Councillor Val Clark is the only Bexley Council meeting Chairman who
persists with asking members of the public if they wish to record the meeting,
why I do not know, because the law has said that permission must be granted for
the past four years. Maybe it makes her feel important.
The main item on last Thursday’s planning agenda was the plan for BexleyCo to build on the two Wilde Road open spaces, in effect Bexley’s left hand was asking Bexley’s right hand if it was OK to concrete over more parks and naturally enough the left hand was recommending that the right approve it.
It’s a cunning device that allows Bexley Tories to claim just before an election that they are not selling parks after all, but don’t be fooled. They are going to build on their own land and dispose of the houses a year or so down the line. They were crowing loudly that 50% of them will be affordable however before you cheer too loudly you should know that means no more than six. However to be fair that is infinitely more than Bexley Council usually achieves.
The planning application is for two buildings, each providing one three bedroom, one single bedroom and four two bedroom units. Twelve dwellings in total necessitating the removal of twelve trees.
The first resident to speak against the proposal was Mr. Chris Brown who made the most of his allotted three minutes by speaking quickly and concentrating on how existing residents will lose amenities that were considered essential when their houses were built.
The existing houses comprise 267 dwellings with four open spaces and play areas. The original planning application was approved with conditions one of which was that two acres of open space must be retained for residents’ use and integrated into the landscape for “use at all times”. The current proposals would allow for the retention of only one small play area and the open spaces would be lost.
Another resident, Viv Waters, showed photographs of the narrow overcrowded roads which serve the area, packed solid with parked cars and the only free passage being via the footpath. Bexley Council had surveyed for possible traffic problems at 4 a.m. and concluded that there were none. Not long ago their own report had stated that the peak traffic time was 9 a.m.
Only six parking spaces, one for disabled use only, are to be provided for the occupants of 24 bedrooms. Will they include charging points for the electric cars that the Mayor seeks to encourage? Average car ownership in nearby roads is currently very nearly two per dwelling.
Bexley’s own planning man then spoke in favour of the application his main point being the provision of 50% affordable housing, ten times Bexley’s target figure. To accompanying laughter he said the new buildings would have no impact on adjoining residents. He dismissed out of hand the question of the open spaces being Assets of Community Value as dogs could be walked elsewhere and the provision of six more affordable homes must “significantly out value” the negative impact on the area.
Another of Bexley’s men praised the decision “not to sell the land to a private developer whose main aim would be to maximise profit”. Developing in-house would allow Bexley “to contribute to the Mayor’s housing target”.
“The development would not have a negative parking effect. There is spare capacity in the surrounding roads.”
Councillor Peter Reader (Conservative, Northumberland Heath) made a formal presentation to the Committee which revealed that he was not against building on the two open spaces but “had serious concerns about car parking and traffic movements”. Unlike the previous speaker armed only with theory he had been to take a look at the situation himself. “It is a very tight site indeed.” To access the estate, he had had to drive over the footpaths himself. Parking provision “will be totally inadequate. It is a big big issue”.
Councillor Danny Hackett (Labour, Lesnes Abbey) spoke at some length about the conditions imposed (the open spaces and play areas) by the 1995 application. However his efforts served only to prove that planning conditions (in perpetuity, at all times etc.) count for nothing if Bexley Council wishes to ride rough shod over everything and everybody - residents especially. The Head of Planning actually said that conditions imposed in perpetuity are only good until another planning application overrides them. So they are totally worthless, right?
When Councillor Hackett asked for confirmation of some things within the planning officer’s report the Chairman said she was sure that they would not say anything that wasn’t true thereby provoking peals of hollow laughter. Every Twitter user and BiB reader knows that much of what Bexley Council says isn’t true.
When he asked the simple question “had legal advice been sought?” about overturning the conditions the answer was a long time coming. When it did it was “No”.
Councillor John Waters (Conservative, Danson Park) said that “everything he [Danny Hackett] said was irrelevant”. However he too was concerned about parking especially as public transport availability in the area was “absolutely minimal”. The Council Officer - the same one who said that Tesco in Northumberland Heath would not cause traffic congestion - accepted that he had used car ownership data from 2011. He continued to deny that parking was a significant problem.
