Sunday, March 01, 2015

Erith market to return?


The photo above was supplied by one of my team of anonymous informers; it was taken on Thursday afternoon, and shows the state that the demolition of the old Bexley College site in Tower Road has reached.  If you take a look at the additional photo below, you can see that the construction of the new housing on the site has begun even before the demolition of the old buildings has been completed. I have heard from a couple of sources that the condition of the site was far worse that the developer realised, and that far more levelling of the ground has been required - this is one of the reasons the whole project has been running behind schedule. Erith really is one large building site right now, but in a couple of years time the town should really be transformed. More on this transformation later. 


I have certainly had a busy time since I published last week’s blog update.  I have had an encouragingly large amount of support for my piece on right wing extremist Joshua Bonehill, and his campaign of intimidation against anyone he considers to be an opponent of his repugnant views, myself included. One thing Bonehill repeatedly emphasises in his warped writing is how he (in his words) is being persecuted for exercising his right to free speech. This strikes me as supremely ironic – he wants the right to write and speak his racist, homophobic, misogynist and antiSemitic views, but then threatens anyone who also uses their right of free speech to challenge his warped and offensive opinions. It seems to me that Bonehill thinks that there should be one law for him, and one (his) law for everybody else.  He also has a very strange attitude to the two sentences for Malicious Communication that he has already been awarded. In both of the cases that have so far been undertaken, Bonehill got a prison sentence that was suspended for a period of time; in the most recent case, he was found guilty of six counts of malicious communication and handed a three month prison sentence, suspended for eighteen months, when he appeared at Yeovil Magistrates Court on the 9th of February. Bonehill posted a message on his Twitter account saying “Joshua Bonehill emerges victorious and defiant in legal battle over his liberty”. It would seem that in Bonehill’ s eyes, a non-custodial sentence is in some way a victory for him; the fact that legal restrictions have been placed on his activities, he’s got community service to perform (not a problem for him time - wise, as he’s long term unemployed) and he now has a criminal record. Since his online harassment of Labour MP Juliana Berger, the shadow minister for public health, Bonehill has been arrested yet again on the charges of Racially Aggravated Harassment and Malicious Communications; he was bailed on the 16th February; the conditions of his bail forbid him from travelling anywhere inside the M25. He is due in court on the 26th March to answer the charges. He’s going to be busy. Once that court case has been decided, it will not be long until he’s back in court on the 5th May where lawyers working on behalf of Tesco are bringing charges against him after he posted online statements that food sourced from locations in Africa by Tesco and sold in the UK was infected with the deadly Ebola virus. I cannot believe that Joshua Bonehill will escape custody forever; the ironic fact is that he would almost certainly revel in the notoriety a jail sentence would bring – in his own warped world – view, he would become a martyr to his Nazi cause, much in the same way his idol Adolf Hitler portrayed himself in “Mein Kampf”. I just hope Bonehill does not write his life story if he does end up in chokey.  One thing is pretty much certain after the anti-Jewish acts of terrorism that have been occurring recently, is that Bonehill will have attracted the attention of the Security Services. I would not be at all surprised if he was already under surveillance. I get the feeling that this story will run on for some time. What do you think? Does Joshua Bonehill deserve to go to jail, or is he just a deluded no - hoper who should be ignored? Leave a comment below, or Email me at hugh.neal@gmail.com

