Sunday, June 12, 2016

Out of Wind.

The Erith Wind Turbine has rapidly become one of the major landmarks of the town, even though it is actually located far closer to Slade Green, than to central Erith. The Wind Turbine is situated on the banks of the River Thames on the Manford Industrial Estate, which is also home to the excellent, multi award - winning Bexley Brewery. The location of the wind turbine was somewhat controversial when it was first installed back in October 2012, with some Slade Green residents objecting to it. Since then it has formed an integral part of the local landscape. It was fairly widely anticipated that further wind turbines would be constructed locally, as the Government sought to create as much energy using renewable energy sources as possible. A recent report may well have put paid to this, however. It would seem that the UK has the wrong type of wind. The head of the wind industry’s trade body in the UK has admitted England isn’t windy enough for any more wind farms. “We are almost certainly not talking about the possibility of new plants in England. The project economics wouldn’t work; the wind speeds don’t allow for it,” essentially the wind in the UK is too sporadic and unreliable to make for an efficient renewable energy source. Hugh McNeal (no relation - I promise!) head of Renewable UK told the Daily Telegraph. McNeal joined the lobby group from the civil service, where he was “Director of Change” (a real job title) at the Department of Energy and Climate Change during its most wind-friendly phase. Government subsidies for new onshore wind turbines were quietly dropped on the 1st April this year; In his final interview before his untimely death from cancer, DECC’s chief scientific advisor Sir David Mackay called it an “appalling delusion” that the UK could meet its energy needs from renewables. Wind turbines were simply a "waste of money" in winter, for "when the wind blows you are going to have to either turn those wind turbines down or something else down that you have already paid for, like the nuclear or coal fired generators". Solar generation only works in really sunny countries. The international renewables agency IRENA recently admitted that renewable usage is actually falling in China, India and Mexico. The EU quietly dropped its mandate that 10 per cent of transport be powered by renewables 2020 earlier this year. Bill Gates has called for the huge renewables subsidies wasted on wind and solar to be diverted to more potentially useful low carbon innovation. I think that the Erith wind turbine probably pays its' way, as the wind off the River Thames is a lot more reliable than that in other areas, but that is the exception, rather than the rule. It is a pity that the so - called renewable energy from wind and the sun is not actually reliable enough to make a significant contribution to the UK energy reserve, but I suppose that we have to be realistic, rather than idealistic.

As I have previously written, I have concerns over the quality of local journalism, now that the staff of the News Shopper have moved out of their long - term home in Petts Wood and are now either working from home, or from their new base in West London, far from the area they are tasked with covering. A prime example of this happened this week. A reporter named James Parsons wrote a piece about a woman who is resident at the former Homeleigh Care Home in Avenue Road, Erith, which has been converted into a temporary respite shelter for homeless people. The problem with the piece was (and at the time of writing, currently is) that the reporter refers to the former care home being located in Sidcup rather than Erith. I Emailed James Parsons to point out his error, and got an out of office auto reply, and since then several readers have left comments on the article pointing out the error in the story, but thus far it has not been corrected; the story was originally posted on Wednesday, and it is now Sunday. Very poor journalism. What do you think? Leave a comment below, or Email me at

Long - term Maggot Sandwich readers will be aware of my strong antipathy towards gambling, and especially towards Fixed Odds Betting Terminals used in bookmakers shops. There is now a clinic in Fulham which specialises in supporting and helping people with gambling problems to overcome their addiction: The National Problem Gambling Clinic - around fifteen problem gamblers are referred to the clinic every week from across the country; every year between 750 and 900 people start treatment here. Most are male, and in their 30s and 40s; about 70 percent are working. “Yet, by the time we see them, they have lost jobs or lost opportunities professionally because of their gambling and they have often compromised important relationships,” Bowden-Jones says. “They are usually highly stressed and there is a lot of guilt, when they look at the negative consequences on their employers, spouse, children, employers.” Most patients are spending their money on the high street roulette machines – known as fixed odds betting terminals (often described as the crack cocaine of gambling, because of the speed with which large sums can be staked, and lost), and on sports betting, usually done online at home. The easy availability of online, in-game betting has made sports betting increasingly popular over the past decade. While fifteen years ago people might only have been able to bet on the result of a game, at the bookmakers, now they can bet online, on a variety of scenarios within the game, making watching the sport highly stressful for gamblers. Bowden-Jones, who previously specialised in alcohol and drug addiction, founded the NHS’s first and only specialist gambling clinic, funded by the Central and North West London NHS Foundation Trust, in 2008. It had become obvious, amid rising concern about the growing presence of super-casinos and new easy access to betting shops, that there was a desperate need for it. She has been innovative and experimental, trialling the use of a cravings-suppressing drug, naltrexone, more commonly prescribed to alcoholics and heroin addicts. It is a last-resort treatment for gamblers whose addiction has persisted despite the clinic’s interventions. Personally I would have thought drastic cutbacks and legal restrictions on betting shops and online gambling, and especially on Fixed Odds Betting Terminals would be the best way forward. What do you think?

