Sunday, August 30, 2015

How affordable is "affordable"?


The dramatic photo above was taken by a local chap called Daniel Fee; he took the shot of the demolition of one of the remaining tower blocks on the old Larner Road Estate using a flying drone equipped with a camera. The skyscrapers are being demolished to make way for the second phase of Erith Park - the large development of mixed social and retail housing and low - level apartments that is now replacing the worn out and no longer fit for purpose late 1960's tower blocks. Daniel writes:-  "Being an Erith resident for 50 years, and an Erith Plumber for 33 , I've witnessed many changes in that time, I've always considered the Larner Road estate to be a blot on the landscape, so was delighted to hear that they were to be demolished. Around the time of the first phase of demolition I was not in possession of drone, but took snaps from the ground of the muncher biting into the concrete, I was keen to take snaps of the old Erith College being munched down too, I attended there in the early 80s for my apprenticeship course, but before I found the time to pop up there the thing was already flattened. It's an amazing thing to be able capture such aerial images, Wates the builders in charge of the demo looked on enthusiastically and I have forwarded several images to the site foreman who was thrilled to see the muncher in action from such a height. Even though I hated the sight of them when they were there, it's slightly sad to see this last one making its way down. The sun was very bright today making filming difficult to see and there was a fair cross wind up at that height making it a little tricky to manoeuvre, I'm hoping to have another go next week if I get a break from my work, I plan to fly across the top with the camera looking straight down". Excellent stuff Daniel - please continue sending me the great photos!


This week,  the London Evening Standard reported that an “affordable” flat in Hackney has gone on sale for more than one million pounds. The shared ownership apartment, between the trendy Old Street roundabout and Regent's Canal, is listed for £1,025,000 on Sharetobuy.com - a website geared towards properties available on a part-buy part-rent basis. For the three-bedroom flat, which the website describes as being part of an "affordable housing scheme", buyers need to purchase a minimum 25 per cent stake in the property. With a deposit of £12,813, the website's calculator estimates the monthly cost of the home to be in excess of £2,700 - of which £1,352 comprises mortgage payments and £1,121 is rent payable on the stake the tenant does not own. The sixth-floor property is being offered by the Islington and Shoreditch Housing Association. It said the flat was one of only three shared ownership properties to have been valued above £900,000, and all of them were on the edge of the City of London. The problem of high property prices is not just one affecting inner and West London – the typical areas for high end accommodation. Now East and South East London are also seeing prices rise way above inflation, a situation which will only get worse when the Crossrail project nears completion in 2018. It is anticipated that people who have formerly lived in other parts of the London suburbs will be tempted to move into the local area because of the relatively “cheap” housing – prices in the London Borough of Bexley have historically been lower than average due partly to the lack of tube or DLR trains – commuters into central London have been limited to overland train travel, which has depressed the housing market. Crossrail will change all this – and the prospect that it will almost certainly be extended from the current planned terminus at Abbey Wood and on down to the proposed Paramount London Theme Park at Swanscombe. This rise in house prices has prompted London Mayoral candidate Dame Tessa Jowell to undertake some research. It turns out that that in twenty nine out of thirty two London boroughs, the house prices are rising so quickly that the cost of a house deposit is outstripping the ability of first time buyers to save for it. For example, in Hackney – the location of the so called “affordable” shared ownership flat mentioned earlier, the cost of a ten percent deposit in a fairly average priced property has risen £6,000 in a year, whilst an average paid saver putting aside seven percent of their earnings could only raise £2,200 in the same time. This means that the number of years needed to save for a first time deposit has risen from 17 to 19 years in twelve months. Bexley is still one of the most affordable boroughs in which to live, but I feel that this situation is about to end – and anyone wanting to get onto the property ladder locally should do so as soon as possible.


