Sunday, February 26, 2012

Erith Riverside Gardens - saved?

Word reaches me that the Erith Riverside Gardens may have been saved - for a while at least. Both the Bexley Times (print edition only) and local MP Teresa Pearce are reporting that residential development plans have ceased. The Bexley Times reports, rather breathlessly, the following: "Campaigners who took their fight to save a riverside park in Erith all the way to Westminster are celebrating victory. A scheme to build flats on Riverside Gardens has been withdrawn after draft plans for the future of Erith Western Gateway were modified. A petition was signed by 2,500 people was presented in Parliament by MP Teresa Pearce, who represents Erith and Thamesmead. Bexley Council held a consultation last year on its' blueprint for the area near the River Thames and a scheme to build on the Riverside Garden was met with opposition. Alec Tapper, the chairman of the pressure group FORGE (Friends Of Riverside Gardens Erith) said "This is heartening news indeed, and FORGE readily acknowledges the wonderful community response, all confirming their desire to see the gardens  re - landscaped in their entirety. With every prospect of an increasing Erith population, and the relocation of Bexley College to centre of Erith, green space is a critically essential requirement for the well being of all its' citizens (note from me - we are not citizens - we are not inhabitants of a republic, we are inhabitants of a constitutional monarchy within a parliamentary democracy - a vital difference which escapes many, including it would appear Alec Tapper of FORGE - but I digress). Mr. Tapper added "FORGE is pleased with the Council's decision to recognise our local concerns regarding the future of Erith Riverside Gardens in their entirety, and their willingness to listen to and respond to the views of the Erith community is appreciated".

Local MP Teresa Pearce has also reported on her website that the regeneration plans for Erith have specifically dropped the construction of accommodation on the garden site, and that the revised plans call for investment and improvement to the gardens, to include them as a key feature to the other developments in the area; it would appear that the construction of the new Bexley College campus on the old Tram Shed site close to the Riverside Gardens has certainly helped. Somewhat more cynically I wonder if the inability of the council to find a developer willing to take a risk on destroying the gardens to make way for more unpopular and unwanted additional housing during a period of deep financial crisis has finally registered on their collective consciouses as something that would not only be a vote loser, but would also be fundamentally wrong. Somehow I doubt it - they are most likely just doing what seems expedient at the time.

It would seem, from the very specific wording of the planning document that there has been a sea change in the attitude and intent of the council; my gut feeling is this is only a temporary victory. I wonder just how long a stay of execution the Riverside Gardens have really got? Once market conditions and land prices start to improve, I would not be at all surprised if the council try and sneak bulldozing the site through on the sly; I, amongst many other Erith residents have well deserved cynical views of our local government representatives; to paraphrase an old aphorism "How can you tell when a Bexley Councillor is lying? Their lips are moving". Quite. The price of democracy is eternal vigilance - never truer than in this case. Keep watching the council.

Virgin Media are currently saturating the area in and around Erith with advertising leaflets; last week I received three different ones though my front door, including one disguised as a personal, hand written letter. Nothing is more certain to raise my ire than spam advertising – especially that which the sender knows will be regarded as spam, as it is disguised as something the recipient will initially think is something that they actually want to receive. The reason for the sudden and concerted campaign is straightforward; the South East of London and North Kent are going to be one of the last regions to switch over to digital TV on the 4th of April this year. The analogue TV signals coming from the transmitter site at Crystal Palace will be switched off at this point, so that the frequencies can then be sold off to the highest bidder. There is going to be a road show in the car park outside Morrison’s in Erith on the 14th March, explaining the switchover from analogue to digital for those who have yet to make the transition. Virgin are hoping to capitalise on this and pick up some of the analogue stragglers. Personally I find their advertising campaign so personally intrusive and annoying that any possibility of me migrating from my current, ancient and very creaky Sky+ box to anything offered by Virgin is now impossible to contemplate.

I reckon the original social network was not online; it came into being well before the advent of the computer. To my mind, the origin of the social network was the local pub. Much has been written about the apparent demise of many of Britain’s boozers, blaming the high level of tax, the smoking ban and the large breweries and pub companies for their punitive charges to their tenanted landlords and ladies. The loss leading prices of alcohol in the large supermarkets, leading the feckless to “pre – load”  (as in, drink a lot of cheap and nasty cut price supermarket hooch before heading out on the town) has also been blamed for the lack of business for many pubs. I tend to look on the whole situation from a slightly different angle. I do see the end to the old fashioned back street boozer that does not serve food or offer other services; the problem is, that in hard business terms, many of these establishments do not “add any value” – we no longer live in a society where there are a large number of manual workers living close to their place of work who thin nothing could be better than slaking their thirst after a hard day on the production line or at the blast furnace. That market is diminished to the point of virtual extinction now. Pubs need to offer food, or act as a sub post office (a great place to pick up a parcel that was delivered whilst you were at work) or offer other benefits. The profit margins on drinks have been so eroded by the high level of taxation and excise duty that the canny landlord need to exploit other revenue streams in order to make a living. Erith is a prime example of an area that is bereft of quality pubs. I concede that it does have a few drinking establishments left – the notorious drug and crime den that is the Potion Bar is probably the most high profile. Mainly due to the way it acts as a honey pot to the area’s scum and villainy. At least you know when the local players are in there, they are not committing crimes elsewhere (most likely plotting the next ones instead, over a noxious pint of Stella). The Running Horses is a great disappointment – the manager and staff promise but do not deliver. It could be a great pub with a little time and enthusiasm; it just feels to me that any get up and go they had has now got up and gone. The bar staff are so used to serving keg based gassy lager that they do not have a clue about looking after real ale; on the scant few occasions I have ventured into the place, the Fuller’s London Pride and Young’s Bitter have been vinegary and spoiled. When I pointed this out, I got little more than a shrug. A pity. The building and location are the best in the whole of Erith – a great riverside view and the gardens just across the road. As for any other venues, well, the Ship in West Street tries hard, but does not serve any real ale, so would not get my custom.

