Sunday, October 19, 2014

The mystery of the vanishing scrap vans.


The photo above was taken at around half past eleven yesterday morning in the main assembly hall in Trinity School, Erith Road. It was the site of the second consultation event undertaken by the property developers and their public relations consultants in respect of the proposed housing and school development on the old Erith Quarry site, that has lain fallow and unused for at least thirty five years. A mock - up of the proposed layout of the new development can be seen below.


The turnout of local visitors to the event was impressive; when I arrived and took these photos the doors had only just been opened, and the event was due to run until around 4pm. I had detailed discussions with the development consultants, and was given the very strong message "we are in this for the long run". Subsequent to the first consultation event a couple of months ago, the feedback was generally very positive, but some concerns were expressed about the sheer number of houses and flats that were going to be constructed on the site; the number has consequently been reduced from 700 dwellings to 600, and the amount of space dedicated to open land and woodland has been proportionately increased. The circular structure that you can see on the mockup above (click on the photo for a larger view) is the proposed primary school. The green area next to it will be the school's all - weather sports pitch, underneath of which will be the staff and visitors car park - a very clever space saving design.


Most of the visitors were broadly in favour of the development of Erith Quarry, well aware of the jobs and opportunities that the former loam and gravel pit development would bring; one rather senior lady was having none of it though - she was walking round the room trying to get visitors to sign her petition to get the development banned. When I saw it, she had two signatures, one of which I suspect was her own. I suggested to her that she would probably be better off helping the campaign to prevent the Upper Belvedere water splash park from being closed by the council - all to save a measly £20,000. She thought this was an excellent idea, and left with a spring in her step. Sometimes it does not take much. What do you think of the proposed development? Leave a comment below or Email me on hugh.neal@gmail.com.

Since June, the road traffic around Erith and the surrounding towns has changed markedly since then. I was chatting to my builder whilst he carried out some work in the kitchen at Pewty Acres and he commented on how the once very familiar scrap collecting vans had all disappeared, almost overnight. He was entirely correct; before the start of June, the roads of Erith were flooded with “Scrappies” – small vans, usually based on a Ford Transit chassis that were crewed by a wide variety of people – but always men. I have never seen a female scrap van driver. If you walked down Manor Road at around 7am on a weekday morning, you would see whole convoys of these vehicles as they left their depot on the Wallhouse Industrial Estate on the Slade Green Marshes. The biggest local scrap company by far was City Scrap; I would have said that prior to June, around eighty five percent of scrap vehicles in the area were theirs. As you may recall I wrote at the time, Police and Revenue and Customs officials raided the offices and yard of City Scrap after finding strong evidence of a series of frauds and tax evasion, including an insurance fraud worth around £30,000. On top of the list of forty five offences the owners were charged with were making a false statement to obtain insurance, perverting the course of justice, and making a false statement to obtain  a scrap metal licence. I also understand that many of the scrap lorry driver / operators were claiming benefits whilst working, as well as other offences. All in all the closure of City Scrap was a necessity; they were operating well outside of the law. What surprises me in the four months since City Scrap were officially wound up as a company, no other scrap dealer has emerged to occupy the void left by the once dominant, if corrupt firm. Metal recycling is a vital part both of the local economy, and it also has great environmental benefits, so a new company taking over the business makes sense in a number of ways. Before June, if you left a scrap of metal anywhere in Erith it would disappear in moments. I recall that back in 2009 I had a new central heating boiler installed. Part of the process involved flushing the existing radiators of accumulated sludge and treating them with a rust inhibitor; a special pump had to be fitted to the lowest point in the heating circuit – in my case, one of the radiators in the living room. This was carefully removed and taken outside by the heating engineers. Despite the radiator being laid on a tarpaulin and two heating company vans being parked outside, in the space of the two hour flushing period I had a total of seven scrappies trying to take the radiator, even though it was obvious it had only been temporarily removed whilst work was carried out. One even accused me of taking food from his children’s mouths when I caught him trying to steal the radiator. He soon shut up and ran off when I told him that he was being recorded on CCTV! Nowadays it has all changed – a friend had a dead fridge freezer and left it in their front garden for four days before a scrap dealer removed it. The local scrap market seems to have dried up - which is not good news for those wishing to recycle old appliances and the like, and is not good for the environment. I will be further investigating the situation, and will report back in a week or two. 

