Sunday, August 13, 2017

The Lighthouse opens.


The photos above were taken at the Erith Lighthouse launch party on Thursday evening, to which I was invited. The event marked the start of special pop - up restaurants, social activities and other community events that have been organised by a number of local organisations to promote creative arts and community cohesion in and around Erith, and also to promote the riverside town to the residents of other parts of the London Borough of Bexley and further afield. You can read more about the programme of events by clicking here. I was quite flattered to be issued with a press pass on my arrival at the Riverside Gardens just prior to the start of the free party. I was expecting to be able to quietly take some photographs of the event, pretty much unnoticed, but it was not to be the case - the organisers were ready and waiting for me. It was a lovely evening following the torrential rain from the day before, and a crowd of around a hundred people, including the Mayor of Bexley, a number of local councillors and Local MP Teresa Pearce were in attendance. Despite my concerns regarding the price of the pop - up restaurants over the next couple of weeks, most of the nightly bookings have already sold out, which is very encouraging.  One of the groups behind the series of events is local arts and culture commissioning group The Exchange. They have made the following announcement:- "Artist Julia Snowdin and arts group The Exchange, are looking for people to take part in some FREE workshops, suitable for all ages and abilities, to help create ‘Changing Sails’ – a new art installation that will be installed on Erith Pier in September. The workshops will take place on 17 and 18 August at Erith Library. At the workshops, participants will explore their own memories and stories of Erith, and discuss its past as pleasure resort and industrial centre. Participants will then work with Julia to create patterns and shapes that represent these stories. These shapes will then be drawn onto large ship sails, which will be hung on Erith pier in September. To book for these workshops, click here. Artist Julia Snowdin was chosen by public vote to be the first artist to reimagine the unique location of Erith Pier for the inaugural Pier Commission. Changing Sails will celebrate the ever-changing nature and dynamic history of the pier through the installation of decorated sails that will animate the space with the wind and light of the Thames. The project has been sponsored by Orbit and Wates Residential, and is organised by The Exchange – the group working with Bexley Council to reopen Erith’s Carnegie Library as a space for creativity and imagination. Caroline Field, Regeneration Manager at Orbit, said: “Having worked in partnership with Wates Residential on the regeneration of Larner Road into the award-winning Erith Park, we understand our role in place making and the role our developments can play in regenerating the wider locality and this is why we are sponsoring this fantastic event, celebrating culture and creativity in Erith. We can’t wait to see Julia’s inspired concept transform the Pier.” Paul Nicholls, Managing Director at Wates Residential South, said: “We were really impressed with the standard of entries for this Commission and delighted that we could be involved in it with our partners. I’m now really looking forward to Julia’s designs coming to fruition and bringing the Pier back to life.” London Borough of Bexley’s Cabinet Member for Regeneration and Growth, Cllr Linda Bailey said: “Congratulations to Julia for being the first artist chosen by the public to install work at our fantastic Erith Pier. What is especially exciting are her plans to involve the local community in creating this original piece. Erith has a fantastic past and an exciting future and we hope that this artwork will set the scene for all the great things happening in the town.”

