It seems like a long time ago now that Bexley Council announced its intention
to sell 27 parks and open spaces but refused to tell anyone which of them they had in
mind. It wasn’t until one of the few Cabinet Members with a conscience felt it prick and
read out a list at a Scrutiny meeting that the public got to know anything.
Alex Sawyer (it’s not his responsibility any more) said he needed to sell them in order to raise the money necessary to maintain the remaining parks, otherwise they would turn into jungles. The story seemed far fetched at the time and more than three years later with none of the parks sold and the remaining parks still In reasonable shape it seems even more like Project Fear.
Over time the 27 were whittled down to six - or maybe it’s four, it’s difficult to keep up - and they are no longer listed as being for sale but are instead being transferred to BexleyCo who will build and sell the houses. Despite the deception perpetrated in the Tories’ election manifesto it amounts to the same thing. Money into Bexley Council’s coffers and nowhere to walk your dog.
The problem that might arise with that, BexleyCo being Bexley Council by another name, is that Bexley will expect to make its own proposals to build on its own land and grant itself its own permission. Difficult enough for any Council to be seen to be totally transparent in such a situation, near impossible for a Council more akin to the proverbial nine bob note.
And so it nearly proved with the first sites to go through the process, the two open spaces in Wilde Road. It seems likely that someone in a high position thought they could get away with whatever they liked as Bexley Council does most things but no one predicted that the Planning Committee might play by the rules. Bexley’s own plan broke very nearly all of them.
Professional planning officers must know those rules inside out and I bet they knew they were skating on very thin ice. Either that or they are incompetent and I have seen no reason to suspect that in the past - except that their traffic forecasts are usually suspect.
So here we are four years after Bexley Council told us that parks would become jungles if they didn’t sell 27 and none have been sold. If there was a shred of truth in the original story someone should be panicking by now and maybe they are. A public squabble has broken out on Twitter.
However let’s step back four months to a time before the Council elections.
At that time Wilde Road was in a ward represented by three Councillors, Peter Reader, Melvin Seymour and Philip Read. Several other Councillors objected to the proposal but of the three ward Councillors only Peter Reader made a formal presentation at the March planning meeting in support of residents. The not normally shy Philip Read did a disappearing act and as you know the planning application was deferred pending improvements.
The residents group are not aware that Read did any work behind the scenes.
It was the Conservative Cabinet’s decision to build in Wilde Road and Philip Read voted for it. The detail of the proposals have been available for many months and Philip Read gave no indication that he had misgivings about the original plans but now that the improved plan has been rejected unanimously Philip Read is trying to rewrite history.
According to him it is the Tories who were successful in supporting local residents’ “opposition to inappropriate development” and “no Labour Councillor objected”.
What nonsense, it was Labour Councillor Nicola Taylor who seconded the vote to refuse the application.
Facing both ways at once the hapless Read is now claiming on the one hand that Labour can take no credit for the rejection but also that the residents’ group which overturned the Cabinets’ ambitions is fronted by one or more Labour party activists. How confused/stupid can one man be?
But don’t take my word for it, have a look at some of what has been kicked around Twitter in recent days.
Note: Displayed in a convenient format for web use and because of that not every one is in sequence. However the messages should give a flavour of what has been said.
If you get to the end you will see that having lost the argument - and the vote - with the resident’s group Councillor Read blocks them and prevents further discussion. The action of a coward.
During her address to the Committee, Mrs. Waters on behalf of the residents’ group thanked Teresa Pearce MP for her help and assistance and for submitting her own personal objection to Bexley Council’s plans. The MP’s letter of objection is reproduced below.
The estate is very busy with vehicular traffic and from personal experience I am aware that it can at times be near grid lock at school imes with residents unable to leave or enter the estate. It is not uncommon for vehicles to drive up on to the pavement to navigate the parked cars. Even outside of these times it is often impossible to find a parking space, a problem which will be exacerbated by any further esidential development.
This planning application is for 12 units, but with what appears to be insufficient parking spaces. Whilst it would be ideal to assume that residents would choose to use public transport rather than cars, this area is not well served by buses and is some distance from the nearest railway station. As such, I believe that the impact of more vehicles, especially with it not being uncommon for households to have more than one car will be very negative indeed.
The style of these proposed buildings are also in my opinion not in keeping with the existing dwellings on the estate. Currently the area feels quite open and this is due largely to these two pieces of land being open and green and creating a sense of space in what is already a densely built up area.
The original planning of this estate also included the provision that these two pieces of land be kept, one as an enclosed area which is frequently used by dog walkers or people with small children to keep them safe and the other as an open green community space.
The loss of these two spaces will in my opinion be detrimental to those iving on this estate.”