Councillor Waters did not appear to be convinced by any of it, he had seen the problems for himself. The plan will “exacerbate the problem” and he was the first Councillor to suggest deferring the application.
Councillor Brenda Langstead (Labour, North End) pointed out that the provision of balconies in the proposed blocks “compromised privacy” considerations and did not conform to Council policy. “The Council as both applicant and determinant is willing to breach its own policies to maximise its profit.” Also the development fell short of policy regarding amenity areas. “How will we be able to refuse similar applications in future?”
The Council Officer said that amenity space was available not too far away. “It was a question of balance.”
Councillor Colin Tandy (Conservative, St. Mary’s) was concerned about the bats that roost in the area and the distance between the two blocks which “looked a long way” on the artist’s impression but “didn’t on the plan”. Surely no one would stoop to cheating?
Such was the depth of the Planning Officer’s knowledge that it took more than a minute to find the answer. They are 20 metres apart. There is a road and two hedges between them. No one knew much about bats. There is “potential” for them but “there would be a biodiversity net gain”. Don’t ask me how.
Councillor David Leaf (Conservative, Longlands) was complimentary about the submissions made by residents but in his customary way was critical of Councillor Hackett. The Chairman asked him to show some respect. Councillor Leaf also had concerns about car parking provision.
Councillor Brian Bishop (Conservative, Colyers) was concerned about parking and the height of the building compared to its neighbours. The new blocks are just over 12 metres tall; no one had thought to check on the height of its neighbours so Councillor Bishop’s question went unanswered..
Councillor John Davey (Conservative, Crayford) said “we need affordable houses but there is not an awful lot on this site and I do not think there is sufficient for the problems they will cause”. He was not happy with the parking, the loss of trees and most of all the loss of open spaces. “The character of Bexley completely changes when you start eliminating the open spaces” said the man who voted to sell Old Farm Park. “For that reason alone I will vote against it.” Not quite the same degree of devastation caused by Adolph Hitler presumably, but maybe close.
Councillor Alan Downing (Conservative, St. Mary’s) got to the heart of the matter when he said if anyone else had proposed the plans for Wilde Road "would we pass this?" Referring to parking issues and amenity space he said “we would not normally pass it. If I lived there I would be very very annoyed”.
“Forget who’s applying, we have two applications here. There is not enough community space, we don’t want balconies - they are horrible, there is not enough space for parking. Would we sit here on a normal evening and say yes I approve or would we say no I refuse it? Something is not quite right with this.” He backed deferral of the application.
Despite Councillor Downing’s concerns on several fronts the Chairman redefined the deferral as being to reconsider parking issues and that was approved unanimously. Councillor Hackett’s recommendation that the application be rejected outright was not accepted but by what margin was not clear. Proving her credentials as a poor Chairman Councillor Val Clark failed to announce the result but the webcast, straying yet again from impartial Chairmanship, reveals that she helped to vote Councillor Hackett’s proposal down.
It is believed that five Councillors out of 15 voted to reject the application but there may have been some abstentions.
Bexley’s Planning Committee considered their own application to
build houses on the green spaces in Wilde Road yesterday evening. The only thing going for
the plan is that six homes will be so called affordable. A drop in the ocean while 7,000 Bexley
families wait for social housing. When the Committee has considered
might have made a real difference to the numbers they approved none.
It is of course unusual for Bexley Council to be asking permission of itself to go ahead with a plan of which no member of the public approves and apparently has no more than lukewarm support even from the Conservative Councillors one expects to obediently toe the party line. Maybe there is an election around the corner.
The 90 minutes of debate deserves a proper report but there will not be one here just yet as I have to be away all day, the second funeral this week. However the News Shopper’s reporter Tom Bull was at the meeting scribbling away furiously in his shorthand book so presumably he will have something on their website later today.
What struck me most was that the residents who spoke against the plan did so eloquently and effectively while the Council officers showed themselves to be less than competent. Presumably they are OK at analysing other people’s proposals but when it comes to proper planning work they may be politely described as hopeless.