This week I have had a response to the recent articles I posted in respect of the Bexley Council growth proposal. Local resident Jenni White writes:- "As a Slade Green  resident of 45 years, I feel as most local people, that we have not been well served by Bexley council so are suspicious of any new plans.  There was no scale on the map provided but I can see clearly my own home is in the transition zone.  I am very concerned about this as normally this would mean compulsory purchase. If this is not the case why have they shown my home is in orange as it lays beside the railway line. I support the leaflet issued as it was based on the information provided by Bexley and referenced back to their document throughout. Some statements made by Bexley council in their Growth Plan, I feel are are inflammatory and untrue. They aim to provide ‘the renewal of  poor quality housing’. There are many sturdy houses built in the 1950’s and railway workers cottages which are part of our industrial heritage. There may be ‘pockets’ of lower quality, but very little. They talk of a new high street of shops.  Why is this when we have opposite the station a post office cafĂ© chemist and store.  I feel it is because they want to use the current shop area and station entrance for the 15 storey blocks they propose ( a focussed cluster of towers up to 15 storeys.)This will be totally out of keeping with the area as a whole. What is proposed or promised is not what is achieved. We are to lose a ward councillor in the boundary changes. This also means a reduction in police/pcso numbers.  Why then are they planning to add 8,000 or more homes. (In this Northend ward part of Manor Road, Erith is included). Some new homes of the Growth strategy in the area have been counted into the Erith figures meaning we shall have even more homes in the ward. There is only one dual carriageway A206 Northend Road leading into Slade Green and 3 single carriage roads to bring traffic in and out of the area. When there are A206 A2 or M25 delays these roads are at a standstill. When lorries try to short cut around the A206 again there is gridlock. Pollution levels are not monitored by the Council on this road.  Over several years local NO2 testing has consistently shown levels nearing double the maximum EU levels recommended. Residents were initially consulted at the Howbury redevelopment planning. They asked for more roads, a new road was suggested to serve the site from Erith. It was not built.  The land of the Howbury centre was sold and the majority of the money generated is used not in Slade Green a designated area of deprivation, but went to finance the new town hall -£10 million of the 13 million. The community centre was shut down and a new one put in the middle of the new development with no bus service and a long walk from the original central community centre, which was opposite the bus stop. No new doctors surgery was built for the new site incomers as requested.  Already the 1 remaining surgery is full and a notice states only 1 problem per visit. I had to go outside Slade Green when the other local surgery closed years ago. This practice is now also shutting down. Other locals attend at least 2 other surgeries outside because there is no space. (Bexley has one of the worst GP to patient ratios in the whole of Greater London.)  Where are all the people from the current building phases going to go. We need more surgeries now not in 20 years’ time. The library was disposed of by the council, but a local community bid to run it was rejected. (Bexley send planning documents to its' own libraries but not now to Slade Green.)  We do not get the News Shopper delivered any more. I and people living in other roads, are still waiting for the supposed Bexley magazine which gave information about the growth strategy. I have not seen it. So we have to rely on hearsay as no channels of publication from Bexley council have reached me. The council said they were too busy to run a consultation at Slade Green in the original schedule but other areas with only a few new homes such as Sidcup and Bexleyheath got a roadshow. Only 8,000 homes proposed here, the same as Belvedere who had 2 visits from a mobile van, yet they did not have time to come to us. Parking is a major problem in the small roads. Every new site brings more cars than can be accommodated. Rainbow Road residents park in Slade Green Road. There are even people from  the Erith Park estate who are parking in Slade Green.  This is before the Egerton Place and Sportsman / football pitch plans are finalised and possible 700 more homes constructed. The roads cannot take the current volume, never mind the new areas in planning and in the Growth strategy. Network rail are proposing to run trains only to Cannon Street on the Greenwich line. Why has the council not acted to ensure we have the same level of service as the Bexley / Sidcup line. Historically we had ‘some services’ to Cannon  Street. Why should we now be restricted only to 1 London terminal, especially if there are another 8,000 new homes".  Jenni raises some interesting and thought provoking points in her piece; what do you think? Please feel free to leave a comment below, or Email me at hugh.neal@gmail.com.