But Councillor Read continues to assert that it was the Tories who defeated their own proposal without Labour assistance.
Just who does he think he is kidding?
Last night’s Planning Committee meeting to reconsider Bexley Council’s own
plan to transfer the two Wilde Road open spaces to their subsidiary company
BexleyCo and wreck the local environment by building all over it was weird to
say the least, or maybe just a money-wasting fisaco.
Back in March Councillors were not enthusiastic about the scheme for a variety of reasons, but traffic and transport figured largely, however they lacked the courage to reject it outright. Councillor Danny Hackett proposed that they should do so but Committee Chairman Val Clark was having none of it; according to her the scheme was not that bad.
The Committee eventually asked for some of their reservations to be addressed. Last night the new and improved plan was put before the Committee again and Councillor Clark - not chairing the meeting this time - did not say a word in its support. Weird when she was not against a rather worse scheme four months ago.
Since March the six flats have been given two extra parking spaces, a three bed unit has become a one bed unit and the building height has been reduced, so things are much better now, right?
Well apparently not. There was not even one Committee Member who could find any redeeming features at all. No one stepped forward to propose its acceptance, not even Councillor Val Clarke who had previously thought a few tweaks here and there might do the trick.
The objecting residents, as always, were ably led by Chris Brown. I understand he had help from Labour Leader Daniel Francis and his Conservative ward Councillor John Fuller but he was perhaps helped most of all by Bexley’s Planning Officers who, presumably directed by their Dear Leader, had broken just about every bit of Bexley’s Planning guidance. Maybe their hearts were not in it and they were under duress because they managed to appear incompetent several times.
Chris, as in March, galloped through his catalogue of transport based objections in order to fit them all in to his allotted four minutes.
The existing development has one parking space per dwelling and there was a covenant about street parking because the roads were very narrow. Increased car ownership has inevitably seen that stipulation fall by the wayside. It is on the record that Bexley has known of the problems for at least twelve years and done nothing about them and now they plan to make the situation worse.
A recent survey has shown vehicle ownership in the area to have risen close to two per household and the school within the estate has doubled in size putting further pressure on the roads. School staff can no longer park on site and now add to the street congestion as do the third of pupils delivered by car. The nearby public car park has been closed. None of these facts are mentioned in the official planning report. It does however recommend parking on corners in contravention of the Highway Code and cars are shown parking nose to tail with no room to manoeuvre. No allowance is made for the accommodation of larger trade vehicles rather than cars.
As is often the case in my own road there can be insufficient room to turn into drive ways because of cars parked opposite. Under the proposed plans some vehicles would have to negotiate bends on the wrong side of the road. “With so many policies ignored and failed, is this the standard Bexley wishes to set?”
Another resident. Mrs. Viv Waters took a different tack and took the opportunity to thank Teresa Pearce, MP for Erith & Thamesmead for he support and assiatnce.
She said the new street scene would not be in keeping with the surrounding area and suggested instead “a couple of semi-detached houses that would blend in”. She pointed out that the plan was based on the standards pertaining to main roads and those in question were certainly nothing of the kind.
Agreed standards were also breached by the close proximity of adjacent walls and windows and the building density per hectare and the report strays towards untruthfulness when it says “the site is within a reasonable walking distance of public transport” when TfL classes it as being in the very worst category for transport accessibility. “This application blatantly fails to meet Bexley’s own Planning Guidelines.”
Mrs. Jenny Turner the Planning Agent spoke in favour of the plans, she said the six proposed dwellings would help to tackle “the significant housing needs”. She had been working on the scheme for the past eighteen months to provide the housing “and protect neighbours”.
She said that all local and national policy requirements were met and the buildings were “sympathetic to the local character”. Someone at this meeting must be fibbing, but who?
There was no mention whatever of the transport issues which were of such concern to residents and offered the opinion that six new homes, three affordable, outweighed the impact on several hundreds of existing residents. I felt a bit sorry for Mrs. Turner as she walked off, hers was a very unconvincing performance.
Bexley’s Planning Officer was no better. He was “confident” that parking provision was “sufficient. It is not used by teachers”. He was also confident that the remaining open space was sufficient too.
Councillor John Fuller spoke in support of residents. He made some new points.
The traffic survey did not allow for growth, young people now drive cars. The new buildings might generate another 17 cars.
When he visited last week there were only two free parking spaces on the entire estate.
Various access points were near impossible to negotiate.
School expansion had increased first year pupil numbers by 30 but four years of the new stream has seen that figure increase to 120. At 08:30 traffic is impossible. “Wilde Road will soon become a wild road.”
