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Bonkers Blog April 2016

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30 April - The Nail Tax explained

Thanks to the efforts of a lady who prefers to remain anonymous, how Bexley Council managed to slip its latest stealth tax under the radar is now a little clearer.

The issue was first discussed at a Licensing Committee meeting in January and the fees were fixed two months later.

The Committee put in a report to Council for their 2nd March meeting but it was not discussed there, I know I was there, neither is it specifically mentioned in the Agenda of that meeting. Bexley Council simply voted to accept the Licence Committee’s report - blind.

This is how democracy works in Bexley.

As a result of the blind vote a notice was slipped into the News Shopper which does not go to everyone and few will have looked at the Legal Notices.
Legal Notice
So that is how the latest stealth tax slipped under the radar.

Here’s the current charges.
Fees
Council’s explanatory web page.

 

29 April (Part 3) - Abbey Wood becomes a ghost town for another three days (†)

Crossrail CrossrailAs the north of the borough looks forward to another holiday weekend without trains, there is some good news. The two weeks of piling east of the Green Chain Walk alongside Alsike Road has, according to Crossrail’s PR people, finished a week ahead of schedule. Presumably Mottisfont Road across the borough boundary will be next to suffer.

A great deal of work is scheduled over the next three days and because of that the two weekly set of Crossrail pictures has been signed off a few days early. To include the weekend’s work might make the feature unmanageably large.

And what is the weekend work? More track realignment I think but perhaps more photogenic, a 350 ton crane is due tomorrow morning and will make great strides towards completing the podium which spans the track and upon which the station will be built.

Not much more than 18 months now and it will all be done, although not, according to the Crossrail PR man a few days ago, the surrounding public realm work. Speaking of which, I drove over Harrow Manorway just after midnight last night and most of the street lamps were working.

† Ghost town. It’s what the traders said at their meeting last week.

 

29 April (Part 2) - Sorely missed

Linda PiperHaving spent most of the past two days away on various short trips, I have only just got around to thumbing through the News Shopper. I am one of the select few who get a paper copy. In it was a rather shocking announcement, shocking at least to those of us who attended Council meetings more than five years ago.

There regularly was News Shopper reporter Linda Piper who was always ready to report on Bexley Council when, in pre-webcast days, Councillors were able to be even sillier than they are now. She claimed some notable headlines.

Now we learn she has prematurely died and it is all rather sad. No one has ever replaced her, maybe no one could.

Linda Piper

Click to see News Shopper’s obituary in full.

Headline

One of the irreplaceable Linda Piper’s headlines. Sorely missed.

 

29 April (Part 1) - A licence to print money

More information has come in about Bexley Council’s tattoo and sunbed tax from several new correspondents. Thank you all.

It would appear that the £800 Licence Fee is for the first year only and it falls to £650 in subsequent years. Without any official documentation I can only assume that this is true.

There are conflicting reports about the £45 Registration Fee. I have been told it covers everyone employed although some reports are to the contrary. I’d guess that the latter were provided by businesses with only one employee which, being unaffected by the distinction, interpreted things differently to larger businesses.

Because the Registration Fee replaces an earlier licencing system it will come into force gradually, catching new employees from 1st July 2016. It must act as a disincentive to business expansion plans and some have suggested it could drive trade underground.

It is clear enough that there must have been several presentations to traders and some reports have spoken of it being held in the Council Chamber, chaired by Councillors with up to 100 people present. Nobody appears to have noted the name of the Councillors said to be at the meeting. Perhaps this list of faces will jog someone’s memory.

Some spoke of the Council’s “know it all” attitude and of speaking down to business people who knew far more about their industry than any Councillor possibly could.

One thing that most of those who have been in contact are in agreement upon is that the scheme is a simple money making exercise.

I have scoured the list of charges proposed for 2016 and discovered nothing like this new proposal. Various activities are subject to Licence Fees but none are anything like as expensive as that for nail decorators and aroma therapists.

Presumably the full truth will come out eventually, but maybe not quickly. Secrecy is Bexley Council’s preferred way.

 

28 April - Another stealth tax by Bexley Council

A quick one and a request for more information before I spend the day on non-Bexley things. I received two messages yesterday about a new stealth tax introduced by Bexley Council.

Not being very aware of beauty parlours and the like it has totally passed me by that Bexley has introduced a licence system for nail bars, tattoo parlours, saunas, aroma therapists and similar establishments.

Our thieving Council has decided that each business will not only have to buy a licence but also register every one of its employees and the price is astronomical. The licence will cost up to £800 and the registration of each employee will be £45.

Without registration no one can work. If a new employee joins the company and leaves a fortnight later, that is £45 down the drain.

Apparently this legalised robbery is authorised by the London Local Authorities Act of 1991 and some Councils exploited it some while ago, but not Bexley until now and none impose such swingeing licence levies as Bexley. Across the river it is £160.

There has not been a word about this at Council meetings, nor was it part of the last budget proposals and consultation.

If Conservatives think the answer to everything is to tax it, I might as well vote Labour in future. Maybe Sadiq Khan, with the probability that a Labour Mayor might not be so predisposed to look kindly on Bexley Council, will be a good idea after all.

I would be grateful if someone in the know can shed more light on this latest attack on small businesses.

 

27 April - Behind the portcullis

The schedule over the next few days is far too hectic to get anything very significant on to BiB. Tomorrow’s likely ‘blog holiday’ will, I am pleased to say, have absolutely nothing to do with Bexley Council unless certain plans come to nought.

Today I was in Portcullis House (Parliament) along with two police officers from the Met’s Directorate of Professional Standards at a meeting arranged by my MP Teresa Pearce. The subject matter was Bexley police’s initial failure to investigate the so called obscene blog in 2011 and then, when they were forced to look into it, the funny business that went on to ensure its ultimate failure.

Mr. Elwyn Bryant was with me but not his MP. James Brokenshire had deemed such a meeting “inappropriate”.

Elwyn may have been disappointed by the lack of support but I wasn’t. Someone who has taken very little interest in the case would have been a drag on proceedings. Teresa Pearce has kept abreast of the situation throughout and remembers most of it. Without reference to the hundreds of letters no one can remember it all.

That of course is the police’s problem, it is very difficult to take on board every detail and nuance, however I was once or twice quite impressed by how much the Detective Sergeant did know. The previous team may have wasted the past four years but the newcomers appear to have have been doing their homework thoroughly.

Obviously delicate negotiations cannot be revealed but it is clear that the new police team fully accepts that their investigation up until now has been inadequate and that their first draft report answered none of the original questions.

How much has that cost?


Port CullisOne can only hope that the two new brooms will do a better job. Calling for the meetings that Elwyn and I had requested years ago was a good start. I think the DS and DI now have a better idea of what is important to Elwyn and me than they did before.

I am moderately optimistic about the outcome, the police could so easily have announced a whitewash as they did once before, but they appear to have taken the far more difficult route of a proper re-evaluation of all the evidence.

Elwyn, who is the eternal pessimist, thinks it may be another attempt to kick the complaint another four years down the road. I’d dismiss the possibility except that he has been right so far all along the way. Even to the point of telling me the blogger had to be Councillor Craske just a week or two after the offence was committed. The circumstantial evidence was overwhelming. It took the police about six months to track the IP address to Craske’s house.

The police said they were not going to take another four years. I think I will start to get impatient if it goes past four months this time.

Note: Elwyn and I took tea at the table shown front left in the photo. Elwyn paid but I think the price was fifty pence a cup. Coffee was £1·10.

 

26 April - Bexley has a new Idiot in the Village

Mayor and Deputy MayorCouncillors get 15 minutes - plus the remainder of the public’s time that they may not have taken up - for questions too. Conservative Councillor Caroline Newton (Conservative, St. Michael’s) asked Cabinet Member Alex Sawyer to give an update on the trial of part time street lighting in her ward.


SawyerrThe trial was concluded on time at the end of March, the yellow sodium lights have been replaced by LEDs and full time lighting has been restored. The police have reported favourably regarding crime rates.

Residents are being asked for feedback and the deadline for that was 24th April. A survey form was distributed to every house in the trial zone.

Formal proposals for the future will be put forward over the next few months. A changeover to LED and part time working will be expensive and community safety will be fully taken into account.

“It is another difficult decision that the Council must take.” It has become the norm for Councillor Sawyer to take a swipe at central government which “cuts Council Funding and expects Councils to take on more unfunded responsibilities, yet continues to waste money on pet schemes”. I think he meant the eight page taxpayer funded pro-EU propaganda.

Councillor Stefano Borella (Labour, North End) raised concerns, he claimed they were shared by the police, about turning off street lighting where traffic calming measures are in place. Councillor Sawyer didn’t think the police had been concerned but residents may have escalated their concerns to the police. Such conflicts had never been taken to a Court of Law so the legal situation was unclear but he thought there might be “certain roads that we have to exempt”.

Councillor John Waters wished to give his colleague Peter Craske an opportunity to crow over the borough’s comparatively good recycling rate of 54% but his question was interlaced with barbs. Bexley residents have to put up with seven waste receptacles whilst Greenwich imposes only three, “how much rubbish does that Council recycle?”

Greenwich “does what it wants and their recycling rate is 36%. It was", Peter Craske said, “quite simple to work out what goes in each of Bexley’s bins".

Councillor Waters in a variant of the ‘isn’t Bexley wonderful’ style of questioning asked Councillor Craske “if he would join me in applauding our borough’s residents for making us consistently the number one borough for recycling”. Councillor Craske was happy to oblige.

Councillor Joe Ferreira (Labour, Erith) reminded Council of the massive disparity between waste disposal charges in Bexley and Greenwich. His comments fell on deaf ears.

Councillor Abena Oppong-Asare (Labour, Erith) asked the Council Leader what effect a Brexit would have on Bexley. “Some impact irrespective of the outcome” was the non-committal answer.

Councillor Oppong-Asare said that the London Enterprise Panel was allocated £530 million by the European Social Fund which helped create jobs and support businesses in the boroughs including Erith in particular.

The Council Leader agreed that some money did come from Europe but “it could be said that it was taxpayers’ money which had gone to Europe”. Alex Sawyer has made it amply clear which side of the European debate he sits on, Teresa O’Neill was a little more circumspect.


LeafCouncillor David Leaf (Conservative, Longlands) is one of those creepy crawling Councillors who exist only to seek favours from his Leader. “Would the Leader remind Members of the level of investment secured by this Council which is being used for the benefit of our residents and does she agree with me that our residents are worse off because Gordon Brown and Tony Blair spent large chunks of [lost in the laughter].”

The Leader said she could “perhaps just say yes” but went on to agree with the investment comments without providing any figures.

Councillor David Leaf has well and truly taken over the mantle of Village Idiot from the former occupant of that position, John Davey.

Councillor John Husband (Labour, Lesnes Abbey) asked if the Council had made any bids for EU funding in the recent past. The Council Leader said that bids had been made for the “money going out to come back”. The Council received £3 million in 2009 which helped fund the £5·7 million Erith link road to the industrial estates which in turn persuaded Tesco and Ocado to the site. Another bid was made last February the outcome of which is unknown.

£33,000 was allocated by the EU to “good practice in managing open space”. There was a ripple of ironic laughter. The Leader said it was all taxpayers’ money coming back, thereby shedding a little more light on her views on the European Union.

Councillor Husband wished to know what plans there were for replacing the funds in the event of a Brexit. The Leader repeated “that is taxpayers’ money anyway, the reality is that it could still be available. There is no point in prejudging what the outcome will be”.

Councillor Leaf was back again like a cracked record. “Is the Leader aware that the last Labour Government refused to put forward Assisted Area Funding which would have meant more taxpayers’ money coming back to us and does she also welcome the fact that it is this Conservative government which is having a referendum on Europe and the last Labour government refused our residents and denied the country”.


O'NeillThe Council Leader welcomed the referendum and agreed that the Labour decision deprived Belvedere, Erith and North End wards of assistance.

Councillor Chris Beazley (UKIP, St Michael’s) pursued the referendum issues. “Did the Leader believe that Bexley would benefit from being outside the European Union?” Teresa O’Neill seemed to think most things would go on much as before after 23rd June and “did not think things would just be wiped away” but was keen to avoid directly answering the question.

The final question came once again from the Village Idiot. “Does the Leader agree with me that this borough will always be better off with a Conservative Council, a Conservative government and a Conservative Mayor of London?”

“I agree with Councillor Leaf” was all that the Leader was able to say before the Mayor called time.

Is David Leaf really the best filing clerk that Priti Patel MP can find to answer her office phone?

 

25 April (Part 3) - I caught one at last

A candidate for London Mayor that is. They have all been choosing to go to Old Farm Park far too early in the morning and it’s not an easy journey before nine o’clock. In any case, for me, the only real advantage of going there in person is that I do not have to steal someone else’s photograph to illustrate it.

