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Bonkers Blog March 2017

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Sidcup Place

29 March - Council Tax. Compared to elsewhere, Bexley slips again

I searched through all 32 London boroughs’ websites yesterday looking for their 2017/18 Council Tax rates. Hammersmith & Fulham and Richmond upon Thames are still showing the 2016/17 figures. I thought Newham might be too but their table is up to date but wrongly labelled.

Newham (Labour controlled) and Hillingdon (Conservative) are alone in not raising their tax and as a result have both jumped up the London tax league table. Hillingdon actually does rather better than the table suggests, they offer a discount for households which include residents over 65 years old.

Bexley Council which was elected in 2014, in part because of its spurious claim to be a low tax borough, came within eight pence of slipping from 24th to 25th position making them comparatively more expensive than ever before.
Low tax

2014 election leaflet. Bexley, a low tax borough. Not!

When Bexley Conservatives lost power in 2002 the borough was in 15th place, that is 17 London boroughs, more than half of them, were more expensive.

Labour’s last budget in 2006 took Bexley to 24th place, only eight boroughs were more expensive. Hillingdon, £15 more expensive at Band D, was in 25th position.

The Tories made a great deal out of what they portrayed as Labour waste, but in eleven years they have improved matters not one jot. As In Bexley, the Tories took control of Hillingdon in 2006 and now levy a Council Tax which is £132 a year cheaper and instead of a £15 margin between Bexley and the next worst it is down to a few coppers.

Bexley Council is not as clever as it claims to be. What did Teresa O’Neill achieve with all those cuts and charges? A refusal to accept growth until very recently has proved to be very costly.

 

28 March (Part 2) - No more Trust

The Bexley Times reports that the Trust that managed Hall Place held its final meeting last night before Bexley Council takes back control.

Hall PlaceThe bit that caught my eye was the claim that the Trust has operated the site effectively and in a solvent fashion which might well be true but Bexley Council doesn’t think so.

There was scathing criticism at the Places Scrutiny Committee last December. The Trust “had not done a very good job” and the Council had to write off their £2·5 million loan to the Trust.

Exactly why it had to be written off escapes me, the last accounts filed by the Trust at Companies House show a seven figure balance sheet.

Maybe the Trust was badly run, one of its Directors was Colin Campbell, Deputy Leader of Bexley Council until he stood down at the May 2014 election.

Mr. Campbell is a local business man of some note about whom many stories surfaced while he was a Councillor in Bexley. I have no idea where Bexley's £2·5 million went.

 

28 March (Part 1) - Bexley Council’s website. Oh dear!

Bexley Council said it would launch its new website on 1st April but it somehow escaped a week early. It will not be an easy job to get it right and the first signs were not good.

It looks pretty enough but whether it is useful or not is a different question to be answered only after the inevitable tweaking has taken place and it has become more familiar to users. The first signs were not encouraging.
Error
As is to be expected of a Council which hates scrutiny and accountability, easy access to anything to to with democracy has been removed from the front page. Choose D for Democracy on the alphabetical index and you will draw a blank. The Index which used to be prominent is now tucked away at the bottom of the page.

One good thing is that you can see what the Council Tax rate is with a single click. Over the coming days I will be checking Council Tax rates in all 32 London boroughs. You wouldn't believe how difficult some Councils make that operation and last year one or two were only allowing a check on a specified address. I had to ask local estate agents what the rates were.

 

24 March - Road closures all over the place

Harrow ManorwayRoad disruptions are a constant feature of Bexley, Harrow Manorway gets narrower by the day or to be more accurate, by night and further south Bexley Council has announced more disruption in Albion Road and Sidcup High Street.

And don't think you can get away from it by remaining a pedestrian or by getting on a bike. The Ridgeway is to be to be enhanced too.

More details of the Sidcup road closures may be read here.

 

23 March - The Ridgeway

An unfortunate combinations of circumstance has enforced two consecutive days attending to the elderly aunt in East Ham and I had decided that there was no chance of concocting even a very short blog for today.

RidgewayHowever I have been asked to bring to your attention a presentation by Thames Water to be held tomorrow, 24th March 5:30 to 7:00, at the Link which is under the Harrow Manorway elevated roundabout on the A2016.

The subject is the Ridgeway, the walkway which runs between Crossness and Plumstead. It sits on top of the old Joseph Bazalgette sewer and redevelopment of the portion within Bexley Borough is due to begin very soon.

More details on Facebook. Click the associated image.

 

22 March - Latest news from the Crossrail bosses

There was another meeting of the Crossrail Liaison Panel in Abbey Wood last night, the tenth in the series and as always, an enjoyable hour or two.

Contrary to what you might expect the meeting does not provide much new information, except perhaps to those who have not attended previous meetings or too busy to read the many newsletters that Network Rail sends by post and email. I suspect that includes a high proportion of locals.

I learned that Mottisfont Road which has been shut for pretty much all of the past two years causing massive inconvenience to residents is scheduled to reopen in mid-April.

The disabled ramps of the Bostall and Church Manorway footbridges have lain unused for 18 months because of privacy concerns and several promised dates for their opening have come and gone. The latest date is a delightfully vague “summer” but the ultimate plan including tree screening looked rather attractive.

It is hoped that the station will open to passengers on Sunday 22nd October 2017 with an official opening the following day. By the time the station opens the public address system will have been further modified. The platform will be divided into three zones which will allow differential volume levels in order to restrict disturbance to neighbouring properties as much as possible.

Network Rail will hand the track over to Crossrail in April so that they can complete cable installation. Everything should be ready for the first test train by 1st November.

There has been no decision on whether the Elizabeth Line will be a 24 hour operation but the personal and unofficial view of one of the Crossrail people was that it probably would be.

There will again be no Southeastern service next Sunday and again on 8th, 9th and 29th April. Then 13th, 14th, 28th, 29th May, 17th and 18th June, 9th July, 3rd and 17th September and 15th October. There could be more station closures if work at London Bridge or elsewhere demands it.

Quite a lot of people in Abbey Wood are still unsure of the access arrangements for the station and some Liaison Panel members share the confusion. Even the Chairman said it was complicated but it’s not really very difficult.

The main entrance will be from the Harrow Manorway flyover and to get up to that level there will be two lifts and stairs from both Gayton Road (the south) and Felixstowe Road (the north).

Crossrail CrossrailOnce in the high level booking hall the only access to a platform will be a single lift and staircase, duplicated for both North Kent and Elizabeth (Crossrail) lines. The Crossrail platform will have an additional entrance at low level from Felixstowe Road, you will be able to walk behind the buffers but I wouldn’t be surprised to see it open during peak hours only.

The existing station footbridge will only run between the two platforms, The segment that currently allows access from the temporary booking hall will be taken away. That central footbridge will be augmented with two escalators, one to each platform. There will be no other escalators anywhere and those two will be used only in the ‘peak flow’ direction.

There will be an additional small footbridge at the western end of the platforms, the support columns are already in place. The only exit and entry point to the station will be through the main station building. No convenient shortcuts; passenger convenience is secondary to that of the railway operating companies.

One can imagine that if the Elizabeth Line is as popular as seems likely, the stairs (Photo 1) will be immediately congested and the lift shaft (Photo 2) does not look excessively large.

Tiffany Lynch from Bexley Council, in response to a question, said that TfL was still not ready to launch its bus consultation. “Another two or three weeks” she said. Goodness knows where extra buses can go, around the Knee Hill roundabout and back again presumably.

The flyover will became a Red Route with camera surveillance, I fear the present rush hour gridlock will not be improved.

Ms. Lynch’s principal interest was the staircase from Gayton Road up to the flyover walkway. There are proposals that it should be removed, something that was not part of the original plan. I was intrigued by the fact that the most vocal objector was a man who uses a wheelchair but maybe I missed his point. For me, a regular user of the stairs, the main issue must be keeping the traffic flowing which means minimising use of the pedestrian crossing. Surely it will be quicker to walk under the flyover and climb the new station stairs than wait for the flyover lights to change and hope the boy racers obey them?

The losers would be those intending to catch a southbound 180 bus and pedestrians who might wish to get to the BP petrol station or somewhere close to it. There can’t be too many of them.

A straw poll was in favour of demolishing the staircase, at least I think it was because I forgot to look for any hands that may have been raised on my left.

Much as I admire the way that Network Rail has fulfilled its contract to build a new railway I am gradually coming to the conclusion that the station will prove to be inadequate in too many respects. The four external lifts will be part of the public realm and in use 24 hours a day. Whoever dreamed up that idea had no idea about Abbey Wood’s vandal problem.

Lots of CCTV and remote lift locking might be a good start.

 

21 March (Part 2) - Please don't hang your dog poo bags from trees

Two new Council Press Releases today. Dog poo again and now that you have finally got used to paying for parking by phone, it’s all change.

 

21 March (Part 1) - An open but shut case

Last Thursday’s public meeting (the Independent Persons’ Selection Panel) which turned out to be almost entirely closed to the public presumably ran out of time to complete its task, for last night it was repeated.

John and ElwynI didn’t think it was worth going again but John Watson (on the left in the photo) said he was keen to ask another question about our exclusion and I couldn’t risk any sort of disagreement with Councillor Cheryl Bacon going unrecorded.

