Sunday, February 21, 2016

Clean for the Queen.

It is nice to begin on some good news this week; the photo above shows part of the main concourse in the Erith Riverside Shopping Centre. An announcement this week by Barry Owen, the manager of the shopping centre said that sales were up markedly on the same period last year. A greater footfall through the centre had also been recorded - more visitors will encourage more retailers to open outlets in the centre - as previously mentioned, I have it on good authority that Subway will soon be opening a branch, and the much loved Mambocino coffee shop / cafe will be expanding into a second unit so that it will be able to open for "sit down" meals in the evening - something currently sadly lacking in Erith. All in all things are looking good; hopefully the remaining unlet units will soon be occupied. 

Belvedere Splash Park was one of the largest free wet play parks in the country, with a lagoon surrounding a desert island and a mini-‘beach’, equipped with water sprinklers, showers, bubble jets and sprays. Parents brought their children from a very wide area to the park during the summer months; it was incredibly popular and very well used. The Splash Park was one recreational feature which brought many people to Upper Belvedere who might otherwise not visit the village. The Splash Park has been under threat for a couple of years now, and it would seem that even though a concerted and well organised campaign to preserve the park has been for nothing. Many observers, myself included were of the opinion that Bexley Council do everything possible to do exactly what they always intended to do despite so – called “consultation” – the Bexley Council motto of “Listening to you, Working for you” is laughably ironic. It is pretty certain that the Splash Park will not be refurbished – the final decision will be taken at a council meeting on Monday evening, well after the Maggot Sandwich for this week has “gone to press” on Sunday afternoon. One local rumour has been directly denied by the council – that is, that the larger recreation park on the other side of Woolwich Road would be moved onto the former Splash Park site, then the entire recreation park site, along with the adjacent Belvedere Library would be sold off to allow a high concentration flat development, thus making a pile of short term cash for the rapacious council, and a longer term cash cow in the form of annual council tax revenue from the residential development. Councillors flatly deny this is the case – but in my experience (with a few very notable exceptions) I find that you can always tell when a politician is lying – their lips are moving. In an interview with the Bexley Times, Councillor Daniel Francis (one of the notable exceptions in my experience) said “While I welcome the news that the council plans to retain inclusive play facilities on the site, it is deeply disappointing that over 100 years of a water facility on this site will be brought to an end. This decision would have been taken over a year ago, if it were not for the tireless work of local campaigners. I would like to place on record my thanks to all those campaigners and in particular to Ian Doherty for setting up the campaign, Rachael Thompson, Nicola Taylor and Alex Taylor for their work and in particular Faye Ockleford for her tireless work co-ordinating the campaign and the Save our Splash Park FaceBook page. I therefore welcome the assurances we have received that the council do not propose selling either of the Woolwich Road recreation grounds, and we will be holding them to account to ensure they keep their promise on this issue. While the council may claim this decision has been caused by lack of interest from companies to run a water facility, this is of course not the case. This decision is a purely ideological one taken by a Conservative council as a result of the reduction in funding from a Conservative Government.” A pity that he had to put the party political boot in at the end; I know that some Conservative councillors secretly backed the plan to save the Splash Park, but were too afraid to say so publicly for fear of retribution.

The “Clean for the Queen” event aims to recruit one million people to help tidy up the UK’s dirtiest areas in time for the Queen’s 90th birthday on the weekend on 4, 5 and 6 March. Prior to this weekend, it is rather unfortunate that the PR company promoting the positive event have chosen a negative way of publicising it. They have highlighted what they consider to be the twelve dirtiest places in Britain,  and they list Erith as one of those towns.  A photo of rubbish dumped on South Road in Erith was submitted and chosen as one of the dirtiest. Campaign director Adrian Evans said in an interview with the News Shopper: “The dirty dozen all share a common theme – they are local eyesores.  Rubbish has been dumped by people who can’t be bothered to dispose of it responsibly – bottles, cans, wrappers and bags.  We have chosen these grotspots to highlight just how bad the litter problem is and also to emphasise that everyone can make a difference to their local area by not littering. To show that these places would be so much more beautiful if the litter was cleared, the Clean for The Queen team and friends are undertaking to clean up three of the grotspots in advance of the Clean for the Queen weekend on 4, 5 and 6 March.” Other towns listed as being exceptionally dirty and rubbish – filled were Thurrock, Derbyshire (not a town, I know!), Stamford, Tooting, Birmingham, Chippenham, Cardiff, Ipswich, Brighton, Newcastle and Hammersmith. 