Peter Whittle the UKIP Candidate made his trip there this morning and again I didn’t, however here’s a stolen photo of the event. I’m sure Mr. Whittle will have promised to save the park, but even Zac Goldsmith (Conservative) has a plan to save it but in reality it is his party that wishes to erase it from the face of the earth.
UKIP
Unlike the Labour and Conservative candidates, the UKIP man took himself off to Bexleyheath afterwards where UKIP had a stall pushing Brexit leaflets. It seemed to me that upwards of 80% of passers by were simply not interested in the European Referendum. The most important decision in more than forty years and nobody cares. Unbelievable.

Just as I was about to speak to the man himself, ITN whisked him off for an interview. I’ve been told that you could just get a glimpse of my camera case in one shot on this evening’s London ITV News.

UKIP UKIP UKIP UKIP
Here’s an extract from one of UKIP’s leaflets. Click on it to see more of it.
UKIP
I suspect it will be worse than that and Britain will be punished if the Europeans think we are trapped for another 40 years. And can there be a better way of giving David Cameron a bloody nose than an out vote?

 

25 April (Part 2) - And for my next trick…

Bexley Council doesn’t like being questioned, or perhaps I should say doesn’t like being forced to give answers, especially in public.

Over the years I have seen many attempts to dodge public questions at Council meetings, one simple dodge is to only allow 15 minutes every three months for Bexley’s 200,000 plus adult residents and then simply short change them by accidentally on purpose misreading the clock. Not so easy now that everything is recorded but as yet that hasn’t completely stopped the practice.

Perhaps the most fail safe question dodging technique is to ask a random member of a local Conservative Association to put forward a fake question along the lines of “Bexley Council is wonderful. Does the Leader agree it is wonderful and can she give me some examples of its wonderfulness”. I’ve seen a good number of those over the years.

Another technique is the filibuster. Council Leader Teresa O’Neill is quite adept at carrying on for the full fifteen minutes without always answering the question or alternatively answering questions which weren’t asked.

Web casting may have put paid to blatant filibustering.

A fairly recent innovation is to make the questioner read out his question in full. It used to be taken as read from the printed Agenda, but not any more. Every little helps when it comes to restricting question time.

It’s not very sophisticated but one technique is to simply refuse to answer the question. Maybe not often used because it makes the relevant Cabinet Member look like he has something to hide. I’ve not seen it used since Mick Barnbrook asked Councillor Philip Read about the appointment of a former Bexley Director of Child Care to author a Serious Case Review into the death of Rhys Lawrie. The three year old was murdered in a Baby Peter style case of neglect right under Bexley Council’s nose. Plenty to hide there.

Philip Read refused to answer the question on the grounds that Mick Barnbrook was a BNP member at a time when it was rather more popular party than it is now. Does it even exist any more?

Far more sophisticated was the Teresa O’Neill inspired rule that said residents who asked questions would have their name and address published on the Council’s website. This had the potential to partially disenfranchise young adults living at home with parents or abused spouses living in safe houses.

Teresa O’Neill didn’t care but fortunately the Information Commissioner did and Bexley decided to drop the practice just before the ICO jumped on them.

I heard Teresa O’Neill argue in Council that she only published the addresses with the agreement of the questioner. Everyone who asked a question knew the rules and therefore by implication was agreeing to them when submitting a question she said. Clutching at straws I think they call it.

Last week Bexley Conservatives came up with a new question dodging technique which may be useful only in exceptional circumstances. It is to hold a debate before listening to questions pertinent to that debate. They are nothing if not inventive as cheats and confidence tricksters have to be.

The first question was about the Council’s pension fund investment policies as it related to fossil fuels. It was answered by Pension Committee Chairman Councillor John Waters who when he stands up is a very long way from the desk microphone and whose voice is not as fulsome as his height. It’s too much of a strain to decipher what was captured by my recorder and I’m not sufficiently interested to check to see if the webcast is clearer. I think Councillor Waters defended fossil fuel investments as still being a good thing and said the Council pays for expert advice. I hope he is right because I’ve not looked at what my Royal Dutch Shell shares might be worth for a very long time.


Malcolm WrightWhat everyone was really waiting for were the questions relating to Old Farm Park. Malcolm Wright of the Save Campaign was planning to ask if it was to have its status changed before the end of this year from being an Urban Open Space to something providing a little more protection such as Metropolitan Open Land, however before doing so he asked the Mayor, presumably because the deciding cart had been put before the questioning horse, if he could stray from his original form of words. She refused permission fearful perhaps of what she might be letting herself in for.

Cabinet Member Linda Bailey said she could not offer that guarantee because another public consultation must be held and that was not planned until 2017 with any possibility of changing status impossible until 2019.

Mr. Wright’s original supplementary question had been successfully invalidated by the changed order of events so he asked instead. “Could the Council confirm it will allow or permit local residents to have authority on the future regeneration of the remaining park, planting of trees and things like that, as opposed to something being imposed on us by Council?” Cabinet Member Linda Bailey did not hesitate, “Yes, definitely”.

Ms. Becci McManus had a similar question and queried the dimensions of the SINC (Site of Importance for Nature Conservation). Councillor Bailey said it would extend 12 metres from the railway fence.

The supplementary question had been partially outdated by the changed Agenda sequence but was about the park being designated an Asset of Community Value under the Localism Act and as such subject to a six week moratorium during the planning process. Councillor Bailey expected those safeguards to be applied.

 

25 April (Part 1) - Bad news for Bexley

Water mainThe massive disruption in Bexley Village caused by the bridge replacement work was due to be reduced from 28th March. That didn’t happen and the date slipped until the end of April. Now it has slipped again - to 10th May.

The reason is said to be corrosion found on a Thames Water pipe. The photograph distributed with Bexley Council’s latest Press Release is of the rusty pipe; no I can’t make head nor tail of it either.

How is your Thames Water meter installation going? Its chaotic in my road.

In November last year Thames Water dug up the pavements and fiddled around underground presumably fitting the meters or their housing. A couple of days before Christmas they knocked on the door to tell me what they planned to do next. I told them they had missed my underground stop cock, which they have. They made a note of it and said a supervisor would phone me early in the New Year. Nothing happened.

At the end of March I received a letter from Thames Water claiming they had failed to reach me on the phone and would I call them urgently. My telephone logs all my incoming calls, answered or not, and there was no call obviously from Thames Water. The only possibility was two Withheld number calls on 2nd February, neither of which had been answered.

I discovered that all my neighbours had received the same letter and one (not in my road) had tried to call but was sent around in circles by their call system until he gave up. I decided not to bother.

Last week Thames Water knocked on my door again claiming they couldn’t find my stopcock. I showed them where it was and they looked down the hole saying it was a very old one. I knew that, it has not been touched in 30 years. The two men went away. I have heard nothing since. When did they first say they were going to install meters across Bexley? 2013 wasn’t it?

 

24 April (Part 2) - Lesnes Abbey. Coming along nicely

Lesnes LesnesAfter many months of disruption and several of closure, the Lottery funded redesign of Lesnes Abbey park appears to be entering its final stages. Last Friday the main entrance was opened up but still without any easy disabled access.

As stated before it all looks rather smart although personally I think a mixture of tarmac and compressed sand paths is unsightly. All those millions and someone decided to spoil the effect.

The well top has been repaired, the tree carving is nearly complete and the iron gates provide an impressive entrance to the Monk’s Garden.

Lesnes Lesnes Lesnes Lesnes
Lesnes Lesnes Lesnes Lesnes

 

24 April (Part 1) - Selling the silver - Knock out Round 3

And so we came to the final moments as the sword was raised ready to descend on Bexley’s neck. The Mayor said she would allow three more speakers and Councillor, or Mrs. as the Mayor prefers to call her, June Slaughter rose to her feet to deliver her eagerly awaited words.


SlaughterSelling parks she said “was one of the most unfortunate decisions this Council has made since I was elected in 1974. I have received more letters and emails about this than any other issue in which I have been involved as a member of the Council”.

“Despite assurances to the contrary I still feel that alternatives have not been fully explored.”

“As far as the policy of selling is concerned I have consistently opposed the sale of this park because I am opposed to selling any open space that was acquired or designated by the Council as open space.”

“Like other members I am critical of the process followed by the Council.” Councillor Slaughter covered the consultation conducted without identification of the site, the consultation taken at the height of the holiday period and the statutory consultation which went ahead with minimal publicity. The consultation was not listed among other consultations on the Council’s website and only following complaints was a small sign put in the library on 22nd December. “Residents feel that a full public inquiry should have been undertaken.”

“The Council’s claim of underuse of the park and the overprovision of nearby open space was unjustified.”

The public was hanging on to Councillor Slaughter’s every word but not everyone was paying attention.


Massey MasseyWhile Councillor Slaughter was speaking the reliably obnoxious Cabinet Member Massey struck up conversations with She Who Must Be Obeyed and his partner in crime Philip Read. Plotting June Slaughter’s downfall perhaps.

Councillor Slaughter had not forgotten that most Councillors had already voted to sell Bexley’s parks while pretending to remain open minded at public meetings.

“Listening to you, working for you” she said, was ignored when 1,400 people objected as part of the Summer consultation. “Residents are left wondering what more they can do to be heard.”

Councillor Slaughter promised residents that all the Sidcup councillors would be “with them for the next stage to ensure the least damaging development is carried out”.


BettsLike Councillor Leitch, she paid tribute “to the many residents who put heart and soul into the campaign to Save Old Farm Park”. Addressing her bored looking colleagues, she said “do you want to be remembered as Members of the Council which sold this highly valued park?”

Councillor Alan Deadman (Labour Leader) supported a public inquiry because it would not be seen as ‘predetermined by the party opposite’ and there were still unanswered questions about the sale of the parks, especially the smaller ones. Like Councillor Slaughter he wanted to know just how many people needed to object before this Council would take any notice of residents.


BeckwithThe third Sidcup Councillor, Aileen Beckwith, was invited to speak. There had been speculation beforehand that Councillor Beckwith would abstain in the vote which would be little better than the decision of others such as Gareth Bacon who chose to stay away. But Councillor Beckwith is made of sterner stuff than the money motivated GLA candidate.

She came straight to the point and agreed with her ward colleagues, saying she would be voting against the sale of parks.

From someone who seemed to have had enough of her party we went to someone who can never get enough parties, the well known reveller, Councillor Sharon Massey.

Councillor Aileen Beckwith can be independent of husband Brian who is more in awe of Teresa O’Neill and obediently voted to sell, but there is no such division in the Massey household. Whether it be accusing their neighbours of harassment or harassing the whole borough they stick together.


MasseyHolding up the General Purposes Agenda as proof, Councillor Massey disputed the suggestion that “not enough people have been consulted”. She said that Councillor Deadman was wrong, people had been listened to. I think she meant ignored.

She said Councillors must do what is best for the borough which was to sell its parks to fund the financial black holes. The financial woes were caused by too high a benefit bill and quoted some figures while blaming the Labour government for them. “That is one of the reasons why we do not have enough money.” To much laughter she claimed to understand the residents of Sidcup. The residents responded with “you don’t even live here.”

The Mayor threatened to clear the gallery and I resolved to sit tight if she did and make them call the police. Unfortunately the Mayor is all hot air and issues only empty threats.

Councillor Massey concluded by saying that “if any Member of this chamber doesn’t think they have had their concerns addressed, they’ve had plenty of opportunity. What we are doing tonight is the right thing.”


MayorTo cries of “oh no” the Mayor asked Councillor Craske to sum up. He claimed that ten years ago the Labour Group planned to sell off Old Farm Park. You’d think that would have cropped up somewhere along the last 15 months of debate if that was true, but it hasn’t. “They were going to bulldoze over Old Farm Park”, he said. “It’s a bit of a joke.”

Presumably an unintentional slip of the tongue, but he then said that Councillors Leitch, Slaughter and Beckwith were “going to vote the right way”. Much clapping. The Bogey Man then launched into the drivel about the alternative to park sales being the vindictive closure of all the children’s playgrounds.

Just before the vote was called Councillor Borella objected to it being taken without Members being provided with a clue, not even in confidence, of what the sites might sell for. The public clapped, nothing more, and the failed headmistress threatened to have them removed again.

In answer, Cabinet Member Don Massey read out an email he had sent to Councillor Borella which claimed that jumping into the unknown without any figures had precedents. So that’s all right then.


MooreThe Mayor complained about the fact that Councillor Borella had chosen to “interrupt” her call for a vote.

Finally the vote was taken by roll call with the Acting Chief Executive calling out the names - apart from UKIP Councillor Beazley who he initially omitted - and the result was a foregone conclusion. Labour, UKIP and the three Sidcup Conservatives voted against the sale while all the others dutifully put their knife into the green heart of Bexley.