There has been much controversy and bad feeling since the Belvedere Beach opened; the bad feeling seems to mainly break down into two issues. The first of these is the general feeling that some irresponsible parents are allowing their offspring to run riot in the park, trample on the newly planted flower beds, throw rubbish around and generally make life difficult for other Beach users. There has been a very vociferous and somewhat nasty talkback running on the News Shopper website for the last couple of weeks which, apart from the usual suspects - trolls that post nasty comments on pretty much every talkback on the News Shopper website. This time there were a large number of comments from people who do not usually leave comments - it would seem that feelings have been running somewhat high on the subject. The News Shopper also feature a well reasoned letter from a reader which summarises the problem pretty well:- "I visited the new Belvedere Beach on Thursday, July 27 (the opening day) and what a lovely play park it is. Bexley Council have clearly spent a lot of money and everything is very well done and thought out. What saddened me was how little respect people treat it with. I went towards the end of the first day and already the park and the playground was full of litter and bottles that had been thrown on the floor even though there were many bins in the park. I saw a young girl (no older than 10) squirting foundation make-up in the water and boys trampling all over the new plants and pulling the leaves and branches off. I also took my son again on Monday and sadly I saw much the same, with parents who seem to turn a blind eye. There is already a plastic bottle stuck in one of the wooden tubes that feeds water through the water play area. Parents please teach your children to put their own rubbish in the bins provided or clean up after them. Teach them that running all over plants means that they will die and teach them to have respect for the play equipment and their surroundings. When councils are all having massive funding cuts why should they have to keep paying for others to clean the litter and keep repairing equipment that just shouldn’t be broken or ruined in the first place? When the council decides not to funds new playgrounds and shuts things down you will only have yourselves to blame". Several other News Shopper readers make similar observations, some with rather more salty language, I am afraid. The second legitimate point made by other readers is the whole legitimacy of the Belvedere Beach; one reader observes the following:- "How to get rid of the wonderful, historic landmark known as Belvedere Lido? Phase 1. Do away with the hugely popular and great for families Splash Park (that I personally thought wasn't as good as a the huge, fun and blue shallow pool.) Phase 2. Was to fool the public into thinking that this 'Beach Playground' is going to be 'wonderful and just what Belvedere needed' (instead of the Splash Park that was!) Phase 3. Will be to say that this 'Beach Playground' doesn't work so what could be done with it? Phase 4 will be lets build some houses on it. Hang your head in shame Bexley Council! Whatever cuts had to be made in the Borough of Bexley, it should NEVER EVER ended up with the closure of the Splash Park!" I think local councillors such as Peter Craske underestimate the depth and strength of feeling over the enforced closure of the Splash Park, and think local residents will be easily won over. I suspect that this in truth could not be very much further from the fact.

I recall that another very well attended local event was cut by Bexley Council back in 2014 using the excuse that the location was waterlogged and unsuitable for use, which turned out to be untrue. The free Danson Festival was axed because the council did not want to spend any money on it - even though I understand it had historically operated with a modest profit, and had been the subject of extensive financial sponsorship by Cory Environmental. Instead the council sold the rights to a commercial operator called Oakleigh Fairs who now runs a for profit event called The Danson Park Country Fair, which charges £7.50 per adult and £3 per child on the gate. No problems with ground water or drainage have been reported subsequently, which is convenient. The most recent fair was held on the 1st and 2nd July. From all accounts, the fair is OK, if a little pricey for what is on offer, but it is cheaper than a family outing to the cinema. What I find interesting and instructive is that from the location of Pewty Acres, if one consults a map looking Northwards across the River Thames, one can see Harrow Lodge Park in Hornchurch, which is a large park with a lake of very similar size and makeup to Danson Park, and (as the crow flies, at the very least) approximately equidistant to Erith. After a little research, I have discovered that The London Borough of Havering operate a totally free festival each August Bank Holiday; including a number of big name acts playing on a number of stages. You can read all about the acts playing over the weekend by clicking here. Don't forget that this show is completely free to attend. I wonder how Havering council can afford to run such a high profile event, when their resident demographic is broadly similar to Bexley? If you have any insight into this, please get in contact with me at hugh.neal@gmail.com.


