Sunday, September 11, 2011

Road and Rail.

Contractors submitted a planning application to Bexley Council back at the beginning of May for a new road bridge across the railway at the junction of Bexley Road, and Queen's Road, Erith, adjacent to Erith Railway Station. This will fundamentally impact the way travellers enter Erith from London from both the A2 (via Gravel Hill, Bexleyheath and Northumberland Heath) and the South Circular (via Bronze Age Way from Woolwich and Abbey Wood). You can see the location in the photo above - click for a larger version. The Council planning committee have this week given the green light to the proposed second railway crossing. At this point no funding (between £6 and £8 million will be needed) is yet in place, but I am led to understand this is the normal way of organising things - you get the planning permission, and the money normally follows. Whether this holds true in the current dire financial situation, I do not know. I originally wrote about the application back at the beginning of May. You can read my original posting, and see my photo of the written planning application by clicking here. I would like to see this civic improvement take place, as it has the potential to remove what is currently a road traffic bottleneck into and (more importantly) out of the town.

On a (vaguely) further transport related matter, has anyone noticed the large proportion of new cars that are appearing in Titanium White? I cannot see why anyone would wish to make their car resemble a domestic appliance, and also seriously impact the future resale value - white cars are notoriously hard to sell on. I would never wish to be seen in a vehicle resembling a mobile refrigerator. More on new cars a bit further down this weeks' entry...

The Bexley Times is currently getting very hot under the collar, vehemently opposing the proposed construction of an Asda supermarket by part conversion of the massive B&Q store in Lower Belvedere. The paper makes the classic editorial error of presenting their opinion as fact.  You can see what I mean by clicking here. Some of the arguments against the supermarket are utter fantasy - one comment states that Belvedere already has enough supermarkets. Upper Belvedere certainly does, with a Budgen and a Co-Op, but Lower Belvedere has a grotty, under stocked and over priced Tesco Express, and nothing else. It is around 2/3 of a mile from Lower to Upper Belvedere, up a winding one in ten hill. Not exactly local if you are elderly, infirm and without a car, and the 401 bus only runs one every quarter of an hour. There is another argument that it would adversely affect local small businesses. I can point to one nearby example of a corner shop that has positively benefited from its' close proximity to a major supermarket. The excellent and well run Londis store on the corner of Manor Road and Appold Street in Erith, which is literally just around the corner from the giant Morrison's store. If you have a properly run business, retain flexibility and listen to your customers, there is no reason to be threatened. On top of this, I reckon that many of the protestors don't actually use the local shops for much anyway, from the number of Tesco, Sainsbury's and Asda online delivery vans that frequent the area on a daily basis. I think it is somewhat hypocritical and a story which currently suits the Bexley Times to hype up. Until the next story the local rag decides to make into an issue. For reasons unknown it is getting itself a reputation for not letting the facts get in the way of a story. Every Lower Belvedere resident I have spoken to has been unanimous in praise for the part conversion of B&Q in to an Asda, as there is currently no decent place for food shopping in a reasonable proximity.

You may recall I have a fairly frequent moan about the fake charity leaflets that we all seem to get regularly posted through our doors. You can read my last whinge by clicking here. Well, the very company I blogged about back in May has been busted by the Police. There was a half page report in Friday's Times stating that undercover Police had been watching a gang of Lithuanian and Romanian organised crooks, based at a warehouse and goods yard, just off the A13 at Rainham in Essex. When raided, thousands of pounds in cash was found in large bundles of £50 notes, along with hundreds of thousands of pre – packed plastic bags with fake charity leaflets, some for a bogus children’s charity and some for a non – existent animal welfare charity - similar to the leaflet above. The clothing collection vans in the yard had swappable magnetic signs on the sides, so that they could appear to represent different charity organisations. Several shipping containers were filled with sorted clothes, ready for export to Latvia, where they were to be sold in a chain of second hand clothing stores. The sorted contents of each container was worth around £50,000. Apparently the brands Next and M&S are highly regarded second hand buys in much of Eastern Europe. It is estimated by Revenue and Customs that the gang had made £12 million profit a year, for several years before the Police raid put an end to their criminal exploits. How much damage this will do to the genuine charities I do not know, though their own methods of clothing collection have also recently come to light, and also make for distasteful reading. Most (but not all, I hasten to add) outsource the clothing collections to third party organisations who collect, sort and commercially resell the clothes, just giving a relatively small percentage of the proceeds back to the original charity. Understandably this gives a very bad impression to many of the people who donate the stuff to begin with. Personally if I have things I think worth donating, I take them to the Ellenor Lions shops in Bexleyheath or Crayford. That way I know the goods are definitely going to benefit a genuinely worthy cause.

