Sunday, October 14, 2018

White Hart worries.


The photo above shows the ongoing building work being carried out on the former Erith Riverside Swimming Baths site, opposite the Riverside Gardens.  The construction work has been going on for a considerable length of time. The project is to build 12 mews houses and 55 apartments overlooking the River Thames. They will be a mix of properties for conventional sale, and a number which will be for part buy / part rent. The whole development is produced by London and Quadrant Housing Association. The former swimming baths site is actually somewhat larger than it appears when viewed from the High Street; a corner of the space actually exists behind the car park of the Running Horses, which many locals may be unaware of. London and Quadrant were the organisation that originally submitted a proposal for the Thames Gateway Project back in 2010 – the notorious plan which showed the Riverside Gardens being built upon. This was what prompted the formation of FORGE (Friends Of Riverside Gardens Erith), and the campaign to preserve the gardens. It turns out that it was a mistake at the printer – London and Quadrant at no stage wanted to build on the gardens – it was a mess – up with the printer using the wrong file; by the time they realised it was a couple of weeks later and thousands of leaflets had already been distributed. Back in 2015, I was told by a London and Quadrant senior executive that the gardens and the scenic view across the river was the reason they wanted to build on the swimming pool site in the first place, and that they would hardly shoot themselves in the foot by building on that very view! I think many locals are justifiably cautious about the development, wondering if it could be "creeping redevelopment" with the Riverside Gardens merely being a further, future phase. The Riverside Gardens are an absolute gem and deserve to be preserved for the enjoyment of all local people for the years to come.


After the tragic hit and run death of a cyclist on Bronze Age Way in the early hours of last Monday morning, when it has been reported that a 60 year old man was killed by a vehicle that did not stop, it has become apparent just how strategically important the area around the Bexley Road / Bronze Age Way / Queens Road area and the notorious De Luci Fish Roundabout actually is. On Monday, Part of Bronze Age Way was closed by Bexley Police during the initial stages of the hit and run investigation. This mean that the area around the De Luci Fish Roundabout was also partially closed. A lot of traffic, including buses and heavy goods vehicles were diverted for all of Monday morning, until the road block was lifted at around 1.15pm - the photo above (click on it for a larger view) was taken a few minutes after the local traffic resumed normal operation. 

I make no secret that I am a big fan of Google; they have turned online search into a verb, they are that good at what they do that to perform a web search has for many become “to Google”. Many of their online products such as Gmail and the Google G-Suite are excellent and widely used, but they have one product, which many people – myself included, actively dislike and avoid. Google+ was intended to be a direct competitor for social networks like Facebook, but it never gained the popularity or traction with web users – and nowadays Facebook is a verb as well. I predicted back in August 2015 that Google would pull the plug on Google+, and it would seem that this has now begun. This week Google announced that they would be phasing out Google+ over the next few months; they cited security loopholes and serous bugs in the application that could leave users data exposed to hackers. From my investigations, it would seem that whilst this explanation is essentially true, it hides the fact that Google have wanted to get rid of Google+ for ages, and this security issue provides them with a very convenient and well - timed excuse. The fact is that Google+ was and has for a very long time essentially been a source of embarrassment to Google, who have been keen to quietly terminate the unpopular and underused web service. The security issues surrounding Google+ have given Google exactly the opportunity they have been seeking for some time. I doubt many will mark the passing of Google+ - if indeed many had even heard of it. What do you think? Leave a comment below, or alternatively Email me at hugh.neal@gmail.com


