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Bonkers Blog February 2017

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Sidcup Place

28 February (Part 2) - The big deception. It has been a long time in the planning

Although we know that Bexley’s Council Tax increases for 2017/18 will be 3·99% because no one ever successfully argues with Cabinet decisions, it’s not until tomorrow’s Full Council meeting that it will be endorsed by a huge majority of Councillors.

TweetHowever getting to the vote will not be all plain sailing, the Tories have been setting up their usual man trap for Labour for several months but this time with even more pre-preparation. It has been obvious at every recent Scrutiny meeting and Councillor Craske has been furiously Tweeting about it for a couple of weeks.

Recently the Tories went on line to reinforce the strategy.

Their web page is a bit cleverer than usual, it doesn’t contain any obvious lies for me to pick apart. But it’s far from being entirely honest.

TweetThe political ploy within the budget strategy is to make big cuts but sweeten the pill with a few relatively inexpensive improvements some of which are no more than cancelling previously announced cuts.

From my right of centre view point it looks like the usual politicking about which there is little to complain about but it puts the opposition in an impossible position.

They will want to vote against swinging cuts in the Adults’ Social Care budget (respite care, parks maintenance, street cleaning, recycling, CCTV, where does one stop?) but to do so they will have to vote against a handful of saplings and the reversion to the original higher street cleaning budget. When Labour does so, and I am guessing that will happen, the Tories will publish a list of Councillors who voted against the trees and their Green Mean Street Cleaning Machine. It will look bad but it hides the whole truth.

TweetIt’s definitely a clever strategy by the Tory spin doctors but equally definitely it is an attempt to dupe the people of Bexley. Generally speaking it is not Bexley’s policies that I take great exception to; it’s Bexley Council’s constant deception and occasional criminal behaviour. Goodness knows why they feel the need to tread that path because a no dishonesty policy would quickly lead to the demise of BiB. Ultimately the policies are for the electorate to judge but no one else is currently attempting to pass on news about Bexley Council. The local newspapers do no more than regurgitate Press Releases and Twitter.

Tomorrow evening’s meeting will likely produce verbal fireworks.

You can be sure that the Mayor will be her usual schizophrenic self, cutting opposition Members short and letting Tories speak well beyond the allotted time. Being Mayor brings out the worst in even the most decent of Councillors. Pretty well every one follows that pattern. I am tempted to quote examples but won’t because they were probably only following instructions. Underneath there was a decent enough bloke struggling to be let out. I say blokes because all female Mayor’s have been far from decent anything.

TweetAnother thing Mayor Eileen Pallen is likely to do is to reinterpret the Constitution on the hoof. She blatantly did so at the last Full Council meeting.

Meanwhile you will get Councillors Read and Leaf throwing personal insults at the opposition and probably Councillors Craske, Davey and Sharon Massey joining in.

It will be interesting to see how Labour reacts this time or even if they are able to react. To speak they have to catch the eye of the Mayor and there is none so blind as those who refuse to see.

 

28 February (Part 1) - Bexley Council. Incompetent from top to bottom

Parking ParkingIt's not just at the top of Bexley Council that idiocy reigns supreme, down at the bottom end, in parking services in particular, things are every bit as bad.

A new notice appeared on my nearest main road at the beginning of last week. It says that due to Thames Water works five parking bays will be suspended from 24th February to 2nd March.

It not very helpfully says that the bays concerned are opposite No. 4 Carill (sic) Way.

It is not very helpful on several levels. The bays are not marked so motorists are left to guess how long a length of road is represented by five bays.

“Opposite No. 4 Carill Way” makes no sense. There are no houses on the road opposite the restriction notices, those on Photo 2. are not in Carrill Way.

Carrill Way makes a junction in Abbey Road where parking is not permitted and No. 4 is not even the first house in the road. What is more you cannot park opposite No. 4 because it is at the top end of a T junction so there is nowhere to park opposite it.

Carrill Way is spelt wrong and it’s not in Abbey Wood it is in Belvedere a quarter of a mile beyond the Council sign that says as much. Is the notice even legal?

Finally, someone told TfL that the bus stop 50 yards further down the road would be affected and TfL closed it. It wasn’t affected and fortunately TfL rectified the error after a couple of days.

The good news is that Thames Water never showed up.

 

27 February - The cat will likely be among the pigeons

Maybe I am a hopeless fantasist but I have many times thought how different life would be if the top brass at Bexley Council was blessed with a scintilla of common sense. What if when BiB first came to notice Teresa O’Neill had picked up the phone and asked what I was complaining about instead of bending the ear of the Borough Police Commander and asking him to warn of arrest “for criticising Councillors”? He did what he was told and got his knuckles rapped by the IPCC.

When on the morning of 6th June 2011 Elwyn Bryant reported to Teresa O’Neill an obscene blog written in my name the content of that blog disappeared before lunchtime - draw your own conclusions - and Chief Executive Will Tuckley asked the police to prosecute me for publishing an extract from it.

Surely the actions of a rational human being would again be to pick up the phone and attempt to head off the million pound (a figure mentioned by the police recently) six year investigations with a word of apology and a promise to get to the truth of the matter.

It’s not as though I bite, at least not in person. It’s not unknown for Councillors to contact me seeking a more sympathetic or more detailed portrayal of whatever they have done and I don’t think I have ever disappointed them. I have even been asked to change a photo considered to be less than flattering.

A few have even turned up on my doorstep though more often clandestine meetings in distant hostelries are arranged. Not as many as Bexley Council employees but that is another matter.

I would have hoped by now that Councillors might have noticed that those who smile or nod in my direction or exchange a few words are not usually mentioned too negatively on BiB - with only one or two incidents being exceptions.

But perhaps that is a chicken and egg situation. Maybe the nicer Councillors and those with nothing to hide can afford to be chatty and not sling mud during debates.

Gill Steward When Chief Executive Gill Steward arrived on the scene there was a new opportunity for a capable and experienced manager, or even one with half a brain, to get a grip on the situation. It is not as though I would not be amenable to a quieter life, but no; what was the the silly arse’s very first decision? To put up a barrier between Councillors and public at meetings and remove the Press Desk which had been a feature of Bexley Council meetings since time began. The only point of that was to wind up tensions. To be honest it doesn’t make a scrap of difference to me if a desk is provided or not.

The week before last an anonymous brown envelope arrived in the post. Such things are not that rare but before Gill Steward upped the anti I would file them away and allude to them when the opportunity arose at some future date. Because of Gill Steward’s aggression those days are gone. I scanned the original document and put it on the website without specially drawing attention to it and burned the evidence.

By last week I was having second thoughts about it. I’m not very good at being thoroughly unreasonable and every time I am I have to remind myself that Teresa O’Neill will lie and bully in her attempts to have me put in a cell. It’s not possible to forget that. In the case of erstwhile Erith blogger John Kerlen the Council succeeded but only by falsifying the evidence. There is documentary evidence that the police knew the charge was false but once again that is another story.

My second thoughts culminated in a brief email to Chief Executive Gill Steward. One that wasn’t at all formal in its approach but nevertheless a genuine offer to withdraw the document if that is what she wanted. I didn’t ask for a long considered reply, Just a “Yes please” was all that was required.

This is a slightly reduced version. I have removed an attempt at a joke which few will understand.


You may be upset because of something that appeared on BiB this week.

If you don’t like what is on BiB there are longer term things you can do about it but right now the obvious move on any specific item is to ask me to change or remove what you don’t like.

For your information there are more than 1,000 views of the blog most days but generally speaking people are too lazy to follow links . As of now the total views of the page that may concern you is 43 over three days. If you are lucky half of them will be me and the other half you. Believe it or not I do not like the war that has accelerated since you arrived on the scene but you seemed to be determined to start one, Press Desk, Barriers etc. with no sign of a let up, and where has it got us? Intrusive photos of you on the web and publishing documents that might in the past have been simply filed away.

If you reply positively and presumably briefly at this stage I will amend the BiB website immediately while very few have seen anything you may not like.

The original ‘war’ was started by the Leader who wanted me arrested, and I quote from the police letter “for criticising councillors”. That is unlikely to be forgotten until she is gone, neither will the political interference in justice which took me to a top level meeting with police yesterday, but most other things I am less comfortable with, hence this offer, which if you can accept may herald a slightly new era.


While I waited I amended the website so that the page could be changed within seconds of a favourable response. I even wrote a first draft of this blog but I waited in vain, until this evening that is. The request came through, not a simple “Yes” of course that might indicate that they were not in charge.

Instead, and I confess I have not read it all, nor am I likely to, but it is a threat by their Head of Legal, to call the police again.

I made the offer and I haven’t reneged on it (the substitute page is a mock up to fill a hole and not based on the original at all) but Bexley Council is determined not to recognise an olive branch when they see one.

For the record the number of views had only crept up to 52 by the time the page was amended, and unique views somewhat less. Most people really are too lazy to click on links.

 

26 February (Part 2) - Even if not corrupt, they like to put on a show

It was not a totally good week for hitting back at the dubious, almost certainly corrupt, relationship that exists between Bexley Council and the police.

The officers Elwyn and I met last Thursday were very supportive of such views but after more than a week of dithering the same Directorate of Professional Standards has decided that it is entirely appropriate for Bexley police to investigate themselves. Not just the borough force investigating one of its own officers but the very same officer against whom the complaint was made has been given responsibility for investigating himself.

This is the Massey harassment business which took the police seven months to decide wasn’t harassment at all. I argued that nothing I wrote was anywhere near to being harassment and Bexley police were unable to show otherwise, so to my mind it has to be either incompetence or corruption again that caused them to send the Old Bill to my door.

Unless they can show that I was close to overstepping the mark - and advice from professional journalists is that they won’t be able to - all this latest decision does is to delay matters and demonstrate that the police like being seen as corrupt.

Maybe Bexley police will put their hands up and bring the matter to a swift end, but much more likely is that their excuses will be referred to the IPCC.

 

26 February (Part 1) - Crossrail buffers installed. Lesnes Abbey regeneration hits them

Lesnes CrossrailI’m not sure why I started taking pictures of the Crossrail works that disrupt so many lives around Abbey Wood except for a general interest in engineering. There have been five generations of engineers in my family which is as far as I can trace back on the paternal side because the line comes to a full stop in India more than 150 years ago.

Railway, Marine, Aeronautical, Telecoms and Road vehicle engineering and having accumulated a daily library of Crossrail photos from the first swing of the wrecking ball to the piling for overhead line gantries going on today it would be a shame to stop despite Network Rail’s determination to block every available view.

The latest set is of the long drawn out project east of Abbey Wood which depicts the new track and its recently installed connection to the North Kent line and a set of buffers. It doesn’t connect through the station yet which it will in a week’s time if Network Rail hasn’t revised its plan since I last spoke to them, but once that is done it will be possible to bring engineering trains from Hoo Junction to the tunnel portal at Plumstead instead of circumnavigating half of south London to get to Abbey Wood.

