Sunday, October 26, 2014

Bank Chambers then and now.


Autumn has hit Erith hard, as you can see from the trees around Erith Riverside Shopping Centre in the photo above - click for a larger view. I recently acquired a lawn vacuum cleaner - my new synthetic lawn might not need mowing or watering, but it does not stop errant leaves and sycamore "helicopter" seeds from using it as a landing strip. A brief whizz round with the vacuum sorts it out - until the next batch begin to fall. I have now had my synthetic lawn for a couple of weeks and I am very happy with it. If anyone has any questions regarding synthetic lawns, please drop me a line to hugh.neal@gmail.com

The mystery of the old double decker buses parked in the Europa Industrial Estate in Fraser Road has been solved by one of my informants. The buses are owned and operated by a company called Abbey Travel, who operate a double decker bus hire business. You can see their fleet of double deckers by clicking here. Nice to get to the bottom of that conundrum.

I sometimes get questioned as to how I get so many local stories, and what my sources are. To be honest they come from all over the place; some are issues that have been raised by local newspapers like the News Shopper, but in my opinion have been inadequately explored. Others are from a small army of mostly anonymous informers who drop me pieces of information whenever they come across something that they feel might be of interest to the Maggot Sandwich readers. Another source is from announcements carefully squirrelled away on obscure and little visited web pages, or in the public announcement pages of local publications. Very few people actually read these, and many a time I have been able to bring something to wider attention due to Bexley Council or a commercial organisation trying to “hide in plain sight”. It is the same with applications for planning permission which have to be displayed in public – how many people ever stop to read such an announcement when it is attached to a lamp post, or placed in a vacant shop window? Not very many, I would think. I know that Malcolm Knight of Bexley is Bonkers has a similar enquiring mind – probably why we do tend to quite often feature similar local issues, albeit from slightly different approaches. This week a search of the printed version of the News Shopper (which incidentally does not get delivered in large parts of Erith) has brought up a story that will certainly be of local interest. A company with the rather innocuous name of Riverside Resource Recovery Limited has posted a statutory notice / official  announcement in the back pages of the aforementioned paper. The notice states “The variation application is made in respect of the Riverside Resource recovery facility energy from waste station (“the Facility”) which is located in Norman Road, Belvedere in the London Borough of Bexley. The Section 36 consent authorised the construction of the new energy from waste electricity generating station to treat a maximum of 670,000 tonnes per annum of waste with the capacity to generate up to 72 MW. The facility has been operating since 2013 (following commissioning which began in 2011), treating and recovering energy from municipal solid waste and commercial and industrial waste. The variation application is accompanied by an environmental statement which describes the main respects in which RRRL considers that the likely significant effects of the proposed changes sought in the application would differ from those described in the environmental statement submitted in 2002 in connection with the Section 36 consent.  The proposed changes include a request for approval for:-
  • An increase in the maximum throughput of the facility from 670,000 tpa to 785,000 tpa of waste.
  • The option for river borne waste to be transported to the facility from the Port of Tilbury in addition to the riparian waste transfer stations in Greater London.
No physical works or alterations to the existing facility are proposed as part of the variation application and no change is proposed to the consented application boundary approved under the original Section 36 consent and associated Deemed Planning permission (approved plan D1.2)".
Phew – apologies for the somewhat dense legal language, but the above is a direct quotation from the planning notice. It would seem that the energy from waste generating station in Lower Belvedere is seeking to increase the amount of waste that is processed through the facility each year. I seem to recall that when the power station was initially proposed, it was said that it would not be expanded, and the amount of road traffic would not increase as a consequence. Quite cleverly, the wording of the notice gets around both of these points by saying that the physical size of the power station will be unchanged, and waste will be delivered by river. They may not be breaking the word of the undertaking, but I feel that they are certainly encroaching on the spirit of it. Additionally the small print of the announcement (which is already in very small print to begin with) states that any objection to the application has to be submitted in writing no later than the 14th of November, and that a hard copy of the full variation application and environmental statement can be obtained from Riverside Resource Recovery Ltd at a cost of £175! Surely an ideal way to put off local objectors. On top of this, the announcement is squirrelled away on one of the rarely read back pages, amongst the adverts for second hand cars and central heating boilers. It reminds me of a scene early in the first “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” book by Douglas Adams. The protagonist. Arthur Dent is lying in the road in front of his house, trying to stop diggers from demolishing his house after the council compulsorily purchased it without telling him. Mister Prosser, the man from the council planning department says to Arthur:-

