Sunday, May 24, 2015

Homeleigh for the homeless?


The situation with road traffic around Erith is becoming intolerable. A number of traffic calming measures have been recently introduced that in certain circumstances have actually made the problem worse. Last Monday there was a serious road traffic accident in James Watt Way, which involved two fire engines and an ambulance after the collision left one of the cars overturned on its side. The photos above show the incident, and were taken by local businessman and resident Mark Smallcorn. Fortunately the occupants of both vehicles received only minor injuries, but it could have been a whole lot worse. James Watt Way runs from the KFC drive through, down past the affordable housing flats (more on these later) to Morrison’s petrol station, then loops around the circumference of Morrison’s car park, to terminate at the riverfront (the location of the notorious Morrison’s recycling facility, which is a haven for illegal fly tippers, as I have written in many occasions in the past). The road is long and fairly wide, and normally does not get very much traffic on the stretch around the car park, and as such it is a haven for boy racers, both in cars and on illegal unregistered dirt bikes and mopeds. I don't know the precise circumstances of the crash on Monday, so I am unable to comment on the specifics, but in my experience, these kind of accidents are caused by an excess of both testosterone and speed. A couple of speed bumps would probably help discourage the car drivers from driving recklessly, but conversely it would probably encourage the illegal bikers, as I have seen them use the bumps as mini ramps to jump over in other locations. It is only a matter of time before a pedestrian crossing the road gets hit and killed. Conversely the speed bumps installed last year in Manor Road have been an example of the law of unexpected consequences. The humps, which have been installed adjacent to Frobisher Road, are intended to cause traffic to slow down to comply with the twenty mile an hour speed limit imposed on the residential section of the road. What happens in reality is that because the humps don’t span the full width of the road, drivers swerve towards the gap between the humps in the centre of the road, and don't slow down at all. This behaviour is exhibited by vehicles travelling on both directions, and the humps consequently end up forcing drivers into the centre of the road. I have witnessed a collision caused by the poor road behaviour of the drivers, and local residents say that near misses and knocked off wing mirrors are a commonplace occurrence. Ironically when drivers do slow down and drive across the humps as intended, they make a loud thump, which at night is particularly irritating to householders nearby. Manor Road is extremely busy during the weekday period – a constant flow of cars, commercial vehicles and the regular 99 bus in both directions every few minutes means that it is one of the busiest thoroughfares in the town, yet at night and during the weekend it is very quiet indeed. Solving traffic problems anywhere can be complex, but for some reason unknown to me they seem particularly troublesome around Erith.



