Sunday, April 22, 2018

Local elections.


With the local council elections now looming, the local political parties are jockeying for position on numerous issues which are of particular concern to residents. From the feedback that I get, the number one local concern is related to law and order, and especially in respect of the motorbike and moped criminals that I have written about extensively in the past, and no doubt will do so again in the near future. A second area of concern is to do with the large number of Homes of Multiple Occupancy (HMO) which are in the area. Data shows a big increase in rented property in Bexley, with a 103 per cent increase in the number of private rented households between 2001-2011; more recent figures are currently unavailable, but it is thought that the number of privately rented properties in the borough will have increased yet further. To monitor and control this, Bexley Council have announced that they are introducing a licencing scheme for private landlords. The scheme will target specific areas in the borough; those initially listed include North Thamesmead, Abbey Wood and Erith - specifically the area in and around Manor Road. These areas are said by the council to be the worst for complaints about rogue landlords. Speaking at a cabinet meeting on April 10, councillor Brad Smith said: “The intention is to address the impact of poorly managed rented properties to improve housing conditions. It requires landlords to come forward and be licensed, rather than being reliant on complaints. This will help improve conditions for our most vulnerable residents by providing additional regulatory control of the sector in problem areas.” The scheme will mean landlords will be monitored and rogue landlords renting poorly managed properties would be targeted and prosecuted if they are not licensed. I applaud the sentiment of the scheme, and the proposals to roll it out to the whole borough, and not just the trouble spots listed earlier; I do however see problems. The kind of landlords the licencing scheme is designed to highlight and control are the very ones who won't register, not just because of the considerable fee involved - but also because the unscrupulous landlords operate "under the radar" and don't want to be noticed by the relevant authorities.  It will be a real challenge for Bexley Council to identify and bring the unscrupulous landlords to heel. I get the feeling that this story will develop further over the next few months.


Further to the forthcoming local government elections, which take place on Thursday the 3rd of May, some important news if you are a resident of the Slade Green and North End ward of the London Borough of Bexley. As you may be aware, some changes have been made to the electoral wards recently, which is reflected in the overall reduction of the numbers of local councillors. For many years the polling station in the Slade Green and North End ward was located in a temporary Portakabin  in Frobisher Road, adjacent to the Frobisher Road housing estate. The council announced a few weeks ago that due to the boundary changes, the location of the polling station was being moved to Aveley Close, off Crescent Road, and very close to Morrison's car park. I understand that some local residents objected to this, and subsequently the location of the polling station has been moved again. It will now be located in Reddy Road, off Alexandra Road. Personally I think this is a bad move for any local resident with mobility problems, as it is a lot further away than either of the other locations. The local elections normally have a fairly low turnout, and these polling station changes will do little to remedy this; I would hazard a guess that a significant number of voters will turn up at the old location in Frobisher Road, not having read the letter that has been posted to residents in the Slade Green and North End ward (a copy of which is featured above - click on it for a larger version).  I hope that a sign redirecting them to the new location in Reddy Road will be set up. As much as possible needs to be done to encourage people to vote in local elections; key issues such as recycling, bin emptying, street lighting and funding for the less advantaged in local society are all decided at a local level, and your vote, whoever it is for, can and does make a difference. 