I took the photo at around the same time I took those of the decommissioned Woolwich ferry, the John Burns, last Sunday, when I spent much of the morning on Erith Pier; I did not publish the photo of the PS Waverley (photo above - click for a larger version) then, as I was already overloaded with photos and text content, and I thought it best to hold over the PS Waverley details to this edition. The Waverley was headed down from London on a trip out to the historic Thames sea forts. The fact that it was in pretty close convoy with the John Burns and its tugs was just a happy coincidence. The PS Waverley is unique; is the last seagoing passenger-carrying paddle steamer in the world. Built in 1946, she sailed from Craigendoran on the Firth of Clyde to Arrochar on Loch Long until 1973. Bought by the Paddle Steamer Preservation Society (PSPS), she has been restored to her 1947 appearance and now operates passenger excursions around the British coast. Since 2003 the Waverley has been listed in the National Historic Fleet by National Historic Ships UK as "a vessel of pre-eminent national importance". PS Waverley is named after Sir Walter Scott's first novel. She was built in 1946 to replace a PS Waverley that was built in 1899, served in the Second World War as a minesweeper and was sunk in 1940 while helping to evacuate troops from Dunkirk. Shipbuilders A. and J. Inglis of Glasgow launched the new 693 tonne steamer in October 1946. She entered service with the London and North Eastern Railway in June 1947, working the LNER's Firth of Clyde steamer route from Craigendoran Pier, near Helensburgh, up Loch Long to Arrochar. In her first year in service she wore that company's red, white and black funnel colours. The 1948 nationalisation of Britain's railways brought their Scottish steamers into the Caledonian Steam Packet Company (CSP), a subsidiary of the Railway Executive, and the funnels were repainted yellow with a black top. In 1965 a Scottish red lion rampant was fixed to each side of both funnels. Waverley's hull was painted blue until 1970. After a revival of fortunes in the 1950s, the 1960s saw a gradual change in holiday habits that led to a decline in passenger numbers and the closure of many of the small piers. Since 1969 and the formation of the Scottish Transport Group, the CSP had been gradually merging with the West Highland shipping and ferry company David MacBrayne Ltd. In 1973 the company became Caledonian MacBrayne Ltd (CalMac). CalMac withdrew Waverley after the 1973 season as she was too costly to operate and needed significant expenditure. By then the Paddle Steamer Preservation Society (PSPS) had been set up as a registered UK charity, and had bought the near-derelict small River Dart paddle steamer PS Kingswear Castle. CalMac, keen to ensure that the ship was preserved, sold Waverley to the PSPS for the token sum of one pound. Neither side really believed that the vessel would return to steam but, just in case, Caledonian MacBrayne stipulated that she should not sail in competition with their remaining cruise vessel, TS Queen Mary. A public appeal was launched to secure funding for the return of the Waverley to service and the fund-raising operation was successful. The PSPS found itself running a cruise ship operation, "Waverley Excursions". Since then Waverley has been joined in the PSPS fleet by PS Kingswear Castle and MV Balmoral, and has had a series of extensive refits and much restoration work, including a new boiler and improvements to meet modern safety standards. She has circumnavigated Great Britain and every year makes extensive sailings around the country. Listed as part of the National Historic Fleet, between 2000 and 2003 the ship underwent a substantial rebuild and re-boilering at the shipyard of George Prior at Great Yarmouth, funded principally by the Heritage Lottery Fund. The work was done in two stages, has added many 21st century safety and technological improvements and returned the ship to her original 1947 livery. In 2009 the ship was affiliated with HMS Defender, having hosted the official dignitary party at Defender's launch on the River Clyde. And in 2011 the ship was awarded the Institution of Mechanical Engineers 65th Engineering Heritage Award. PS Waverley is powered by a three-crank diagonal triple-expansion marine steam engine built by Rankin and Blackmore, Engineers, Eagle Foundry, Greenock in Scotland. It is rated at 2,100 IHP and achieved a trial speed of 18.37 knots (34.02 km/h; 21.14 mph) at 57.8 rpm. Passengers can watch these engines from passageways on either side of the engine room. The main crank is solidly attached to both paddle wheels so they cannot turn independently of each other. The PS Waverley therefore has a much larger turning circle than modern ferries.


There has been extensive press coverage in respect of the proposed work to replace the historic footbridge over the railway at Plumstead Station. Network Rail applied for “prior approval” to dismantle the 1892 structure and build a modern replacement. National Rail already has the power to remove the footbridge without needing the council’s consent, but needs “prior approval” for the design of the works. The footbridge in its current state is popular with locals, with more than 80 objections being made about Network Rail’s plans. Network Rail is  proposing to demolish and replace the footbridge with a boxed structure, with two new lifts and a new walkway. Previous proposals for a station revamp were thrown out by Greenwich Council, which said the development would detract from the character of the station. What I do note is that once again the new footbridge proposals include a passenger lift to both platforms - something that should be expected nowadays. Once again this throws the whole situation at Erith station - pictured above - click for a larger view - into the spotlight. Whilst extensive building work is still being undertaken at Erith station, it is not going to address the long - standing problem of the lack of any form of step free access to the London bound platform, which is only accessible via the Victorian footbridge. The fact remains that if you are a wheelchair user, or a parent with a heavy pram or buggy, it is not possible to take a train towards London from Erith station. You have to go on the Kent bound platform to Dartford, then change there to pick up a London bound train. This means you go three stops in the opposite direction, only to then come back on yourself. Apart from the inconvenience and waste of time this brings, there is the added expense of what should really be an unnecessary journey. If Plumstead Station is getting lifts and step free access, surely Erith station should do too? What do you think? Leave a comment below, or Email me at hugh.neal@gmail.com