Regular readers will be aware that the Maggot Sandwich supports Bexley Food Bank, which is operated by a group of volunteers organised in a joint enterprise between St. John’s in West Street, Christ Church Erith, and Queen Street Baptist Church, where the food bank itself is actually located. Erith Morrison’s operate a donation trolley just outside of the supermarket cafeteria, where shoppers can donate goods that they have just purchased. Tins and dry goods are preferred – for obvious reasons frozen food cannot be donated. Things such as loo rolls and pet food are always required too. I think the country as a whole would be far better off if things like food banks were not required, and that the welfare state would be able to support those in most need. The facts are that the state is unable to cope, and it is only by the efforts of volunteer organisations of many types around the country that the most vulnerable and needy can be supported. As well as food banks and credit unions, another form of help is shortly to become available. The Social Supermarket is a new concept – a supermarket that sells goods at far below the prices charged by even the likes of Aldi and Lidl. The Social Supermarket sells food at roughly one third of the actual retail price to people on benefits; it sells mis – labelled or wrongly packaged food that is well within sell – by date, but which would otherwise be rejected by the big supermarket chains. Similarly they sell misshapen fruit and vegetables that are still nutritious and tasty, but which don't fit the selection criteria of the major high street chains, or lines of food that have been overstocked are sold at wholesale price. The first UK based Social Supermarket was opened last week in West Norwood, South London by Mayor Boris Johnson, who has made a grant of £300,000 available to other groups who wish to set up similar Social Supermarkets elsewhere. Boris said “They are a help – up, not a hand – out. My funding will help boroughs kick start similar Social Supermarket ventures that can really help local people on tight budgets”. Whether we will see a venture of this type in the local area I don't know, although I am certain that the demand is there. In a similar vein, another social enterprise is being debated, and I get the feeling that it is going to generate a lot of strong feelings on both sides of the discussion, as well as a lot of column inches in our local papers. Bexley Council have proposed that the old and currently unused Homeleigh nursing home in Avenue Road, Erith which was closed some time ago as no longer being suitable for purpose may be re – opened to provide temporary accommodation for homeless people. Bearing in mind that Avenue Road and the adjacent Park Crescent are the two roads in the town with the best addresses,, I have already heard some concern from residents about the plan. Worries regarding possible criminal activity and drug taking / dealing have been the principle concerns. My personal view is that nobody chooses to be homeless, and a vast majority of those likely to be housed in the former nursing home will be “nice” people who are down on their luck. Being homeless does not make you a criminal. The fact that Bexley Council are (uncharacteristically in my opinion) acting in a pragmatic and practical way to address the serious problem of  a local lack of affordable housing by recycling a currently empty building seems eminently sensible and, dare I say it, a very good idea. As with anything of this nature, the devil is in the detail; if the Homeleigh centre was used as a halfway house for a large number of people with dependency problems, then I could see a good deal of reason for local concern. I can also appreciate worries about the effect such a centre could have on house prices (for non - local readers, Avenue Road and Park Crescent are the two “upmarket” roads in Erith, with some lovely 1930’s era detached and semi-detached houses in quiet, tree – lined surroundings, making a very desirable and quite expensive environment). If the homeless centre gets the green light, it will need to be sensitively managed. I think it could turn into a “win / win” if it is handled correctly. “Ah”, I guess some readers are going to say “but you don't have to live there!” Which I don't – I live about as far on the opposite side of town as you can get. Where I live there are a number of “problem” families in fairly close proximity, but in reality the level of disturbance is fairly low, as long as you get used to the flashing blue lights of the emergency services at least a couple of times an average evening – they have learned not to use their sirens, as this disturbs local residents. Doreen Ives, the Chair of Erith Town Forum attended the on - site residents meeting on Thursday evening; she was not impressed with how the meeting had been organised, as she wrote:- 

"1.  No signage whatsoever was displayed.  Together with other attendees I spent at least 20 minutes trying to find where it was taking place on the premises, including returning home to retrieve the letter of invitation, to check I had the correct day, time and place.

2.  The format of the meeting was not clear.  Having attended many Council consultation meetings,  there being no agenda, I expected to see boards with plans displayed and officers ready to answer questions.  How wrong I was.  The meeting was badly conducted.

3.  The officers taking a formal meeting were not well informed and could not satisfactorily answer many of the questions posed by residents of the local area.  

4.  Unfortunately the local Councillors attending similarly were not briefed to answer questions.

The residents attending were  already very dissatisfied with the interim security company, presently employed by the Council to look after the premises and this led those at the meeting  to the conclusion that the proposed new "interim"arrangements will be no better and could be much worse.

Whilst not wanting to assume that the homeless families, now being considered as possible tenants for Homeleigh, will be people without the community spirit/awareness currently displayed by existing residents in the area of the Home, many people are very worried because they have seen bad things happening to other local areas.  We do question why Erith always seems to be the place to solve difficult problems.

Bexley Council owes all its residents the courtesy of clear and honest details of new plans for disused sites, wherever they are in the Borough.  We must have proper notice of the plans currently being submitted to Bexley's Planning Committee for the Homeleigh building and ample opportunity to discuss the options in a properly organised and informed meeting.As with anything, the Homeleigh issue will become clearer with time. One thing I personally feel – being homeless does not make a person a criminal, or indeed anti – social. We have empty properties in public ownership, and we need to ensure that they are used responsibly.