A few people have complained about the inclusion of Crossrail photos but that is tough. The associated image (grabbed a few days ago) shows that the Crossrail Index is the second most popular BiB page that readers have bookmarked. That’s not the same as saying it is the second most visited page but it is the page a large number of people come to first and it helps spread the word about Bexley Council’s dishonesty. Some comment on it.

The traditional comparison with the progress being made by Bexley Council in Lesnes Abbey Park is a bit of a non-event. It’s picturesque to be sure, but it appears to be no closer to being completely finished. I asked my Councillor if there was going to be an official opening but he said that if past performance is anything to go by he will be told nothing.

 

25 February - Buses stop being useful

At the Transport User’s Committee meeting in January it was said that TfL’s proposals for new bus routes to serve Crossrail stations would become public very soon and maybe that has in part already happened.

The from the Murky Depths blog has given a few details taken from a document issued by Greenwich Council. If Mr. Murky is correct it doesn't make for good reading.

Ideally you should read his blog but as Google Analytics tells me that most BiB readers are too lazy to click on links, here's a couple of highlights.

The 472 route from North Greenwich to Thamesmead will be diverted to take in Crossrail in Abbey Wood but the frequency will drop from twelve an hour to eight. Given the state of Harrow Manorway right now maybe that is not such a bad thing. It has been jammed solid for the past week and pedestrians take their life in their hands when trying to cross it. Drivers have become so frustrated by the horrendous delays that they ignore red lights. Six vehicles jumped the lights while I was trying to cross this morning; but I digress.

The 180 which offers the only direct route from Abbey Wood (South) to Woolwich from which it currently carries on to Lewisham is not going to go to Lewisham any more. Given the proposal to cease running the Abbey Wood to Lewisham train service (Bexley Council formally objected) this is clearly the height of folly. One can only hope that that there is more detail to come.

In the 30 years i have lived in Bexley, bus routes have become progressively less useful although in some cases the frequency has improved. From the bus stops I can see from my back window I used to be able to go directly to Bromley or take the shortest road route to Woolwich. The Bromley service has long since gone with no replacement and in the other direction the service is now less frequent and takes an extremely circuitous route. Allow yourself 45 minutes or do it in five (at twice the price) on the train.

 

23 February - Rare praise for the police. Not Bexley’s obviously

It was an interesting day and I don’t just mean the hour and a quarter on a Barnehurst train which crawled around the loop the wrong way to Abbey Wood because of a fallen tree at Charlton.

Today was the day that Elwyn Bryant and I were to meet in my MP’s (Teresa Pearce) Westminster office to hear whether or not the Met’s Directorate of Professional Standards (DPS) is inclined to believe our allegation that Bexley Council and Bexleyheath police conspired to ensure that Councillor Peter Craske’s [arrest] situation was resolved. The words used in one of the dubious letters that went between the police and Bexley Council.

The current phase of the investigation into possibly criminal collusion has been going on for ten months and has reached a critical stage. I think all I can safely say without prejudicing the next stage of the operation, is that there is to be one. Our concerns have not been dismissed.

The police have come to view the relationship between Bexley Council and their local police friends with the same suspicion as Elwyn and I do. They made it amply clear that there are questions to be answered but that is a long way from proving corruption. The accused must be allowed their say.

Police suspicions about other police officers follow slightly different procedures to those applied to the public but in terms of the latter the next stage involves the equivalent of people (police officers) being arrested and interviewed under caution with legal representation. That phase has already begun.

As you will know, when a criminal investigation is in progress the news media will go quiet for fear of prejudicing the court proceedings that could follow. The same applies here and no more can be said for, probably several months.

I was impressed by the depth of knowledge of the case displayed by the two investigating officers. Elwyn had lined up a catalogue of awkward questions to fire at them and they had a reasonable answer for them all. I was always more optimistic than him about what today would bring but even Elwyn conceded it went pretty well.

I specifically asked if there could be a prosecution of any Councillor or Council officer if the next stage of the DPS investigation caused them to move from a belief that there might have been criminal interference in a police investigation to something more substantial. It was confirmed that if that bridge is crossed Crown Prosecution Service advice will be sought. Those readers looking forward to Council Leader Teresa O’Neill being arrested should not give up hope yet although confidence in the CPS must be at a low ebb following the Bacon/Tuckley fiasco.

That is as far as I can go at present without incurring the wrath of the Directorate of Professional Standards - and don’t expect any more in the immediate future, but so far so good.

 

22 February (Part 2) - Cooking the books about borrowing the books

In the bad old days before Bexley Council had been caught out so many times, Councillors and their senior managers used to take annual all expenses paid breaks at smart hotels, but reality has set in, they now go to relatively inexpensive conference facilities in Canary Wharf and the like.

At the last one it was decided that Councillors should take to Twitter to counter the negativity about Bexley Council. Some Councillors turned out to be quite good at it.

Perhaps my favourite Twit is John Davey (Conservative, Cyberspace) who strikes a reasonable balance between political knock about and the Gospel according to St. Teresa. He makes me laugh in a good way and the barbs directed at his political opponents are relatively polite (at least by Twitter standards) and far removed from the poisonous bile that some of his colleagues are happy to indulge in.

Another account I follow is Councillor Peter Craske’s and I disagree with him far less often than he probably suspects, however his spin doctoring past dies hard.

This morning he Tweeted that Bexley has the lowest crime rate in London, is best at recycling and its schools are pretty good.

TweetTo some extent it will depend on how things are measured but that is probably nit-picking. What Councillor Craske says is more or less right and everyone can be proud of the achievements.

However then he went and spoilt it by claiming that library usage is up by 9%.

It may be but doesn’t seem very likely. The figures have been published for only half the libraries and they are down on average by 12·5%. (Three out of four are down and one is up).

I asked Councillor Craske via Twitter if he had the figures for the other half - they may have all rocketed to achieve his 9% - but no answer has been forthcoming.

It’s not special treatment reserved for me, Councillors Danny Hackett and Stefano Borella asked the same question. Maybe Councillor Craske will find the figures that prove him right, I hope so.

 

22 February (Part 1) - What’s in store for Harrow Manorway?

TweetThe queues extended a long way up Knee Hill until nine o’clock this morning but had dissipated somewhat by the time I drove from Belvedere towards Plumstead 15 minutes later. The congestion will be a good indicator of what is to be expected once Bexley Council gets around to implementing its plans for Harrow Manorway.

As suspected, today’s work is nothing to do with those plans, there is a gas leak outside Sainsbury’s.
Knee Hill Harrow Manorway Harrow Manorway Harrow Manorway

 

21 February (Part 2) - Harrow Manorway. Does it have the capacity to fully serve the Crossrail station?

Harrow Manorway Yellow gang Yellow gangThe Crossrail related changes to Harrow Manorway were due to start in the middle of February but there has not been much sign of it.

A week ago some cones appeared in the middle of the northern approach. There was no obvious reason, they were just standing in the middle of the road and it was surprising nobody hit them.

This morning more cones appeared which may be unrelated, a gas van was parked alongide, then at lunchtime there were unmistakable signs that something was afoot.

A gang of men wearing both FM Conway and TfL hi-viz jackets were wandering about the place accompanied by Andrew Bashford no less, Bexley’s Traffic Engineer who was the spur for launching Bexley is Bonkers.

There is not a great deal of room on the flyover for what Bexley has in mind. A segregated footpath and cycle track plus bus lane in each direction. Will there be room for a proper road too?

Greenwich Council is rather further ahead with its quid pro quo on the southern side of the railway track. It’s rare to see anyone working there but Wilton Road has made quite a lot of progress. Looks like it will take a lot longer than the forecast eight weeks though.

 

21 February (Part 1) - Council tax is up. What did the Cabinet have to say about it?

O'Neill StewardThe Council Tax setting Cabinet meeting took the same format as most Cabinet meetings. Leader Teresa O’Neill asked people to speak, the Finance officers repeated dire warnings of the perils that lie ahead, a couple of Cabinet braggarts told us how they had triumphed against terrifying odds and made Bexley a better place to live, Councillor Craske threw in a few crumbs of comfort among a myriad of budget cuts and dared the opposition to vote against them.

The Chief Executive Gill Steward, whose principal achievements so far are to erect a barrier between public and Councillors and fix the ladies toilets, did nothing apart from staring down my lens. Business as usual.

I will admit that pointing it in her direction is in direct retaliation for her removing the Press Desk from the chamber. When Steward joined Bexley Council the decision to increase tensions was hers, she didn’t have to but the pea brain thought it was the best way ahead. Human Psychology is not her strong point. What is?

Before the meeting really got under way Councillors were asked to agree that the public - all three of us - be slung out for the discussion on Appendix B to Agenda item 6 which discusses the Council’s plan to get into the house building business. Cabinet Members Craske and Massey were first in the queue to agree that secrecy was a good idea.

Why it has to be kept secret I have no idea, except that Bexley Council is addicted to secrecy. It looks like a decent enough plan to me which will probably be widely welcomed. Potentially dangerous only when Bexley’s new commercial enterprise starts to be given preference over the regular developers.

The Leader immediately got stuck in to the important announcement of the night. The Social Care precept will be 2% and not the maximum permitted 3% meaning that local taxes will be increased by a total of 3·99%. A Band D property will be taxed at £1,524.19 in the coming year

The Senior Finance Manager reported that most of the £20 million of budget reduction for 2016/17 had been achieved and there was likely to be an underspend of £1·8 million by the end of the financial year. Government grants will disappear by 2020 and taxes, fees and charges will be 73% of the Council’s income next year. The 2017/18 budget will introduce another £18 million of cuts budget reductions but £340 million will be spent. Reserves against risk are considered adequate.

It was also stated that adoption of the London Living Wage would add up to £10 million to costs and as Cabinet Member Don Massey later confirmed, the proposal by Labour members had been rejected.

Griffin MasseyThe Finance Director Alison Griffin added very little apart from thanking the staff involved in producing the budget.

Cabinet Member Don Massey did much the same. He said that two thirds of Councils are dipping into their reserves this year but Bexley is not.

He then proceeded to give the detail on why he had rejected the proposal that Bexley becomes a London Living Wage (LLW) borough. He accepted that most London boroughs pay their staff the LLW but Bexley will not adopt such a policy.

It was claimed that most staff are already paid above the LLW rate and Councillor Massey was particularly scathing about Labour’s proposal that local businesses should be offered incentives to be Living Wage employers.

Councillor Esther Amaning (Labour, Lesnes Abbey) thought the decision was “quite disgraceful”.

Councillor Craske was naturally keen to remind everyone that he had reversed a few of the cuts he had made previously and a new street cleaning vehicle had been trialled in the Broadway to good effect.

