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Bonkers Blog December 2016

Index: 2009201020112012201320142015201620172018

31 December - 2016 goes out with a bang

crash debrisAbbey Road claimed another victim last night, another head on collision to which Bexley Council’s decision to halve its width back in 2009 must have contributed.

Andrew Bashford, Bexley Council’s Traffic Engineering Manager, was extremely unlucky when he told me his road design was fully supported by a Transport Research Laboratory report not knowing that my son had a hand in writing it while he was Senior Consultant at TRL.

I don’t think it is necessary to be an expert on road safety to conclude that a narrow road must increase the chance of a head on collision because there is less room to take avoiding action. Why Bexley Council fails to see the point I have no idea but it is nice to be able to call on an expert for an opinion.

A former co-chair of a European Union safety committee and this year’s UK delegate to the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) conference on the same subject should know what he is talking about, far more than Andrew Bashford, that’s for sure.

“Incompetent or malicious but probably both” is my favourite quote.

 

24 December - The inevitable response to a malicious allegation

I am afraid that what follows is not really appropriate to the Season of Goodwill to all Men but if you have any sense you will not be reading Bonkers on Christmas Eve anyway, but for readers who don’t like bullying Councillors and have wrapped their presents early or are perhaps avoiding the washing up or the Queen’s Speech on the 25th, here’s an update on the Massey business, the spiteful pair who think that repeating what they themselves put in the public domain on BiB or revealing what they did in a public place is a criminal act. And to think the same degree of intellect is responsible for all Bexley Council's budget decisions!

You know the story by now but if you don’t there is a summary for you to read.

After six months the police came to the same conclusion that most other people did on Day 1 and this is their brief confirmation…


Dear Mr Knight,
I sincerely apologise for the delay in updating you with the police position on the blogs posted regarding the Larch Grove party. You will I’m sure be happy to hear that no further action is being taken against you in this respect. However, I must remind you that case law and legislation is evolving all the time in respect of the internet and publishing and what may be ok today may not be so in the future. Even under current legislation every set of circumstances presented could mean that laws are broken. Please be mindful of this.
Yours sincerely,


copsAs you might imagine, being threatened with arrest by a couple of rather aggressive cops, the female one particularly so, does tend to push up oneְ’s stress levels somewhat even though various people, some with a legal background, assured me that I had not got anywhere near to committing an offence. Nevertheless I was left to wonder what was going to happen next for seven months. It seems to me that it might be yet another example of how Bexley police will always dance when Bexley Council pulls their string.

We saw it when an obscene blog was traced to Cabinet Member Peter Craske’s internet connection and a new and naive Borough Commander, unacquainted with Bexley's ways, was appointed. Craske was arrested very soon afterwards - 13 months after the offence was committed. But heavy duty political strings were pulled and Bexley Council was able to set up a meeting with the Crown Prosecution Service for one purpose only. To get Councillor Craske off the hook. The corruption which has been rife at Bexleyheath police station is still under investigation. It is only a week since the current investigating officer told me that he had uncovered yet another piece of paper which should have been revealed to him long ago.

Bexley police took to the dance floor again when Bexley Council became concerned that their cover up of Councillor Cheryl Bacon’s minor transgression of the Local Government Act began to unravel and they had to get the police to change their original story that no member of the public had misbehaved at a Council meeting. As a result of that a police constable recently had his knuckles rapped for getting his first report wrong! Or at least that is what the letter from the Met’s Directorate of Professional Standards (DPS) said. More likely, it was a lie and they did nothing.

The Independent Police Complaints Commision sent that case back to the DPS for further investigation. Maybe they will do their job properly this time.

I would not suggest that overreacting to the Massey’s demands is in the same league as falsely claiming there was no evidence to pursue a Council crime or rewriting crime reports at the request of Bexley Council a year after the event, but it is not in my opinion something to be shrugged off. If what I had done was borderline illegal, wanting to interview me about it would be acceptable, but it was not anywhere near to being illegal according to professionals both legal and journalistic. That being the case the police must be either incapable of making any sort of reasonable judgment and therefore incompetent, or they are as beholden to Bexley Council as I think they are. So I dashed off the following missive.


Dear Inspector,

Thank you for your email which did not come as a surprise.

Immediately after your two officers told me on 20th May 2016 that a Miss Victoria Massey had made an allegation of harassment I referred all relevant blogs to [name redacted] who among other things checks news items for legal compliance at [name of major news outlet redacted]. She said that nothing I had written fell foul of the law nor would it offend against the more stringent standards [redacted] adopts.

Had the story been of national importance she would have been passed it fit for publication and would not have felt it necessary to blur a photograph which was in the public domain and could be found without difficulty. I think one can therefore conclude that what I published did not come anywhere near being unlawful.

I brought together various items which were already in the public domain. Among them that the local business run by two Bexley Councillors, Don and Sharon Massey had failed (Companies House); that their Register of Interests (Bexley Council) no longer listed a home in this borough and that the Larch Road address was used for partying. (From unprotected Facebook pages).

A Larch Road resident, Mrs Briggs, provided details of disturbances which had warranted attendance by the police. None of what she said, and most certainly no part of the extract I published, has ever been in dispute. Neither has anyone disputed the business failure, the sale of the Massey’s Bexley home or the purchase of another in Rochester. All of those things were available to anyone spending five minutes with a search engine.

I have photographs of the Masseys in and around their new house which I have not felt appropriate for publication but again they are not hard to find on the web. Never have they shown the slightest interest in keeping their activities private and their self publicity has continued unabated long after they made their unwarranted accusation right up to recent days.

Given the professional advice of a legally trained journalist that I did not get anywhere near to committing an offence and your confirmation that my carefully worded blogs were not unlawful I would like to know precisely which part of my blog the police officer who decided to send three officers to my house believed broke or got near to breaking whatever legal threshold he had decided was in force on the day in question.