The Bexley Times have reported that David Evennett, MP for Bexleyheath and Crayford has been shown around the new Urgent Care Unit at Erith Hospital. The unit is intended for use by patients who have an urgent but not life-threatening illness or injury such as broken bones, sprains and strains, burns and scalds and bites and stings. It is open 365 days a year between 8am and 10pm. I must admit that for such a welcome addition to the local health facilities, the launch of the Urgent Care Unit has been done in an exceptionally low – key manner. If I was manager of the unit, I would be shouting about it from the rooftops – especially as the online reviews in respect of it are so uniformly positive; one visitor, who used the pseudonym “Sunny” left the following comment on the NHS reviews and ratings website when describing their experience of the Erith Urgent Care UnitI visited the urgent care centre after work on Wed 21 Jan 2015, and was greeted by a pleasant and efficient receptionist who's personable approach put us at ease. Within 10 minutes we were seen by on call doctor who was fantastic and was very careful when examining my ankle. They recommended an x-ray to make sure and gave me the option of going to A and E for this or returning the next day for an x-ray at the urgent care centre. Given the convenience, speed and friendly nature of the staff I opted to return the next day rather than endure a long wait in A and E. They gave me use of crutches to help and we were on our way within 15 minutes of arriving. The next day I went straight for an x-ray and this was completed in 10 minutes. There was a longer wait to get the results given the department was busy, but this will still all done within an hour. The receptionist was the same person working the night before - he recognised me and remembered that I had to have an x-ray - a really nice touch. They were clearly overworked during a busy morning, from checking numerous people in, cleaning up a child's vomit, and making calls to a local hospital for one doctor to confer with another about a potential medical issue. Despite all of this they went about with a smile and was particularly good with the young girl who was unwell - assuring her it was not her fault. Finally, the on call nurse practitioner who I saw to look at the x-rays was great - polite and friendly. The only comment I can make is that he had to leave to look at the x-rays, rather than viewing them in the room together. It would be better if the facilities were in the room as this would help the patients to understand what is wrong with them. Overall a fantastic experience in the circumstances - to be open until 10pm is great and I will definitely think twice before using A and E again. Thank you for helping!” What a positive review – and this was one of a number, all with very good things to say about the new unit. With all of the horror stories one hears in the press about patients waiting all night at Accident and Emergency, because they have been unable to get an appointment with their G.P, it is very reassuring to discover that for many injuries and illnesses, a short trip to the local cottage hospital would be all that was required to get prompt attention and treatment – in many ways it appears that history is repeating itself – the original purpose of small local hospitals was to treat people who had relatively minor or easily treatable injuries or conditions, to save them taking up a bed in a major hospital more suited to complex or serious illnesses. In recent years Erith Hospital looked to be on the verge of outright closure; I am extremely pleased that the Urgent Care Unit is now available to help local residents – how nice it is to be able to say something positive about the National Health Service in a time when it is otherwise getting a bashing.


The photos above show the old Erith Market in Pier Road back in 1980. They have previously been displayed on a couple of local history themed FaceBook pages hosted by both Martin Barnes and Ken Chamberlain - thanks to both of you for the use of the photos. Apart from the historical interest, the reason for featuring Erith Market is that a consultation session is scheduled for Wednesday the 11th March between 10am and 2pm in the new Erith Library building in Erith High Street. "The aim of the event is to get feedback as to whether shoppers and students would like to see a market in Erith and the types of stalls they would be interested in.  Please pop into the library to give your views". This is great if you are a student at Bexley College, or are retired, but it does exclude a great many other people who have to go to work. I hope that Bexley Council offer another consultation session that will give a wider chance for locals to express their views on bringing back the market.

Local football correspondent Brian Spurrell has submitted the following report on Erith and Belvedere FC, and their bid to win the FA Vase - story below:-