One of my anonymous sources has alerted me to the news that a licence application has been made to Bexley Council for a new Micro Pub to be called the Hackney Carriage, which (if permission is granted, and I have little doubt that it will), would be located at 165 Station Road, Sidcup. This is good news; Bexley is becoming a leader in encouraging and supporting Micro Pubs. I would like to see one in Erith or Northumberland Heath - there are plenty of suitable unused shop units available, and the demand is certainly there. Central Erith only has one pub - The Running Horses (see the photo above - click on it for a larger view), which is sadly a bare shadow of what it used to be. I would love to see it as a lively and busy family friendly place with an excellent upstairs restaurant, but instead it limps along with a small band of loyal regulars. A large investment really needs to be made in the place - perhaps if a large pub company or brewer such as Shepherd Neame or Fuller's were to buy it, they would be able to turn the place around once and for all. I fear that when things get particularly tight for the current owners, they may be tempted to sell of the building and plot of land on which it sits to a property developer to demolish the pub and replace it with yet more riverside apartments, and I know I am far from being alone in this concern. The Running Horses is an excellent building, and with some love and cash it could bring it back to its' glory days in the late 1980's when you needed to book a week in advance to get a table in the upstairs carvery on a Sunday lunchtime. Another beer related story was brought to my attention earlier in the week, and it has parallels with an experience of my own. A Belgian brewery has developed an impressive engineering solution to a problem they had with transporting their beers. Bruges brewery De Halve Maan (The Half Moon) is about to open the valves on a €4m beer pipeline designed to carry vital supplies the 3.2km from its city centre production facility to its bottling plant. The subterranean ale conduit was the brainchild of De Halve Maan's head brewer Xavier Vanneste, who wanted a solution to the problem of beer tanker lorries negotiating the city's narrow streets around the brewery in Walplein square. According to an article in the Wall Street Journal, Vanneste was inspired by workers "laying underground utility cables in front of his house". He admitted: "It all started as a joke. Nobody believed it was going to work." Four years later, though, and the epic project is just weeks away from completion. Vanneste raised an impressive €300,000 of the pipeline budget with a crowdfunding initiative, which offered investors with €7,500 to spare "one 33cl bottle of Brugse Zot Blond every day for the rest of your life". Less wealthy customers were tempted with one case of 24 bottles of Brugse Zot Blond a year for life (€800), or "one presentation bottle of 75cl of Brugse Zot Blond a year for life" for a modest €220. Restaurateur Philippe Le Loup was one of those who stumped up €7,500, and he reckons that at a bottle a day he'll have recouped his investment in 15 years. Le Loup's restaurant is a few hundred metres from the pipeline, and he said he'd have welcomed a direct connection, to save him "a lot of keg-dragging". Sadly for him, and indeed those Belgian citizens who are no doubt already planning just how to tap the polyethylene pipe, Vanneste said this would prove "impossible", rating the tube as "stronger than steel". The Belgian pipe development is the longest and by far the most ambitious beer pipeline in the world, but it is far from the only one. Shepherd Neame down at their historic brewery in Faversham have what they call "The Beer Bridge" - their main brewery is on one side of a busy road, and their bottling plant is on the other. The have constructed an overhead gantry which contains beer piped from the brewery to the bottling plant. Apparently there have been several attempts to drill into the pipes and siphon off the beer, though to date none appear to have been successful. The Belgian enterprise is far more ambitious - you can see a short video on the brewery behind it below. Please feel free to leave a comment below, or Email me at