Erith made the headlines for all the wrong reasons this week; More than seventy people were arrested after Scotland Yard set up a second-hand clothing shop trading in stolen goods to target thieves and burglars. Undercover detectives opened the store in a formerly empty shop unit in Londonderry Parade in Stelling Road, Northumberland Heath and offered cash for clothes and what a judge described as “less legitimate items” as a part of a sting operation. The shop,  was called “Ward’s Cash 4 Clothes” and staffed with two undercover detectives known as Dan and Charlie. It even had its own Facebook page.  Deals with customers for goods ranging from stolen passports, laptops, jewellery and watches to a shotgun were recorded by hidden equipment. In the latest in a series of convictions following the operation, two brothers and their father were jailed for offences including possession of a 1924 shotgun, handling stolen goods and burglary. Mark Pearce, 31, of Erith, and his brother Matthew, 29, of Thamesmead, were each jailed for six years and three months after admitting 58 offences including possession of a shotgun, fraud, burglary and ID crimes. Their father James Pearce, 58, also of Erith, was sentenced to three years and eight months imprisonment after admitting thirteen offences. Sentencing at Inner London crown court, the Judge said the officers “let it be known that besides buying second-hand clothes, they would also buy less legitimate items. The whole purpose of the shop was in fact to buy stolen goods or other illicit material and to apprehend those who were selling them. All three of you were prolific, professional offenders. None of you had legitimate paid employment. You were literally living from the proceeds of crime. There has been no expression of remorse from any of you. In those circumstances, lengthy sentences are inevitable.” The three were among forty men and a woman arrested in mass raids at addresses in Bexley, Lewisham, Greenwich and Bromley in March. The covert operation was run by Bexley police and Scotland Yard’s Serious and Organised Crime Command, the operation tackled criminal networks suspected of being involved in burglary, theft, fraud, motor vehicle crime, drug dealing, money laundering and violent crime. A further thirty one people were also arrested as a result of the initiative, codenamed Operation Belmont. So far fifty people have been convicted, with sentences totalling more than one hundred years years. Brilliant stuff from the Police. I hope we see more of this kind of operation against the criminal scum that prey on the vulnerable in society.