Craske ReadThe trees budget will go up to £70,000 in 2018/19 and large numbers of residents have been telling him how much they appreciate his change of mind. One must wonder how when the only news of it is hidden away on an obscure page of the Council’s website. Oh, I forgot, a few tens of thousands have looked at last month’s blogs.

In the coming year there will be 200 new trees. Quite how many will be chopped down in Old Farm Park was not stated.

Councillor Craske taunted the opposition who will be forced to vote against the £18 million of cuts offset by 200 saplings. It’s a clever tactic and it seems to work every year. Wait for some gloating about Labour being against trees on one of the Tory sponsored web pages.

Cabinet Member Philip Read is another Tory whose principal skill lies in taunting the opposition party. They have long campaigned for higher Council Taxes but that would be “immoral”.

Savings in the Child Care budget had been achieved by a reduction in the numbers cared for by Bexley Council. Down from 285 eighteen months ago to 236 now.

The “prophets of impending doom” who were “ill informed and ignorant now have egg on their face” had been proved wrong but they are too thick to realise it. Well actually “their sense of self-importance will prevent them from appreciating that simple fact”.

Philip Read can be given credit for the part he played in rescuing Bexley from its ignominious failure to protect Bexley’s children for which some paid with their life but thankfully he still provides ample opportunities for criticism.

Cabinet Member Brad Smith (Adults’ Services) said that Bexley gets far fewer complaints about its services than neighbouring boroughs. Perhaps he would like to come with me on my twice weekly visit to the cancer ward at Queen Elizabeth Hospital. No visitor there, or patient well enough to speak has a good word to say about any aspect of Bexley’s care services. As Councillor Brenda Langstead said, all the charges have been put up considerably. “It is not decent or fair”.

Councillor Stefano Borella (Labour, North End) said the budget was for the election year. Grounds maintenance had been cut by £53,000, £450,000 cut from street cleaning, £150,000 taken from waste collection and £220,000 from CCTV surveillance but now the Council was headlining “alleged increases which reduce the cuts already agreed”.

The detail of the £1·8million underspend had been hidden but he knew that £600,000 came from Traffic & Transport, nearly all of it from additional Penalty Charge Notices, presumably the moving traffic offences (the yellow boxed piggy banks).

Read LeafCouncillor John Davey (Conservative, wards vary) said the Labour members were talking rubbish, I’m not sure if he meant recycling or gibberish, and then proceeded to put the boot into the LLW idea. “Residents cannot afford this sort of thing. Labour is irresponsible.”

Councillor David Leaf said that Labour members were “playing up to the webcast. Not a single one has welcomed Councillor Craske’s trees etc.” instead they “literally throw their toys out of the pram. They lack the expertise to do the costings. It is astonishing but that is the Labour Party for you”.

He reminded everyone that in 2006 “Labour whacked the Council Tax up” but what he forgot to say is that under the Conservatives it never came down again. Relative to other London boroughs Bexley is every bit as bad now as it was then.

Before Alison Griffin was able to answer Councillor Borella’s question about the Traffic & Transport underspend (Lord Massey of Rochester described it as a “tirade”) Cabinet Member Craske once again slipped in one of his jibes about the likelihood of Labour ignoring his small beer commitment to trees and street cleaning and vote against the big cuts to Children’s and Adults’ Services.

After a few words from Deputy Leader Rob Leitch, Councillor Craske repeated his taunting of the Labour group and their voting intentions.

Ms. Griffin was eventually able to say a few words. She confirmed what Councillor Borella had said about the transport underspend. Half a million “of additional income” is coming from “traffic contraventions”. This rather blew apart Cabinet Member Alex Sawyer’s contention that yellow box junction cameras were introduced for safety reasons, but you knew he was being economic with the actualité already, so nothing new there then.

The Cabinet then voted to adopt the Council Tax rise recommendations.

I judged that I had gathered quite enough detail for another blog and decided to leave early before the public was thrown out. Since I had a pretty good idea what was up for discussion thanks to what I think might be a disgruntled Tory an early night seemed more than usually attractive.

 

20 February (Part 2) - Another Council tax rise approved. Up by 3.99% again

Council tax upBexley Council’s Cabinet approved a local rate rise of 3·99% this evening, 1% less than the legal maximum available to them. The final figure shown on bills will be varied very slightly by the amount imposed by the robber baron in City Hall.

Cabinet hands were raised rather limply as if no one was very enthusiastic about it.

Bexley is so far behind its nearest ‘rival’ in the Council Tax League Tables that even if that rival (Enfield) raised its tax rate by the maximum 5% Bexley wouldn’t improve on its lowly position in the table and rise above the place occupied by Labour in 2006.

They constantly malign the previous administration but the Conservatives have not managed to improve on their taxation record at all.

 

20 February (Part 1) - The never ending traffic queues in Bexley

There is no time for a blog today but I can provide a rant if you would like one.

The car had been booked in for its service and MOT for several weeks so I had to get to Main Road, Sidcup early this morning. Then unexpectedly I had to get the old lady in East Ham to the dentist and then get back to Sidcup to collect the car. I have given up using the bus to get to Council meetings, so I needed some wheels to get to Public Cabinet this evening.

I got back to Sidcup much earlier than expected and drove away from the garage at 3:40 and that’s when the problems began.

FM Conway had lined the gutters in the middle of Sidcup with their plastic barriers, the central refuges too and by so doing made the road just narrow enough to disallow two lanes of traffic.

There was no very good reason for it except to protect an unused cement mixer although that wasn’t the main problem.

It took an almost unbelievable nine cycles of the traffic lights to get across that junction because it was near impossible for traffic to turn right into Elm Road.

Penhill RoadThings weren’t too bad on Foot’s Cray Lane but Penhill Road was at a standstill as usual. The problems there were deliberately designed in by Bexley Council in 2009 I think it was.

Traffic used to be able to exit on to the Blackfen Road roundabout side by side two at a time but the problem with that was that traffic flowed freely, not Bexley’s style at all, so they took one carriageway away.

Their excuse was that it made it easier for people to nip across the road, not that one often sees it happen, and if they really wanted to help pedestrians a proper crossing is the answer. Something that holds up traffic only when necessary not all day very day.

Finally there was Brampton Road where FM Conway are wreaking largely unnecessary havoc. Once again there were plastic barriers in the road, not an orange jacket in sight and long queues for the temporary traffic lights.

I can’t compete with Councillors Bacon and Langstead and their two hours to do three miles, but Sidcup to Abbey Wood took an hour and five minutes.

While wasting time in numerous traffic queues I fantasized about how one might retaliate against Bexley’s constant assault on motorists and decided there was nothing simple to hand, unless perhaps you count revealing their plans for Old Farm Park in more detail is a valid response.

 

19 February (Part 3) - Crossrail progress including the next station closure dates

Rail closuresAfter weeks of repetitive progress installing the precast concrete sections which make up Abbey Wood’s Crossrail platform, this weekend was supposed to be the big one when some track was laid through the station.

Network Rail’s public relations department kindly kept me in the loop and discussed with me the best place from which to take pictures but then news came through that they were only going to lay the ballast. Maybe that is why there were trains running today despite what the Crossrail notice said.

In the event a couple of train loads of ballast were put down but only from near the Eynsham Road bridge to just east of the Bostall Manorway footbridge. None in the station.

The fortnightly set of pictures are in the usual place. The ballast laying is shown at the bottom of that long page, or click the reverse sort button if you prefer.

Because that page doesn't actually exist - your web browser creates it on the fly - it doesn't get indexed by Google so the biggest set of Abbey Wood Crossrail photos is comparatively unknown; even so the Index has been getting around 100 hits a day recently, there must be a lot of train enthusiasts around.

Since the station staff were forbidden from displaying station closure dates in the middle of last year and the Crossrail version is not very prominent, passengers are too often left in the dark about the train service and just assume there isn’t one. I know from my attendance at the Traders’ Association meetings that they are suffering badly so I asked the station staff when the next closures will be.

According to Southeastern Railways there will be no trains on the next three Sundays, 26th February, 5th and 12th March. Also Saturday 11th March. Then there is a clear weekend but there will be no trains again on Sunday 26th March.

The last message I had from Network Rail was that there would be more track laying on both the 4th and 5th March. Maybe plans have had to be changed again or perhaps if the ballast is down by then the track can be laid end on end by one of their ingenious machines.

 

19 February (Part 2) - Crayford strip pub redevelopment

DenialBexley Council went to great lengths to deny that it had bought or ever owned Councillor Sharon Massey’s favourite strip pub, The Charlotte in Crayford.

Despite what is still on their website there is a planning application to convert the old pub into five flats.

There is to be a studio flat on the top floor, a one and a two bed flat on the first floor and another one bed at ground level alongside a four bedroom flat. Rather curiously the floor plan labels it three bedroom.

Local residents are not likely to object after putting up with the noise and occasional more worrying disturbances associated with Councillor Geraldene Lucia-Henis’s pub.

Planning

 

19 February (Part 1) - Surely not another of Bexley’s fibs?

So the Carnegie Building in Erith is to be restored and brought back into use. Excellent, but why is Bexley Council going on about a local company coming up with the £1·6 million?
Press Release
A trip across to Companies House suggests otherwise.
Exchange
Maybe Hugh Neal will have an explanation on his blog later today. He has been sitting on this news for weeks.

 

18 February - Bexley Council believes there was no realistic alternative to approving the Slade Green rail freight hub

As you will know by now Bexley Council has agreed in principle to allow a railway freight yard to be built on Green Belt land north of the existing Slade Green passenger train depot; their motivation was not just money.

It was stated at the beginning of the meeting that the issue to be decided was, “is the rail hub a strategic freight interchange that would constitute the very special circumstances sufficient to allow development that would otherwise not be allowed in the Green Belt”.

There had been approximately 160 objections of various types and the concerns were mainly traffic and pollution levels and the impact on wildlife and existing high frequency rail services. A similar, but slightly larger (around 5%) plan was approved on appeal in 2007 but not further progressed.

The scheme should create 2,000 local jobs and pay £2,500,000 of business rates a year into the local economy and the developer argues that it would make a major contribution to a reduction in lorry movements nationally. They say the experience with Crossrail which generated extra freight traffic suggests that there would be no line capacity problems.

Stefano Borella was the first Councillor to speak and he was not happy about the loss of wildlife habitat. He was sceptical about the impact on rail movements too. Trains coming via Hither Green would not be able to access the site directly and there was nothing in any report to suggest that South Eastern Railways had been consulted. There was no mention of ThamesLink’s Rainham to Luton proposals either. Susan Clark (Head of Development Control) said that Network Rail claimed to be speaking for the Train Operating Companies.

Councillor Brenda Langstead, also Labour, North End said that Slade Green is frequently cut off by traffic congestion. Two hours from Mill Lane to the end of the A206 not so long ago. She doubted that the 2,000 jobs would go to Bexley people, why else was a shuttle bus planned from the site into Dartford? The area needs a bypass road, not a freight depot.

