Sunday, June 14, 2015

Brown bins and Bexley Council.

Bexley Council have now published a whole raft of documentation relating to the proposed redevelopment of the former Erith Riverside Swimming Baths site in the High Street. A large number of documents have been published as PDF files on the Bexley planning website; it has taken me a couple of days to plough through them in detail, and I found a few things that really surprised me. The developer, London and Quadrant submitted the following formal application:- “15/01084/FULM - Redevelopment of site to provide a mixed-use development comprising of 71 residential units (Class C3) consisting of 12 mews houses (up to 3-4 storeys), 59 apartments (up to 6 storeys) and 139 square metres of flexible retail/commercial floorspace (Class A1/A2/A3/B1/D1) together with associated access and egress from Erith High Street and Walnut Tree Road, 45 car parking spaces and 141 cycle parking spaces, a drop-off space, refuse stores, plant and relocated substation at ground floor level, a raised landscaped amenity area at first floor level and associated highway works. Demolition of existing electricity substation.  Former Riverside Swimming Centre Erith High Street Erith Kent”. You can view all of the planning documents by clicking here. It takes quite a time to go through them all, as there is a huge amount of detail. Personally, first impressions are somewhat mixed. The vacant swimming baths site will make an excellent location for some new housing, located as it is right opposite the Riverside Gardens and the banks of the River Thames. If the development was in somewhere like Hammersmith or Chiswick, each apartment would cost squillions. Initially my reaction was - do they really have to be so ugly? The blocky, angular look might be the in – things with trendy architects right now, but in my opinion the design will date extremely quickly. I also notice that the car parking provision is lacking – seventy one homes with only forty six parking spaces. London and Quadrant argue in their supporting documentation that car ownership in Erith is lower than the national average, and that many residents will use public transport instead. I have to agree that Erith is well serviced by buses, and the trains are fine (when they are running, with the caveat that if you have a baby buggy or need to use a wheelchair and need to go to London, you are stuffed, as there is no step – free access to the London bound platform, despite a concerted campaign).  However, the town has no Docklands Light Railway or Tube, and Crossrail will terminate at Abbey Wood, a couple of miles away. The main reason that car ownership in Erith is below average is not because the area is full of Hipsters who don't need a car as public transport is so good, it is because quite a large portion of the local population cannot afford to run a car. The new riverfront accommodation will be tempting to wealthier people from outside of the area, who may well have two or more cars. Even if half of the housing is for affordable rent, it still means that the figure of 46 parking spaces is very much on the low side; on top of this, the drawings published on the Council website show a critical design error – enclosed garages below the mews houses will, if constructed in the manner shown on the drawing, create a secluded and dark space which will encourage drug taking and vandalism – a lesson I thought planners had learned from Thamesmead, where the underground and ground floor parking areas have proved to be a crime magnet. Details like this can make a real difference to the success or otherwise of a development. For me, the elephant in the room is one aspect of the proposed development that seems to have been thus far overlooked. The current electricity substation, located in between the old Library site in Walnut Tree Road and the area formerly occupied by the swimming baths site is to be relocated to the small parcel of land that lies behind the Running Horses pub. This will be a huge operation, and I would imagine possibly the most difficult and expensive part of the project. As I understand it, the substation is fed by large cables which run under the River Thames from Essex, and form part of the National Grid power infrastructure. It is not just a local transformer, but a vital part of the electricity distribution network for South East London and North Kent. I wonder if the scope and scale of this has been fully taken into account? The costs of the relocation would be large, and would need to be factored into the eventual sale price of the development as a whole – making a fifty percent affordable housing level more difficult to maintain – I would not be surprised if the actual number of affordable properties starts to quietly drop as time goes by.  Personally I have no problem with the site being used for housing; I just feel that a better job could be made than what is currently being shown. I also note that a couple of the illustrative drawings show cars travelling in both directions along Erith High Street, when in reality it has been a one way street for ages. The devil is in the details. You can download a summary document (PDF file) regarding the whole proposal by clicking here. Please feel free to leave a comment below, or Email me directly at

The gang related crime unit that has recently been set up in Thamesmead look like they have their work cut out right now. You may have read in the Evening Standard that there was a very serious gang related attack in Manordene Road, Thamesmead on Saturday 2nd June. A gang of yobs attacked a youth, hitting him over the head and causing some serious injuries, which meant that he was hospitalised in a “serious but stable” condition. None of the gang members have been identified or caught at the time of writing. Hopefully when the victim recovers he will be able to give the Police information which will lead to the arrest of the perpetrators. This kind of thing is what gives Thamesmead a bad name – especially when it makes the London Evening Standard. Levels of violent crime are generally in decline, but Thamesmead does seem to be bucking the trend. The Metropolitan Police have been proactive in setting up the ten officer anti-gang unit based in the town, but there are still numerous problems to overcome. I do wonder if the levels of violent crime have any links with the notorious Bike Life TV UK group that I have written about before. If anyone has any insight into this, please get in contact with me. It may be that Bike Life TV UK are unconnected, but from the outside the link is easy to make. What do you think?