I have had several readers ask me about buying a new computer, and what they should look for. A couple of years ago many IT industry insiders were predicting the imminent demise of the desktop PC, to be replaced with tablet devices and mobiles. The only people who were expected to continue using tower PC’s were gamers who endlessly upgrade and tweak their computer hardware to get the best performance possible. In the end, the death of the desktop PC seems not to have happened after all. There is still a demand for desktop machines. I have some predictions for the next year and the personal computer. The switch to Windows 10 will really start to have an impact, as Windows 7 goes out of mainstream support – and very few migrated to the disastrous and buggy Windows 8 / 8.1. It is expected that plenty of organisations will look therefore decide 2016's as good a time as any to take the plunge on a new PC fleet, powered by Windows 10. The top three PC-makers – Dell, Lenovo and HP have released details of the products they think will appeal to their customers.  One thing all three companies think customers will want this year is size. Or more specifically, a lack thereof. Towers and mini-towers are now for workstation-wranglers only. The corporate desktop is now a margarine-tub-sized affair. That shrinkage has been made possible by three things, the first of which is the demise of optical drives. Nobody needs to load software from CD or Blu – Ray disc anymore, and USB sticks are now the dominant portable data medium. So out go optical drives and the space they occupy. Disk density helps, too, as a 500GB 2.5-inch drive is now easy to find at decent prices and solid-state disks are also cheap. Whatever storage device you choose, it needs less space than its predecessor, meaning smaller PCs become possible. Intel's Skylake processors are the third and biggest space-saver, as they run cooler and also boast built-in graphics. By requiring less cooling and removing the need for a graphics card, Skylake means PCs can shrink in size. Nowadays only hard-core gamers looking for ultra high resolution and very high frame refresh rates still feel the need for a separate, dedicated 3D graphics card, unlike the days of yore. Smaller PCs also have manufacturers thinking about what they can do with a shrunken system. Bolting the client to the back of a monitor is now a common trick. Lenovo's taken the idea further with the “TinyOne 23”, a small form factor PC designed to mate with a slot in a matching monitor. Personally it reminds me of a “Happy Shopper” Apple iMac, but without the slick design. 2016's new laptops will do what laptops have done since day one: get smaller, lighter and thriftier in the demands placed on batteries. Under the hood, the M.2 interface will make plenty more appearances, as a connector for all manner of devices but especially SSDs. The three manufacturers who were consulted expected to see 256GB SSDs as 2016's sweet spot, with demand for 512GB rising, but cost keeping demand muted. Solid state storage will continue to take over from hard disk drives, as SSD capacity increases, costs come down and their life is extended. The two biggest improvements SSD drives bring to the party are increased speed and decreased power consumption – no need to spin a physical disk around saves a lot of battery power. The newly introduced USB-C connectivity standard won't appear in all business laptops: consensus is it's too soon for business users to want it, but it's tipped for bigger things next year once its potential to replace desktop docks is realised. Users are tired of proprietary docks, the big three tell us, and USB-C is expected to clean up in coming years. One other advantage USB – C has will be welcomed by everyone who has ever needed to connect a USB lead to a PC. For the first time ever, the USB standard, version C will allow plugs to be inserted either way round – no more scrabbling around the back of a computer or TV, trying to work out which way the USB plug goes in (and it is always the wrong way first time – I think this is a universal law). Another new connectivity standard has also been launched with 2016’s new PC hardware in mind;  WiGig is a short-range wireless protocol that can transmit audio and video or data. It's felt that the standard will let a laptop drive a monitor and connect to peripherals. The standard will find its way into some laptops this year, with Lenovo planning it as standard and intending to release a WiGig dock. Dell and HP see later adoption of the technology, which should prove popular with business users. The ability to wirelessly connect to external monitors or 4K televisions will be something many users will wonder how they coped beforehand.  Laptops capable of doing duty as tablets are very much in demand, so touch screens are increasingly common across all three vendors' ranges, bringing with them the ability to contort devices into different working positions. Whatever you buy, in whatever form factor, expect it to come with at least 4GB of DDR 4 RAM – better still 8GB. Anything less is seen as cutting corners. On a slightly different note, There's a new Sinclair ZX Spectrum in the works - this time it's a handheld dedicated games console.The Sinclair ZX Spectrum Vega+ passed its £100,000 crowdfunding target on IndieGoGo in less than three days. At the time of publication £160,000 had been pledged by 1500 backers. The handheld, which follows last year's Sinclair ZX Spectrum Vega, comes with 1000 licensed games built-in and costs £100. A bit of background: the Sinclair ZX Spectrum Vega+ is marketed by the Luton-based Retro Computers (Sir Clive's Sinclair Research Ltd is a shareholder). The development and marketing of the Vega+ is under license from Sky In-Home Service Ltd, who inherited the intellectual property rights to the Spectrum computers from Amstrad. Retro said development of the Vega+ is complete and a fully-functioning prototype is ready to go into production. It has a colour LCD and can be connected to a television. As already mentioned, it comes with 1000 licensed games, but you can download additional games free of charge. The design concept of the Vega+ is the work of Rick Dickinson, who was responsible for the design of all of Sinclair's ZX computers in the 1980s. A short explanatory video is below.