The last time the Bacon chaired a meeting and a member of the public objected to the lack of transparency she later told the most amazing lies about what happened and the proof of it was hard to come by. Fortunately her story didn’t fit a variety of facts or the recollections of fellow Councillors and soon fell apart as lies tend to do.

Given the history I felt obliged to tag along with my recorder.

The public was kept out of the meeting until beyond the last minute. My recorder was already running as I entered the room and within the first twelve seconds of being in it I was twice mildly reprimanded by Councillor Bacon for not having already taken my seat. It was not the fault of the public that her meeting was starting late.

56 seconds later she asked us to leave. John Watson had other ideas and he “challenged the decision”. Councillor Bacon said he couldn’t.

He persisted with his point that the Localism Act demanded transparency but the Bacon was only able to point to the statement in the Agenda which demanded no transparency whatever.

The exchanges were reasonably civilised. John asked questions, the Chairman wouldn’t answer, that’s all there was to it and two minutes after the public was first asked to leave everyone did so.

Before the meeting began I was mistaken for an interviewee for the job of Independent Person and struck up a conversation with a lady who actually was. I mentioned that the meeting was advertised as ‘public’ and asked how she felt about being observed by all and sundry. She said she would have no objections whatsoever.

Now that really is transparency. I fear her application is now doomed to failure.

 

20 March - Harassment. The Masseys and the police don’t seem to have any idea what it is

CartoonI found myself laughing out loud last week while reading Allison Pearson’s analysis of Scotland’s First Minister in the Daily Telegraph. “The love child of a Bay City Roller and a donkey, the treacherous Queen of Scots” and Nicola Sturgeon “couldn’t give a tartan duck about betraying 60 million of her fellow citizens”.

She “has an ego the size of an HGV … strutting around like a puffed up pigeon.” To think that I was once told off here in Bexley by a Borough Police Commander for referring to the Council Leader as the Fat Controller!

I can imagine many a Bexley Conservative Councillor also laughing like drains at the verbal attack on the ginger dwarf but I found myself wondering why what Allison Pearson wrote is not harassment and why Bexley police thought that one of my year old blogs probably was.

I mentioned it to Elwyn Bryant and found he had wondered the same about a Telegraph cartoon published a few days earlier.

The reason that Allison Pearson’s words were not harassment and my words were considered to be criminal is simple. Councillor Don Massey told Bexley police what they should be thinking.

For the record this is what I said last May…


HarassmentNothing much has happened since the police harassed the family living next door to Councillor Massey’s rented house in Sidcup. The householder had previously asked the police for advice on a noisy all night party at the Massey’s place. As a result of what the police could hear down the phone, they decided to pay a visit.

With the complainant’s consent the story was reported here and it seems reasonable to assume that the police were asked to get heavy. Who do you think might indulge in such revenge?

Police procedures are clear enough; those accused of harassment must be told exactly what they are accused of so that they have every opportunity to modify their behaviour. The falsely accused neighbour asked Bexley police for a copy of the complaint against them. They were made to fill in a request form three weeks ago and told they’d get a copy of the complaint against them within a couple of days.

They are still waiting and the latest advice is that it will take 40 days to provide a copy of the complaint the Massey’s were said to have made against their long-suffering neighbour.

All is now becoming clear. A properly executed Harassment warning requires the issue of a Form 9993 and a written statement of what the alleged offence is. How else is the accused supposed to know what the problem is?

No such form has been issued. It looks likely that someone reminded the police that their first duty is to protect Bexley Council and suggested the frighteners should be put on an innocent resident. This is how Bexley police has operated in the past although I had hoped they had learned their lesson.

The 40 days is the period allowed for a Subject Access Request to be made under the Data Protection Act. If no Form 9993 was issued Bexley Police will be hard pressed to come up with any reason for putting the screws on the Massey’s neighbour. If they cannot provide evidence that the Massey’s made a formal complaint, albeit a malicious one, and there was nothing more than a word in a receptive ear, it will become clear that Borough Commander Jeff Boothe’s force is still in the business of jumping to Bexley Council’s tune. The case will inevitably go to the Independent Police Complaints Commission.


It went on for a few more paragraphs but only to refer back to previous occasions on which Bexley police had danced to Bexley Council’s tune.

Those words provoked Bexley Cabinet Member Don Massey into having his local police station specially opened on a Sunday and three police officers then hot-footed it to my front door threatening arrest.

Fortunately my daughter is a journalist and one of her friends lectures in media law at a university. I was assured that my blog was nothing like harassment and the fact that the blurred image is of the Massey’s daughter was a total non-issue. It was freely available on the Massey’s Facebook page and the advice was that I need not have blurred it.

It took the police more than six months to come to the same conclusion and their excuse was that the rules on harassment evolve almost daily and it therefore made sense to jump straight in with the accusation and engage brains later.

On Christmas Eve I asked Bexley police how it was that they came to the conclusion that my words were borderline criminal and it was appropriate for them to be referred for expert legal opinion. They did not reply so I sent the same question to the Metropolitan Police Commissioner on 31st January 2017. His Assistant Commissioner quickly referred it back to Bexley police for an answer. On 3rd March Bexleyheath police advised me that I would get a response within seven to ten days.

I have no idea what excuse they will offer. My complaint is that it would only be reasonable to take action against me and issue threats if it was possible to argue that republishing information freely available elsewhere amounts to harassment or something close to it. Expert opinion is that it was miles away from crossing the line from which one might conclude that Bexley police has once again corruptly succumbed to political pressure.

Their choice would appear to be to admit that their response to Don Massey’s request was heavy handed and see the immediate end of the matter or argue that my words were close to being harassment and thereby ensure that the complaint is escalated as happened in 2012 - and still on-going.

Note: While writing the above Bexley police have apologised for not responding as quickly as they promised.

 

19 March (Part 2) - Wilton Road regeneration, running very late

Wilton RoadBexley Council may have taken nearly three years to improve Lesnes Abbey park but Greenwich Council is not much better at forecasting completion dates.

They said that the public realm improvements to both sides of Wilton Road would start on 9th January and be completed in eight weeks, so it should have been finished two weeks ago.

Guessing that they would overrun the target, the photos page was set up for publication today, but even the Greenwich side of the road is not yet finished. Nearly but not quite.

The Bexley side (†) should not take too long, it has been worked on for two weeks and is nearly half done already.

The quality of the materials looks to be first class but there is a problem outside the estate agents. Hunters had their forecourt replaced not many years ago and have been slow to agree to its replacement by Greenwich Council.

The Council’s proposal is very fair, the land would be privately owned but all installation, maintenance and insurance costs would be met from public funds. A week ago the final decision on Hunters hung in the balance but it seemed likely that the area shown in the associated picture would be replaced.

The Abbey Arms forecourt will not be replaced as part of the current project because it forms part of the Crossrail station environs and will be improved along with Gayton Road and Felixstowe Road as part of the station improvements. Works very likely won’t start until January next year.

† The plastic barriers strewn across the road are not there because of vandals, it was the wind.

 

19 March (Part 1) - Lesnes Abbey. Looks good if you can afford it

The past two weeks saw one fairly obvious improvement to Lesnes Abbey park. The entrance opposite Fossington Road, the one nearest to Abbey Wood, was opened,

Lesnes Lesnes LesnesInside the grass has been cut and the weeds cleared from around the Mulberry tree.

I have yet to catch the Visitor Centre open to the public but I have spoken to someone who has used the café. He said a bacon sandwich cost £3·50 and at that price he wouldn’t be going there again.

There has been significant progress at Abbey Wood station over the same period. The track is now continuous from Belvedere through Abbey Wood station to the tunnel portal and beyond. The Crossrail platform has already seen its first diesel hauled train. The station front has been partially glazed and the stairs to the platform are in place although not yet complete.

A look back at the photos from last March shows no sign of a new station, not even the support platform over the track. It has been an amazing transformation in a relatively short time while services have been maintained most days.

 

18 March (Part 2) - Albion Road to be closed. Expect traffic chaos

Maybe you have been steering well clear of Bexleyheath and its perpetual road disruption but it might be best to keep abreast of what Bexley Council is trying to do to make matters worse so that you might judge when to dare risk a return.

The map below should give some idea of what is happening through to the end of the year.
Map
Bexley Council is constantly making roads too narrow and introducing artificial obstructions with the intention of creating congestion and extra pollution.

It will be interesting to see the effect on the queue to enter the Shopping Centre car park. It frequently stretches back as far as the Townley Road roundabout which might be acceptable on a dual carriageway but the plan is to make Albion Road single width.

A new set of Bexley Council excuses was distributed to local residents yesterday.

 

18 March (Part 1) - Council Tax bills hit the doormats. Finance Director does a runner

If you have not had a Council Tax demand from Bexley Council you are sure to do so by Monday. My bill has gone up by 3·5% because the Greater London Authority precept has not gone up as much as Bexley’s.

There was no leaflet this year to explain where the money is going, presumably another of Bexley Council’s cut backs, but the next issue of their magazine, if you get yours, will make amends for that.

Bexley Council is currently languishing close to the bottom of the list when it comes to low Council Tax Rates, 24th out of 32 in 2016/17, and it is arithmetically impossible for that to be improved this year. In Newham where I spend more time than I would like they are in 7th best position and have frozen Council Tax for nine consecutive years.