As numerous people have said before, it was a done deal more than a year ago but there was a drama that had to be played out for appearances’ sake.

 

23 April (Part 2) - Teresa O’Neill’s plan hits the buffers

I spent too long today walking around the local Crossrail sites (sights?) to have time for a proper Part 2 but while peering over the fence at the developing Abbey Wood station I was tapped on the shoulder by Network Rail’s Civil Engineer. I think he is number three in the local hierarchy. Just for once he wasn’t trying to convince me I would get better pictures if I used a Nikon camera and I asked him about the extensive ironwork and concrete being installed below.


Crossrail Crossrail“That’ll be for the northern support wall”, I said. “Yes” came the reply. “So there’s absolutely no way you could get a second Crossrail track through to the flyover and beyond?” “No” he said, looking at me strangely because we have discussed all this before. “The second track will hit the buffers there and can’t go any further.”

“So no dedicated Crossrail track down to Ebbsfleet then?” He laughed. “Not in your lifetime, not for at least ten years after opening anyway”.

I’d guess he didn’t like the idea of his pride and joy being half demolished soon after completion.

I asked because at the last Council meeting, and not for the first time, Council Leader Teresa O’Neill was telling us this…
Report

From the Leader’s report to Council. 20th April 2016.

 

23 April (Part 1) - Selling the silver - Round 2

Councillor Joe Ferreira (Labour, Erith) was the first to speak against selling parks. He was aware of the dire financial straits that Bexley Council has got itself into and “we have seen them cut away the flesh and now they are chipping into the bone. Selling off the family silver is unsustainable and creates a dangerous precedent”.

“If we face future budget pressures, do we sell off another park to pay for it?” He reminded Council of the many shortcomings in their processes such as referring to the statutory consultation on the Council’s website only three weeks after the event with no instructions on how to respond.

The parks “belong to residents, we are custodians of the parks. Do the members opposite want the legacy of this Council to be one of abdication from its role of protector of this borough or to sell it piece by piece to the highest bidder to the detriment of residents? I hope the members opposite will join me in voting against this recommendation”.


LeitchCouncillor Rob Leitch whose ward includes Old Farm Park was next to his feet. It being his sixth speech on the subject in the chamber there could not be a lot new to say.

The sale “could set a dangerous precedent for the years ahead. With service reductions the possibility of reintroduction in the future remains an option but with Old Farm Park there is no second chance, no opportunity for regret, no means for future generations of Councillors to reverse or restore the position. Like Councillor Ferreira I believe we are custodians of this wonderful borough and not its owners able to dispose of it as we see fit”.

“I engaged in local politics to represent local people and we are here to leave a positive legacy to future generations. It would be wrong to say that it is only those who live locally to Old Farm Park who are opposed to the sale. It would be wrong to suggest that it is merely a nimbyism argument. There are many across the borough who also care enormously about the diversity of our wildlife, the accessibility of our open space and the quality of our air all of which are valid reasons for objecting to the sale of Old Farm Park.”

He paid tribute to the many residents who had organised the campaign in support of retaining the park and concluded with “there are times when it is important to put people before politics and principal before party. I will sleep better tonight knowing that I have done so”.


BeazleyCouncillor Chris Beazley proposed an amendment and returned to his contention that it would be better to dispose of the Council’s interest in the Broadway Shopping Centre rather than sell an irreplaceable park.

He explained his case at some length…


I believe that it would be wrong to proceed with the sale of Old Farm Park while there are viable alternatives.

As you may be aware, this week the proportion of the Broadway Shopping Centre and Broadway Square that is not owned by Bexley Council sold for £120·3 million which would indicate that the Council’s proportion is worth £43·3 million.

The previous argument for not selling the Broadway was because we receive an annual rental income of £1·4 million, an approximate yield of three percent which is well below current property yields. So our suggestion is that if we were to sell the Council’s proportion of the Broadway Shopping Centre and reinvest it in accordance with the Council’s Treasury Management Strategy for Medium to Long Term investments we would expect to see annual returns of 5·5%.

This would produce an annual income of approximately £2·4 million. That £2·4 million could then be used to reimburse the £1·4 million loss of rental income from the Broadway and with the surplus £1 million use £710,000 of it to pay for the up keep to green spaces and save Old Farm Park.

There would still be a surplus of £300,000 for any variation in returns or further income for the Council. So I would ask you to forget about your party colour and put the residents of Bexley first by supporting this fully costed UKIP amendment.


The public applauded and the Mayor suggested they shouldn’t because it took up time. More time was taken up by the mocking laughter that followed.


MasseyThe amendment was circulated and it provoked a rant from Cabinet Member Don Massey. The habitually impolite Massey said that it was “unfortunately the usual lazy UKIP way, let’s have a matchbox, let’s write things on that one. Your figures are woefully inadequate in terms of the actual hole you would create in the budget”.

Investments “are not like going down Ladbrooks and placing it on the favourite in the 3:30, there is a risk. With regret Councillor Beazley, this is yet another lazy UKIP proposal put forward that is not actually worth it. I disagree with the figures entirely, you should have done a bit more homework. Why did you not take the opportunity of talking to us on this one?”

Councillor Borella (Labour, North End) asked if the amendment had been “verified by the Section 151 Officer”, the Finance Director. UKIP Councillors Smith and Bezley could be heard interjecting that it had been. “Because if it hasn’t I’m afraid we can’t go forward with it” continued Stefano.


GriffinAlison Griffin, the Section 151 Officer, was asked to comment. She diplomatically said “the amendment has no figures in it so in theory I do not have a view on the specific amendment in front of you. If it had, of course I would come to a view and give you that advice. If Members came to me with this proposal I would also give advice and would need to confer about when would the revenue be achieved because we need the money for 2015/17 and 2017/18 - so immediately - and as the proposer mentioned it would have to go into the medium and long term investment category which would not deliver immediately”.

The UKIP amendment and with it the last chance for Bexley’s parks was thrown out.

The following day I emailed Councillor Beazley to ask who had “fully costed” the UKIP amendment and he confirmed that the Director of Finance had run through the figures with him and given him the OK. Probably she didn’t like the idea as it was not hers and might not provide the immediate remedy that the Council’s mismanagement of the budget demanded, but she confirmed the calculations which Cabinet Member Massey was so keen to rudely discredit.

Presumably Massey’s short tirade was the product of his own matchbox scribbling and failure to do his homework because whilst he might “disagree with UKIP’s figures entirely”, the Finance Director had misgivings only on the timescale.

If only Bexley Council had a little more foresight it might not be in quite so deep a hole.

The Mayor said she would accept three more speakers before putting the sale of parks on her chopping block. Mrs. Slaughter, as the Mayor addressed her, was invited to be first in the queue.

 

22 April (Part 3) - Wilde inconsistency

While Old Farm Park has hogged the limelight recently I tried not to forget that three other green sites have been given the chop too. At least some part of Old Farm will remain whereas Wilde Road and West Street parks will disappear completely. The residents there are not too happy as you might expect…


I love your site, here’s an example of how bonkers Bexley is.

I live on Bronte Close - it’s a cul-de-sac and at the end we have two small bits of land called Wilde Road East and West. The council is selling them even though there is a school in the middle of our very cramped estate.

A couple of years back the owner of a town house backing into the land wanted to extend his garage about five feet onto the grass verge that he owned and which ran down the side of his property!

His planning application was refused three times - the reason, and I kid you not, was that Bexley Council was concerned about losing green space!!

You couldn’t make it up!


Where Bexley Council is concerned, you never have to make it up, they provide quite enough rope with which to hang them. I understand that a compromise solution was eventually found and a small garage extension went ahead.

 

22 April (Part 2) - Why did they bother?

The so called regeneration of Sidcup was completed in October 2014 and 18 months down the line it appears to be going the same way as the Broadway scheme for which Bexley Council is still trying to extract compensation from its design partner.

This is how it looked a couple of days ago.
Sidcup

Click to rotate. Photo by Brian Barnett.

Index to Sidcup High Street regeneration related blogs.

 

22 April (Part 1) - Fine by me

Life can be difficult for the disabled and I don’t just mean for the obvious reasons. It can be both frustrating and expensive. I once spent the whole of a Bristol to Paddington train journey with my daughter (MS) with her on the phone trying to find a taxi company who would honour the London Councils discount scheme and take her to Barbican.

Somewhere around Slough she gave up and paid the full price. You or I would probably have taken the Circle Line.


CEOParking is a nuisance despite the Blue Badge scheme. The rules on Blue Badge charging exemptions vary from one borough to another and few think to make them prominent on their websites.

Bexley is more generous to the disabled than Bromley for example where a Blue Badge is not valid in a residents’ parking bay.

You can’t always be sure that someone using a Badge is disabled or not. They don’t all have one leg and a crutch, so challenging suspected potential offenders requires a sensitive touch. Not something for which CEOs are renowned.

Even so, Bexley Council is going to try. Their latest Press Release says they are going to prosecute Badge abusers. It’s probably prompted by the fact that fewer Blue Badges mean more parking revenue but it is also something that needs to be done.

 

21 April (Part 3) - The proposer and seconder of park sales repeat their “exhausted” stories

Can it really be nearly 15 months since Bexley Council first announced it intended to plug some holes in its budget by selling parks? Their ill-judged scheme was successfully kept secret until Cabinet Member Alex Sawyer blurted out their names on 10th February 2015. For some unaccountable reason the locations were not reported here for another week.

I was an instant pessimist about the prospects for saving the parks, I have seen how Bexley Tories operate far too many times and they will happily bulldoze any opposition and I have yet to see them live up to their strap line, Listening to you, working for you.

Councillor Leader Teresa O’Neill told us exactly what she was going to do and how she would ignore any alternative strategy as long ago as last July.

Teresa O’Neill speaking on 15th July 2015.

SloganAnd so it turned out. No matter how many signed the petitions, or how big was the response to the consultation exercise she tried so hard to rig, all objections were ignored by the human steam roller. It came to a head last night when almost all the Conservatives voted to sell half of Old Farm Park and three smaller ones.

But even in their hour of victory over residents they could not help themselves from indulging in one more dirty trick.

The normal course of events at a Full Council Meeting is questions from the public, questions from Councillors. left overs from the last meeting of which there were a lot last night, followed by a voluminous report from the voluminous Leader and finally, for last night, consideration of park sales.

The meeting didn’t start until 19:45 and by my estimation the Council was unlikely to get around to park sales until around ten o’clock, and park sales were what had drawn sixty people into the public gallery.

The Labour group thought they should be helpful to the public by asking the Chairman Mayor to bring forward Agenda Item 8 (park sales) to be Item 6, immediately after questions. This would allow the public to get away a good half hour earlier than they would otherwise.

Councillor Stefano Borella (Labour, North End) put the case forward by invoking Standing Order 13.

Leader Teresa O’Neill took Stefano rather too literally by interpreting “bringing forward” as “placing first” and went on to state the obvious; that it would place questions about the park sale after the park sale decision had been made. Not very clever!

Councillor Daniel Francis (Labour, Belvedere) clarified the request, “We should insert it [Agenda Item 8] after the public questions.” The Mayor thought “that everyone would be very confused by this, extremely confused.”

It may have been too much for the Mayor’s puny intellect but it didn’t look too complicated to me.

The Leader decided to make mischief by asking if the Mayor wanted what Councillor Borella asked for or for Councillor Francis’s clarification.


CamseyThe Mayor asked Councillor Borella if he was requesting a time limit on consideration of the park sales, why she should think that I have no idea, but Stefano confirmed he was not.

However the Council Leader proposed a half hour time limit while the opposition protested. The Labour Leader Alan Deadman questioned the Mayor about the decision, but she, in effect, said we had heard all the arguments for and against park sales before. There was no need to hear them all again. “The arguments have been exhausted.”

Or to put it another way, the light should not be shone on Bexley’s democratic process for any longer than is strictly necessary.

A vote was taken on bringing forward a time restricted Agenda Item 8 to the very beginning of the meeting and inevitably the majority party won while we were treated to the rare sight of the opposition party voting against what started out as their own suggestion. Conservative sharp practice had stood Labour’s good intentions on their heads.

The public raised their hands on the No side too and the Mayor reminded them in full on headmistress mode that “you have no vote”. I think she will find she is wrong come May 2018.

You have to hand it to the Tories, it was pretty nifty thinking on their part to turn something intended to be helpful to members of the public into a means of screwing them rotten. Their questions were in effect invalidated. Bexley Tories really do exemplify the nasty party and sometimes I think the Labour group fails to take full account of it.


CraskeAnd so the meeting limped into its first substantive Agenda Item, flogging the family silver. Cabinet Member Peter Craske was first to get stuck in with his proposal to sell four parks.

