Sunday, March 23, 2014

Power to the People!

I am feeling rather pleased right now. On Thursday lunchtime I got an unexpected Email from Bexley Council Licensing Department. I had been chasing them, as I had not received a written invitation to the next Council planning meeting, which was scheduled for Monday the 24th March. It turns out the council did send me a letter, but to completely the wrong address! My keenness to attend the next planning meeting was not through any deep and abiding interest in the minutiae of local planning legislation, but because the meeting was convened to discuss the application for the Manor Road KFC to open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. You may recall that I have written extensively on both my own, and united local opposition to this plan over the last couple of months. It transpires that the planning meeting was cancelled, as the franchisees of the KFC had got wind of the feelings of local people and their antipathy to the change in opening hours, and they have now withdrawn the licence application completely. Just for once, the public have won against a faceless global corporation! I am of the opinion that the shop owners realised that they could end up in a very long legal fight over the change in opening hours – this would be very expensive with no guarantee of a win at the end of it. I think they took the pragmatic attitude that the cost of fighting the legal case might exceed any short term increase in profit that 24/7 operation might bring. Thank you to everyone who involved themselves in the opposition – I won't name names, as I know some people would like to remain anonymous, but just for once we have victory, and a win for common sense, peace and quiet. Just in case you are doubtful that KFC would have withdrawn from the fight so readily, here is the proof - the letter of confirmation of licence application withdrawal I received from Bexley Licensing Officer Linda Bell. Click on the image for a larger version.

Many column inches have been taken up in both the national and local press this week over the “surprise” news about the new Ebbsfleet garden city that the Chancellor announced during the budget on Tuesday. As regular readers will note, I wrote in some detail about the then proposed project back in October 2012. It seemed obvious that if the Paramount Theme Park was to go ahead, then a new town would need to be built close by in order to house the park workers. Ebbsfleet and the surrounding areas are very poorly serviced in respect of housing at present, and the concept of a dedicated new town certainly holds water. I anticipate that accessibility problems may need to be addressed. A road link across the Thames would need to be constructed to avoid even more of a bottle – neck at the QEII bridge / tunnel at Dartford. Rail links at Ebbsfleet are good, if very expensive if one intends to regularly commute into London. I anticipate that many people moving to the town will be looking for more local work, so this may well be moot. I have seen several arguments which say that new towns are needed elsewhere, especially in the North. I don’t personally dispute this – I think the UK could do with half a dozen new towns dotted all over the place. The bottom line, however is that London and the South East are where the financial and business action is concentrated, and thought must also be given to the proximity to Europe. Paramount did not select Northfleet for its new theme park on the ground of aesthetics (the place is full of old gravel pits, and is currently somewhat of an eyesore).  They chose it as the area has excellent road and rail connections, is only forty minutes or so by rail from the coast, and is on the rail route to London. It also helps that the land in and around Northfleet is dirt cheap brown field stuff that would be excellent for a change of use as a theme park. People who complain about the potential traffic congestion that a large influx of new residents will do to North Kent should consider the huge number or well paid, permanent jobs the developments will bring – initially in construction and associated support services (the builders will need to eat, for example) and later all manner of trades and professions will be required to run the theme park. When I mentioned this to one local a few weeks ago, I got the response “But I don’t want to work in a furry character suit!” The reality will be that whilst suitable individuals will be required to dress up in character costumes, these will in a tiny minority. Most of the jobs involved in running a theme park are in areas like facilities – cleaners, repair engineers, project managers, electricians, administrators, security and the like – and these will no doubt have a wide appeal. The Paramount Park and the Ebbsfleet garden city will, if properly developed and run, be a huge benefit to the entire region in terms of economic activity. The one thing that does concern me over the town will be the price of property – if it is too high, the whole project could wither on the branch. Local workers at the Paramount Park and surrounding businesses are likely to be on the low to middle incomes; there is no point in having half million pound homes in the town, if the average wage is in the region of £20 - £30K range. Developers will need to be realistic regarding their target market for this to work. Other parts of the country need the same, but the spur to building a new town is the availability of work for those that are going to live there – this is where Ebbsfleet / Northfleet win out. The place is in the right spot at the right time.