DERES' VASE DREAM DIES

Erith and Belvedere 0 North Shields 2

Erith and Belvedere’s FA Vase run ended at the quarter-final stage with a fair-and-square beating by a very good team.  It was the furthest either club has reached in the competition, and the attendance of 503 was the Deres’ biggest since moving to Park View Road and their biggest home crowd for 22 years.  North Shields had the longest trip any club has ever made for a game against the Deres - around 300 miles with the first supporters’ coach leaving Tyneside at 5am.  Their fans were noisy but well-mannered and made friends among the home support. Shields were bigger and half a yard faster than the Deres, and although the passing styles of both teams cancelled each other out it was the Robins’ physical superiority plus a superb display by defensive midfielder Michael McKeown that ultimately was the deciding factor in the tie, with two early second-half goals settling it. The Robins controlled the first quarter of the game but only had a bad miss from right midfielder James Luccock on 25 minutes to show for their early dominance. Goal machine Gareth Bainbridge (34 in 30 games before yesterday) and left midfielder Dean Holmes spurned further chances before half time. The Deres were stunned when Holmes opened the scoring in the fourth minute of the second half, pouncing on a mistake twenty yards out on the left wing to beat goalkeeper George Kamurasi. The Deres’ response was to bring on two substitutes, Isa Hussein and Taser Hassan, four minutes after the goal but before they had the opportunity to settle into the game the Robins sealed the tie with a second goal after 58 minutes. In a mirror image of the first goal Adam Forster pounced on a mistake on the right wing and buried the ball in the net from a similar distance. As hard as Deres tried they created few clear cut opportunities, the closest being on 76 minutes when Michael Robinson had to save from Deres' leading scorer Alfie May. To the Deres' defensive credit they restricted Bainbridge to two misses before he forced Kamurasi to make a save in the second minute of added time. At the end of a closely fought tie the Robins went home to look forward to tomorrow’s draw for a two-legged semi-final.  Deres meanwhile return to the league campaign: they have 15 games to go, and Barnehurst’s Phoenix Sports are 11 points ahead from two games more but yet to visit PVR.  The next two months will be interesting. Deres: Kamurasi, Matthews (Springett 88), Wilson, Richmond, Craig, Johnson, Hales, L May (Hussein 53), A May, Marsh, Walker (Hassan 53). Shields: Robinson, Donnison, Lancaster, McKeown (Wrightson 88), Parker, Hughes, Luccock, Forster (Coppen 75), Bainbridge, Richardson, Holmes (Morris 69).

A very welcome story broke late this week; one that has been rumbling under the radar for some time. It is one of the best piece of news that the area has had for quite a time, and really shows how Erith and Lower Belvedere are getting some serious investment. Online supermarket Ocado have just got planning permission to build a £185 million "Customer Fulfillment Centre" (who thinks up these descriptions? - It makes the warehouse sound like a Shanghai knocking shop!) The facilities will be the largest of their kind in the world, and will employ around 3,500 people, mostly in full time jobs, and no zero - hour contracts are promised. Recruitment for roles including operational managers, warehouse operatives, LGV and delivery drivers, engineers and support staff will start in 2016. Construction of the Erith CFC is planned to start in the summer, with the facility expected to open during 2017. As well as direct deliveries to homes in the region, it will support a network of existing centres around the south east of England, handling around 200,000 orders per week. This does strike me as not only great for the local area, but also quite possibly a way for the area to climb socially - once the vanloads of organic Kumquats, jars of Fair Trade coffee and other Waitrose products start heading out of the warehouse, Erith could end up finding itself becoming middle class. Who would have thought that a few years ago? What next - a Waitrose store in Erith Riverside Shopping Centre? You never know. Joking aside, it is excellent news for the local economy, and could have not come at a better time.