Last Sunday night Erith Pier was the location of another attempted suicide - and there were another two attempts later in the week - three calls in one week were made to the RNLI to intervene. Fortunately the emergency services, including the RNLI were able to stop the person before they threw themselves in the Thames on all three occasions. One thing again strikes me – the RNLI had to travel all the way from their base in Gravesend, which even at top speed must have taken quite some time. The nearest other RNLI station is at London Bridge, meaning that Erith is about equidistant between the two, and thus the furthest point from an RNLI boat and crew. As I have mentioned before, with the level of river activity increasing, and the number of incidents revolving around Erith Pier, it again strikes me that we could really do with an RNLI substation in the area. The number and seriousness of incidents should surely justify this? As I have previously mentioned, the former Port of London Authority office next to the wooden jetty and Erith Riverside Gardens (see the photo above - click for a larger view) would seem to be an ideal location – it has electricity, running water and a loo / wash basin, and sufficient space for three or four volunteers to stay whilst on call. The adjacent wooden jetty would also provide an ideal place to launch an inshore rescue boat. What do you think? Leave a comment below, or Email hugh.neal@gmail.com

Bexley Council have come up with another stealthy method to screw yet more hard earned cash out of hapless residents. I suppose that one should not really be surprised after the uncounted years of them offering poor value for council tax payers money. They are about to begin a scheme to retire the brown bins many people use for the disposal of food and garden waste for composting. Here’s what the council say “The current mixed food and garden waste service will be replaced with a separate food waste and chargeable garden waste service. The new food and garden waste service is currently being developed but below is some initial information on the scheme. The garden waste scheme will cost £33 a year (£1.32 a collection) but there will be an early bird discount offered if you sign up before 31 August which will be £27 a year (£1.08 a collection). New legislation on separate collections has revealed it is more environmentally beneficial to collect food waste separately from garden waste. The benefit is a result of the food being able to be used as an energy source and a soil improver. Financial constraints facing the Council also means the economic efficiency of a service has to be considered. Garden waste can be charged for under the Controlled Waste Regulations. A number of local Councils already charge for this service and others do not provide a garden waste service. Bexley's garden waste service will be the cheapest of any London borough. The food waste will be collected in a food waste box. This has a lockable lid which prevents animals being able to access the food. Your food waste will continue to be collected free of charge. Garden waste can be home composted providing free compost for the garden. Reduced price home compost bins are available from get composting. Alternatively garden waste can be brought free of charge to either of the reuse and recycling centres. The current brown bins will be recycled into new recycling containers providing the Council with an income which will cover the cost of collecting them. The majority of the brown bins are 10 years old and a lot of these would need to be replaced anyway over the next few years. Food waste will continue to be collected weekly on your normal collection day. Garden waste will be collected fortnightly but will be suspended over Christmas”. Well, at least they have been quite comprehensive in their explanation, even if it does leave a lot to be desired. Bexley already suffers from some of the very worst instances of fly tipping in the whole of Greater London, and this change in council policy is almost certain to make matters worse. I foresee a lot more dumping of garden waste than we currently see – it may be free to dump at the council tip in Thames Road, Crayford, but many don't want the bother of going there, and won’t want to pay the council monthly fee – I can see a lot of disreputable “scrap” dealers offering to cart away and dispose of garden waste at a cheaper rate, then they will go and dump it in any place that they think they can get away with. I think we could be faced with yet another case of the law of unintended consequences, where a money saving enterprise ends up costing more than it saves.