I am not going to report his speech in detail because it was almost word for word the irrelevant diatribe he spouted at Cabinet. In essence, “Bexley is a fantastic place to live with fabulous parks and open spaces so let’s close a few, no one will notice”.

It didn’t go down too well with members of the public and after four minutes of Craske droning on, the Mayor issued the first of her many threats to clear the public gallery.

Crimson Comedian Craske created much mirth by saying that “a vote against park closure is a vote for politics and against playgrounds” but after just short of seven minutes he thankfully gave up on the jokes and was jeered off.


O'NeillNext on stage was someone lucky enough to live in a house that backs on to a park all of her own. Oblivious to the fact that park sales were never mentioned during the last election she said “the pledges we make at election time are what we want to deliver or else the electorate will do exactly what they did in 2006 to the party opposite”.

“In 2014 we pledged to build on our previous achievements [but] just like our residents we have to live within our means by setting a balanced budget. Sometimes the actions you have to take aren’t popular but we have to do what is best in the interests of the majority.”

“We know that our parks are valued by residents, we also know that residents won’t appreciate not being able to use them as they do now if they aren’t maintained.”

“Some say we won’t keep the pledge to use the money to maintain existing space but we are not in the [obscured by public gallery laughter] of breaking our pledges.” The Leader repeated the lie that Council Tax has been kept low in Bexley. Compared to other boroughs it is worse than when Labour was in power.

When the Leader took the weight off her feet Councillor Joe Ferreira (Labour, Erith) was invited to speak followed by many others, some for some against.

They included everyone’s favourite buffoon, Councillor David Leaf. As always his priority was to fling mud at the Labour party, I am still awaiting something constructive to come from him. Whether his insults are up to the standards set by Cabinet Member Don Massey is a difficult call. His contribution is probably two or three more installments into the future.

Note: Apart from the anti-democratic trickery the opening addresses were fairly low key. Things became a little more exciting later. The timing of meetings is set by the Constitution so the problems associated with rearrangements are not as simple as might initially appear.

 

21 April (Part 2) - Another privatisation in Bexley

At the beginning of March the Labour group on Bexley Council put forward an alternative budget. Nothing far reaching, it was designed to save only a small amount of money, about £140,000 a year, but it was enough to improve litter picking services, freeze the short term car parking charges which have since gone up by 20% and have enough left over to maintain the Belvedere Splash Park. Naturally the Tories wanted nothing to do with it.

DistributionThe largest part of the saving was to come from ceasing door to door delivery of the Bexley Magazine. A £50,000 saving was possible if the magazine was left at pick up points and internet downloads encouraged. The reason for that idea being so hastily dismissed has just become clear, Bexley Council has privatised the magazine distribution service.

What used to be delivered by a lowly paid army of volunteers, many of them retired Council staff, some with 20 years of delivery service, is now in the care of London Letterbox Marketing which has been awarded a contract by Bexley Council.

Except for some funny business during an election purdah period when Bexley Council decided against delivering my magazine, the service to my door in the past has been perfect. The contractor obviously cannot improve on that.

The next issue is due in June.

 

21 April (Part 1) - Whittle jets in

Never have I been less interested in an election than that of the London Mayor on whenever it is. Boris Johnson proved beyond all doubt that listening to pre-election promises is a total waste of time. I think I gave him my second preference vote last time but that was back in the days when I was still clinging on to my Conservative roots. I know better now and have come to the conclusion that they are all as bad as each other except that those who associate themselves with Bexley Council must be slightly worse.


UKIPDespite my disinterest I felt in principle that I should attend any candidate events held locally although in practice that has so far come to nothing.

I went to Bexleyheath three Wednesdays ago on what turned out to be a wild goose chase. I had been told that Sadiq Khan (Labour) was going to be there but he wasn’t. In doing so I missed the Zac Goldsmith (Conservative) event in Erith.

When Sadiq Khan went to Sidcup last week it was for nine o’clock and that time is just about impossible from Abbey Wood. However maybe I will be luckier next Monday.

I have been informed that the UKIP candidate Peter Whittle will be at Sidcup station at nine on the 25th and two hours later by the Clock Tower in Bexleyheath. I have no idea what he is all about apart from the obvious but I will go to size him up. A local man so can’t be all bad.

Click the image to see all of his election address.

 

20 April (Part 2) - Critics who go around with their eyes shut

It was a long wait for the Crossrail Liaison Panel meeting, there’s not been one since last December. Strange timing because the date of the next one has been set for 21st June.

If you carefully read everything in Network Rail’s numerous newsletters, leaflets and street notices, there will not be an enormous amount more to be picked up from their representatives at the Liaison Panel meetings.


FlyoverHowever I learned that by mid-May the Northbound flyover bus stops will be moved south to allow easy access to the station podium, as the over track floor is being called. Materials for building the station will be delivered directly to the high level site. Work on rerouting flyover traffic has already commenced. (Photo 1.)

Currently scheduled for 16th May, the northern pedestrian route will be switched from the western to the eastern side of the flyover.

Weekend line closures are set to continue through to June at least and probably until 20th August when the new Dartford bound platform is scheduled to open. In May the closures look like being Saturday only. It’s a pity that these dates are only provided briefly on screen and that Southeastern no longer bothers to publicise the long term list. I looked on Monday and there was no information on display at the station beyond next weekend.

It is probable that regular closures will extend beyond June to August but no detail was provided yesterday. After that, closures should be few and far between as all the North Kent line rearrangements will have been made by then. Presumably closures will only be needed if something is to be lifted over the track.


PilingPeople living along the eastern end of Alsike Road and in Coptefield Drive may be relieved to know that the Network Rail information letter dated 15th April which said that this week’s piling is for overhead electric supports is wrong. That may be the case closer to the station but further out it is for track bed support. The overhead electric supply line will extend only for about 250 metres beyond the station.

The piling machines will be working their way along to Bostall Manorway over coming weeks but they will only be working ‘office hours’. They aren’t much of a problem unless perhaps you are a night worker. Photo 2 was taken from my upstairs window. A thirty foot concrete lump of concrete is hammered into the ground in under a minute and with the double glazed windows shut I can barely hear it indoors.

I didn’t fully understand the answer to my question about station escalators. I believe there may be only one to each platform because there was talk of reversing them for the morning and evening rush.

The question and answer sessions at these meetings are getting ever more chaotic. The C word (chaos) slipped from the Crossrail man’s lips at one stage although he hastily withdrew it, but he was right. In my opinion the problem is in part due to the Chairman who appears to be hopelessly biased against the Crossrail/Network Rail management as one might expect from a councillor whose priority is to curry favour with electors. My last report on a Liaison Panel meeting was criticised because it was obvious that I was getting more than a little fed up with the ignorance on display. It’s the same this time only more so.

The invited public are presumably there because they are interested in the project but they appear to have very little understanding of it. One of their suggestions was that major undertakings like the current piling should not be undertaken in the summer when residents might prefer to have their windows open, because it lets in the dust and noise. So double the cost and run the first train in 2025.

The disabled ramps on the Church Manorway and Bostall Manorway footbridges are still not open thanks to objections from a couple of residents who will be overlooked. Someone said that Greenwich Council is favouring the few over the many.

One of several regular Crossrail observers I have come to recognise while taking pictures of the works lives close enough to the Bostall Manorway footbridge to have lost part of his garden to it. He insists, as do most people, that the delayed opening is totally ridiculous and the answer is net curtains.


StationThere is no doubt that closure of the northern entrance to the station is hugely inconvenient but someone who had evidently not looked at what is currently going on there suggested that a passage should be opened directly to the station footbridge. Words fail me. Photo 3 may tell you why. The pile drivers will be there shortly.

The flooding that used to afflict Abbey Terrace was discussed again. A resident said that Thames Water had told him that everything was Network Rail’s fault. The claim was accepted by the Chairman without question. Network Rail has finished work there now and it is Greenwich Council that has since done nothing to fix the road surface and the less than adequate gutters and gullies.

Bexley Council is just as bad. There was criticism of the lack of lighting on the Harrow Manorway steps to Gayton Road. I felt obliged to point out that Bexley Council never has provided lighting on those steps in the 40 years they have existed. They used to be covered moderately well by the street lights on Harrow Manorway but they failed last November and are still out.

All the lighting on the steps has been provided by Network Rail while Bexley Council grapples with a problem with their street lights, they acknowledged there were technical issues last night. Even so the Chairman didn’t seem to believe the council was at fault and Network Rail was asked to provide more lights.

There is potentially a problem at the bottom of the flyover steps because people are often hurrying from a bus into the railway station. They may not look out for the traffic coming from the right although you would think that people doing that route daily would know to be careful by now.


Gayton RoadCouncillor Val Clark who chairs Bexley’s Transport Committee thought that one of those curved mirror thingies would help. I think the word she was looking for was convex.

Obviously she doesn’t know the area well. There is no real problem seeing, the problem is people who don’t look. The view to the right is through a Heras wire fence but it is clear enough. (Photo 4.)

As Bexley Council is so keen on non-standard pedestrian crossings (The Broadway etc.) it could do worse than painting black and white stripes on the road. It might act as a warning to motorists and perhaps grab the attention of commuters with their eyes glued to their mobile phones.

A resident from Abbey Terrace was very annoyed about the public address system on Abbey Wood station. He can hear it all day long.

The new system is very sophisticated. There are 32 speakers on the London bound platform with 34 more planned for the Dartford side, placed close together so that passengers are never far from a loudspeaker which can therefore run at a lower volume. Each one of them is independently adjustable. On top of that they are sensitive to ambient noise and time of day to further mitigate any problems. Proximity sensors will be added so that the speakers will only operate when there is someone nearby.


Acoustic screenThe acoustic screen is more than ten feet high although there is at present a gap in it in exactly the wrong place while drainage culvert work is completed. Half the announcements would disappear if Southeastern ran its trains on time. “Southeastern apologises for the late running…” over and over again must get rather wearing.

The resident wanted the PA system switched off completely at the western end of the platform. The Network Rail manager said that the PA system must remain operational for safety reasons but the Chairman ruled that noise nuisance was a more important issue than passenger safety and implied that Greenwich Council would take action against Network Rail. We really could do with an impartial Chairman for the Liaison Panel.

There were lots of complaints about communications. More and more leaflets were demanded when the real problem is that no one reads them. Some of the questions I have been asked while standing around watching the work have been beyond belief. I spoke to a local man on a recent weekend who didn’t usually use the train but was annoyed to find there wasn’t one when he needed it. He had simply not noticed the work going on in Abbey Wood over the past few years. “A railway tunnel under the Thames? Amazing!”

I know of a regular commuter who was totally unaware that there were no trains at Easter despite the station being festooned with notices.

I live close enough to the work to have Crossrail leaflets posted to me and have a collection going back to 2009 which may be a little obsessive, but they have all been available on line. Anyone who wants to know what is going on can find out and it is not that difficult to understand. Many of last night’s complaining questions I could have answered myself and I have never been specially interested in railways. More leaflets won’t help especially when read by people who think the work could be confined to the winter months.

There was something on which Network Rail appeared to have dropped the ball. Sixteen months ago they were asked to do more to help keep the dust down in Wilton Road and said they would consider paying for shop window cleaners. This week came their refusal. The problem is much reduced now, perhaps that is why they waited for so long.

Crossrail’s Complaints Commissioner was at the meeting and he must have taken a dim view of the unacceptable delay and undertook to investigate.

There were times yesterday when I wanted to bang my head on the desk in despair at some of the nonsense being spoken but taken seriously by the chair.

Council staff who would find organising a party in a brewery somewhat beyond their capabilities are far too ready to blame Network Rail for everything. Bexley not only can’t fix its street lights in nearly six months, it messes up every infrastructure project it touches. The roundabout at Wickham Lane that buses couldn’t get around, the one at Ruxley which wouldn’t accommodate an articulated lorry. Bexley Lane in Crayford had to be modified within weeks of its redesign. The nearby Bourne Road junction encourages cars to mount the pavement.

In Bexleyheath the road blocks had to be replaced a year after installation, the Sidcup regeneration ran about six months late and what is in effect a large but technically simple gardening job in Lesnes Abbey is already a year late.


Wilton RoadMeanwhile, these Council ‘experts’ are telling Network Rail how things should be done. One doesn’t know whether to laugh or cry. Not once has anything gone seriously wrong with Crossrail, it’s been dirty and noisy at times and is horribly inconvenient to some people but services have been maintained according to the published plan and to its timetable. No Bexley council project has ever been able to compete with that.

It will be the time for councils to be critical when someone comes up with a better Crossrail plan than the one that has been unfolding under our noses. Until then they would do well to better attend to their own responsibilities. Flood prevention, lighting, road safety and trip hazards, Gayton Road is full of them, might be a good place to start.

Now let’s see how many complaints I get for saying that!

 

20 April (Part 1) - History repeating itself?

SidcupI am in almost total ignorance of the GLA elections and they are only two weeks away.