The images of the proposed houses were selective and deceptive and failed to show the entire street scene. “The view now is OK but in the future it will be just brick walls. Residents will just have a mass sitting in front of them. Couldn’t something sympathetic have been put there? Semi-detached houses perhaps with long drives that actually blend in. Let’s enhance the area and keep people happy.”
Committee Members were then invited to speak but there was silence for six seconds, none seemed especially keen to have their say, however Councillor Slaughter (Conservative, Sidcup) remarking on there being “no rush to step in” decided to “start off”.
She had been to Wilde Road and had “thought what a pleasant looking site this was. The trees are there and maturing nicely and they are obviously going to go”. She wanted to know what would be going in their place.
“What will be the effect of the proposed development on the balconies at the rear of Byron Drive? Seems to me they will look straight into the windows of the east block flats.”
“Time and time we are told of the sufficiency of parking but time and time again we know from experience that the proposals are simply unrealistic. I know what the Mayor of London wants to do but it defies reason.”
The area is “very attractive but the roads are very small and I can imagine at busy times how bad the situation is”. The parking proposals are “an absolute nonsense”.
“The design [of the proposed buildings] is terribly bland and does nothing to enhance the area whereas the existing houses are very attractive properties.”
Speaking of housing density she said “we are trying to cram in numbers which I do not think the site supports. The amenity space is frankly miserable. Just look at it, there is no real amount of amenity space, you can’t really say that [the bits around the edge] is amenity space. It’s not somewhere you could take a chair and read a book. Amenity space is not an optional extra.” We are told that “the proposals do not fully meet policy. They don’t meet policy, they don’t meet the policy and we shouldn’t be approving a development where amenity space is less than the minimum that we consider should be there. When we see that flats on the upper floors do not have any private amenity space I think What Are We Doing?”.
“I applaud the provision of affordable housing and we need to do it but we shouldn’t do it where the density is so great that it is likely to become the social problem of the future. The amenity space is miserable, it is not sufficient and I do not think we should approve this. I am terribly disappointed with what has come forward”.
A planning officer said that ten trees would be removed, a figure which proved to be wrong. There are twelve. He said the distance from the balcony to the new development was 21 metres. It is actually 20, he said so at the previous meeting.
Councillor Nicola Taylor (Labour, Erith) spoke next. She queried the claim that the social housing provision exceeded requirements. “My understanding is that Council land has to have 50% and not 35 and therefore it doesn’t exceed.”
The Council officer responded by saying that the eastern block is the affordable block “and our local target for affordable housing is 35% but the London Plan encourages 50%”. The audience corrected the Council officer, it is the western block which is affordable.
Councillor Taylor referred to the loss of a play area required by the 1995 application “so what guarantees are there that the seven pages of conditions on this application will be enforced”. The 1995 conditions were not enforced, “it is the local authority policing itself and with this application we have seen how the authority negotiates with itself. We need transparency.”
“I see the need for affordable housing and we need additional social housing but we are talking of only six units and the report says that is significant and only one property meets the London Plan [space] definition for affordable homes. We have over 2,000 people in temporary accommodation, [at this rate] it will take over 200 years to clear.”
Wilde Road residents were, she said “paying the price of the Council’s failure” to provide sufficient affordable housing on other sites such as the old Civic Centre.
“We condemn garden grabbing but for the flats around there it [the open space] is their garden. If it is not acceptable to build on one family’s garden why is it acceptable to build on the gardens of many many more?”
The Council officer excused the failure to enforce the 1995 conditions “they were made quite some time ago, the new terms here would be enforced but maybe not in perpetuity.”
No other Committee Member wished to speak, so Chairman Peter Reader added a few words. He was in favour of “the development of these two sites but the right development of these two sites. My main concern is the highway issues. The statistics offered are not enough to make me change my mind”.
“Sometimes we have to step back and think about residents and the problems they do have”. (What? Only sometimes?)
“I am not happy that what we have here convinces me that we have resolved the highways issues or that we ever can do to be quite honest. I have no compunction in saying that I cannot support the application.”
“We do however need to vote on the application for approval because that is our procedure, do I have a a proposer and seconder?” The Chairman did not, instead the Committee voted to reject, proposed and seconded by the cross party alliance of Councillors Slaughter and Taylor.
June Slaughter proposed rejection, Nicola Taylor (Labour) seconded and they were backed by every Committee Member.
Note that Chairman Reader does not vote unlike when Councillor Clark is in the Chair. If it was not for her double voting the Eastside eye sore would not have been approved.
Wow! how much has that farce cost the taxpayer?
