so often, well not that often, I go to a Bexley Council meeting and find
everything just as it should be. Well presented plans, intelligently discussed,
everyone in agreement, me included, and not a word of criticism by Tories against their opposition.
Yesterday was such a meeting.
It is perhaps pedantic to mention that Councillor Philip Read strayed just a little into that territory by somehow managing to refer to the nationalisation of British Leyland, but by his standards he was very well behaved. It probably helped the maintenance of civility that both the News Shopper and the Bexley Times had sent a reporter. In all my six years of attending meetings that has never happened before.
Cabinet Members Linda Bailey and Don Massey along with PR man John Ferry were fawning all over them. Thanks to the table snatcher they had to balance their shorthand pads on their knees. It’s odd logic that Councillors should be so welcoming of the press - there was an announcement by Cabinet Member Bailey to that effect - in the hope of a favourable report when the reverse strategy is applied to bloggers. Neither Bailey, Massey or Ferry have ever said a word to me.
The two big subjects up for discussion were the new growth strategy and setting up of the Council’s new company to be known as BexleyCo.
The Growth Strategy was ably presented by Mrs. Jane Richardson. (Why is she only Assistant Chief Executive while the top job is occupied by a clown?)
Gone are the days of Bexley Council hankering after remaining a sleepy backwater with restricted access to the rest of London. Financial pressures have put paid to that.
The year old GLA plan to build 21,500 new homes is superseded in favour of 31,500. Ambitious for a borough with no maternity facilities, almost the lowest number of GPs per head of population in the country, no A&E, no Crown Post Office, no Underground, no Docklands Light Railway and Crossrail trains which won’t quite cross the borough boundary unless one breaks down. Ominous?
It was nevertheless an imaginative and exciting plan. There is to be a new shopping centre in Belvedere, a ‘production corridor’ (for theatre and video production) and facilities for modern tech based industries. Transport remains a problem. It is accepted that there needs to be much better north-south connections but maybe too much faith is being placed in a Crossrail extension to Gravesend. There are an awful lot of reasons for it never happening, so at best be prepared to wait a very long time.
Ms. Richardson always presents her reports clearly but this time she augmented it with a series of slides, the most interesting of which are shown below.
She said the plan had taken three years to develop with the cooperation of the GLA and TfL and she believed “Bexley was in a unique position as a gateway location”.
“Unlike in other boroughs, Bexley’s housing zone (Thamesmead) is signed off and about to start construction.”
Jobs are needed and we must keep up with technological changes. Ocado which promised 3,000 jobs in Belvedere will in practice produce no more than 2,000 due to increasing automation.
There is “an infrastructure deficit” which must be addressed and “there is an expectation to extend Crossrail”.
“People still shop outside the borough” but a new centre will be created in Belvedere. The production corridor would be based around Sidcup which already supports the arts through the Rose Bruford and other colleges. There is “serious support” for a new theatre.
A skills centre will be established and “a multi-faceted facility” is envisaged. (i.e. a variety of industries will be encouraged.)
Council Officer Seb Salom took over the Growth report to Cabinet.
“Transport infrastructure drives growth” and a Crossrail extension is the number one priority. “Very good progress had been made with the business case and lobbying activities. Crossrail will reduce traffic congestion and improve air quality”.
Bexley “has long recognised the need for more river crossings and the Council and the public recognises the need for an integrated package of crossings in East London which includes two new road based crossings. We are lobbying [the Mayor] hard for them to remain in his long term plans.”
It was again said that crossings would reduce congestion and improve air quality.
“A range of bus services must be improved and road junctions changed to improve convenience of use by all road users.” Queen’s Road Erith got a special mention.
The plans will go out for public consultation in early May which will last six weeks.
Councillors’ comments will be reported later but they mainly did no more than heap praise on the plans.
There is a complementary look at Bexley’s plans on the fromthemurkydepths blog.