today rss facebook twitter

Bonkers Blog February 2015

Index: 20092010201120122013201420152016201720182019

28 February (Part 2) - The week’s Crossrail news

CrossrailTomorrow there are no trains through Abbey Wood; the natural expectation is that the 28 year old station will be reduced to rubble, but the men in orange suits say otherwise. I am planning to take the day off and tomorrow’s blog is already written.

Today the finishing touches were being put to the end wall of the terrace house in Fossington Road which lost its neighbour to Crossrail several months ago.

The piling machine made its way under the new footbridge and has been working in what was the station car park and this morning more machinery was being delivered to the site.

Photo 2 below taken through the closely spaced footbridge grid.

Crossrail Crossrail Crossrail Crossrail
As you may notice, the old station footbridge has gone. It is said it was taken away by an orange clad gang in the early hours of 22nd February. So much for Network Rail’s promise to alert me to any particularly good photo opportunities.

More Crossrail related blogs.


28 February (Part 1) - Fallen into bad company

Anna FirthI didn’t always manage to get myself to Northumberland Heath on a weekly basis to look at the regeneration supposedly going on there but when I did, I was always disappointed.

Work began on 12th January and as the council poster included on the first blog on this subject proclaimed, we were going to see new trees, granite benches, foreign language signs, new bins, new bollards, new paving, new railings and banners hanging from lamp posts.

At the end of the first week Mill Road was blocked while two men worked and by the 24th January Mill Road was still closed and some waste bins had been replaced.

The end of week 3 (February 3rd) saw no great change and chaos was still in charge on 10th February. Last week I didn’t find the time to get there and I was very much aware that I may have missed completion day.

However I was alerted to the latest situation when Anna Firth, the Conservative General Election candidate for the area, Tweeted late last night (complete with a Mill Road picture) that Mill Road was open for traffic.

MudI hitched a lift to Northumberland Heath as soon as I could.

Mill Road was indeed open, the tarmac is a nice rich black and there is a raised table made of Bexley council’s favoured bus averse red blocks and (Photo 2) a couple of granite benches by its side. There isn’t a lot to show for the money and the area has not been dramatically transformed.

The paving has been replaced over a small area either side of the junction and plastic barriers still abound. Of the decorative historical  banners there is no sign.

Bexley TimesI suppose it is a decent amount of work for two men to do in seven weeks but it’s not nearly as big an area as my own blocked drive which was done in far less time.

Have you been paying attention? From 10th January to 27th February is seven weeks and the job was scheduled for six.

The would-be MP however has been spending too much time with councillor Philip Read and fallen for his propaganda, hopefully not into his ways. Her bragging last night was that thanks to Tory efficiency Mill Road opened on time.
North Heath North Heath North Heath North Heath.


27 February (Part 2) - Hill View Diary

MudHaving seem the hellish views of Hill View a man from Welling thought he would stroll over and take a look for himself. It was a fine day but the access path was very muddy.

The photographer was rewarded with the moonscape below.

The position of the slag heap suggests that the following photograph was taken well away from and in the approximate direction of Marina Drive.

Pan view
The photographer has evidently made this trip before because he supplied a short history of the demolition of the former council offices.
Hill View Hill View Hill View Hill View
Photographs taken July 2014, December 2014, 2nd January 2015 and 14th January 2015 by the author of the Welling Corridor Improvement diary. The same improvement that has caused so many accidents. Here’s another.


27 February (Part 1) - Public cabinet concluded

The main feature of Monday’s cabinet meeting was undoubtedly the recommendation of a 1·9% council tax increase but the meeting also revealed a little of what Bexley council is doing with your money…

• The council keeps its deposits with Lloyds Bank and the Royal Bank of Scotland, both partially state owned.
• An advance payment was made to the senior staff pension fund securing an effective interest rate of 4·5%.
• A further advance will be made into the employee’s pension fund accruing savings estimated at £74,000 for the coming year.
• Councillor Gareth Bacon authorised the investment of £15 million in diversified growth funds.
• Procurement strategies would include contract efficiency clauses “to drive year on year contract price reductions of 3%”.

There was also further discussion of the decision to charge for 25 collections of garden waste per year.

The plan assumes that 40% of Bexley residents will agree to pay the bin tax and after cabinet member councillor Don Massey repeated the speech made at Scrutiny the discussion degenerated into an argument over what constitutes a tax and what doesn’t.

Councillor Seán Newman (Labour, Belvedere) said that the £33 charge is the equivalent of a 2·9% increase in Band D council tax, and before you immediately scream out, “that must be wrong”, he was referring to the portion that Bexley spends, not all the hangers on like the GLA.

BeforeCouncillor Massey, however, was not deterred from stating Seán must be wrong. “Lies, damn lies and statistics” he said, insisting that councillor Newman was guilty of double counting.

People without gardens should not subsidise those who have, Massey said, which seems reasonable enough but why, as a single person who generates almost no waste, should I subsidise those who spew copious amounts all over the path every single week? Bring back the poll tax I say.

Technically the bin tax is not a tax. Garden waste collection has been paid out of taxation and in future it won’t be. Good analogies are hard to come by but when Bexley council closes the libraries which were funded by taxation and you have to buy books from Smiths or Amazon instead, the extra costs won’t be a book tax, but you will feel cheated just the same.

BeforeLeader Teresa O’Neill asked councillor Newman not to present his argument at the full council meeting next week as that would be “a really poor show”. So not only does she dictate to her own sheep, she is now attempting to gag the opposition. To make sure her message had got through, she said it twice.

When councillor Newman attempted a response O’Neill immediately shut him up and called on the next councillor to speak. That was councillor June Slaughter who said that because of the difficult financial circumstances she was in favour of making the savings and losing the “for free” service and remarked on how “modest” the charges would be.

Councillor Alan Deadman (Labour leader) said the existing service was not free, it was paid for through the council tax and now it would have to be paid for a second time. The ‘when is a tax not a tax’ argument was about to begin all over again.

Leader Teresa O’Neill then decided to remind the opposition yet again that dissent at full council would be a “poor show” and after allowing councillor Colin Tandy to tell us for the umpteenth time that he shopped in Waitrose, Teresa closed the meeting.


26 February (Part 4) - Blocked roads. Not what they are cracked up to be

RepairA Labour councillor told me last August that Bexley council had not noticed that their newly blocked Arnsberg Way was breaking up at its junction with Woolwich Road until they saw the BiB report.

The council made a point of saying the junction would be duly repaired at no cost to taxpayers and, if I remember correctly, issued a press release to that effect. The road was duly repaired and it promptly broke up again.

At the recent Places Scrutiny meeting it was said that the problem is one of design, not construction. I hope Bexley council is going to apologise to F.M. Conway and reimburse them the repair costs.

So now that Bexley council has learned the hard way what in my day every schoolboy knew, that a big bus wheel on full lock destroys roads, what are they going to do about it?

Replace with tarmac!

NoticeThis week’s Public Notices tell us when.

The junction with Woolwich Road will be closed off and the current one way section will be made two way so that residents at the southern end can get home. Everyone will suffer another eight weeks of disruption.

I believe the new junction will be a raised platform with the traditional, but probably coloured, tarmacadam surface to ensure that bus passengers can continue to get as rough a ride as they do over blocks.

This will be the third time that junction has been significantly reconstructed in fewer than 20 months. John Loudon McAdam must be laughing in his grave.


26 February (Part 3) - This little piggy…

BaconThe Evening Standard ran a feature on Bexley councillor Gareth Bacon yesterday, the News Shopper copied it this morning before I had time to mention it here. You can’t win them all.

The theme is that he lives a £108,000 taxpayer funded lifestyle, to which the papers might have added that his wife, who has more of a liestyle than a lifestyle, brings home another £12,418 filched from your pocket

He says he can do four local government jobs because he has “good diary management’ but effectively insults his Bexley electorate by revealing that his Bexley role will be the first to be dropped if his diary lets him down.

A true trougher, rolling in money.


26 February (Part 2) - The next hopeful to arrive on Platform 1

One of the very first emails I received after starting Bonkers was this one on 4th November 2009…

I have been having a read of your website and thought I should say hello. As you will know John Austin is standing down at the next election and I have been selected as the Labour candidate to stand for Erith & Thamesmead.

I have a website and am always contactable by email.

And since then I have contacted Teresa Pearce to ask a question a fair number of times.

That is one way of making your presence felt and creating a good impression but some candidates adopt a different technique.

One is standing on a windy station platform to make a King Canute style video that aims to make the trains run on time. A laudable aim although I fear the 12 car train ambition is technically unachievable.

While not making videos the Conservative candidate for Erith and Thamesmead is continuing to canvass in the outermost corner of the constituency, Northumberland Heath. If Anna’s Twittering is any guide she looked into Thamesmead once and Plumstead has yet to get a mention. Maybe it will fare better now that her constituency association is no longer run by Bexley councillors.

Ms. Firth claims a lot of support in Northumberland Heath but she won’t be elected on the 100% vote of a tiny portion of the electorate; like it or or not, the less well off have votes too.

TweetI have put my cross against the Conservative name at every General Election since 1964 but that record is in dire jeopardy.

Cameron may look more the part than his rivals but I have lost count of the times he has been the antithesis of a proper Conservative. I doubt even Anna could persuade me I am wrong, and I doubt she will even try. But it must be voters like me who are most in need of her attention. Perhaps I just live in the wrong place.


26 February (Part 1) - Black cloud over Blackfen Library

Every time the subject of Blackfen Library (other libraries are available; for now at least) crops up at Bexley council meetings, a cabinet member, not always the same one, will say that unless a community group comes forward to run a condemned library, then it will close.

Blackfen has been the library provoking the biggest protests, in part because it is busier than neighbouring Welling library which is not scheduled for closure.
Blackfen is a long way from Belvedere and I do not receive a great deal of information from that area but I did get wind of a Community Association founded, I think, on the back of the proposed library closure. I had to be elsewhere, so I sent a locally resident spy. Her report follows…

The venue for the meeting was the Jolly Fenman and it was convened by the recently formed Blackfen Community Group.

The motivation was Bexley council’s plan to close Blackfen Library. Councillors representing the three wards which divide Blackfen had been invited and the Blackfen & Lamorbey three, Peter Craske, Brian Beckwith and Lyn Smith were there plus Louie French (Falconwood and Welling).

The library is located in Blendon & Penhill Ward but no councillors from that ward attended. (Graham D’Amiral, Steven Hall and Nick O’Hare.)

As a local resident I might say that Blendon councillors have never shown any interest over many years.

Also in attendance was UKIP councillor Colin McGannon who came all the way from Colyers but who I believe may have been a Blackfen resident at one time.

About 60 residents and traders attended, most of whom, if not all, were intent on expressing their anger to councillors at the decision to close Blackfen Library despite the fact that it is very well used - and the rejection of their 2,000 plus signature petition.

The councillors, principally Peter Craske, responded by trying to convince the audience - unsuccessfully - that the council had little or no alternative and that the library could remain open with council support if association members present were prepared to form a group of volunteers prepared to run the library and submit a bid to the council by 20th March.

In answer to questions it was stated that if no bid from a ‘Community Group’ was forthcoming Blackfen library would be closed.

Blackfen Community Group has only recently been formed and has not yet fully established itself with a constitution etc. It was not formed for the sole purpose of running the library but as a voice on all general matters affecting the Blackfen community.

At present its members do not consider it has the structure, experience or ability to undertake the running of Blackfen Library. Nobody present was able to suggest any other local group who might be willing and possess the resources to submit a bid to take on the task.

So it looks like the library is doomed. It doesn’t not surprise me that the reputation of councillors D’Amiral and O’Hare in the area is none too good. They are among the, possibly a majority, of Conservative councillors who make a point of ignoring my presence at council meetings, but those two are among a small number that I would happily label nonentities. Never in the past five years contributing anything of note whatsoever.

Formal library closure report.


25 February - £1·8 million spent to get Sidcup booming. Or possibly not

At council meetings over the past seven days, the councillors for Sidcup have been saying how nice the High Street looked after the eight month's of disruption. Cabinet member Linda Bailey said that the shops were thriving and taking far more money than before. Before what she didn’t say. Before the chaos was swept away or before it started? When pressed she admitted that all she had done was speak, as an anonymous shopper, to a few shop owners.