Another property related story is being reported in the local press, but in this case I feel that there has been a degree of misunderstanding which needs to be clarified. As regular readers will be aware, I have covered the planning and evolution of the Erith Quarry housing development in some detail over the last couple of years, from when it was a long unused brown field site, to where it is today, with the first houses about to go on sale to the public. The Bexley Times published an article last week which said:- "As the first of batch of a 600-home development go up for sale this weekend, concerns have been raised over the price tags currently on offer. The Erith Quarry development will bring 470 houses and 130 apartments to the town, with the first 27 going on sale this weekend. Each of the homes on sale from September 2 will be available under the shared ownership scheme, with a 50 per cent share of a two-bed maisonette costing residents £165,000 and the same share of a three-bed house costing £220,000. From September 16, would-be homeowners will have to pay £400,000 for a three-bed home and four-bed homes will be going for £525,000. An online search revealed a three-bed semi-detached house elsewhere in the town was taking offers upwards of £250,000". The claim that a three bedroomed semi detached house can be found in Erith for £250,000 is stretching things a bit, to say the least. Whilst the town is the second most affordable place to purchase property in Greater London after Dagenham, just across the River Thames, to get a three bed semi for quarter of a million would mean that it would need considerable renovation. Secondly I know that several local councillors, including Danny Hackett have expressed concern regarding the lack of affordable housing in the new Quarry development. Whilst I completely agree with the sentiment, from the previous discussions I have had with the developers, the whole aim of the Quarry site is not to aim to sell to existing local residents, but rather to attract people from outside the area to move into Erith. This is one of the reasons the houses on the site are predominantly three and four bedroomed; they are not aimed at first time buyers, rather at people who already have, or are planning on starting a family. I understand that a typical buyer profile at the Quarry would be a young professional couple who currently own a one bed flat in somewhere like Brockley, and are thinking of having children. They cannot afford a large house in somewhere like Brockley or Penge, and instead look further out into South East London - to somewhere which will shortly be close to the Crossrail / Elizabeth Line. This is where The Quarry comes in - whilst the houses on the development are relatively expensive in the local market, they are relatively affordable compared to areas closer to the centre of London. This is one of the reasons that virtually all of the advertising for The Quarry has been done in papers like The London Evening Standard - the developers are not  trying to appeal to local residents, rather they are looking to attract comparatively wealthy middle class people into the area, the thinking being that if wealth moves into the area, it will "trickle down" when the new residents start using local services, and take part in the local economy. The danger for the developers, London and Quadrant, is if people new to the area start to look around at the existing housing market and discover that they can get better value for money in the existing housing market in Erith, Northumberland Heath and Barnehurst. As always, the market will decide. It is without doubt that a greater amount of affordable housing is required in the local area - something that is true for most if not all of the South East. The problem is there is little incentive for developers to create affordable properties when they can still easily build full price housing for those with the ready money - even if these are absentee owners from China or Russia, investing / laundering their money in a "safe" country where the government is extremely unlikely to confiscate it. What do you think? Leave a comment below, or Email me at hugh.neal@gmail.com.


Last Tuesday marked a historic moment in computing history; it was the fortieth anniversary of the release of the ground breaking Apple II Computer. It debuted on the 17th April 1977, at the West Coast Computer Faire, positioning Apple at the forefront of the looming personal computer revolution. The company’s first mass-market computer, the Apple II boasted an attractively machined case designed by Jerry Manock (who later went on to design the first Macintosh). It also packed a keyboard, BASIC compatibility and, most importantly, colour graphics. Fuelled by some marketing savvy from Steve Jobs, the Apple II made quite a splash at the San Francisco Bay Area’s first personal computer convention. Right from the start of his career, Steve Jobs realised the importance of a good product introduction. With no special media event to introduce the Apple II, he used the West Coast Computer Faire to perform the same function. Apple occupied the four booths directly facing the building’s front entrance. The strategic positioning made Apple the first of 175 companies at the Faire that customers saw when they arrived. At a time when money was short, Apple splashed out on a backlit Plexiglass display featuring the new logo of a rainbow hued apple with a single bite taken out of it. The eye-catching setup showcased a dozen Apple II computers for visitors’ inspection. Unbeknownst to customers, these were unfinished prototypes, since the actual computers would not be ready until June of 1977. The Apple II, the company’s second computer, and its first mainstream model, became an enormously important product line. The year it debuted, it brought in $770,000 in revenue. That figure increased to $7.9 million the following year and a massive $49 million the year after that. Apple continued producing some version of the Apple II until the early 1990s. Long term readers may recall that the Apple II was the subject of the very first ever "killer app" in the form of the first electronic spreadsheet, called VisiCalc. I wrote at some length about it here