“But the plans were on display…”
“On display? I eventually had to go down to the cellar to find them.”
“That’s the display department.”
“With a flashlight.”
“Ah, well, the lights had probably gone.”
“So had the stairs.”
“But look, you found the notice, didn't you?”
“Yes,” said Arthur, “yes I did. It was on display in the bottom of a locked filing cabinet stuck in a disused lavatory with a sign on the door saying ‘Beware of the Leopard.”

The back pages of the News Shopper are the metaphorical equivalent of a locked filing cabinet in a disused lavatory – any organisation can publish an announcement or planning request there with the fairly secure knowledge that almost nobody will read it. Later when the objections start arriving, they can comfortably say “we did publish the announcement, sorry if you did not read it; now it is too late”. It is only the likes of Malcolm Knight and myself who patrol these dark and little frequented locations and bring such things to wider notice. We do it so you don't have to.

A mole deep within the cadre of the middle management in the Erith branch of Morrison’s has briefed me on the actions being taken since the store infamously scored a two out of five star “Scores on the Door” food hygiene award back on the 14th of July this year. The appraisal of the store found that the inspectors rated the supermarket as Poor for Food Hygiene and Safety, Fair for Structural compliance, and Some for Confidence in Management. This is clearly unacceptable for a “big four” high street supermarket – indeed, in my opinion, a score of two is unacceptable in any kind of case. It turns out that the store senior management have been in in a series of what the Army refers to euphemistically as “a meeting without coffee” – which basically means a real dressing down from the top brass. Subsequent to this, a series of out of hours deep cleaning exercises have been taking place; the checkout kiosks have now been completed, and the cleaning team are making their way around the store over the next couple of weeks. Hopefully improving things before the next scheduled inspection. I would imagine that if Erith Morrison’s does not get a five star rating at the next visit, some senior heads are likely to roll. If you work at Erith Morrison’s and know more, please contact me in complete confidence. I would like to know the details behind the deep clean, and the level of staff morale in the shop. Drop me a line to hugh.neal@gmail.com for a confidential chat.


Here is the next in my occasional series of "then and now" local photographs. The upper photo shows the view looking West along Pier Road, showing the building known locally as "Bank Chambers". The black and white shot was taken in 1965, just before the original Erith Town Centre was destroyed - an event that many locals consider ruined the town to the point that only now, over forty years later is it recovering. On the left is what in 1965 was Clarke's coal office, which was built in 1900; it was originally designed as the Erith branch of the London and Provincial Bank. Soon it was taken over by Charles H. Norris - sand and ballast merchants, and also Herbert W. Clarke and Co., barge and tug owner / operators. It is also interesting to note that all of the cars in the photo are of British origin - An Austin Mini, A Morris Minor 1000 and a couple of Austin 1800 "Land Crabs". In the upper photograph you can also see the now long gone Erith Methodist Church. It was replaced with the Erith Small Business Centre, which consisted of twenty five small office spaces and a few light manufacturing units, one of which contained a small company teaching ceramics and pottery production. That was demolished in the late 1990's and has been replaced with the block of flats you can clearly see in the lower photograph. The retail units on the ground floor have never been let to date. I understand that Nando's did enquire about leasing the largest of the three available units, but negotiations stalled when Bexley Council refused to grant them a reduction in business rates to cover the installation of around £30,000 of kitchen venting and air filtering equipment which would have been required for the restaurant. Hopefully a business will take them on soon. 