Councillor Val Clark (Conservative, Falconwood & Welling) said that Bexley Council lost on appeal in 2007 and that should focus minds now. The cost to the borough was £200,000 and Councillor Clark moved that the current application be approved.

Councillor Cafer Munir (Conservative, East Wickham) was of a similar opinion and that a managed ecology would be a benefit. He seconded Councillor Clark.

Councillor Danny Hackett (Labour, Lesnes Abbey) said that the cost of an appeal should not be a material planning consideration. The Chairman Councillor Peter Reader said it was.

Councillor Colin Tandy (Conservative, St. Mary’s) said he believed the site would, under Mayor Khan’s proposals, be part of the ultra low emission zone. He hoped that new rail locomotives would have better emission standards and felt that they must be used. Mrs. Clark confirmed that Councillor Tandy was correct about the ultra low emission zone. No one could confirm whether or not his contention that better locomotives were becoming available was accurate.

Freight yardCouncillor Alan Deadman thought the Committee was losing sight of the loss of Green Belt. It wasn’t fair on local residents that their questions were unanswered.

Councillor Alan Downing (Conservative, St. Mary’s) had three concerns. The loss of Green Belt, the effectiveness of the dedicated lorry routes and the claimed lack of impact on the passenger rail services. He “liked Bexley more than he liked Network Rail” but given the number of conditions imposed on the application he didn’t see it ever going ahead. Residents should not be swayed by millions of pounds.

Councillor John Davey (Conservative, Crayford) said that there was “a whole load of bad things” about the plan. The car parking provision was 381 lorry spaces and 1,167 for cars. That must mean a lot of extra traffic. “Shunting yards make a hell of a lot of noise and it will be a tremendous loss of habitat however it would be an absolute certainty that an appeal would be upheld.” He would reluctantly support the application.

Councillor James Hunt (Conservative, East Wickham) was particularly concerned about road traffic movements and felt that the extra freight trains must cause issues. He did not always believe Network Rail, “99% of the time to be honest with you”.

Councillor June Slaughter (Conservative, Sidcup) thought “there are an awful lot of unanswered questions”. She felt that the “amenity of local residents was not adequately protected” and there is no guarantee that jobs will go to local people. She had “a cynical view of the number of traffic movements” and their routes to the M25 and A2 could have “a catastrophic effect” on local roads. The environmental concerns “are many”. Some of the claims were “an insult” and the loss of green space is “beyond the value of money. When the land is gone it is lost for ever”.

Councillor Brian Bishop (Conservative, Colyers) said that the Committee should take into account the 2007 decision when the inspector said that the Green Belt would be damaged but still allowed the plan to go ahead. It would be “unrealistic to give false hope and refuse it tonight”. A successful appeal might result in the loss of control of the conditions. The application had his support.

Councillor Joe Ferreira (Labour, Erith) said he could not support the application.

Councillor John Wilkinson (Conservative, Brampton) said the freight facility will not be fully operational for some 15 years, was the traffic modelling done that far ahead? He was told it was done as far into the future as 2031.

Mrs. Susan Clark rounded off the discussion by saying that having studied the Minister's current national policies and in all the circumstances she was convinced that approval was the best course for Bexley. Recent strategic appeal decisions had all gone against the Green Belt. The Chairman said the current application is an improved version of the 2007 plan and its success at appeal must be given “significant weight”.

The application was approved.

Fulfillment of the application will result in a Community Infrastructure Levy contribution to Bexley Council in excess of two million pounds.

 

17 February (Part 3) - Erith’s Carnegie Building has a future

The Places Scrutiny meeting revealed a very few details of what is in store for Erith’s Carnegie Building. This Press Release fills in some of the gaps.

 

17 February (Part 2) - Places Scrutiny. The more interesting bits and the very interesting bits

The final part of last Tuesday’s Places Scrutiny meeting moved on to finance and a third Labour Councillor tried to find out where the £1·8 million underspend came from. Councillor Langstead didn’t get a straight answer at ‘People’ and John Husband didn’t at ‘Resources’.

The Agenda for ‘Places’ revealed a little bit of detail. Adults in need of care had been left at home longer before their residential placement. Every little helps but isn’t that a ‘People’ issue? Councillor Stefano Borella (Labour, North End) was not satisfied and asked for more detail to be provided. The odd thing was that Adults’ Services wasn’t mentioned within the subsequent discussion.

Stefano’s understanding was that Traffic &Transport, Community & Leisure and Regeneration & Growth all made a contribution. The responsible Council officer said he would respond privately to Councillors. So much for public meetings! However he mentioned in passing the waste contract, public conveniences and parking all making a saving.
Committee
Councillor Borella noted that the road repair budget was to be increased from £1·6m to £1·9m. and asked Cabinet Member Alex Sawyer what we could expect to see for it. He said That Councillor Linda Bailey had asked for her road to be resurfaced - presumably in jest - but the extra £300k. would allow pot holes to be fixed and if any Councillor brought issues to his attention he would be receptive to them.

Councillor Cheryl Bacon (Conservative, Cray Meadows) asked why the Leisure and Public Realm expenditure figures were changing so rapidly. She was told they were still under review and again the detail was not for public consumption.

Hackett SeymourCouncillor Danny Hackett asked about “Councillor Craske’s Budget Bonanza” - the probable sleight of hand that enabled him to restore £800k. of cuts in the lead up to the election. Danny too wanted to know the detail of where the money was coming from. The Chairman thought it would be both “unhelpful and counter-productive” to look at that in any detail.

Cabinet Member Craske nevertheless made a summary of what he planned to do, the regular deep clean of town centre streets etc. He set up his plan (trap?) for the opposition to vote against his plans - as the Tories do each year - but we learned nothing new which was presumably his intention.

Councillor Hackett obviously believes it is mainly sleight of hand too because he drew attention to the detail of the budget. Environmental Health is to get a £12,000 cut. Street Cleansing is down by £35,000 and Grounds Maintenance is down by about £18k. What sort of increase is that? “The public is being mis-sold, it is PR and spin. It is smoke and mirrors there is no [overall] increase.” Councillor Craske said he was “struggling to understand” and it was “Corbynomics”. He saw “no reason for anyone to oppose his plans”.

Councillor Hackett (Labour, Lesnes Abbey) wasn’t happy and asked for a straight answer as to whether the budget was an increase or a cut. The Chairman refused to allow the Head of Finance to say anything. Draw your own conclusions.

Councillor Joe Ferreira (Labour, Erith) referred to a similar series of cuts, best part of half a million pounds’ worth, all heralded as extra investment. Craskynomics? This time the Head of Finance was allowed to speak; for quite a long time actually, but there was no answer to Councillor Hackett’s question.

Councillor John Davey (Conservative, Lesnes Abbey, Crayford, West Heath, Where Next?) said that underspends come from good financial management and that is what residents want. Councillor Davey referred to litter and Tosser Craske said that over 1,800 fines (£140,000 approximately) had been issued, 78% had been paid and the break even point is 59%.

Councillors John Waters and Val Clarke both spoke in support of Councillor Craske’s proposals, Clarke suggesting that action to be taken against those late night establishments which encourage smoking adjacent to the Public Realm - and the associated litter. Councillor Brenda Langstead said that dropping fag ends was bad but fly tipping was worse and little was done about that. Should I mention Steve Didsbury again?

Council Officer David Bryce-Smith said that litter enforcement operated in many private car parks, with the permission of the owner. B&Q in Belvedere had withdrawn permission.

The Committee than moved on to discussing property deals, Old Farm Park and Erith Road in particular.

Under consideration is a scheme not to sell Old Farm Park, at least not in the way most of us envisaged. The idea is to develop the site in-house which would cost around £10 million and sell the houses for an estimated £22 million. Presumably this is one reason why Bexley is going to set up its own limited company.

There is a downside and that is that the money would not come in until 2020 instead of almost immediately, but the benefits overall would be considerable. The sale of the park was regrettable but with that decision now beyond the point of no return, the revised sale scheme appears to have a lot going for it.

The other rabbit taken from the hat at this meeting was the proposed sale of a Council owned site adjacent to Burstead Woods. It measures 4·4 acres (ten times the size of Old Farm Park) and the NHS Property Division, Oxleas NHS Trust and a doctor’s surgery all have interests there. Bexley Council also provides accommodation for people with learning difficulties on the site. The NHS is planning to quit the site and Bexley Council is eyeing it up.

They propose building 136 two bedroom apartments and 17 three bedroom houses, all for sale apart from 45 of the flats. Additionally 16 apartments for those with learning difficulties and the doctor’s surgery would be reprovided.

The costs involved are enormous. Site acquisition £9 million and another £38 million development costs. Following the sale of 108 dwellings the borrowing requirement would be only £3 million and rents would provide an income in the region of £250k. a year. The value of the retained flats is estimated to be £7 million.

It is a sign of the lengths to which Councils are having to go to balance the books. Maybe it’s my right of centre views which make me think that Bexley Council is being imaginative. (How many Councillors run building and estate agents businesses?)

 

17 February (Part 1) - Top brass laughing all the way to the bank. You won’t be

CutsCouncil Leader Teresa O’Neill has been going on about reducing the number of Councillors for nearly seven years, the newspaper cutting shown here is from 2010.

In May 2018 she will finally get there. 63 Councillors will be reduced to 45 saving the Bexley taxpayers £169,524 a year.

You can be very sure that it is something that the Conservatives will be bragging about in the forthcoming (May 2018) election campaign. In fact you don’t have to wait that long, they are at it already.

However in Bexley as you should know by now, nothing is as it seems. There will be no real saving at all.


Cutting numbers The bureaucratic gravy train needs to be kept on track somehow and the management team at Bexley Council is busy feathering its nest. It has decided that someone to oversee the new situation is urgently required and that an Assistant Chief Executive is the answer.

One is being recruited right now and she (a she is almost inevitable in Bexley) will cost us £99,000 a year plus the obligatory 20% pension contribution on top.

By the time the 2022 elections come around we will have saved £678,000 on Councillors’ allowances and blown around £600k. on more top brass. Where has austerity gone and why?

The desk thieving Chief Executive Gill Steward got her job on the basis that she as an expert at Transformation. It was the first claim she made on her CV.

Perhaps she fibbed. Maybe she is not up to the job.
Jobs for the girls?
The only thing residents are going to get out of the reduction in Councillor numbers is a longer wait to see one.

Click the final image to see the whole recruitment notice.

 

16 February - One can dream. Gareth Bacon in charge. Teresa O'Neill on one?

Internal squabbles
Bexley Tories are at war again, two factions at each others throats. Leader Teresa O’Neill is widely seen as the dictator she is and the more reasonable Bexley Conservatives don’t like her methods any more than I do.

Last year the opposing group failed to vote newcomer Rob Leitch to the top job and he finished up being Deputy. An uncomfortable position for an honest bloke and one must sympathise with his decision to leave them to it. If reports are correct he has said there are better things to do with his life than spend it “surrounded by people who hate me”. I hope my informant got that right, but that is what he said.