Has anyone noticed that there are a number of old red double decker buses parked in the car park of the Europa Industrial Estate in Fraser Road. They are not visible from the road, but if you stand on the London bound platform at Erith station, you can clearly see them. I don't know who owns them, or what they are actually doing there, but they have been there for some time. One in particular has been extensively vandalised – the windows have all been smashed and graffiti scrawled all over it. Does anyone know who owns the buses, and exactly what they are doing there? I have heard all sorts of wild theories, such as they are part of a plot by a “Happy Shopper” style sub Bond villain to take over Lower Belvedere and Thamesmead with a fleet of second hand double decker buses. Do you know better? Then let me know.


Several media websites such as Digital Spy have had online discussions in respect of the planned movie spin – off from the popular E4 television show “Misfits”. Since the huge success of the two “Inbetweeners” films, the executives at Channel 4 have been looking for another show to turn into a film, that would hopefully rake in more huge profits.  “Misfits” was chosen as the most likely programme to transfer to the big screen, mainly following the recent spate of Marvel superhero movies that have dominated the box office and on demand streaming for the last few years. I case you were not aware “Misfits” follows the adventures of a group of young offenders on community service who mysteriously get given super powers. They operate in a dystopian world not far removed from that in Stanley Kubrick’s “A Clockwork Orange”. “Misfits” was filmed on location in and around the Tavy Bridge area of Thamesmead, and on the old Bexley College campus. Online fan speculation went wild when the plans for the “Misfits” movie were shelved indefinitely – the film is now not going to be made. All sorts of theories were mooted as to why the project had been cancelled, ranging from some of the stars from the TV series not being available, to the script was not good enough. The real reason is far more prosaic – nearly all of the regular locations used in the show have now been demolished – Tavy Bridge has been redeveloped, and the old Bexley college is currently in the process of being knocked down, as you can see from the photo above – click for a larger view. There are no other locations that look more than remotely similar, and the cost of recreating them in CGI would have been prohibitive for what would have been a low budget production. One of the strong points of “Misfits” is the very distinctive production design, typified by the late 1960’s brutalist architecture of Thamesmead that provides the backdrop for the show; this is also its weak point – it is so distinctive that nowhere else can be used as a believable substitute, and recreating it using physical scenery or computer imagery would just cost too much money. Thus the film project has been dropped. Personally I did not care for the show much anyway, but then I was not in the target demographic.