I had not been to Sidcup for months but I drove along the High Street just before nine o’clock last Monday morning and in the early morning sunshine it did look quite nice. I have always been impressed by the new shop fronts funded by the mayor’s largesse and set against a road surface which is still new enough to be black, the overall effect was quite pleasing. However at 8:50 or thereabouts there was almost nobody there. I returned at just after twelve today expecting to see a bustling town centre as implied by councillor Bailey.

My photos are no more scientifically accurate than the councillor’s opinion but I do at least know they show a true picture and the same cannot always be said about Bexley council’s statements.
Sidcup Sidcup Sidcup Sidcup
Sidcup Sidcup Sidcup Sidcup
Sidcup Sidcup Sidcup Sidcup
As you may recognise, the place is not exactly crowded but the junction was at a standstill again with traffic queued in a southbound direction. blocking the westbound route.

Typical of Bexley unfortunately is the standing water trapped by inadequate provision of gullies, and the zig-zags on the pedestrian crossing are still non-compliant. Only two zig-zags does not satisfy the regulations. Potentially lethal too.


24 February (Part 2) - Council tax. Bexley council’s take on it

Bexley council has issued its own report on what was proposed at last night’s cabinet meeting.

ReleaseIt is not a report on what was said last night, but perhaps what they would have liked to have said.

There has been no clamour for tax rises as implied by “more people have told us that they would prefer to see a Council Tax increase than further spending reductions” and there have in any case been plenty of those.

Cabinet member Gareth Bacon made no reference to any reduction to the number of councillors, that is just spin to persuade voters that councillors are ready to share the pain. It will save about £300,000 a year from 2018 if it ever comes to pass. It has still not happened in Bromley even though they started down that path more than five years ago.

The council’s Press Office is doing a fine job of polishing the proverbial. Watch the local press fall for it hook line and sinker.

For those interested in Gareth Bacon’s address to cabinet here it is in full.


24 February (Part 1) - The Cabinet report. The interesting bits

As already noted, last night’s cabinet meeting was one of the better meetings I have attended. A friendly chat with several councillors, a good clear view of proceedings, and even leader Teresa O’Neill appeared to be full of bon homie, unless perchance your name was Seán Newman or Daniel Francis.
The leader began by saying how well Strategy 2014 had gone, she came out with a new figure for the money saved, this time it was £61·5 million, “somewhere near to 60% of council tax”. “Tonight”, she said, “we will be setting the council tax” thereby confirming her dictator status. The council will do that next week.

OfficersFinance Director Alison Griffin took four minutes to present her budgetary plan. She said the council tax would be set against a government grant cut of 14·4% and the net effect must be a council tax rise of 1·9% supplemented by a £2·9 million dip into reserves and an across the board increase in fees and charges of 3%.

There is little provision for the unforeseen and in that event a further raid on reserves would become necessary. Using the reserves is “not a sustainable position for the future”.

Alison was followed by deputy leader Gareth Bacon who repeated his old speech about the present situation being “by far the worst” he had known. He will raise tax “with a heavy heart”. “It is not a great postion to be in but it is something we are trying to plan for. This is not the end of the story it is the beginning.”

Bacon was followed by Children’s Services cabinet member Philip Read who spoke of saving another £50 million in the next four years which he “views with trepidation” but “would protect front line services”. There was a thinly veiled attack on the Labour opposition for not coming up with any alternative proposal.

ReadCabinet member for Adults’ Services Eileen Pallen said that Bexley had the third highest proportion of older people in London, close behind Havering and Bromley and it was“ necessary to have the financial stability to provide them with the services we will all need”. Homelessness is likely to add £1·5 million to expenditure his year.

Education cabinet member John Fuller made a commendably short address referring to “the increase of [the number] High Needs Children” and outlined how he was dealing with it.

Linda Bailey was “sad” to see tax rates rising and strayed into political matters by referring to the May 2014 election. She claimed credit (justifiably) for several infrastructure initiatives brought to the borough and referred to the need to for “more investment into the borough”. After 85 seconds she was done.

Later Bailey proved her “I can do what I like” credentials by claiming the cabinet was setting the council tax rate thereby confirming her mind set. Councillors are just voting fodder.

Read ReadDon Massey went on rather longer and excused his 50% parking charge increases by saying they had been frozen for three years and inflation was to blame. Readers will no doubt calculate whether that is a lie or not.

The aim was to keep Kent commuters out of Bexley.

In referring to waste charges, I think Massey said it was costing seven to eight million pounds but someone coughed over the vital passage. I hope it isn’t 78 million pounds. Maybe it was £7·8 million?

Alex Sawyer, in referring to last year’s election, said that “it didn’t really matter which party had won, very difficult decisions would have to be made”. A glum looking cabinet member said he “could not be the bringer of jollity”.

Councillor Daniel Francis (Labour) referred to the consultations which showed that some changes will be “unpopular” and promised a more energetic debate next Wednesday. The full council meeting.

Leader O’Neill said consultations were made well in advance to be “open and transparent”.

Councillor Rob Leitch referred to the list of open spaces proposed for sale as revealed by Alex Sawyer on 10th February and reported here a week later, though still before any other outlet.

The council had followed that with a press release. Rob wanted to know when that provisional list will become a confirmed list (but no officer was able to tell him) and was looking for further consultation on any plots which might go up for sale. Teresa O’Neill said the aim was to be “open and transparent” which is presumably why no discussion had been allowed on the subject, councillor Francis was left in the dark and FOIs requests rejected - until the list was published here, thanks to Alex Sawyer. Lies so easily trip off her tongue.

With that the meeting moved on to less exiting areas of the Agenda.


23 February (Part 2) - Council tax up

This evening’s cabinet meeting which approved the budget to be put forward to the full council on the 4th March was a well run and unusually civilised affair. The formal business may be summed up as, council tax up 1·9%, £2·9 million taken from reserves and fees and charges up 3% on average. The published price increases make the 3% claim difficult to accept, but that is what they keep saying and as earlier dictatorships have discovered, if you say something often enough it will most likely be believed.
Some details will be filled in tomorrow but meanwhile I would like to congratulate whoever it was who laid out the room for the four members of the public who bothered to show up. Mr. Kevin Fox was the Committee Officer.

Before the meeting started I picked up comments about my ‘back of the heads’ photos but it would have been difficult to repeat those tonight. I had to draw my desk and chair backwards so that I couldn’t be mistaken for a councillor, the desk was placed forward of some!

The view could not have been better and when one unfortunate individual was not using his microphone properly, council leader Teresa O’Neill asked him to mend his ways. So no problem hearing either.

Now that Bexley has shown that it can be done I expect those who have been complaining about the poor sight lines and acoustics will be complaining even more when arrangements are not good enough.


23 February (Part 1) - Places Scrutiny notes

A near four hour meeting is not easily summarised, here’s a few highlights.

• Bexley’s homeless are not only sent to Manchester, some go to Bolton.
• Another planning application for the Harrow Inn site is likely to be submitted next month. (Not yet on Planning Dept. website.)
• The new look Sidcup was praised by cabinet member Linda Bailey with support from councillors June Slaughter and Rob Leitch. “It is a marked improvement.” Restaurants are full and shop trade is up. When asked to provide evidence it proved to be all anecdotal.
• Councillor Slaughter was concerned about the number of parking penalties issued in the town and how some ticketed visitors will not come back again.
• The Slade Green Library does not always open on time, allegedly because of Eco Communities’ staff failings.
• Of 788 new homes under construction in the borough only 32 are ‘social rent’. 258 are affordable - this can mean £600,000 for a nice three bedroomed terrace in Erith Park.
• There should be an announcement about the Coralline Walk (Thamesmead) regeneration very soon. Peabody Housing will be finding residents new accommodation.
• FOI requests have increased significantly. More than doubled to 696 in a recent quarter over the previous one. (I have not been made aware of any by people known to myself for many months.)
• Councillor John Davey said he was concerned about the sale of open spaces but no one commented.
• A council officer, Seb Salom, said he was working on improving the digital infrastructure in the borough. When asked what that was he said “broadband”.
• It was explained that the cessation of leaf clearing only affected those that fell on green spaces, not highways.
• Doubt was cast on the accuracy of the number of children forecast (child yield) for the borough. This was because social housing traditionally had a higher child yield than privately owned home, but many of the latter were now rented and were attracting families who might have gone to social housing had any been available. However those houses were assumed to have ‘private’ child yield and not ‘social’ with the potential for undercounting.
• Part time street lighting (off from midnight to 5 a.m.) and LED replacement is being considered. Some lights may be removed altogether. LEDs will not become part time.
• The cracks in and partial collapse of heavily used sections of Bexley’s regenerated Broadway has been blamed on poor design and not substandard construction methods. The Woolwich Road junction will be replaced with tarmac.
• Litter patrols will be reduced and abandoned along main ‘distributor roads’. The graffiti removal team will be halved.
• The fairness of charging for residential disabled parking bays was discussed. Cabinet member Don Massey spoke as if disablement was a life choice and like any other choice should not be subsidised by others. “If someone can legitimately apply for something, then why shouldn’t they pay?”
• The probable reduction in visitors to Hall Place following the imposition of parking charges was a matter of concern to councillor Borella. The impact on trade at the restaurant will be discussed with the operating company. (Miller and Carter.) I’ll have to use their new Bromley premises instead if a leisurely meal risks incurring a parking penalty.
• It will cost £10,500 to repair the damage to Danson Park.
• The persecution of motorists, via CCTV, who make U-turns etc. cannot begin for several months beyond April because of licensing issues.
• Planning meetings which were not long ago reduced from 15 to twelve a year are to be reduced to ten a year and it’s going to have no effect on the service offered to the public.

The Places Scrutiny meeting was the last to be attended by Deputy Director Mike Frizoni; he is to retire to hopefully take his yellow paint pot with him.

Mr. Frizoni will not have earned himself many friends among the people of Bexley for his constant assault on motorists, possibly just following orders, and horse riders - illegally closing bridleway 250 - but I have often heard him report on major changes for the town or policy. These were always very clear, well researched and showed a level of intelligence far above that of most councillors. The latter appear to find him hard to follow. Presumably they don’t listen and go on to ask silly, irrelevant or unnecessary questions. He may be a hard act to follow in his public meeting role.

This meeting also covered two days ago (the Tesco fiasco) and on 19th February (bin charges).


22 February - Late weekend round up

Gayton Road Gayton RoadThose waiting with bated breath to see what surprise Crossrail plans for Gayton Road tomorrow are going to have to be patient. Whatever fun and games they have in mind, it has been deferred for a week - or they got their calendar all wrong.

Quite likely the station will come down, the line is to be closed next Sunday.

Wilton RoadCouncillor Alex Sawyer read out the list of ‘parks’ that the council may sell to raise a bit of cash on the 10th February. It has been top secret, no FOIs, no nothing, which gave rise to all sorts of speculation and a protest in Danson Park.

Sawyer‘s list didn't amount to much, a list of addresses few had heard of and I didn’t get around to putting it on Bonkers until the 19th (Thursday) and 24 hours later Bexley council thought they had better follow suit. Why did they wait ten days? Or was it because they would have said nothing if the beans had not been spilled here?

If the other 27 sites are like the one nearest to me it’s really not very interesting. How did sites like that come to be called parks? Maybe if Bexley council was more honest they would get themselves into trouble less often.

Fire Fire FireYarnton Way has been too frequently in the news recently and always for the wrong reasons.

Early Saturday morning a fire destroyed a large warehouse and the police are treating it as arson. I went to take a look this morning, had to go by bike to get through the local flood.

The firemen were still there and flames could still be seen. It was said that photography was not allowed because it was a crime scene. What nonsense.

So here’s a couple of grimy photos taken through the haze into the sun and someone the police would like to trace.

More on the News Shopper's website.

This website
The internal transformation continues. Some pages have been in trouble over the past 24 hours, just cosmetic stuff I think and caused by a software accident! This afternoon there were 20 minutes of total chaos as the whole site was overwritten with the new one. Future disruptions should be relatively minor. Famous last words.