It is not often that the London Borough of Bexley gets compared with somewhere like Milan (in fact, as far as I can tell, it has never happened before), but a recently published report by the London Assembly Environment Committee has praise for Bexley, comparing the levels of rubbish recycling with other successful European cities such as Milan. The London Borough of Bexley gets rightly bashed for many things it is utterly hopeless at, so just for once it is a pleasant change to be able to report that Bexley has come top of the London – wide league table which measures levels of waste recycling.  Bexley currently recycle just over fifty five percent of all household waste. The report says “London urgently needs to improve its performance in recycling food waste from its high-density housing stock.  Positive examples exist, such as Bexley in London or Milan in Italy, which provide best practices that may help others”. What is also really notable is that nearby other local authorities such as Lewisham come at the bottom of the league, with only seventeen percent of household waste going to be recycled. This low performance can lead to a vicious circle – recycling contractors pay good money for steel and aluminium cans, and glass bottles, money which can then be ploughed back into providing better resources for further recycling. When such recycling levels are low, it is difficult for a council to find the money to fund improvements. Bexley have not fallen into this trap, though in my opinion yet more needs to be done. Whilst domestic recycling levels are encouraging, there are plenty of other areas that need improvement – for example, the level of fly – tipping that goes on in the Borough, which is still shockingly high. Erith especially suffers from this problem, as I have written about extensively in the recent past. The prosecution and jailing of Romanian national Anton Munteanu for fly – tipping pallets of rotten bananas at the Council recycling facility behind Morrison’s Supermarket in Erith – one of seven offences of Fly tipping, which included two offences which were witnessed, and four others captured on the CCTV Camera at James Watt Way. Additionally he pleaded guilty to an offence at another set of recycling banks in Dartford. He also pleaded guilty to two offences of failing to have a Waste Carriers Licence and one of Collecting Scrap Metal without being licensed. He was sentenced to 26 weeks imprisonment (6 months) on all the fly tipping offences to run concurrently. No separate penalty was awarded for the Waste Carriers Licence offences or The offence under the Scrap Metal Dealers Act 2013. He was ordered to pay £1000 in clear up costs which was broken down to £800 to the London Borough of Bexley and £200 to Dartford Borough Council. He was also in breach of an existing twelve week suspended prison sentence, The court decided to activate six weeks of that sentence, and he was given a further six weeks imprisonment to run consecutively to the 26 weeks making a total of 32 weeks. The court also ordered the forfeiture of the vehicle concerned (a long wheelbase panel van) in all of the offences, which was worth roughly £4,000.  I feel that this sent out a strong message to local fly – tippers, though it has in no way stopped offences occurring. Most of the materials fly – tipped locally seem to be from small scale building works such as kitchen replacement – sole trader builders seem to be one of the worst offenders. I think much of the reason for this is the high charges that Bexley Council exerts for processing commercial waste at the Thames Road, Crayford recycling centre. A van load of rubble can set back the honest builder something in the region of £100 to responsibly dispose of. This cost gets passed onto the customer – whereas the dishonest builder can undercut the honest one and still make a profit. Personally I would always wonder what other corners the cheaper, dishonest builder would cut – local Police say that when stopped, many unlicensed waste carriers are also guilty of other offences; it would seem that if they are prepared to commit an environmental crime, then they don't have many scruples about getting involved on other criminal activity. This issue will run and run unless drastic steps are taken to change the situation.



Bexley Brewery have had some extremely good news this week - message from them here:- "Well, what a week we've had and it's one that has made us sure that we made the right move in starting up Bexley Brewery! One Monday we heard from the organisers of the Pig's Ear beer festival that BOB (Bexley's Own Beer) had been voted Beer of the Festival! It was a close run contest and we were only a few votes ahead of another brewery. We were both delighted and surprised, but had got quite a few messages from people saying they had tried our ales at the beer festival and how much they liked them.  Finally the icing on this weeks cake (well probably this years cake) happened last night at the Bexley Business Awards. We were nominated for two categories; Made in Bexley and Best New Business. We were excited to get a Commended in the Made in Bexley, but over the moon to win the Best New Business award! Considering we've only been brewing since September we are amazed at how Bexley Brewery is developing. It is hard work and we are both in a learning curve, but are passionate about our business and want to make it the best it can be. Thanks to all of you who have bought and drunk our ales, we've got more planned for this year! So as they say, watch this space". Excellent news indeed. Unfortunately Pewty Acres is just a bit too far from Bexley Brewery to run a garden hose from the brewery to my kitchen; the thought of having an extra tap fitted with a beer meter had crossed my mind...

