Councillor Melvin Seymour certainly knows how to race through an Agenda in record time and at last night’s Places Scrutiny meeting he excelled himself. Partly due to his efficiency but also rather too much to his enthusiasm for curbing debate it was probably the shortest Scrutiny meeting so far. At least I think it was, the public was thrown out of the meeting soon after 9 p.m. while the budget proposals were considered. Twitter reveals that only Labour members asked questions while Councillor John Davey criticised them for doing so. UKIP members have realised that standing up to rampant Tories is futile and didn’t put in an appearance.
John Davey (Conservative, Crayford) appears to have no concept of what a Scrutiny meeting is for. Asking Cabinet Members questions, preferably difficult questions, before the majority party rubber stamps their decisions at Full Council is an essential part of the democratic process. The Conservatives don’t like it which is why there are so few Scrutiny meetings, down from 28 to twelve in recent years and sometimes none between Cabinet and Council meetings.
It may seem to be a waste of time to John Davey but the alternative is an unfettered dictatorship instead of the Massey backed one woman variety we have at present.
With too many commitments over the next few days this report must be an interim one covering only the easily digested parts of the meeting and the occasional silly interlude.
The meeting began with a presentation of Green Points Bexley which is an incentive scheme to get residents to recycle more. Every household has been given an information pack and people living in the electoral wards that do best on a per capita basis are eligible for prizes, M&S gift tokens and the like, £1,500’s worth in the course of a year.
I suppose it is all very laudable but I threw my pack in the recycling bin unopened. I do not see how I can recycle more than I do already and I have not got the time to faff about with website registering or whatever.
My fortnightly rubbish collection weighs in at around a kilogramme of Cellophane and polythene so I consider I am doing my bit. The useless Steve Didsbury who ignores fly tipping reports confirmed that the most important aspect of the scheme was reducing the amount of residual waste. Maybe my efforts are of little use, my almost empty green bin is always well filled by neighbours.
Libraries were next on the Agenda and the Chairman thought they were “one of the borough’s great success stories”. It had been encouraging to read Councillor Craske’s Tweet earlier in the day claiming that Bexley had bucked the national trend and local library visits were on the up.
Unfortunately the Agenda did not bear this out. Of the four libraries listed visitors at three were well down. Blackfen, Craske’s ward, was very markedly down; from 74,528 over nine months of 2015/16 to 57,333 in the same quarters this year. This is exactly what the campaign group warned would happen.
The speculation was that Councillor Craske was fibbing again but as no one had thought to bring the figures for the other libraries, Peter Craske was able to wriggle his way out of trouble - and not a policeman in sight! The Head of Libraries didn’t seem to be very well clued up on her brief.
In Slade Green and Bexley village the consortium running the libraries there had hit some sort of trouble and Greener Bexley has pulled out leaving their erstwhile partner, Eco Communities, keeping the libraries afloat. Maybe community run libraries are not the panacea Bexley Council had hoped for, but Bostall Library seems to be doing especially well.
The library building that Bexley closed, the Grade 2 listed building gifted to the borough by Andrew Carnegie, has been falling into disrepair in recent years but it seems to have been saved. No one wanted to say much about it but it was possible to deduce from the few comments made that it has been leased to a company in the field of education and training and more than £1 million will have to be spent on its restoration. Part of it could reopen as early as next Autumn.
The Labour group had asked for a report on Emergency Planning following the flooding disaster in Crayford last year. Thanks to cutbacks Emergency Planning now relies on just two members of staff who call on their contacts with various agencies in the borough.
Councillor Borella asked what constituted an emergency and was told it was anything out of the ordinary requiring a multiple response and the decision to declare an emergency was that of the senior of the two responsible officers.
Councillor Cheryl Bacon (Conservative, Cray Meadows) suggested that the current state of the roads in Bexley constituted an emergency. “Travelling from Sidcup to Bexleyheath one encounters more road works than I can ever remember”. Bexley village had been blocked that very day and she once took two hours to travel three miles. Currently the centres of both Sidcup and Welling are chaotic to which one might add Bexley village, Brampton Road and Abbey Road in Belvedere, all due to unco-ordinated road works.
The Deputy Director of Regeneration and Growth is someone who is usually well on top of her brief and her report covered Wolvercote Road (Peabody is taking down six tower blocks), Wilton Road (the shop fronts are pretty well completed and the Public Realm improvements are about half completed), Erith Shopping Centre (increased footfall), Broadway (Morleys department store will be officially opened on 13th April) and Blackfen (the street improvements will be started in the Spring).
Councillor Stefano Borella (Labour, North End) said that the Council should have started its growth agenda five years ago and complained that it was only now that information was being brought forward about regeneration of the Arthur Street estate. Residents had been consulted by Orbit Housing eight months ago.
He had obtained more information about development of the Abbey Car Breakers site from Greenwich Council than Bexley.
His comments drove Cabinet Member Linda Bailey into a rage and she demanded an apology from Stefano. What he said was “outrageous”. “He knows damn well that I have briefed Councillors regularly. I think it is bad.” Unfortunately Councillor Bailey’s knowledge of Bexley’s geography is not what it should be, she had been briefing the wrong ward Councillors.
I hope to return to ‘Places’ later in the week.