I informed your Chief Superintendent on 3rd June that I did not intend to make a complaint about the two officers who threatened me with arrest despite PC346RY Kirsty Stephens being in my opinion unnecessarily confrontational and aggressive but those intentions do not apply to the officer (Detective Sergeant [redacted]) who made the decision to despatch them.

Unless you can identify something that I published which went well beyond anything referenced above and was unarguably borderline illegal I consider that the officer was at fault.

You have previously said that the police consider themselves obliged to assume that every accusation of harassment is a valid one “unless there is credible evidence to the contrary”. That credible evidence was the blog which no one, from experts through to other Councillors, including Conservative Councillors, believe got anywhere near to being harassment.

Please let me know what I wrote that your officer believed might be unlawful when all the evidence is that it was a long way short of that which in turn suggests he is either incompetent, for not checking the facts on my website, or more likely succumbed to a repetition of the political pressure placed on Bexley police which we both know is the subject of two separate investigations already.

At the moment I do not see how this case will not become the basis of a third.

Beyond the fact that Miss Massey (who I had not named at the time) made a complaint about my reference to a party I have no idea what exactly I am supposed to have done that would interest the police yet you ask me to be “mindful” of the need to observe the law which you say “is evolving daily”.

How am I supposed to be even more cautious when you provide not the slightest clue as to how close I came to a transgression back in April and May? How can bringing together pieces of information gleaned from the web and available to anyone become a crime and how can any sensible police officer reach that conclusion when the evidence it is not is just a mouse click away?

Unless you can identify an issue I have failed to see a formal complaint against the officer who made the decision looks to be the inevitable next step.

Similarly, and once again referring to your email dated 15th June 2016, unless you can identify something I did that any reasonable person would regard as “stalking” or “which causes serious alarm and distress which has a substantial adverse effect on the day to day activities of the victim” then another logical next step would be for me to make an allegation of malicious harassment against the Masseys.

Repeating what they had themselves decided was appropriate for public consumption together with information from official sources cannot possibly have caused as much stress as being accused of a criminal act, threatened with arrest on my own doorstep and then being left in limbo for more than six months.

I look forward to your response in the New Year.

yours sincerely,


For regular readers reports such as that above may seem repetitious, for which I apologise, but new readers come along all the time. What spewed forth from a keyboard at the end of Councillor Craske’s telephone line has been available on a password protected page since June 2011 - Bexley Council suggested to the police that I should be prosecuted for placing it there - but someone must have read it for the first time this week.


Just looked at the the Craske blog. I can’t believe he wrote it. Has he got a 12 year old son? If he has not, the man must be pathetic!

 

22 December (Part 2) - Oh the irony!

Bexley Council has issued yet another Press Release today; this time we have Cabinet Member Peter Craske rejoicing at the fact that Mr. Gulab Singh was caught passing off counterfeit merchandise as the genuine article in 2012. He was convicted of unauthorised use of trademarks in 2015 and ordered to repay £89,345, £33,500 of it to Bexley Council. The money was handed over earlier this month.

When Councillor Craske crows about successful prosecutions of criminals it never fails to bring a smile to my face, and never more so than in this case. For wasn’t the ‘counterfeit’ blog www.malcolmknight.blogspot.com an unauthorised use of my identity!

It was proved that the obscenities originated on Councillor Craske’s internet connection, it contained information that no one else was likely to know, and it is a matter of record that the police, the CPS and Bexley Council had to convene a secret meeting “to resolve his situation”.

It’s unfortunate for Gulab Singh that he is not one of the Singhs who enjoys close and questionable relations with Bexley Council. His crime may otherwise have reaped a very different reward.

 

22 December (Part 1) - Has BiB been harassing the Masseys? It’s an official “No”

On 20th May 2016 two police officers came to my door, with a third sitting in the car outside, to threaten me with arrest if I did not agree to being interviewed at Bexleyheath police station. They said I was accused of harassment by Miss Victoria Massey, daughter of the two Councillors Massey. Precisely how I still do not know and I hadn’t ever named her but I can only assume that it was for publishing a photograph that had been posted, along with a dozen or so others, on a Facebook page which had no privacy protection whatsoever and unlike my version of it, was not blurred beyond all recognition.

I suspect that reminding readers that Councillor Don Massey and his wife, Councillor Sharon Massey, no longer lived in Bexley and that their business in Sidcup was no more had something to do with it too. Both bits of information were freely available elsewhere to anyone with access to a web browser.


FacebookThe police in their wisdom decided to refer me to their legal advisers and more than six months later a decision has been reached. It is now official that I have not been singling out the Masseys for special attention, which will not come as a surprise to anyone with half a brain cell.

Yesterday a three line email arrived from Inspector Colin Edge of Bexley's Professional Standards and Leadership Support Unit to confirm the decision but he warns me that “under current legislation every set of circumstances presented could mean that laws are broken. Please be mindful of this”. I take it that that means that anything one might do could be illegal on the whim of any police officer dependent on the day of the week. Where are we, North Korea?

I can still only guess at what it was that interested the police in my blog so I am unable to judge where their movable legal threshold was on the day in question and can only continue to make judgments based on the same standards I have deemed appropriate in the past. How can I possibly do anything else without a reference standard?

I shall press Inspector Edge for more information when I reply to his brief email later today and as things stand at the moment I will not be ruling out a formal complaint against the officer who judged it appropriate to send the three constables to my address.

All the professional advice says that I got nowhere near to breaking the law and if the Inspector cannot convince me that the advice is wrong it will cast doubt on the competence of that police officer. The alternative is that he submitted to political pressure placed on him by the Masseys as Bexley police have so often done before. It continues to be a live issue with two enquiries into it ongoing.