After my article last week in regard of Ultra High Definition 4K television, I have had several readers ask me for more information about how the UHD content will be delivered, as Sky have just announced a new UHD set top box capable of delivering 4K video content to the home. The knack with any digital video stream is the way the data is compressed. High Efficiency Video Coding (HEVC), also known as H.265, promises twice the compression possible with current Blu-ray’s best video compression methods. But how does it work, and is it enough to get us better-looking 4K content? It is the new successor to Advanced Video Coding (AVC), also known as H.264, which is one of the compression schemes used by Blu-ray. The idea of HEVC is to offer the same level of picture quality as AVC, but with better compression, so there's less data to deal with. This is key if we want 4K/Ultra HD broadcasts (including satellite services such as Sky), 4K Blu-rays, and more. The amount of raw data coming out the back of a professional HD camera is a massive. There is no way to conveniently transport it to your home. Instead, the video is compressed to reduce the amount of data into a more manageable form. There are many ways to do this, one of the easiest being reducing the quality. In some cases this is OK. Think of your average YouTube video quality. Not great, very often. This is usually the case that because the video is highly compressed (either before or during the upload); heavy compression might keep the resolution technically the same, but the image can appear softer, noisier, or have strange distortions known as digital artifacts. The other option is to use better compression. In this case, you can basically think of "better" compression as "smarter" compression. So it's taking the same original (the video), and finding out better ways to make the amount of data less, without sacrificing quality. Every few years the processing power of gear has improved enough to let more processor-intensive compression algorithms to be used, and further compress the data without making the image worse. This distinction between "more" compression and "better" compression is important, as really, the terms aren't interchangeable in this context. You can decrease the amount of data required for a signal either by cranking up the compression and making the image ugly (just "more" compression), or using a more efficient compression technique ("better" compression). An example; you have a theoretical basket of apples. You need to fit 100 apples inside. You can do it with more compression (reducing the apples to sauce), or with better compression (finding a better way to make them all fit, but preserving their appleness). More compression = apple sauce. Better compression = more apples, same space. The Moving Picture Experts Group and the International Telecommunication Union's Telecommunication Standardisation Sector (ITU-T) were already starting work on the next generation of video compression, with an eye on the future. Not wanting to mess around with small, incremental improvements, whenever a new compression standard is introduced, it has to be a sizable change. With each jump, the general rule is half the bitrate for the same quality (or greater quality at the same bit rate). How does it do this? Largely by expanding on how the compression technique works. Firstly, it looks at multiple frames to see what doesn't change. In most scenes in a TV show or movie, the vast majority of the frame doesn't change much. Think of a scene with someone talking. The shot is mostly their head. The background isn't going to change much for many frames. For that matter, most of the pixels representing their face probably won't change much (other than their lips, of course). So instead of encoding every pixel from every frame, an initial frame is encoded, and then after that only what changes is encoded. HEVC then expands the size of the area that's looked at for these changes. Larger and smaller "blocks" essentially, which offers additional efficiency. Ever seen blocks in your image, when the satellite picture goes foul during heavy rain or snow? Those can be bigger, smaller, and differently shaped with HEVC than with previous compression methods. Larger blocks, for example, were found to be more efficient. Then other things were improved, like motion compensation, spatial prediction, and so on. All of these things would have been done with AVC or even earlier, but it required more processing power than was economically feasible at the time. As processor speed has gone up, and price gone down, it is now possible to implement compression algorithms that would have previously been too complex or expensive. While this arrangement offers flexibility, it also means that "4K" and "UHD" won't necessarily guarantee better picture quality any more than "1080p" or "HD" do today. A highly compressed 4K signal could, in many ways, look worse than a less heavily compressed HD signal. In other words, streaming 4K might look worse than current 1080p Blu-ray, depending on how much compression is used - in a similar way to a current standard definition picture can look remarkably good when it has a low level of compression when compared to an HD picture with poorly chosen compression. As with many of these things, in the "real world" your mileage may vary. 


As many readers will know, I am not only a fan of properly produced real ale; I am also a real devotee of Erith’s own Bexley Brewery on the Manford Industrial Estate in Manor Road, right at the foot of the Erith Wind Turbine. The photo above, which was taken on Friday afternoon shows head brewer Cliff as he prepares a unique green hop ale from hops which were only picked hours earlier from a farm in Faversham. They produce an excellent range of hand crafted real ales, which are on sale in draught and bottled form in a number of local outlets. One of their competitors is the somewhat larger Meantime Brewery in Greenwich which has recently  had a bit of a public relations disaster. An investigation by Beer Insider and London 24 has revealed that Meantime’s London Lager, famously brewed in Greenwich, is occasionally part-made at the Grolsch brewery in Enschede in The Netherlands. Meantime is one of London’s best-known real ale breweries, and London Lager is their flagship beer. The labels proudly claim that it is ‘Born and Brewed in London’. But now the brewery has admitted to Beer Insider / London 24 that the bottles sometimes contain a blend of locally-brewed and Dutch-brewed lager when their London site cannot  keep up with demand. Meantime stress that “the liquid was brewed to the precise specification and recipe of London Lager and has the exact profile and microbiological makeup as any batch of London Lager brewed here at our brewery in Greenwich.” This is actually quite a common practice – Doom Bar Bitter, reputedly brewed in Cornwall is sometimes made in Burton on Trent. Similarly, Young’s, who for centuries brewed beers in the Ram Brewery in Wandsworth infamously sold off the site to property developers and relocated all of their brewing to the Eagle Brewery in Bedford back in 2006, as Young’s merged with Charles Wells to form a new company Wells and Young’s. The only brewer who can genuinely claim that their beer is brewed in central London is Fuller’s, whose Griffin Brewery has been located in Chiswick since 1845. What should qualify a beer in respect of its provenance? If you consider wine, the region that the grapes are grown is quoted. Some may be made on the estate, but quite often wine is made in a different geographical location to the vineyards. Incidentally, Wine, Cider and Perry are made, rather than brewed. Only in brewing are some of the raw ingredients boiled. Wine, Cider and Perry making involve no application of heat in the process.