The photo above is of the EPB Preservation Group Owned EMU unit 5759 (Electric Slam Door Train) which used to run from the Slade Green Depot taking commuters to London and home. Following the article on the recent Slade Green Train Depot open day reported by local transport enthusiast Dana Wiffen last week, and the interest that article generated, here is a follow - up piece:-"Sadly the plight of Electric Train Preservation, which has always come in a poor 3rd under Steam and Diesel, with news that The Electric Railway Museum near to Coventry Airport has been given notice to leave its site by October 8th 2017. With no electric 3rd rail preserved sites in the UK, many preserved electric carriages are just used by other heritage railways to be pulled by either steam or diesel locos. What has been needed for some time now is a 3rd rail preserved railway that will allow these trains to run as they were intended and to enable them to be restored and maintained. The Electric Railway Museum is the only place where there is on display a good cross section of the types of electric trains that ran in the UK. The museums final event days will be on the 9th and 10th of September when they will hold a Heritage Open Weekend, they will remain open to visitors until the closure date. This is basically an appeal to either Network Rail or another preservation group that feels that its future could lie in electric train preservation, all the preservation groups which only totals 4 including the museum need a base. Newhaven Harbour and Marine Railway Stations in East Sussex near to Brighton could be a site the line is rarely used, some of the stations are closed and I believe there is a third rail, does anyone know if they have sidings and unused storage sheds? Alternatively what is needed is somewhere large to store these electric trains and somewhere to work on them with preferable public access and even somewhere where they could run, perhaps a rarely used network line such as mentioned above could be the answer or some old sidings with depots could also help perhaps to bring all the groups together under one roof to ensure these trains are not lost forever. One thing for sure is that the museum needs somewhere else to go as soon as possible, their stock must not be broken up, if anyone out there would like to offer their assistance or become a member of any of these electric preservation groups then please offer to help now".

A free trial of a new MBNA Thames Clippers route for commuters will take place over four days in September. The service will travel from Gravesend to central London and back again from Monday, September 11 until Thursday, September 14. All journeys during the trial period will be free as MBNA Thames Clippers assess how much demand there is for the route. MBNA Thames Clippers chief executive, Sean Collins, said in an interview with The Wharf newspaper that:- “We are committed to growing the river bus network in London and further east throughout the port. “We want as many commuters as possible to realise the huge benefits in terms of speed, comfort and frequency of travelling by river in London. We are optimistic about the volume of customers opting to trial the new service and hope to soon be able to offer Gravesend even greater transport links permanently.” The service will leave Gravesend Town Pier at 7.15am, calling at Canary Wharf Pier at 8.03am, Tower Pier at 8.13am, Blackfriars Pier at 8.19am and Embankment Pier at 8.25am. In the evenings, the boat will leave Embankment Pier at 5.40pm, calling at Blackfriars Pier at 5.46pm, Tower Pier at 5.52pm, Canary Wharf Pier at 6.02pm and arriving back in Gravesend at 6.50pm. The clipper will NOT be stopping at Erith Pier, unfortunately.  In the past local MP Teresa Pearce has campaigned to get the Thames Clipper ships to call at Erith Pier, but there have been two main obstructions to this; the first is that the pier does not project out far enough into the River Thames to allow boat access at low tide - the pier "dries out" at low tide, meaning that the river bottom mud is exposed. The only way around this would be to construct a large free floating pontoon connected to the point on the pier furthest from the shore, and projecting out into the deeper channel of the river. This would involve significant expense, and potentially create a hazard to other shipping. Secondly, the pier is owned by Morrison's supermarket, and they don't want it used for commuting, as they don't want people using their car park and not shopping in the supermarket. It is a great pity, as the journey from Erith to Canary Wharf would only take around 35 minutes. What do you think? Leave a comment below, or Email me at hugh.neal@gmail.com.


The photo above was released by Bexley Police this week; it shows a suspect that they wished to interview regarding the theft of a large quantity of cash from the handbag of a 90 year old woman who had just visited Barclay's Bank in Erith Riverside Shopping Centre. The elderly lady had accidentally left her bag on a bench seat for a few moments when the money was stolen. Some good news - once the suspect realised that he had been recorded on camera, he subsequently handed himself in to the Police. Just once it is good to have a happy ending - if not for the guilty party.