BaconWhat we need now is a man (Bexley hasn’t got an obvious woman candidate) with experience who understands the meaning of the word democracy. One who is not too tainted with Teresa O’Neill’s dictatorial and occasionally corrupt excesses. Apparently the name being put forward is Councillor Gareth Bacon and it is probably the best choice.

I wouldn’t go as far as to say I like Gareth Bacon but I would be hard pressed to come up with a list of reasons why I don’t. It was him who came up with the recycling regime in 2006/7 which took Bexley to the top of the recycling league table and he did it without the punitive system of fines that too many Councils employ. A far cry from Cabinet Members Sawyer and Craske who believe that cameras, wardens and fines are the answer to everything.

Gareth Bacon featured in the notorious anti-river crossing propaganda but over the past year has been running a high profile campaign against the worst leadership this city has ever known, Sadiq Khan. I found myself warming to his views.

Probably it would be cloud cuckoo land to suggest that if Gareth Bacon became Leader in Bexley Bonkers could pack up and go away but maybe the most despotic aspects of the borough might. Well one can dream.


Police update
There was an Audit Committee meeting last night but I gave it a miss; the Agenda said the public would be chucked out of the only interesting bit. Instead I went to see Elwyn Bryant because time is running out before our meeting with the police in Portcullis House to hear what they are going to do next after uncovering, proving I think, the corrupt relationships that exist in Bexley.

It is nearly six years since someone used their spin doctoring skills to plaster obscenities in my name across the web and memories inevitably begin to fade after such a long time. Elwyn and I needed to go through the paperwork and decide what needs to be said. It will very much depend on what the police say, but I know what my main goal will be. To get an admission that someone at Bexley Council conspired with the police to cease investigating a crime. Or as they put it at the time, to resolve Peter Craske’s situation.

We know that former Chief Executive Will Tuckley was up to his neck in it but I doubt it would be without the connivance of Council Leader Teresa O’Neill. Circumstantial evidence suggests she was behind it. Did she seek help from her friend Boris Johnson too?

Mick Barnbrook, my retired police Inspector friend, says the Directorate of Professional Standards doesn’t formally interview officers for fun and his expectation is that at the very least, serious disciplinary charges should follow. Real criminality seems likely and as soon as it is confirmed the focus will be back on Bexley Council. The goal must be to turn the tables on Teresa O’Neill. Dreaming again?

The more recent complaint that Bexley police did favours for Councillor Massey last year took a peculiar turn last week. My case against the police is that I got nowhere near to harassing the Masseys and the police have been unable to show that I did. It would be different if I had been borderline criminal but they don’t think I was, therefore they are either incompetent or bent.

The Assistant Commissioner was receptive to my complaint but his underlings decided to downgrade it and ask Bexley police to provide an answer. Not just Bexley police in general but the very same named officer about whom the complaint was made!

I suggested to the Assistant Commissioner that he had a word with his Deputy who has been handling what I shall loosely describe as the Craske case. That did the trick!

Potholes
The pot hole pictured last week was fixed a couple of days later. A couple of readers are very grateful.

The Bonkers Website
I have had two suggestions within the past 24 hours, nearer twelve actually, suggesting changes to the website structure. Yeah, nice idea chaps, but where do you think the spare time is coming from? The whole site is hand written code, none of this Wordpress template nonsense! More dreaming.

Right, that’s it for today. A shopping delivery to East Ham is required. Don’t forget the planning meeting tonight. Building on the Green Belt is on the cards.

 

15 February - Places Scrutiny. The simpler and sillier bits

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.

TweetJohn 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.

DidsburyThe 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.


TweetLibraries 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.

CarnegieThe 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.


Road Closed Road ClosedCouncillor 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.

 

14 February - Another Conservative promise is about to be broken

No bridgeIf you have lived in the borough for more than five minutes you will probably know that Erith and Crayford used to be a major centre for industry; pioneering aircraft, machine guns and munitions, and cable making. Many of its road names bear witness to its industrial past. But over the last half century past glories have faded away and in many cases the sites they once occupied have been built over, not just residential property but massive warehouses.

Poor transport links remain an obstacle to further expansion and one poor Mayor of London has been followed by another and because of him there are currently no plans to improve matters. Bexley’s north south links are no different today to what they were 26 years ago. Its Council was objecting to any river crossing as recently as 2013. An act of stupidity it must now regret.

Bexley Council has been far too slow to recognise that burying its head in the sand is a sure way to go broke when government is starving Councils of funds and now they are trying to make amends. Approving housing wherever it can be squeezed in regardless of public opinion and consideration for wildlife. It would argue that there is no realistic alternative.

On Thursday evening they are likely to approve in outline a massive rail freight facility to be built between Slade Green and the river. I doubt a major rail head will help local industry a great deal but the tax revenue it will generate will go a long way towards digging Bexley Council out of the financial hole it has dug for itself.

Unfortunately I cannot be at the Planning Committee meeting due to a longstanding prior engagement, however the plans are publicly available.

Map
Bacon and GoldsmithIt’ll be contentious, the land is Green Belt and the naturalists are worried - naturally.

They have highlighted the fact that local Conservatives campaigned with Zac Goldsmith as recently as last May (the mayoral election) to protect the Green Belt but when it comes to the crunch we discover they were lying. What’s new? Sadiq Khan did exactly the same. They are politicians, it’s what they do.

Bexley Council upgraded the area to a Grade 2 Site of Importance for Nature Conservancy only two months ago and to build on Green Belt the developer has to plead special circumstances.

The rail hub will create about 2,000 jobs operating a 24/7 shift pattern and although the main road access point will be at the roundabout at the end of Bob Dunn Way (close to Bexley’s recycling centre) in Dartford “it will have a material effect on traffic in Thames Road, Bexley”.

Network Rail appears to be unconcerned about the impact on North Kent passenger trains. They think seven freight trains in each direction could easily merge with North Kent services with more possible overnight. The Slade Green depot could be extended to accommodate 12 car trains too.

Any Crossrail extension to Ebbsfleet will be impacted but Network Rail has plans to cater for it. (Pages 23 to 26 of the Agenda. 9MB PDF)

In fact hardly anyone seems to be objecting to building on the Green Belt apart from the London Wildlife Trust and Thames Water which is worried about both drainage considerations and the extra demand for water.

Whether of not the application is approved will presumably depend on what Council Leader Teresa O’Neill has told her cannon fodder to do. It is certainly not unprecedented for Conservative Councillors to speak against a proposal but vote for it.

No development of this nature has been turned down for the past several years.

Election promise

Danson Park is not Green Belt land.

 

13 February - Bexley Council. Raising money any way it can

Hall The Councillor who suggested I might be mad to go to a boring meeting like the Resources Scrutiny Committee’s was talking good sense and I don’t intend to inflict too much of the meeting on you.

The theme was, as always, how to screw as much money as possible out of residents. Councillor John Husband (Labour, Lesnes Abbey) followed in Councillor Langstead’s footsteps and asked about the 2016/17 £1·8 million underspend. I am still none the wiser.

Leaf Councillor David Leaf (Conservative, Longlands) asked about the reserves and Finance Director Alison Griffin said she “was confident in the level for 2017/18 but they need to be built up further”. The council is very much “reliant on property taxes and charges”. Additional income is being generated by “car parking and planning growth”.

Ms. Griffin said that there would be “significant business rate increases” and £1 million has been set aside for successful appeals.

Councillor Andy Dourmoush (Conservative, Longlands) wanted to congratulate everyone responsible for the £1·8 million underspend and Alison Griffin said “the finance team has done a brilliant job” and she is going to set up a limited company so that Bexley Council can raise money in ways that it cannot do as a Council.

FrancisCouncillor Daniel Francis (Labour, Belvedere) said what he has said before. The interval between Cabinet meetings where plans are announced and Council meetings where they are almost certainly approved does not include a meeting of the Scrutiny Committee. So no scrutiny. Not for the first time members of the minority party were wasting their breath.

Councillor Dourmoush asked what effect Brexit might have on procurement policy. Not a lot, but advertisements won’t have to be placed across Europe so potentially more opportunity for local businesses. At present around 26% of money is spent locally.

There is to be a new Council website in April which is supposed to be focused on residents’ needs and not those of Councillors. Cabinet Member Don Massey said that “we don’t force the public to do things in certain ways, so I’d guess he has not been keeping up with Council Press Releases.

The Council has been going after residents who claim the Single Person Discount on their Council Tax. The number claiming has been falling very slightly over the past five years and is now just under 30,000 out of 97,000 bills sent out.

Capita was asked to check with Equifax the credit reference agency and 7,837 residents were sent a letter of which 2,935 didn’t bother to reply. 1,354 lost their 25% discount and £426,000 was added to the collectible sum. There will be another review next year.

I think they should also review the discount given to households including disabled people. Does everyone own up when the situation changes?

 

12 February (Part 2) - One tit from Blackfen. Two more from Beckenham

Craske Teresa MayYou may have caught this in today’s newspapers but it would be a shame if you missed it.

The story sheds some light on Councillor Peter Craske’s knowledge of the porn industry. He is credited with assisting Tory spin doctors in 1999 to link Theresa May MP (now PM) with her almost namesake Teresa May, a porn star from Beckenham.

Twelve years later Councillor Craske must have given someone else another idea for dabbling on the fringes of porn. How else could that homophobic nonsense get to be posted from his phone line?


Mail on line

 

12 February (Part 1) - The racist thoughts of Bexley Council

Alabi AlabiWe know that Bexley Council’s Head of Legal Services is not a practicing solicitor or a barrister because both of their professional bodies have confirmed it, which does not sit easily with Bexley Council’s requirement that it is “essential” that their top legal officer be so qualified.

I have always assumed that Mr. Alabi has an overseas qualification but Bexley Council has refused to confirm that is the case and given Bexley Council’s record of lying and deceit on the grand scale, that gives rise to speculation.

Michael Barnbrook referred the matter to the Information Commissioner and in their rambling twelve page reply they refer to Mick’s “personal grudge towards a particular employee”. He had “singled him out”. The basis for that could only have come from Bexley Council

The ICO also refers to an “an unjustified series of untruths intended to denigrate a named individual on a website called Bexley-is-Bonkers” and complains that Mr. Barnbrook has “singled out” Mr. Alabi “on the basis of the complainant’s opinions”. It is clear, and not for the first time, that Bexley Council has done an assassination job on Mick based on his one time membership of the BNP.

The ICO refers to the confidential report on the complainant submitted by Bexley Council and one would have thought that if BiB has been publishing untruths about Alabi the Council would have done something about it by now. There has been nothing on BiB other than facts about what Bexley Council, The Law Society and The Bar Council have said about Mr. Alabi and what Mick Barnbrook has been doing about it.