The Mayor naturally likes to brag about it.
Newham
It’s not all good of course. Newham’s roads are in a bit of a state and their recycling services are not very effective but on the other hand they will take your large items away for next to nothing and residents’ parking permits are free. £100 in Bexley.

I’d still rather live in Bexley.

GriffinSomeone who may not be quite so keen on Bexley is Finance Director Alison Griffin. On Tuesday she will be formally adopted by Southend Borough Council as their new Chief Executive. Well done Alison.

Congratulations are due not just for getting the job but also managing to survive two and a half years in Bexley with barely a bad word about her on Bonkers. The only adverse comment was when she threatened Mick Barnbrook with the vexatious tag.

When Alison Griffin spoke at Council meetings she appeared to be totally on top of her brief which is far from always being the case at Bexley Council. Maybe she benefited from the contrast with the Cabinet Member for Finance who always gives the impression he is playing politics and lying.

Looks like we are going to have to make do without either of them. Desk Thief next or has her reputation been ruined to the point that no Council would want her?

 

17 March - Bexley Council holds a public meeting from which the public is excluded entirely

There was an unusual meeting at the Civic Offices last night, one we have seen only once before and that was four years ago. Its purpose was to select an Independent Person, something if taken absolutely literally Bexley Council would hate absolutely.

An Independent Person is required under the 2011 Localism Act to sit on the Code of Conduct Committee which judges Councillors who are the subject of a complaint.

It wasn’t very easy to get in. The lady on reception said she’d been advised that no members of the public were expected which was presumably true. Bexley Council always hopes not to be scrutinised.

In May 2013 a single two year appointment was made but as no complaints had been made by 2015 the Independent Person’s appointment was extended for another two years. This time the plan is to have two Independent Persons.

The appointment process for an Independent Person is rather obviously held under the provisions of the Localism Act that demands one. The rules that govern the process are the seven Nolan Principles which include Accountability, Openness and Honesty; none of them being qualities closely associated with Bexley Council.

Last night it was decided that Accountability and Honesty translated into total exclusion of the public from the whole of the meeting. It was open only for the three seconds it took to appoint a Chairman and for the public to be told to go.

Appointing a meeting Chairman is supposed to be a democratic process but in Bexley it is always a sham vote. Every single time. Last night Councillors Cheryl Bacon. Louie French and Stefano Borella (two Conservatives and one Labour) were present and as always they simply pretended to vote.

PanelThe Chairman is always appointed beforehand and it’s very obvious. The chosen Councillor is always already sitting in the appropriate chair and doesn’t say a word.  The others give the same name unanimously. If the selection was genuine, one would once in a while hear another name or the Chairman would offer one and not be consistently already sitting in the right place with a prepared opening speech.

Councillor Bacon had been pre-selected and John Watson asked why she was excluding the public. The response amounted to no more than ‘because I can under Schedule 12A of the 1972 Local Government Act’. The 2011 Act has many references back to the 1972 Act but not specifically to Schedule 12A. Bacon was simply reading from her script.

Elwyn Bryant introduced himself as a member of the public and asked how, as stated in the Agenda, it would be in the best interests of the public to be excluded. Chairman Cheryl Bacon had no answer and suggested Elwyn submitted his question in a letter. I suspect he will.

Another question asked if applicants were to be interviewed after the public left. Not immediately, but some time later was the answer.

Presumably individual candidates would first be discussed by the Panel in which case one can begin to understand the exclusion but if so why had the meeting been publicised as an open one when in practice only the sham Chairman vote was?

Maybe the Localism Act dictates an open meeting without any provision for exclusions as would be expected when Accountability and Openness are the guiding principles. A secretive Council would naturally look around for a way out, the 1972 Act passed 39 years earlier.

Appointing the ‘right’ Independent Person is very important to Bexley Council. True independence from Teresa O’Neill could be a severe embarrassment. The last Independent Person was only called upon to make a decision once and leaked emails said she made the wrong decision. One that didn’t please the Leader.

The Independent Person concluded that Councillor Maxine Fothergill had done nothing at all wrong when hauled before the Code of Conduct Committee. Her real ‘crime’ was shopping a Tory thief to the police. Maxine’s lack of loyalty to the party had to be punished.

As might be judged from the photograph the Councillors were not unfriendly and I see no grounds for a complaint about the Chairman, she was merely doing what she had been told to do and being unable to explain why she was doing it is unsurprising. Hers was in many ways an identical performance to the infamous meeting of June 2013. There would have been no complaint about her performance there either, it was the lies she told afterwards that caused the police to send her name to the Crown Prosecution Service.

 

16 March - Losing it

I think I may be losing the plot, this morning I wished the man with an Irish accent working on the Wilton Road regeneration project a Happy St. David’s Day and yesterday I didn’t go to the General Purposes Committee meeting because I was convinced it was to be held this evening.

Having read the Agenda and heard John Watson’s report on it I don’t think I missed a lot. The Committee was debating; a tree preservation order (TPO) and new Bexley Council staff conditions.

John’s report is complimentary about Chairman Cafer Munur (Conservative, East Wickham) but fails to say if the tree preservation order was upheld or not. I gather that Councillor Deadman (Labour, North End) objected to adoption of the new staffing conditions on the grounds that the unions had been given insufficient notice and one none at all. He managed to secure a review in six months time.

TreeI have a personal interest in tree preservation orders. In December 1975 I moved into a new house and found I couldn’t open an upstairs window because a beech tree branch obstructed it. The builder said that the Council had slapped a TPO on it and they couldn’t trim it.

No TPO had shown up on the searches because the Council had craftily passed it late in the day. On five beeches, a lime and a horse chestnut in what was quite a large garden.

The arborilogical officer at the County Council in Winchester proved to be a useful ally and declared the beeches and the lime in too poor a condition to legally be made subject to a TPO and he ruled it invalid, so I took the trees down. Actually I only stripped the branches from one before deciding that sitting on a high branch with a hand saw was a good way of killing oneself. I did a deal with a timber merchant that he took the others down in return for free hardwood. Do they still do that?

The Council was not happy and insisted I replaced them. They fought a long rearguard action suggesting they had granted permission for the trees to be cut down and could therefore insist on a replacement. Fortunately I had the County Council’s letter which said the TPO never existed, it was null and void as if it never existed.

I haven’t spent all my life fighting crooked Councils - honest!

 

15 March - General Gordon, Peter Craske and Thames Water

FerryYesterday’s photo of the old Woolwich ferry Will Crooks stirred the memories of some of the older BiB readers and as there is nothing much to report today, here’s another one. This time it is of Gordon taken on the same day almost 60 years ago. You need to stare hard at the original negative to see that it is Gordon but it is. The remarkable thing is that you could be a passenger on one ferry and photograph another one. It was the norm to see two boats loading, one at each pier and the third in mid river. The fourth would be moored as a spare. Those were the days.

Cabinet Member Peter Craske has been busy pushing out Press Releases again, this time it is on fly-tipping and the need to be careful when allowing scrap merchants to take away unwanted stuff. I'm not sure that the new rules really help reduce the rubbish problem.

I have had a large computer case standing just inside my front door for several weeks. It’s a nice case in good condition but no one would want a computer that big any more, not even me. How does one get rid of it? A couple of years ago you could put it on the front drive and it would be gone within 24 hours and someone would be half a quid richer.

There are two cast manhole covers in my front garden. They are almost too heavy to lift and must be worth a bob or two as scrap. Thames Water put them there for a reason six months ago and then forgot all about them. If anyone wants to steal them it is fine by me. It may not please Councillor Craske but that’s almost a bonus.

 

14 March - Two crap stories

Bexley has hit the national news twice in the past week, non-stories if ever there was one. (Two?) Journalists must have finally become bored with Brexit.

The first report was about the proposed parliamentary boundaries which will move the Lesnes Abbey area of Belvedere from the Erith & Thamesmead constituency to Woolwich. The Evening Standard ran a scaremongering feature on it and if you enjoy reading nonsense head over to its web site now.

FerryApparently us snobby lot in “genteel Bexley” don’t like Woolwich “which has gone downhill big time”.

Well I suppose it has. In the late 1940s I lived in the Lea Bridge Road (Leyton) and if my parents had some significant shopping to do we took a trolley bus to Stratford Broadway and another to East Ham. There we caught a 101 bus which back then went all the way to the Woolwich Ferry where one could savour the stink of a polluted river being thrashed by paddle wheels.

The big attraction for my parents was Cuffs Department Store and the Royal Arsenal Co-op and for me it was the trams along Powis Street. There was no shopping centre in North East London which could rival it.

I will concede that the only thing that occasionally attracts me to Powis Street now is the Clarks Shoes factory outlet.

Does anyone seriously consider constituency boundaries when moving house? I doubt it and Diamond Geezer comprehensively demolished the story on his blog. A much more intelligent and interesting read than the Standard’s.

I moved to Lesnes Abbey from near Plumstead bus garage in 1987 for two reasons, houses were cheaper and Bexley’s rates (Council Tax) was almost lowest in London. Where did that all go wrong? Near to being most expensive now.