Regular Maggot Sandwich reader Teresa, a resident of the West Country, wrote to me last week after I commented on the slowdown in sales of tablet devices such as the Apple iPad; she said "I bought an iPad, but quickly donated it to my grandchildren who are much more adept at using it than I could ever be.  My uncle's widow carries her ipad everywhere.  She even produced it at the table at my mother's wake (one of my sisters had organised a sit-down meal as many of those attending had travelled a considerable distance for the funeral ) and proceeded to show my children her holiday snaps and pictures of her latest birthday party with her friends, none of whom we know. Whilst it was not a sad occasion (Mother's passing was a blessed release) I did think that was inappropriate. On the way back to my house, she sat in the car and proceeded to take pics of rainbows and showing them to me (my son was driving).  She is in her eighties - who said it was only the young who are fixated...?! I wonder if any of your readers have encountered anything like it?" Interesting observations Teresa - I wonder if anyone else has their own thoughts that they would like to share?

Malcolm Knight of the excellent “Bexley is Bonkers” blog has been covering the building works that have been going, very slowly at Lesnes Abbey. I suspected that he knew far more than he let on about the reasons for the delays to the works, and I was correct. On Tuesday Malcolm published an update which explained what had been going on. Following this, Bexley Council issued a press release, the wording of which you can read here:- “Significant archaeological artefacts have been unearthed close to the foundations of the old 1930’s amenity building in Lesnes Abbey Woods Park during works to improve the site. Some of the artefacts found, which include human remains, are currently being examined offsite by specialist professional teams. In order to safeguard the find the foundations and steel structure for the new Lesnes Lodge building have been redesigned. This redesign has impacted on the timings for construction of the new building which is expected to be complete in early 2016. Cabinet Member for Community Safety, Environment and Leisure Councillor Peter Craske said, “This is an exciting discovery that highlights the historical significance of Lesnes Abbey Woods which we want to preserve for the local community. The find was made a while ago but it was imperative that we protect the immediate area before releasing any information on it. We are continuing to work with specialists to manage and safeguard the site’s unique archaeology and will update the local community as things progress. In the meantime we would urge people to treat the park with respect and refrain from metal detecting, in particular, as this is illegal and could cause irreparable damage.” The construction of the new Lesnes Lodge on the site of the old amenity building is just one of a number of significant improvements which are being made to Lesnes Abbey Wood Park to encourage more visitors and to unlock the rich history of the site. The improvement work is on schedule to be completed by summer 2016. Work to highlight the Lesnes Mulberry tree as a feature is almost complete. New fencing and temporary information lecterns have been installed to share the tree’s special history with visitors. Landscape work will begin in the autumn on other new facilities which include a new trim trail, outdoor gym, table tennis and picnic tables. In addition several outdoor learning experiences such as a heathland classroom, a Monk’s Garden and a new skyline viewing point, will be created. The Lesnes Abbey Woods Enhancement project team will be holding another of the regular ‘Meet us at the Park’ sessions on 28 August to update the community on how plans to improve the park are developing. The event is free and will feature activities such as medieval tile making, stone masonry and guided walks around the semi ancient woodland at Lesnes. The Meet us at the Park session will also include demonstrations of parkour activities along with workshops to introduce people to the sport and enable them to make full use of the parkour zone at Lesnes, which is the first of its kind in the borough. These will be run by Parkour Generations, the largest UK professional free running organisation, who have performed all over the world and whose previous work includes performances in Hollywood movies such as District 13, Babylon A.D, and World War Z. The improvements at Lesnes Abbey Woods have been made possible by a ‘Parks for people’ programme grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF). The £4.2m project is funded by the London Borough of Bexley and the Heritage Lottery Fund (which is investing £3.5m)”. This is all great stuff, but it does beg the question, if they can afford to do this in Abbey Wood, why are Bexley Council so keen on closing down Belvedere Splash Park for good? I am firmly of the opinion it is mainly about revenue, and the fact that the Conservative led council do not need to chase votes in what is a primarily Labour voting area – it does not matter if the locals are annoyed, as they generally did not / would not vote for the incumbent councillors anyway. Coupling this with the value of the land freed up when the Swings Park on the opposite side of Woolwich Road moves over to the former Splash Park site, leaving a large triangular piece of land, including Belvedere Library, and the Pop in Parlour – something which would be ripe for selling off to a developer. No official plan has been announced, but I would not be at all surprised if something of this nature is actually intended. Locals are deeply cynical of Bexley Council, and their emphasis on promoting events happening in the South of the borough. For example, at least half a dozen public events were scheduled in relation to the launch of the new, subscription system for the collection of garden waste, yet not one of the events was scheduled for a venue anywhere North of Bexleyheath. I think this says a lot about the powers that be, and their attitude towards those of us who live in Belvedere, Erith, Northumberland Heath, Barnehurst or Slade Green. What do you think? Do you feel hard done by if you are a resident of the London Borough of Bexley? Do let me know; you can leave a comment below, or alternatively you can Email me at hugh.neal@gmail.com.