The ICO proceeds to dismiss Mick’s complaint because he is “vexatious” and supports that contention with a very peculiar and circular argument.

Mick has been trying to ascertain via his FOIs whether or not Mr. Alabi is suitably qualified to do his job. Bexley Council says he is but asks for their word to be taken on trust. A big ask!

Without the requisite information one can only guess at whether or not Bexley Council is again playing fast and loose with its own rules.

While Bexley Council refuses to provide any evidence that Mr. Alabi is qualified the assumption will be that there is something to hide, but no one can be sure, hence asking the ICO to get Bexley to reveal the truth.

In their somewhat circular argument the Information Commissioner has accused Mick of providing no evidence that a criminal offence has been committed. “There has not been any proof that these serious allegations have been upheld by appropriate regulatory bodies such as the LGO or the police”.

The ICO helpfully repeats Michael's complaint within their reply. There is no allegation serious or otherwise, merely the request for information.

I would not be at all surprised if Mick takes the criticism that he has not been to the police as encouragement to do so.

GriffinIf Mr. Alabi has been instructing barristers his action might very well be criminal but if he has any sense he will have done so via an intermediary who is qualified.

So once again Bexley Council has generated a mountain out of a mole hill. If they had said at the outset that their Head of Legal qualified in Lagos or wherever and they decided that that was enough to fulfill their recruitment policy that would have been the end of the matter, but no, they have to dodge and dive, generate far too many web pages and further ruin what remains of their reputation.

For the record, Mick Barnbrook was sports mentor to Stephen Lawrence and made a statement in his defence at the official inquiries that followed his murder and now spends his retirement entertaining his mixed race grandchildren. If there is any racism in this case it exists only in the minds of senior Bexley Council officers.

Ironic that Bexley Council singles out Mick Barnbrook for an unjustified personal attack when their case for rejecting his FOI accuses him of a personal grudge against Mr. Alabi. Does anyone really believe that he would not pursue a white man in the same position? Only one of the 17 MPs he had a hand in bringing to justice was not white.

 

10 February (Part 3) - TfL. Thoroughly faulty Lights - fixed!

CrossingJust for the record, the pedestrian controlled lights outside Sainsbury’s on Harrow Manorway were mended yesterday. Since last November the WAIT sign has been permanently illuminated and the lights would go red every minute or so, needed or not.

At seven o’clock this morning the WAIT sign was ‘out’ and when I pressed the button the traffic was stopped immediately. TfL got there in the end. Bring back Boris!

 

10 February (Part 2) - An exhibition for posh houses held in a very posh house

The Old Farm Park exhibition held yesterday in Sidcup’s Manor House was already busy when I arrived bang on the opening time and it rapidly got busier.

Old Farm Park Old Farm Park All the plans are on line so there is no point in repeating them here but they looked quite nice to me, especially the redesign of the remaining park land which has been done by an outside contractor. The same one responsible for Belvedere Beach and the Monk’s Garden at Lesnes Abbey.

On the other hand I am not going to have the view from my back garden destroyed or have to put up with all the extra traffic in the neighbouring streets or find my child can no longer attend the nearest school.

And once again Bexley Council is encouraging ‘posh’ houses that only the wealthy can afford. But that is the only policy - taxing property as heavily as possible - that might ensure its financial stability. Blame the Conservative government for that.

There is as one of my correspondents says, nothing for those on low incomes.


I have given up on this Council ever doing anything to help the people in the borough.

It appears that low paid workers trying to get a grip on life are being ignored and left at the bottom of the heap whilst Bexley Council look after themselves and make money at the expense of the “little people”.

My grievance with the powers that be is their total disdain for people who need a home and Old Farm Avenue is a prime example. They are selling a park that the locals don’t want sold but the housing isn’t for the people desperate and on the waiting list is it?

It will be sold to people with means and not for renting to local people who need a home in the borough. The people who empty bins, make coffee, pick your shopping because you’re too lazy to go to the shops, people who earn £9.00 an hour. They won’t get a chance so they will continue to share their bedroom with their kids and live with their in-laws and wait and bid each week on homes they will never get. All because Bexley Council has washed its hands of these desperate people.

They can’t afford to rent privately because the rents are too high and getting a deposit is out of their reach as well. They do not earn enough to save. They can pay their bills and put food and clothes on the tables but no more.

What is Bexley Council planning for people waiting for a chance to provide a decent home for their families? There is NOTHING at all for the poorest people except contempt.


She has a point doesn’t she? Even affordable houses have been going for £600,000 in Erith. How ridiculous is that?

 

10 February (Part 1) - And they’re off!

It's 15 months until the Council elections are due but Councillors are already jockeying for position. In 2018 there is the added excitement of the boundary changes. 18 Councillors will lose out in the game of Musical Chairs. It looks like I will be moved from what might be considered a traditional Labour area to Conservative. It’s back to square one for me because that was how it was when I first moved to the borough in 1987.

The Tories like to keep their candidate list secret until the last minute in case any of them get arrested at a critical stage (†), so they produce Action Teams instead which can be changed without too much embarrassment.

So far I have heard only of the Action Team for the new West Heath ward. The Chickens who are Running there are Councillors Philip Read, Peter Reader and John Davey. West Heath is in the Bostall Woods area south of Lesnes Abbey.

Lady Rochester Lady RochesterIt is also being said that Lord and Lady Rochester have had enough of neighbours who object to noisy parties and are to stay close to home in future. And that isn’t Bexley.

In not so good news it is being said that Deputy Leader Rob Leitch will give up the struggle to clean up Bexley Council. Elected only three years ago Rob appears to have found the culture of Bexley Council too difficult to handle compared to the rough and tumble of the comprehensive school where he is the Assistant Head.

I have heard of him complaining about the way Teresa O’Neill runs the Council soon after the 2014 election but he was prevailed upon to fight back, hence his rapid election to Deputy Leader by those of a like mind. Let us hope that his arm can be twisted again. Apart from Rob, and since John Fuller left the Cabinet, there is not a single Member who can be trusted absolutely on Bexley Council.

† The candidate for East Wickham ward, Daniel Taylor, was reported to the police by his employer Councillor Maxine Fothergill for theft. An act which resulted in a caution for Taylor and serious retribution from the Council Leader for Maxine. Daniel Taylor was the partner of former Conservative Councillor Chris Taylor who was defeated by Lynn Smith of UKIP in Blackfen.

 

9 February (Part 2) - Holes big and small

Sidcup Sidcup SidcupPossibly worse than never getting around to answering email is answering them with a promise of action and then forgetting about it.

So the attached photos are nothing more than belatedly fulfilling reader requests. They are of the Thames Water works in Sidcup which causes all the railway station to hospital buses to be on diversion and the current situation at Ye Olde Leather Bottle in Belvedere. When the correspondent spoke of hoardings around the site I imagined something better than the tatty Heras fencing. Basically it was the same old mess that it has been for a very long time, around a year.

Finally there is a pot hole in Abbey Road deeper than the one I photographed last week. I have not yet perfected showing the depth of holes in photos but I was able to put my foot in it and it easily went in to the depth of my ankle.

It would be a suspension wrecker if you drove into it, as might be all too easy at night.

Leather Bottle Leather Bottle Leather Bottle Pothole

 

9 February (Part 1) - And Massey makes three

An Assistant Commissioner at the Metropolitan Police’s Directorate of Professionalism (they seem to have revised their name) has confirmed that my complaint against Bexley police for once again bending the rules as a favour to Bexley Council has been accepted for further investigation.

Councillors Sharon and Don Massey thereby join their not so illustrious forebears Councillors Peter Craske and Cheryl Bacon in getting Bexley police officers into trouble after doing something really stupid and seeking help from their probably reluctant friends.

Councillor Craske was involved with unlawful impersonation and a hate crime and arrested. Bexley Council, the Police and the Crown Prosecution Service decided to ride to his rescue.
Letter

Let’s resolve Peter Craske’s situation. And just a little too friendly don’t you think?

Chief Superintendents Dave Stringer and Victor Olisa were accused of Perverting the Course of Justice and I have been led to believe that the next stage of the investigation into the plot to get Councillor Craske off the hook is to call a number of police officers in for tape recorded interviews, under caution I assume.

It is all likely to take a long time but wrong doing has been confirmed. In due course I shall ask the police to pursue the Councillors and Council officers who interfered with the investigatory process.

The police’s collusion with Bexley Council to cover for Councillor Cheryl Bacon’s lies - they changed their report a year after the event - is still an on-going investigation.

The latest complaint is in connection with my threatened arrest for harassing the Masseys. The police locally were asked to provide an example of where I might have been anywhere near to harassing the Masseys and they failed to do so from which I conclude that they are either incompetent or once again bowed to political pressure. This is the basis for an allegation of Gross Misconduct.

 

8 February - Almost nothing to report

Councillor Hunt’s People Overview and Scrutiny meeting can sometimes be quite interesting and at other times not. Yesterday it was a case of quite definitely not, and worse still, it managed to drag on for three hours and 15 minutes.

It wasn’t anyone’s fault in particular, it was just that very little likely to be of general interest cropped up. Scores of questions but not a single one stood out above any other.

TweetI might have left before the end but Councillor Craske had said he was looking forward to repeating his Saviour of Bexley speech but no one provided him with an opportunity. He spoke twice for twenty or thirty seconds on different subjects but nothing about his big and likely short lived U-turn on cleaning the streets.

So that was two of us disappointed.


Committee
I hope you will understand if I don’t trawl through a 195 minute recording in the vain hope I missed something interesting but I do remember a few things.

HuntCouncillor Mabel Ogundayo (Labour, Thamesmead East) was probably the most prolific question poser but was too often thwarted by the Chairman who more than once objected to her directing questions to Cabinet Members when he preferred it to be answered by a Council officer. When Council Ogundayo protested the Chairman was not his normal genial self. Maybe he has aspirations to be Mayor where unreasonable slap downs are considered to be the norm.

When she at least twice asked for a yes or no answer to a question and was rewarded with a long speech from the Cabinet Member she asked again for a yes/no answer. Councillor Philip Rude volunteered to repeat his long answer - but slower.

Councillor Brenda Langstead (Labour, North End) queried a £1·8 million underspend for 2016/17 on Adult Social Care yet the Council planned to increase Council Tax by 2% to cover it. Why the underspend if the need justifies a tax increase? I have listened again to her question and I do not detect an obvious answer.

At very different stages of the meeting Deputy Director for Communities, Toni Ainge, made two very different statements. Not 25 minutes from the start she confirmed that the Council had achieved all its projected savings from ceasing to monitor the CCTV. Towards the end of the meeting she gave some details of the inquest into the school children’s summer riot.

An enormous and no doubt costly effort had been invested in attempting to prevent a repetition. Maybe if the CCTV had picked up the first rumblings of discontent in the Broadway before it spread across the borough the problem could have been nipped in the bud, but somehow the Deputy Director failed to make the obvious link.

