Growth Strategy had top billing at last Tuesday’s Cabinet meeting. After two
years of hard work, a bit of debate and a roadshow or two (14 after being
criticised for not going to Slade Green) seven Councillors were required to rubber stamp the plans.
Six members of the public thought that changing the borough into a very different sort of place might be of interest and the whole show was over in half an hour.
I find it slightly amusing that Cabinet Members speak of “if” Cabinet plans are approved at debates such as these when there is no chance whatsoever of them not being. And they are not even debates, it’s close to electioneering.
Not that it is a bad plan, far from it. 31,500 new homes sounds frightening but it will be over 30 years and without a plan, ad hoc expansion will only create an incohesive mess.
Bexley Council says it wants to produce “places not houses”, so maybe their heart is in the right place. Whether their brain is may be a different matter. They are pinning their hopes on a Crossrail extension to Dartford at the very least.
If they are expecting a two track five minute interval service as is to come to Abbey Wood in twelve months time I think they will be sorely disappointed. There are compromise solutions of course but who is going to accept the partial demolition of Abbey Wood station which is still months away from completion?
Following a few introductory words from Council Leader O’Neill about the need to provide “the right infrastructure”, she indulged in a little politicking by criticising Mayor Khan’s growth proposals and “Bexley will be responding robustly to show him that Bexley is not like other boroughs, it has no Underground etc.”
Chief Executive Gill Steward was then invited to begin the 30 minute advertisement for a new look Bexley.
The plan is “fantastic and the right thing to do for Bexley” and beyond that we did not learn a lot from the desk snatcher. Only that infrastructure is important, so is transport but the consultation process was not overwhelmingly supportive. (70% of respondents were against it and 86% had concerns.)
You don't get a lot for £200k. a year. Six minutes and fifty seconds of nothing much.
Cabinet Member Linda Bailey was pleased that the plan had reached this stage and thanked everyone who had worked on it.
Councillor Bailey thought that the negative consultation responses may be due to residents “not reading the document as a whole”.
Like the Leader before her, Linda Bailey did not like the Mayor’s London Plan. He wants “big blocks of flats” and in Bexley “we want communities”. The Mayor is “at odds with our aspirations. We do not want his high rise blocks in the wrong places and massive intensification of town centres which block up roads”.
The Mayor has forgotten that an Outer London borough needs parking spaces and what he wants is not what our residents want. She moved Bexley’s plan for adoption.
Cabinet Member Philip Read thought the plan was “exciting” and “welcomed the renaissance of the North of the borough”.
Like the Leader and Councillor Bailey before him Councillor Read was critical of the London Mayor’s “high rise blocks with minimal car parking to be built on the back gardens of Bexley”.
Cabinet Member Alex Sawyer agreed with everything said so far and added that Crossrail was “underpinning the strategy”. Once again straying into politics, Alex regretted that only a week earlier Local Implementation Plan funding to Bexley had been cut back. It will leave some projects “unviable” and plans for Erith, Crayford and Yarnton Way will have to be cut as will some road safety improvements. The wicked Sadiq again.
Cabinet Member Don Massey didn’t “want to be too political but Sadiq Khan’s London Plan is far too much Inner London centric. We need to get across to the Mayor that Outer London is very different. It is not one size fits all”.
Cabinet Members having had their say, Councillor Danny Hackett (Labour, Lesnes Abbey) was allowed to praise the Growth Strategy as well but he made the mistake of mentioning Sadiq Khan’s London Plan and offered to explain it outside the meeting to any interested Cabinet Member.
Danny went out of his way to say that his party fully supported the Growth Strategy and how proud he was to see the ideas he and his colleagues put forward in 2014 enthusiastically adopted. Among them were the Crossrail and DLR extensions and support for river crossings. “If the former Mayor of London hadn’t cancelled a crossing we would have had one now”.
He made a plea for Bexley’s Planning Committee to stop approving developments that provide no affordable housing.
The Leader failed to acknowledge Labour’s enthusiastic support for the Growth Strategy and the hypocrite preferred to say “it is a shame that Councillor Hackett has brought politics into the debate”. Bailey, Read, Sawyer, Massey and the Leader herself can all criticise the hapless (hopeless?) Sadiq Khan but when Councillor Hackett offers to provide a counter argument it is shameful. Bexley Council will never change.
The first part of Councillor O’Neill’s follow up retort was more justifiable, quite amusing actually.
“The former Mayor cancelled one crossing, the current Mayor cancelled two crossings.”
The second part of her response was not funny. “It is a shame you make comments that are not substantiated”. The Leader was unable to explain which of Danny’s comments she had in mind.
Councillor Colin McGannon added UKIP’s support for the Growth Strategy, it was “fantastic” but he was concerned about the number of people who were unaware of the consultation and urged the Council to put in a greater effort.
The Leader referred to the Bexley Magazine and a member of the public shouted out that she never gets one. It is unusual (unheard of?) for the Leader to engage with members of the public during a meeting but perhaps better circulation of propaganda is a special case. When another member of the public interrupted two seconds later he was told to shut up.
Councillor Bailey came back with a further little dig at the Mayor, “we don’t want to end up with some rubbish”.
Unlike Danny’s it was not a shameful comment.
The rubber stamp came down. 31,500 houses, a shopping centre in Belvedere, Crossrail to Ebbsfleet, DLR to Bexleyheath are all on their way. Believe it if you like.
Labour Party statement on growth and affordable housing.