If I am asked where I live and say Belvedere to someone who does not live in this part of the world I add “near Woolwich” because everyone seems to know where that is. It never occurred to me that by so doing I was knocking thousands off the value of my house. When Crossrail opens I will just say Abbey Wood. Everyone who uses the Underground is soon going to know where that is.


Dog poo bag Dog poo bagThat wasn’t the only crap Bexley story last week. The Council offered advertising space on dog poo bags. How is that wrong? It will be less dangerous than selling advertising space on roundabouts.

Once again the Evening Standard took the lead on reporting the initiative which Bexley Council is obviously taking very seriously. Click the image below to see their eye catching advertisement in full.

Presumably those who throw dog poo bags into the trees will require planning permission if they include advertisements.

Dog poo bag

 

13 March - There will be no escalators but what use will the old stairs be?

Who is it that keeps scheduling the Crossrail Liaison Panel meetings for the same day as Bexley Council’s Transport User’s Sub-Committee meeting? It means that any Bexley Councillor interested in transport issues probably cannot be at the Crossrail meeting and neither can the Transport Users’ Chairman Val Clark who would probably like to improve her knowledge of railway matters. Obviously BiB readers miss out on a report too.

It could be worse, Tiffany Lynch, Bexley’s Infrastructure Manager, will be at the next Crossrail meeting and even has her own allocated ten minutes. Unlike many at Bexley, Tiffany seems to know what she is talking about even though occasionally, well once to be honest, I’ve felt that she will push Bexley Council’s money making interests in front of those of residents.

However this time I think I shall be right behind her. I suspect she wants to knock down the stairs that rise up from Gayton Road to the Harrow Manorway flyover, next to the railway line.
Proposal
Harrow ManorwayWhat use will they be after the new station opens in October?

The only real purpose the steps serve at present is to provide passengers alighting from southbound buses with the only realistic route to the station. Such people will use the Pelican crossing in future.

Another current use is by people residing south of the railway line walking towards Thamesmead, most obviously to Sainsbury’s. The yet to be built station steps will provide a very similar route without crossing the road. The old steps will be redundant.

If the stairs are removed, people getting off buses who are heading to the Wilton Road area will be better served by staying on the bus for one more stop.

People like me using Fendyke or Florence Roads to get to the station might expect the existing stairs to provide quick access to the station but if you have to wait for the Pelican lights to go red it might not be that quick. It may be very slightly further but walking under the flyover and up the station steps would be a lot safer.

Finally, as those who live nearby can testify, there are far too many idiots in Abbey Wood who think it is fun to drop bottles from bridges and the stairs provide an ideal vantage point from which to lob them at passing trains.

I can’t think of a single reason to keep the stairs. If you think I have missed something then please let me know and your view can be submitted. The Liaison Panel meeting will be on 21st March.

By the way, I keep hearing from people who are absolutely convinced that there will be escalators running down from the high level station entrance to the platforms. There will not be. If you look at the platforms right now is is obvious there is no room internally for more than one lift and one staircase to each platform. There will be escalators to the mid-platform footbridge.

 

12 March - Is there no integrity anywhere?

Katie Perrior who is adorning the front cover of the current issue of the magazine PR Week was Bexley’s Cabinet Member for Children’s Services until 2014 spanning the period when both six month old Ndingeko Kunene and three year old Rhys Lawrie were neglected by Bexley Council to the extent that they died. For good measure OFSTED awarded Bexley an Inadequate rating for children in care.

PR WeekPresumably Ms. Perrior is a better PR Guru than she was a Councillor.

While being paid £22,615 a year for failure in Bexley she contributed to the letters pages of the now defunct Bexley Chronicle. She said she was juggling her job as mother and Councillor and really needed that £22k. to survive because she was “not rich”.

She was heading the same PR company then as she is now.

One has to wonder about the judgment of Prime Ministers. Last Friday’s blog reminded readers that David Cameron employed the former and now convicted editor of the News of The World as his Director of Communications and Teresa May put Katie Perrior into the role. Drawing parallels would be absolutely wrong. If putting Councillors who spin a line to a local newspaper was criminal there would be few not behind bars.

What concerns me about Theresa May is something that Alastair Morgan (see last Friday’s blog) told me yesterday, something that he didn’t seem to be particularly shocked by. Perhaps 30 years dealing with bent cops and cowardly politicians has desensitized him but what he told me makes me think that despite it being Theresa May who set up the Daniel Morgan Panel, she is still prepared to condone a dishonest and related cover up when it suits her agenda. I suppose I had better play safe and keep my mouth shut, but I don’t think I will ever trust Theresa May again.

 

10 March - 30 years of police corruption

30 years ago today the younger brother of my daughter’s long term partner Alastair was murdered in the car park of the Golden Lion public house in Sydenham.

Daniel Morgan was a private detective who had uncovered serious corruption among south London’s police. Organising robberies, running drugs, protecting known criminals; all the sort of things you might think happen only in TV fiction.

He took his evidence to the News of the World and that was his undoing. Unknown to him the Murdoch press was employing criminals and bent coppers as a matter of routine. As we know now they went on to tap telephones. The paper’s editor Andy Coulson’s influence with the establishment was so great he even managed to secure a job with David Cameron at No. 10.

The News of the World likely tipped off their police contacts and Daniel Morgan’s reward for his attempt to uphold the law was an axe through his skull. The establishment went into overdrive to protect its reputation.

The murderers have been named in court but are safe from prosecution because almost every Metropolitan Police Commissioner has, what shall we say, neglected his or her primary duties. The new Commissioner Cressida Dick in a former role did her utmost to ensure that the truth remained hidden. I wish I could reveal more but it is shocking.

In recent years the police have admitted that the unsolved murder is the biggest corruption scandal ever to have hit the Metropolitan Police. The Met’s report on an ‘independent’ review by the Hampshire Police was pretty much a lie from beginning to end.

Every single Labour Home Secretary was party to the cover up. Jack Straw and David Blunkett perhaps the worst of them and only when Theresa May took charge of the Home Office was any serious attempt made to get to the root of the cover-up. She ordered a Hillsborough style inquiry panel. Not a true Public Inquiry but better than nothing.

It hasn’t been plain sailing. The police fought a rear guard action and the first panel chairman was not all he should have been, he retired for personal reasons.

BookThe inquiry is still on-going and won’t report until the end of this year.

There was a series of ten award winning podcasts to tell the story last year, I sponsored one of them, and another book on the subject will be published in May.

When I sometimes say on Bonkers that the Metropolitan Police is corrupt I do so with a clear conscience, I absolutely know they are and they have recently admitted it in writing. They may excuse themselves that their corruption is all in the past, but that is a lie too. They still don’t want the truth to come out, neither do the newspapers. Most of them have been working hand in glove with corrupt police officers.

Alastair Morgan has pursued police corruption for 30 years and I shall try to steer him on to his beloved game of rugby when I meet him for lunch tomorrow as a result if which I suspect there will be no blog.

If I have to chase Bexley police for as long as Alastair I will have to live to be 100.

 

9 March - Paying the Ferry man

Some mornings, and today was one of them, I wake up with no idea whatsoever for a blog entry. There’s always photos of all the work going on in Abbey Wood to be posted and Crossrail of course but what I usually hope for when there is nothing else is an interesting Bexley Council Press Release.

Today I was disappointed. There was one yesterday featuring Cabinet Member Philip Read but I judged it of not wide enough interest to be added to the BiB list of Press Releases.
Press Release
Most of Bexley’s Press Releases are issued by either Jane Parsons or her boss John Ferry. I suppose that putting a positive spin on what Bexley Council does must be an important job.

Expertly covering up the Council’s biggest mistakes is an invaluable skill. When Bexley Council employed a known inebriate to man their emergency Link Line and sleep through the night all by himself and their client Mrs. Baker died while frantically pressing her alarm, the Press Office managed to keep the lid on it for more than a year before Bonkers spilled the beans. Six weeks later the News Shopper gave it a front page spread.

Oh to have been a fly on the wall when Teresa O’Neill sought John Ferry’s advice and everyone was sworn to secrecy.

Their mistake was sacking the man who had all the evidence of their failure instead of generously paying him off with a gagging clause which is the more usual procedure.

Whether John Ferry is always so efficient is hard to say. A quick glance at Bexley’s website suggests he might not be. It still claims the Council is a contributor to Streetlife. Streetlife closed down a month ago.

Bexley’s own blog which is supposed to give updates on Bexley’s achievements has not seen an entry this year and only one since last Summer. The last entry on Setting the Record Straight which has not yet featured Bonkers was on 23rd August 2016. Their Facebook Live has not been updated since October 2015. Communicating may not be the Comms Team’s strong point after all, maybe those skills stop at cover ups and go no further.

Perhaps Mr. Ferry needs more staff and staff that come to the office every day of the week. My enquiries suggest that the Comms. Team consists of John Ferry with a junior manager and a couple of assistants in which case it is not the biggest management job on the Council, but it attracts big management pay. £62,562 if my detective work is correct. Possibly a bargain to those he helps protect, with 17 years at Bexley Council behind him there will be a lot of skeletons to be hidden.

His junior manager is a part timer, or to be more precise, works from home and on a mere £41,946 a year.