Much as I predicted last November, the Dart Charge automated toll system that has been deployed on the Dartford River Crossing has been causing all sorts of problems for motorists. Drivers are now complaining that they are being charged twice, or getting Emails demanding that they pay, when they already had. Dart Charge has been in place since November 29. Motorists have no longer had to stop at toll booths to pay for the crossing. Instead, they can pay remotely, either online, on the phone, in certain shops or by post. The idea behind this is that free flowing traffic should move more quickly. Overhead cameras using number plate recognition technology are in place to catch any toll-dodgers who will be issued a fine for non-payment. The Automobile Association have become involved in the situation; a spokesman commented to the Bexley Times that “Soon after the Dart Charge began, it was clear that some drivers were running up against, perhaps inevitable, computerised glitches when trying to pay. It was equally foreseeable that there would need to be a system of customer support to resolve complaints quickly and painlessly while the Dart Charge scheme bedded in. However, in February, it was apparent that early problems weren't going away and complaints weren't being resolved quickly. Twitter and Facebook chatter clearly shows that there are many frustrated customers, some credit must go to Dart Charge for intervening and trying to help them, but equally there may be many others with a complaint who haven’t spoken out.” Not only the AA, but the Highways Agency (now renamed Highways England, for some reason) have got involved – there are clearly a lot of very annoyed people about. Edmund King, the president of the AA said “It is particularly galling that any toll remains at Dartford.  The tolls and charges were supposed to be lifted in 2003 when the cost of the scheme had been met. The new scheme has undoubtedly eased the congestion at busy times but, for some, there is a new concern regarding the behind-the-scenes bureaucracy that accompanies this supposedly high-tech, non-stop tolling. We expect appeals to ramp up in the coming months and if the authority does not act quickly to reduce errors it could be embarrassing. We expect many drivers to incur penalties through not being aware of the scheme. And those who seek help with problems they have experienced with the ‘back office’ may get frustrated when problems are not resolved quickly or easily enough.  We believe that, so far, only around four hundred appeals have been considered by the Traffic Penalty Tribunal and thankfully, because of the teething problems, the vast majority of drivers are winning their cases. We expect appeals to ramp up in the coming months and if the authority does not act quickly to reduce errors it could be embarrassing. With the scheme now into its sixth month, the AA calls for a transparent review of customer service standards and the performance of the electronic processes so any needed improvements can be made. The AA also believes a complaints system and ‘users group’ should be established to ensure users have a voice.”

North End Safer Neighbourhood Police team issued the following warning last week. It sounds like a couple of fraudsters are operating locally. “Please be aware of 2 females who have recently been in the FOREST ROAD area of SLADE GREEN, knocking on doors asking for sponsorship for charity or claiming to offer locksmith services. THEY ARE FRAUDSTERS so please be aware and share this information with anyone you may know who lives in Forest Road or other surrounding roads, indeed anywhere across the ward. One of the females is aged 40-45 and the other aged 20-25. If you know someone or are someone who may have had contact with these two, or have recently given a cash donation to The British Heart Foundation or similar in recent weeks, on the doorstep, please contact us.” A second local safety and security warning has been issued by Bexley Borough Neighbourhood Watch Association "Please be aware that there are lot of counterfeit £50 notes being used in Welling and the Bexleyheath area. A male enters the store and goes to buy a low value item at the till. The male then attempts to pay with a genuine £50 note (which has been checked by the staff). The male then states he might have change and asks for the £50 back. He then says that he hasn't got change and hands back a £50 note which is then put in the till without being checked. It appears that the note that is handed back in a fake £50 note, but because it is not check second time around the man walks away with the necessary change. Obviously from the above we believe he is switching them when he asks for the note back. The male appears to be targeting small shops and businesses. The male is described as a white male, aged in his 30's approximately 6'2". He had short brown hair with an Irish accent. If you are in possession of a £50 which you believe to be fake please call Police straight away by ringing 101. Please handle the note as little as possible as forensics will want to examine it".

Following the article last week on the crackdown on illegal bike riders on the protected Slade Green Marshes, I have had an update from the local Police. It turns out the raid pictured last week was not a one – off occurrence; they have been visiting the site on a number of occasions, and have successfully intercepted a number of other bikers illegally riding on the area of outstanding scientific interest. The Police have been in contact with the landowner, and holes in the fences surrounding the site are being repaired, and extra stiles being built to restrict the marsh to pedestrian use only. No doubt some of the more hard-core of the illegal bikers will return with an angle grinder, but strenuous efforts are being made to deny them access to the site that is home to many rare species of plant and animal. Unfortunately the most serious of all local offenders won't be affected by the loss of Slade Green Marshes to ride on, as the bike they ride is manifestly not suited to off – road use. There are two lads, aged between thirteen and fifteen who have been seen on multiple occasions riding a high powered racing bike. Both scrotes know what they are doing is illegal, as both wear hoodies with bandannas concealing the lower part of their faces. The bike looks like it might be a Suzuki GSX-R 1000 or something very similar (on the couple of occasions I have seen it,  the bike has been moving too fast for me to be able to say for certain, let alone get a note of the number plate).  The Police have been made aware of the two, who needless to say ride minus helmets, very openly in the local area, often at very high speeds. They are a danger to themselves and others; a bike of that nature can be a handful for a trained and experienced adult rider, let alone a couple of kids. I hope that they get caught before someone gets hurt, or worse. What do you think? Leave a comment below, or Email me at hugh.neal@gmail.com.