If it cannot be demonstrated that I came close to breaking the law I shall additionally consider making an allegation of malicious harassment against the Masseys.

For the record, there is no complaint against Inspector Edge whose communications have always been exactly what one would expect of someone with the words Professional, Standards and Leadership in his job title.

 

19 December - Things are hotting up both at home and for Bexley police

As you may have noticed if you have not been too busy wrapping presents, BiB has been taking a holiday break. There is not an awful lot going on and there have been problems of a domestic nature to overcome, among them a broken down central heating boiler which is 30 years old. I know how it works and have always fixed it myself but spare parts are increasingly difficult to get hold of. After a chilly few days it is now reassembled and working. I dread having to replace it. Modern ones, even those marketed as compact units, are all a lot bigger in every dimension than the old one.


CraskeThere have been a couple of interesting developments with the police. On the so called Craske case the Met’s Department of Professional Standards (DPS) seems to have realised at last that if they don’t make a thorough job of investigating Bexley police’s subservience to Bexley Council, Elwyn Bryant and I will go back to the IPCC; they have confirmed we can do that.

The DPS recently found some more papers in Bexleyheath police station which they had somehow forgotten to give them when the file was first requested. Among the papers were the computer logs which I obtained from my ISP that provided a Craske connection.

They are new to the DPS and I had forgotten all about them but it looks as though they were conveniently ignored by Bexley police too. Would you expect anything else?

Councillor Craske can’t get ‘doneְ’ on the basis of the new information but it is sure to be another big black mark against the two Borough Commanders who stupidly allowed themselves to be manipulated by a bent Council.

When Bexley Council constructed a tissue of lies to protect Cheryl Bacon from the consequences of her illegally keeping members of the public out of a meeting not everyone’s story added up. Even Director Paul Moore’s confidential advice to Councillors was at variance with the story put out by the Council to the press. And as tends to happen when lies are ten a penny, everything unravelled badly and no one present at the meeting supported Bacon’s version of what happened there.


No OffenceOne thing that was particularly embarrassing to Bexley Council was that the police saw no problem. When they were called to the Council Chamber they asked no one’s name and address, made no report of the incident on return to base and when asked for information by the press said that no member of the public committed any crime.

This was seriously inconvenient for Bexley Council, so nearly a year later they asked Bexley Police to make something up.

Two unfortunate police constables were put under an obligation to say that I and others had to be forcibly ejected from the Council Chamber which is total nonsense. Mick Barnbrook made an allegation of crime to Scotland Yard and two years later the DPS said that the police constables had done nothing wrong.

It then became clear that the DPS had not investigated the case beyond reading the two PC’s second report and the evidence for that was sent to the IPCC. The IPCC agrees that the investigation was totally inadequate. This is a very precise repeat of how the DPS handled the Craske related case in 2012 and as you have read above, it still rumbles on. Will the Met. Police ever learn?


BaconIt is now quite obvious that the CPS are not going to charge Will Tuckley and Councillor Cheryl Bacon with a crime despite the police offering the off the record view that the case against them was strong.

Mick Barnbrook, who brought that case too, has not been provided with the full report by the CPS who have said that it is a police responsibility to decide whether to provide it or not but the investigating officer no longer works for the Met. Sometimes you have to accept that pursuing these things is not worth the further investment of time. When the system decides to be corrupt to protect its own there is nothing that can be done about it.

It was always going to be interesting to find out how the CPS would wriggle away from a prosecution and it took them 15 months to think up the way out, but I now know how they did it courtesy of an insider. I don't think I dare tell you but believe me, they played a blinder!

It’s a great shame a corrupt Council can get off scot free but four police officers are in trouble because they were asked to cover up for Bexley on two different occasions.

 

16 December - Happy 2017? Probably not

Bexley Council has today reminded residents that Albion Road, the relatively new dual carriageway that bypasses the shopping area from Broadway to Gravel Hill is to be downgraded to a single lane road, albeit with an overrunnable central area as seen in Broadway itself.

The work will begin in mid-January and go on all year causing total chaos or as Bexley Council puts it, slower than normal progress. Whether travelling times recover in 2018 remains to be seen but reducing road capacity rarely solves anything.

Council Press Release. Council web page.

 

13 December - Fortress Bexley

BinBexley sometimes looks like a hotbed of extremism. The borough was close to being worst in a survey on smoking while pregnant but is top dog for recycling. I understand that some areas have issues with untidy bin men but around here you have to look very hard for a problem and you won’t often find one.

The biggest problems come from management. On a per head basis I am provided with five times as much bin capacity as my immediate neighbour and he is penalised if his lid isn’t quite shut but on the other side of him Bexley provides twice as much bin capacity, although I concede there may be an element of dishonesty involved in that.

However there cannot be much doubt that Bexley is better at recycling than the only other boroughs of which I have any knowledge. I share my brown bin with a Bromley resident and the glass jars come from Newham which doesn’t provide a separate glass recycling service to households.

Bexley Council has issued a Press Release in which Cabinet Member Peter Craske justifiably crows about the success of being Number One for recycling. (Where would we be on fly tipping?)

As I have said before, things are very quiet at the moment. Tonight’s Cabinet Meeting has been cancelled and there is not another meeting of any type that I’d be inclined to attend until 18th January next year. Maybe the lectures it is alleged the Chief Executive has been delivering to staff and Councillors alike to tell them not to ever speak to anyone outside their Ivory Tower is having an effect.

Most of what you read on BiB comes from well informed readers and not ‘a leak’ in the normal sense of the word, but those readers must have obtained their information from somewhere.

The most exciting email I received today was this one…


PigsRegarding the new Bexley cash cow gestapo, who appear from nowhere to fine anyone caught dropping a dog end £80. They are accusing smokers of causing the floods in Crayford by clogging the drains with fag butts.