It has been a while since I last had a really good whinge. I am about to make up for it now. I recently got a copy of “Bexley Magazine” posted through my door. If you have not seen the publication, it is a glossy, expensive looking, full colour A4 sized quarterly magazine that is produced by Bexley Council, ostensibly to inform residents as to what is going on in their borough. All well and good you might think. Unfortunately the editorial policy of the magazine seems to have been set by the spiritual successor to Joseph Goebbels or Vyacheslav Molotov, as it presents an incredibly one sided, biased and inaccurate view of activities of Bexley Council. I normally leave detailed criticism of Bexley Council to Malcolm Knight of Bexley is Bonkers, as he does a far better job of it that I could ever hope to do - this is not to say that all councillors or employees of the council are useless,; this is patently not the case - as the results of the planning issue with KFC can prove. The editors of Bexley Magazine on the other hand have a obvious and blatant bias in their writing. Here is a direct quotation from the Spring edition of "Bexley Magazine", which I will deconstruct afterwards. “Bexley takes food safety very seriously. It is the duty of food businesses to comply with food safety law, and it is in the best interests of businesses and consumers for high standards to be maintained at all times. There are a large number of businesses in the borough where, following inspections, food hygiene has been found to be satisfactory and many that are rated good or very good. This means that the businesses achieve a food hygiene rating of 3,4, or 5. The Council works hard with businesses that receive poor ratings to provide coaching and support. Where necessary it also takes enforcement action to ensure consumers are protected. Ratings are based on what the inspector finds when they visit. Improvements the business may make cannot be reflected in a higher rating in the next inspection, and this cannot take place for at least three months”. All this coming from the borough that has the worst "Scores on the Doors" hygiene ratings of the entire United Kingdom. In a recent report, Which? Magazine rated Bexley as the worst performing borough in the whole of the country, and within Bexley, Erith comes out the bottom performing of all – a total of nine food outlets rated a 0 out of 5 stars for food hygiene. I keep a close watch on these establishments, and not one of them has been closed down, even though they pose a clear and real threat to public health. The claims made in the article are utter, provable fiction. The Bexley Magazine is publishing utter rubbish – the publication is nothing more than a propaganda sheet for the council, and has scant regard for the realities of life in the borough. You can see a league table of worst offenders that was published by Which? below.

Also in the same edition, there is an article about the Bexleyheath street revitalisation scheme – again it puts a very sunny and positive spin on something that shop owners, motorists  and pedestrians have found to be a really bad move. You can read a detailed analysis of the situation with major changes being made to both the road and pavements in Bexleyheath Broadway and also in Sidcup High Street on the Bexley is Bonkers blog here. Suffice to say that the reception of the changes made to the environment in both local towns has not met with the praise that the article would have you believe; quite the contrary, it would seem that the council’s Highways Department are actually doing their level best to ruin both shopping streets, not least by making it very difficult for road users and pedestrians alike to tell where the road ends and the pavement begins. This might be “modern” and something that the council can submit for design awards, but the public find it confusing and potentially very dangerous – especially for those who are mobility and / or sight impaired. I imagine that most people who read Bexley Magazine are aware of what a blatant propaganda sheet the publication is, but I still find it remarkable at how blatantly Bexley Council use it to beat their own drum and as a PR tool. I am pretty sure that using local publications for party political benefit is more than a touch on the dodgy side. Maybe a reader can cast some light on this? Comment in the box below, or email me at

On Friday the press, both national and local were agog with the news that Kate Bush is putting on a series of live shows at Hammersmith Odeon this summer. I know it is not called Hammersmith Odeon any more, but the stupidly monickered Eventim Apollo, but that does not remove the fact that it IS Hammersmith Odeon still to many of us; I digress. Along with many other people, I will be applying for tickets for one of the shows, though I think the chances of being successful are vanishingly small. One thing that does irritate me is how so many press articles say that she's originally from Bexleyheath. She's not; she grew up on the Bush Farm in Wickham Street, Welling - you can see the outside of the place by clicking here for the Google Street view of the road. Some of her first gigs were at the "We Anchor in Hope" pub on Shooter's Hill. Below is her video for the 1986 track "Experiment IV" - see how many very young looking stars you can spot. The video was shot on location in what was then the Brook Hospital, also on Shooter's Hill, now long gone of course. 

