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Bonkers Blog April 2016

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17 April (Part 1) - Selling assets doesn’t solve problems. © Don Massey

Councillors Leitch and Slaughter were not alone in speaking against Bexley Council’s decision to sell some of its parks in order to avert the calamity of closing all the children’s playgrounds which is Councillor Craske’s latest excuse. What a mess the Conservatives must have made of the borough’s finances if Bexley is reduced to that.

Some fifty years ago in a council house near to mine a poor family would remove and burn their wooden front door every Winter to keep their house warm. Somehow the door was replaced in the Spring so the analogy doesn’t quite work but the family’s logic is not far removed from Bexley Council’s sale plans. Perhaps anyone finding it difficult putting food on their table should consider selling their kitchen appliances so as to fund the supermarket bill. Councillor Craske would surely approve.

FerreiraCouncillor Joe Ferreira (Labour, Erith) said the plan was “unsustainable” which it quite obviously is. He restated the fact that the General Purposes Committee was not given answers to all the questions but gave their blessing to the sale anyway.

He said the Erith site is surrounded by high density housing with lots of growth projected but one of the very few green spaces in the area is to be sold. “How does that attract people to the area?”

He said that it had taken well over a year to get four sites to the current stage, are the other 22 going to be dealt with “four at a time or all in one”?

MunirThe Chairman of the General Purposes Committee was asked to respond. Councillor Cafer Munir said a lot of the questions at his meeting were for “Planning which wasn’t up for discussion”.

“Officers there gave a lot of detailed answers to questions concerned and obviously you have seen the amount of paper work that was here, the particular sections that were raised were either covered or an answer was given to them, it wasn’t needed, the Committee decided it wasn’t needed to go back on that. When I asked the questions to Committee did they have all the information they needed to make the decision, the answer was yes. In terms of Public Inquiry, obviously you’ve got to ask yourself, from all the work and time spent on this project what further could a Public Inquiry going to bring. What further information we don’t have here, officers have put together is going to be beneficial to change anything that we’ve done.”

It’s funny how the excuses and comments spouted by floundering Councillors so often turn out to be garbage when written down verbatim. Councillor Munir might just as well have said “The Committee had a Conservative majority which had all predetermined their positions according to the instructions of the Leader, obviously when I asked them the approved questions they gave the right answers.”

Council Officer Jane Richardson cleared up the matter of the other 22 sites. Nothing has been proposed to Cabinet yet “but they remain an active line within our business plan”.

LangsteadCouncillor Brenda Langstead (Labour, North End) came out with one of the best lines of the night. “There is an area called Burr Farm at the back of Church Road which is an open space which we have been told it can’t be sold as it is dedicated as educational land. So I wonder why it is different to the Howbury site in Slade Green which was also dedicated as educational land. Is it Not in my Back Yard?”

“You say that people want to live in Bexley because of the green spaces but here we are selling them off. “We need to look further than concentrating on raising more Council Taxes from small properties with people we hope won’t use the services.”

The NIMBY question and the contrast between Burr Farm and Howbury went unanswered. We were asked to believe that no one could remember what happened in Slade Green.

Councillor Chris Beazley (UKIP, St. Michael’s) returned to his suggestion that the Broadway Shopping Centre could be sold. He had been wrongly advised by Cabinet Member Linda Bailey that the Council didn’t own it but when it transpired that it did, officers told him “there was nothing we could do” because it was “on long term lease. Now we learn that negotiations are in progress for its sale.

MooreHe was given short shrift by Acting Chief Executive Paul Moore. Apparently it is a good idea to sell a park to provide a small income but it is not a good idea to sell a shopping centre because it is already providing a small income via a lease.

For the record, Bexley Council only “owns a 23% share in the Broadway Shopping Centre”. It is part of the remaining ownership which is being negotiated for sale.

Councillor Alan Deadman (Labour, North End) went back to basics. No one ever listens to residents. “How many people have to object on anything before anyone takes any notice?”

“We have had far smaller consultations which the majority party has taken under their wing because it is what they agree with.”

“Listening to you, working for you when we agree it’s what we want.” He “would like it put in writing that if the sale goes forward the money is earmarked for grounds maintenance”.

He was in favour of a Public Inquiry because it would be done by an independent person and not by predetermined members of a committee.

LeafAs always, Councillor David Leaf (Conservative, Longlands) made the mistake of believing he had something worthwhile to say. He began by attacking UKIP’s proposal quickly followed by an attack on Labour. “They wanted to flog spaces in Erith. To hear them defending open spaces is somewhat crass.”

It turned out that he was referring to the Western Gateway proposals but his memory was selective to say the least. The Western Gateway proposals included selling off Riverside Gardens and it was a Tory proposal. How could I forget? The campaign against Teresa O’Neill’s grand plan was conducted on the Maggot Sandwich blog and included Hugh Neal’s immortal words “Personally I think we need to metaphorically descend on Councillor Teresa O’Neill with flaming torches and pitchforks, as it would seem that she and her scheming cohorts are impervious to reasoned argument.”

Because of those words, Teresa O’Neill reported me to the police for threatening violence and arson. Hugh heard not a word.

Two weeks ago I was phoned by a Daily Mail reporter seeking information about David Leaf. I wasn’t able to tell him anything apart from Leaf being on MP Priti Patel’s payroll and that he was intent on proving himself an idiot in Council. It seemed an inadequate description at the time but at least it was accurate.

MasseyCabinet Member Don Massey decided to hit back at Councillor June Slaughter’s suggestion that Council Tax could have been raised to save the parks. He said it would have had to go up by 55%, an obvious lie because that is the amount by which it might have had to go up if the Council had sat back and done absolutely nothing for the past six years. As Cabinet Member Craske had said earlier in the evening the Council had implemented 500 cuts. Not closing parks would have made it 499 not zero. But it’s a nice sound bite that Councillor Massey loves to relate,

Massey also took the opportunity to knock Councillor Beazley’s Shopping Centre idea. “If you think you solve problems by selling that asset, then you don’t. You actually cause a bigger problem.” Ironic or what?

Councillor Stefano Borella complained that the legal advice given to the members of the General Purposes Committee had been ignored and that it appeared to be the case that Conservative Members who might have voted against the sale were replaced. It was hypocritical, he said, for Zac Goldsmith and Gareth Bacon to be going around with an election leaflet claiming they would protect green spaces.

Leader O’Neill argued that she was not in conflict with Zac Goldsmith and his boy follower because selling Old Farm Park was her way of protecting green spaces.

Councillor Borella noted that his question about objections not being fully answered at General Purposes had gone unanswered and additionally asked how the Council could reach a sensible decision next week when it had no idea how much money the sales would generate.

There could be no answer to the question of price as the land is not yet for sale but the General Purposes Chairman Cafer Munur was moved to respond that all the questions had been answered. Any exceptions were “not material”, an easy Get Out of Jail Free card. The predetermined voice had spoken and the predetermined vote was inevitable a minute or two later.

Craske, Bailey, Massey, Sawyer, Pallen and Read. Remember the names in 2018.


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