The spoof Snakes and Ladders game graphic above - click on it for a larger view - was sent to me by a regular reader; it certainly makes for entertaining reading. I do not claim copyright on the image - if you are the creator, please contact me, and I will credit you accordingly. One local hazard that is not featured on the Snakes and Ladders board is the current temporary traffic lights that are located at the junction of Erith Road, Fraser Road, Riverdale Road, Alford Road, Pembroke Road and the newly created Loam Pit Road. The multiple phase temporary traffic lights mean that one may need to add 10-15 minutes to any vehicle journey that involves any of the aforementioned roads. The reason for the temporary lights is due to road access building work to the adjacent Erith Quarry Development, which will be under way until around Christmas. It also means that journey times on the exceedingly popular 99 bus route are now extended. 

If you a re a coffee drinker, you may not be aware that you may have availability issues with certain coffee outlets for a while; If you are a customer of Greggs. Waitrose, McDonald's, English Heritage, Tesco or Asda, to name but a few, you may find their supplies of fresh ground coffee running short for a period of time. The reason for that is their supplier, UCC Coffee - a Dartford based commercial coffee wholesaler had their main office and production facility located on the Riverside Industrial Estate went up in flames in the early hours of Thursday morning.  Fortunately all of the staff in the production facility (which operates 24/7) were able to evacuate, and there were no casualties, though I understand some local residents were temporarily evacuated as a precaution, due to large quantities of smoke and sparks created by the conflagration. I understand that the building was almost completely destroyed. What will happen to the business and the workers is currently unclear. 


The licensing hearing for The White Hart African restaurant and bar in Erith High Street is due to take place this coming Wednesday the 17th October in rooms G04/05/06 in Bexley Civic Offices, 2 Watling Street Bexleyheath, starting at 10am. The hearing will be open to members of the public, so if you are available on Wednesday morning, please come along. The restaurant/ bar owners want to open the venue from 10am until 5am the next morning, serving alcohol and playing live and recorded music until 4.30am, and they also want the current restrictions on the playing of music, and ban on the admittance of unaccompanied children, and children under 16 dropped from the licence. Suffice to say that I will be attending the licensing hearing. I am in possession of a great deal of background information on the White Hart issue which is not currently available to the general public, but I will not be in a position to publish it until after the licensing committee has sat, and made a decision. Suffice to say that the hearing will almost certainly prove to be a most interesting one. I know that this issue is of very high importance to many readers - concerns over potential noise, disruption, crime and anti social behaviour have been expressed by many local residents. It has also been pointed out to me that there is already an African restaurant and bar less than 200 metres away, in Pier Road, and doubts raised if another in such close proximity could be financially viable. Whatever the discussion points, the licensing committee will have to make a decision as to the future of the place. More on this in the weeks to come. 