I had the following message from confidential Maggot Sandwich source, and regular reader Chris:- "I am lucky enough to live in one of the nice roads in Erith, with grass verges and daffodils.  I walk my next door neighbour's dogs for her a couple of times a day, and circle around Park Crescent, Lesney Park and Lesney Park Road.    I take great care to scoop up after my neighbour's dogs and either put it in one of the three designated bins I pass, or bring the poo bags home to put in the dustbin.  Now this is what puzzles and enrages me:   Some inconsiderate antisocial moron apparently scoops up their dog's poo and then just throws the plastic bag down on the ground.  Several remnants of these bags can be seen in the hedge of Christchurch School (formerly Lesney Park Primary) where the hedge runs along part of Park Crescent, and also in Lesney Park Road (across the road from No 13).  Last week there was one thrown on the grass verge a few doors down from my house.  To top it all, when tidying up the hedge in front of my house in Park Crescent, what did I discover but another three or four bags of doggy poo.  I cleared it away but another doggy poo bag appeared, so I have erected a sign asking the anti-social person to desist.  It seems to have worked so far. This behaviour is totally inexplicable to me.  It's bad enough leaving dogs' poo behind, but to scoop it up into a plastic doggy bag and then not bother to dispose of it responsibly (especially when there are three bins in the immediate area) just makes me so cross.  Whether it is just one person doing it, or whether it is a wider problem, I just don't know".

"I am attaching a photo I took this morning (see above - click for a larger view if you really must) of the assorted doggy poo bags left at the spot across the road from 13 Lesney Park Road mentioned above.  They will take quite some time to biodegrade on their own". If you have any information about who is dumping bags of dog poo, please let me know, and I will speak to Erith Safer Neighbourhood Police team about the matter. You can Email me at

Regular readers may recall that I had serious issues with the previous News Shopper journalist that wrote under the pseudonym of “The PubSpy”- until a few months ago, the writer was abusive, vicious and needlessly nasty when they found a hostelry that did not meet their standards. Fortunately the reviewer was changed for someone with a more moderate and even handed writing style and outlook. This week PubSpy reviews the Volunteer – a pub located in Church Road, Bexleyheath. I have to say that the review of the pub completely coincided with my own experiences of the place. I visited it a while back with a couple of friends, and found it to be the most unwelcoming “Locals” pub that I have ever darkened the doorstep of. Poorly served, on the turn beer, surly bar staff and clientele who would not look out of place on “Wanted” posters, many of whom looked like they would welcome the opportunity to kick off a fight.  My party did not stay long, as we could metaphorically feel eyes staring at the backs of our heads. It would appear that our experiences were  not unusual for the Volunteer. PubSpy found exactly the same when they visited the place. You can read the review here. The place reminded me strongly of the infamous scene in “An American Werewolf in London” when the two tourists enter the Slaughtered Lamb pub and  silence falls over the place. Not a pleasant experience, and I will not be visiting the Volunteer again. PubSpy and I are in complete agreement on the place. Avoid. I notice that many of the comments on the article say how wonderful the pub is, and how the reviewer has got it wrong. I strongly suspect that most, if not all of the feedback has been submitted by the publican and his cadre of local cronies.