Now here is some interesting information about a newly formed local crime fighting initiative:- "Bexley Borough Neighbourhood Watch Association has set up a BikeWatch scheme in Bexley to try and help reduce the amount of nuisance and crime from Biker gangs in the Borough of Bexley. The main problems are in and around Thamesmead and Erith (although not confined to these two areas) at the very least these gangs can cause a nuisance with the noise they make late at night with their bikes, but there has also been other instances where bike gangs have attacked individuals and where their behaviour on their bikes has endangered members of the public.As the numbers of bikers increase the police are struggling to cope, as often they are unable to chase the bikers as they drive off-road while being pursued by the police, additionally often by the time the police are able to respond to a call the bikers have gone, although the disturbance has already happened and residents have been woken from their sleep. Our BikeWatch scheme like many of our other non-residential schemes such as ShopWatch and HoundWatch offer membership to residents who are then able to report instances and give information on the bikers for example time the incident happened, the number of bikes, what they were doing, registration numbers and description of riders etc etc, which we would pass onto the relevant ward police team according to area/ward of the incident, and this enables them to build up information for possible prosecution. What this scheme also offers differently from our other schemes is that residents don't have to join, they can fill in a BikeWatch incident report card and send it to us without giving their details if they fear they could suffer from reprisals from these youths. We feel also that parents should also be brought to bear when bikers are caught as they often enable their children, by purchasing them a bike and by allowing them to be out on them sometimes to the early hours of the morning. The police have powers to confiscate the bikes and have them crushed and we hope that with this scheme and residents support more of the constant offenders will be caught and that dealt with in this way. More serious instances have included a lady with a buggy nearly being hit when a biker who was riding on one wheel slipped off nearly hitting her and her buggy / child in Erith, another where one of our members who was filming their illegal activity near a shopping centre was attacked and punched also in Erith, and a person being beaten to a pulp by a gang of bikers in Abbey Wood, plus gangs on bikes riding around at night stealing motor bikes from residents. THIS HAS TO STOP NOW, BUT WE NEED YOUR HELP PLEASE JOIN BIKEWATCH TODAY. For copies of our BikeWatch Cards please either ring 0208 284 5537 or email BEXLEY BOROUGH NEIGHBOURHOOD WATCH ASSOCIATION-we now have over 1,000 volunteers working to help to keep the Borough Safe why not join us NOW?" You can find out more about Bexley Neighbourhood Watch Association by clicking here

Fellow local Blogger Malcolm Knight, of the excellent “Bexley is Bonkers” blog has been making adverse comments on the changes made to the roadways and pavements in and around Bexley, principally in Sidcup High Street and Bexleyheath Broadway. His poor view of the changes in the street layout, removing the delineation between pedestrian and traffic areas into what some now called “shared space” matches my own. The town planners and architects seem to like this uncertainty of what is road and what is pavement, but the council tax paying public seem to not. It appears that our antipathy is mirrored by Councillor Stef Borella, Labour shadow cabinet member for traffic and transport, who views the works as a council vanity project. He said in an interview in the Bexley Times that “The works are costing £5.5million, that’s money that could have been spread elsewhere. You can put that money in places like Sidcup High Street, Forest Road in Slade Green, or in developing Belvedere. It’s such a vanity project to focus on developing Bexleyheath. When I was knocking on doors during the general election, I’d say around 85 per cent were opposed to the idea of these roadworks.” In my opinion the reason the money gets spent in Bexleyheath and the Southern part of the London Borough of Bexley is because that is where the governing councillors live; the poorer North of the Borough gets repeatedly ignored, as the residents of the North did not elect the councillors that are now in power. Danson Splash Park in Welling was not even considered for closure, but the much more popular and widely used Belvedere Splash Park was - you work it out.