21 February (Part 2) - Tesco drops Broadway plan, and Bexley council right in it

Last week’s Places Scrutiny meeting threw a little light on the size of the mess which Tesco has visited upon Bexley council’s finances and perhaps more importantly the dangers the pull out poses.

MooreMr. Moore (Director of Regeneration) was asked to answer the hot potato question from councillor John Waters (Conservative, Danson Park) and said he’d met the Tesco team and “they are clearly looking to work up an alternative scheme“.

Waters evidently didn’t want to probe too deeply but councillor Seán Newman (Labour, Belvedere) had no such inhibitions. “Did officers ever did get around to signing an overage clause with Tesco” (to protect the council’s future interests). Mr. Moore, perhaps aware of his vulnerability, reminded the committee that the proposals had been presented to and approved by full council and there was no overage clause.

Overage is paid when future circumstances change such that the buyer is able to make more money from the land purchase and its development than either side was able to foresee.

O'NeillBexley council in its wisdom did not trouble itself with such a condition and Tesco are now, and always have been, free to maximise their income from the site. Subject to planning approval, they can put what they like there.

Quickly realising the disastrous nature of Mr. Moore’s answer, the chairman moved quickly on to Ocado’s plan for a warehouse in Erith, but a protection clause sounded vaguely familiar to me and past blogs and recordings have been diligently searched. Look what turned up?

Less than a year ago, former councillor Munir Malik, with nothing to lose having been deselected in Thamesmead East, in response to something idiotic from councillor John Davey, let rip with one of his much missed assaults on Tory incompetence.

“You have decimated local government. We did more in our period in government than you have in these last eight years. You have got rid of the assets at rock bottom prices. Tesco’s Civic Centre site is not even protected; if they were to build a block of flats or a hotel Bexley residents would get nothing out of it. You did not even include an overage clause.”

Once again Bexley council has potentially lost a lot of money. It’s hard to believe that council officers entered the Tesco contract unaware of the need for an overage clause so the question must be who recommended they do it and why? It couldn’t possibly be just for a few extra Club Points.


21 February (Part 1) - Working his passage

ChartersRemember Mark Charters? He was the director of various things in Bexley. Social and Community Services when old ladies and children died and Education when Bexley had fewer outstanding schools than anywhere else in London. He took a £170,000 salary while paying care worker agencies less than any other London borough and last year did a runner to the Isle of Man where he now runs their government’s Department of Health and Social Care.

His departure led to me receiving messages from relieved Bexley staff; “glad to see him go” etc. and I have occasionally searched IOM forums to see if I could pick up similar comments. I did, but one of their newspaper’ websites caught my eye last week. It said that Mark Charters was going on a fact finding tour to establish best practices. So can we expect to see him in Bexley soon? After all, he was here for seven years on a fat salary; did he not achieve something worthwhile here?

Apparently not. Mark Charters is off to New Zealand to see how things are done there.

A little bit of research shows that in recent years New Zealand’s Health Service has not risen above 40th position in the World Health Organisation rankings while the UK manages to be consistently in the teens. So why would Charters choose to go to New Zealand?

Maybe this comment on the IOM Government website offers a clue.
Yes, he has arranged a free trip home.

Now we know what Mark Charters’ principal success was during his seven years in Bexley. He learned our council’s catalogue of self-serving dirty tricks supremely well.


20 February (Part 4) - Station demolition ramps up - or maybe down

In an effort to catch up with a backlog of material, here is the approximately weekly pictorial Crossrail update a day earlier than originally intended.

I got off a late running train at Abbey Wood at 14:20 last Wednesday and there was nothing unusual going on. A few extra barriers in Gayton Road and a couple of the more senior guys in orange suits lurking at the end of Wilton Road. Go there often enough and you begin to get some idea of who they are.

An hour later a neighbour was at the station and the demolition of the southern ramps was in full swing. The first two of the photos below are his.
Crossrail Crossrail Crossrail Crossrail
Crossrail Crossrail Crossrail Crossrail
Crossrail CrossrailBy the end of Thursday the job was done and all there is to show for it is a mangled heap of iron and concrete.

In the old car park area more digging was going on and a man was preparing a huge circular saw blade perhaps to saw off some nearby concrete platform supports.

The other end of the old car park was relatively clear and in the far distance piling was continuing.

North of the tracks in Network Rail’s works compound another big hole had been dug and filled with concrete.

More Crossrail related blogs.


20 February (Part 3) - Mud and blood

Not being as familiar as perhaps I should be with the names of roads that back on to Hill View, I didn’t immediately make the connection between Sergeant Young’s comment on Twitter and the floods in Marina Drive.

TweetBut then I remembered seeing Peters Close while finding my way to Marina Drive last week. My A-Z confirmed that I would have passed it just before turning into Marina Drive and it too backs on to the Hill View swamp.

So now the people living in that area have to contend with security issues as well as the dirt and structural damage.

Only last week I heard Chief Superintendent Peter Ayling say that the council’s decision to leave parks unlocked at night was cause for concern. Now the police have another one.

It’s to be hoped that Sergeant Young’s evidence will prove good enough to secure a prosecution. If there is any repeat it’s probable there will be plenty more muddy footprints.


20 February (Part 2) - Another opportunity for swimming in Bexley

After cancelling last Monday’s afternoon information session at Lesnes Abbey, Bexley council rescheduled the Friday repeat to this morning, which meant I couldn’t be there. I sent a substitute - well he was going anyway.

He didn’t learn much that was new. The next stage of the development is building the new visitor centre and restyling the Monks’ Garden.

Contracts for the remaining jobs, paths etc. have not yet been let. The impression was given that the new paths across the park will be glorified gravel tracks to avoid disturbing the sub-soil which may contain artefacts. I hope they are better than the temporary paths which are too soft for wheelchair access.

I was a little disappointed with the map being given out which shows where the new paths will go. It includes a large feature close to my house which was removed more than 20 years ago. I asked Thamesmead Town Ltd. - remember them? - if they could do something to deter the drug takers who congregated there most nights. They took drastic action and there has been no problem since.

Hill ViewPeabody Housing was represented at Bexley’s information session and said their renovations to the Green Chain Walk to the river will be in three stages. The first is from Yarnton Way northwards to Southmere Lake. The second is alongside the lake to Belvedere Road and one must assume, though it was left unstated, the third will be from Yarnton Way southwards to Lesnes Abbey.

Peabody is saying that the section north of Yarnton Way is currently blocked. I have news for them. So is the section leading to Lesnes Abbey park. I was returning from a long circular walk today (Crossrail reconnaissance) and found my way blocked by water which looked to be three inches deep, possibly a little more. I do remember what the refractive index of water is so I wasn’t going to risk my three day old shoes. I was within 100 yards of home and faced a long walk back.

Residents north of the railway line are not going to be happy when running for the 229 bus in Abbey Road.


20 February (Part 1) - Hell View

A year ago Bexley council was desperate to find the cash to fund the new Civic Offices. Most of the Howbury Centre had been sold, Tesco had agreed to buy the Broadway site for about £25 million and the only major site yet to go was Hill View. There had been local opposition and councillors Steven Hall and James Hunt claimed to be on the side of the residents, although many of them doubted it.

James Hunt represented the residents at the planning meeting and referred to Hill View’s problems with standing water and drainage. Nearby houses, he said, had “mushroom and fungus growing up the walls. If we lived there we wouldn’t want it”. He also objected to the plan which allowed flats to be built almost to the boundary of Marina Drive residents. The problems with the site and the plan were “a serious issue”.

The principal objector, Mr. David Burke was able to speak for two minutes and 30 seconds before being told to shut up by chairman councillor Reader. The developer, Bellway Homes, was allowed to speak in favour of the scheme for five and a half minutes.

During the meeting councillor Colin Tandy expressed concern about the poor drainage in the area as did former councillor Mike Slaughter.

After much faffing about with tape measures the planning officers confirmed that the scheme broke all the council’s own rules on proximities and overlooking windows. Boundaries were up to six metres closer than allowed. Former councillor Simon Windle didn’t like that at all.

Nevertheless councillor Val Clark said “this is a very good scheme” and former councillor Kerry Allon spoke in favour too. When it came to the vote, approval was unanimous. How could it be otherwise when their new HQ was at stake and leader Teresa O’Neill would have made it very clear what she wanted to see?

Following the perverse decision a resident sought a Judicial Review but that was abandoned after reaching court when Bexley council’s legal team said that if they lost, the council would merely approve a very slightly changed plan and make the resident jump through the same expensive legal hoop again - ad infinitum until he gave up.

Since then the old council offices have been knocked down and last Friday, after a week almost without rain, the site looked like this…
Hill View
The heap is of crushed concrete and said by the workers there to contain asbestos. The flooding of local houses over the years and vibration from the current work has, according to insurance assessors, caused damage of around £250,000 to one house alone.
Hill View Hill View Hill View Hill View

Note how in Photo 2 above the lake is being covered by a higher level plateau of earth which is displacing the water into nearby houses and gardens which are all at lower level than even the existing site

The local residents have been keen to organise a Neighbourhood Forum using the provisions of the Localism Act which requires the approval of Bexley council because it would force them to consult residents about developments in the area.
Naturally Bexley council is against that and has been sticking obstacles in the way by way of letters written on paper proclaiming ’Listening to you’ at its foot. How long will they be keeping up that pretence? They don’t even take any notice of their high profile consultations.

Hill View Hill ViewWhilst I was taking photographs it suddenly began to rain, wrecking my plans to take pictures of the dust which covered everything, instead I had to make do with pictures of the skid pan which immediately developed. Goodness knows how bad it became while I was driving home because the rain set in with a vengeance.

James Hunt was right when he said the area had serious drainage issues. Unfortunately he was not on the planning committee and powerless to do anything about it.

All the sheep who followed orders despite their reservations about the rule busting plans should be ashamed of themselves, but in Bexley every single Tory councillor who has voted against Teresa O’Neill is no longer a councillor.

Democracy. Listening to You, Working for You. In Bexley it is nothing but a bad joke. The council didn’t call their pet project Bexley First for nothing. Residents always come last when Teresa wants something badly enough.


19 February (Part 4) - Future council meetings

Not a week goes by without someone contacting me to ask when the next council meeting is - occasionally from someone who really ought to know. I was asked earlier this year to provide a quick look up system.

The code changes under Bonkers’ bonnet are far from complete and there are pages which are not yet in their final format and a few that do not work properly at all. However one of the things being rolled out is the requested feature.

You may have noticed the Bexley council logo to the right of the menu bar - not in Day Only mode. On most pages it may now be clicked to display a selection of forthcoming council meetings. The logo does not appear in One Day Only blog mode because that is intended to provide a minimum download, and loading the forthcoming meetings facility goes against that particular grain.

I am aware that the menu bar icons may be too small for Mobile viewing mode and there is a plan to do something about that, but it is well down the must do list.

The council’s official meetings list is and always has been available from the main menu. Links>Council>Calendar of Meetings.

Incidentally, Day Only mode is now available for 2009 and 2010. Not as useful as 2014 but working forwards from 2009 reduces the amount of work involved. Go to previous ‘regular’ blog.


19 February (Part 3) - The People Scrutiny meeting - the final minutes

James Hunt’s Places Scrutiny meeting broke the three hour barrier with ease last week and only today have I found the time to listen to the last hour again. It revealed a few things of interest.

Councillor Brenda Langstead said that the privately run library in Slade Green didn’t always open because the staff could not gain access when no one from Eco Communities showed up. Why? She also asked how many volunteers they have. Answers came there none.

Questions were asked by the boss of Bexley Community Safety Partnership, Joyce Sutherland, about Blackfen Library. Would it close? Cabinet member Alex Sawyer was still looking for community management, but would it close? He “simply didn’t know” but if no volunteers or organisation came forward, it would.

Councillor Ogundayo complained that only two days notice had been given for the Thamesmead community meeting scheduled for the following day. Councillor Sawyer agreed it was not good enough.

Councillor Sharon Massey said a rumour was going around that Danson Park was to be sold for housing and accused UKIP councillor Lynn Smith of “actually fuelling this rumour”. Sharon Massey was just fermenting political clap-trap. It was “not very wise for a councillor not to recognise their social responsibility”. She asked cabinet member Sawyer if he planned to sell Danson Park - as if she didn’t know the answer. Councillor Sawyer confirmed that there were no such plans. Outside the comment columns of the News Shopper, no one had dreamed otherwise, but making political capital amuses small minds.