There appeared to be a developing problem with recently trained social workers. apparently they are inclined to prefer workimg for any outfit that pays more.

By far the most interesting part of the evening was provided by Doctor Nikita Kanani, the new Chairman of the Clinical Commissioning Group whose offices are about to be moved into the Council building.

Bexley is to get a ‘top up’ out of hours GP service, not at your local surgery but at two ‘central’ sites. They will offer service near to Erith and Sidcup hospitals between 6:30 and 8 p.m. Monday to Friday and 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. All bookable including by phone app. It is anticipated that an additional 34,000 appointments will be provided each year in a borough which is close to being the worst off for GP provision anywhere in the country.

Electronic consultations will also be encouraged as they have been shown to dramatically reduce - by about 75% - the need for face to face consultations.

27 Bexley surgeries are already able to share data and send automated appointment reminders. There will be a complication where practices with surgeries in Bexley have their main office in another borough and therefore subject to the conditions of that borough. Patients registered with out of borough surgeries will not be able to use the new facility in Bexley. The equivalent facility is already available in Greenwich.

It was confirmed that the ten minutes allowed for appointments was for one ailment and if a patient was suffering more they might be told to book another for which the average delay was two weeks.

DowningCouncillor Alan Downing thought that all these new fangled booking arrangements were missing a vital point. He wanted to see a single access hub where those who choose to do so - such as the elderly in which group he counted himself - could go to one place and be directed by experts. His suggestion was sympathetically received by both the CCG and Bexley’s Deputy Director of Adult Care, Tom Brown.

A minor dispute arose over the subject of breast screening services with several Councillors reporting that they - or their wives - were given no choice and had to go to the Memorial Hospital at Shooters Hill (Greenwich) or even Kidbrooke. The Chairman was clearly exasperated with the situation on behalf of the ladies of Bexley while the CCG people appeared not to believe him.

The mobile breast screening unit for Thamesmead was no longer in use because it had been subjected to a noise abatement order and no other site could provide the necessary power supplies.

Note: The medical report went on for an hour and the summary above is based on the recording.

 

7 February - Nothing to report

MorleysReports were that Bexleyheath and Welling had been at a standstill in recent days with shopping trips abandoned so I took a quick bus trip to take a look. Not that there is such a thing as a quick bus trip from Abbey Wood to Broadway because there is no direct bus route. However the B11 is not too bad despite the strange loop to Wickham Lane.

As can be seen in Photos 1 and 2 below there was not only no gridlock there was no one working on the road wrecking either. The new department store (not open yet) provided the most interesting picture of the day.

For no obvious reason Bexley Council had banned parking from the southern side of Broadway and the bus stop was closed necessitating a run to Lion Road where I scraped on to a 96 to Welling. At Welling Corner TfL is correcting the errors they made while taking a whole year to install new traffic lights three years ago. One day they will find the time to mend the lights on Harrow Manorway too. They have been malfunctioning since the middle of last November. It’s only Abbey Wood so no one cares.

There was very little traffic in Welling either.

So nothing to report.

Albion Road Albion Road Welling Corner Welling Corner

 

6 February - More wildlife displacement

They kept us waiting all day but Bexley Council’s plans for Old Farm Park limped on to the web an hour ago.

The proposed layout of the new housing estate is shown, some pictures (examples below) of the ‘improvements’ planned for the remainder of the park and some of the dubious statistics they used to justify the sale. On Thursday there will be an exhibition in Sidcup Manor House, 3:30 till 20:00.

Council’s Press Release. (Don’t click on the link provided, it’s still broken.)
Shrubs
Harrow Inn PlanAt least the people of Sidcup will soon have some idea of what the future holds. In the north where the Harrow Inn Public House was demolished eight years ago there is now an expanse of mud. Over the past couple of weeks Peabody Housing which owns the site has cleared it completely. Where the rats and birdlife went I have no idea, nor is it confirmed what Peabody plans to do with the site although it is bound to include flats.

The rumour that part of it will become a McDonalds appears to be either an unfounded rumour or a very well kept secret.

The last planning application for the site, click image to enlarge, was rejected by Bexley Council in 2010 because the noise from the flyover might exceed permissible limits, thereby ensuring there was no improvement to the area for the next eight years or maybe more.

 

5 February (Part 3) - Lesnes Abbey and Crossrail cracking on

CrackCrossrail progress over the past four weeks has been unspectacular, plenty of it, but not a lot that has not been seen before.

The platform has been extended considerably, it will be finished within a week or two when some track is due to be laid.

Some windows have been fitted to the new station building and an equipment room (and bus driver’s toilet so I am told) is taking shape next to where the southern lifts will be.

Further down the track a new set of points has been installed which would allow a train on the North Kent Line to reach the Crossrail platform.

Just for once the Lesnes Abbey redevelopment has made arguably more visible progress over the past week or two. It was looking rather splendid when the sun made an appearance on Friday.

The pond viewing platform has emerged from the reeds and now sports a handrail. The northern patio looks ready for its first lectures, complete with blackboard and the cafe awaits its first customer, or more accurately the first mug caterer prepared to take on the contract.

Lesnes Abbey Lesnes Abbey Lesnes Abbey Lesnes Abbey

 

5 February (Part 2) - Fast and Furious

Crasj testWhen Princess Diana’s car crashed in Paris and the newspapers were saying it must have been doing 120 m.p.h. my son who studies such things for a living said it was doing between 60 and 65. He was right which seemed impressive to me so I asked him how fast he thought the cars that crashed on Friday afternoon were going.

I was rewarded by far more techno-babble than I had bargained for and he sent me this picture of a Hyundi i20 which had been smashed into a concrete block at 50 kilometres per hour (31 m.p.h.).

Subject to many caveats because of the absence of real evidence he felt the impact speed could have been as low as each doing 30 m.p.h. and unlikely to be more than 40.

If both braked for one second before impact it would suggest someone might have been doing 60 but there are far too many unknowns to be sure. That is why the police would close the road while they measured skid marks and how far each vehicle was ‘bounced’ after impact - and possibly other things in the workshop later.

Too fast anyway. No doubt about that.

 

5 February (Part 1) - Nothing in Bexley is safe from attack. Budgetary sparrow hawks pounce

ShrubsBexley Council has found another way of saving money, they are ripping up shrubs and hedges in parks and verges so that maintenance costs are reduced to zero. The effect on wild life is devastating, sparrows in particular.

The Bexley Wildlife website has all the details but a correspondent provides several other examples. Shrubs close to the Asda supermarket in Bexleyheath and along Arnsberg Way have gone too.

There used to be dozens of sparrows in my front garden most of the time. They all disappeared when Network Rail removed a large number, maybe 100 or more, of conifers from alongside the nearby railway line.

The birds were missing for a year but a few came back during the recent cold spell.

 

4 February (Part 2) - It’s all about the money

There not a lot of doubt that some people park in the silliest of places and sometimes one passes by a car with a Penalty Charge Notice attached to the windscreen and think, you really were asking for that.

My own pet hate is people who park on corners. It can force traffic to the wrong side of the road and it is contrary to the Highway Code. It ought to warrant a penalty of some sort but the police are not interested and it falls outside the scope of Council parking regulations. I imagine that if Bexley painted double yellows on every corner the problem would go away but if the problem goes away there is no money to be made from it so it is never going to happen. It’s far more profitable to introduce new restrictions on roads that look like good parking places.

To this end Graham Ward, Bexley’s Deputy Director of Infrastructure and a man who must have upset some of his staff because one described him to me as "obnoxious" recently, is going to extend a whole set of yellow lines to help meet the Council’s cash shortfall.

New Double yellows will come to Collindale Avenue and Brantwood Avenue, Erith.
Westwood Lane, Cambridge Road, Yew Tree Close, Wickham Street, Lime Grove and Fairwater Avenue Welling.
Longlands Park Crescent and Stirling Close, Sidcup.
Glimpsing Green, Halt Robin Lane, Picardy Road and Lower Park Avenue, Belvedere.
Charter Drive and Elwood Drive Bexley.
Sawbridge Road, Wenvoe Avenue, St. Audrey Avenue and Francis Avenue, Bexleyheath.

Existing double yellows will be extended in Lion Road, Bexleyheath; Falconwood Avenue, Welling and Coleman Road, Belvedere.

Single yellow lines will be changed to double yellows at the junction of Manor Road and Station Road in Sidcup.

Some will be necessary, many won’t be. Every three months Graham Ward slips in a new tranche of parking restrictions. It is mainly budget driven.

 

4 February (Part 1) - Accidents by design

CollisionLBC radio alerted me to Abbey Road, Belvedere being blocked yesterday in their 3:30 traffic report, so I dropped what I was doing to take a look. Publication of the photograph has been delayed because of the remote possibility that members of the families involved might have seen it before being officially notified of the accident.

As I approached a lady said I would not be able to take photographs because she - or maybe it was someone she had been with - was made to delete their images by the police. If true it would be totally illegal but when I arrived on the scene all the police officers were on their very best behaviour.

The accident must have happened quite some time earlier as there was only the one ambulance car present and the inevitable casualties had been taken away. The police were waiting for their RTA investigators to come which they did just before 15:40.

The road is notorious for occasional extreme speeders and overtakers prepared to pass on the wrong side of a Keep Left. It is encouraged to some extent by TfL and Bexley Council who arrange for bus stops opposite Keep Lefts thereby causing unnecessary road blocks. There is a bus stop no more than six feet to the left of the white car.

Bashford Bexley Council made the road much narrower back in 2009. Their Traffic Engineer Andrew Bashford claimed - and I know it is a lie - to have followed the design principals laid down in Transport Research Laboratory reports 641 (Psychology and Perception) and 661 (Manual for Streets).

Mr. Bashford is a very unlucky man; my son worked for TRL at the time and had a hand in publishing those reports. He sent me copies and I sent him Andrew Bashford's comments to me. He said they were “meaningless”. I think he meant meaningless drivel.

The TRL reports said roads could be safely narrowed but only if the psychology of driving is understood and the design took full account of it. Various ideas are floated by TRL and Mr. Bashford had applied none of them. He had simply narrowed the road and walked away to continue road wrecking in other parts of the borough. I don't believe he looked at the reports at all.

My son said that narrow roads are inherently more dangerous that wider ones because they leave less space for taking avoiding action. A statement of the obvious if ever there was one. Without appropriate psychological measures they are “a recipe for head on collisions”. The wreckage of the last head on collision in Abbey Road has still not been removed.

Councillor John Davey who represented Lesnes Abbey ward at the time and is not nearly as daft as his occasionally bumbling demeanour suggests wrote in an email to me that he was not certain he believed Andrew Bashford either. Mr. Bashford clearly knows very little about designing in safety but the biggest idiots of all are those prepared to do 60 or more along Abbey Road.