There have been a couple of leaflets from the Conservative and Labour contenders for Mayor through the letterbox but nothing from any other party. Nothing about any prospective GLA member either. If it wasn’t for the fact I watch local political developments fairly closely I would not know that Bexley Councillor Gareth Bacon is in the running for the GLA. Anyone who votes for a candidate whose only interest in politics is making money out of it needs their head testing.

After reading yesterday’s News Shopper on line my opinion of Zac Goldsmith took a further dive, I didn’t think that was possible after I heard him say more than once on the radio that he plans to increase taxes on motorists. What is the point of a Conservative who believes that more taxation is the answer to everything?

However if the News Shopper is to be believed Zac Goldsmith appears to have gone right off his head. He says that a million pounds should be given to Sidcup for improving the shop fronts, put in a few trees and reducing the number of empty shop premises.

Wasn’t that done in 2014? Bexley Council has bragged at public meetings that spending £1·8 million in Sidcup and disrupting the high street from January to November miraculously improved trade and that the number of empty shops plummeted. Who can you believe?

If Zac Goldsmith thinks another million needs to be sent on Sidcup, does that mean that Bexley Council has lied about the success of the 2014 regeneration? And why does all this money have to be spent in the south again? Abbey Wood got a measly £300,000 and the council stole back a third of it in fees.

 

19 April - Two northern eyesores

The Leather Bottle
Leather Bottle Leather BottleI was lucky with my trip to Heron Hill today, just before I got to The Leather Bottle a smartly dressed man jumped out of a large motor car and entered the building site. By the time I got there all the construction people were gathered around him as he appeared to be serving some documents on them.

While they were distracted I took the opportunity to poke my lens over the wall but before I could press the button (Photo 1) I heard them shouting and knew I was being chased by Indian gentlemen again.

They really don’t like people taking an interest in whatever they are doing. I’d say it was a sure sign of a guilty conscience. I was asked why I was taking pictures and told I couldn’t. They do not seem to be aware that one can photograph almost anything from a public place. I wandered off with them still shouting at me. Their excavations appear to have spilled outside their boundary fence too (Photo 2).

What will it take for Bexley Council to take an interest in this? A landslip perhaps.


The Harrow Inn
ThreshersAnother public house site that is a northern eyesore of no interest to Bexley Council and hasn’t been for the past six years is The Harrow Inn at the foot of Knee Hill. It was bought by Peabody recently but I heard one of their people say that the adjacent former Threshers premises was too expensive.

And so it is. They are asking for half a million largely on the back of it being a minute’s walk from the Crossrail station.

 

17 April (Part 3) - Abbey Wood station is changing fast

Crosrail CrossrailThe main development at Abbey Wood station over the past two weeks is that it now only has one entrance and the disabled and the buggy pushers are sent on a half mile hike. The situation will continue for at least 20 months.

The construction work has consisted of more of the same. The old Platform 1 has finally gone, lots of concrete has been pumped into various holes in the ground and today more support columns have been erected to hold up the high level booking hall.

One of the new concrete lined cavities is said to be for the escalator motors but I see no corresponding hole on the southern side. Is Crossrail going to be better equipped than the North Kent line? My informant suggested that is indeed the case but some of the design detail provided informally in the past has proved to be wrong, so as always, time will tell.

Maybe I can find the answer at next week’s Liaison Panel meeting.

 

17 April (Part 2) - Open cast mining on Heron Hill

Leather Bottle Leather BottleThese photos of the Leather Bottle site were taken last Thursday after more reports came in to say that more earth was being removed in a succession of lorries.

As on all previous visits the production of a camera was met with suspicion and an interrogation. Still struggling with the flu bug at the time I wandered off without responding.

There is no evidence that Bexley Council has taken any action. Apparently you can’t put up an illuminated sign outside a shop without seeking permission and paying a fat fee, but you can dig a quarry and change the landscape for ever and there is nothing anyone can do about it.

 

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.
Vote

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

 

15 April (Part 2) - Red versus blue on the green

I lost count of the number of tip offs received to the effect that Sadiq Khan, Labour’s candidate for London Mayor, would be in Old Farm Park at around 9 a.m. this morning. Unfortunately other commitments prevented me looking in and Abbey Wood to Sidcup at that time in the morning is a very difficult journey. The ‘loop’ train doesn’t run that early, the bus can easily take an hour and a half (I’ve known worse) and a car is not a lot better.

Nevertheless a good crowd appears to have turned out and the ‘stolen’ photograph appears to show that Councillors Alan Deadman and Abena Oppong-Asare were there along with someone who looks suspiciously like Teresa Pearce MP. (†)

Councillor Rob Leitch will have been in a classroom at the time but I see no sign of June Slaughter either. She is probably in quite enough trouble with the Great Dictator already.

Sadiq Khan
Except that the Bexley Times has reported that Sadiq believes "Bexley’s plan to sell off precious green space is a disgrace. Local residents are paying the price for having a weak Tory mayor and Tory council”, I have no idea what his answer to the Old Farm problem might be.

We know from the experience with a Tory mayor that there are no sanctions against a wayward Tory Council. When the Conservatives regained control of Bexley and decided that the priority was to protect the Leader’s Brampton seat despite the inevitable economic damage inflicted on the borough, Boris Johnson rallied round and dutifully cancelled the Thames bridge.

When the folly of that decision became plain for all to see, Boris bent in the other direction, albeit with the loss of many years and many millions of pounds. Now we are all paying the price, not least the residents of Sidcup and Old Farm Avenue.

It is tempting to think that a Tory mayor will be of more help to a Tory council than a Labour one but I think that theory only works with a benign and well run Tory council, not one that spends so much of its time trying to cover up its past mistakes and downright dishonesty.

Has James Brokenshire MP ever helped Mr. Bryant in his struggle for justice after being libelled by Bexley Council’s obscene blog? No, he gets nothing but carefully chosen words that are of no practical help. Mr. Brokenshire was no less appalled by what he read on that blog than anyone else but expecting him to defend a resident against his political pals would be a step too far. On the other hand my Labour MP had no such inhibitions and provided constant and still ongoing support. Right now she is in contact with Scotland Yard on my behalf.

Maybe Sadiq Khan could be just as helpful at fighting the excesses of Bexley Council, certainly he could not do worse than Boris Johnson who may well have been behind the “political interference” that “crippled” the police investigation into the Bexley Council inspired criminality. Certainly the Borough’s Police Commander became very agitated and evasive when asked to comment on the Boris Johnson angle.

My decision on who to vote for is far from made, but not Zac obviously.

† Teresa says it is not her. These phone snaps simply can’t compare with the detail recorded by a decent DSLR.

 

15 April (Part 1) - Bexley’s unfair refuse disposal services

My nearest neighbour doesn’t seem to be very aware of what constitutes conventional civic norms. If I didn’t cut his lawn and hedge neither would ever get cut and I suspect that if I didn’t look after their green bin it would rarely be emptied.

In the past large heaps of rubbish have accumulated in their front garden and it is me who has to look at it. That is why in recent years I have taken the view that it is better to sort through their rubbish myself. Every two weeks I transfer their excess to my near empty bin. Sometimes four green bins from nearby houses have to be pressed into service to accommodate the excess.

It is not the most pleasant job and two weeks ago, having satisfactorily redistributed everything in the hour before the collection was due, I was annoyed to see an additional black sack put in my own bin with the lid left up thereby risking it being ‘red tagged’. I decided I had had enough of being bin monitor.

This morning my green bin was near empty and next door’s was overflowing. I left them like it, fearing the worst. Somewhat to my surprise, the overflowing bin was emptied, but not before I had conducted a survey of the bin situation along my road.

I discovered that there are three different sized green bins in use. 240 litres, 140 litres (mine), and a much smaller one, 80 litres if I had to guess.

The different house occupancy rates mean that bin capacity per person ranges from 28 litres through 70 litres and 120 litres to 140 litres. Somewhere there could be a 240 litre per person household.

What excuse does Bexley Council have for treating individual residents so differently? Why are they happy for me to produce 70 litres of rubbish a week, but next door only 14?

Maybe it is Old Farm Park logic again. Severely punish the few in order to conceal from as many residents as possible the ever reducing levels of service.


RubbishWhilst it was pleasing to see that the collection crew was sympathetic towards the overfilled bin next door, their generosity did not extend to a bin that, for whatever reason had fallen over. They simply stared at it for a moment and then walked on by leaving the mess on the ground. (See picture.) Clearly they take as little pride in the borough as do the fly tippers.

Should I recommence my rubbish redistribution service for the common good or should I leave the uncollected rubbish to be fly tipped? At present I am inclined towards the latter.

Ultimately, as with most of life’s unnecessary inconveniences, we have the European Union to thank for the decline in rubbish collection services. Too many rules over which we have no say must be slavishly obeyed. The latest is an EU vote in favour of the concentrated glyphosate I bought for the patio a month or two ago, being declared illegal. All the effective weed killers will have gone.

If Britain does not reject the EU in two months time the tyrants that control it will surely see that as the green light for imposing ever more draconian restrictions on freedom of choice, both personal and national.

 

14 April - It was “a done deal”

Five Cabinet Members had made very specific statements to the effect that they would be voting to sell the first four of the 26 parks and open spaces listed for disposal. The sixth, Councillor Peter Craske, had spent ten minutes explaining why he thought it was a good idea. I think it is a reasonable assumption to say that their minds were firmly made up, or predetermined as the Council’s jargon would describe it.

Opposing voices had in the past been excluded from meetings accused of having prejudged the issues but Bexley’s Cabinet is not expected to behave with any pretence of integrity.


LeitchSo it was rather late in the day to ask Sidcup Councillors Rob Leitch and June Slaughter to say why they thought the Cabinet was making a mistake. Nevertheless, She Who Must Be Obeyed did so.

First to his feet was Rob Leitch. He noted the recommendations with “enormous regret”. He recognised the financial situation but “the disposal of land was a precarious route to pursue because of the dangerous precedent it sets at times of budgetary difficulty”. He felt “enormous discomfort over this decision”.

He had “utter admiration for the residents” and “will continue to do all I can to represent them throughout the remaining stages of this sensitive and difficult issue”.

One minute and forty eight seconds.


SlaughterCouncillor June Slaughter repeated her assertion that Old Farm Park should not be sold and that a Public Inquiry should be held.

She referred to “the dire financial situation in which the Council now finds itself” and how “to some extent that has been brought about by the determination not to increase Council Tax over the last few years”.

“Many people feel that the Council has not given sufficient consideration to the alternatives. These include alternative sites and a Council Tax referendum.”

“Residents have said that Council Tax was held down for far too long and the consultation revealed a willingness to consider real increases.” (See Council’s own Press Release.)

“It was a great disappointment that the General Purposes Committee was not prepared to consider a Public Inquiry and it was justified in my view by the fantastic response to last Summer’s consultation and the one held in December which overwhelmingly opposed the sale. Residents feel that the claims of under use, over provision and of alternative open space were flawed, and aspects of the consultation were also flawed.

The 2014 budget consultation (see Note below) failed to disclose the sites being considered, the 2015 consultation was held in the height of the Summer and the statutory consultation was held during the Christmas period. Publicity given to the consultation was the minimum possible.”

“The Cabinet has indicated its intention to use the revenue saving which will be generated by the use of the sale proceeds to offset further reductions in grounds maintenance, but it has been acknowledged that saving cannot be ring fenced and thus the use of those savings cannot be guaranteed.”

“It was regrettable that the General Purposes Committee refused to consider holding a Public Inquiry which residents felt would be a genuinely independent process. Residents understandably feel that the decision was a done deal.”

“I object to the sale of open space land in principle. Once it is gone it is gone for ever and Bexley’s green spaces make it the borough that it is. There are many who feel that environmental and wild life issues are given insufficient attention in Bexley and promises have a very hollow ring.”

“It has been an honour to represent Old Farm residents, I pay tribute to the amount of time and energy they have devoted to this cause. If this decision is approved I can honestly say that it is the one that I shall regret the most in my forty two years as a member of this Council.”


O'NeillSix minutes and twenty seven seconds of stony faced glare from the Leader.

If it is such a good idea to sell Old Farm Park and several smaller ones for around £20 million and spend the revenue generated, the interest, on a better maintenance schedule than could otherwise be afforded at those parks that remain, surely there is scope for similar schemes.

It is utterly pointless for the dual carriageway North Cray Road to feed into Bexley High Street that can barely accommodate a bus, so sell the northbound carriageway and build terraced houses. The interest on the proceeds could keep the borough pothole free for ever.

Us Northern dwellers have learned to do without a recycling facility and with the hours of opening being reduced at both Crayford and Foots Cray why not go the whole hog and sell the Foots Cray site? The interest on the capital raised might pay for the free collection of large items of waste and see a reduction in fly tipping.