Nice work if you can get it.

I look forward to BiB’s first appearance on Setting the Record Straight.

 

8 March - Driven over the Edge

Unless you are very new to Bonkers you will need no introduction to Michael Barnbrook. A retired Bexley Police Inspector who chases dishonest politicians and police officers he believes to be corrupt for a hobby.

Mick has lived in Ramsgate for the past couple of years so his attention is not turned on Bexley Council as often as it used to be but MPs and the police are still firmly in his sights.

BarnbrookMichael was the principal complainant in many of the prosecutions brought against expense fiddling MPs. He had a hand in bringing about 17 of them down. Currently he is chasing those who didn’t declare all their election expenses in 2015. Mick has provided evidence to Channel 4 TV and has meetings with their Political Correspondent Michael Crick who frequently reports on the situation.

The police have not been particularly helpful to either Michael. The Chief Constable of Kent told Mick Barnbrook that his MP had no case to answer and his only evidence for that was the MP’s own declaration of innocence. On that basis the CC halted enquiries. Mick will likely make criminal allegations against that Chief Constable if things don’t change.

One of Michael’s remaining Bexley cases is against the two constables who were prevailed upon, a year after the event, to write a false account of what happened the night Councillor Cheryl Bacon illegally closed her Scrutiny meeting to six members of the public. Everyone present, which includes about a dozen Councillors, knows what happened at the meeting and every one of them knows that what Bexley Council said about it was nothing but lies.

Four Councillors confirmed in writing what really happened, however the Police’s Directorate of Professional Standards (DPS) ruled that their officers had told the truth, even though they had made very different reports a year earlier

When challenged it transpired that the DPS had read only the two accused police officers’ statements and accepted them without question. They didn’t look at eight contrary witness statements. Much the same procedure as that adopted by the Chief Constable of Kent with Mick Barnbrook’s MP.

Mick went to the IPCC who backed him so his complaint was returned to the DPS. They told Mick that him referring the case back to them was “an abuse of process”.

The IPCC said that was nonsense and it recently stepped in again. The tricks that the police will get up to to protect dishonest police officers is almost beyond belief.

My allegation that corruption - that is bending to political pressure - played a part in the police’s seven month investigation into whether I had harassed Cabinet Member Don Massey’s family was bounced around the DPS a couple of times before they decided that it was entirely appropriate that Bexley Inspector Colin Edge who had already failed to answer my questions should be asked to investigate himself.

I decided not to fight it, it just means that the case will not go to the next level quite as quickly as I had hoped.

A few days ago Inspector Edge referred to “your latest complaint” in an email. It may only be one word but I consider ‘latest’ implies that I am always making complaints and that the police are dismissive of the fourth one in 24 years. Just like they said in July 2011 that my criminal allegation following the obscene blog created on one of Councillor Craske’s devices, his wife’s actually, was in retaliation for the harassment warning requested by Bexley Council a month earlier. The implication was once again that my allegation of crime was frivolous.

The ‘latest’ complaint about Bexley police was in January 2017 but it was the first since 7th June 2012. The Cheryl Bacon Will Tuckley case in 2014 was Mick Barnbrook’s not mine.

I complained in 1993 when a uniformed thug from Bexley police came to my door and within seconds simply punched me in the face. At the time I had no idea why (it was mistaken identity) but he was captured on my front door CCTV. The Borough Commander couldn’t stop apologising (he came to my house twice) but the IPC (it was not Independent back then) refused to do anything about it because there was no audio on the VHS tape. As the Borough Commander said, the body language said it all. I opened the door and I was left bleeding. There was no doubt about it!

In 2011 I made a formal complaint after being issued with a harassment warning for something said on someone else’s blog and the IPCC took action against Bexley police. Later that year I made an informal complaint to Chief Inspector Tony Gowen who had put out a Press Release that I was to be prosecuted for something said on Twitter. Mistaken identity again. I didn’t have a Twitter account at the time but I accepted CI Gowen’s apology.

The complaint preceding the four and a half year gap was made because Bexley police once again allowed Bexley Council to influence an investigation which they found embarrassing - the obscene blog.

It has taken a very long time to make any progress but I have been led to believe that the DPS - pinch yourself! - has come to a similar conclusion to my own. Eight police officers (some retired, others no longer in Bexley) are having their collars felt right now or very soon.

Probably three complaints and an allegation of criminal behaviour by the police might well be more than is made by the average Bexley Joe, but they are not frivolous and the police, DPS or IPCC has found in my favour on every single one so far. What is one supposed to do? Let the police get away with blatant malpractice?

 

7 March (Part 2) - TfL. Making roads that little bit more dangerous. It’s what they do.

New Road New RoadIt must have been five or six years ago that I was walking up New Road in Abbey Wood when a B11 bus pulled into the middle of the road to pass a parked car and another one hit it head on. If I had to guess, the car driver was going too fast and he saw the bus to late. It’s only in recent years that I learned to always carry a camera which is probably why I can’t find any photos of the incident.

One would hope the car driver learned from his experience but it would seem that Transport for London has not. Their new bus stop in New Road, only a matter of yards from the scene of the earlier incident, pushes all vehicles towards the middle of the road close to a bend.

Overtaking a stationary bus has become a much more dangerous manouvre. Well done TfL. What a bunch of clowns. The bus stop ‘flag’ isn’t even very near to the road markings. The road marking is new by the way so it provides one more opportunity for Alex Sawyer to impose a fine.

 

7 March (Part 1) - Alex Sawyer. Heartless money grabbing hypocrite maybe. But not a cretin

Nine months ago BiB featured Bexley Council’s proposal to extend parking restrictions in Bexleyheath to Sundays and midnight. If the post bag was a guide, no one other than the accountants in Bexley Council was was in favour of the idea.

Then everything went quiet, there were questions asked on the Streetlife forum , which no longer exists, but no one had any answers.

Yesterday that changed. Bexley Council began to distribute letters to some of the affected households, or maybe only those that had protested. It is doubtful that the Council would want their decision to be widely known.

Fortunately the extension of single yellow line restrictions to midnight appears to have been dropped, but hard luck if you do your shopping in Bexleyheath on a Sunday. You may wish to spend your money elsewhere.
CPZ

Click image for complete letter.

I won’t be affected by Bexley Council’s latest raid on motorists’ pockets, I can’t remember the last time I spent any money in a Bexleyheath shop. Christmas 2014 possibly, but what impact does Sunday parking really have on local residents? According to Bexley Council they have been complaining about the impact on their lives. According to Bexley Council traders have been against shoppers flocking to their shops on a Sunday too. It doesn’t seem to be very likely, maybe someone took the brake off of Bexley’s lie machine.

I asked someone who lived in the middle of Bexleyheath for an opinion on the Council’s latest money making scam and this is the reply.


The new letter came from Stephen Bates (Traffic Services). Just a sheet of paper, no envelope and it said that the Cabinet Member for Traffic and Transport (which cretin would that be?) has decided to proceed with the imposition of extra parking restrictions in Bexleyheath Town Centre on SUNDAYS.

This is said to be in response to complaints from local residents and businesses about the difficulties caused by Sunday parking. What a load of codswallop! What business in its right mind would want to drive potential customers away with extra parking restrictions?

As for local residents (and I am one myself), providing the dropped kerb driveway entrance is left clear then no problem. If on a rare occasion the driveway is blocked then there are remedies already available.

The Cabinet Member (whoever it is) really must take everyone to be fools and Stephen Bates should be ashamed to write such obvious untruths.

The only real reason to impose more parking restrictions is of course for the council to get their money grubbing mitts on even more parking revenue and parking fines to add to those from their yellow money boxes. They may come unstuck though as more and more motorists bypass Bexleyheath and take their business elsewhere. I wonder which Councillors have a financial interest in Bluewater?


SawyerWell the ‘cretin’ is Councillor Alex Sawyer and it is not a word I would use to describe him. Heartless money grabbing hypocrite possibly.

Heartless because when Crossrail delivery drivers had the choice of stopping in the middle of the road while awaiting their turn to back into the construction site - and blocking a bus route in the process - or pulling into a residents’ parking bay, he recommended maintaining the fine for doing so - and argued with me that his was a sensible decision.

Hypocrite because before he took up his present position he repeatedly argued that Bexley Council was not fair to motorists and regarded them as cash cows, and money grabbing because at the last Cabinet meeting Finance Director Alison Griffin admitted that Bexley Council is now heavily dependent on maintaining its fine revenue.

 

6 March - What’s good for Abbey Wood is not good anywhere else

O'NeillYou might think that after the Labour group’s Motion that any spare cash would be better spent on people than trees was rejected and the Conservative’s budget proposals were voted through without amendment, that there was no more to be said. But you would be wrong. The Capital Programme had to be agreed.

Council Leader Teresa O’Neill began the debate by boasting about past achievements. The £42 million restoration of the Woolwich Building Society HQ which now serves as the eye-catching but ultimately less than satisfactory Town Hall was first on her list.

“Parts of Thamesmead had been demolished and the replacement will be the place to be in London. Erith Quarry is an exciting new project in an area that has been unloved. There is a new school in Crayford and others have been expanded. There is a new college in Erith. Sidcup and Welling High Streets are thriving as is the Broadway.”