 

3 February (Part 2) - Police update updated

Three days ago it was reported here that the police investigation into their failure to properly investigate the obscene blog which involved Cabinet Member Peter Craske’s internet connection had dragged on for nearly five years. Opinions varied on whether that meant it must end soon or all the new leads that have turned up in recent months must be a delaying tactic.

An optimist might say that whilst my police contact gave little away in his monthly updates the accumulation of tiny snippets of information would make it difficult for him to argue that no police officer in Bexleyheath had done anything wrong. The realist might say that officialdom always finds a way of excusing their own behaviour.

Yesterday the police invited me and my fellow complainant Elwyn Bryant to another meeting. The wording was such that it is very clear that the optimist will for once triumph over the realist. I don’t think I should say any more right now except that I won’t be happy if it is only police officers who are in trouble. The Councillors who put them in an invidious position must be punished too.

 

3 February (Part 1) - Road works

Until the beginning of this week I had not been to Bexleyheath during daylight hours since 25th October and very much aware that BiB’s news coverage is heavily biased towards the north I dragged myself there to see what was going on in Albion Road.

Not a lot as it turned out. The dual carriageway that bypasses the town centre is being destroyed but there were no traffic problems to be seen. FM Conway had commandeered a great chunk of the Bowling Centre car park as one has come to expect.

Whether spending a huge sum on swapping two carriageways for a cycle track proves to be beneficial remains to be seen but Bexley’s road planning is generally dire, or “bonkers” as it was once described to me by Councillor John Davey, Vice Chairman of the Transport Users’ Committee. (The website name is derived from his comment. Thanks John, you are an inspiration.)
Albion Road Albion Road Albion Road Albion Road
Pot hole ResurfacingA council officer, chattier than most, told me recently that no one patrols the streets any more to pick up developing problems and that on-line only reporting procedures are adding to the maintenance problems.

Hence the picture of a pothole (Photo 5) I have been avoiding when driving for the past two or three weeks. It doesn’t look as deep in the photo as I thought it was when driving by.

There has been a very serious accident at that spot this afternoon with reports that it could prove fatal. It appears to have nothing to do with the pothole.

In a week’s time Abbey Road in Belvedere will get a much needed resurfacing (Photo 6) from the borough boundary at Knee Hill to the eastern end of Lesnes Abbey park. It has been a mess ever since Bexley Council made it far too narrow back in 2009 and the ruts that traffic had made in the surface suddenly became much nearer to the kerb, thereby creating an elongated puddle whenever it rained with the consequential drenching of pedestrians.

A mere eight years later the problem looks like it might go away.

The start date provides a whole week of free passage along Abbey Road because the gas main works which have caused chaos since the beginning of the year were completed at 1 p.m. today.


Parking restriction Strictly speaking the works were completed on schedule last Monday (Photo 1 below) and the parking restrictions designed to allow a temporary bus stand expired (Photo 2 below). However no one was in a hurry to restore the road to normal operation. The cones provided a useful parking spot for contractors’ vehicles (Photo 3 below).

By Friday morning total chaos ensued. The traffic lights were still in place but with no indication of where drivers should go. Vehicles were using both sides of the road (Photo 4 below).

Why does Bexley Council allow the utilities to get away with such behaviour and why do their contractors need four weeks to dig a hole, uncover a gas pipe and fill the hole in again?


Gas works Gas works Gas works Gas works

 

2 February (Part 2) - A rare happy ending

Perhaps the most frequent comment about recycling services to hit my Inbox is the way that refuse collectors toss residents’ carefully segregated recycling material into the same hopper in the back of their truck. On second thoughts the most common criticism may be how they litter the streets with rubbish and carry on their merry way.

When the complaint is about mixing tins and glass together I have been known to excuse the practice on the grounds that not all the trucks are dual purpose, but that reason may be invalid now that we are a year past the date when the new vehicle fleet was supposed to have been introduced.

The last complaint about this issue was a week ago and one resident simply couldn’t get an answer to his questions out of Bexley Council. And no it wasn’t John Watson.

But now the complainant is very pleased with an answer recently received. It confirms his view that what has been going on must be wrong.

Two binsJust as he thought, his road is served by a vehicle equipped with two separate receptacles but the operatives have not used the facility. Their excuse is that some residents are mixing materials so it’s not worth them maintaining any distinction between the two. I would have thought that such a thing merited serious disciplinary action.

The correct procedure is to red tag contaminated recycling boxes and make a note of it on the in-cab computer so that regular offenders can be given suitable advice.

John Matthews is the man who has rescued Bexley’s reputation with his refreshing honesty. Maybe I should have reported the fly tipping and the unjustified use of two bins to him rather than his ineffective boss Stephen Didsbury?

 

2 February (Part 1) - Is it worth the effort?

John Watson, who attends almost as many Council meetings as I do was banned from contacting Council officers by Chief Executive Gill Steward for asking an awkward question, has taken issue with my speculation that Bexley Council may be less corrupt than it used to be.

StewardHe has sent me a list of outstanding matters with the unstated implication that I have no business blaming slack periods on BiB on a lack of material.

John’s list includes 22 matters which Bexley Council thinks it has got away with over the past few months but some are overlapping and around half too obscure to be, in my opinion, of wide interest.

So here’s an edited list with comments…

• Finance Director Alison Griffin refused Michael Barnbrook’s Freedom of Information request at the review stage. She responded initially by refusing him any information but when Michael sought a review which is his legal right she declared him vexatious. She has no power to revise the FOI laws.


There is nothing further to report on this, the case is with the information Commissioner who will give a response when it gets to the top of his pending tray.


• Allegations made by Michael Barnbrook to police concerning Will Tuckley and Councillor Cheryl Bacon are not yet answered.


This may be technically correct because Michael is still awaiting a formal response from the Crown Prosecution Service. However given the information that I received via the back door he has decided not to pursue it further.

If the CPS is prepared to spend 15 months and more public money than was necessary on a scheme to undermine the case against Tuckley and Bacon it is a battle that is bound to be lost and Michael’s energies would be better directed elsewhere. It comes as no surprise to me that the CPS is unwilling to put their deliberations in writing.


• Allegations made by Elwyn Bryant and Malcolm Knight about police officers in the Craske affair.


This one has been done to death already. It is nearly five years since the initial complaint was made and three years since it was escalated to an allegation of crime. It then took two years and pressure from Teresa Pearce MP before the Met. Police decided to take things seriously.

It is quite obvious that they have uncovered a great deal of wrong doing at Bexleyheath police station and I am very interested in seeing how the police will wriggle off their own hook. If they find in our favour I shall make further criminal allegations against the Bexley Council people who begged the favour from their police friends. I believe that is likely to be Teresa O’Neill and Will Tuckley.


• Bexley Council is alone among local Councils in installing coin operated parking meters which do not give change.


I know that Bexley Council has never purchased a ticket machine that gives change because an FOI response said so - what else would you expect of a dishonest Council? I have no idea what other local Councils do. I don’t think I have ever paid for parking within a London borough in the 33 years I have lived in London but I suspect Bexley will not be alone.


• Falsification of Minutes of Bexley Council’s Members Code of Conduct Sub-Committee by Akin Alabi and Lynn Tyler relating to the Maxine Fothergill decision stating that it had been Judicially Reviewed although it had not.


I am aware that certain aspects of the minutes of the meeting were very obviously untrue. They were falsified as part of the Council’s defence against court action proposed by John Watson and he has given me the names of two Councillors who refused to answer his questions about it. How could they when any comment must either be a lie or confirm that the minutes were? You can see why Gill Steward doesn’t like John’s questions.

The Maxine Fothergill business to which John is referring was a huge lie designed to exact revenge after Maxine reported Teresa O’Neill’s favoured election candidate to the police for repeated thefts. Unless Maxine issues a further challenge to her malicious conviction we are not likely to learn any more. BiB can only scratch the surface of Council corruption. Any Councillor who rebels or tries to do the decent thing faces dire retribution. I have occasionally been told about it by the few prepared to say anything at all.


• Akin Alabi was appointed to be Bexley Council’s Head of Legal Services and Monitoring Office without any evidence that he holds the qualifications deemed essential by Bexley Council and the issue is still not resolved. Bexley Council does not dispute the facts but refuses to make further comment.


Whilst John with his legal background is understandably agitated about the situation what can be done about it? Surely he must know by now that Bexley Council believes it is is above the law and can do whatever it likes. History suggests that is the situation and there is little or nothing that can be done about it. I feel John should watch what Mr. Alabi does very closely and make sure it is never something that only a practising solicitor is allowed to do. Then if it is not, report him to the Law Society or the police. It would be a criminal act.

It is slightly puzzling that it was announced about three months ago that Director Mr. Paul Moore was to be appointed Monitor Officer but the Council’s website still says the post is held by Mr. Alabi.


As you have hopefully seen, John gets into some obscure areas which might bore BiB readers if repeated too often. What his list does do is further enforce my view that Bexley Council can do pretty much what it wants, lawful or not, and no amount of exposure will change things. With the Information Commissioner and the Independent Police Complaints Commission typically taking around six months to answer a complaint, life is too short to tackle everything.

Let’s hope John doesn't dig back further in time. He might remember how Bexley Council closed off a bridleway to please one of their mates without obtaining the necessary authorisation from the Secretary of State and how they were happy to employ a gang of law breaking bailiffs and refused to give back the money falsely extracted from the public, safe in the knowledge that no one could afford to take them to court. Crooks the lot of them!

 

1 February (Part 2) - I’m not the only one

PeapleAfter mentioning the far too cosy relationship between Bexley Council and their uniformed branch in Arnsberg Way yesterday, Martin Peaple reminded me that I am not alone in being threatened by Bexley police after upsetting Bexley Council.

He had a similar knock on his door when he warned motorists that there was a Bexley Council Gestapo Wagon hidden up a side street near his place of employment.

Bexley Council ordered that he be photographed and they passed it to the police with a request that Martin be warned off.

TweetThere was absolutely no legal basis for it but why would that bother Bexley police except perhaps that the story finished up on the front page of the News Shopper on 4th May 2011?

The last paragraph of the newspaper’s report is a perfect example of how Bexley Council was keen to clamp down on democracy in the borough.

Cabinet Member Peter Craske was in charge of parking issues at the time. He was quite busy with his cameras that month, not only did he have a photo of Martin, he had video of me walking through the Cinema car park with Nicholas Dowling. That visit was reported in an obscenity filled blog on 21st May. I wonder who created that?

 

1 February (Part 1) - Old Farm Park - Planning proposals

A repeat of yesterday’s blog in case the month changeover caused you to miss it.

Surely you cannot have forgotten how Bexley Council ignored thousands of objections to selling one of their larger recreation and wild life spaces?
Old Farm Park
An outline planning application has been prepared by Bexley Council pre-sale and there is to be an exhibition in Sidcup Manor House on 9th February.

Council Press Release.
Save Old Farm Park on Facebook.

 

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