Sawyer said that among the ‘parks’ that might be sold were Berwick Close, open space on Bexley Road, Millfield open space, Wilde Road East and Wilde Road West, space in Old Farm Avenue and Old Manor Way.

You may hear the complete list below.

Councillor Sawyer emphasised that no decisions had been taken and that he would report back when there was something to say. Am I being gullible but Alex Sawyer keeps coming across as a man who tries to tell it as it is?

If things are as uncontroversial as he says why has Bexley council gone out of its way to suppress information?

Councillor Joe Ferreira asked questions about the proposal to impose a five year residency requirement for social housing instead of two. No decision had been taken yet, but it will only be a matter of time.

Cabinet member Philip Read managed to contrive another excuse for taking a swipe at councillor Mabel Ogundayo. He went on to reel off a list of London boroughs which had difficulty recruiting social workers in a bid to head of criticism of Bexley. He then resumed his favourite theme, he took another swipe at Mabel and accused her of making party political points before any Labour councillor had spoken.

Councillor Sharon Massey said she knew why it was hard to recruit social workers. “It’s because of the blame culture.” She makes a good point but on the other hand there is an awful lot to blame them for. I am inclined to think the job title doesn’t help either. Social and worker both sound so horribly dated.

While councillor Sharon was in ‘tell it like it is’ mode she said that the problem with obesity was that we don’t use the word fat. She probably made another good point.


19 February (Part 2) - Bin taxes. Bin fines

NewmanCouncillor Seán Newman got into trouble with the Conservatives last night by referring to Bexley’s new bin tax. Some Tories jeered every time he said it. It’s hard to say who was responsible when the view is dominated by backs of heads but I would guess that councillors John Davey and Geraldene Lucia-Hennis were not entirely innocent.

The Tories said that bin charges were not a tax because no one has to pay. Seán was being provocative of course and the bin charges are not a tax just like the TV Licence is not a tax because you don’t have to install a TV, stamp duties are not taxes because you don’t have to buy shares or houses, fuel duty is not a tax because you don’t have to drive car and by the same logic VAT on gas and electricity is not a tax because you are free to freeze to death if that is your choice.

Bin charges are a stealth tax in all but name. They are being imposed to raise money.

However given that the previous Labour government, the present coalition, Bexley council or the tooth fairy have messed up local finances to an extent never seen before, cuts and increased charges and new taxes are probably inevitable and on the matter of refuse collections Bexley’s proposed scheme is as good as any and better than most.

The Listening Council has ignored the recently concluded consultation which was expected. Bexley has never done anything else. 77% of respondents were against the charges. The final decision will be taken at Public Cabinet next Monday.

The essential information is that by 5th October all the 140 litre brown bins will have gone and replaced by 240 litre bins for those who have paid £33 for 25 collections a year. The new service will commence on that date with collection days revised.

The £33 tax charge will be discounted to £27 if you pay by 31st August. (£30 before 31st December 2015.) I suspect that is for the first year only but no councillor thought to scrutinise that point.

New bin lorries (the old ones were scheduled for replacement this year) will be equipped with technology to show the crew where to go and it was said, save them going to addresses where there is no garden waste bin. However it may not help so much in winter. Outside the growing season I tend not to use my existing brown bin. All food waste gets composted. In which bin should I put the dead potato plants which may still have a few unwanted potatoes attached? Food waste or garden waste?

StupidA separate free 20 litre bin will be provided for food waste collected weekly. Those who can’t tell food from garden waste and contaminate bins will be fined but to be fair you would have to be stupid or intent on sabotage to get a fixed penalty notice or be hauled before the courts.

The old bins will be recycled and are expected to raise about £1 each, just enough to cover the collection and maybe distribution costs.

The price of £33 a year is lower than most boroughs but will obviously do nothing to reduce the level of fly tipping. The responsible cabinet member (Don Massey) and director (Mike Frizoni) said this had not happened elsewhere. It transpired that they were comparing Bexley’s proposal with Guildford (£30 a year) and Woking (£35 a year).

In former days Guildford was my nearest large shopping centre and I had friends in Woking and went through it every day on the train. Bexley has nothing in common with either. Both Surrey towns are firmly in stock broker country with large gardens and large bank balances. They achieved an in excess of 40% bin take up rate.

Nearby Bromley has managed only 15% albeit with a more expensive service but Bexley will be lucky to achieve their expected 40% adoption rate. The financial break even point is about 23%.

The new service is enhanced compared to the old one, though it all comes at a cost. Affluent keen gardeners may have up to five 240 litre bins, the extras being charged at £30 a piece and the less well heeled may take their waste to the recycling centres, if they own a car and can find a day on which a centre is open.

While Labour councillors Borella, Ezenwata, Newman and Begho all asked questions or made comments the Conservatives did not appear to be seriously interested in scrutiny.

Councillor Louie French asked four questions all of which would have been unnecessary if he had bothered to read the agenda, as I had during the more boring periods earlier in the meeting. He was concerned about bin swapping but only paid up residents will have a bin so it’s hard to think what councillor French had in mind. Mr. Frizoni was too polite to do anything but answer the questions.

There was at one stage some rather poor arithmetic bandied around by the Labour contingent. They assumed that a 40% take up on garden waste bins would result in 60% of waste (around 8,000 tonnes a year) left uncollected to be burned or be dumped in alleys. Clearly this is false logic; the take up will be by those who produce the most waste. Anything else would be nonsense. So a 40% take up rate should ensure far more than 40% of waste is collected. How much is unknown but if the take up rate was as poor as in Bromley there might well be a problem, but Bexley people have been good at recycling in the past so lots of fingers are being crossed.

Cabinet member Don Massey, not known for diplomacy, said that Labour members were talking “nonsense”. The episode prompted the millionaire from Sevenoaks to take to Twitter. Later on councillor Don Massey made condescending remarks about Endy Ezenwata being a very new councillor and therefore had no knowledge of the past.

TweetCouncillor John Davey wasn’t interested in scrutiny but like Ms. Firth was keen to make a political point. He said that Labour would be happy to raise council tax by up to 30% to maintain services as they were. Someone tell him about the 2% referendum limit please. One day I will hear something sensible pass John Davey’s lips.

Councillor June Slaughter spoke in favour of the scheme given the financial situation - much the same position as my own - while councillor Val Clark confined herself to making sarcastic comments about the opposition party.

Mr. Frizoni was confident that the new arrangements will provide a better service and one must hope he is right. Those without a spare thirty three quid may think otherwise.

Bexley will claim that their new money making scheme is something wonderful and environmentally friendly while glossing over the fact that it has once again degraded the quality of life in the borough. Everything they do does. That tooth fairy has a lot to answer for.

I suspect I will not be alone with my dilemma. My green general rubbish bin accumulates at most four supermarket carrier bags in a normal fortnight. I have to hook them to the top of the bin because bin men won’t reach to the bottom to take them. There must be at least 200 litres of air in the bin at the end of two weeks which would be more than enough to take all my garden waste hidden in a black sack. What should I do?

I think I will pay my £27 for the first year and regard it as ‘professional interest’ to see at first hand how good, bad or indifferent the new service is.


19 February (Part 1) - Places preliminaries

Will Tuckley wrote to me as part of his ill-judged defence of the lying councillor Cheryl Bacon to say that I should sit well away from other members of the public when attending meetings if I did not want to be associated with them. Actually I had, but as I said, councillor Bacon lied to him so he wasn’t to know and Tuckley refused to listen to more independent witnesses. Fortunately the police have done that job for him.

After making such a suggestion you would think Tuckley might make it possible for me to sit apart, but the new council chamber is an abomination and doesn’t allow it.

It is a legal requirement that the council provides anyone intending to report on their meetings with the means to do so.

At last night’s Places Scrutiny meeting two tables were provided as part of the public seating. One was occupied by a Conservative Party supporter and I grabbed the other only to be instantly surrounded by other members of the public. Inevitably they whisper to each other, constantly flick through their agenda pages, tinker with laptops, cough, clear their throats and tap their feet on the floor.

Audibility in the chamber is variable to say the least and it requires constant concentration to follow what is being said. Councillors John Waters and Don Massey were no more than seven feet from me and were very difficult to follow. Council officer Jane Richardson was more like 50 feet away and she was as clear as a bell. Chairman Melvin Seymour at the same distance was very nearly as good. It obviously doesn’t help that this dreadful new council chamber allows mainly only a back view of heads.

MasseyIt doesn’t take a genius to work out why Don Massey is indistinct; as the photo below shows, he simply doesn’t bother to use his microphone. That’s his by his left shoulder in the photograph. He was speaking when that picture was taken and councillor Linda Bailey who was sitting to Massey’s left and using the same microphone was much easier to hear.

The meeting itself was long. Chairman councillor Melvin Seymour is not a hard task master and runs a decent enough meeting. He started by saying he had no intention of beating James Hunt’s Marathon 219 minutes but by my watch he over ran that record by a minute. Councillor Alex Sawyer thought it was a minute or two less. Either way it is no credit on leader Teresa O’Neill that her decision to restrict the opportunity for scrutinising cabinet decisions is causing the final agenda items to be rushed through by councillors who may be close to falling asleep and indisputably keen to get home.

In addition to the usual small handful of council meeting attendees and the unknown Tory party supporter was would-be Erith & Thamesmead MP Anna Firth. I would have welcomed her to Thamesmead but she was closely chaperoned throughout by the disreputable Philip Read. I hope she isn’t learning too many bad habits but I fear she has.


18 February (Part 2) - Audit short changed

Attending Audit Committee meetings is no real bother, none of its members are from the Philip Read school of politics and chairman councillor Joe Pollard is not given much to do and by eight o’clock the public is slung out - well politely asked to leave with Joe in charge - because it wouldn’t do for the public to know too much about the financial pickle that Bexley council is in. Given the backlog of reporting that exists at the moment that is no bad thing.

ObjectionUnusually, indeed for the first time ever, the meeting was held in the council chamber rather than one of the adjacent cupboards and committee officer Sandra Baxter had, as usual, made a good job of arranging the room to best suit the attending public. Both of them.

Neither of us learned a great deal from the meeting. The auditors, Grant Thornton represented by Geoffrey Banister, said that Bexley had been successful in obtaining ‘Best Value’, the supposedly cost neutral new Civic Offices being held up as a prime example. The man from Grant Thornton said that Bexley had made savings of £40 million from its budget which is broadly in line with the former Finance Director’s target. It is in stark contrast to the £61m or even £65m that leader Teresa O’Neill is fond of quoting. Mr. Bannister said however, that the “low hanging fruit has already disappeared” implying more pain to come.

Councillor Cafer Munir (Conservative) asked how much the objection to the accounts might cost the borough.

The auditor did not know but said a specialist team had been set up as essentially the same objections had been made in six or seven boroughs across London. Bexley council is assisting with that investigation and the costs are likely to be divided across all the boroughs involved.

Readers will be well versed in the dire straits of children’s services in Bexley in recent years, but what you probably won’t know is that Bexley council lost track of any money the children in care had saved. Councillor Steven Hall was “dismayed” to learn that the cash owed has still not been repaid, some of it outstanding for several years.

The problem was said to have been caused by the high level of turnover of staff in children’s services and unfamiliarity with procedures.


18 February (Part 1) - Green Chain’s broken link

There is a footpath which runs, give or take a few road based sections, all the way from Crystal Palace to the Thames at Crossness. There are other destinations too, for example, to the Thames Barrier. If you fancy a trip to the riverside in the near future perhaps the latter should be your preferred route because Green Chain access to Crossness is blocked until May.
Peabody Housing Association is spending pots of money on Thamesmead again.

The path north of Yarnton Way as far as Southmere Lake is closed from 16th February until 29th May. I must say it was in a rather sorry state when I passed by a couple of weeks ago and Peabody’s plans go well beyond just laying down a new strip of tarmac.

If the scheme runs to schedule it may well yet beat the Northumberland Heath regeneration now in its final scheduled week, to a conclusion.