Not only has one new micro pub (the Penny Farthing) opened in Crayford, and a second is shortly to open in Blackfen (the Broken Drum), but Woolwich is getting a couple of rather upmarket pubs to compete with the frankly over priced and disappointing Dial Arch in the Woolwich Royal Arsenal development. The old Woolwich Equitable headquarters building in General Gordon Square has been given a major makeover and has been converted into "The Woolwich Equitable" a new pub and restaurant which opens next Thursday. It is operated by the Antic Pub Company, who have a well deserved reputation for taking old buildings in what could be termed "challenging" locations and turning them into successful venues. I understand that they also intend on purchasing and refurbishing the Volunteer pub in Powis Street. This has a patchy reputation at present, and if Antic can succeed in gentrifying central Woolwich, they will be on to a good thing. As I have previously written, the whole region from Woolwich through to Northfleet, along the expanse of the South East banks of the River Thames is ripe for investment and development over the next decade or so. I think we are in for some very interesting and transformative times. In the meantime it is only a twelve minute jaunt on the train from Erith to Woolwich Arsenal station - and the Woolwich Equitable is literally right outside the station entrance. I will be paying it a visit in the near future. 

It would seem that there are a lot of frightened and angry people in Thamesmead right now; the murder of local resident 25 year old Olamide Fasina, who was stabbed to death by a gang of youths in Wolvercote Road last Tuesday has caused a storm of understandable concern. It is rumoured that he was killed over the non – payment of a debt of £400, although this has yet to have been confirmed. Local residents are fearful of further attacks, and accuse the Police of not patrolling the area, and thus sending out an implied message to the gangs that parts of Thamesmead are “no go areas” for the authorities. Locals also say that there is confusion amongst the Police as to where the boundaries between Bexley and Greenwich authorities are, and that they are reluctant to cross into a borough for which they have no remit. Personally I think if a crime has been committed, it should be investigated by whichever Police officers are in the vicinity, irrespective of their beats. In practice I would think that it probably is, but does not get seen for what it is. Quite a few local Police officers read the Maggot Sandwich; I wonder if any would care to enlighten us as to how the borough demarcation actually operates in practice? Nevertheless, Thamesmead has always had a reputation for gang violence – indeed much of the local frustration with the perception that the Police are not around and patrolling has been fuelled by the recollection of a very similar murder back in 2009, when 22 year old Moses Nteyoyo was ambushed and murdered by a very similar group of armed youths. A few community meetings were organised by the Police back then, and little else seemed to happen. Once again the Police are organising residents get – togethers in a community centre, but the feeling seems to be this is pretty much all that is going to happen. I think a lot of it comes down to visibility of the Police – they don’t just need to be doing something, they need to be seen to be doing something, which is not always the same thing.


As I have written in the past, Erith has far less of a crime problem than many people realise. Much of what there is tends to be low level anti-social behaviour, fly tipping, petty burglary, metal theft and small time drug dealing. These small scale crimes are exactly what Neighbourhood Watch is set up to combat. There is a deal of power when neighbours look out for each other, and a better sense of community can also result when a new Neighbourhood Watch is established. Erith Watch is the largest Neighbourhood Watch group in the London Borough of Bexley, and has nearly four hundred household in its’ remit. This week they had a notable success. You may recall that recently I wrote about a youth who had been terrorising pedestrians by riding an illegal and unlicensed trail bike along the pavements of Erith. The errant rider was caught on camera and reported to the North End Safer Neighbourhood Police Team. It all went quiet for a while, then there was a flurry of activity. The offender was traced and caught; when confronted with both the photograph and a formal written witness statement he confessed to the offence, and has now been given six penalty points. When these were added to the six he already held, it meant he was instantly disqualified from driving. The only issue with this is the youth is too young to hold a licence anyway. I understand that when he does become old enough, the history of motoring offences will count heavily against him. I suppose this may mean that he just returns to driving illegally, as he would have little to lose as long as he remained undetected. Hopefully the whole incident will give him the shake – up he needs to stay on the straight and narrow, but I for one am not holding my breath. What the incident does go to illustrate is that the Neighbourhood Watch model does work, and a strong message has been sent to the offender (and several of his mates) that their actions do have consequences. It also lets the local low – lives know that they are being covertly watched, and where required, photographed when they break the law. Some may say that this will only transfer the problem to another neighbourhood; I would concur that this is a possibility, but if that neighbourhood has an active Neighbourhood Watch, then it should not be an issue. You can see the Erith Watch website here; please feel free to join. What do you think? Feel free to leave a comment below, or Email me at hugh.neal@gmail.com