“Queen Mary’s Hospital is still open and a cancer centre will open this year saving residents going elsewhere for treatment. There is a new bridge in Bexley Village and we have improved playgrounds and sorted out the mess left at Belvedere Splashpark. These are just a few of the many achievements of this administration that are blatantly obvious to anyone who travels around our borough.” You will not need to be reminded that only one of these changes was funded by Bexley Council - which is probably a good thing. But to claim all the credit?

“We have been lobbying hard to get the Elizabeth Line extended to Ebbsfleet stopping at Belvedere, Erith and Slade Green. The infrastructure will help regenerate nine kilometres of brown field sites. We want to make a success and to make London even more successful and our previous delivery has shown we are capable of it. Residents will benefit through our new development company which is a new direction for Bexley. We have the vision, would anyone trust the benches opposite?”

Massey Councillor Alex Sawyer (Conservative, St. Mary’s) said the Capital Programme was “bold. Over half of it was directed at growth and transport infrastructure. The roll out of LED lighting is delivering brighter streets and saving £300,000 a year.”

“Crossrail is central to our growth strategy and will have a huge impact on regeneration.” What a pity that Bexley Council was so against growth when Crossrail was at the planning stage. Bexley is not going to get a two track extension towards Dartford in the foreseeable future. The as yet uncompleted Abbey Wood station would need to be partially torn down and the area has already suffered quite enough during its construction.

Councillor Stefano Borella (Labour, North End) threw a spanner into the works by distributing an Amendment to the Capital Programme. Labour Councillors had identified several millions of pounds of unspent S106 money which had come with long forgotten planning applications. He proposed that £1,139,390 of it dating from 2010 and 2013 should be spent on more Public Realm improvements.

Finance Director Alison Griffin confirmed that his figures made sense and did not unbalance the budget.

The Amendment called for £1·1 million of the several identified S106 payments be directed towards improving the Public Realm around twelve transport hubs in much the same way that Wilton Road in Abbey Wood has been improved. It was perhaps an ambitious target given that £300,000 was spent on Wilton Road, however that was not the Conservative’s objection.

They were never likely to like an idea that was not theirs but the Cabinet Member’s official response was that he didn’t see why Council money should be spent on improving Network Rail stations. “Giving away money is typical of the Labour opposition”.

Cabinet Member Don Massey had not actually read the Amendment which called for no such thing?
Amendment
Lord Rochester’s comment would be unworthy even of Gromit the dog.

“Aren’t most of the stations owned by Network Rail?” And what has that got to do with anything?

Councillor Caroline Newton (Conservative, St. Michael’s) also said “it is surely Network Rail’s responsibility to improve their stations”. Councillor Newton does not often speak at Council meetings and it might be better if she said even less. Who said “Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak and to remove all doubt”?

Councillor Louie French (Conservative, Falcon Wood & Welling) said the Amendment was not properly costed. It fell to Labour leader Alan Deadman (North End) to spell out what was clearly written in the Amendment. The improvements would be made following consultation with ward Councillors, residents and traders and does not include railway stations. “We have just heard Conservatives saying how proud they were to have improved Abbey Wood, this is the same but on a smaller scale.”

Council Leader Teresa O’Neill said that further Public Realm spending would put “the whole of the borough’s growth agenda at risk”.

The vote went the same way that votes in Bexley always do. No Conservative who ever bucked the trend has ever survived the next electoral selection process.

 

5 March (Part 2) - No more Fat Controller

Drink GromitIt’s not very often that anyone comments on the photos that appear here. A few rail enthusiasts like the daily Crossrail updates and I have several times been told that some hang on the office walls at the Abbey Wood Crossrail depot. However this week has seen more than one photo related comment.

Someone suggested I create a gallery of comic pictures, Councillors apparently nodding off etc. Yesterday’s photo of the Mayor with her eyes shut apparently sparked that off. It had merely caught her blinking, everyone does it, even Mayors.

Another comment suggested that the recent photo of Cabinet Member Don Massey bore more than a passing resemblance to Gromit, but Gromit is Wallace’s dog isn't it? And isn't Gromit the clever one of the pair?

I suppose it did look a bit like a Plasticine man but I will not be creating a comic gallery.

O'NeillI check for unfortunate poses when the photo is taken and if I catch one I take it again. The bad ones are rejected unless they are of Councillors who are less than friendly.

Yet another comment was about Council Leader Teresa O’Neill. I first noted it just over a month ago when her name was prefixed with ‘new slimline'. Now it is apparent to all.

Teresa O’Neill is not the woman she was and my correspondent says “TO’N is looking about 15 years younger. Has she found the elixir of life or simply been on an excellent diet?”

He’s right isn’t he? Council Leader Teresa O’Neill will probably think I ma taking the wotsit if I say she looks pretty good in her new outfits, but I am not. At last she has made a massive cut to be proud of.

 

5 March (Part 1) - Network Rail passes a major milestone. FM Conway contemplates one

ConwayIt’s no use persevering with the Sunday comparison between progress - or lack of it - at Lesnes Abbey park and Crossrail at nearby Abbey Wood, we may never know when the work is officially completed. All that can be said is that completion must be close. It should be well worth a visit if we get a fine Easter.

A better comparison might be how FM Conway’s work on Harrow Manorway stacks up against the slick operation by Network Rail and Balfour Beatty at the railway station.

Today the last bit of track was put down through the station, well there’s a set of points to be cut into place, but the job is just about done.

Thanks to help from Network Rail, Balfour Beatty and Southeastern staff I was able to sneak beyond the barriers and grab a few pictures. Despite the rain a hi-tech operation got the ballast, sleepers and track down in just a few hours.

117 photos taken over the last two weeks are in the usual place and there are some preliminary pictures of the Harrow Manorway works too. I suspect that Abbey Wood is going to suffer severe traffic congestion problems over the next 18 months.

 

4 March (Part 2) - Budget divisions. More cuts presented as Manna from Heaven

PallenAfter nearly ninety minutes that exposed Bexley Council’s duplicitous budget proposals Mayor Eileen Pallen woke up and moved Councillors on from Labour’s Amendment to the the main event, the debate on the Cabinet’s Motion to hide their spending reductions beneath a thin veneer of a few trees and a Street Scrubber that should ensure a few more job losses.

Labour’s amendment had been given short shrift and there was little new to be said, just new and more inventive ways of saying it.

Councillor John Husband (Labour, Lesnes Abbey) was first to give it a shot. John, a former financial journalist, said that “all this Smoke and Mirrors could not hide the fact that our residents pay the price of the Conservative government’s economic illiteracy, right wing ideology, incompetence and obfuscation”. He provided numerous examples of each.

Residents are “being asked to pay 4% more this year for services which are cut to the bone and it is not even enough to plug the holes in this budget. You are looking to axe a further £9 million of services. What a shambles”.

Hall Councillor Steven Hall (Conservative, Blendon & Penhill) was almost inaudible due to a combination of mumbling, banging doors and another faulty microphone. Nothing he said was clearly intelligible until he moved on to criticising the Labour proposal that Bexley Council should adopt the London Living Wage.

As Labour dropped that idea after learning the cost at the last Cabinet meeting and made no mention of it in their Budget Amendment, and quite obviously it did not form part of the Conservative proposals, one must wonder what Councillor Hall was banging on about and why.

The Chairman Mayor must have gone back to sleep. She did nothing to steer the show away from irrelevancy.

Councillor Hall droned on about it for more than two minutes.


Newman HuntCouncillor Seán Newman (Labour, Erith) said “the budget does not do what it claims to do, it is all spin and no substance. We need to put people first. I will vote no to support elderly and lonely residents. I will vote no to support at risk children, disabled children and respite for their carers”.

“Conservatives are deluding themselves by repeating repeating repeating their altered reality. Their political headlines are not supported by the details. The budget prioritises trees over people. It is my priority and that of my colleagues to put people first.”

Councillor James Hunt (Conservative, East Wickham) defended tree planting. Residents had asked for it.

Councillor Stefano Borella (Labour, North End) said the Tory claim that they were investing in the community was false. The community is people and the figures clearly showed that they are suffering deep cuts. It was “an Alice in Wonderland budget which does nothing at all to help people in our community. There are massive increases in respite care charges. There are 20,000 carers providing care for free and they sometimes need a break. The budget puts even more stress on carers”.

Councillor Endy Ezenwata (Labour, Thamesmead East) cast doubt on whether Bexley Council was Listening to you, Working for you and “residents now pay more for less”. He was all for more trees but his “conscience would not allow support for a budget which targets the vulnerable, abused children and adults” What is happening to them, examples given, “breaks my heart”.


Fothergill Councillor Maxine Fothergill (Conservative, Colyers) made a rare high profile contribution to the debate. She referred to the several years of Council Tax freeze “which has helped our residents. The marginal increases this year and last will make a contribution to the cost of Adult Social Care” - but not as big as it could be if Councillor Craske had not decided to run amok with trees and a Street Scrubber.

Probably not enough support from Maxine to win back favour after reporting her Leader’s favourite young man to the police for repeated thefts. No one in Bexley Council with respect for the law is likely to advance their career by offering support for it.