Another crime related story; it may not be well known, but many local churches are changing their long term policy of keeping closed for most of the time when services and other activities are not ongoing. The original reason for this was that they were concerned about crime – especially thefts occurring if the building was open, but not well staffed. In an about – turn, it has now been decided that opening to the public for as much time as possible is actually a better option – it is felt that allowing the public access to the churches fulfils their intended role, and also, with more people around, this is likely to more effectively deter potential criminals. This week Police are seeking a thief who has absconded after being charged with stealing an audio amplifier and sound mixer from Christ Church Erith last year. The thief, Barry Kenny was due to appear at Bromley Magistrate’s Court last Wednesday, but he did not turn up. A warrant has now been issued for his arrest. It is not the first time that he has done this – he was previously charged with failing to appear before a court on the 22nd June. I would imagine that he may be quite difficult to track down, as I understand he is of no fixed abode. I also wonder if Barry Kenny had anything to do with the theft of a push bike from outside of Christ Church last year? A helper at the Friends of Christ Church "Our Erith" art exhibition popped into the church to drop off a couple of items – he was away from his bike for no more than five minutes, but when he emerged from the building, the bike was gone. The grounds of Christ Church are extensive, and the bike was parked well away from the road, and not that easily visible to passers-by. I wonder if some miscreant had the building under observation? I doubt that we will ever know for certain. Unfortunately the bike was never recovered, even though it was security marked. Thefts of this kind are a problem in a lot of areas; it seems to be a sad fact that one of the best ways to combat it is by the widespread use of CCTV systems – as has proved with the cash theft incident in the Erith Riverside Shopping Centre that I reported earlier in this update.


Very much at the last minute, I received the following announcement:- "This summer, August 19th, Erith Rowing Club in conjunction with Gravesend Rowing Club is hosting a 500m sprint regatta to be held in the beautiful and historic surroundings of Danson Park. It has been around thirty years since this event has been held and with the full backing of British Rowing, this year will be a private regatta, by invitation only, with a full regatta, open invitation, proposed in summer 2018. It is very exciting to have the regatta back as it is the only British Rowing regatta in the south-east region. The clubs invited to this event are Globe Rowing Club, Lea Rowing Club, Medway Towns Rowing Club and Maidstone Invicta Rowing Club making a six-club regatta. The event is also honoured by the presence of our award presenter, Naomi Riches MBE, gold medal winning Paralympic rower. It should be a fantastic day of racing and a great spectacle to watch for rowers and non-rowers, so spectators are more than welcome to come along. The park is open to all with no entry fee. Racing starts at 10.00am".

Much has been written in the press over the last week or so in relation to the proposed development of the parcel or brownfield land adjacent to the college building in Walnut Tree Road. The site, which originally formed part of Erith Tram Depot until it was demolished in the late 1970’s was originally proposed to be the site for the new Bexley Council offices. As has been very well covered by Malcolm Knight of Bexley is Bonkers – but this was an idea that was never likely to have taken off. The councillors would not have wanted to commute to Erith – which many of them regard as a remote and undesirable half – forgotten corner of the borough which they would rather not think about. Instead the parcel of land is to be some form of housing, though at this point plans are very much in the early stage. The site will be a prime one – close to the town centre, bus stops and the station, views of the River Thames and close to the A2, M25 and the South Circular. The only major downside of the location is the flanking dual carriageway of Bronze Age Way, and the 24/7 traffic that it carries. I wonder if the construction of another residential area in the centre of Erith will finally galvanise Network Rail to install a lift at Erith Station – after all, Bexleyheath Station has a lift, yet it has no real need for one, as there is an existing step – free road bridge at each end of the platform. Local MP Teresa Pearce has campaigned for several years to get step free access at Erith Station but thus far to no avail. Hopefully this issue can be revisited as part of the further redevelopment and expansion of the riverside town.

The ending video this week comes courtesy of local resident and Maggot Sandwich reader Miles Burton, who sent me a link to a video he made very recently on Erith Pier at night, using his drone and a video camera. Just for once Erith looks rather glamorous, and just a little bit like Las Vegas - give it a watch and see what you think; Please leave a comment below, or Email me at hugh.neal@gmail.com