I had the following Email this week from a representative of the Friends Of Riverside Gardens Erith (FORGE):- "With reference to last week's article relating to the Erith Riverside "Clean-Up" days I thought you would like to know the history behind these arrangements. In the Spring of 2010 Alec Tapper (Chairman of The Friends Of Riverside Gardens Erith ("FORGE") approached Ashe Hurst, who was a Project Officer with Thames 21 operating in Bexley, with a view to initiating a clean up of the Erith Thames Foreshore because of the excessive amount of trolleys and other debris despoiling the river views.  Alec was also a member of the Bexley Recycling and Waste Minimisation Group for the last 20 years and he discussed the matter of cleaning up the Thames at Erith with the Bexley Council Officers and other members of the Focus Group.  He brought these two organisations together and included Morrisons as the majority of the trolleys came from their supermarket. It was agreed that Bexley Council Recycling Department would supply vans to collect the trolleys, etc., and take them to their recycling plant.  Thus the first "Clean-Up" day came into being.  Ashe Hurst was succeeded in 2011 by Michael Heath the River Cray Project Manager who has proved to be a great asset to Thames 21 and the Erith Riverside Clean-Up days.  Alec also liaised with the local shops for help on the day.  Two donated food for the volunteers i.e. KFC with chicken and fries, and Morrisons with sandwiches, cakes and bottled water.  Morrisons also provided two members of their staff for the day. Thanks to Alison Fisher, the Erith Rowing Club kindly opened its clubhouse for the volunteers to use their facilities. This operation is now in its sixth year and there are one or two Clean-Up days a year depending on the amount of debris in the river.  Over the years the volunteers have comprised FORGE and Thames 21 members, the local Army Cadets, members of Erith Yacht Club and Erith Rowing Club, a church group from Welling and numerous local community-minded people who see our posters around the town and just turn-up. This year the volunteers numbered 40.  They met at 10 am on Sunday the 10th May on the ramp next to the Erith Boathouse and worked until 1pm.  KFC and Morrisons did us proud and supplied lunch for all the hungry workers which fortified them to carry on in the afternoon until 3.30/4pm.  Their heroic efforts yielded 30 trolleys and 1.6 tonnes of assorted debris from the Thames mudflats, foreshore, footpaths and Riverside Gardens.  A big thank you to all who helped on the 10th May and in previous years.  I would also like to thank Wilkinsons who in the past have given FORGE vouchers for gardening equipment to help in their gardening project on the flowerbeds underneath the Flagpole". Excellent news; I was aware that the river around the pier had a number of trolleys in the mud, but not as many as thirty. I understand that a bog standard supermarket trolley sells for around £100 a unit, so that is a considerable amount of money thrown into the mud. Perhaps if Morrison's installed a trolley security system to prevent them being removed from the site, as some other supermarkets do, this might help? Quite what jollies the local scrotes get from bunging a trolley into the river completely escapes me.

Fellow local Blogger Malcolm Knight of "Bexley is Bonkers" is doing a far better job than I could ever hope to in documenting the engineering work being carried out between Abbey Wood and Plumstead for the Crossrail Project. The ending video this week shows a time lapse short film of the demolition of the old Abbey Wood Station ticket office. In point of fact, the contractors demolished the building a few days ahead of time, no doubt conscious of a penalty clause if they were late. Feel free to leave a comment below, or Email me at hugh.neal@gmail.com.