SlaughterCouncillor June Slaughter (Conservative, Sidcup) chose to join the fray. She was “delighted by the Council’s good financial management” and commended the use of Community Groups. For example the one set up by Councillor Rob Leitch to rescue Sidcup’s Walled Garden from Council neglect.

She was “really pleased that an extra £90,000 and been found for park maintenance”. Maybe she forgot that money for park maintenance is coming from the sale of Old Farm Park.

“It is complete nonsense for the Labour Group to allege that we neglect people in this borough. We spend 55% of our budget on adults and children’s services” and she objected to Councillor Ezenwata’s reference to the Listening slogan which was her invention. “The Conservative Council is listening to residents”. (Residents who are not usually in possession of the full facts.)

The last word went to Councillor Daniel Francis (Labour, Belvedere). He again provided the figures for the cut in the grounds maintenance budget which Councillor Slaughter had welcomed. “£180,000 (if I heard him correctly, his microphone let him down) had been taken out and £90,000 put back in” and he correctly reminded Councillor Slaughter that it was only a few months since she too had complained that Bexley Council was no longer either Listening to or Working for its residents.

O'NeillNeedless to say his words cut no ice with the governing party. Teresa O’Neill said - no, lied - that anyone who voted against the budget was voting against more trees and extra street cleaning.

The vote was exactly as it was for Labour’s Amendment, the pedantic will say the reverse. Strict party lines with UKIP as split locally as they appear to be nationally.

We are not finished yet, there is another 50 minutes of argument to go. Some of it more than a little silly courtesy of Cabinet Member Lord Rochester at his idiotic best.

 

4 March (Part 1) - Use it or lose it. Not a slogan that impresses the Post Office

PO ClosureWhile Greenwich and Bexley Councils try to breath fresh life into a community that otherwise might die, the Government is doing its best to sign its death warrant. It plans to close the SE2 Crown Post Office. There is no local shop large enough to provide a poor alternative.

I will declare an interest, the post box that stands outside it is the nearest one to home.

The Abbey Wood end of Belvedere is not a bad place to live and Elwyn Bryant’s frequent siren calls to move to Bexley Village fall on deaf ears. My mail not only gets an SE2 postmark but I have a London phone number, can be on a train to London in seven minutes and look out on the park that Bexley Council is least likely to sell.

They are not the only advantages over a traffic congested village. Elwyn frequently tells me just what a useless constituency MP James Brokenshire is and asks me to thank mine for her support - through me - in our battle with a police force that always backs Bexley Council irrespective of truth and law. James Brokenshire said it would be “inappropriate” for him to help Elwyn fight police corruption, Teresa Pearce offered me the use of her office to do so.

There’s the Councillor issue too. I sometimes complain that I go months without hearing from Danny Hackett but probably he thinks I am more capable of standing on my own feet than some in his ward. Poor old Elwyn has Alex Sawyer to represent him. Alex is not one of Bexley Council’s really bad boys but I wouldn’t go as far as to say I would rely on him to help fight any battles. The judgment of someone presumably happy to employ Councillor David Leaf in his wife’s Parliamentary office must be questionable.

So I will remain on the Belvedere Abbey Wood border thank you although the area will surely take a step backwards if it loses its Crown Post Office. It acts as the cash depository for local businesses because the nearest bank is in Bexleyheath. Their survival is already in some doubt.

The nearest Crown Office will be in Dartford. I don’t think I have ever been inside it nor have I visited my nearest sorting office which moved to Dartford three years ago.

On the rare occasion a card has come through the door to say I must go to Dartford to collect something underpaid or too large to deliver I have ignored it. Dartford is just too far away to go and pay a fee for something I probably don’t want.

I wonder how many brown envelopes are stacked up for me in Dartford?
PO Closure PO Closure PO Closure PO Closure

Protesters gather outside Abbey Wood Post Office this morning.

 

3 March (Part 2) - When tipped off by BiB, Dan's your man and Peter's the procrastinator

Another day, another Press Release. This time on fly-tipping. Councillor Peter Craske has been doing his bit for the Council coffers by catching Tossers and fining them £400 a time.

His claim that Bexley Council has one of the lowest number of fly tipping incidents is almost certainly down to his Council refusing to accept reports, Councillor Danny Hackett (Labour, Lesnes Abbey) is trying to put that right.

He noticed my report on the two vans featured earlier in the week and called me to say he is on the case. Can he wake the sleeping Didsbury? Can he beat Tosser Craske at his own game?

 

3 March (Part 1) - Have a sweetie, don’t worry about the cyanide pills

My prediction that Mayor Pallen would throw hissy fits again at Wednesday’s budget setting meeting proved to be wide of the mark but the one about the Tories web publishing the names of Councillors who voted against massive cuts sweetened by a tree or two and a Street Scrubber was fulfilled within hours. Such shameful Tory dishonesty will not be boosted by a link from BiB.
Council
Both Labour and UKIP Councillors made a point of saying that they were in favour of the restoration of the street cleaning and tree planting budget to something like their former levels but not at the expense of the elderly being left to rot in their homes instead of being put into care when necessary.

The Conservatives are all in favour of the elderly being left at home longer than they should be - it’s how they underspent the budget last year - if there is any chance that the trickery will see them home and dry in next year’s election. Aren’t the boundary changes which they welcomed and the Jeremy Corbyn effect enough for them?

Lynn Smith (UKIP, Blackfen & Lamorbey) protested at the iniquity of Councillors having to vote against the Street Scrubber if their priority was protecting the vulnerable and took the logical course of abstention for which she was roundly condemned by the stony hearted double crossers opposite.

The Full Council meeting was the fifth consecutive meeting to be preceded by an announcement that the microphones were not working properly. Coupled with the fact that Councillors are made to stand and are therefore well away from the microphones designed for close speaking and with the public seating placed behind them, it makes following the arguments difficult. Maybe that is the idea but the whispered complaints in the public gallery don’t help either. The Desk Thief has ensured that it is not easy to get away from them.

O'NeillThe Leader’s address began with a comparison between now and 2006 when Labour lost control of the borough, leaving, she said, a £10 million black hole. In four years Labour increased Band D Council Tax by £213 and in the following ten it went up only £157.

She then complained that the government dished out far less money per head than they did to other Councils and some figures were reeled out. Bexley’s Band D tax last year “was approximately £1,470 with a government settlement of £21·9 million. If it had been the same as Greenwich’s £53·1 million, Bexley’s Band D tax would be just over £1,000. If it was the same as Southwark’s £73·5 million, Council tax would be only £735.”

These are very frustrating figures but not quite as extreme as the Leader has led us to believe in the past. Last year I recorded her saying that if Bexley was in receipt of Greenwich’s grant it would be paying residents not taxing them. I think we can now safely assume that that was a lie. Bexley Council’s claims frequently are.


MasseyCabinet Member for Finance Don Massey said he was proud of the budget, it was “introducing new money and restoring new money” and was not eating into reserves. “It was because he had been prudent in the past and taken difficult decisions.”

“It is easy to criticise and say this or that should have been done earlier but when you go back and check you find the suggestions were never made. The residents of Bexley know that they can trust us.”

“When savings are made they are declared and put back into the central pot.”

The budget supports our corporate plan and supporting residents in the borough to lead fulfilled and independent lives. I will be listening intently to fellow Members in the ensuing debate to see how their contributions support these aims”. Independent lives as has been explained at Scrutiny meetings means not providing care services promptly.


ProtestThe Opposition Leader Alan Deadman asked for his counter proposals to be distributed.

They drew attention to the massive expenditure cuts already agreed for Adult Social Care (three and a half million this year rising to £7·9 million a year in three years time) and around half a million less every year on street cleaning.

I had expected the amendment to say that these savage cuts should be mitigated to some extent by not spending money on trees and a Street Scrubber which Bexley had got along without up until now, however it didn’t actually do so. An unfortunate omission.

Councillor Deadman made it absolutely clear that he was not against a cleaner and greener Bexley, it was after all the Tories who sold parks, not his party.

Naturally the Tories totally ignored his backing for “green and clean”. The money allocated to those activities was insignificant compared to the overall cuts into green and clean but the Conservatives launched their prearranged plan to make it appear otherwise relying on voter apathy, fiction and misleading Press Releases to see their lie go unchallenged.

Councillor Teresa O’Neill was asked if she wished to comment on the Labour party amendment but declined on the grounds it was more a statement than an amendment, and to be fair it could have been more clearly written.

Councillor Don Massey was not so reticent and promptly dismissed the amendment as “La La Land”. Those who might agree with the Leader that the amendment was merely a statement may be confused by Lord Rochester’s comment because it was a ‘statement’ comprised of facts drawn from previous budgetary announcements.

If it was La La Land everything Massey has said, backed and voted for in recent months must be wrong too.

He dismissed the Labour amendment with the Conservatives favourite word of the moment. It was “grandstanding” and “it was lazy and very poor”.

Councillor Brenda Langstead (Labour, North End) always champions the poor living in inadequate housing with “mould and cockroach infestation and relying on food banks while the Cabinet Member can spend on tree planting and cleaning car parks”. Many similar examples were cited.

DaveyCouncillor John Davey (Conservative, Anywhere Mad Enough To Have Him) unfortunately relapsed into full on Village Idiot mode which for me was a matter of genuine regret. I thought he had been cured of it.