It is all designed to give maximum humiliation in front of shoppers, by making it look as though a shoplifter has been nabbed. A lot of people are unaware of the new law, so surely a warning could be given for a first offence, but that wouldn’t raise as much dosh.


It’s a difficult one isn’t it? If Bexley Council operated in an open and transparent manner few would argue with what they are doing but predictably they are being sneaky. I have only seen one of their snoopers so far, lurking deep inside a shop doorway. Unfortunately at the one time the camera was elsewhere.

 

12 December - Behave yourself

I suppose it needs to be done but it is beginning to make the borough feel like part of a police state, which given events over the past five years you may think it always has been.

For the record, it is six months since Bexley police told me they were considering a charge of harassment for referring to the publicly available information that the Masseys no longer ran a business in Bexley and have bought a house in Rochester and that one of their daughters posted pictures on Facebook taken at allegedly noisy parties which anyone was free to look at. How else do you think I found them? My hacking skills are zero.

I don’t intend to chase the police for an answer, they have suffered enough embarrassment at the hands of the two Councillors without me rubbing their noses in it.

However today’s real news is that a variety of activities which might be more appropriate to a children’s playground have become illegal in Bexleyheath Broadway.

Fortunately for certain people, the wheeling of buggies into ankles is not on Bexley’s list of distressing behaviours nor is creating clouds of tobacco smoke; but dropping the butt on the ground is verboten in George Orwell’s Bexley. (I got that phrase from a lady correspondent. I doubt very much that she smokes).

Council Press Release.

Rather late in the day, both literally and metaphorically, I took a look at Sidcup’s Walled Garden this afternoon and took a dozen photos for those of you who have not managed to get there. It was a horrible dull day as you know and the garden could do with a bit more colour, but when the million new roses are in bloom…

 

11 December - Weekend ramble

Fences down at Lesnes Abbey! Helpful notices down at Abbey Wood station
Lesnes No trainsThe past two weeks has seen the fence around the Lesnes Abbey Visitor Centre taken down, most of it anyway, which may or may not be a precursor to it opening.

The same period has seen steady progress down at the railway station. The Crossrail platform is taking shape.

Much to my surprise trains have been running this weekend. The list of engineering work on display at Abbey Wood station showed a big yellow loop from Deptford through Barnehurst and back via Abbey Wood.

After I realised my mistake I asked the man who puts up the notices at Abbey Wood station what his notice was all about. “Oh, I don’t read those”, he said, and very wise too. He was fooled by it too. Eventually he spotted the small print. Although the line is marked yellow on a notice that says ‘Engineering Work’, this yellow loop did not indicate Engineering Work at all, it indicated a revised timetable.

So what was it doing on the Engineering Works notice encouraging readers to jump to the wrong conclusion?

Things were simple when the station staff were allowed to be helpful and put up a simple notice that everyone could understand. (Expand Photo 2.) The practice was banned by Southeastern management who thought it looked untidy. Those in charge are clearly not interested in helping passengers, they would rather confuse them. nuts obviously. It’s enough to make me a convert to letting Mayor Sadiq Khan take over the franchise. He couldn’t make a bigger mess of things could he?

(I think I shall have to think about that given his lamentable performance so far.)

Engineering Work

Welling’s money box junctions
I don’t get on well with Facebook, to be honest I very rarely look, not even at Sharon Massey’s page despite her belief that various people stalk her, me and Councillor Borella included. She’s nuts obviously.

Someone tipped me off earlier in the week that there was a comment on the BiB Facebook page (which is run by a third party), that I should probably answer.


FacebookI twice penned a reply and both times it disappeared into the Facebook ether so I am going to answer it here.

I use Welling’s Central Avenue once each week. Last Sunday there was no room at the money box’s exit so I held back, first in the queue to cross. Someone behind me decided to overtake and possibly realising there was no legitimate place to go went the wrong side of the Keep Left bollards and down to the lights on the wrong side of the road. Bexley Council says that its revenue raisers are to make the road safer. They are a bad joke aren’t they? Nuts obviously.

Today I found myself in the same position after the car in front of me turned left towards the station. However the road was blocked by a van which for reasons unknown was parked broadside across the road blocking it totally.

There wasn’t even room for the admittedly quite large saloon to get its back end off the yellow box and the driver had to pull back, In doing so he was stuck in the money machine because I couldn’t reverse because of the queue that had developed behind me.

It is worth repeating that an offence is committed only if the box is entered when its exit is not clear. Bexley Council, dishonest as ever, will only give you carefully edited video that you stopped in the box. That is not sufficient evidence, it must show you entering the box while the exit is blocked. Anything less than that and they haven’t got a leg to stand on.

Thames Water
Bexley Council’s least favourite utility continues to get a bad press. Some people have resorted to writing to the company’s Director of Customer Service but like Danny Leamon, the Head of Metering, he ignores everything.

While several roads around the borough have seen their plumbing wrecked by mud, in Footscray they are lucky to get much of anything through their pipes.


Your mention of Thames Water is interesting for over here in Footscray we have had very low water pressure for about a month. Several of us have replaced showers thinking them to be faulty but it is a pressure problem.

We have contacted Thames twice daily for weeks and are fobbed of with lies and false promises. We have involved James Brokenshire M.P. who is doing his best to help but I think is just having the same dialogue as we are with them. They employ paid liars and are not fit to run a public utility.

P.S. Try reporting something in Crossway. The app will insist on the nearest building of which there are none - by design.


Very true. Maybe you will indulge my own experience?

When I first moved to Bexley and cheques were the standard form of payment I paid Thames Water’s bill in one go. Thames Water continued to demand payment and I eventually sent them a copy of my bank statement, but they persisted and eventually took out court proceedings. I was more than happy to show them up before the beak but just to be sure told my bank what was going on and sought absolute confirmation that the payment had been made. In my view they overstepped the mark by contacting Thames Water and settling the matter. My day in court was thwarted!