The debate about new Thames river crossings seems to be hotting up both in the local and the regional press. The population of Greater London is set to hit ten million in the next few years, and most of the viable areas for housing development occur in south East London and South Essex, which also happen to be relatively inexpensive areas in which to live when compared with the rest of Greater London. As we have already seen locally, The Erith Park and Erith Quarry developments, as well as a host of smaller building projects such as the Moat Housing Association flats being constructed adjacent to KFC and Morrison’s car park, there is already a great deal of new housing going up. This is only set to increase; historically London increased in population sevenfold between the 19th and 20th centuries – and most of this was concentrated in the now wealthy West London, which has been attributed to the large number of bridges spanning the river on the western side of town. The Thames is much narrower in the West, and bridge construction is consequently much more straightforward. The situation in the East is different; when you go past Tower Bridge, the only river crossings are the Rotherhithe Tunnel, the Blackwall Tunnel, the Woolwich ferry and the Dartford QEII bridge and tunnel. The more observant of you will notice that I have not included the “Arabfly Dangleway” – the Emirates sponsored cable car that connects the Royal Docks with the Greenwich Peninsular. The reason for this is that it is not a serious means of mass transit, and it certainly is incapable of moving any cargo. I was searching for opinions on the cable car earlier in the week, when I came across a blog written by the Lincolnshire and East Yorkshire Transport Review (a group whom one would suppose would be particularly amenable to a new form of public transport). Their opinion however was:-“ Many see the Air Line as a vanity project by the London Mayor, with its planned opening by hook or crook for the 2012 London Olympic Games. I didn't follow the story of its inception to completion in enough detail to be able to comment, though the Air Line does seem under-used if yesterday's visit is anything to go by. Yes, it offers another cross-Thames option, but at a price. Even with Travel cards, you're looking at £3.20 one way and both terminals aren't exactly in the throbbing hearts of local communities. To summarise, the Emirates Air Line is OK for a one-off on a tourist's bucket list, but nothing more. This could be its Achilles heel: once you've visited, you don't return. I honestly can't see it becoming a shining example of commercialism through regular commuters. Would I make use of it again? Possibly - if I was with friends who'd not used it before. It's not the easiest attraction to reach for tourists who are sunning themselves in Hyde Park and who spontaneously decide to have a cable car ride, and this is another of its problems”. I think that pretty much sums it up; it goes from nowhere to nowhere, and carries fewer people on a busy day than the Blackwall Tunnel does in five minutes on a quiet one. For me this disqualifies the cable car as a credible means of cross Thames transportation. The proposed new river crossings at Beckton to Gallions Reach and from Rainham to Lower Belvedere are predicted to generate an increase in cross – river communication and trade that would fuel sixty thousand new jobs and around forty five thousand new homes by the year 2030. Public opinion polls broadly support the creation of new cross river links, though of course there are specific reservations; any bridge across the Thames at Gallions Reach would have to be high enough to allow ships to pass underneath, which in itself would cause air navigation worries due to the close proximity to London City Airport – a plane making an aborted landing, or landing due to mechanical problems will find a large road bridge about the last thing they would wish to encounter. In fact, under international air law, it is illegal to build any structure higher than fifteen metres within one kilometre of an airport. On top of all this, there are also plans, which were announced this week by Secretary of State for Transport Andrew Adonis for an additional link, most likely in the form of a tunnel from Greenwich to Newham. Quite where all the money is going to come from for all these cross Thames connections is anyone’s guess. I suppose that they will be privately funded by developers who in return will be able to rake in the subsequent toll fees from the hapless motorist. I get the feeling that the momentum is building up to the point where after years of prevarication and dithering, at least a couple of projects will actually come to fruition. Time will no doubt tell.

The News Shopper have developed a photographic cliché – whenever they feature a person or group who have a dispute or argument with someone, they always photograph the people with their arms folded in front of them. I suppose that it is intended to indicate that the person is fed up, but it has now become tired and predictable. The current story involves a dispute with the proprietor of “The Real China” restaurant in Bexleyheath Broadway. You can read all about it here. I won't debate the pros and cons of the story; it speaks pretty much for itself. What does interest me is that the customers featured actually went to “The Real China” in the first place. I have walked past it on many occasions – it is dark, dingy and looks grubby and somewhat unwelcoming. When I checked the restaurant on “Scores on the Doors” I was not surprised to discover that it had a zero out of five star score for food hygiene – the place should be closed down, as should anywhere with a score of less than three stars out of five, as I have discussed several times in the past. I predict that with all the negative publicity that "The Real China" has suffered, and the highlighting of the absolutely appalling food hygiene rating the place has, it will go bust and be closed for good in a matter of weeks, and quite rightly so. 