17 February (Part 2) - Housing and the homeless

The People Scrutiny meeting session on housing produced a couple of answers which may be informative.

Is refusing to go to Manchester interpreted as making oneself intentionally homeless (rendering oneself beyond council help) asked Labour councillor Brenda Langstead.

The long answer by the Deputy Director and TV star David Bryce-Smith might be summarised as ‘it all depends but quite likely they would be’. There are currently five Bexley families housed in Manchester and another five declined the kind offer. It was confirmed that Manchester City Council is advised of their presence.

Whilst several London councils find themselves in a similar decision to Bexley and inner London councils have been sending their homeless to Bexley, where accommodation is considered to be reasonably priced.


17 February (Part 1) - Your very good health

The People Scrutiny meeting provides an opportunity for questions about health in the borough. It produced a few answers as follows…

• The Homeleigh Care Home in Erith has been closed, the building being no longer ”fit for purpose”. No decision has been made for its future.
• Hospital bed blocking by Bexley is “negligible”.
• Expenditure on home care has gone up by about £1·5 million a year and the support saves about 250 people a month from hospital admission. Bexley is 11th lowest in the country for non-elective admissions.
• Deputy Director of Adult Social Care, Tom Brown said he is working hard to build up care capacity - so Sharon and Don Massey should do alright out of it.
• It was not known when the Director post might be filled. Apparently councilor Sharon Massey had asked for that information lots of times (you may wonder why such close interest) but had failed to get an answer. She was no luckier this time around.


16 February (Part 2) - Once an idiot always an idiot

Take six seconds if you can to listen to the wise words of councillor Alex Sawyer. He was speaking at last week’s People Scrutiny meeting and said that that was not the place for councillors to “tear chunks out of each other”. A moment later, chairman James Hunt confirmed that ‘tearing chunks’ was something to be done under the mayor’s chairmanship at full council meetings.

Having established what is reasonable behaviour at scrutiny meetings the committee moved on to discussing children’s services which is the domain of the far from reasonable cabinet member, Philip Read.

There can be little doubt that Bexley went right off the children’s services rails under the stewardship of former councillor Katie Perrior and after a lot of effort and taxpayers’ cash was thrown at the problem, things are getting better although Bexley still trails most London boroughs on most child related things. Philip Read is keen that the improvement message should get around and I am happy to oblige, but woe betide anyone who isn't wholly enthusiastic about the progress made over the past year.

At the last council meeting (more than three months ago!) the Labour opposition put forward a Motion that was critical of children’s services. It came from the youthful and female councillor Ogundayo, both attributes which traditionally get under Philip Read’s collar. The Motion caused panic among the Tory ranks and the public were thrown out of the chamber while the Conservatives flung insults with the microphones switched off, away from the cameras’ prying eyes.

IdiotMs. Ogundayo has not been forgiven for having the temerity to criticise Bexley’s self appointed elder statesman. At the People meeting he let rip without a word from chairman Hunt who a quarter of an hour earlier had said that ‘tearing chunks’ was not appropriate at a scrutiny meeting. Either James Hunt is a poor chairman or he has a vested interest in demonstrating how big an idiot Read can prove himself to be.

However it was councillor Peter Craske who set things up for Read by asking a question relating to the Motion. He pulled the same stunt for councilor Sawyer at the last People Scrutiny meeting. Read had his speech prepared and gratefully grasped the line that Craske had thrown to him.

The clown said that the Motion contradicted OFSTED’s comments and that councillor Mabel Ogundayo wrote an unsigned letter to advise him that she had heard of a child who had been trafficked to Ireland, something that was later found to be incorrect. Apparently she was guilty of writing the letter using too many capital letters. In reporting the supposed case directly to Read and not to Children’s Services she had breached her duty of care towards the child. Another capital offence obviously.

Councillor Ogundayo, said Read, had either lost her evidential letter or shredded it and did not communicate with him again. He was critical of the fact that when given the opportunity to respond to his previous attack on councillor Ogundayo, she refused to do so. Ogundayo was guilty of wasting Read’s time and that of council staff and “members will make their own judgment of councillor Ogundayo’s conduct”. All councillors, he said, are of the opinion that “she did not write the original Motion and it was the work of Labour’s master strategists”, to mutters of “outrageous” from the opposition side.

Read’s final comment was that councillor Ogundayo had failed to substantiate the Motion put forward in her name. Can anyone tell me why that question is being asked three and a half months after the Motion was put to council? Wasn’t it fully discussed then or were the Conservatives not paying attention while too busy throwing mud?

Conscious of the fact that she had been criticised for not responding last time councillor Ogundayo opted to do so last Tuesday. She reiterated that the OFSTED and London Councils’ reports on Bexley both said Bexley was not good and; living dangerously, councillor Ogundayo referred to Read’s readiness to make “personal attacks on councillors to score cheap political points” in the face of “continuing failures” and instead Read should “devote his remaining energy to protecting children” in the borough.

The hooligans jeered.

Councillor Read complained that councillor Ogundayo was reading from something written in advance apparently forgetting that councillor Craske had only a few minutes before provided him with the pre-arranged hook which enabled him to spout from his own pre-prepared speech. Does he think we are all as stupid as he is?

Councillor Read complained that councillor Ogundayo was making “cheap political points”. Her Motion was “a disaster, it was inept, it was ill founded, ill conceived and long out of date”. Councilor Ogundayo reminded Read that the most recent London council’s report still reflected very badly on Bexley. Read said London Councils were out of date.

At this point, and exactly nine minutes too late, chairman James Hunt woke up and put a stop to further discussion.

Next time councillor Ogundayo is given information about a Bexley child at risk she should consider shrugging her shoulders and walking away. Why risk ridicule from Read when forgetfulness is the safe option? Perhaps that is how Bexley came to sink to its parlous state?

In my nigh on five years observing council meetings it has only ever been Conservatives who shout, jeer and indulge in personal insults. That's a fact.


16 February (Part 1) - Lesnes Abbey. Rain stopped play

BexleyBexley council has been advertising that it would be running an information session at Lesnes Abbey this afternoon. It’s two minutes walk from home, well maybe three as my speed on hills declines and when I arrived just before 1:30 the cancellation notices were being prepared for display.

The weather forecast had promised rain. The BBC was saying for London, “rain will spread slowly from the west from late morning, reaching the east coast of Kent by late afternoon, and beginning to clear from the west by evening.” As usual they were wrong, it’s now 14:50 and there is no ‘precipitation within sight’.

But nevertheless it not unreasonably persuaded Bexley’s staff to call the whole thing off.

LesnesNot quite the whole thing, they are coming back on Friday equipped with a marquee and contrary to what Bexley’s website is currently showing, it will be erected in the children’s playground 150 yards to the east.

The BBC is currently forecasting a dry and occasionally sunny day. Probably that will be wrong as well.

The picture is of Bexley’s helpful young lady, Jeanette, and a fellow regular Lesnes walker who would probably prefer to remain anonymous.

Note: It began to rain at three o’clock.


15 February - This Website

Changes to Bonkers have continued during the past week and may have reached a plateau, for the moment at least.

The presentation of 2015’s blog pages has been changed. The Menu (and some other places) will now search for the most recent blog instead of me having to update the link and sometimes forgetting to do so. You may see an ‘hourglass'.

The Index to blogs no longer exists as such, it is compiled on the fly from the blog titles posted. This is a huge improvement because I will no longer have to decide in advance whether there will be one, two or more blogs in a single day as subsequently suffixing a blog with (Part 1) will no longer outdate the Index and, much worse, outdate the RSS feed already posted.

For the user’s benefit the new Blog Index allows access to blogs on an individual basis, or if the Month header is clicked will assemble all the month’s blogs into a single page. This was unnecessary under the old system as the only option was a full month presentation.

All links back to earlier blogs (currently limited to 2015) will present that blog as a single item whether the link back is from another single page blog or from a composite month blog.

The red Info button that appears on banners has been disabled on Blog pages because of bandwidth considerations which has lost the ‘Declutter facility’ which was within the Info panel. This is now replaced by the broom icons to the right of the Menu. The red Info icon will be removed from Blog pages in due course but as the facility is common to all pages - not just blogs - it is a bigger job than it might look.

With the older system the banner image would often be topical to the blog subject matter. That facility is retained but when not in use Banners appear on full month pages only in a random fashion. Use the browser Refresh to test.

The changes have been introduced thanks to the considerable help of a friend whose web skills are different to my own. To accommodate them significant changes have been made to the underlying code especially in the Banner and Menu areas. Potentially that could corrupt those areas and any page title immediately below the Menu. It would be appreciated if those readers who have been quick to bring mistakes to my attention in the past would keep a watchful eye on these areas in particular.

The new presentation also applies to 2009 Blogs and will be extended to other years gradually, and probably slowly.

The revisions to image presentation, particularly in Mobile mode, is a different issue entirely, and is not yet complete. It affects older pages almost at random.

The server breakdown during the week demonstrated that it is not too difficult to keep Bonkers alive using so long as my own internet connection is not down too.


15 February (Part 3) - Something afoot in Gayton Road. Network Rail gets ready to demolish Abbey Wood station

CrossrailCrossrail’s signage is plentiful but not always very informative. For the past week there have been three new signs sited close to Abbey Wood station apologising for some unexplained inconvenience. However there are clues…

The south side footbridge ramps have been given extra protection, the second Site-Eye camera is trained on the station, and the next Sunday line closure is 1st March. One might guess that the station building is not for this world much longer.

I should perhaps have a nostalgic attachment to it but don’t. According to one local website it was officially opened on the day I moved to Bexley borough in May 1987. I was attracted by the second lowest level of local taxation in London. Ha!

At the far end of Fendyke Road (the end of the electrified line) there are more developments. As almost the nearest resident I asked Crossrail what they were doing there but they did not reply.

It looks to be a major installation, the smaller cabin appears to be a toilet block with both Ladies and Gents entrances.
Crossrail Crossrail Crossrail Crossrail
Crossrail has issued a new informative leaflet providing a wealth of information including dates.

More Crossrail related blogs.


15 February (Part 2) - Alone and lost in Thamesmead

ReadThe rumours have been circulating for a couple of months, but apparently they are true. The committee of the Erith & Thamesmead Conservative group (councillors, Sawyer, Read and Reader), think they have served there long enough and new blood is required. They will vacate their posts at the February AGM.

Who will stop their new Parliamentary candidate getting lost in the nether regions of her chosen constituency now?


15 February (Part 1) - An update on Belvedere’s Splash Park

At the request of councillor Joe Ferreira, (Labour, Erith) Bexley’s Director of Leisure, Arts and Tourism, Toni Ainge, reported to last week’s People Scrutiny meeting on what the council has been doing at the Splash Park, quite a lot it would seem.

Complete replacement would cost at least £350,000; modifications would be cheaper but new options had been examined beyond the proposed closure.

On 6th November 2014 engineers were consulted and asked to comment on…

• Converting the system from filtration to fresh water supply (like the Danson Park facility).
• Upgrading the filtration units to modern standards.
• Improving the existing surface water drainage system which has caused contamination.

The drains were inspected by CCTV and defects were confirmed and last week another survey was to be conducted by council staff and their consultants and other specialists and answers to the three principal questions will be presented to council in March.

Funding has been pledged by a local business and the council can seek assistance from external sources such as the London Marathon Trust - an agency identified as being potentially helpful by Belvedere councillor Daniel Francis. Dependent on the consultants’ report tenders may be obtained to assess the costs involved.

Cabinet member Alex Sawyer said that obviously the Splash Park could not be operational in 2015, which would save the £20,000 operating costs, but there would “absolutely not” be any move towards dismantling it and confirmed that he “would be stupid” not to consider any revenue neutral option.


14 February (Part 2) - Killing the Golden Geese

TweetCar parking charges will be going up across the board in Bexley, the excuse is that there has been no increase since councillor Craske made up a load of figures back in 2011, among them that every single Resident’s Parking Permit was costing around £240 to issue.

So the trick is to hold back prices while inflation increases by not even 10%, wait until the election is over and the gravy train put firmly back on the track, and recover any money lost - and more - with a 50% increase.

