close the nine year old Splash Park in Belvedere has caused an understandable outcry and yesterday a group of concerned parents met in the nearby Scout Hall to listen to what the Cabinet Member for Community Safety and Leisure and opposition councillor Daniel Francis had to say about it. For a hastily organised meeting on a warm and sunny Saturday afternoon the turnout of nearly 60 adults at its peak looked to be a good achievement.

The Splash Park is a hi-tech paddling pool with a purification tank and pumps beneath it which provide a variety of wet and watery features to amuse and entertain the borough’s children. It has been a great success in previous years and along the way survived the Tory plans to impose an entrance fee which are dusted off after every election but this year it was suddenly pronounced a health and safety risk and closed for maintenance as often as it was open. No detailed reason was ever given apart from ‘cleaning’ and some people who know how Bexley council operates could see the writing on the wall. Then, on October 15th, for the very first time the council mentioned E. coli.

All the politicians were on their best behaviour with Alex Sawyer the Cabinet Member at pains to be seen as the reasonable man. I have no idea if he really is because thinking about why I am inclined to like him I have realised that my opinion is solely down to the fact that he is almost the only high flying Bexley Tory who has ever acknowledged my presence in the council chamber and his put downs of the opposition are far more witty and perhaps more intelligent than those of the run of the mill Tory bozos more often found in Bexley’s council chamber.

The fact Alex Sawyer aligned himself with the disreputable councillor Peter Craske in a stunt to get the Splash Park past the colluding chairman of the wholly inappropriate People Scrutiny Committee to push his closure propaganda rings alarm bells with me. He was accompanied yesterday by councillor Philip Read which was not reassuring. Read once made up a cock and bull story to have a fellow Bexley blogger thrown in the cells for 24 hours. Fortunately a judge saw through Read’s story. Maybe I should judge Alex Sawyer by the company he keeps.

Sawyer’s trump card is his E. coli story and he says it was detected at low level eight times in the 2014 season. There were other organisms present from time to time too. The answer advocated by the installer company is a two tank system at a cost of between £350,000 and £500,000. When the short life span of the Splash Park was queried councillor Sawyer said it was like all things, what is state of the art yesterday is tomorrow’s trash, like phones and computers. At least one member of the audience swallowed this story but to my mind it is totally bogus.


Click or scroll for whole brochure.

E. coli has probably been around for millennia, water has consisted of two parts hydrogen and one oxygen since time began and little Johnnie has always had the occasional nappy malfunction. How did any of that change for 2014? The filters have the same job to do now as they did in 2005. Questions such has how often E. coli was detected before 2014 or even if the number of park users had increased or not were all unanswered because no one knows. Councillor Sawyer repeated his line from the scrutiny meeting that children’s safety was his top priority and if he wouldn’t let his own child use the facility he couldn’t allow the park to continue. As a meaningless tug at the heart strings it is hard to beat. No  toddler or teenager became ill, the risk approximated to zero.

It became apparent that the £350,000 to £500,000 for a two tank solution came out of a five minute informal phone call from the council to the distributor; no proper quotation has been obtained from anyone. Adding a second tank to the existing facility has not been considered by the council but I believe Labour councillor Daniel Francis has looked into that and it might cost more like £200,000. I didn’t hear all the detail as Daniel was drowned out by tiny feet stomping on a wooden floor.

It has been suggested that Bexley council should make a warranty claim if such an expensive facility has really proved to be unsatisfactory after such a short period but it was explained that there never were any guarantees and if there was a warranty it has been lost. Public servants eh? What would we do without them?

Some of the audience advocated raising money from an improved refreshment kiosk though I would doubt that some of the more ambitious ideas would ever find favour with a Conservative council. However allowing an ice cream van to ply its trade at the park gate and take away the kiosk’s lollypop trade was widely seen as rather silly.

Splash Park Splash Park Splash Park Splash Park

The Danson Park facility which has been unaffected by infections is plumbed directly to the mains supply so unlikely to be a health hazard but that may not be possible in Belvedere, perhaps because it is situated at the top of Heron Hill and councillor Sawyer referred to possible water pressure problems due to the proximity of housing which doesn’t affect Danson Park. Really?

One lady argued that the fact that Danson Park is treated as Bexley’s premier public space is indicative of the council’s neglect of the north of the borough when the parks in the north are “far more beautiful”. She is not wrong.

It was pointed out that the population of the north of the borough was growing and before long there will be the Crossrail effect and the Erith Quarry development not a mile from the Splash Park. Bexley council is itself keen to raise as much Community Infrastructure Levy cash as possible and sees Belvedere as prime tax territory, hence the Belvedere bridge proposal but as usual is not so keen to give anything back.

If anything was clear from the meeting it is that the proposal to close the splash park has been some sort of back of a fag packet calculation given very little thought and few or even no alternatives have been explored. The money said to have been offered by private enterprise could in fact go anywhere within the borough, it has not been ear marked for Belvedere and in any case what’s the point of another set of swings and slides just 150 yards from an existing large and well equipped playground? Anything less than the continuation of the 100 year old tradition of a water facility on the site would appear to be a waste of money. Councillor Daniel Francis spent his school holidays paddling in the Belvedere pool and seems to be just the man to ask a whole load of questions which Alex Sawyer was unable to answer yesterday.

For completeness this is what Alex Sawyer said at the recent scrutiny meeting. The recording begins with the mumbling Peter Craske but it gets better.

Funny he had all that detail in front of him while attending a meeting that had nothing to do with parks or leisure. A put up job? You bet.

Personally I do not rate the chances of retaining anything worthwhile at the top of Heron Hill at all highly. Bexley council under Teresa O’Neill has not improved the borough in any shape or form except when spending money from Boris, lotteries or housing associations. Hers is a scorched earth policy which is interested in nothing other than ensuring that Bexley’s 24th position in the council tax league doesn’t get any worse. And most people haven’t noticed yet.

‘Arthur Pewty’ has blogged on the same subject today from a slightly different perspective.

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