As many of you may be aware, I am really rather nonplussed about the hoo ha leading up to the Olympics. The whole idea of watching people run round in circles, see how far they can chuck a metal spear, or ride a nag round Greenwich Park seems to me to be a bit of a waste of time and money. Having said that, I have never understood the attraction of sport in any form; it all just seems like a waste of time and effort. I digress; there is much local concern about the disruption to business during the Olympic and Paralympic games. I have already made my plans to work from home for the duration green lighted; it will be very difficult, if not virtually impossible to travel to and from London from Erith during the games. The Dartford to London, via Greenwich line will be possibly the most affected line of all. Some stations such as Woolwich Dockyard are being closed for the duration of the games; ostensibly this is being done to avoid confusion with the games venue of Woolwich Arsenal. I think it is as much to do with the Olympic Committee not wishing to expose a lot of foreign visitors to the run down dump that comprises much of the area surrounding the Dockyard station. Image would seem to be king.  The train timetables are being re-planned, supposedly to ensure the most efficient use of rolling stock for when crowds are travelling to or from the various sporting venues. The offshoot of this will be massive disruption and inconvenience to commuters. Much has been written about the direct cost of the Olympics, but so far very little attention seems to have been directed at the indirect costs. Many businesses in central London and Canary Wharf are having to either plan for short hours, or to close down for the duration of the event; staff are unable to get in to work, or cannot be sure of being able to turn up reliably at the prescribed time. Concerns over issues such as deliveries of goods to shops have also been raised. After all this hand wringing, it does occur to me that we may actually see the opposite once the games start. So many people have heard the stories of the predicted transport chaos that it is entirely possible that there is a mass stay away from the predicted choke points; we may well end up as we did at the Millennium, when the widely predicted Y2K bug failed to show up partly because so much preparation had been put in place, but mainly due to consultancy and technology companies’ talking up the implications of computer systems failing to handle the date change. After all there were a lot of fat fees to be had at the time. Maybe the same thing will happen again? Time will tell.

Erith Riverside Shopping Centre, which has recently started to look busier than any time since it opened is losing a major tenant; Peacocks are closing the Erith store as part of their major restructuring after going into insolvency. I understand that 15 local jobs will be lost – something the area (and the people affected) really do not need. The only Peacocks store in the area that will survive the cuts is the large one on the Thamesmead retail park. I must admit that until the shop in Erith opened, I had never heard of the chain store; for a long time I thought that it was a one – off independent; ironically I only discovered what a big organisation they were when the first story of their financial woes broke in the press.  I just hope the fifteen redundant workers are able to find gainful employment elsewhere.

The blogsphere has had its’ collective imagination stimulated by the Raspberry Pi computer – that I have written about in the last couple of weeks. Press interest in the charitable project is growing. Here is a new video showing an academic team who are porting the Fedora Linux distribution onto the ARM processor architecture – and in the process optimising the operating system and application software to run in only 256 Mb of RAM. The concept of creating and distributing an affordable, easy to understand computer, built using ubiquitous mobile phone components to keep the cost down, and to get it to run on high quality, open source and free software such as Fedora Linux operating system, and the Python programming language has got to be the most effective and imaginative way of encouraging school children to dip their toes into programming. If we don’t take such measures, it will be a scant few years before the pool of talented British software coders have retired, and the economy of this country will surely suffer as a result. You can read more about the Raspberry Pi project, and even get involved yourself by clicking here.

Work on the refurbishment of Pewty Acres is about to get under way. I have already ordered a three seat and an accompanying two seat sofa from independent furniture store, Thornburrows in Orpington. Next step is to do something about the rising damp in the exterior facing kitchen wall. I have contacted Swiftcure in Upper Belvedere; they have a very good reputation for curing property damp problems, and once again I will be supporting a local business. Once the damp problem is sorted, my builder will be able to make a start on ripping out the kitchen, followed by the bathroom. A lot of work, and a pretty eye watering budget to boot. I am having completely new fit outs in the bathroom and kitchen - even the kitchen ceiling is coming down, to be replaced with something superior (which may feature LED down lighters, depending how the finances pan out).

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