For eighteen months or more the Planning Officers, no doubt under the watchful eye of Council Leader Teresa O’Neill, employed agents and experts to cobble together a plan which broke many of their own rules only to see the Planning Committee honourably stand their ground and refuse to accept the recommendation to approve it. Twice! An application which if submitted by a private individual would not have progressed beyond stage one.
The waste of money should surely be investigated as should the possibility of undue pressure being applied to Planning officers who so often seemed to be out of their depth when questioned. A sure sign that thay were uneasy about the whole sorry thing.
But for now rejoice for the residents of Wilde Road and Byron Drive. They have won a major victory. Will it be permanent?
Something else that needs investigating is Cabinet Member Philip Read. As soon as his Cabinet’s favourite BexleyCo had in effect been kicked in the teeth on its first outing he was busy trying to make out on Twitter that defeat was victory. However isn’t it going a bit too far to claim that the Labour Councillor who seconded the rejection proposal was not objecting to it? He is just a pathetic fool isn’t he, or as my companion at the planning meeting said, “totally unprofessional”.
Well that was a turn up for the books; after resident Chris Brown forensically
examined the down sides of building on the Wilde Road open space and a pathetic -
I burst out laughing at one stage - performance by Council Officers and their agent, not a
single Councillor spoke in favour of the shockingly poor proposal.
Councillor John Fuller’s (Conservative, Northumberland Heath) objections brilliantly hit exactly the right note and his performance was followed by an excoriating attack by Councillor June Slaughter (Conservative, Sidcup). After that the plans stood no chance and it was unanimously rejected.
Full report at the weekend I hope.
And what happened to the promised report on Kent Police’s rejection of my complaint in connection with a certain Councillor’s harassment allegation because I did what any news reporter might have done; reveal the result of a Court case? I’m afraid it fell victim to a demanding old lady in need of help and an inconvenient IT failure.
Suffice to say at this stage that Kent Police still believe it was in the public interest to charge me with harassment. Needless to say their failure to investigate any part of the statement that led to that charge was in their view entirely correct. No one did anything wrong at all - except me.
What a surprise!
There is a good chance that I will upset all my Labour supporting friends
today as well as a good few Tories, but as long as one in particular isn’t happy, it has to be good.
I currently find some of the things Labour Party officials nationally are saying to be absolutely reprehensible and find it difficult to understand how so many people who I know to be very decent individuals can remain members. I suppose they do so to fight from the inside; although not all do. My daughter’s partner phoned this afternoon to update me on his pursuit of the corrupt police officers who are implicated in the murder of his brother, but more to the point, he has resigned his membership of the Labour Party.
Reprehensible people do of course exist in all walks of life which brings me to Councillor Philip Read’s recent Twitterings.
He has been goading Councillor Daniel Francis into condemning the anti-Semitic Peter Willsman and for some reason Daniel has not yet clearly done so. I suppose, just as I do myself, he considers that it is not always worth answering every single one of Read’s allegations. He will regard it as encouragement and take his juvenile argument to the next step.
However Councillor Read will never be able to take the high ground and win such a debate outright because he and his ilk have a history. A history steeped in hypocrisy.
Take a look at Read’s most recent Tweet.
It has been reported here before that Daniel has been on the receiving end of some choice language from Bexley’s Tories. Not to put too fine a point on it he was called a C at a Council meeting. Now he has made discrete references to Tory Councillors who use the N word and the P word - which of several I am not sure.
Read challenged him to say who used such language. “Make clear to whom you were referring. Failure to do so is just rank cowardice.”
How ironic is that? How many times has Read and his dubious friends @bexleynews referred to ‘Labour supporters’ and a ‘sad old blogger’ who have supposedly condemned Conservative initiatives. The Belvedere Splash Park, the new Civic Offices, street trees and probably more that I have forgotten.
I have usually come to believe that the imagined Labour Supporter to be a reference to myself and I have challenged the Tories to be more specific with their identification but they never have, not once.
But we have it from the horse’s mouth that such reticence is “rank cowardice”. The Conservative allegations differ however from Daniel’s, the former, if they do indeed refer to myself, are definitely untrue whilst Councillor Francis’ accounts most probably are.
You can be absolutely certain that he didn’t make up the following little gem from the Twitter archives.
Three See You Next Tuesdays and a Dickhead plus an implied punch in the mouth for good measure.
Nice people we have running Bexley Council.
If you have the stamina for it most of the Read/Francis Twitter exchange may be seen by clicking the first of the two Tweet images.
By the way, five years ago Bexley Conservatives were asked to recognise and welcome ethnic diversity and stand against “Racism and xenophobia”. Every Conservative Councillor apart from Peter Catterall refused to do so. Peter was drummed out the following year and is no longer a Conservative Councillor.