Dana Whiffen of Bexley Neighbourhood Watch Association made the following announcement this week:- "Next Wednesday 22nd October 2014 as part of "Operation Big Wing" there is a Community Crime Prevention Day in the Freemantle Hall, Bexley Village, 51-75 Bexley High Street, from 12.30-4pm. With Christmas approaching its a good time to be extra aware of the increase in theft over this period so why not come along to meet St.Mary's Police Team, Neighbourhood Watch Volunteers, Trading Standards and Citizens Advice representatives. There will be free purse bells, anti theft number plate screws, "message in a bottles" as well as offering property marking advice and UV pens. Why not come in for a chat? There will be teas/coffees and cakes available too. Additionally Bexley Police and Neighbourhood Watch will have a stand in Bexleyheath Shopping Mall from 10.00am to 3pm, similar advice and crime prevention items and reading material will also be available, so if you are shopping in Bexleyheath find us for a chat". Thanks Dana - more details are included in the poster above - click on it for a larger and more detailed version. 

You might not realise it, but Erith was home to one of Britain’s best loved comedians – the late Linda Smith was born and raised in Erith, and attended what was then Erith College. She had an entire line in Erith jokes which to be honest were spot on, but ended up being believed by people unfamiliar with the town, and have ended up creating a bad impression. For example, when talking about Erith’s teenagers she said “People knock ASBOs but you have to bear in mind they are the only qualification some of these kids are going to get”. Most famously she also said “Erith isn’t twinned with anywhere, but it does have a mutual suicide pact with Dagenham”. The News Shopper is reporting that a new night of stand-up comedy is soon to begin at Erith Working Men’s club; the first event will be on Friday the 24th October at 8pm. The evening will be hosted by a group called Runaway Comedy and they will be holding bi – monthly comedy nights at the club in the future. I think this is an excellent idea; efforts were made a couple of years ago to set up a similar stand-up comedy night at the Running Horses, adjacent to Erith Riverside Gardens. A few events were organised, and the feedback that I had from someone who visited was very favourable. The nights seemed to fizzle out after a relatively short amount of time – I don't think that they were particularly well publicised, and the audiences were not very big. I reckon that a well-run comedy club held on a regular basis could be just what Erith needs. I am not so sure that the Working Men’s club is the best of venues though – it is too far from the town centre, and not easily accessible by public transport. I can think of at least one venue which would be absolutely ideal for a comedy club that would have long term viability, be easy to reach, have close parking and slap bang in Erith town centre. The Cross Keys Centre would be ideal for such a club – whilst the ground floor former bar area is currently being converted into a restaurant / coffee shop, the upper floors of the building are complete, or almost complete; as I have previously written, the accommodation and the first floor function room have been converted into office spaces, meeting rooms and a multimedia presentation suite. Originally this was intended to be for the sole use of Anglo American management consultants the Aleff Group – who own the building and have paid a fortune to have it sympathetically restored and adapted for business use. They soon realised the level of interest and support from the local community, and that there was a great deal that they could do to be a socially responsible organisation. Now, local independent traders or small businesses can hire a hot desk or meeting room for a couple of hours, or as long as they require at rates far lower than are normally commercially available; there are break out areas, climate controlled air conditioning, a kitchen to make hot or cold drinks, free Wi-Fi and printing capacity, along with 24 hour CCTV security. The building will also be used for meetings by organisations such as Erith Town Forum, Bexley Rotary Club and Bexley Round Table. It is anticipated that local councillors will be able to hold surgeries in the building, and they will generally improve accessibility to local government by members of the public. The first floor presentation suite can be used as a large seminar space, a cinema or a small theatre suitable for music recitations or indeed for stand-up comedy. It will be interesting to see what contribution to local culture and the arts the Cross Keys Centre will make in the future – as I have previously written, I have very high hopes for the enterprise. Perhaps the next Michael McIntyre or Jason Manford will be found at the Cross Keys in a couple of years? Only time will tell. contact me at hugh.neal@gmail.com.

The ending video is something I found on YouTube; someone has digitised a copy of part of a VHS video tape which was released quite a few years ago, which showed film footage taken in and around Erith, Bexleyheath, Crayford and Welling over the years. Most of the film footage seems to be from the early to mid 1950's, although some sequences may be a little older. take a look and see what you think.