With more and more Council Services being contracted out, why did Bexley Council spend £42 million on Watling Street when it admitted that a rebuild on the old town hall site would come in at under £30 million? Not making that fundamental error would have saved Old Farm Park. Thanks to Bexley Council’s flawed contract with Tesco it can only stand idly by and watch more astute brains than those to be found in Bexley Council make their millions.

Who elects these clowns? Oh yes, we did.

Note: The 2014 consultation did not reveal which parks were to be sold but asked the public to approve anyway. It was not until the February 2015 Places Scrutiny meeting that Cabinet Member Alex Sawyer decided he had seen enough of the deceit and broke ranks by reading out the list. His spoken comments were published here and the cat having escaped from the bag, Bexley Council owned up the day after BiB provided the answer.

 

13 April - Bexley. Sold to the highest bidder

I took a note of the date and it is almost nine months to the day that a Conservative Councillor told me that there was no chance whatsoever that Old Farm Park could be saved from the developers. It wouldn’t matter how many residents protested or how devastating the criticism from right thinking councillors might be, the Fat Controller had made her wishes clear and there could be no reprieve. The comments probably coloured my reporting of the situation and did nothing to mitigate my pessimism. Bexley Council never listens to public dissent, its record is to refuse to accept petitions or dismiss them. Consultation responses are either discredited because they are too few in number and unrepresentative or welcomed if the result is not entirely negative to the Council’s ambitions.


O'NeillLast night a proposal put forward by Cabinet and kicked around for months in accordance with a well rehearsed charade went back to Cabinet for their seal of approval to be stamped on their own idea - or maybe one eagerly seized upon when first put forward by the Finance Director.

Six of the Leader’s pet puppets put forward their own reasons for wishing to sell four of Bexley’s open spaces while their fingers remained stuffed firmly into their ears as they have been since March 2015.

No other Councillor was allowed to speak on the subject until every Cabinet member had been allowed to say why they would not be moved. A waste of everyone’s time but the pantomime has to be played out.

There was a reasonably good turn out of Councillors present; 100% of the UKIP contingent, half the Labour and a quarter of the Tories. The Old Farm campaign group was down to a dozen; they already know all they need to know about what the slogan ‘Listening to you’ means in this borough. Absolutely nothing.


CraskeThe first cabinet member to speak in favour of the sale was Peter Craske. He spoke for ten minutes and twenty six seconds without saying a single thing that was new. Perhaps I should rephrase that. Without saying a single thing that was both relevant and new.

We were “lucky, he said, to be living in Bexley. A “fantastic borough”. “We have a lot to be proud of.” “Our schools are ranked in the top five in the country.” “The lowest level of crime in London, in fact one of the lowest levels in the whole of the UK.” (How fortunate it is that Bexley’s Chief Executive managed to “resolve his situation” with the CPS after the police arrested Councillor Craske in 2012.)

Bexley is “the number one borough in London for recycling with the best recycling rates in the country”. “It has the best parks playgrounds and tourist attractions in London and the South East.” “It’s fantastic”, well, fantasy maybe.

“We are not a borough that sits around and waits for things to happen, we get stuck in.” “We have invested millions of pounds of external funding in our town centres.” “The independent auditor”, who turned a blind eye to Bexley’s decision to employ illegal bailiff practices, said “Bexley has a proven track record of economy, efficiency and effectiveness in its use of resources.” “75% of residents recommend Bexley as a good place to live.” “Ten thousand people choose to move to this borough each year.” “It is the UK’s property hotspot.”

“We have always taken decisions that are in the long term interest of the borough. We have never looked only at the next week and short term.”

“Funding from central government used to account for 70% of our budget. Very shortly it will be 5% and by 2010 (sic) it will be zero.” “Since 2011 almost 500 business cases [cuts] have been set out and delivered”.

If the park sales are not approved “we will no longer be able to maintain our playgrounds. They will have to start being removed. We won’t have the money to cut the grass as often or at all. They will become overgrown very quickly. People will look out over scrubland. We want to be proud of our parks, not be embarrassed about them. I cannot believe anyone would wish otherwise. We have not been able to find any other solution to the one we approved in March 2015 and nor has anyone else. We have not put forward this proposal for a laugh.”

“I am proud to live in this borough and of our parks and open spaces. In the end this is a decision about the long term future of our borough. It [the decision] will ensure that Bexley remains one of the best places to live in the country.”

His theme appeared to be that his Council had made Bexley a green and pleasant land so it is fully entitled to remove one of the cornerstones on which it has been built.


MasseyCabinet Member Don Massey thankfully took a less meandering path towards his justification for selling Bexley. His short cut was based on echoing his colleague Peter Craske and the list of achievements claimed by Bexley. He understood the “opposing arguments” put forward by residents and supporting Councillors but he “has seen no evidence that persuades me to change my mind on this”. “The sites meet the criteria for being offered for sale.“ One was “that there are other open spaces close by”. The assertion was challenged from the public gallery but Massey ploughed on. “The disposal of these four sites is the correct one.”

“He respected residents” (apart from his immediate neighbours in Larch Grove) but “I recommend that my Cabinet Colleagues approve the proposals tonight”. Two minutes and forty seconds.


BaileyCabinet Member Linda Bailey said she had read “all the comments and all the objections” and could understand why residents were upset. Only a small part of the park would be sold and the remainder would be “enhanced. The objections relating to the Site of Importance to Nature Conservation had been "taken on board".

“Most of the points raised had been addressed.” Only most? I thought the General Purposes Committee had voted on the basis that all the complaints had been satisfactorily resolved.

“Disposal would generate the revenue savings that could be set against the ground maintenance budget to protect all the borough. Residents would not take kindly if they knew we could have protected their areas. Sale of the sites is for the benefit of all our residents.” She then announced she would support the sale, it would “be remiss in our duties as Councillors not to". Three minutes and twelve seconds.


ReadCabinet Member Philip Read said he would prefer not to be in “this situation”. He inevitably worked into his speech the 55% of the Council’s income currently spent on social care. He said the amount of open space had “increased in recent years. It is one of the reasons people like living in Bexley.” “The impact on Bexley will be minimal.” “Disposal is the right and responsible thing to do and consequently I will be supporting this proposal.” Three minutes and eight seconds.


PallenCabinet Member Eileen Pallen did not mention the park sale at all but concentrated instead only on repeating that the 2% Social Care precept on the Council Tax (£1·8 million) was not even enough to pay the increased Living Wage costs and that was why she “was supporting the proposals”. Gimee the money I don’t care who is hurt in the process. The one trick pony spoke for 75 seconds.

Deputy Leader Alex Sawyer once again attempted to pull off his all things to all men trick. He should be good at it by now, however he began by saying he would be supporting the proposal. “Because we have to.”

“If we did not go forward with the sale there would be no children’s playgrounds across the borough, there would be substantially reduced or no ground maintenance, it would resemble the Serengeti and make our open spaces unusable.” Wildebeest, rhinoceros and lions in Bexley. Maybe it would make an honest man of Peter Craske and Bexley would become a major tourist spot after all.


Sawyer“It sticks in the throat that the government can spend money on frivolous things” while “Bexley suffers brutal cuts”. I took this to be a reference to the government’s waste of £9 million on their EU propaganda sheet. It may have been a more valid reference if Alex Sawyer had not been tempted into similar scare stories.

“I don’t think residents’ views should be ignored but I must consider what is in the borough’s best interests. I and my Cabinet colleagues can take whatever criticism comes our way on the chin. I support this proposal.” Two minutes and twenty four seconds.

With five out of six Cabinet members making a clear statement of their voting intentions it wasn’t really worth allowing any opposing voice to be heard but there is a cart before horse procedure to be followed so the meeting continued for another 50 minutes, but that can wait. You know how the vote went anyway. Six to none in favour of selling. It’s been signalled loudly for the past year.

Note: The idea is to sell the parks and put aside the money so that the interest can be used to offset maintenance costs in the remaining parks. There is however nothing at all to compel them not to waste the capital or the income on something else.

 

12 April - Slowly but surely, Bexley as you know it disappears

I’m loathe to admit it for fear of being labelled a hypochondriac but I have spent the last week dozing in a chair feeling more dead than alive. Obviously the flu jab doesn’t work because the bug has come and got me, I think it is four times since last August.

Everything has been neglected, correspondence and this blog in particular. Fortunately not a great deal of interest has come to light but this evening’s Cabinet meeting will see another step taken towards Bexley becoming a concrete jungle. The only significant item on the Agenda is the Disposal of Four Open Spaces.

The meeting will note that the General Purposes Committee made no objection and saw no reason to either Listen to you, or Work for you. The juggernaut will simply be put into a higher gear and nothing can be done about it before May 2018.


LizardWhilst Old Farm Park is the obvious high profile casualty of Bexley Council’s many mistakes, the loss of smaller green sites goes by almost unnoticed. The Crossness Nature Reserve is under threat from its neighbours, there was a protest meeting two weeks ago, and Crayford is in even more imminent danger. The Crayford Rough, rated “one of the best wildlife sites in London” and home to rare orchids, lizards and slow worms is recommended by Bexley Council for a six storey housing complex. As if building in Erith Quarry had not caused quite enough environmental damage already.

There is just about time to make an objection. All the details are available with relevant links on the Bexley Wildlife website. But be quick, the planning meeting is on Thursday.

When I was a kid you could collect lizards from almost any ditch or waterlogged bomb crater. There will soon be nothing left to make a semi-rural walk worthwhile.

 

10 April (Part 2) - Uncivil engineering in Heron Hill

It’s difficult to believe that anyone would be silly enough to remove so much earth from a pub garden that a neighbour’s house was left teetering on the edge of a cliff. Rather late in the day it has been offered some protection but where was Bexley Council whilst residents have been in danger for the past six months?
Leather Bottle

 

10 April (Part 1) - Lesnes Abbey. Still lots to do

It’s two weeks since Lesnes Abbey was last pictured here, anything less and you wouldn’t notice any difference; but the bluebells are out.

A month after work started on the main Abbey Road entrance gate it may be getting close to being finished. The central ‘five-ways’ roundabout is taking shape and the Monk’s Garden is looking very good.

Near the New Road entrance a tree has been carved but the well top, damaged two weeks ago, still lies broken a fortnight after the event with no attempt made to preserve the remains.
Lesnes Lesnes Lesnes Lesnes
Lesnes Lesnes Lesnes Lesnes
Lesnes Lesnes Lesnes Lesnes

 

8 April - All aboard the gravy train

Bexley Council has joined up with Havering and Newham Councils supposedly to save money. They operate a business known as One Source and it employs eight Directors. As a result, Bexley now has two Directors of Finance, Alison Griffin in Watling Street and Julie Alderson somewhere else.
LinkedIn
LinkedInJulie Alderson appears to be one of those female bureacrats who have made a career out of milking the public purse. South Tyneside Council, Boston, South Holland, Scarborough, Kirklees, Harrow, Maldon, North Somerset, Wirral - all in the past 14 years, often for less than a year each. She seems to bear more than a passing resemblance to Bexley’s new Chief Executive, Gill Steward. Ms. Steward acquired a reputation whilst in Cornwall for making merry with travelling expenses. Ms. Alderson is reported in the Daily Express as follows


When she was hired by Kirklees as its interim director of resources, Mrs. Alderson, who lives in Tyneside, was offered a salary equivalent to £120,000 a year and moved into a rented flat at a luxury apartment complex that boasted a swimming pool, gym and Jacuzzi.

She was then allowed to claim expenses towards her rent, council tax, utility bills, parking fees, meals out and groceries. One claim included £11.52 for light bulbs. During her time with the council Mrs. Alderson came up with plans to slash 1,700 jobs and cut the authority’s budget by £80 million.


These council bosses are all from the same mould aren’t they and Bexley really doesn’t need eight more.

 

7 April - Trading on past glories?

LinkedInHow long is it since Chris Taylor lost his seat in Blackfen & Lamorbey thanks to Mick Barnbrook and his friends who soaked up 2,104 votes? Nearly two years; more than enough time to update a LinkedIn entry one would have thought.

Screenshot taken 7th April 2016.

 

6 April (Part 2) - What use are Bexley Council webcasts?

HuntThere was a People Scrutiny Committee meeting last night but I didn’t go. Right to the last minute I planned to be there but I am on my third really nasty cold since Christmas. I’ve been at Council meetings before and suffered non-stop coughing fits and it is not fair on anyone. Last night they returned with a vengeance so I hope James Hunt is duly grateful for my absence.

I hoped to be able to provide an adequate report based on the webcast which I audio recorded and watched live but Bexley’s webcast proved to be technical disaster zone. Are they always that bad?