It transpired that I had accidentally overpaid Thames Water by one penny and their accounting system couldn’t cope. They said they would fix their computer to ensure it didn’t happen again.

About ten years later and being of an occasionally bloody-minded disposition I overpaid by a penny again and exactly the same thing happened.

After that I began to pay by ten individual payments (not Direct Debit) which was OK for a few years but I then decided to pay the whole lot in one go again. I paid on 4th April and at the end of that month received a letter to say that as I had paid after 1st April I was no longer eligible to pay by standing order. If they thought I was still paying monthly I was nine months in credit. Nuts obviously.

Their incompetence manifested itself in East Ham too but that story can wait for another time.

Digital by default
FingerThere is no way that Bexley’s plan to put all their services on line will not lead to inconvenience and a digital divide between the young and the elderly, the fit and the infirm and the poor and the better off.

But the Council will no doubt continue to fool themselves.

I really cannot be bothered to report broken street lights any more and when people block my drive waiting for someone to respond to a web form is never likely to be a practical solution to an immediate problem.

Unknown to me Bexley Council seems to have introduced on line fly tip reporting too. Maybe it’s because I haven’t got a clue what a mobile app is.

A reader sent me this message and it is probably a good indicator of the problems soon to beset us all.


I wanted to report some long term fly tipping in Thamesmead’s Crowden Way and given the move towards compulsory reporting by internet I logged into My Bexley (Report It).

It is impossible to complete the report as the application will not recognise either the address or the postcode (SE28 8HE).

So, being ignorant of the problem Bexley Council will ignore this fly tipping and claim at Council meetings that it doesn’t exist. Neither will it recognise my address in the neighbouring postcode SE28 8HF. This would make it impossible for me to report any future fly tipping or even defective street lighting should this ever be an issue in my Close. Seems like Bexley Council after decades of neglect of this area have now moved on to abandonment legitimated by ignorance.


NoticeLooks like it. I wouldn’t be surprised if they think that SE28 is in Greenwich. Bexley Council is not very good at post codes.

Street notices appeared in my neck of the woods a week ago which say that Abbey Road, Belvedere is in SE9. Well some parts are in SE2 but SE9 is Eltham and not in this borough at all. So what on earth was the Deputy Director of Regeneration (£112,005 a year plus £57·23 an hour overtime) thinking of?

Nuts obviously.

 

10 December - Councillors are not fans of the Bexley Heritage Trust and no one at all likes Thames Water

Following on from the hour spent raking over the Sidcup Walled Garden the Places Scrutiny Committee moved on to flooding. The first question came from the Chairman who asked if those wading through the flood problems were liaising with their colleagues in building control.

They were and the GLA and Environment Agency were involved too.

Councillor Stefano Borella asked about the relationship with Thames Water which was not, he said, his favourite utility. Join the club Stef. They never did come to fill in the hole they dug in my front garden path or remove the plastic safety barrier. Nor did they ever reply to the Townley Road residents whose domestic plumbing systems they managed to fill with mud and grit. According to other correspondents the mess they made in Townley Road is being repeated right across the borough.

Councillor Borella said several roads are subjected to frequent flooding and sewage overflow and it has been going on for years with no remedy in prospect.

The responsible Council officer said that they “struggle with our relationship with them [Thames Water] , It is difficult. It is not easy”. The Thames Barrier is the responsibility of the Environment Agency.


SlaughterCouncillor June Slaughter (Conservative, Sidcup) asked if Brexit might have any impact on water management. The Directives come from the EU and Councillor Slaughter’s question went unanswered.

The next item for discussion was street lights and in particular the conversion to LED.

Councillor Borella (Labour, North End) was not especially enthusiastic about the plan for street light failures to be reported only on line.

The ‘Digital by default’ system, as it is called, was said to be not causing any problems, presumably because with no other means of access they will go unrecorded. The responsible Council officer said that “it is down to friends and relatives to report faults”. Whilst street light fault reporting is not a particularly critical issue it is exactly the sort of attitude that leaves my aunt in Newham cut off. She can use a telephone but not a computer, her nearest relative (me) is an hour’s journey away and at nearly 97 all her friends are dead.

“Go to the library” the Council officer said. I managed to suppress a disapproving laugh and like me, Councillor Borella was not impressed, although in practice a failed street light is probably not dependent on just one person reporting it.


Moore BaconDirector Paul Moore said he would nevertheless take Councillor Borella’s point into account for the Council’s new digital platform due next year.

Councillor Cheryl Bacon (Conservative, Cray Meadows) hoped there might be some consistency of approach on the new website. She also thought that the Call Centre should be able to accept reports of lamp failures. It would be quicker for the staff to tap in the address on their computer than wait for the caller to find a pencil and then write down a web address, she said, and it seems a fair point.

Councillor June Slaughter asked if the public had commented on the LED lighting and was told that about 30 of the 3,000 lamps so far installed had given rise to problems such as shining into bedrooms. There had also been some complimentary comment.

There was a brief statement on the transition of Hall Place and Danson House back to Council control. Councillor Joe Ferreira (Labour, Erith) noted that £2·5 million had been written off due to the effective failure of the Bexley Heritage Trust and was concerned about the financial viability of the other recipients of Council grants. No reassurances could be given as it was a matter for the Director of Finance.


DaveyCouncillor John Davey saw the Council takeover as an opportunity because he didn’t think the Heritage Trust had done a very good job. Several features, such as the sunken and herb gardens, had been closed. He asked what would become of the small businesses (the butterfly display, the café etc.) that sub-let premises from the Trust.

He was told that the businesses would continue but the Trust had stopped supporting some garden features as the money ran out.