On a lighter note, As I have previously written, after the end of the Erith based tram service, which had its base in Walnut Tree Road between 1908 and 1935; the route was then replaced with trolley buses, which used the same roof mounted pantograph type electrical pickup to connect to the overhead power network. The main two routes which ran through Erith were the 698, which was introduced in 1935, which ran between Woolwich and Bexleyheath via Plumstead, Abbey Wood, Bexley Road, Erith Road, and terminated in Mayplace Road. The journey from one end of the route to the other took an average of 43 minutes to cover the distance of 16.7 miles. Trolley buses ran every 5-6 minutes, so it was a pretty regular service. The second route ran only on Sundays and Bank Holidays, and was called the 694, which connected the Woolwich Ferry to Erith via stops at Plumstead, Wickham Lane, Welling and Bexleyheath. This service ran until May 1944 when it was discontinued. The main 698 route was in service until March 1959, when it was replaced with a conventional bus service. Regular Maggot Sandwich reader Dana Whiffen, who is publicity officer for the East Kent Trolleybus Group (who have many members in the local area), has sent me the following article which will no doubt be of great interest to the transport enthusiasts that read the blog:- "Trolleybus 704 (above) was purchased new in May 1945 registration number DKY 704 by Bradford City Transport. It ran in its familiar light blue livery and at the end of 1959 it was upgraded and modernised at East Lancashire Coachbuilders, when the staircase was moved from the rear to behind the drivers cab as well as the fitting of platform doors, and heating coils on both lower and upper decks offering passengers a warmer and more comfortable ride. When most other transport companies had removed Trolleybuses from their running stock in the sixties, Bradford carried on and ended up being the last city to run them with 704 continuing for 26 years service until November 1971 and the final Trolley Buses running to 26th March 1972 when thousands came to say goodbye and a special last edition was printed by the post office. Back in the 60’s several preservation groups had been set-up recognising that they needed to preserve their areas Trolleybuses as they were taken out of service. When the last buses came out of service with Bournemouth and then Bradford transport, these groups moved to acquire some of these last trolley buses for either restoration or parts. 704 was purchased privately and spent time at several locations awaiting restoration before being purchased by several members of Cardiff Trolley Bus Project who had intended to repaint it in Llanelly colours. Over the following years volunteers concentrated their efforts on restoring Welsh Trolley Buses 243 and 262 and 704 cut a lonely figure in the corner of their barn/site, which was located between Cardiff and Newport. The space where 704 was sitting had become needed and the projects members had thought of selling 704 for scrap, meanwhile far away in Kent preservationists from The East Kent Railway (EKR) at Shepherdswell had started to look for a double-decker bus to add to the sites attractions and had spotted 704 for sale (see the photo above - click for a larger view). Four of the members went to see it in late summer 2013 and they liked what they saw although recognising that there was a lot of work needed to restore this bus,  they reached an agreement with The Cardiff Group who were happy to see it saved and be able to re-use the room it had taken up. So in October 2013 it was towed to EKR’s site and the East Kent Trolleybus Group (EKTG) was born with 704 possibly becoming the first trolleybus to grace East Kent. The group are now looking for new members and with these membership funds hope to restore 704 to its former glory. Once on site their first aims were to purchase a unit to store all the parts acquired for the bus, and to make the bus waterproof by boarding up broken windows whilst replacements were sought as well as putting it under cover while the work is taking place. This would prevent any further deterioration as well as enabling volunteers to work on it during wet weather. Next year the bus will be 70 and hopefully by then it will be restored to full splendour and be part of celebrations of its many years of service and epic journey of survival. From Bradford to Cardiff to its new home at Shepherdswell near Dover this is a remarkable story of a superb bus. Apart from new members and volunteers they are now seeking parts and also getting advice from other trolleybus preservationists such as those at Cardiff. Once restored it is hoped that the bus can be taken to certain nearby events to promote both the East Kent Trolleybus Group and the East Kent Railway, as well as being an added attraction and possible viewing point for the Railway". Fascinating stuff. If you would like to know more about the East Kent Trolleybus Group, you can Email Dana Whiffen by clicking here.

The end video this week is a full length, made for TV movie called "Rewind". It was meant to be the pilot for a full TV series, but the American networks did not pick it up. I find this strange, as it is much better than a lot of series that have gone into full production. Sure, the script could do with some polish in places, but overall I see far worse on telly every week. Judge for yourself. "Rewind" features a team of scientists, historians and military personnel who travel back in time to prevent events occurring that result in catastrophic events in the present. It is a bit like an updated and more intelligent version of "The Time Tunnel". See what you think, and feel free to leave a comment below.

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