Network Rail are never exactly the most popular of organisations; I imagine that their staff, if asked what they do at a party, would probably say “I'm an undertaker” or something similar, rather than risk the ire of the interlocutor. The Crossrail Project is a massive undertaking that involves many companies and organisations in what is one of the largest engineering works currently under way in Europe. Network Rail are responsible for much of the temporary  infrastructure that is in place whilst construction is in progress. The temporary station at Abbey Wood – which has attracted a fair degree of criticism over the last few months has now been featured in the News Shopper, due to complaints about the passenger lift, which I was led to believe was supposed to have a dedicated member of staff operating it. The reality would seem to be that if a member of the public requires the lift, they have to ring a bell and wait up to ten minutes for an operator to turn up. The lifts themselves are tiny – how one would manage if using a large electric wheelchair or mobility scooter, let alone a parent with a with a double buggy I do not know – it does appear that the lift is more of a “box ticking exercise” than a concerted effort to address an ongoing access problem. Of course, in relation to this, the whole issue of the lack of step – free access at Erith Station once again comes to light. Since MP for Erith and Thamesmead Teresa Pearce started the campaign back in August 2011 to persuade Network Rail to install a lift at Erith Station; at present if you need to travel in the direction of London and you are a wheelchair user or have small children in a buggy, you have to travel in the opposite direction to Dartford (which is outside of Zone 6, and could tender you liable to a penalty fare), then use the lift at Dartford to cross to the London – bound platform and come back on yourself back up the line towards London. Not only does this involve additional cost, but considerable additional time is added to any journey. This all contravenes the Equality Act 2010, as disabled people are being treated differently (demonstrably worse) than able bodied people. Not that this seems to cut much ice with either Network Rail or Southeastern Trains, who continue to ignore the whole situation, probably hoping that it will go away. The demands on Erith Station are bound to go up sharply over the next couple of years, as the population of the town grows. Erith Park, Erith Quarry, the Riverside Baths redevelopment and the redevelopment of the old Bexley College site I mentioned at the start of this update, along with a handful of smaller scale building developments will increase the local population by something like twenty five percent in a relatively short space of time; pressure to improve public transportation is inevitable. It may even mean that one of the property developers may wish to fund or part fund the installation of a passenger lift at Erith Station as a means of “adding value” to potential buyers. This news coincides with the announcement that the London Borough of Bexley is the only part of Greater London where demand for homes is still increasing. Bexley was also judged to be in the top ten most affordable places to live in Greater London. Historically within the borough, Erith and Slade Green have always topped the affordable housing leagues, though as Malcolm Knight of the excellent “Bexley is Bonkers” blog recently wrote, the definition of “affordable” seems to have become somewhat stretched over the last few years. It is possible to get a small flat on the Frobisher Road Estate for something in the region of £100,000, which seems to be pretty much the first rung on the local property ladder. The amount of new builds going on in and around Erith is astonishing – and I would surmise that to an extent it will control prices, as so many new properties either are now on the market, or shortly will be. Erith has excellent public transport links (the lift situation notwithstanding), it is thirty minutes from Central London by train, you have excellent bus connections; we are only a few minutes from the M25, the A2 and the South Circular, and have the added bonus of being situated on the banks of the River Thames – the only town in the London Borough of Bexley to be so fortunate, with the excellent Erith Riverside Gardens.  We have a brand new, state of the art college, a modern shopping centre and a very large Morrison’s supermarket. The town has an active local forum, and a newly founded Friends Association for the parish church. Once work on the Cross Keys Centre is complete, and it opens to the public, the area really will have undergone a much needed regeneration. For many years Erith has had awful P.R – pretty much since the original town centre was demolished in 1966 to make way for the much hated 1970’s concrete monstrosity (that I recall as a child always smelled of a mix of Jeyes Fluid and stale wee) Erith has had a reputation as somewhere that you lived because you had to, not because you wanted to. This seems to have been crystallised in an oft told joke by the late Erith – born comedienne Linda Smith – “Erith isn't twinned with anywhere, but it does have a mutual suicide pact with Dagenham”. I feel that this joke has unfortunately done more to harm the reputation of the town than any single other thing. I feel that relatively more affordable housing prices may be the initial motivation for outsiders moving in to the new housing that is springing up all over the town, but in time the newcomers may well start appreciating the place for the more intangible things it offers – where else within a half hour train journey of central London could you see the classic “Big Sky” – an Erith trade mark – being able to see from horizon to horizon? I have had talks with a couple of very prestigious economists whose professional view is that Erith is on the brink of a new time of prosperity, and that “it could well become the next Hoxton”. Whilst time will tell, it is an intriguing possibility. What do you think? Is Erith on the edge of a boom, or would you resent the area becoming “gentrified”? Leave a comment below, or Email me at hugh.neal@gmail.com.

The end video this week shows the driverless cars that are currently on test in and around the O2 Arena in the North Greenwich Peninsula. They are purely an engineering experiment, but could well be a pointer towards advanced vehicles of the future. Give the video a watch and see what you think.