Bexley Heritage Trust (BHT) is set to lose its £570,000 grant to operate Hall Place and Danson House and will have to fund itself in other ways. On 28th January BHT was advertising Hall Place as a fabulous wedding venue. Ironically it was retweeted by Bexley Conservatives apparently unaware of the damage they are inflicting on the borough

Presumably the BHT had not heard about the Cabinet meeting two days later in which the plan to hit BHT again was announced. (See table below.)

The free parking at Hall Place is to end and its 100,000 visitors a year (including tea room - council figures) will be asked to subsidise Bexley council’s past profligacy.

The columns of figures shown below are units of £1,000 for the next four years.

Meanwhile residents are waking up to what was reported here on 21st January (30 more roads to get yellow lines). This has caused an outcry in the News Shopper which reports that businesses in Haddon Drive are likely to close and jobs to be lost because of council greed.

And as expected the 50% hike to the price of car park season tickets has not gone down too well either.


14 February (Part 1) - Medics report to People Scrutiny

BlowThe main speaker was Sarah Blow, the Chief Officer of the Bexley Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) and rather than make a formal report she immediately took questions from councillors.

The first from councillor Ross Downing revealed that Erith’s Urgent Care Centre which opened last October was now seeing over 100 patients every day, a third of them children.

Councillor Chris Beazley (UKIP) asked about the after-hours doctor service. His recent experience using 111 had not been entirely satisfactory. Ms. Blow said the correct procedure was to call 111 and recommended the Erith Centre as an alternative. The Urgent Care Service and out of hours doctors’ service were merged and there was no longer a need to go out of borough.

“What happens after ten at night?” asked councillor Beazley. Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Woolwich, provides 24 hour out of borough service was the answer.

Councillor Ross Downing came back with a question about Obesity Services which was answered by Bexley’s Director of Public Health, Nada Lemic, and was entirely inaudible to those forced to sit behind her because of poor microphone technique.

Councillor Brenda Langstead said she had come across more than one case where residents were not allowed to register with a General Practitioner because a Driving Licence or Passport was demanded as ID, and some people had neither. Ms. Blow implied that was wrong because she took the problem away for investigation.

Councillor Alan Downing who was something like five times the distance from me of Nada Lemic asked with perfect clarity for more information to be made available about the Urgent Care Centre. Ms. Blow said they had done an awful lot already but would be happy to adopt any ideas councillor Downing might have. Except for my attendance at council meetings I don’t think I would have known about the Erith facility.

There were several more questions from the Labour members but a combination of backs to the public, poorly placed microphones and frequent whispering from the public gallery made them all but inaudible and I am not going to guess on matters some readers may take to be public health advice.


13 February (Part 2) - Police report to People Scrutiny

AylingChief Superintendent Peter Ayling spoke at what was to be his last People Scrutiny meeting appearance last Tuesday and did not once mention his bête noir, the Romanian crime gangs. He had “taken them out”.

Various initiatives had resulted in burglaries being way down. Six months ago they were up by 15%, now they are down 20% referenced to the same date, a 35% improvement, the actual numbers being 1,800 then and 1,443 now. One of the best performances of similar police areas in the country.

All forms of theft were also significantly down except for theft of motorcycles which are “a challenge”. It is too dangerous to chase them. The handling networks are being targetted (and thanks to that announcement they are probably taking evasive measures right now).

Motor bike trained police officers are very expensive but training has been ongoing nevertheless and offenders will be pursued with public nuisance offences in addition to the legislation used hitherto.

Violent offences are up 29·3% (297 more offences but smaller increase than other boroughs) but that is in part due to changed reporting criteria. Previously if you were pushed, fell and grazed your skin, that was common assault. Now it is Grievous Bodily Harm. As far as I am aware, punching someone’s teeth out has not yet been reclassified as murder.

There is a surplus of around 50 officers in the borough at the moment which has allowed some flexibility until they are dispersed to assigned posts. The situation in Thamesmead has been improved as already reported and will not be the only beneficiary, among them domestic violence incidents. There has been an increase in domestic abuse over the past year of 34%. That’s 212 additional offences and the four or five hotspots are spread across the borough and probably related to (in PC speak) “diverse communities”. Repeat offending is commendably low.

Since September when the parks were left unlocked, the issue has become “a high profile issue” for the police. There has been “a series of arsons in Danson Park” and police officers are “concerned”. Strategies will be tailored as for any other crime. "Young scallywags need chasing down.”

Councillor Alan Downing asked CS Ayling’s opinion of CCTV. Short of a name or forensic evidence “it was still far and away the primary measure by which we can find an prosecute offenders”. The Commander was “overwhelmingly in favour.”

Then, led by cabinet member Alex Sawyer, the committee then went into back slapping mode and the councillors gave the outgoing Chief Superintendent a round of applause, thankful that he had not, so far as is known, arrested councillor Craske, or any of his colleagues during his two year period of tenure.


13 February (Part 1) - Thamesmead goes west

FootbridgeA man from Atlanta, Georgia wrote to me earlier in the week. He was looking for an image to illustrate a web page and he had been searching the globe for the ugliest footbridge ever built. He found it on Bonkers and asked if he could use the picture and I was happy to help.

You can go to the USA and see the end product here.

The original photo page was published on 16th December 2012.


12 February (Part 2) - The importance of precise wording

Writing for the web is a risky business. I try very hard to be absolutely accurate with what is written here and pedantically correct to avoid ambiguities. I feel that sometimes the language becomes rather stilted as a result, just as legal stuff does, but so far it has kept me out of trouble. I except Teresa O’Neill’s invented stories of course.

On Monday, UKIP Bexley posted the following Tweet after their councillor Lynn Smith put in an appearance at the News Shopper’s park closure demo in Danson Park.

TweetTaken ultra literally it says only one person turned up at Danson Park and she was a UKIP councillor. Given that the Tweet links to a picture of about 30 people in the park you’d have to be a world class pedant to think that was the case. Obviously it should have said “Only councillor to turn up was UKIP”, but does it really matter?

Well, to the UKIP haters and their political opponents it evidently did. It was a lie they said and cobbled together a vitriolic argument for no sensible reason I could fathom.

When I interjected that electors like me make up their minds about which way to vote based on political exchanges such as this, I was asked why I was commenting. Not supposed to comment on Twitter, now that’s a novel concept!

Lynn Smith’s appearance at the Danson Park demo was mentioned at the scrutiny meeting this week. There has been no time to check the recording yet but from memory it was councillor Sharon Massey who was critical of UKIP councillor Lynn Smith. It would appear that a councillor representing the people in unofficial ways is somehow letting the side down. Words fail me. If the weekend presents any spare time I’ll search the tape and post a section in a later blog.


12 February (Part 1) - More police uselessness

Bexley is losing another police commander. At least Peter Ayling stayed for two years instead of one. Unlike his two predecessors I never ever spoke to him or have any very direct reason to complain. In fact I believe it may have been his decision to refer the Cheryl Bacon case to Greenwich to head off the usual complaints about Bexley police. viz. that they live in Bexley council’s pocket.

However not every resident regards Ayling’s term of office as being benign. The lady who was wrongly arrested at Heathrow couldn’t get any comment out of him and put in a high level complaint; and closer to home, Mick Barnbrook had a similar experience and ultimately put in a formal Misconduct allegation to Commissioner Hogan-Howe. That was last July.

This is what he received in the post at the end of last week…
This is from the same police officer who has been sitting on my June 2012 complaint doing next to nothing. Is it possible there is some sort of conspiracy within the senior ranks of the Metropolitan Police to protect all of their senior officers from the consequences of their actions and inaction?


11 February (Part 2) - Linking with Thamesmead

Police meetingThe police organised a follow up to last November’s community meeting at the Yarnton Way Baptist church. I’m giving the police the credit because PC Chris Molnar was very active in publicising it whilst Bexley council did nothing - or if not, not a lot. Beyond councillor Hackett’s energetic Tweeting I saw nothing.

This time the venue was the rather magnificent Link building where some 50 or 60 people had gathered to hear what councillor Alex Sawyer and Chief Superintendent Peter Ayling (Bexley) had to say.

Andrew Green from Gallions Housing was also present and the meeting was chaired by Joyce Sutherland from Bexley Community Safety Partnership. As usual at these sort of meetings, if you exclude the police officers and councillors from both boroughs, the leaders of Neighbourhood Watch groups and the clergy, the attendance is rather disappointing.

At the last meeting, road safety in Yarnton Way and lighting levels in Wolvercote Road were concerns. Alex Sawyer said his council officers had looked at the traffic collision data and measured the light levels and found no justification for the complaints. He was challenged on the more than reasonable grounds that the footbridge had been taken away with no alternative other than dashing across a dual carriageway, but Alex was unsure of the dates for his data. Residents said that one adult and two children had been injured since the bridge was taken away. Councillor Sawyer said he will revisit the issue and the lighting levels.
Chief Superintendent Ayling said that the Safer Neighbourhood Team had been uplifted by one sergeant and five constables and was optimistic about sustaining the new levels. When the Baptist minister, Vic Lambert asked what the term ‘One Thamesmead’ actually meant in practice, Peter Ayling said it allowed his Team to liaise with the Greenwich Team directly instead of escalating everything up the chain of command to Commander level and then back down again on the other side.

As a result, in January alone, there were 15 arrests, two knife confiscations, three cannabis warnings, two thousand pounds’ worth of stolen goods plus two motorcycles seized and many thousands of pounds of cocaine etc. removed from the streets.

Andrew Green (Gallions) said that Peabody was taking security seriously. There would soon be a consultation with residents and he was investing £400,000 around Coralline Walk alone.

A resident of Fendyke Road said that there had been burglaries there since Network Rail had opened up a passage between his house and the railway line. He alleged he had met difficulties when trying to report the crimes. CS Ayling said he would make a note of the problem and another police officer provided security literature.

There was a plea for more Neighbourhood Watch coordinators but there were not enough questions to sustain the meeting to 20:30 and it ended a few minutes early.

As is the case on everything right across the borough, apathy is often the winner. But full marks to the police for trying, and their recent successes.


11 February (Part 1) - Some news from last night’s council scrutiny meeting

Teresa O’Neill’s plan to reduce the opportunity for scrutinising cabinet decisions may not be going entirely according to plan. Reducing the number of committees from seven to three (something like 28 meetings annually down to twelve) has resulted in large unwieldy committees and meetings that go on for ever. Yesterday’s didn’t end until nine minutes past eleven (219 minutes) despite the best efforts of chairman councillor Hunt to rush through things. By ten o’clock he had got to page 42 of the 194 page Agenda. After that councillors wanted to go home and proper scrutiny probably suffered.

I am still failing to recognise any advantages to the new £42 million council chamber over the old one apart from the fact the seats don’t emit an embarrassing creak when you move. You may get an idea of what the audience of four is allowed to see (only two of us remained until the end) from the associated photos.

The meeting was not especially interesting. We learned that Chief Superintendent Peter Ayling is leaving Bexley at the end of the month and will be replaced by Geoff Booth from the British Transport Police.

A lifeline was thrown to Belvedere’s Splash Park by council officer Toni Ainge which cabinet member Alex Sawyer was happy to consider. Additionally he confirmed that Danson Park will not be built over as certain scurrilous rumours have suggested. You will not have read that here!

While cabinet member Alex Sawyer was doing a pretty good job of appearing to be the honest broker and cabinet Member John Fuller put in his customary flawless performance on any education question. Cabinet member Philip Read did what he does best. Proving himself an idiot. Twice. Fortunately chairman James Hunt stepped in to curtail Read’s second personal attack on an opposition councillor.

More later, but not today.


10 February (Part 3) - Sainsbury’s Basics

Cross Quarter Cross Quarter Cross QuarterA Bexley resident, albeit only just, let me know of her displeasure at the new outlook from her house towards the Cross Quarter development.

The new Sainsbury’s and hotel, taking shape on Harrow Manorway is being clad with ugly plain brown panels. Surely that is not going to be the finished article?


10 February (Part 2) - A million a year. One and a half, maybe more like £4m. It’s all guesswork

Bexley council’s transformation of the old Woolwich Building Society’s headquarters building has been submitted for an award.

Council leader Teresa O’Neill said the building “has produced real and significant benefits for local people” when in reality all it has done for residents is cause those who need to visit the building a longer walk from the shops or bus stops and a softer seat while they wait for attention. Unless you are among the tiny minority which values the web casting of meetings or is impressed by the loss of public car park space.