Now that the excellent local micro pub has opened, it is now settling into a routine. Several readers have asked me about its opening hours - hence the poster above. I have visited it on a couple of evenings in the last week, and it has been consistently busy with a wide variety of customers, all of whom seem to enjoy the superbly kept and served real ale and convivial company. The Bird and Barrel has yet to be awarded a "Scores on the Doors" hygiene rating, but I predict it will get a 5 star rating. Bexley Council seem to have done a pretty creditable job of getting the restaurants and takeaways in the borough to improve their health ratings over the last couple of years; there was a point when Bexley came the bottom of "Scores on the Doors" ratings for the entire country, and Erith came bottom in the borough. I am pleased that this has now very much changed for the better. Overall the ratings are improved beyond the expectations of many - there are however a few exceptions to this, which show there is still scope for improvement. Two of the worst offenders are located in Nuxley Road, Upper Belvedere - not a place one would readily associate with poor quality catering or low hygiene standards. Both K's Cafe and the Belvedere Tandoori have been awarded one out of five star hygiene ratings in the council's most recent round of health checks - a rating which I strongly feel should mean that they should be closed with immediate effect until substantial remedial works are carried out.  I don't know about K's Cafe, but the Belvedere Tandoori has been struggling for several years, and has been up for sale for some considerable time. It voluntarily surrendered its drinks licence some while back - something which has further hurt its trade considerably. I have heard rumours (unsubstantiated at this point) that it may become a Turkish restaurant. If you have any information regarding this, please drop me a line in complete confidence to hugh.neal@gmail.com.

It is not yet widely known, but British Telecom are planning to replace all existing old fashioned copper line telephones with VOIP (Voice Over Internet Protocol) over the next handful of years. The closure of the public switched telephone network (PSTN) is part of plans by BT toward internet-based voice calls via a fibre network. As such it will be looking to close a chunk of exchanges. The telecoms giant would prefer to provide only internet services, and let customers use them for voice calls. The Telegraph reported that BT wants to move "all domestic and business customers to internet-based voice calls within a decade," but is prevented from doing so by Ofcom, which requires it to offer basic PSTN/POTS voice connections alongside internet ones. Expecting customers to eventually migrate to a portfolio of "all IP" services, including broadband, television, and voice, BT is upping the pressure on Ofcom in anticipation of its once-a-decade review, due later this year. "BT believes all IP services will be used nationwide by 2025 and we think Ofcom's review is an opportunity to roll back obsolete rules in this area to create a level playing field," a BT spokesperson told journalists recently.  Regulation has not kept up with the massive growth in competition and rapid pace of technology change over the last decade, whilst there are many overlaps between British and European laws which could be removed and simplified. Such measures would improve efficiency, stimulate competition, and encourage investment in the UK's connected future.