Now for the weekly local safety and security updates from Bexley Borough Neighbourhood Watch Association. Firstly from Barnehurst ward:- "Good news again for Barnehurst as we did not have many crimes. The Barnehurst have been visiting residents this week and have been offering crime prevention advice. We are more than happy to come to your home and offer you crime prevention advice, so please give us a call on 0208 721 2577. The team are continuing to conduct ASB patrols on the ward especially around Hampton house. Please join us for our community contact day on Wednesday the 17th October at 1pm at Barnehurst Golf Course. We will discuss any ward issues that you have and we will also provide residents with crime prevention advice".  Belvedere ward:- "PC Holmes has been carrying out extensive enquiries this week in relation to a fraud warrant that took place on the Belvedere Park estate. A/PS Green has taking part in an ongoing investigation into a recent road traffic collision in which a driver failed to stop at the scene of an accident. Fortunately, there were no persons injured during this incident although there was a substantial amount of damage done to property at the Belvedere Community Centre. It appears that the driver had also been driving without a valid insurance policy. A burglary took place on Thursday 4th October in Norman Road in which an elderly female observed a male within her property after she had returned home from shopping nearby. On Wednesday 10th October, the team were assisted by officers from Bexleyheath Police station to carry out a traffic operation initially in Nuxley Road as we had noticed several drivers not wearing seatbelts and also using mobile phones whilst driving in this area of the ward. Further to this, we then carried out traffic speed tests in Abbey Road as residents had raised the issue of vehicles speeding on this particular road. During this operation, 6 traffic offences were processed and one vehicle was seized by officers for having no insurance. Our next Community Contact Session is set to take place on Tuesday 16th October 2018 from 5pm at the Belvedere library on Woolwich Road". Bexleyheath ward:- "We had a report of an attempted burglary along Upton Road Bexleyheath on the 08/10/2018; A theft from motor vehicle was reported on the 08/10/2018 in ASDA's. Also a theft from person that was reported on the 09/10/2018 in TK MAXX. The team are in the process of trying to resolve issues that are being raised by residents within the ASDA car park area. Patrols are also still continuing around Martens Grove and Grove Road including the garages to reduce anti-social behaviour. If you do wish to pass on information to Police then please contact Crime Stoppers on 0800 555111. Please do not hesitate to contact us via Twitter, Facebook, email and the ward phone. If you are after crime prevention advice, please look at the Met Police website which has lots of information that you may find useful. Remember in an emergency please dial 999 and 101 for non-urgent reporting". Crayford ward:- "Thankfully another week with not too many notable crimes. On 26th September at 00.30 a van (unknown details) was stolen by a named suspect from an address in Halcott Avenue with keys, the male also stole cash from the victim. Overnight on Wednesday 3rd October (between 00.00-06.00) there was a burglary in Claremont Crescent. Entry was made through a front door and a black hand bag was stolen containing a purse, diaries, store cards, cash, vouchers and oyster card. The bag was found locally in an alley minus the cash. It became apparent that the UVPC front door had not been locked properly and crime prevention advice was given. On 4th October at 12.30 a large quantity of cigarettes were stolen from a parked vehicles at Bookers at Thames Road. It seems the suspect watched the victim place the items on the rear seat of their car and as they got in their driver's seat the car came along side and suspect snatched the items. The suspect was a passenger in a silver car and was a white male. It was reported that a black Audi A1, registration BP18UDU was used to cause criminal damage to a gate at Hall Place car park on Overnight between Thursday 4th October and Friday 5th October at 7.45am. The vehicle was damaged and left at the scene, at the time of the report there were no reports on the vehicle. Between 18.00 on 7th October and 9.25 on 8th October a Nissan Cabster, number plate LX52WTC was stolen from Lea Vale in Crayford. We have been out patrolling open spaces, completing reassurance visits and about listening to residents concerns.. On Wednesday 17th October PCSO Joyce Barlow will be at the Ellenor Charity shop in Crayford Road between 12.00-13.00. Please feel free to come and say hello or ask for crime prevention advice leading in to autumn nights". No report from Erith ward this week, so instead, straight on to Northumberland Heath ward:- "Unfortunately we have had one burglary over the past week in Lawrence Road. This took place in the early hours of Friday October 5th. Entry was gained to the property and the keys to the victim's car where taken from a cabinet next to the front door. Thankfully the vehicle was fitted with a tracker which was located in Dartford. The vehicle has now been restored to the owner without any damage to it! One report of criminal damage to a motor vehicle in Sussex Road overnight between Sunday 7th October to Monday 8th October. The windscreen to the vehicle was smashed but nothing was taken from it. PC Tom Smith assisted officers from Immigration last week which resulted in two Males being arrested for Immigration offences. A youth who recently ran away from police during a stop in Erith has been identified from body worn video. He is now being referred to the youth offending team. The next drop-in police surgery will be held this Friday October 12th at 4pm in the Library in Mill Road Erith. All are welcome to attend". 