More interesting than that subjective opinion, is how much the building saved, if anything. In 2011 it was going to save taxpayer’s a million pounds a year, by last year the official guess was £1·5 million a year. The figure submitted to the awards committee is £56 million over the next 15 years. They make it up as they go along.

The application was supported, whatever that means, by Eco Communities, the company that was chosen by Bexley council over Howbury Friends to run the Slade Green community centre. I suppose they do owe the council a few favours.

The award winners will be announced by The Local Government Chronicle on 11th March 2015.


10 February (Part 1) - Cllr. Read is all wind but the mill turns so very slowly

This is the fifth week of the Northumberland Heath regeneration scheme scheduled to take six weeks.
Mill Road

Mill Road Mill Road Tweet Mill RoadThe new footpath outside the shops at the end of Mill Road are nearing completion and that’s about it. Oh, and there’s the new bins featuring the old Mill that made councillor Philip Read so happy.

Not a lot to show for four week’s work. Are the contracts with Conway far too lax?

End of Week 1 - End of Week 2 - End of Week 3.


9 February (Part 3) - Politicians on platforms? There must be a train or an election due

I don’t think my new parliamentary candidate has got the hang of Erith and Thamesmead yet. She was at Abbey Wood station late this afternoon standing on the Up Platform gathering the signatures of commuters arriving on the Down Platform, while pursuing yet another Tory election wheeze. A petition to South Eastern Trains to get them to run a better service.

I suppose it is a little more realistic than expecting residents of this unremarkable parliamentary constituency to stop the Scots poking their noses into our business, but maybe not a lot. Does Anna Firth think that no one has campaigned for better train services before?

PetitionIf Ms. Firth lingered on Abbey Wood station more than a couple of minutes she may have noticed that a train sets off for London every ten minutes with an extra one flung in for good measure every half an hour. By far the best train service in Bexley (OK it’s 50 yards over the border but never mind that) and equal to anything found in the borough of Greenwich.

It’s true that rush hour capacity has been reduced but that is caused by the long overdue total reconstruction of London Bridge station. Little can be done about that.

The 12 car train situation is rather silly but we are stuck with a maximum of ten. Woolwich Dockyard station is sandwiched between two tunnels and cannot be extended. Ten coaches is the limit. It was very short-sighted to have bought trains that did not come with selective door closing and unable to be retro-fitted with it, so the option of stopping with the tail end coaches in the tunnel is unavailable. Maybe Ms. Firth would prefer to close Woolwich Dockyard station as a quick fix, but there are no spare coaches available in the rush hour anyway or we might not see the occasional four or six coach train running at that time.

I’ve always thought it peculiar that every railway user knows more about running trains than professional and often very enthusiastic railwaymen - and women.

So it’s another waste of time by Conservative candidate Anna Firth. She would be better advised to campaign for something that is attainable. How about step free access to Erith station Platform 1? At present the disabled have a half hour diversion via Dartford. But someone got there first - and there wasn’t an election just around the corner at the time.


9 February (Part 2) - Bexley blocks broken by buses

Blocks Asphalt AsphaltHow much did Bexley council spend on tarting up Bexleyheath, three and a bit million wasn’t it? Eighteen months later most of the complainers have given up and so it would appear has Bexley council.

Buses and blocks are not a good combination. The junction was repaired only six months ago but it collapsed all over again

Photo 1 is a month old and the other two are from lunchtime today. At the exit from the bus terminus, at the southern end of Chapel Road, the holes and cracks have been filled with asphalt. It’s not pretty but it was a lot cheaper than £3·2 million.


This website
I’ve not had any complaints but some readers must have found their old shortcuts to B-i-B and Favourites will be taking them to the wrong place or more likely are caught by an error page.

It may be helpful to state how things work now.

The tried and tested will take visitors to the original site entry point which no longer serves a very useful purpose following rather too many site restructurings.
More useful perhaps, under the arrangements introduced yesterday, is which will assemble the whole of the current month’s blogs.
Somewhat similar is (note the absence of the co) which will take you to the most recent blog.
An alternative that does exactly the same thing is
Finally there is which routes to the Home page. Maybe not very useful to regular readers because I can never find the time to update it!


9 February (Part 1) - Building a railway on a bog

Abbey Wood The Crossrail piling rig was moved up close to the new Abbey Wood station footbridge last week and 30 feet of concrete took only a minute or two to slip through the subsoil. An amazing sight and not very noisy despite the 85dB notices posted around the station.

A quarter of a mile to the east Network Rail continues to progress the fencing of the grass verge along Alsike Road. The enclosed area is to accommodate the overrun track which will allow emergency interchange of trains, probably failed ones, with the East Kent line.

Overhead electrification will end where the fence is shown in Photo 7 below but the track is expected to extend a little further. Photos 7 and 8 taken from the same position but three days apart.

The beautifully clean toilet is at Abbey Wood station.

Abbey Wood Abbey Wood Abbey Wood Abbey Wood
Abbey Wood Abbey Wood Abbey Wood Abbey Wood
More Crossrail related blogs.


8 February - Bexley for sale

Bexley council has said it plans to sell off 27 parks and public spaces, when it is gone it is gone - permanently but Teresa O'Neill is intent on making her mark on the borough, an unwelcome one if you are not an enthusiast for the concrete jungle.

Whilst on the one hand they are asking residents’ opinion which may be good, they are on the other refusing to say which parks are to go up for sale which makes a nonsense of the whole consultation exercise. Last week Gareth Bacon said that unless equivalent savings can be found the council won’t be changing course. They never have done in the past, why expect them to be any different when their financial situation is worse than it has ever been before?

The News Shopper organised a gathering of dissidents this morning which saw 30 or more people assemble in Danson Park. While I was tied up in computer code (see below) Brian Barnett took some photos on my behalf.

The only councillor I can see is Lynn Smith. Second photo - wearing black boots, sitting in front of lady with red hair and next to inquisitive small white dog . Lynn Smith is the UKIP councillor for Blackfen and Lamorbey.
Danson Park Danson Park
Brian Barnett:


8 February - This Website

If you looked at this page just before the evening of Sunday 8th February 2015 it would be the last time you’d see Bexley-is-Bonkers in its old form.

When the site was launched in September 2009 it comprised just a few ‘news’ pages. There was no blog; that came a month or so later and had very few entries, so few in fact that it was one year per page.

When a yearly page became too big it was broken up (old pages too) into the monthly chunks with which you will be familiar.

I became aware a couple of years ago that people were visiting B-i-B with Mobile phones and from 1st July 2013 pages were written with a ‘half width’ mode, more suitable for Mobile use, in mind. Earlier pages have been progressively modified over the last month or two so that they better cater for Mobile mode and all pages have undergone changes that allow a more consistent layout in Mobile mode. Unless you regularly look at old pages where some still have images which do not allow text to wrap around them you are unlikely to have noticed.

The next set of changes is very noticeable.

So far this year nearly 64% of visitors to B-i-B have been from traditional desktop or laptop computers, nearly 19% from mobile phones and 18% from tablets. What proportion of that 36% are using the mobile provider’s network is unknown but I know of people who read Bonkers on their way home from work on the train. Loading a whole month’s worth of blogs is a lot of data if the intention is to read only the latest blog, and obviously it’s wasteful. Even worse are the link backs to old blogs; another month’s worth of data for one snippet of information. So blogs are going daily; well smaller than daily, they are going ’individual’. This should dramatically reduce the data throughput.

Traditionalists should not feel left out. The menu will continue to provide a complete month of blogs but the Index pages and links back to old blogs will only fetch the single blog required.

On a technical note, the Index page won’t actually exist as a discrete file, the server will construct it from blog titles saving me the effort of writing it or making more typing errors. Also the new blog pages use HTML5 which means that only recent web browsers will render them correctly. Support for the twelve year old Internet Explorer 6 has gone.

Because this is a very considerable revision it will only apply from January 2015 and I cannot see any way of going back further without either taking B-i-B off air for a very long time or perhaps more practically, leaving earlier pages non-functional while the changes are made. Even then I suspect it might take six months if I spent an hour a day on it.

One facility will disappear, the Info button on the banner, not because it doesn’t work under the new system but because I rather belatedly discovered that it loads the data for all 85 banners even though it displays only one. Very nearly a quarter of a megabyte - not exactly Mobile friendly. At the moment I have no idea how the banner Info can be restored in a more efficient manner. The 'Clear banner clutter' option (which is under the Info button) will go too but that shouldn’t be too difficult to reprovide another way. A quarter of a megabyte per page load for an infrequently used facility is not sensible.

For the time being the red Info button will remain on Blog banners but will do nothing. It will continue to function on other pages.

There will be other minor cosmetic changes and probably some things I haven’t thought of yet. What I can foresee is that links from external sites to January and February blogs will fail as will RSS feed links but new RSS links should carry on as before. Hopefully the disadvantages will be outweighed by the reduced load times.

All changes are confined to Blog pages. The remainder of the site will be unchanged and will retain the banner Info facility.


7 February (Part 2) - Bexley’s nightlife; not what it is cracked up to be

TweetI live in what is superficially at least a nice quiet area of Belvedere but thanks to the Police Safer Neighbourhood Team and their Twitter feed I know it’s in part illusory. Apparently there have been rather too many burglaries nearby in recent days and only yesterday the police found a cannabis farm barely three minutes walk away.

Tempting fate I know but the worst I have ever suffered was several egg bombardments by the mad wife beater I mentioned the other day.

CannabisWhat concerns me rather more than cannabis is the homelessness and starvation I hear about via my neighbour, Vic the vicar.

Vic has explained to me exactly how the local food bank works and whilst he mentioned donations and local company support, never once did he mention the council.

Bexley council doesn’t help the homeless either unless you count sending people to Manchester when they are legally obliged to do something. Volunteers with a bit of spare cash can help out with the food bank but there is no easy answer to the lack of accommodation. Taxing bedrooms has not provided any significant dividend in Bexley.

I asked the only local politician who can be relied on to answer my enquiries, about the provision Bexley makes for the homeless. Teresa Pearce MP replied as follows…

The housing crisis in Bexley is getting worse each week. Every day we get more and more calls. It's heart breaking. There are no night shelters in Bexley. We try to refer single people to Greenwich Creek that feeds the homeless and can sometimes offer a bed. But the demand massively outstrips the spaces.

Not a single night shelter in Bexley apart from the underpass beneath Erith’s fish roundabout! Bexley council really is as bad and uncaring as you might imagine.


7 February (Part 1) - Abbey Wood attacked by Erith

As things were
How things were - 13th September 2013.
Before demolition commenced - 5th January 2015.

Crossrail Lots going on in and around Abbey Wood station this week. The waiting areas on Platform 1 are gone and a heap of rubble is being being removed by local company Erith Group.

Apart from Photo 1, all were shot almost blind through holes in Network Rail’s various grills and fences, to the amusement of some of their watching staff.

Crossrail Crossrail Crossrail Crossrail
More Crossrail related blogs.


6 February (Part 2) - Longer but safer

Ramp Ramp RampUntil not long ago I was a regular wheel chair pusher which is probably why I took exception to the amateurish ramp provided on the Crossrail relief route over the Harrow Manorway flyover.

Motorized chairs are very heavy and I immediately saw the danger of a chair toppling on the ramp shown in Photo 1. I’ve yet to see a wheel chair user take the long route but the potential for an accident was there unless everyone does the same as one I spoke to on the north side. She stays there.

It was therefore especially pleasing to see that today, or maybe yesterday, the danger has been eradicated. In place of a splodge of rough concrete there is now a neatly constructed safe ramp on both sides of the car wash entrance, complete with tactile paving for the sightless. Much better!


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.


5 February - Same old doom and gloom

Last night’s Resources Scrutiny Committee meeting seemed to me a much more relaxed affair than the one three months ago, when the normally easy going chairman tended towards the officious, not something I would normally associate with councillor Stephen Hall. His is a relatively benign committee with, apart from the one who is well known to Greenwich police, not inclined to a surfeit of irrelevant political insults. They can go overboard on giving thanks for each other’s expertise though.