Activity in respect of the proposals for construction on the old Erith Quarry site seems to be ramping up. A couple of residents have complained to the News Shopper that they have concerns that traffic levels will markedly increase in the area around the new development, affecting both Fraser and Bexley Roads and the turnings off these roads. One lady who is a resident of Athol Road commented that “We've only been in the road two years. People live there because it's a good, quiet road but it won't be for much longer with this going on now”. I can understand the concerns around the volumes of traffic – this is certainly something that will need to be addressed in conjunction with Bexley Council – roads will need to be restructured, and possibly widened to take account of the increase in volume. The comment about only having lived in Athol Road for two years, and it being a quiet place is a bit of a red herring in my opinion. The quarry site has been empty and unused for thirty five years, but for all of this period it was widely known that it would be built on at some stage – indeed the feedback from many locals has been that they were astonished that it has actually taken so long for any construction proposal to emerge. Any resident new to the area should have been made aware of the potential for the development of the quarry before they moved in nearby; any solicitors search would have revealed this information. I don't think that it is entirely realistic to expect one of the premium brownfield development sites in South East London to remain empty in perpetuity. Having said that, I think it will be incumbent on the developers to undertake the long term building work in a manner that is sensitive to the feelings of those living around the verges of the site. It seems to me that at the time of writing, the Anderson Group are bending over backwards to listen to local residents and alter their plans accordingly. I understand that there will always be some people who would rather that the quarry site be left undisturbed forever; this was never going to be a realistic outcome – there is a massive pressure on housing in all of Greater London, and especially in the East and South East, and the location close to Junction One of the M25, the A2 at the Black Prince interchange in Old Bexley, and the train links into London and out into Kent from Erith station do make the location exceptionally attractive to developers looking to appeal to a mature, professional customer base. It will be instructive to see how the proposal plans are modified after the second local consultation, held last weekend. I found both the developers and their professional consultants to be exceptionally open to suggestions and honest in their responses. What was made clear to me during my visit, and something that was said on a number of occasions is that Anderson’s are “in it for a long time”. An oft repeated criticism of the developers behind local estates has been that they treat the construction process like a commando raid – everything is prepared with the maximum amount of secrecy, the build is done as quickly as possible, and the developer then gets out as quickly as they can once they have been paid. Anderson have been promoting the message that they are in it for the long run, and want the Erith Quarry Development to become an intrinsic part of the greater Erith community. Thus far they have not given me any reason to doubt their veracity.

You may recall the video that ended the Maggot Sandwich update last week; it featured footage filmed in and around Erith, Crayford, Welling and Bexleyheath. I commented at the time that I thought it dated from the early to mid-1950’s – but I was not entirely sure. Local transport expert Dana Whiffen dropped me a line to explain the precise dating of the archive film. "The Q type single deckers seen in the footage were only on the 241 route during these 3 years (1949-52), they ran alongside RTL's which ran for a lot longer and were eventually replaced by RT type buses. There the video must have been filmed between 1949-52”. So there you have it – thanks to Dana for the piece of detective work.

I don't normally feature adverts or commercials on the Maggot Sandwich; as I have written before, any small financial gain I might make would be more than offset by the loss in impartiality and independence I so treasure. I am featuring the current TV commercial for Sainsbury's Halloween offers for one reason only. It features local Belvedere actress Isabelle Doherty in her first television appearance. She plays the little girl dressed as a pirate in the Halloween party - blink and you will miss it. Still, you have to start somewhere. Good luck to her. Comments below as always.