The law of unintended consequences seems to have come into play yet again with Bexley council this week; Malcolm Knight of the excellent Bexley is Bonkers blog has reported that the children’s play park at Lesnes Abbey Ruins has been vandalised – the large helter skelter slide was torched in an arson attack - the photo above is the copyright of the Metropolitan Police. You can see Malcolm’s photos of the incident, and read his report here. The problem seems to be yet another case of Bexley Council and unintended consequences. The News Shopper have a lively comments page on the vandalism that you can see here. Bexley Council implemented a money – saving policy last year which means that parks are not locked at night, and the (limited) private security patrols that they used to have were stopped. This saved a small amount of money, but when acts of Arson like this happen, it can mean increases in insurance premiums for the Council, which end up being paid by the poor council tax payer. I think something of this nature was sadly inevitable. I just hope the scrotes who ruined the park for the hundreds of local children who regularly use it get caught - though I don't think it is very likely.

There is much controversy over Bexley council’s decision to implement extra charges for the collection of garden waste in September. The council will begin publicising the new scheme this week, with leaflets set to be delivered to homes across Bexley and a schedule of road show appearances throughout the summer to try and sell the scheme to a sceptical public. Many, myself included view the charge as a “stealth” increase in the council tax. I am fortunate in that it will not affect me, as my garden generates no waste whatsoever (it is entirely synthetic), but many elderly people and those on a limited income will be hit by the charges. In any case, there is a distinct chance that the whole council policy may well meet with a legal challenge, as the following article from the Legal Beagles consumer rights website:- “Following a public consultation North East Lincolnshire Council's cabinet agreed to introduce charge for garden waste collection which has, up until now, been a free service. There were only two options offered to residents which were either to state a preference to pay for the service (proposed £40 per annum) or to scrap it all together. It would appear that from a recent Supreme Court case ruling on the lawfulness of public consultations, that a simple offer of take it or leave it does not constitute a lawful public consultation. The ruling is clear that for this kind of consultation to be lawful, there must be offered alternative ways from which residents could choose to make savings or plug gaps in budgets. The case surrounded a consultation about the Council Tax Reduction Scheme (CTRS), though the judgment impacts on how all local authority public consultations should be conducted. It was held that the consultation did not offer any other ways to deal with the government cuts, such as raising council tax, cutting money to other council services, or using capital funds. (Those taking part in the consultation didn’t know there were potential alternatives to the system they wanted to use and was just presented as if they had no choice). North East Lincolnshire Council offered two options which were take it or leave it. It could have suggested for example making savings by sharing a Chief Executive with a neighbouring authority, using some reserves, reducing Councillor allowances/Councillors etc., etc. The authority is aware of the Supreme case and has proceeded regardless, offering no alternative for making savings in its public consultation. It is questioned if this is because it has taken a calculated risk that the odds of someone bringing a case against them is unlikely on the basis that the cost of court proceedings is far too prohibitive for the average ratepayer”. Interesting stuff indeed. It will be instructive to see if anyone challenges Bexley Council using this information. Malcolm Knight of “Bexley is Bonkers” has taken up this issue, as it sits closely with his mission to expose the ways in which the council fail to deliver on their promises. It is a pity that Bexley Council have an undeclared policy of ignoring petitions or other protests by local residents; as Bexley is Bonkers reported earlier this week, a online petition has been started  with the aim of persuading the council to drop the new additional charge for collecting and disposing of garden waste. You can see the petition, and sign it if you so wish by clicking here. Many of the comments on the petition run along the lines of “we pay enough council tax already!”, but one chap who hails from Sidcup was more succinct. He wrote:- “Bexley Council are a bunch of money grabbing gangsters”. Quite. Others point out:- "When I lived at my old house in Barnehurst, the leaves from the trees in Bursted Woods (Bexley owned) would blow into my garden. This would lead to up to 60 bags or brown bin fulls of leaves which we'd clean up and the Bexley would have the audacity to threaten to charge us - to clean up THEIR leaves. If they start charging, people will only be forced to fly tip or as I threatened to do - charge Bexley my consultancy rate to do their work”.

