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Bonkers Blog November 2014

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12 November (Part 1) - All hands to the pumps

Splash Park Splash Park meetingThe people running the campaign to save the Belvedere Splash Park from destruction by a council that hasn’t given the borough any infrastructure improvements in its eight years in power have formed a committee. Those who would point to an outbreak of granite blocks across the borough should remember that they were funded by the GLA. Where things have improved elsewhere the funding has come from Housing Associations, English Heritage or the generosity of local companies such as Cory.

They did manage to afford some new CCTV cars though.

Bexley Conservatives are motivated only by money, not falling any further than their abysmal 24th place in the London council tax league is a priority second only to keeping their members out of jail for their crimes.

The meeting was held in an ill lit (for photography) room at the back of The Royal Standard in Nuxley Road and the room was comfortably full, a couple of dozen or so, not all of them parents.

Councillor Daniel Francis was there along with his election rival Amandeep Singh Bhogal. I assumed that Mr. Bhogal was there as a spy for the Conservatives but I think I misjudged him as he was clearly ‘on side’ and my brief chat with him could not have been more friendly. I doubt he knows who I am and what I do.

The usual range of protest action was discussed; petitions, engaging with newspapers and TV, deputations, letters, leaflet distribution etc. I don’t think street demos were mentioned!

Mr. Bhogal suggested an expert in water processing should be engaged to provide an independent report as the council seems to know nothing and care less, but the enemy is time and money. It is, taking Christmas out of the calendar, only six weeks to when the council closes its budget consultation. If minds are not changed before then the cause is lost - in my opinion.

Splash Park meeting A major obstacle is that Bexley council doesn’t really know what is going on. It has the vaguest of estimates on the cost of an entirely new facility (£350-£500k.) and has no idea of visitor numbers and no idea if ‘bugs’ in the water is a new phenomenon or not.

It doesn’t know how much a park renovation, upgrade or repair would cost because it hasn’t considered any of them. They were, probably still are, hell bent on closure. The only real figure we know is that last year, when the park was closed for half the time, the refreshment kiosk made a £9,000 profit.

On Facebook (also Twitter) you can read how children in infants’ schools are writing touching letters to the council pleading for a reprieve. I know I am a kill joy, but that will not impress a Bexley Conservative. They must stay in power at all costs or the near million pounds a year they pay themselves will evaporate. They exist on convincing the south of the borough that they are paying a low rate of council tax. They will not be shamed into submission by cute drawings of fountains.

Splash Park meeting Councillor Francis knows what he is up against; unless he can, to quote cabinet member Alex Sawyer, “find a magic wand and come up with a solution which is both revenue and capital neutral” there is no chance whatever of a free paddle in Belvedere next year. Fortunately Daniel has identified more than £200,000 of available and unallocated cash. What he has to do now is see if a council renowned for its neglect of the north will agree to spending it in Belvedere and stretch the amount to cover refurbishment costs for which he has estimates, the highest of which is £240,000. Let’s hope he has his figures right.

People were encouraged to complete Bexley’s consultation process but those who had already, told of its complexities which had driven them to give up after 30 minutes or so.

Some advocated ticking all the consultation ‘Neither agree nor disagree’ boxes and relying solely on the comment boxes. Another said the council should have been allocating funds for recreation equipment replacement. Playgrounds are often lavishly equipped and the equipment doesn’t last for ever, surely they must have a budget for that. Why should a wet playground be any different?

It’s a good thought which overlooks the fact that Bexley council has never been keen on the Splash Park. This is the third Conservative assault on it in eight years.

Some councillors seem determined to do it down. Last week David Leaf still sore from his defeat in Belvedere four years ago lectured us at length about the perils of E. coli as though it was a virulent plague like Ebola. The latest facts are said to be that E. coli traces were found four times in 2014, I may have said eight in my initial report. This is pure scare tactics. E. coli is all around you, in your gut, in the soil, in your food. We have known how to deal with it since Roman times. It may induce panic in the uninformed but if it was as bad as described and there were no simple remedies we would probably all be dead.

The fact must be faced that if by the end of January, closure gets as far as a firm proposal, 45 Conservative councillors will vote for its destruction. They must be persuaded otherwise by the end of this year. When faced with a vote there has only been one Conservative dissenter from the party line in the past five years - and he was drummed out of the party.

The new Splash Park committee may well understand this but I am not convinced that all their Facebook supporters recognise the fact that most of those 45 Conservative councillors will simply not care and a few will actively campaign for closure. You are not dealing with kindly old codgers anxious to please little children, they are hard nosed businessmen who would rather break the law than admit they could ever be wrong, or even short sighted. How much will they get via the Community Infrastructure Levy for every new house built in Bexley? About £600 isn’t it? (Between £40 and £60 per square metre). And how many new houses do they want to attract to Belvedere? Short termism. It’s spelt the end of this country since we gave up on aircraft and computers and no doubt other things in the 1960s.


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