L-R: Tariq Bashir (Procurement), Graham Ward (Customer Relations), Maureen Holkham (Policy and Communications, Tony Allen (IT Services), Julie Southcott (Scrutiny Officer), Steven Hall (Chairman), Alison Griffin (Finance), Paul Moore (Customer Services), John Peters (Finance), Nick Hollier (HR Services).

The meeting was ten minutes longer than the last one at five minutes under three hours and observers in what passes for a gallery in the new chamber peaked at five. A councillor from each of the two main parties and three members of the public, two of whom had had enough and went home at the 80 minute mark.

I learned nothing fundamentally new by hanging on to the end. Cabinet member Gareth Bacon reiterated his well practised speech about the borough’s financial woes and how central government had chopped Bexley’s grant by a further 14%. He has cut expenditure in his own area of responsibility by 20% (£2·86 million).

Labour councillor Daniel Francis (Belvedere) queried why once again it was mainly the lower pay grades who were predicted to lose their jobs and Human Resources boss Nick Hollier agreed that “the majority of staff are on those lower grades so it follows from that that the preponderance of staff that might be affected by those proposals will be on the lower grades.” Very helpful.

Councillor Danny Hackett (Labour, Lesnes Abbey) had spotted in an Appendix to the Agenda that a disproportionate number of disabled people were lined up for the chop. Nick Hollier indicated that the figures were to provide an assessment of the situation to see if there was a need for “mitigation”. Danny’s later use of the slogan “Working for you, ignoring you” in connection with the sham consultation exercise was not well received by cabinet member Gareth Bacon who nevertheless went on to say that if no alternatives were put forward, ‘ignore you° he must.

Councillor Gill MacDonald (Labour, Belvedere) was concerned about some services being forced entirely on line - as well she might be. My near 95 year old aunt in Newham is now entirely cut off from council services and a phone call to the council’s main number (no longer shown on their website) merely redirects to the web. Councillor MacDonald was told by the cabinet member that Bexley’s services would never be 100% web based even though the Agenda clearly stated “Only on line contact will be available for some services”.

The bulk of the meeting was Agenda Item 9, the budget proposals, and cabinet member Gareth Bacon said the financial circumstances were the worst he could remember in his 17 years on the council. His aim was “to keep council tax increases as low as it is possible to do”.

As is all too often the case the tendency is for the most pain to be inflicted on the poorest in society. When councils took over the administration of council tax relief in 2013 Bexley proposed that residents on benefits would have to pay 15% of the tax due (nothing previously) and introduce the levy in three steps of 5%. This is to be extended to four steps so that the poorest people will contribute 20%, another £300,000 a year. The hardship fund, as already noted, will be done away with.

Bexley’s Voluntary Services Council will be asked to take on more responsibilities saving another £25k. and rewarded with a further cut to their grant.

The Citizens Advice Bureaux will be reduced from two to one. £30,000 saved mainly at the expense of the vulnerable.

The council’s IT provider whose contract expires in March 2016 has been asked to accept a smaller inflation based payment this year. £20,000 saved. Even the smallest of sums are under the spotlight, though Gareth Bacon did not foresee the loss of the web casting experiment. Director Paul Moore reminded him that it is subject to an evaluation in May. If Teresa likes it it will stay. Not all £20k’s are equal.

Other items of note were that the quarterly Bexley magazine has a net cost of about £35,000 a year and that no decision had yet been made on any proposed cut pending the consultation results and discussions in cabinet and council.

History suggests that the 1,821 budget consultation responses will inevitably be ignored. As councillor Bacon wryly said, he did “not expect people to say ‘brilliant’, you are taking money out of the budget, we’ve been waiting for that all our lives”. Everyone will be against the cuts but they are inescapable. No changes would be possible unless proposals are forthcoming for “alternative and equivalent savings”.

There is no denying he has a very difficult job, perhaps his predecessor should have had a better crystal ball, one less focused on getting re-elected.

Despite Teresa O’Neill dictating that two paid vice-chairmen be appointed to this committee, neither of them provided a report and in both cases did nothing beyond commenting on the brilliance of their colleagues. It’s another twenty odd thousand that could have been saved but Tory pockets are sacrosanct.

It is customary for me to report how bloody awful the sound system is but it was really quite good last night except for one thing which affects all the meetings arranged in that same way. The audience immediately behind the rear table hear the direct speech from those on the rear table and a moment later what comes from the loudspeakers at the far end of the room giving an echo effect. It may be just the one cabinet member's microphone but it makes him difficult to follow.

I may have considered attending the meeting close to being a waste of time; as is often the case, reading the Agenda would have taught me almost as much but what made it worthwhile was the icy stare from the lying Cheryl Bacon. If looks could kill! Maybe she has had a phone call from Plumstead nick.


4 February (Part 3) - First local election leaflet hits the doormat

I received my first General Election leaflet this afternoon. It was from the Conservatives and the headline makes what I consider to be a valid point. That the Tories are less inclined to be anti-English than the other two long established parties.

Anna Firth the Parliamentary Candidate for Erith & Thamesmead says she has launched a local referendum. I see no sign that she has, she is no more able to organise a referendum than I am and whatever the result it counts for nothing and will influence no one. I really don’t like politicians who set out to lead me up the garden path. She will be hard pressed to retain the Tory vote at this house with shady tactics like that.

I’ve already watched a neighbour put her copy in the recycling bin but mine will be the first entry in my GE2015 folder - or you can go straight to the new leaflet by clicking here.
The back of the leaflet covers nine more standard and unsurprising Tory policies; not the slightest clue as to how the ambitions will be funded or achieved is on offer.


4 February (Part 2) - The writing is on the wall for Bexley

LesnesSince the demolition people deserted Lesnes Abbey nearly three weeks ago the ‘enhancements’ have been of a purely arboricological nature. Trees have been cut back and long lost footpaths exposed. Lesnes Abbey will provide even better views across London than before, smog permitting.

One new view has already been provided, a massive and beautiful mural has been fixed on the security fence around the site of the visitor centre. Its well worth taking a look before some mindless cretin defaces it.

The section shown below is about a third of the whole thing which ranges from Prehistoric to Modern Times.



4 February (Part 1) - Car park charges up - but not by the claimed 3%

GriffinThe picture is of Alison Griffin, Bexley council’s new Finance Director at the moment she announced to the Cabinet that there would be an across the board increase in charges, fees and tariffs of 3% on average. The documentation said the same thing.

Today Bexley has announced its new car park season ticket charges and your eyes might pop out of your head too. The actual figure is 50% up with a large discount (third) for employees of Bexley based businesses.

Below is an example of the current charges - click image to see them all - and the new charges are listed here.

New annual charges : Albion Road £1026. Avenue Road £1026. Bowling Centre £1026. Cinema £1431. Oaklands Road £1431.

Commuters are going to be hit very hard and why is Bexley employing a Finance Director with such poor arithmetical skills? A 50% increase is a sure sign of just how close Bexley‘s Conservative council has come to steering its finances on to the rocks.

Audio clip: Finance Director announces 3% increase in charges.
Old charges
Above are current charges. For new fees click link in paragraph 3.


3 February (Part 2) - Mill Road progress - or lack thereof

Bins The rejuvenation of Northumberland Heath’s shopping centre is now in its fourth week of a scheduled six. The work is still confined to the junction with Mill Road and it is difficult to visualise what might be achieved in the next two weeks. However the number of men in yellow jackets was six this morning instead of the two seen previously and there was no sign of any traffic congestion even while a large lorry (Photo 4 below) was delivering to Tesco. So it could be worse.

This time I did not miss seeing the new recycling bins which made councillor Philip Read swell with pride a week or so ago. There were five within the central shopping area.

Earlier Northumberland Heath blogs. 24th January - 17th January.

Mill Road Mill Road Mill Road Mill Road


3 February (Part 1) - No case to answer

I put my concerns about the reluctance of a Conservative councillor to be interviewed to the police officer investigating Bexley council’s refusal to seek independent witnesses to Cheryl Bacon’s fanciful description of the events of 19th June 2013. viz. that members of the the public present at that meeting were totally out of control, necessitating putting the meeting into “closed session” when there is a total of ten people prepared to put hand on heart and say that Bacon’s statement is wholly inaccurate.

The police officer is far too polite to say so but I would summarise his response as saying that my evidence would be shredded by a competent defence lawyer. He also played his trump card. He had made enquiries and discovered beyond doubt that my concerns were ill founded. His source I regard as totally trustworthy so there is no doubt I put two and two together and made five.

There are two ways out of this predicament. I can say the police officer is work shy and doesn’t want to be involved in any more investigations or that his source is a liar or the evidence I was given was an unprincipled stitch up by someone intent on mischief, but a Cheryl Bacon style solution is not one I favour. My only excuse is a single misinterpreted email but there is no escaping the fact I got this one badly wrong and apologies are definitely due. Must be more cautious!


2 February - Councillors, cops and robbers

A council busy period is coming up. There’s a Resources Scrutiny Meeting scheduled for Wednesday this week, a People Scrutiny meeting the following Tuesday (10th February) and a Places Scrutiny meeting on the 18th February. Then another Cabinet meeting on Monday 23rd. The Audit Committee will be meeting too. All at 19:30 in the Civic Offices. Gone are the days of proper scrutiny when there were seven different meetings spread more evenly over the quarter.

So that gets some way towards answering a site redesign suggestion from a reader. i.e. To provide a Quick Link bar beneath the menu and make council meetings a featured link. Council meetings are currently linked from the Menu. Home > Links > Council > Calendar of meetings. No promises for a Quick Link bar though, there is quite enough to maintain already without adding more.

TweetBottleQuick Links wasn’t the only reader suggestion last week. One came from the local Safer Neighbourhood Team - or in plain English - the police. The SNT's constant Twittering and Newsletters has to be a good thing overall but it doesn’t make me feel any safer. Far from it.

Until I started to follow MPS Thamesmead on Twitter and subscribe to their Newsletter I thought my personal safety was mainly threatened by the over takers on Abbey Road who ignore the Keep Left signs after councillor Peter Craske authorised making it dangerously narrow.

In the whole of my 28 years in Belvedere I have been threatened twice. Once a neighbour picked me up bodily and threw me on the bonnet of a car for untidily leaving a ‘corrugated bottle’ (See image) on a window ledge. A police officer told me he believed it to be an old bellows camera trained on his bedroom window. Eventually he went to prison for persistently beating up the wife he went to Russia to buy.

The second time was when a drunken young thug on a train decided he would beat me up for smiling at a joke he’d told his travelling companion. Out of nowhere a much larger and older ‘thug’ picked him up by the throat and threw him backwards through the open door of the train as it was about to leave Woolwich Arsenal with the words “You do not go around attacking old men”. I wasn’t even 60 at the time and it reminded me that books should not be judged by their covers. My saviour had a badly broken nose. Now I have PC Chris Molnar telling me that every passer-by could be a knife wielding robber. Not only that he has sent an email to alert me that there has been a spate of burglaries in roads within sight of home.

But overall I suppose it must be a good thing.

PC Molnar thanked me last time I put one of his newsletters on line and suggested I might do so again. Here’s a selection that may have borough-wide appeal. Click on any of the four images for the related PDF.

Chris has promised not to do me for copyright theft. Please be aware that these files are large. Hover over to see size.
Police Police Police Police


1 February - Crossrail piling on

Crossrail Piling commenced at Abbey Wood station this week to support the realigned North Kent lines. The piles are about 30 feet long, delivered by lorry in bundles of six, and go into the ground so easily and relatively noiselessly that you would think Crossrail is being built over an old Thames flood plain.

The Site-Eye camera is installed on the station footbridge, the entrance to the Crossrail depot in Felixstowe Road has been closed and a new one has been constructed around the corner.

In Alsike Road, east of the station, more ground has been fenced off in preparation for the Crossrail overrun track, and as predicted, the Gayton Road street lamps have been removed.

Bexley council has active traffic orders for closing Felixstowe Road and banning all parking in Alsike Road.

Some Before and After pictures…

Crossrail Crossrail Crossrail Crossrail
Crossrail Crossrail Crossrail Crossrail
Crossrail Crossrail Crossrail Crossrail

More Crossrail related blogs.

Return to the top of this page