Now for the weekly safety and security updates from Bexley Borough Neighbourhood Watch Association:- Firstly a report from Barnehurst ward:- "An excellent week for Barnehurst Ward with no burglaries to report. On the morning of Friday 13th Police acted quickly following reports on social media of a bike that had been stolen in Martens Grove Park. The victim was contacted and a detailed description was given of the bike. Whilst on patrol Barnehurst Officers spotted the bike being ridden not far from Martens Grove Park. The bike was seized, youth detained and the bike returned to a very happy and grateful owner. On 14th April 2018 a robbery took place in Pelham Road between 06.30am - 07.00am. Victim was walking home after visiting a friend and was approached by 5 to 6 black males. An Armani bag containing a mobile phone and travel card was grabbed from the victim. Unfortunately the victim was too shocked at the time to get a detailed description of the males involved. Good news after a lot of door knocking this week Barnehurst Officers have nearly achieved 100% Neighbourhood Watch coverage with only two more roads to go. We aim to achieve this by next week, update to follow. Join a member of the team at Barnehurst Golf Club on Wednesday 25th April 2018 at 11.00am to discuss any local issues that may be concerning you or simply come along and say hello". Belvedere ward:- "We are continuing to receive reports of anti-social behaviour in Draper Close. Youths are reportedly causing a nuisance to residents, shouting swearing etc. if anyone has suffered or has any information please get in contact. There is a particular off road motorbike, red and white, being ridden by a white male wearing a balaclava. He is normally spotted around the Picardy Street area. If anyone knows who this person is please let us know as he is committing several road traffic offences as well as driving dangerously. On the subject of off road bikes the team have issued another Section 59 warning to a male riding in Franks Park. We have not taken over this area yet but we are trying to make an early dent in this biking trend to at least ease it for the upcoming summer months. There was an attempted burglary on 17/04/2018 around 1030 hours on Barnfield Road. A male was reportedly pulling on the door handle of an address. The owner returned and the male ran off towards Nuxley Road. Our upcoming surgeries: 25/04/2018 – ASDA car park, from 1600 hours until 1700 hours. We will be giving out anti-theft number plate screws with the assistance form the AA and 04/05/2018 – ASDA Café, 1400 hours until 1500 hours". Brampton ward:- "Yet another good week on Brampton Ward with only a handful of crimes reported, and only two of those of interest to our residents. Unfortunately, we had a burglary reported in Long Lane where entry was gained by breaking the living room window. An untidy search was conducted and an amount of jewellery was taken. This burglary occurred whilst the residents were away on holiday so now would be a good time to remind our residents to take extra care while away with holiday season approaching. There is plenty of crime prevention advice on the Met Police website. There was also a shoplifting from Sainsbury’s in Brampton Road. Brampton officers are continually patrolling ASB hotspots with vandalism being reported in the Bursted wood surgery area and our off road motor cycle team are also patrolling the woods in an attempt to deter anti-social motor cycling which seems to increase as the weather improves. Only two weeks now until the Ward boundaries change". Christchurch ward:- "Below are some of the things that we have been up to over the last week. We are pleased to say we have no reports of any burglaries on the ward over the last week as well as any motor vehicle related crimes. On the 15/04/2018 - A bag was reported stolen whilst victim was out with friends at Frankie and Benny’s on the Broadway. Also another theft from person was reported on the 14/04/2018. A shoulder bag was taken from an elderly female that was on the back of a trolley. Another report of a purse was taken on the 12/04/2018 from the victims hand bag whilst shopping in Primark. On the 11/04/2018 - There was a report of a bag taken from an elderly female whilst on the Broadway, bag was taken from victims trolley. A shop windows was smashed along the Broadway on the 11/04/2018 with an unknown object. Also fire alarm set off in the Marriot Hotel as youths had smashed the glass to set it off. The team have been recently conducting plain clothes patrols in unmarked vehicles as well as the usual high visibility patrols the team conducts daily, we also recently held our contact point yesterday at the Central Library. If you do speak to anyone who lives on the ward who does not have NHW set up on their street. Please put them through to us if they are interested in maybe joining. If you would like to contact us, please feel free to make contact via email, twitter or over the phone. For crime prevention advice, please look at the Met Police website which does have information that you may find useful". Colyers ward:- "On Wednesday 4th April at 8.40 pm a woman knocked on my door saying that she was trying to raise sponsorship money for a charity football match in aid of a boy who had been knocked down in a nearby road. She was well spoken, smartly dressed with long dark hair, slim, quite short and aged around 30 years. The Colyers Safer Neighbourhoods Policing Team confirmed that there had been no reports of any child having been run over in the area. Over the last week we are happy to say there have been no reported burglaries on the ward. Unfortunately we have had two motor vehicle crimes. One was in Frinsted Road on the 14th April where a car was taken from the driveway but returned the following day. A car was broken into on the 16th April in Mortimer Road, unfortunately we have no further details than that. The team stopped a male with cannabis yesterday in Hornbeam Lane near Barnehurst Train Station. The cannabis was seized and a cannabis warning issued. For our ASB hotspot in Hampton House the team have completed several recorded home visits and ABC’s to individuals we recently stopped there with more to follow next week. Unfortunately our police surgeries in Cupacakes Bakery on Colyers Lane have had to be cancelled as the shop has closed. The team are busily looking for a new venue but until then subsequent surgeries will be held in the Blackberry Patch Community Centre on Badlow Close. The next session will be on Saturday 28th April at 4pm. On a sad note the team held the last ever Colyers Ward Panel meeting last night before the ward boundary changes come into effect on the 4th May. The team would like to wish all our co-ordinators well on their new wards". Crayford ward:- "Some tools were stolen overnight from a van in Festival Close on Thursday 12th April. A moped was stolen overnight from Britannia Close on Sunday 15th April. Fortunately the bike was found the next day in Erith. PC Mark and PC James arrested a suspect involved in a Domestic incident on Monday, this investigation is ongoing. 