A week or so ago Councillor Craske was heavily trailing the next Cabinet Meeting on Twitter which he thought would interest members of the public more than usual. He encouraged residents to attend because he had important things to say.
Six or seven believed him and spent an hour and a half in the Council Chamber. I expected to witness another of Peter Craske’s magic shows where he tries to convince everyone that a budget cut is a really good deal that will improve all our lives. A street cleaning machine, 200 trees etc. to brag about while skating over the fact that he cut the cleaning budget and not long ago was arguing that the Council was right to plant no trees at all.
So I sat there expectantly waiting for something new to be announced but disappointed because everything sounded very familiar. Was the Cabinet Member for Environment and Leisure showing another sign of advancing Alzheimer’s? Had he forgotten he’d said it all before? Was Bexley Council regurgitating last year’s plans coupled with a handful of ideas from Bexley Labour’s 2014 manifesto? It turned out to be a reasonable assumption.
However before the great man was able to demonstrate his powers of persuasion and deception we were required to listen to Council Leader Teresa O’Neill and Director Paul Moore. The Leader said that Bexley’s growth plan was heavily dependent on using brown field sites for housing and that Sadiq Khan was proving to be a fly in the ointment by disallowing that change of use. Bexley expects him to be won over.
Paul Moore said he had seen Bexley’s growth plans come and go since 1990 but this was the best so far. The platitudes continued for five and a half minutes. Mr. Moore had invented the hashtag BrilliantBexley, the plan is “great timing and it has been a great privilege to work with colleagues”.
“Bexley has great energy and the plan is a focal point and landmark moment. It is a framework for policy and investment.” The extension of Crossrail was of course assumed but quite how it could be achieved was not given a mention.
“It [the Growth Strategy] gives Bexley a sense of purpose and direction” which is definitely nice to know after the dithering of the past ten years.
Cabinet Member Linda Bailey thought the growth documents were easy to read and encouraged residents to read them. She looks forward to “managed growth”. Not just houses but support infrastructure too. She was justifiably wary of the London Mayor’s response. She will be “keeping an eye on him”.
Cabinet Member Philip Read said the plan was “imaginative exciting and positive”. He saw life in Bexley as an idyllic oasis in a sea of disharmony where “irrespective of background, colour or religion all residents will view themselves as an integral part of ‘One Bexley’ where barriers between groups of people disappear and there are no isolated inward looking sections of our community and all are integrated together with equal opportunities, rights and responsibilities”. He seems to have converted to Socialism if not a step further left than that.
Cabinet Member Don Massey said the plan was “bright and colourful and an excellent document; a great document”.
At last Peter the Great was allowed to speak.
The plan was “an altruistic vision”. “Belvedere Beach was really really popular.” Hang on, wasn’t that last year’s plan? “Lesnes Abbey is now complete”, a three year old plan funded by English Heritage. and “since July it has seen 198,000 visitors”.
How does one measure that in a park with ten entrances?
“Hall Place has had 100,000 visitors since April.” We are asked to believe that an attraction with a massive free car park receives four times the visitor flow of one with very little free parking and where commuters take up most of it, free and otherwise, by 7 a.m. weekdays. Oh well. If Councillor Craske says so.
The tree planting which he was so sure was unnecessary back in 2013 has restarted (as part of the election campaign?)
Street cleaning has been improved by revenue raising litter wardens and better waste bins. Street cleaning complaint levels are reduced.
Nothing Councillor Craske said was about the Growth Strategy but nevertheless he backed it totally. Basically his speech was out of date and irrelevant bragging if not twaddle. And we were all supposed to show up and waste our evening for that?
Usually Cabinet Member Alex Sawyer talks more sense and referred to Crossrail and “its importance to the Growth Strategy”.
“We make our [Crossrail] case forcefully and consistently because once in a generation the opportunity arises to change lives and those of generations to come.”
Sorry to tell you Alex but that opportunity arose ten years ago and Bexley Council fluffed it. Teresa Pearce MP spoke up for Crossrail in Parliament but Bexley Council simply wasn’t interested. Not a word about it at any Council meeting.
Labour Leader Daniel Francis (Belvedere) was generous in his praise for the Growth Strategy. He said it was “a Manifesto document” and he “was delighted to see the Conservatives steal our clothes, or rather policies”.
He offered his support but expressed concerns on “how the community could be brought with us“. So have I. How many of us want to see a tower block on every corner? And why do you think they are to be concentrated in the Northern territories?
It’s because tower blocks might bring left leaning voters to the borough and we cannot have Labour gaining a foothold in the genteel wards to the south can we?
The Growth Strategy was approved, what else did you expect?