The whole of the South East of England is under intense population pressure for a multitude of reasons I’m not about to explore here. Others with higher levels of insight have already done so far more eloquently than I. Nevertheless the population boom and lack of investment in new housing stock have caused property prices to boom, and the rental market to explode. Those with lots of money (many of whom are absentee foreign investors seeking to get their cash into the UK economy, which they judge to be a stable and reliable place to invest) have been doing very nicely indeed out of the situation, whilst the rest of us struggle. This week the News Shopper has highlighted a particular problem with the London Borough of Bexley. Unusually for a local council, Bexley does not have a Tenancy Relations Officer to supervise the private landlord market in the Borough. This has partly led to the current situation where some unscrupulous private landlords are dividing up houses into tiny flats, often contrary to the building and health and safety regulations. The News shopper has recently reported that a petition has been started which is designed to persuade Bexley Council to introduce legislation to force developers to apply for planning permission before converting two-bed family homes into six separate bedsits, known as an Article 4 direction. Bexley would appear to have a particular problem with what is known as Houses of Multiple Occupancy (HMO). Many of these HMO houses are used as hostels for vulnerable people with drug and / or mental health problems, or ex – offenders, and many home owners feel intimidated by the HMO residents. Because Bexley Council have historically not engaged with HMO landlords, they lack any data on how many, and in what areas HMO houses are located. The petition that has been set up on the website can be seen here. Reading the comments from the local residents that have signed the petition, it would seem that feeling is running very high indeed on the matter. One fairly typical comment is from a lady called Donna Everist who writes:- “I think it's wrong that law abiding, hardworking people, who pay a mortgage, taxes, council taxes etc could have the house next door turned into bedsits filled with people who have done none of these, and probably never will. If the comments about the sort of people who will reside in these bedsits is true, then I'm lost for words!” Other comments are somewhat less measured, with often recurring references to “paedos, druggies, nutters and scum”. It will be instructive to see what happens when the petition is handed to Teresa Pearce MP and David Evennett MP – our two local politicians. I get the feeling this story will run for a long time to come.

The HMO story highlights the somewhat contradictory situation with property in The London Borough of Bexley; not only is the creation of multi occupancy residences unmonitored and apparently unregulated, but on top of this, towns in the borough also top the polls regarding both property affordability and speed of selling. A recent report by estate agent Rightmove stated that homes in Bexleyheath  — where average prices stand at £375,259 — sell in just three weeks, thanks a potent local mix of affordable property, grammar schools, and a 35-minute commute to central London. Abbey Wood is a close second, benefiting from the imminent arrival of the Elizabeth line (formerly Crossrail). Property there sells in an average of 22 days, and an average house costs £326,815. Dartford’s market is equally active, with homes that also take 22 days to sell, at an average price of £290,523. The most expensive town in the London Borough of Bexley, with an average price of £471,931, is Bexley village, while the cheapest is Erith, with an average price of £261,433. They are also the areas of London where prices are predicted to start rising fastest. My own property, Pewty Acres has risen in value so much that I would be unable to purchase it nowadays. A report released by property experts CBRE Residential back in January backed this finding up; it compared the average wage and average house price for each London borough, giving first-time buyers a good idea of how far their annual income will stretch. “While affordability for many first-time buyers in London may be stretched, there are still a number of locations that are continuing to attract these buyers with lower values and potential for growth," says Jennet Siebrits, head of residential research at CBRE. "By measuring the average earnings coupled with local house prices, we anticipate that Bexley is set to further appeal to those looking for increased value for money." The report was featured in the London Evening Standard at the time, though through lazy journalism and lack of proper research, the paper described Bexley as being in “East London” – something guaranteed to raise the hackles of many local people. Bexleyheath was the featured town in the weekly Homes and Property section of the London Evening Standard last Wednesday afternoon - click here to see their coverage.

I have been in communication with the team behind Erith Fun Day, which for the first time will be held in Erith Sports Centre, instead of the tradition venue in Erith Riverside Gardens, overlooking the River Thames. Several readers have been displeased regarding the change of venue, which some feel is less accessible. The Fun Day management team responded with this very open and honest reply:- “Firstly, I should say that this was a big decision for us which we really did discuss at length as we are so aware of making use of the gardens. Nobody wants developers to get their hands on this land and so our plan is to hopefully put on another event later this year.  At Rotary we have discussed a couple of ideas including a beer festival and an open air  movie night. Anyway, onto our reasons for making the move. The first thing is probably to make you aware of our funding issues. We are all volunteers and do not receive any funding apart from what we raise. The Erith Group are fabulous and give us £500 each year which is our starting point.  This just covers the cost of gardens/park hire and our licences. On top of this we have to provide toilet facilities, generator hire ,publicity and printing costs, first aid cover  and a myriad of smaller things. Dan our Dj and MC gives his time and equipment for free and counts towards our sponsors. The mobile bar company gives us a small percentage of takings as does Forrest Fairs.  The last two are paid after the event and we do not know how much we will get but this  then goes into the kitty for next year.! Based on the feedback we received from last year, the biggest issue was that there was not enough to do and the queues for children's activities were too long.  This was exasperated by the fact that in order to raise funds we needed more volunteers to operate things like the bouncy castle.  So we had to decide how we could put on more activities etc.  This of course meant raising more money from stallholders etc. We could not add more to the Riverside gardens as there were too many safety issues getting vehicles on and off site and also access is severely restricted.  We have raised this issue with the council but it is unlikely the bollards will be re-positioned. The only way we could find was to move to a larger venue, ie the Rec. This has enabled Forrest Fairs to provide a couple more children's rides and for us to offer a lot more stalls for sale allowing us to raise more funds. We try to keep our stall charges at the lowest possible level to encourage small business to join in. We currently charge £12 for charities and £20 for individuals who also get the use of Rotary club insurance cover for the day.   We reinvest every penny we receive and strive to make the day all about Erith and our community.  We really are hoping that the venue change will work but are as unsure as yourself. There are better parking facilities and it really is just across the road from Morrison’s, KFC, McDonalds etc. We are producing more banners this year to really get the word out and will handing out and door dropping leaflets. We are all fingers crossed for good weather and a healthy attendance!!"

