Following Mrs. Jane Richardson’s presentation to Cabinet on Bexley Council’s proposal to dramatically change its Growth Strategy, Councillors were keen to show their support for it.
Cabinet Member for Regeneration, Linda Bailey, was first in the queue and it was very much business as usual from her. When one sits down as I am now to pick out something worth reporting one can only draw the conclusion she adds nothing of any note, although to be fair, her comments are sometimes enlivened by serious errors of fact.
She thanked the Council Officers for “the huge amount of work and keeping me briefed. If the proposal is approved tonight there will be a comprehensive six week consultation and I do hope that residents will take part fully”.
“They [the Council Officers] produced a direction of travel document jointly with the GLA which sets out delivery objectives. This is very important as we have always been clear from the start that we wanted to manage growth not developments being built piecemeal.”
“We have also been very clear that Bexley can deliver many homes and jobs but only if we can get the traffic infrastructure needed. I am pleased that the Growth Strategy is supported by all Members of the Council. This will be the largest amount of building since the 1930s. we will have to explain [to residents] that it will be over a long period but it will be well worth it.”
Did she add anything to Jane Richardson’s nicely delivered presentation? Probably not but the additional £13,197 a year for being a Cabinet Member has to be justified somehow.
When foregoing political insults, Cabinet Member Philip Read can usually be relied upon to put on a better show. “This Growth Strategy is exciting. It is Bexley’s but it has not been produced in isolation and has involved partners and residents which ensures the Strategy has the strength of a joint vision.”
“I welcome the intention to bring about a renaissance in the north of the borough. It can throw off its outdated and obsolete industrial past. Those industries served us well but times have inevitably changed and modern technology requires different, smaller and cleaner premises.”
“The use of former industrial land opens up the chance of overall progress across a broad front including more and better quality housing catering for all markets and the opportunity to open up improved access to nearly six miles of river front.”
“Many things need to happen if the Strategy is to be successful; the extension of Crossrail and improved river crossings of the right type being just two but the chances of them being achieved are improved by the well argued document before us tonight. Bexley will be a vibrant and exciting place in which to live work and play.”
Philip Read can be quite statesmanlike when he tries; could Peter Craske do the same? Not on this occasion it would seem.
He thanked the team that produced the Strategy which was “tremendous” and “we have a clear vision of the transport needs of this borough.”
“We need more houses and if you have seen the price of houses now and you worry about how young people are going to get on to the property ladder and by increasing housing capacity in the right place and in the right way some of the people who want to stay here, it is tremendously important.” (I think we get the meaning Peter even if the syntax is a little challenging.)
“All of these things together are a strategic long term vision for the future of our borough. I can’t wait to get stuck in.”
After that Councillor Bailey may have felt less inadequate than she might have done when Councillor Read sat down.
Cabinet Member Alex Sawyer emphasised the point “that transport infrastructure underpins and drives our Strategy and the aim of an additional three Crossrail stations is achievable bringing benefits long after most of us are long gone.” (Alex has probably got the timescale absolutely right.)
“It is incredibly frustrating that if you go to the north of the borough by the river you can see the other side but you just can’t get to it.”
Cabinet Member Don Massey also thought the Strategy was “tremendously exciting. There is enormous untapped potential and perhaps in the past for whatever reason we haven’t had an opportunity to deliver as we have now.”
Councillor Danny Hackett (Labour, Lesnes Abbey) thanked the Council Officers “for the brilliant job they have done. It has been a long time coming.” He was pleased to see that many suggestions made by his party “in 2014 made it into the end product”.
On housing he said that “we need affordable homes and a mixture of homes that residents can afford. We need river crossings and Crossrail to be extended through the borough. The infrastructure needs to come before the housing development” and he went on to suggest efficiency improvements, with examples drawn from other boroughs, in the way planning applications could be handled.
Councillor Brenda Langstead (Labour, North End) endorsed Councillor Read’s statement about housing catering for all markets but was concerned about the provision of health services which are currently “struggling to cope”. There are two large new housing developments in Slade Green with no additional health services. The educational situation was much the same. Council Leader Teresa O’Neill said they “were very valid points”.
Councillor Daniel Francis (Labour, Belvedere) said that lessons should be learned from Thamesmead where infrastructure projects such as the Fleet Line (Underground) were promised in the 1960s but never arrived and it was nine years since he had taken Mrs. Richardson around parts of his ward “saying for goodness sake let’s get this redeveloped”.
“It has been a long journey and consultation is the key but in Erith ward only 65% of people are registered to vote and they are not going to be on our email database”.
Councillor Colin McGannon (UKIP, Colyers) said the Strategy was “a very very visionary and forward looking project and you can be sure that we will cooperate with every last bit of it that we are able to. There are bound to be odd things that are difficult but it is the best thing that I’ve heard for the borough and we support it whole heartedly”.
Councillor David Leaf (Conservative, Longlands) said the Strategy “was a first class document. It sets out Bexley as the first port of call for businesses to come to. It is ambitious but also realistic”. He also wanted to see fibre broadband to homes and not just to the street cabinets.
Councillor John Davey (Conservative, Crayford today - gone tomorrow) said he agreed with what everyone had already said but was specially interested in transport infrastructure. Schools and health centres can be built relatively quickly but transport infrastructure cannot. Transport infrastructure is “fundamental”.
The proposals were then approved unanimously by the Cabinet.