Councillor Slaughter said the transfer of control had financial implications because the Trust had charitable status and the Council did not which might impact the services on offer. She was told that the opening hours would be unchanged but might be “tweaked” in the light of experience.

Councillor Slaughter also asked about possible staff redundancies and was met with “we are looking at some restructuring”.


ClarkCouncillor Val Clark (Conservative, Falconwood & Welling) was “not in the least bit surprised that Bexley Heritage Trust got itself into difficulties”. She has found “that when people receive grants they become stale. It is amazing what you can do when you have less money and how inventive you can be. Hall Place used to be vibrant, now it looks empty and there are voids everywhere as if nothing is going on. The Council can make it the great place it used to be”.

Finally the Chargeable Garden Waste Service was up for review. There are currently 38,600 addresses signed up and the churn rate is broadly in line with the turn over rate for house occupancy. 94% of last year’s sign ups had renewed, nearly half by Direct Debit.

Councillor Ferreira said that residents were still complaining that they had to pay for what was previously included in the Council Tax but accepted that “it is where we are”.


WatersIt fell to Councillor John Waters to first bring a sour note into what had been a civilised, if somewhat dull meeting. He did the only thing of which he appears to be capable, criticise the opposition.

He said “he was a little disappointed that the Labour party has not been leading with their thanks [to Council staff]. Councillor Newman had been wrong {when the bin tax was introduced] and I am sure, had he been here, he would have apologised profusely. Sadly we have missed his contribution. I have canvassed in the north of the borough, in the Labour wards, and there are rows of bins in that deprived area of the borough. Clearly people think it is a good scheme and think it is value for money, and they are quite right, it is.”

Councillor Clark asked how the bins held by those who did not renew their subscription would be recovered. They are going to be tagged, “but tags are easily removed and bins hidden in back gardens”.

Deputy Director David Bryce-Smith said the aim is to remove unpaid bins by the end of December but those who hide bins in garages “are a challenge. Additionally there would be an audit in the Spring of next year.


BinsI have no faith in any audit that might be conducted. Two doors along from me there is a house occupied by two people who have two green bins with no justification whatsoever and most weeks they manage to fill both.

Councillor Borella was still upset about the charge but acknowledged the successful aspects of the scheme. He had campaigned in John Waters’ ward and residents there were no happier about the “bin tax” than anywhere else. His question was about informing newcomers to the borough and referred back to the first section of the meeting when Sidcup garden volunteers referred to the problem of fly tipping. Mr. Bryce-Smith said there was a plan to target new residents to the borough and he is “working hard to address the customer care problems” brought on by the “overwhelming success” of the scheme.

On fly tipping the Council is keen to prosecute, but not so keen apparently to do anything about the photographs and video submitted to them two months ago. An acknowledgement, but since then, total silence.

Councillor Slaughter asked if it was possible to charge those who did not return their unsubscribed bins but as Councillor Craske once said, they were purchased in bulk so cheaply that any administration cost associated with recovery was not money well spent.


CraskeCabinet Member Peter Craske thought that keeping a bin in a garage was self defeating, but I have one in mine that cost me nearly £40 that is an ideal mouse proof container for bulk purchased pet food. Naturally he couldn’t resist mounting an attack on the Labour party. After a quick comment on Councillor Newman “who predicted no one would sign up” he said that similar schemes had been “introduced right across the country. Lewisham is doing it at double the price. People are quite happy to support it and on fly tipping we now have an enforcement team fining people. It has been very successful after only six weeks of operation.”

“If people see fly tipping they should report it. I understand that Labour members take photos and do whatever they want on social media but it never actually gets reported”. The Chairman stepped in just in time to stop a more heated debate by reminding the Committee that the issue being discussed was garden waste not fly tipping.

At the close of the meeting Councillor Borella brought up the subject of unauthorised road works. He had noticed them all around the borough. Thames Water was one of the culprits. They don’t comply with Council instructions and cause long tail backs.

Mr. Bryce-Smith said that Thames Water causes (outside the metering project) “significant problems and had been issued with a quarter of a million pounds of fines for unauthorised works. They have caused queues from Bexley to Dartford for emergency works which weren’t emergency works. They are the top problematic utility company”.

Thames Water will be asked to attend the April 2017 meeting.

 

9 December (Part 2) - From roses to horse manure

Yesterday’s Scrutiny meeting in Bexley’s Civic Offices was an almost entirely civilised affair with nothing but good natured banter between the two main parties, which is possibly why I found it to be such a bore.


CraskeBut then Cabinet Member Peter Craske spoke.

He returned to his age old, and thoroughly dishonest, theme of Labour being the fly tipper’s friend. He said (full report over the weekend) that all they ever did was put pictures of rubbish on social media. Presumably he has forgotten that that was the main plank of Anna Firth’s General Election campaign in Erith & Thamesmead too.


TweetUnknown to me because mobile telephony is not my strong point, Councillor Danny Hackett Tweeted about it from the chamber.

Despite the absence of the letter Q from Danny''s keyboard I thought it was rather funny when I first saw it this morning and took it to be a subtle reference to Councillor Craske’s apparent dalliance with blogging and affinity for obscenities.

Of course neither Danny nor I knows he did it but we do know that the content of the blog was entirely stuff that only Craske would be likely to know, that it came from his phone line and that former Chief Executive Will Tuckley was involved in an arrangement with the police that “Craske’s situation be resolved”.


Tweet Tweet
TweetWhilst some might think that Danny got perilously close to a line that I have not dared to cross I doubt anyone is likely to sue him for it any time soon.

An investigation into how the case against Peter Craske was undermined by politicians is still in the hands of Scotland Yard and they have discovered just how big the Craske cover up was.

I am still optimistic that someone is going to get their knuckles rapped big time for the corruption that has been uncovered but knowing how the establishment works to protect itself maybe I should be as pessimistic about it as Elwyn Bryant is.