Further to my recent public support to local MP Teresa Pearce's campaign to get a lift installed in Erith station, it would appear that things station - wise are in grave danger of getting one whole lot worse, not better. Word reaches me that South East Trains are planning on removing staffing for both Erith and Slade Green stations - users will have to buy tickets from vending machines only. It is an established fact that unstaffed stations suffer far higher levels of crime and anti social behaviour than those that retain a human presence (see the graph above - click for a larger view). I can illustrate how completely insane this penny pinching and poorly thought out scheme is. On Wednesday I journeyed down to Chatham, for a day out with Shirley. I arrived at Erith Station with plenty of time to purchase an extension to my all zones rail travel card, but when I got to the ticket office, I found that it was closed. I walked back outside to consult the ticket vending machine, only to find the station master and an engineer trying to repair the faulty ticket machine. I asked the station master what I should do - he told me to get on the train and buy my extension ticket at Dartford, where I would need to change trains anyway. I responded that my current ticket only permitted me to go as far as Slade Green, and if I did continue to Dartford, I would technically be over - riding my ticket, and potentially liable to a penalty fare. He told me to do it anyway - so I made a mental note of his name (fortunately he was wearing his name badge) should I get stopped by a revenue protection officer. I duly travelled to Dartford, and exited the platform to visit the ticket office, where I did purchase a return extension ticket to sunny Chatham. The staff were helpful and friendly, but what would have happened had a human not been involved in the process? On top of this, I understand that if Erith station ticket office was to close, it would mean the end of the coffee shop / newsagent which shares the building. I am keen to support local independent businesses, and this would be a retrograde step in the extreme. I understand that MP David Evennett is concerned that the removal of staff from Slade Green Station will also affect the centre for people with learning disabilities that is just along the road from the station. Apparently staff from the centre take residents to Slade Green Station in order to help them learn now to use public transport, and the station staff are particularly helpful and understanding in their assistance for their customers with special needs. All this is in danger of ending. I have been in Email contact on several occasions in the recent past with Teresa Pearce, and I am going to suggest that she co-operates with David Evennett in a cross party alliance to combat this divisive and perfidious issue. You can read more about the whole issue of removing staff from railway stations by reading this News Shopper article.

Erith has a new and very interesting blogger in the person of Fiona - a lady who has just set up the blog "Tales of a thrifty supermum" Do give it a visit and see what you think. I have already joined as a follower.

I am beginning to wonder if drivers of electric wheelchairs and other mobility buggies ought to be made to sit some kind of competency test. Twice in the last week I have had unfavourable encounters with such machines - once in Morrison's, where a woman managed to run her motorised wheelchair over my foot (thankfully I was wearing my trademark steel toecapped boots and thus suffered no damage). Secondly I was standing at a bus stop, when a passing and rather erratic gentleman on a mobility scooter clipped my arm as he passed rather too close for comfort. The machines seem to be capable of travelling at quite a rate, and the drivers have such a variable degree of driving skill, or lack thereof.

At work, we have a flexible employee benefits scheme which has recently added the option to have a car as one of the perks of the job; it is not a company car as such, as it does not need to be used as part of the day job - it is purely for personal use and benefit. The only down side seems to be that the available options are almost universally woefully dull and boring, being eco friendly, low CO2 emission tinny euro boxes. Try as I might on the ordering website, I cannot for the life of me convince the system to permit me to order a  Bristol 411 Series 6 (see the photo below, taken at the recent Bristol owners club concours at Greenwich Royal Naval College), a Bentley Turbo R, or a Jensen Interceptor. All the options I am currently presented with are woeful clattery four cylinder diesel rot boxes, or gutless petrol powered vehicles with engines the size and power output of an asthmatic hair dryer. Bristol, Bentley and Jensen have the sense to fit huge V8 engines in their classy, discreet and powerful gentleman's conveyances. I just need to convince my employer to go for quality rather than miles per gallon.

In my quest for quality tailoring, I have been somewhat remiss; the local area is home to Mold & Russell - a long established firm of bespoke tailors, who have been producing quality garments with classic English cloth in Hatherley Road, Sidcup for many years.

You may be aware that had he not died from complications brought on by HIV/AIDS in 1991, Freddie Mercury would have had his 65th birthday earlier this week. The world's greatest band front man would have been able to draw his bus pass and enter retirement. Not something I think he would have embraced with any good grace. The final video this week is a bit of a treat; someone has taken the original 4:3 aspect ratio, low definition recording of Queen's outstanding Live Aid performance - where they stole the show, and has been repeatedly voted as the greatest rock performance of all time, and upscaled it to 720p 16:9 wide screen High Definition. The conversion and digital clean up of the original master material is a revelation - make sure that you click on the button on the bottom right of the window to make the video full screen to really appreciate both the quality of the restoration, and more importantly the outstanding performance of Queen - a band at that point at the top of their game, playing the show that would define them. To anyone wanting to sing in a band, watch and learn - the master is at work.

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