The News Shopper are reporting the story of a teenager named Ashlee Fowler, was killed in a road accident in Mottingham last week; whilst Mottingham is rather outside of the Maggot Sandwich normal area of remit, some facts in the case got me thinking. The teenager, who was a passenger on a motorbike, which crashed,  left an 18-year-old dead and another teenager fighting for his life after they both allegedly were not wearing helmets. The incident in Mottingham Road, near its junction with William Barefoot Drive, happened just after 4.30pm on August the 24th. It is thought the teenagers crashed into the central reservation, which has a mounted speed camera, before flying ten feet over the handlebars, and landing in the middle of the road. Emergency services rushed to the scene, but despite the best efforts of paramedics the 18-year-old died.  He is believed to have been the pillion passenger on the motorcycle. This behaviour – riding illegally without helmets and weaving in and out of traffic sounded very similar to the irresponsible biker behaviour exhibited in Lower Belvedere recently. One of the riders got killed on the 9th of July, when he lost control of his bike whilst racing,  and collided with a lamp post at the roundabout which joins Eastern Way junction with Yarnton Way, opposite the Morgan carvery restaurant /  Pub. The London Air Ambulance attended the scene to take the critically injured motorcyclist by air to the Royal London Hospital where he later died. The biker gang he was with were identified as part of Bike Life TV UK group who have previously been seen riding in large numbers in both Thamesmead and Lower Belvedere. They usually don't wear helmets, wear bandannas around their lower faces to hide their identities and many of their bikes are stolen and have false number plates. They post videos of their members pulling wheelies, performing stunts and racing on public roads, often weaving in and out of law – abiding traffic. Their Facebook page contains a large number of videos showing their members engaging in illegal activities, and they are even stupid enough to make occasional drug references. I have spoken to a couple of local law – abiding bikers, both of whom were concerned that members of Bike Life TV UK were giving responsible bikers a bad name. I wonder if the Mottingham incident involved Bike Life TV UK members? The behaviour shown certainly matches that exhibited nearer home. If anyone has further information on this group, please let me know.

This week marks the twentieth birthday of Windows 95 - almost certainly the most widely used and influential desktop operating system of its' time. A contemporary video review below gives an idea of what people back in 1995 thought of the then revolutionary operating system, and also gives viewers today an idea of the huge amount of marketing hype that Microsoft used to launch their then brand new product. Feel free to comment below, or Email hugh.neal@gmail.com.