But if a policeman goes down for this one I am going to move heaven and earth to push for those who knobbled him to go the same way. My money is on Teresa O’Neill O.B.E (Obscene Blogs Endorser) figuring in it somewhere.

Danny you have nothing to fear, they won’t be wanting this one brought to the fore again.

 

9 December (Part 1) - Everything’s coming up roses

I was looking forward to the Places Overview and Scrutiny meeting, Agendas about the future of the place we have to live in are usually interesting and Chairman Councillor Melvin Seymour can rattle through it at a decent pace. I was also hoping that spending another evening in the Council Chamber might help to get BiB back on the road again.

Unfortunately I was disappointed; no, I was bored rigid for most of the time. The first item was the restoration of Sidcup’s Walled Garden. A quick resumé might have been OK but how do you get to spend very nearly an hour talking about the planting of roses and paying for them?

I think the answer is that Bexley Council is keen to milk the success of the volunteers who saved the garden and hopes a gullible population will overlook the fact that it was Bexley Council that voted to abandon it to the nettles and brambles.

The scheme to rescue it was the brainchild of the new (first elected 2014) Councillor for Sidcup, Rob Leitch, who has since enjoyed a meteoric rise to Deputy Leader of the Council.

The Council as a whole may have voted for its demise but Rob had a vision, and as he soon discovered, so had a lot of Sidcup residents too.


Walled Garden LeitchI may have found the hour long discussion less than scintillating, and with so very few Councillors participating in the discussion, maybe I was not alone, but you should not run away with the idea that I do not appreciate that what happened in Sidcup is a magnificent achievement. In fact BiB has frequently carried a plea for donations and I was among the very first to donate a three figure sum to Rob’s fund; but that doesn’t stop me from being suspicious about the motive behind allowing the subject half a Scrutiny meeting. It is not a privilege afforded to any other groups of volunteers.

We learned from the garden’s eloquent spokesman. Mrs. Isenberg, that the garden renewal had not always been welcomed by Bexley Council but relationships are now improving. However they still get no help with garden waste removal and are sometimes bogged down by Bexley’s red tape.

As Bexley Council initially chose not to spend any money on the garden one should presumably not be very surprised by that, but in practice a little bit of help is forthcoming now and again.

Thanks to various sponsors, within six months of forming the community group, the money in the bank was enough by the end of 2015 to keep the project going for two years but the real financial breakthrough came when Tesco provided a grant of £12,000. The money will allow more of the flower beds to be restored and sooner because the money has to be spent by April 2017. After that the volunteers will be looking for more sponsors.


Slaughter BaconCouncillor Gareth Bacon reminisced about the garden of his youth when the Council had the money to maintain it. He commended Councillor Rob Leitch and the volunteers for their efforts.

He asked Mrs. Isenberg if she was getting the support from the Council that was expected. The question was answered by one of her colleagues which amounted to a polite “Not really but support is better now than it used to be”.

The Deputy Director for Communities and Leisure said the Council was actively looking at ways it might be able to help with waste disposal and grass cutting.

Sidcup Councillor June Slaughter who has frequently been seen raking up muck from the garden spoke of the enjoyment, pride and fun that can be gained by voluntary work of this nature.

Councillor Joe Ferriera (Labour, Erith) thought the Council instead of handing out reams of questions on paper and saying “you get on with it”, should be saying to the group “come on in, we’ll go through this together”.

Councillor Borella (Labour, North End) also lavished praise on the community garden group and Rob Leitch. He suggested that pupils at the local school who had been blamed earlier for much of the garden’s litter problem might instead be recruited as volunteers.

Mrs. Isenberg thought that involving minors might create a new “minefield” of Council red tape.

Councillor Cheryl Bacon said that the garden group was not the first in Bexley but the tradition had largely fallen by the wayside possibly because of "the minefield" of paperwork. She asked the Cabinet Member to think about the value of such activities when setting budgets.

Mrs. Isenberg reminded Councillors that there would be no Tesco grant this year but £12,000 is the sort of money needed to "bring such a garden to life". Somehow I doubt that that is the sort of Budget help which is likely to become available.

Dig deep.

Photo feature.

 

7 December - More railway news. Crossrail’s quarterly report to residents

I gambled on last night’s Crossrail Liaison Panel meeting being more interesting than Bexley Council’s People Scrutiny meeting and probably I was right. It has quite often been the case with the Crossrail meetings that if you took along an old Agenda and an old set of Minutes you might not notice much of a difference. Last night was a little more useful than that implies.

There were of course the usual moans but not totally without cause. The replacement buses are frequently inaccessible to wheel chair users and from personal experience parents with buggies and those unable to negotiate the steep stairs found on some luxury coaches are similarly barred from access. On November 19th they were turfed off to wait another 20 minutes in the pouring rain. Nice coach for a Continental tour but not for a Plumstead to Slade Green shuttle.

Someone at Network Rail has had the bright idea of reversing all the platform loudspeakers so that they now point to the east - where there are no nearby houses - rather than Abbey Terrace. Simple, cheap and hopefully effective. In the immediate future the light levels, and the possible nuisance factor, is to be assessed.

Network Rail has been cleaning the Church Manorway and Bostall Manorway weekly to good effect according to the latest reports although the latter was filthy when I crossed it last Saturday.

The long awaited solution to the garden flooding affecting houses In Abbey Grove to the west of the station is now within sight. It will entail soak-aways and installing a new drain which will connect to the station car park drainage system. Installation will commence during the first quarter of 2017. Emergency pumps are dealing with the problem until then.