He had spent 15 minutes listening to three Labour speakers (the other one was Councillor Mabel Ogundayo) emphasising that they were in favour of a greener cleaner Bexley but rated care of the elderly a higher priority. The VI said he “was interested to see that the Labour Group have admitted that they are against a cleaner greener Bexley”. Thick as two planks or what?

“All Bexley services are improving” he said to a cry of rubbish from the public gallery. Delusional. He said that residents’ priority “is more grass cutting and they are the happiest in London”. Are they smoking it?

He was “delighted that the Council was looking at new ways to increase income”. That will not only be the 25% increase is fees for care services but yellow box junctions too presumably.

Councillor Stefano Borella (Labour, North End) struggled with his broken microphone and continued the criticism of Bexley Council’s strange priorities, “trees over people” and “millions of pounds of cuts” imposed on them.

Councillor Joe Ferreira (Labour, Erith) said it was easy to get carried away by the budget Smoke and Mirrors and it most certainly is. Some probing is required before it falls apart which is what the Cabinet spivs are counting on. As Joe rightly pointed out, street cleaning will be cut again in 2018/19. The same most definitely goes for Social Care. Councillor Esther Amaning (Labour, Lesnes Abbey) made similar points and additionally drew attention to the 8% cut to the schools budget. Services to disabled children are especially poor and personal files have been going astray.

DowningCouncillor Alan Downing (Conservative, St. Mary’s) spoke in favour of savage cuts while claiming that Bexley “is a great borough”. Compared to the twaddle spoken by some of his colleagues he was measured and moderate in tone and put a just about tolerable gloss on the underlying deception. Not that the Labour Members were fooled by it. There were polite protests as he drew to a conclusion.

Councillor Danny Hackett was less restrained. He said the Conservatives were split by in fighting and he felt sorry for them having to slavishly defend “a cheap confidence trick. It is small minded politicking and an election year fire sale”. They have “destroyed” a whole host of services which he listed. He sat down to enthusiastic public applause.

David Leaf (Conservative, Longlands) spoke next. Do you really want to hear the usual spiteful diatribe? No I thought not. He earned a rebuke for it from the Mayor.

Councillor Lynn Smith as already noted, protested that the all or nothing vote does not allow Councillors full expression but she was against cleaning car parks while the elderly were allowed to suffer. More public applause.

Councillor Melvin Seymour (Northumberland Heath) said he was a Conservative and was “committed to representing all people and all their concerns”. It is about “what people out there think” and presumably trees will convince them “to vote for us again”. He also said that the Council “must make money” and put forward the garden waste scheme as a good example of milking residents.

FrancisCouncillor Daniel Francis (Labour, Belvedere) made one of his best and most impassioned speeches. He said the detailed cuts figures would not be known if the Labour Group had not asked questions at Scrutiny meetings. The Conservative Group hardly asks a single question. “Nobody in the Chamber had queried the figures” he had supplied, “they are signed off in the budget book”. The massive cuts are real.

“It is a budget where people pay more but get less. It is a Smoke and Mirrors budget. A deliberate attempt to convince residents that there had been spending increases where there had been reductions”.

“Councilor Davey had said that the budget would make our borough cleaner, how can it when there is a reduction of £105,000 this year and £340,000 next? The Cabinet Member’s paper was designed to mislead and he produced it before publication of the budget figures and before scrutiny which is its downfall. The questions asked both inside and outside meetings showed it was not worth the paper it was written on. Labour Group work had exposed it as Smoke and Mirrors and Conservative Members had blindly accepted it in the hope it would fund their re-election.”

“The irony is that they cut street cleaning last year to roll over and spend this year. It disappears in the year after”. (That’s not really irony is it, much closer to a fraud?)

Councillor Cafer Munur (Conservative, East Wickham) said the budget “was an achievement due to the competence of this Council”.

The Leader was asked to wrap things up. She said that the Labour amendment was just a “wish list and a cop out” and called for its rejection.

The vote on the Labour Amendment divided along party lines, as usual Labour stood no chance. UKIP backed all the horses, one For, one Against and one Abstention.

An hour and a half into the meeting the debate on the recommended budget had yet to begin.

 

2 March - The eyes have it

The budget setting Council meeting did not fall on a very convenient day for me. The Chairman of the Abbey Wood Tradersְ’ Association wanted me to go to his meeting with Greenwich Councillor Danny Thorpe about the Abbey Wood regeneration and today I have commitments north of the river which means that an in depth report on what happened in Bexley last night is going to have to wait a day or two. However there is time for a quick summary. Obviously the 3·99% Council Tax rise was approved and equally obviously Labour’s alternative suggestion was ignored. In fact ridiculed.

MiseriesSome of my other predictions were wide of the mark. Mayor Pallen threw very few of her toys out of her pram, Councillor Peter Craske did not take his Twitter storm into the Chamber and Councillor Philip Read did not insult the opposition even once. His stooge David Leaf (Conservative, Longlands) was left to do that aided and abetted by Councillor John Davey (Conservative, La La Land).

The Council Leader Teresa O’Neill made some good points about the poor treatment meted out by Government to Bexley compared to neighbouring boroughs but how accurate the figures were is hard to say. She made the same speech last year but the figures were very different. Massively different, by a factor of more than three!

We already knew what the Conservative’s budget proposals were. They squeezed spending so hard last year that they saved more money than they expected and they are going to spend it on nice things over the coming two years. After that it will be all gone.

They are portraying the extra money they stole from us last year as a populist gift to the borough over the forthcoming election period. No one should be fooled by it.

ProtestThe opposition spelled out some of the figures. It has already been agreed that spending on Adult Social Care will be slashed in the coming year by £3,378,000, a figure that rises to nearly £8m. by 2020/21.

Street cleaning suffers a similar fate. £348,000 cut from the budget in 2017/18 and even more in every following year. What Councillor Craske has been bragging about is a reduction in those cuts - due to last year’s underspend - which he presents as increased expenditure. He’s the consummate expert in his trade isn’t he? The perfect spin doctor.

The Labour group made similar points about the staffing budget too which included the loss of live CCTV monitoring. They also pointed out that the welcome abolition of funeral charges for minors was a Greenwich Council initiative and as the Eltham Crematorium is under joint Bexley/Greenwich control, Bexley had little option but to follow suit.

The Labour opposition wanted the money saved last year to be directed towards Adults’ Social Care and not trees and a “Street Scrubber” as the Tories called their fancy new machine.

“Do what is right and not what might be popular” was the Labour message but nobody took any notice of Councillor Mabel Ogundayo (Labour, Thamesmead East) who voiced it.

Street Scrubber? Now why does that make me wish I had not taken the above picture?

That’s it for today, the Blackwall Tunnel calls. Wish me luck.

 

1 March (Part 3) - Abbey Wood road chaos may become the norm

If you have driven north of Brampton Road over the past two weeks you will know that the traffic congestion has been constantly horrendous due to one small hole in the ground outside Sainsbury’s.

You presumably think it can’t go on for much longer and maybe you are right if you are only thinking about the hole, but road chaos is likely to carry on until August, August 2018 that is.

Next Monday Bexley Council will start to tear the Harrow Manorway flyover apart. FM Conway have already set up camp.
Conway's Camp

Conway’s Harrow Manorway camp. You would think they might have put down a plastic ground protector.
The grass will be wrecked.

If you think Network Rail can mess up your life by fiddling around with the railway track just wait until there is a full scale attack on the road network.

Click image below for the six page brochure. There is an explanatory letter too.
Harrow Manorway
This is a joint Greenwich and Bexley project masterminded by Bexley Council.

Press Release.

 

1 March (Part 2) - Double yellow hazard

Fly tipping Fly tippingIt was really disappointing that after Cabinet Member Peter Craske hyped us up with his promise of determined action against fly tippers and what he called Tossers that his right hand man Steve Didsbury ignored the clear photographic and video evidence against someone caught in the act.

At the same site where Council bins are abused stand two vans. They are parked against a fence which was painted so long ago that it needs to be done again. The lack of fence paint behind the vans indicates how long they have been there. They are covered with algae and are used by the same man who Steve Didsbury decided to ignore.

The vans are on private land and used as a storage facility for the owner’s building company. Look closely and you can see the vans are crammed full of wood and junk.

The builder doesn’t live nearby, he has simply discovered a handy spot to dump two old wrecks which no one other than a few residents care about. Bexley Council is unconcerned because the vans do not stand on its land and the managing agent (Centro Ltd) similarly ignores their presence.

An impasse! Maybe someone should report the vans to the fire brigade. Crammed full of wood with more underneath they must be a a potential fire hazard.

Fly tipping Fly tipping Fly tipping Fly tipping

 

1 March (Part 1) - A really nice pot hole

Pot hole Pot holeSomeone at Bexley Council is really good at responding to reports of potholes, I think that the job of inspecting roads has gone and is now left to members of the public.

This little beauty came out of nowhere a couple of weeks ago, at least I hadn’t noticed it until my tiny wheel hit it with one hell of a wallop.

It’s at the end of Florence Road near Abbey Wood station at the railway end. Buses and large vehicles go over it several times an hour. It can only get worse.

 

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