The major issue according to Tory Councillors was not the loss of the green space or the fact that the two new blocks are out of keeping with their neighbours but the fact that there will be only six parking spaces (one disabled) for 24 bedrooms of accommodation. Wilde Road is as far removed from public transport as it is possible to get within London but the planning officers repeatedly trotted out the nonsense that car ownership would be low.
Of the 15 Councillors in attendance only five voted to reject the plan but they were unanimous in a decision to kick the decision into the long grass - if they can find any unsold.
The Labour Group has promised to abandon the Tory plans to build over parks if they become the majority party next May.
As stated yesterday Bexley Council is shortly to lose a lot of its
Councillors, 18 of them. Maybe there will be more, replaced by new faces.
As has been said before, Bexley Council appears to have cleaned up its act considerably in recent years. If you can be bothered to read back through blogs for 2010 and 2011 you will find a staggering amount of dishonesty and occasional criminal activity reported. Maybe I am an optimist but I think we have seen the worst of it and while we will no doubt continue to see political lies, blatant law breaking will remain a thing of the past.
To that end, as some sort of olive branch, the blogs that have provided every last detail of suspect or even reprehensible Councillor activity has been progressively removed, especially those which relate to Councillors who will no longer be with us come next May.
This is very much a manual process and the job is not complete but within the next month it should be.
The most critical comment relating to Councillors who remain but appear to have reformed has also been modified. The derogatory description of Councillor Leader O’Neill suggested to me by one of her own colleagues has already gone - assuming I haven’t missed one.
In only seven weeks time there will be new Councillors in Bexley who will need to be trained in the weird ways of Councillors.
Here is an extract from the ‘induction course’ kindly sent to me by one of the 2010 intake.
When first becoming a Councillor one must be aware of a website called BEXLEY IS BONKERS. It is run by MALCOLM KNIGHT and is anti-Bexley Borough Council.
As councillors you must not look at the website to prevent its ratings being boosted.
The website is so well known within Bexley Borough Council that we have blocked it from being viewed on computers within the Civic Offices.
From what I have heard it is blocked in libraries too.
The extract was provided in writing above a signature but it may not be true, it did after all come from a Tory Councillor. Bonkers was not barred in the Civic Offices until April 2011.
Most days, not necessarily all day, access to my drive is bIocked by moronic parking and Crossrail has not even started yet!
This van has managed to block me twice this week. End on parking overlapping a dropped kerb by quite a margin. A couple of weeks ago a delivery vehicle attempting the near impossible access knocked my wall down and ripped its tyre open.
Do you think Bexley Council would be willing to do something about it? No, neither do I. In my experience their parking enforcement team takes days to respond.
Where’s the refund?
The snow went 13 days ago and a week later Bexley Council said its waste collection service was still running a day late which was entirely understandable. However what isn't acceptable is missing collections over a wide area as they have here in Belvedere and not reacting to residents complaints.
Brown bin collection is a whole week late.
Bin collection is a paid service in Bexley and if they take the money they should deliver that service like any other provider would be expected to do.
Note: My garden waste bin was emptied on 17th March. Only mine, all the others along the road are still waiting. Not one iota of sense on display.
The police on hate
Chilling isn’t it?
More than once I have been told by Bexley Council employees that senior Council officials and Councillors “absolutely hate you”.
I suppose it must be true.
Is that why Councillors have three times reported me to the police for harassment? For threatening arson, for revealing personal details of a minor, for issuing threats and using derogatory language, none of which was anything like true.
However it seems there is a remedy. “Even if you haven’t committed a crime, you may have committed a crime.” (© Old Holborn X on Twitter.)
The Metropolitan Police says the Councillor’s reasons for making up such hateful nonsense are criminal.
I have already written to the police once this week with an allegation of criminal behaviour by a Bexley Councillor. Maybe if I have a spare moment next week
month ago Bexley Council announced that it had
applied for a grant to provide public buildings with Gigabyte internet
connections. In other words it is not for you, not yet anyway.
The initiative has been given wide publicity in the technical press. Click image for source website.
Perhaps of greater general interest is that the Council wants its planned 31,000 new homes to have a choice of ultra-fast internet providers. Since it will be up to 30 years before those homes arrive maybe Gigabyte fibre internet will be very much old technology by then.
Think Broadband report.
Council Press Release.