Flood FloodTiffany Lynch from Bexley Council confirmed what I had heard a lady from Greenwich Council say a month or so ago, that is that the Wilton Road public realm work scheduled for the first week of the New Year should cure the persistent flooding at the station entrance. Bexley Council has ignored it for years and sometimes only the Network Rail gully sucker has prevented thousands of wet shoes.

The complaint that Network Rail’s removal of the trees and fences between their track and the flats in Coptefield Drive and their apparent intention not to replace them has now reached Crossrail’s Complaints Commissioner.

I live in the same road but not adjacent to the railway and shielded from it by a terrace of flats and houses. The only real difference I have noticed is that following the loss of the trees all the birds disappeared. Over the years I have seen nearly 40 varieties of birds in my front garden and for a year there have been almost none. Not even a plague of parakeets. Some sparrows and tits returned during the recent cold snap.

The affected householders are being asked to pay for a replacement fence themselves and as they are leasehold with a managing agent who will merely pass on the cost, residents appear to have a legitimate grievance. The agent’s fencing contractor was on site today measuring up. The cost will be horrendous.

The Bostall Manorway footbridge ramps are due to open during the first quarter of 2017.

Key dates for the next few months are…


16 December 2016 - Zinc cladding goes on to the station roof.
17 February 2017 - Planned completion of Crossrail platform.
17 February 2017 - Installation of the North Kent line to Crossrail points. (This is a Friday but that is what Network Rail said.)
17 February 2017 - Crossrail track installed within confines of station.
17 April 2017 - Final piece of Abbey Wood section Crossrail track laid.


Network Rail will then hand over the track to Crossrail for the electrical fit out, signalling etc.

Crossrail related line closures will be 4th, 5th, 12th, 18th, and 26th February 2017. In March the dates are 3rd, 11th, 12th and 27th followed by 8th, 9th and 29th April. There may be additional closures due to engineering work elsewhere. Always check the Network Rail website before travelling at the weekend.

There will be no trains - Bexleyheath line too - next weekend but it is nothing to do with Crossrail.

Finally drivers heading in or out of Thamesmead will be pleased to hear that Tiffany Lynch (Bexley Council) has also noticed that the Harrow Manorway crossing lights have been cycling through red, amber and green, almost constantly over the past two weeks without encouragement from a pedestrian’s thumb. She has promised to report it to Transport for London.

In other train related news, you will have read that Transport Minister Chris Grayling has been playing political games with The Mayor and blocked his proposal for TfL to take over the Southeastern’s ‘Metro’ lines.

I am not Southeastern’s biggest critic because I don’t have to use their service during the rush hour and outside it I appear to lead a charmed life and only very rarely inconvenienced. However I do recognise that it causes rail travel in this part of London to be more expensive than elsewhere, and of course Freedom Pass users have to queue at the barriers until 9:30 which residents of other boroughs do not have to do. Only Bexley has no rail alternative to Southeastern.


Evennett BrokenshireIt is therefore very disappointing that two of our MPs are in favour of Grayling’s endorsement of making travellers on all the local railway lines pay more than elsewhere.

Something to be remembered come the next election.

For the record, the Southeastern representative at last night’s meeting confirmed that Freedom Pass users will be accepted at the Abbey Wood barriers at all times but will be expected to use only the Crossrail services until 9:30.

 

5 December - Absent without leave?

A number of people have commented on the recent absence of BiB and whether something is amiss. The answer is that there has simply been nothing worth reporting for the past week and whilst puffing up next to nothing into a story of sorts is possible once in a while it is not something that can be done every day without acquiring the wrong sort of reputation.

Silence has its dangers too but it does at least allow time for other activities.

There are three meetings this week which I should attend but unfortunately two of them are tomorrow. Councillor James Hunt will no doubt miss me being at his People Overview and Scrutiny meeting but to be honest the Agenda looks to be unexciting and there is always the webcast to fall back on.

I shall go instead to the Crossrail Liaison Panel meeting which is only five minutes away to see what they have to say about yet another bad forecast of future line closures.

 

1 December - Abbey Wood. Struggling on in spite of Crossrail

Still not a lot going on. If it was a bit warmer I might fill in the gaping hole Thames Water has left in my front garden. They quickly filled in the hole in the public footpath but pretended not to know anything about the uncovered manhole in my garden. It’s the same in Townley road, appliances wrecked by mud and grit in the water supply but no response from Thames Water.

The only thing currently of interest, and then only to those on the North West corner of the borough, came out of my attendance at last night’s Abbey Wood Traders’ Association meeting.

Bexley Council recently made a small song and dance out of their new website yourabbeywood which I thought was pretty useless except to the few who might be academically interested in long term plans for the area. There was nothing at all on that website which might boost trade which is suffering dreadfully at the hands of Network Rail.

As mentioned last Sunday, the number of railway line closures for 2017 has suddenly risen from the promised one to 22 and that’s just the Crossrail related ones. The lack of complete information drives the local traders to despair.

Network Rail circulated an email on 25th November which said there would be no Crossrail closure next Saturday, 3rd December but there would be on Sunday 4th.


No trainsIf you look at the Engineering Works posters at Abbey Wood station you will see there are no trains throughout the weekend. The map shows the line is closed only from Slade Green to Plumstead on Saturday (implying Crossrail work) but all the way up to London on the Sunday - implying extensive Network Rail work. But the Crossrail email says the reverse. No wonder the official advice is to assume there will never be trains at the weekend.

However there is now a useful Abbey Wood website. It seems to be a big secret, only one of the traders present at the meeting last night knew about it, but apparently it is the work of the retail consultant who designed the new shop fronts.

It includes a shop directory so you can see what services are available in Abbey Wood. A rare accolade from me, but it is really quite well done. (It’s on an unusually slow server, be patient!)

P.S. Coincidentally, Bexley Council has published a Press Release on this subject today complete with photographs of the new shop fronts. Similar photographs were published on BiB two months ago.

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