This week we have another restaurant review, this time by musician, activist and local resident Ian "The reV" Doherty. He takes a close look at the brand new pub / restaurant the Morgan, which opened last week in Lower Belvedere. "Not based in the most salubrious areas on the edge of the Belvedere Industrial Estate behind the giant Cob Horse sculpture and on the edge of ‘The place for fun and sun’ that’s known as Thamesmead the new Marston’s pub, The Morgan, opened a week or so ago and as far as I know the first pub to be built and opened in Belvedere in the past 50 plus years! Named after a type of small horse, (usually of a stout build with strong bones, large joints used for riding, pulling carriages and having a steady disposition) The Morgan is Marston’s brewery first pub in the South East. Marston’s apparently operates over 2,000 pubs in the UK, but none closer to the area than either Croydon or Dagenham so a bit of a trek till up to now. Marston’s are, according to their website, the world's largest brewer of cask ales (which surprised me) but as soon as I heard one of their pubs were opening in the area I was intrigued as I'm a big real ale fan. Marston's is actually 5 different breweries including Banks's (not a fan), Jennings (can’t even think of any of their beers off the top of my head), Ringwood (a BIG favourite of mine!) and Wychwood (love their cod Gothic marketing and branding but find their bottled beers a bit lacklustre). I popped in on a warm Summers Monday night to try the food with my family in tow and from the outside it has all the charm of a car park in the Thurrock Retail Park as it's surrounded by the new housing estate, so it’s a tad industrial as half the new homes are empty and there’s not a soul to be seen, still in a few years it should look more suburban and lived in. The pub building itself is actually quite nice, inoffensive and less of a “McBuild” than I was expecting, I even noticed they must have a live in landlord as I noticed knick-knacks on the upper floors window ledges so it’s not just a retail outlet kind of place. The exterior leans towards a sort of“Ye olde” barn type rather than a Lego style quick build I was expecting. Inside there’s a photo montage of old pictures of Belvedere on the lobby wall and its clear the place is a restaurant first and a pub second as the podium as you walk in states in big letters to “Please wait to be seated”. The seating is a mixture of tables and horseshoe shaped booths which creates a nice mixed ambience and there’s a few nice quirky touches like some of the lights hanging from the ceiling are 1970s style angle poise lamps. In the interior the sort of barn/rustic theme continues as its all whitewash walls and (fake) beams, it’s nice enough if a bit generic for my personal taste but it’s obviously clean and new. To give you a clue about the main purpose of the place there’s a 4ft high sign in the shape of (and spelling) the word “carvery” in bright red capital letters adjacent to the food serving area, it’s not a relax-in-an-overstuffed-sofa kind of pub. Overall the interior is nothing spectacular but it's bright, welcoming and just right for the type of place its aiming to be and very nice looking, something even, dare I say it, a little upmarket for the area. Service wise it was faultless although I prefer my waitresses to look a little less tattooed and reminiscent of Harley Quinn from the Batman games, still service was prompt and friendly (if slightly nervous). The menu is the usual pub/restaurant fayre but confusingly the Carvery has 3 plate sizes (ranging from £4.25 for the small on weekdays to £9.99 on a Sunday for the Large) the only difference I can see is that the Large means an extra slice of meat. I went for the Medium plate and piled it high with veg (all the usual sort of stuffs there: red cabbage, green cabbage, roast potatoes, carrots, mashed swede, peas etc.) the real surprise was that the food actually tasted of something! I've eaten on and off at The Lord Kitchener another similar local carvery restaurant/pub’s for years and although the portions are as large as you like there I've never been a fan as I always found the food pretty limp and tasteless, more one step up from school dinners/something to fill you up than to enjoy the taste of but the Morgan’s food was a very pleasant surprise. Now, the bit I was interested in, the drinks! Being a 5 brewery business means I hoped the choice of beer on draught would be stellar, I have to say I was a tad disappointed but I'm not really being fair, this isn't some small country pub in the middle of nowhere so I shouldn't have expected it to have some mythical unheard of pint of the Gods. I must admit I didn't take a note of all the beers names but they had on draught Hobgoblin, Pedigree, …um…some sort of golden ale…er…a Ringwood beer…look the kids were bothering me as I was ordering and the person behind the till was asking me if I wanted extra stuff so I kind of got distracted! Suffice to say draught wise there was a very nice choice far better than most of the other restaurant pubs in the area, there was also a full choice of the usual wines and spirits. Talking of kids there’s a large patio and play area which would be lovely if it didn’t face a busy roundabout (Oh and The Morgan is only about half a mile as the crow flies from Crossness sewage plant, something to think about) but the kids enjoyed it. Actually whilst we were there the Police turned up to talk to the Manager as although the pub had only been open for a week some light fingered toe-rag with a van or rather a gang of them had a couple of nights previously stolen ALL the pubs brand new garden furniture. Not a great start for the poor new landlord. Dessert wise they have great slabs of very nice looking cakes and cheesecakes (which in a bit of intelligent thinking can be boxed up to take home if you're too stuffed after your meal) as well as staples like ice cream and traditional puds. Overall I'd certainly say give it a visit. The food was the best I've had from a chain pub in a long time, the beer is a good choice and not ones you can get locally on draught anywhere else, the staff are warm and friendly, the price is reasonable rather than cheap and in fact the only thing letting it down a bit is its location". Thanks Ian - I think I will have to give the place a try. If anyone else has visited this new venue, please get in touch and let me know what you think of it - either leave a comment below, or Email - thanks!

