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Bonkers Blog February 2015

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6 February (Part 1) - Backing losers

In 2011, when Bexley council chose to do a land swap with Tesco and refurbish the old Woolwich building (which Tesco owned) it was not the only choice on the table. There was rebuilding in Broadway at a cost of £29 million or thereabouts which was acknowledged to “provide a highly efficient purpose built council office”, taking the Woolwich route for £36 million and a claimed saving of a million a year, or building new in Erith for £42 million and gaining an extra 50% on the projected lifespan over a refurbishment.

The cheapest option was never given serious consideration and Erith was judged too down market. As is always the case in Bexley the decision had been made in private and the public debate was just for show.

Councillor Linda Bailey repeatedly branded the Erith idea - backed by Labour - “rubbish”; rarely does anything more intelligent pass her lips.

Residents from Erith Road which provides the main access point to the new town hall were not best pleased but the Tesco land swap was probably a simpler option than rebuilding in Broadway and somehow maintaining services. Erith would tend to move the borough’s centre of gravity into Labour territory, so politically unacceptable to the ruling Conservatives.

In the event, refurbishing the Woolwich building cost £42 million so wasn’t especially cheap and the council had to claim that it would save £1·5 million a year instead of £1 million to make some of their sums add up.

Four years down the line the new Civic Centre is operational and after the next set of redundancies is fully implemented will be bigger than necessary. Excess office space was briefly discussed at this week’s Scrutiny meeting.

A couple of hundred yards away there lies a gaping hole where the Tesco/Woolwich decisions were made.
It leaves a gaping hole in Bexley’s projected income stream too. The attraction of taking the cheaper rebuilding option is now only too obvious, but no one but a few council officers were in favour. Tory councillors wanted what they were calling an iconic building and moving to Erith, however advantageous it might have been in the long term, was what councillor Bailey dismissed as rubbish.

Nobody could reasonably have forecast that Tesco would get itself into so much trouble but the fact remains, Bexley council backed the wrong horse. Their £1·5 million a year saving will now be looking rather sick when set against the loss of business rates and Community Infrastructure Levy.

Councillor Stefano Borella wrote to the News Shopper to remind residents of these long forgotten facts and you would expect nothing less from Labour’s Bexleyheath and Crayford parliamentary candidate.

His rival, for whom I voted in 1992 (in May 1987 I lived in his constituency but was still registered in Plumstead and by 1997 the boundaries had changed) is busy tilting at windmills. He thinks Erith & Thamesmead’s constituents’ biggest problem is interfering Scotsmen.
Maybe it is a major concern and the Tories have the least bad answers but unless David Evennett takes Anna Firth’s referendum campaign to Westminster he is doing no more than staging juvenile photo opportunities for the millionaire barrister.

I might be more impressed if Anna Firth took her campaign north of Abbey Road (Lesnes Abbey) but I suppose even she knows that that is a lost cause.


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