My PC is equipped with fairly beefy speakers, several years ago some wannabe pop mogul mixed a record on them, although it’s true I no longer use such an expensive multi-channel sound card. Last night at full volume I could barely hear a word. By sticking my recorder right up against a speaker cone and boosting the record level above normal I have miraculously ended up with a recording which can be heard, albeit with a strange acoustic and poor signal to noise ratio.


MedicsThe guest speakers didn’t help. The first one decided to speak standing up which put his head out of the camera’s view and his mouth a long way from the microphone. The next speaker didn’t seem to realise she had a microphone although not standing improved audibility somewhat.

Both were commenting on a projected slide show which couldn’t be seen, so the internet audience was treated to a near mute commentary on a presentation they were not able to see.

All I learned from those two medical types that may be of widespread interest is that the new cancer treatment unit should open at Queen Mary’s Hospital by the summer, the radiotherapy machines have been delivered to site. Good news for many I am sure but us Northerners will probably find it easier and quicker to go to St. Thomas’ by train than sit for ever on a meandering 229 bus. It would get boring after 37 consecutive day trips. Been there done that! (And buses don’t have toilets on board.)

Dialysis facilities are expected by 2017.

The new management teams have provided patients with wi-fi too which may or not please one BiB reader who has been stuck in QEH for five weeks with nothing but a window looking on to a blank wall for entertainment.

The medics said the developments were “exciting” and a number of councillors agreed. A Phoenix appears to have risen from the disaster of six years ago when locals feared the hospital would give way to more houses. Something I have wondered about; with their being no maternity facilities in the borough, does it mean that future genealogists will come across almost no registration records that say, place of birth Bexley?

There was a new police officer to report crime statistics although it was confirmed that Jeff Boothe was still the borough’s Chief Superintendent. Superintendent Bell reeled off the usual set of numbers.

Burglary, robbery, theft of and from motor vehicles, criminal damage and violence, when combined for a MOPAC (Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime) statistical exercise, were down over the past 12 months, Bexley being third best in London by that percentage measure. Over three years there have been more than 600 fewer victims of crime in Bexley, per year presumably. Unfortunately violence and thefts of vehicles are on the up.

The operation in Thamesmead to attempt to rid it of its serious illegal motorbike activities was deemed a success with about a dozen arrests in three weeks but it may prove difficult to repeat it. The problem has apparently simply been moved to another borough.

Councillor Alan Downing was perplexed by the fact that motorcyclists who are not wearing crash helmets are not pursued by the police in case the poor dears fall off and hurt themselves. Councillor Downing has a consistent record of cutting through the politically correct claptrap that has destroyed common sense. Teachers, medics, policemen, they are all fair game to him and it is “ludicrous”. Well said that man.

Supt. Bell continued; “An increasing level of policing resources is having to be diverted to cyber crime and bullying, social media offences”. However figures are not recorded “but it is, particularly among younger people, a growing trend. Some of the behaviour on line is really destructive to people’s lives". I’d better not comment.


Murphy and PickeringBefore closing the meeting, the Chairman said that two regular members of the Committee would be leaving the Council very soon. Sheila Murphy, Deputy Director of Children’s Social Care and Moyra Pickering, Deputy Director of Education both resigned their posts within a couple of weeks of each other. Ms. Murphy is going to Sunderland and Ms. Pickering is to retire. Ms. Murphy had been at Bexley for 33 or 34 years according to Chairman James Hunt.

It wasn’t just the frequently low audio levels which devalued the webcast, there were numerous periods of total silence causing the mic activated cameras went back to the default overall view of the Council Chamber.

Bexley Council never did make public their May 2015 review of the case for and against webcasting. My recollection is that they set aside £20,000 a year for the service. Maybe a Freedom of Information request is in order. It looks to me like money down the drain.

The webcams revealed a total absence of any member of the public witnessing the event, but it is the only way to properly understand what goes on.

 

6 April (Part 1) - The Lady of Charlotte

A lady who I assume comes from Crayford has emailed to say that it is premature to say the shutters are down at the Charlotte in Crayford, the To Let signs are genuine enough but it is still open for business. The writer says she passes by fairly regularly because she has a friend who lives nearby and goes on as follows…


CharlotteIt never usually looks very busy to me but I’ve never been inside so could be wrong.

Last night I hurried by round about seven o’clock to drop something in on my friend and there was a bunch of very young drinkers outside the Charlotte. They were drinking from glasses in the street which most pubs wouldn’t allow and one of them could hardly stand up he was so drunk.

After being out longer than I intended I passed back by around two hours later and there was a fight in progress right outside the pub. I’m pretty sure it was the group I’d noticed earlier, certainly the one who was completely drunk was there getting stuck in.

Someone was ejecting people from the pub and the lights went out. Quite a commotion, around ten of them I would think, and some were urinating in the street. I didn’t hang around long enough to see any more.

You would think a Councillor would have more sense than to allow people who are drunk by seven in the evening to be in an even worse state a couple of hours later. I thought publicans had some sort of duty of care, does that include just shoving them into the street? I should have called the police but it was a bit too frightening for standing around.


Note: I believe it may be Mr. Lucia-Hennis who is the licensee, not Councillor Geraldene Lucia-Hennis.

 

5 April (Part 3) - The one thousand four hundred days wait

Hogan-HoweTomorrow it will be 1,400 days since Elwyn Bryant and I made a formal complaint about the then borough police commander’s failure to take any action against the perpetrator of what was referred to at the time as Bexley Council’s obscene blog.

And since then not a lot of progress has been made.

We made the complaint to Metropolitan Police Commissioner Bernard Hogan-Howe exactly a year after the infamous blog was accepted as a crime by Bexley police. They took just over two months to tell us that there was no chance of tracing the culprit.

That first complaint was thrown out by the Met’s Directorate of Professional Standards (DPS) who told us that no police officer had done anything wrong. By then more than enough had come to light for Elwyn and I to be pretty sure that wasn’t true and where the DPS report strayed into the IT arena it was simply nonsense.

The case was referred to the Independent Police Complaints Department (IPCC) who sat on it for rather a long time. By the time they came back with confirmation that they too thought the Met’s response was inadequate, Elwyn and I had come to the conclusion that it wasn’t incompetence that led to the failure of the crime investigation, it was corruption.

One of Bexley’s police officers actually said as much to us. “The case has been crippled by political interference.”

Elwyn and I made a formal allegation of Misconduct in Public Office against two borough commanders.

We knew for certain that something like eight months had gone by between the police belatedly tracing the source of the blog and arresting the suspect, Cabinet Member for Closing Parks, Peter Craske. Plenty of time to lose the evidence if there was any. We also knew, because we had a copy of the relevant document, that Bexley Police, Bexley Council and the Crown Prosecution Service had all got together to devise a method by which “Councillor Craske’s situation could be resolved”.

Since sending that allegation to the IPCC in December 2013 (they forwarded it to the Met) I have received 19 letters from the Met Police apologising for them not having found the time to progress their investigation. It took six months before they would agree that it might be a good idea to get the file from Bexley.

A few months ago the Met made an issue in the press of their success in getting complaint answering down to under twelve months which looked like an excuse for me to chase them up again.

My MP, Teresa Pearce, has always been very supportive, twice accompanying me to meetings at Bexleyheath Police Station. Elwyn has had nothing but carefully chosen words from his MP, James Brokenshire. No practical help at all. On hearing of the protracted delay, Teresa agreed to my request to refer the unresolved complaint about the five year old crime to the Home Secretary if the DPS could not demonstrate some progress. I wrote to Hogan-Howe requesting an update.

An Assistant Commissioner got back to me quite quickly to say the case had been concluded by the investigating officer but was found lacking by a senior officer. Is that just another delaying tactic?

Elwyn and I are now being asked what our complaint is so that it can be reviewed. Maybe I read to much into those words, but I thought we had made that pretty clear at the outset.

It is no doubt a complex case which is why Elwyn and I twice offered to explain it in person in 2014. We were ignored. Now, suddenly. a meeting is a good idea. The date isn’t fixed yet and Teresa Pearce has agreed to keep me company again. Elwyn’s MP has told him that to offer such assistance is “inappropriate”.

How is it that the Bexley officer who took over the case at the end of the active enquiry can come clean and say they were got at by politicians but more than three years later the DPS appears not to have seen the same evidence? Elwyn thinks they are waiting for us to die off. He may be right.

 

5 April (Part 2) - Piling on

If one can believe what one reads on Social Media, Bexley Council came to the same conclusion as I did about the Leather Bottle site; the excavations looked to be verging on the dangerous and ordered some piling to be put in place to stabilise the newly created cliff.

I’m not sure how true this is because the piles and machinery were on site before Bexley Council revisited the scene, but maybe the extent of it is greater than originally intended.

What seems to be beyond doubt is that no planning laws have been broken but possibly the tree removal has encroached on the green belt. Heavy rain has washed quite a lot of soil into the track that runs behind the adjacent Kingswood Avenue but if anyone should be worried it’s the owners of property further up the hill.

Here’s a couple of pictures from this morning.
Leather Bottle
Leather Bottle

 

5 April (Part 1) - It’s nuts in La La Land

How’s the brown bin service working out for you? I’ve been finding mine hard to fill through the winter. I have imported quite a lot of waste from a friend in Bromley and someone unknown has half filled it a couple of times while the bin was parked near the road. I’ve moved it now, the extra garden waste is not a problem but the tin cans etc. are.

I got my bin mainly to experience the service first hand and report it accurately. I don’t think it is particularly cheap even though it is only half the price of Bromley’s service. The alternative is an incinerator bin, the waste tips are as far away as one can get from Abbey Wood without disappearing into the next borough.

An occasional correspondent from the centre of Bexleyheath also doubted that the bin tax represented value for money and didn’t sign up for the garden waste service. He wrote a week ago of his binless existence.


In years gone by following an occasional grand garden tidy up, a bonfire late at night when no neighbour would have washing out would reduce everything to a bucketful of ash. Bexley council would then take it away free of charge. This was fine even if I did sometimes have to distribute it over three or four bin collections.

Bexley Council’s £33 bin tax for the removal of such material is not worth it as far as I am concerned for what is only a twice yearly event, but the material still needs to be disposed of though and so it is not hard to envisage a return to the old practice of bonfires or, for some, the decoration of convenient pieces of waste ground. If Councillors really think that applying a bin tax to what was previously a free service would not result in such unneighbourly practices then they truly live in La La Land.

Your side of the borough is poorly served with waste facilities and I doubt many from your area will travel to Thames Road or Sidcup but for me a trip to the dump can sometimes be combined with a shopping trip to Sainbury’s, Crayford. From there I had an interesting diversion to the Thames Road Waste Disposal Depot today.

I’ve been there many many times, usually to drop off old furniture or defunct electrical appliances, occasionally even rubble in plastic sacks, and never had any problems. There is a vehicle height bar at 5ft. 9inches and my vehicle is a tiny bit taller but still no problem since it is obviously not a commercial van. The staff would kindly swing the height bar out of the way for me.

Over Easter I gave the garden a Spring tidy up and accumulated some twiggy branches etc. which were reluctant to go into a plastic sack, so I took them to Thames Road in my small camping trailer. I’ve done that before with never a problem.


FlytippingNot this time though. Dear oh dear no. New rules are being strictly applied and trailers of whatever size are treated as commercial vehicles and must be weighed in and out. At least non-commercial are not being charged yet but residents are restricted to 500 kg. in any one year. What a rigmarole. Name and address and documentary proof of it is required.

Then if you can actually find ID in the back pocket of your old gardening trousers you must don a hard hat and high visibility jacket in order to go the few yards to where those who have carted the rubbish there in the boots of their cars are chucking stuff over a low wall without restriction.

It’s another incentive to burn and fly tip.

On the way out the vehicle and trailer are weighed again to determine the weight of waste deposited and the hard hat and hi-vis vest must be duly returned. All this to drop off 20 kg. of twigs. I’ll opt for a late night bonfire in future and maybe enjoy some roasted nuts at the same time!

 

4 April - It’s them and us

The story of the Sidcup lady accused of harassing Councillors Don and Sharon Massey and their noisy daughter has provoked an abnormal amount of correspondence, all of it sympathetic to her situation. These Councillors cannot be as intelligent as they think they are, abusing their positions is never going to win them any friends.

One correspondent who asks for “the strongest possible support” to be passed on reminds me that when Sharon Massey was Mayor she elbowed him out of the way with the immortal words “VIPs coming through”. It’s the same attitude that demands that dustmen should offer a special service for Councillors.

Another says the saga is “better than East Enders”. (I wouldn’t know, I quit the habit in 2002.)

More helpfully, yet another email suggests asking the police to give full details of the complaint that the Masseys made. How else can the alleged harassment be ended if no one knows what they are supposed to have done wrong? This website has some useful information on the subject.