I was also contacted midweek by a reader who wishes local people to be made aware that a valuable local resource is about to be closed down with little consultation and very little advanced publicity – until now. A campaign has been started to stop a local recording and practice studio being closed down. Here is the situation in their own words:- “For over 20 years Abbey Music Studios (AMS) in Abbey Wood (London SE2) has provided a music hub for local artists and bands for rehearsal and recording purposes, and for musicians and interested visitors from all over the world. It has also provided free recording and group sessions to local NHS patients and other individuals with mental health and learning difficulties. The Studio building is within the grounds of Goldie Leigh Hospital and now the Oxleas NHS Trust who run the Hospital have given the Studio notice that its lease will not be renewed and that it must close by 6 July. The Trust say they want to use the building for other purposes. This is despite there being several other large, un-used buildings within the Hospital grounds, some which have stood empty for over 20 years. The closure will be a devastating blow to the livelihood of those who work at the Studio, and will remove the vital role the Studio plays in providing services to mental health patients and to the local community. The Studio building was completely derelict, vandalised, flooded and unusable when AMS took it over in 1994. The gaping holes in the roof of the building were repaired at the expense of AMS who have invested thousands of pounds in renovating the building and fitting it out with state of the art, made-to-measure, recording equipment, and rehearsal rooms. The NHS Trust paid no funds whatsoever towards the renovation of the building, but they now want to take it back in its pristine condition, with no offers of compensation or alternative accommodation. The Trust seem to be happy to put an end to local mental health patients’ music sessions, despite the fact that for some of these patients it is the only time they have away from their Units. The Studio has provided these 2 hour music sessions two or three times a week for over 20 years and continues to do so. Patients are able to play/learn musical instruments, record their work, rehabilitate and socialise in a safe and friendly environment. This also helps them from becoming institutionalised. The patients’ local Carers have always been delighted with the service the Studio provides. They understand the benefits that music can bring to those with mental health issues, but that understanding does not seem to be shared by the Trust’s managers. This is a service which should be embraced and developed, not discontinued. Of course, the Studio also provides a very beneficial service to bands, singers, DJs etc, in the local community and beyond. Thousands of musicians have cut their teeth at AMS over the last 20 years, and developed their craft to a professional level. Recent users of the Studio include Jaz Ellington, a successful contestant on The Voice UK TV show, and members of bands such as Squeeze and Nine Below Zero. AMS does not want to close, so please help us fight the closure by signing the petition to Save Our Studios (SOS)". Following receipt of this message, I have done some research and spoken to a number of people to find out more behind the story. It would seem that there are some concerns regarding the long term financial viability of the recording studio under the current management. Nevertheless I feel that the studio performs an important community function, and support is merited. 

The end video this week is a bit of a curiosity; The Kirkaldy Testing Museum is a very little known and sadly overlooked location not far from Blackfriars Bridge in London. I used to work just around the corner from the Testing Museum, and it always fascinated me. The museum describes itself thus:- "David Kirkaldy's Testing and Experimenting Works at 99 Southwark Street set international standards in testing materials from which everyone’s everyday life benefits today. Today, this unique Victorian workshop keeps alive our direct link with Kirkaldy's innovation, at the heart of this bustling commercial district of London. The Kirkaldy Testing Museum preserves Kirkaldy's unique Universal Testing Machine - the huge hydraulic powered machine he designed and had built in Leeds - in full working order in the premises he built to house it. As well as presenting the story of the family who ran the business for almost 100 years and of the wider development of materials testing, the workshop and the Universal Testing Machine provide a unique crucible for new experimentation and collaboration - which can inspire future generations of scientists and artists alike to continue enquiring into the properties of the materials on which we build our lives". Feel free to leave a comment below, or Email me at

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