Local residents may have noticed that something is missing from the Erith skyline recently; over the last three or four years there have been a fairly constant stream of commercial ships moored on Erith Pier. Recently they seem to have stopped visiting, and I have been asked on more than one occasion why. The reason is actually very straightforward. The ships that regularly moored at Erith Pier were bulk carriers that were transporting spoil dug from the Crossrail tunnelling work to the newly reclaimed land that exists at Wallasea Island in Essex. The ships no longer moor at the pier because the twenty six miles of tunnelling work has now been completed; consequently there is no more spoil to shift. The new lines run from as far West as Reading in Berkshire to as far East as Shenfield in Essex. Ten new Crossrail stations are being constructed in central London and in London Docklands, as well as one at Abbey Wood. The Abbey Wood terminus is one of the two spurs, with another running to Heathrow Airport in West London. At peak, the tunnelling machines aimed for around one hundred metres of tunnelling progress a week. The final breakthrough was at Farringdon in the City of London. Running on some existing track as well as the new tracks through London, Crossrail will serve forty stations and increase capacity through London by ten percent. Crossrail's tunnels are made up of more than 200,000 concrete tunnel segments. Each tunnel segment weighs 3.4 tonnes. Trains will be at least 200 metres long and there will be up to 24 trains per hour between Paddington and Whitechapel during peak times. It is estimated that Crossrail will generate at least 75,000 business opportunities and support the equivalent of 55,000 full time jobs right around the UK. It is a very impressive piece of civil engineering, and one of the largest projects of its kind in the world.

It is not often that the local area gets used as the location for a film; we have had Thamesmead and the old Bexley College tower (now demolished to make way for a new housing estate) used as locations for the cult E4 TV show “Misfits”, but to my knowledge the last time the area was used for a major feature film was back in September 1970 to April 1971, when Stanley Kubrick used Tavy Bridge in Thamesmead as the main location for much of “A Clockwork Orange”. Since then things have been quiet. Last year that changed, when the producers of the newly released feature film “London Road” used locations in Lower Belvedere, Thamesmead and Nuxley Road, Upper Belvedere as locations for the film musical based on the 2006 Ipswich prostitute murders. “London Road” uses verbatim testimony  from residents to show how they came together to rebuild their world after five women were killed in the Suffolk town in 2006. It is based on the award-winning stage production at the National Theatre. The film stars actress Olivia Colman (who I have seen on stage playing “Minka”, the psychopathic Polish secretary in the excellent BBC Radio 4 sitcom “Hut 33”). Colman said of the film: “It’s actually about a group of people who heal themselves. I think people have a preconception that the musical is about death and murder but that’s not what it is about. It’s about a community who have got the world’s press looking at them and decide to make themselves better. Learning the verbatim script — including all the “ums” and “ers” of conversation — was much harder than a normal one. But having been fearful of it and close to tears at times, I'd say it was one of the most enjoyable and fulfilling jobs I've ever had. It also means the words audiences hear are what people genuinely said and were not “twisted”. These are real people, with no filter, being terribly honest”. She also had to sing in the film, which was not something that she had done before: “I used to sing at school. I can hold a tune, but I’m not under any impression I’m a proper singer. It was really scary, but lovely. It’s a fascinating story that most of us remember from the news.” Colman said it was a weird project compared with “shoot-em-up” movies or rom-coms, but added: “I think film-lovers will love this film. It is absolutely original.” You can see a trailer for the film below. The sequence in the church hall was filmed in All Saint’s Church Hall in Nuxley Road, Upper Belvedere (NOT “Nuxley Village” as some call it – there is no such place – the erroneous name is the result of lazy estate agents who made up the name, and do not live in the area, or know the long history of it), and “London Road” itself was replicated by using Sutherland Road in Lower Belvedere, not far from Belvedere Railway Station. Film critic Mark Kermode reviews the film here - and he loved it.

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