The photo above shows the former Odeon, Erith when it was being used as a Mecca bingo hall back in 1985; it was a sad end for a glorious Art Deco building, constructed in 1937, and opened in 1938, it seated 1,240 people. You can see more period photos of the building by clicking here. Sadly, even though it was a Grade II* listed building, it was demolished in 1999, and now a block of flats and offices stands on the site. Wetherspoons had hoped to conserve the original cinema building and convert it into a pub / restaurant, but the close proximity of the Sherwood House sheltered housing scheme directly opposite meant that this was never going to happen - the levels of noise and disturbance at night would never have been permitted by the licensing authorities. 

MP for Erith and Thamesmead, Teresa Pearce has been getting rightly annoyed in my opinion in cuts being made to the Magistrate's Court system locally. Dartford Magistrates' Court has been axed in moves to "modernise" the justice system, the government has announced. Meanwhile, two justice buildings will be lost in the Greenwich borough - where both Greenwich Magistrates' Court and Woolwich County Court are to close. They were three of 91 buildings, 57 magistrates and 19 county courts, at threat of closure by the HM Courts and Tribunal Service.  According to the HM Courts and Tribunal Service, the 86 courts they are closing are used for just over a third of their available hearing time, the equivalent of less than two days a week. In Dartford, the proposal was to transfer all cases seventeen miles away to Medway Magistrates' Court - but 97 per cent of residents nationwide should still be able to reach their court within an hour by car. The workloads and hearings of Greenwich and Woolwich will be moved to Bromley County Court. In an interview with the News Shopper, Teresa Pearce said “The government has already slashed legal aid and increased court fees. Many are representing themselves because they cannot afford a lawyer. And now victims and witnesses will have to travel much further than before, further threatening their right to local access to justice. Many of the cases looked into at these courts are for family matters or less serious offences. The Ministry of Justice say it will only take 20 minutes from Greenwich to Bromley – well that’s just not my experience. It will take longer for police to transport prisoners and longer for witnesses or victims to travel to court at greater personal expense. I urge the government to reconsider these proposals. You cannot put a price on fair access to justice for all." To balance this, it has to be said that some of the court buildings that are being closed have been chronically underused in recent years. I understand that currently the inefficiency in the court system and the underuse of buildings is estimated to cost the UK taxpayer half a billion pounds a year. What is the answer? Leave a comment below, or Email

Look out for increased levels of Police, emergency service and military activity in and around the local area in the next couple of weeks; Exercise Unified Response will simulate a tower block collapsing into Waterloo Underground station packed with passengers. The four-day exercise, starting on February 29th, aims to test the contingency planning of more than seventy organisations, from mortuaries to the Government’s Cobra committee. It will be staged at the decommissioned Littlebrook power station, near Dartford Crossing, and include two thousand volunteers playing casualties amid upturned Tube trains and thousands of tons of rubble. It is understood that the techniques being tested could also be used in a terror incident. Following the Paris suicide bombings and gun attacks in November, which killed 130, London firefighters wearing bulletproof vests have been trained to work alongside police while gunmen are still at large. The €1 million (£770,000) drill is funded by the European Union and will include specialists from Hungary, Italy and Cyprus. Part of the exercise is to test if they could get to trapped survivors faster than the July 7 terror attacks in 2005, and help reduce their trauma. It will be interesting to see what happens. If you have been contacted as a volunteer for the four day exercise, please let me know - Email me at

The end video this week examines the future for the currently empty and derelict Spillers Millennium Flour Mill in Silvertown, Docklands. The iconic building has been used as a TV and film location, most notably in Stanley Kubrick's "Full Metal Jacket". It is now about to be refurbished and put back into use. The short video explains how the listed building is going to be restored and internally transformed; it makes for interesting and informative viewing.

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