Slade Green and Northend ward:- "All good news this week, no crimes of note have been reported and no burglaries in the ward. 2 successful stop and searches have been carried out by PC Telfer. One today (Weds) in Whitehall Lane and one yesterday in Bridge Road. Both suspects had cannabis taken from them and were issued with a PND fine (£90). After recent reports of ASB in the Rainbow Road and Forest Road parts of the ward, we now have good images from various CCTV footage that has helped identify some the group involved. One of the group is already on an Acceptable Behaviour Contract and home visits are being made this week to several of the others involved as we look to reduce the issues in these areas. In the last week PCSO Mark has attended a couple events involving Peareswood Primary School. On Monday, a year 4 class was invited to an Orbit Housing Sheltered scheme where they spent an hour with some of the residents talking about how life was back when they were younger. All of the children had a great time listening to the residents reminiscing about days gone by and the different games they played/food they ate/lessons they had in school etc. Mark joined PCSO Adam from Erith SNT at this event as it was held at Sherwood House in Erith. There is a follow up visit planned for next Monday. Then, on Tuesday this week, Mark attended Peareswood School to read again with some Year 1 pupils and was very impressed at the levels of reading they have at such a young age. More of these reading sessions are going to be planned in the run up to Christmas. Earlier today, Mark met up with Helen who is the Neighbourhood Watch coordinator for Elm Road in Slade Green (see photo above) and they delivered letters to all residents in the street reminding them that they had a watch for their road. This road is regularly being used as a cut through by the groups of youths loitering in the aforementioned areas (Rainbow Road, Forest Road) so Mark and Helen thought it would be good to try and encourage the residents into reporting any issues they see, in what is usually a trouble free part of the ward". Thamesmead East ward:- "Motor Vehicle Crimes - Between the hours of 10:30pm on Wednesday 03/10 /18 and 08:45am on Tuesday 09/10/18 a vehicle parked, locked and secure in Parkway was broken into. No details of anything being taken. A vehicle parked in Bernal Close had the victim's wallet taken ,which contained a driving licence, cash card and a sat nav was also taken. This happened between the hours of 11:10 pm on the Wednesday 03/10/18 and 12:00 pm on the Thursday 04/10/18.On Thursday 04/10/18 at 07:20 pm a vehicle locked and secure parked in Pointer Close was broken into. Victim believes that the suspects were going to steal the vehicle". West Heath ward:- "Details of drug dealing in Sandgate Road DA16 have been reported to us and sent on to the West Heath SNT Team for investigation. If anyone in the area has information that may be relevant, please let us know and contact the West Heath SNT team / 101 directly".

Now for the end video - and this week instead of the usual local content, I have opted for something a little more esoteric; The video below is an engaging and very easy to follow guide to the mysterious world of Secret Numbers Stations - these are shortwave radio transmissions from foreign intelligence agencies to spies in the field of foreign countries. Appearing at just about any time of day or night on the shortwave bands, number stations have been calling out with their automated voices since at least the first World War. Since the fact of operating a number station is technically a state secret, there have been very few confirmations from government organisations - those that have were the Czech Office for Foreign Relations and Information, the Polish Institute of National Remembrance and the Swedish Security Service S√ĄPO. Usage of number stations has additionally been confirmed by former Cold War spies. Secret Number Stations transmit encrypted messages in forms of groups of numbers, or less commonly letters, using either automated voice (many languages), Morse code or digital signals. While the encryption method used for most number stations is unknown, some have used and others are widely believed to use one-time pads - mathematical addition of a set of random numbers (the key) to the plaintext, which can be used only once, and must be destroyed after usage. Some of the stations are believed to transmit pre-defined codebook instructions. Secret Number Stations offer a powerful advantage in our modern world: practically complete anonymity. The recipient of the message can be almost anywhere in the world, and receive instructions without fear of being traced through a phone call or internet connection. All the recipient needs is a shortwave radio and to be in the right place at the right time. The BBC were noted for sending messages to people overseas which where coded messages to SOE agents during WW2. From then on encrypted messages broadcasted with creepy automated voices have been being sent with stations appearing and disappearing as political events changed over the last sixty years. The amount of active Secret Number Stations has significantly decreased since the late 1990s, though number stations are still actively used by countries such as Russia, Poland and Cuba. The video below explains how anyone can pick up these mysterious broadcasts - you don't even need to own a shortwave radio - can you can dial into them using a web based virtual shortwave receiver - a link to the website is here. Give the video a watch and then let me know what you think by posting a comment below, or by Emailing me at hugh.neal@gmail.com