CharlotteWhat could the Massey’s complaint actually have said? Whatever it was it is unlikely to be truthful because all the deafened neighbour appears to have done is phone 101 for advice and the police volunteered to pop round. I think it is much more likely that the Masseys’ real complaint is that the story found its way to Bonkers. On the other hand the police said “it’s not about the blog”.

I was away all weekend but I checked the front door CCTV recordings. No police visits unless one turned up in jeans and a baseball cap and left within a second or two without reaching for the bell push. No idea who he was.

In less serious vein, it would appear that Mrs. Massey is no longer able to indulge her taste for male strippers. Not exactly new news but it’s the first time someone has had the foresight to send a photo of Councillor Lucia-Hennis’s Charlotte pub with the shutters down. Maybe the closure has put poor Sharon in a bad mood.

 

3 April (Part 2) - It would appear that Bexley Police are still primarily agents of their Council masters

Twitter37 Larch Grove is not the sort of house that you would expect the Masseys to be living in. Their last house sold for more than £600,000 in November 2014.

My exchange of emails with the lady who has the misfortune to live next door to the small terraced house rented by Councillors Don and Sharon Massey included the following…


Good morning,

Due to the stomping heavily up and down the stairs late last night and doors slamming I think it’s clear to say Mrs. Massey is not happy! Assuming she read the blog.


I replied as follows…


“You were very brave to go public with your problem. Bexley Council will play dirty if it can. Be careful where you park your car!

Councillors who talk to me say that the others claim never to read BiB but always seem to know what has been put on it. One said said that in an email only a few days ago.

The news would have got to the Masseys quick enough. I once had a councillor phone me at home to complain that a report didn’t adequately reflect what he had said within ten minutes of it going on line.”


Back came the following…


Hello Malcolm,

I had a visit this morning from two police officers as Mr. or Mrs. Massey have made a complaint against myself and my daughter of harassment against their daughter.

The police said they were impartial, to diffuse the situation, but in my opinion, they weren’t. They had a printed version of your blog and continued to ask me about it. They asked if I said it and I said yes. Why? It’s all true!!!

They said it was about the blog, asking loads, then later they said no it’s not about the blog.

It was the strangest visit; they weren’t really specific. I’m not sure really why they came. But it doesn’t worry me I’m not going to be bullied by anyone!

When I spoke with Mr. Massey I told him I had videos of everything that’s gone on and that I was recording this chat. The police asked to see all the videos but I said they couldn’t.

If and when I need to use them. I will.

I offered them tea! They declined and left.


Well it’s only to be expected. Bexley Council has learned nothing since the last time they made fools of themselves. The police probably felt uncomfortable, doing what they were told and not what they knew to be right.

Let’s hope that Bexley Police have learned something about the law on Harassment though. When I had one of their warning letters they broke every rule in their own rule book and the Independent Police Complaints Commission had to tell them to back off.

The neighbour should keep a diary of the comings and goings at 37 Larch Grove. Perhaps the Masseys would do well to stay in Maidstone.

 

3 April (Part 1) - Bexley Council leaves the lights off for five months. Network Rail steps in

Crossrail CrossrailBexley Council cannot be relied upon to do the right thing, the lights on the Harrow Manorway flyover are still out and it’s into its sixth month now. The report a few weeks ago that they were working again proved to be incorrect.

Fortunately Network Rail has taken on Bexley Council’s responsibility, the Gayton Road (Abbey Wood station) staircase is now illuminated.

Just as well, from tomorrow, especially in the evening, usage will go up massively. It is likely to bring traffic to a standstill as the pedestrian crossing button is pressed almost continuously and there will be no respite for almost two years. Today I heard the first altercation between a passenger and a ‘ticket collector’. Why do people pick on employees who can do nothing about the situation? Mind you, his response was not exactly diplomatic.

The usual two weekly album of photos of the Abbey Wood construction site is now completed. It looks as though the contractors have caught up with the day lost to Storm Katie on Bank Holiday Monday.

The album is not quite as complete as usual because I had to be away from home for most of this weekend.

 

2 April - Some Councillors do not make good neighbours

There has been plenty of speculation recently that Cabinet Member Don Massey and his wife Councillor Sharon Massey no longer live in Bexley and that their business interests here are no more.

On the other hand, at the General Purposes meeting only a couple of weeks ago, Mrs. Massey claimed to use Old Farm Park which she voted to condemn to the concrete mixers and Don Massey has added a Sidcup address to his Register of Interests.
Address
Larch GroveWhat is the truth of the matter? You can be sure that it will not be a perfectly honest story with everything above board.

One way to find out would be to loiter in Larch Grove for a couple of days and observe who is coming and going, but it is not very practical. A better idea would be to recruit someone who lives nearby.

Fortunately Bexley is Bonkers is read pretty well everywhere in Bexley these days and a new reader was keen to help out. She believes that 37 Larch Grove may be used occasionally by the Masseys’ daughters but except on the rarest of occasions, not by the two Councillors.

This is some of what she said…


I’m blown away with what I’ve read on your website. It’s totally outrageous what goes on in Bexley Council! I wasn’t much interested in the Council until January this year but that’s changed now.

One Monday morning in January, I was putting my bins out and saw a man at the end of my path holding a bin liner. He was instructing the dustman to take his bin liner but the bin man refused. My new neighbour said “I’m a councillor, take this bag”.

To my delight the dustman replied “I’m paper only mate!” That’s when I realised who my new neighbours are; Councillors Sharon and Don Massey. They are renting the terrace house next to me.


MasseyI can confirm that since January the Masseys have stayed in the house for only a handful of nights. They are just not really there. There are only basic necessities in the house. It’s definitely not a home.

On Good Friday their youngest daughter had a party with between 18 and 25 kids there. The house walls are so thin you can hear someone sneeze next door. The noise was shocking with no sign of Mr. and Mrs. Massey.

A family member knocked at 23:45 planning to speak to the daughter and ask her to just keep the noise down but she wouldn’t or couldn’t come to the door.

The party continued until half past one. We both had to go to work on the Saturday morning - very tired - and it wasn’t nice to see beer bottles strewn all over the front gardens that morning.

Riff raff from Danson has brought riff raff to The Hollies. Thank you Miss Massey.

There was no one at No. 37 until the evening of the following Tuesday, 29th March when much to our disappointment, girls and boys, 16 to 18 years old started turning up at the house in large groups. The noise was shocking once again. Outrageous for a Tuesday night and with not a care for any of the four houses in the terrace.

These houses are small two bedroom terraced houses.

By 23:15 we called 101 for advice. The police said they could hear the noise whilst I was on the phone and said it warranted sending a car straight round.


MasseyThe police attended and told the revellers to keep it down. Mr. & Mrs. Massey turned up 30 or 40 minutess later.

I am disgusted with the Masseys. They do NOT live in the Larch Grove house but last weekend they just allowed their daughter to party in a house they rent with not a thought for any of the residents of Bexley when it suits them.

I spoke with Don Massey later that morning. He wagged his finger at me and I had to ask him to lower it!

He wouldn’t accept any responsibility for the upset he caused the residents of Larch Grove. We have such a nice bloke running our finances!

Sharon Massey actually said to my daughter it was “laughable” to have rung the police and that the police had told her it was a waste of their time. I only rang the police for advice on the Tuesday night because of the level of the noise. It was the police call handler who volunteered to send a car round because the noise was so loud through the handset.

I’ve contacted the police to complain about Sharon Massey’s comment.


PartySo it seems that everyone’s suspicions are confirmed. The Masseys appear to be no longer properly qualified to be Bexley Councillors, however one can understand why they might be trying it on. The two bedroomed house was last for sale a year ago with a guide price of £300k. and marketed as an ideal buy to let.

If it can be rented for around £1,000 a month (I’m guessing) it would still be a bargain when there is £32k. of councillors’ allowances at stake.

The incident with the dustman tells you all you need to know about Cabinet Member Don Massey. Probably his daughter is only following in her mother’s footsteps. She is no stranger to parties which fall outside of the law.

Note: The message above is published with the full and unrestricted permission of the Massey’s unfortunate neighbour. Maybe she will be treated with a little more respect in future - otherwise you will no doubt be able to read about it here.
The strippers image is a Photoshop creation. Councillor Sharon Massey enjoyed the company of unlicensed male strippers at Councillor Geraldene Lucia-Henis’ Charlotte pub in Crayford - but maybe not cheek to cheek.

 

1 April (Part 3) - Don’t forget. No entry to Abbey Wood station from the north

Crossrail CrossrailThe dreaded day arrives tomorrow. The Felixstowe Road (northern) entrance to Abbey Wood station will be closed permanently with the alternative putting between four and 15 minutes on your journey, dependent on one’s ability to negotiate the unlit and frequently flooded steps to Gayton Road. Both these failures are Bexley Council’s, not Network Rail’s.

There is no practical alternative route and the closure risks provoking more discontent about Crossrail than has been seen before among a generally tolerant community. It may also improve Southeastern’s revenue collection now that the unmanned exit has gone.

If you haven’t seen Network Rail’s publicity leaflet then click here. (PDF) Remember to look at Side 2.


Crossrail CrossrailWhile detouring along Gayton Road take care to watch out for partially hidden traffic at the foot of the steps, don’t trip over the tree roots which have broken the footpath and don’t fall over the heap of rubbish which reappears more quickly than Councillor Danny Hackett can report it.

The heap shown has been there since before Easter and grows almost daily.

 

1 April (Part 2) - Be afraid. Bexley Council is interested only in money

Nature ReserveThere was perhaps not a lot of notice but those who do not wish to see Cory Environmental build four storey structures on ground associated with the Crossness Nature Reserve were out in force this morning to show their solidarity over the issue. I counted more than 50 people many equipped with cameras and binoculars to ‘capture’ the wildlife flying overhead. I was assured that the bird song was that of skylarks.

It was a beautiful morning with interesting views all around. The river could not be seen from ground level but the superstructure of large vessels passing by could be; it is well worth a visit although whether the access points are always open I do not know.

Most of what you need to know about Cory’s planning application may be seen on the Bexley Wildlife website. I was assured that there were downloadable forms there on which residents can submit objections. If I ever find it I will add the link.

Destruction of green spaces such as this is the direct result of the Conservative government’s decision to starve local authorities of funds. As a result Bexley Council is keen to see the borough concreted over in order to raise more Business Rates, Council Taxes and Community Infrastructure Levies. Every spare scrap of land is under threat.

It has shown no sign of being sympathetic to the needs of people or rare birds. Some that inhabit the area are to be found in no more than three or four other sites in the UK.

The development is recommended for approval and goes before the Planning Committee on 15th May. Be there.

Nature Reserve Nature Reserve Nature Reserve Nature Reserve

 



Doubt is cast on Bexley Council’s allegations against Councillor Maxine Fothergill.

1 April (Part 1) - They are Judge and Jury when dealing with the public

The blog below is one of several relating to Bexley Councillor Maxine Fothergill and Bexley Council’s Code of Conduct Committee. This note aims to make it clear that the events reported between December 2015 and the Summer of 2016 whilst accurate reflections of various events, disciplinary hearings and sanctions brought against Councillor Fothergill they are individually insufficient to explain the whole story.

Two members of the Bexley-is-Bonkers team met with Councillor Fothergill at a secret location on 16th September 2016 where she explained to us what had really happened. She was able to convince us that she was the victim of a miscarriage of justice.

There were compelling reasons why Councillor Fothergill should be believed. It seemed likely that the Tory High Command in Bexley had taken revenge on her because Councillor Fothergill had reported one of their associates to the police for theft.

Councillor Fothergill requested that the explanatory note prefixed to relevant blogs (which first went on line a few days earlier) be further strengthened so that readers are fully aware that reported events, whilst accurate at the time, did not reflect her innocence and that Bexley Council’s charge of misconduct and “gaining a financial advantage for herself” was malicious.

This is a modified version of the note Councillor Fothergill asked to be placed here.

The action taken by Bexley’s Code of Conduct Committee against Councillor Maxine Fothergill had all the makings of a major scandal which might lead to police action, but it all fizzled out. But not quite. One of the members of the public who was excluded from the meeting has continued to ask awkward questions.

Bexley Council tried to reject his complaint on the grounds that he made it more than seven days after the alleged unlawful exclusion because they have set their own rule which says that complaints about meetings must be made within a week.

I do not pretend to understand all the legal arguments that have ensued but I have been able to work out that there never was a written complaint from a member of the public about Maxine Fothergill. This, so the complainant claims, is contrary to the provisions of the Localism Act.

That Councillor Maxine Fothergill has done nothing worse than create too many high powered enemies within Council seems ever more likely.

Bexley Council is probably awash with back-stabbers.

The Council’s rejection of the exclusion complaint and their mishandling of the hearing of the case against the Councillor appears to be heading for Court, so I will refrain from further comment.

Related blogs.

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