2 males were stopped and searched close to Erith Town Centre last Thursday and cannabis was found on both resulting in 2 cannabis warnings issued. Last Wednesday we held a multi-agency meeting with Bexley Council, Erith Yacht Club and various companies from the Darent Industrial estate in regards fly tipping issues in Ray Lamb Way as well as off road bike issues out on the Thames Path. The meeting was successful in the fact that all parties are now in full contact with each other plus various means of enforcement and prevention were discussed including CCTV. There are various agencies responsible for various areas of the land and all have agreed to be more responsible in their reporting, prevention and reporting it to the council. Patrols will be continued by officers in regards off road bikes at the location and moves are already underway to secure the main access points to the Thames Path. We have a Community Contact Session on Monday 23rd April from 11am at the café in Forest Road, please come and say hi if you are around". Lesnes Abbey ward:- "Burglaries - Good News - No burglaries this week. However with this glorious weather we’re experiencing at the moment. Remember to close and lock all windows and doors even if you are only going out for a short period. UPVC front doors - Lift it  and Lock it. Motor Vehicle Crimes - Between the hours 10:00pm on Tuesday 10/04/11 and 07:15 am Wednesday 11/04/18 a vehicle locked and secure was taken from Canberra Road. During the early hours of Tuesday 10/04/18 a vehicle parked locked and secure in Wolvercote Road had the rear passenger window smashed and loose change was taken. Between the hours of 07:00pm Sunday 08/04/18 and 09:00am Monday 09/04/18 a vehicle parked in West Heath Road had both door mirror glasses taken. Crime prevention - Did you know your vehicle is like a shop window? If you can see ANY property left on view then so can a thief. Take it with you or put it out of sight. Other News - After the local council elections on 3rd May, The ward boundaries will then be split up, Lesnes Abbey will go and you will be with different wards. Once these have been decided we will let you know". Northumberland Heath ward:- "The team held a crime prevention event at the BP garage in Bexley Road on Saturday April 14th. With assistance from the AA we handed out anti-theft number plate screws. Some were fitted by the AA mechanic and those who were in a hurry took them home to fit themselves. A cannabis warning form was issued to a male following the stop of a vehicle in Becton Place over the weekend. One attempted commercial premises burglary in the Tesco Store in Bexley Road late on Monday April 16th. CCTV shows four males pull up in a vehicle with their faces covered. The four males tried to cut the padlocks from the outer gate and entry was attempted via the fire exit by using a long pole to break the handle on the door. A sledgehammer was then used to try to gain entry but as the alarm went off the males left empty handed. No residential burglaries this week. Two motor vehicle crimes reported to us over the last week. The first incident took place at the Pantiles were the victim has had several vans broken in to previously. The van was left overnight locked and secured on Friday April 13th and was found on Saturday morning when the rear door was open, the lock on the door had been forced but nothing was taken from the vehicle. The second motor vehicle crime reported to us was in Limewood Road, again on the evening of Friday April 13th. The lock was tampered with but entry was not gained. The next drop in Police Surgery will be held on Wednesday 25th April at 11am". Thamesmead East ward:- "One burglary to make you aware of that occurred on Tuesday 17th April between 1700 and 2200 hours, Dexter House, Kale Road. The victim returned home to discover their front door open/damaged and all lights to the flat were on. Not believed that anything was actually stolen. During the early hours of Saturday 14th April, number plates were stolen from a motor vehicle that was parked outside Timothy House, Kale Road. On Wednesday 18th April, during the afternoon, a motor vehicle was stolen from Eastgate Close. The team have recently received reports of two males smoking cannabis, in an alleyway, St Michaels Close. On Saturday 14th April, two males were searched after they were seen to be loitering in the alleyway. No cannabis found, but intelligence gained. Patrols around the area will continue. On Friday 13th April, PC Nana arrested a female for fraud offences. PC Nana interviewed the female who fully admitted that she had done wrong. Due to the female’s previous good character, she received an adult caution. On Thursday 12th April, the team worked with Sam from the AA in fixing anti-theft screws to members of the public car number plates. Although we was only at the BP petrol garage for a hour and half, Sam was kept very busy, with 15 vehicles having new screws fitted. Hugely enjoyable and successful event, which we plan to arrange again in the future".

The end video this week is a bit of a flash back to last year, when local arts commissioning group The Exchange ran The Erith Lighthouse - promoting local artists and social activities in the daytime, and turning into a pop - up restaurant in the evenings. The Erith Lighthouse was planned to be a "one off" event, but I have heard rumours that more may well be seen of this unique, landmark structure in the future, though the details are still somewhat vague.