Sunday, July 17, 2016

£1.90 for a wee.

The photo above shows the Wind, Wave and Sail sculpture which is located on the small triangle of land that separates Erith Riverside Shopping Centre from Morrison's car park. It was erected in 1998 and funded by Morrison's. It is meant to represent the connection between Erith and the River Thames - to be honest it is not bad, but pretty unimaginative - too literal in my opinion, but nevertheless the town is better for it. 

You may recall that two weeks ago I covered a story involving a break in and burglary at The Cross Keys Centre in Erith High Street. I published a series of still images taken from the high definition CCTV cameras that surround the building. Well, due to some excellent work carried out by Bexley Borough Neighbourhood Watch Association, and the Erith and North End Safer Neighbourhood Police teams, I am extremely happy to say that three youths have now been arrested for the offences. Thanks to everyone who helped identify the youths; it is somewhat ironic - the youths were caught partly through the actions of the local community, and when the renovation and conversion work to The Cross Keys Centre is completed, it will become a great asset and resource to the local community. I think we can chalk this one up as a victory for the good guys. 

You may recall that I gave extensive coverage to the 2016 Erith Fun Day last week, with its first appearance on the large field behind Erith Sports Centre. It has been relocated from its previous location in Erith Riverside Gardens, as the Fun Day had outgrown the original venue. The new Sports Centre site is much larger than the old venue, and this reflected both in the increased number of stalls and stallholders at the event this year, and the number of visitors compared to the past. I only became aware of one shocking fact this week, well after the Fun Day had concluded. One of my regular local sources of information dropped me a bombshell. It turns out that the new venue for the Fun Day is not quite as welcoming as had been thought. My source writes “I was shocked to hear that the nearby Leisure Centre run by Parkwood Leisure was charging £1.90 for use of their toilets, at Saturday's Erith Fun Day, when our members said they were volunteers and ask if they could use them for free they were told NO as were the Police;  I think this is a disgusting rip off. Are they not able to enter into the spirit of the local community fun day and even if they charged a nominal fee say 20p it would not have been so bad, I have emailed them directly and will write to their head office if I don't get a reasonable reply”. This is utterly disgraceful – there were only three portaloos on the Fun Day field, and these were heavily used by the visitors to the event, leaving it very difficult for the organisers and volunteers when they needed the lavatory. Bearing in mind that Erith Sports Centre plan in being the venue of choice for future Fun Days, one would have thought that they would have been more welcoming and encouraging of a long – term relationship, but it would appear not. How the sports centre can even contemplate exploiting local volunteers by charging them £1.90 each and every time they needed to use the loo is both exploitative and utterly outrageous. My contact subsequently wrote to the leisure centre, and got the following reply:- Thank you for taking the time to put in writing your comments about the toilet facilities here at Erith Leisure Centre. Unfortunately everyone who is not a member of the site needs to pay an admission charge to use the facilities, which would include the use of the toilet facilities. The Erith Fun Day was nothing to do with the centre, but the management here had a meet with the organisers beforehand who assured us there was toilet facilities available for people to use on the field, as we would be charging anyone who wanted to use our facilities on the day. I can only apologise that this wasn't communicated to you by the Fun Day organisers. Going forwards we will not be changing our admission policy for non members using the site. I hope this clarifies the situation. Regards, Lara Butler Senior Duty Manager Erith Leisure Centre". I cannot say that I am surprised by the response - and it shows just how little the management of the sports centre care about being part of the local community. My source responded with:- "Thank you for your reply, I realise that access to some leisure centres toilets are not always easy but I thought that charging £1.90 to volunteers and members of Bexley Police is harsh and not community minded. It would have been easier to have said something like "due to our facilities being available for members only we are unable to offer use to these facilities to volunteers and police officers". The other option had you wanted to enter into the spirit of the occasion would have been to have had a stand at the event and offer tours of your leisure facilities and handed our membership forms therefore possibly benefitting from increased membership and you could have perhaps also offered a 20p surcharge to volunteers and police officers for the use of your toilets. It's sad this was an opportunity lost in building better community relations and in fact in some areas you have managed to do the opposite, your PR obviously needs a rethink!" If anyone can think of a suitable (and legal) method of practical protest at this policy, please do let me know. And before you suggest it, we are not going to do a mass wee - in - the - swimming pool protest!

Housing seems to be the number one issue in and around London and the South East at present, and looks like this will continue for the foreseeable future. The inescapable fact is that there are too many people chasing too few properties. Erith and Slade Green have had a reputation as being the most affordable places to live that are located with an acceptable commute of central London. With the advent of Crossrail, and the strong likelihood of a new river crossing at Lower Belvedere, the profile of the local area with potential new residents has never been higher. House prices are now rocketing. My own house, Pewty Acres has increased in value by nearly six and a half times the original purchase price in the last twenty years – most of it in the last five. I have said it before – even though I earn substantially more money than I did twenty years ago, I could not afford to buy my own house nowadays. I am sure that this is true for a great many people, and it does not bode well for those looking to purchase their first home. The London Chamber of Commerce have recognised this, and have released a report that states key workers such as those in the health service may be priced out of working within commuting distance of their work. Currently more than fifty percent of London’s emergency service workers live outside of the capital. Just over half of police, fire and paramedic staff now commute to London, adding to the stress of shift work, The London Chamber of Commerce (LCC) said. Travel and housing costs in London have soared by around a third in recent years.  Meanwhile, pay in the NHS has increased by up to 4 percent in recent years, the report stated, sparking concerns have been raised that workers are being priced out of London. Erith is seeing the largest amount of residential accommodation construction since the 1950’s, with Erith Park, Erith Quarry, Tower Hill, and the forthcoming Riverside Baths site development all either under way, or about to begin. All of these sites are primarily aimed at commercial tenants or owner occupiers, with the exception of Erith Park, which is a mixture of new social housing and for – profit sales. The proposed redevelopment of the Arthur Street Estate is as I understand it solely for the exising social residents, rather than to accomodate many new residents. The only existing “key worker” accommodation is Tramway House, which is located on the corner of West Street and Walnut Tree Road. On top of this lack of affordable accommodation comes the increasing problem of Homes of Multiple Occupancy (HMO) – a term which fifteen or so years ago used to nearly always mean student accommodation. Nowadays that has very much changed; the market has expanded for a number of reason – including that HMOs are popular with buy-to-let investors because, it is believed, they have higher income-generating potential than ordinary or ‘vanilla’ buy-to-let properties (though, according to industry statistics, the earning potential of HMOs has recently become outclassed by that of multi-unit freehold blocks (MUFBs)). By splitting single properties into multiple bedsits that are each let out on separate tenancy agreements, landlords can also reduce their exposure to loss of earnings through rental arrears or voids.  Due to the additional legal requirements placed upon HMO landlords, not every buy-to-let mortgage lender will agree to finance HMO properties. This has led to the emergence of a specialised HMO mortgage market, catered for by a smaller subset of lenders. Because the choice of products is narrower, HMO mortgage borrowers are often subject to stricter criteria. Often they need larger cash deposits, as the average loan-to-value ratio is slightly lower than for an ordinary buy-to-let mortgage, while the minimum property value tends to be higher. Borrowers who are financing unlicensed HMOs may also be required to prove that their local authority has no intention to license the property in the future. It is also common for HMO mortgage lenders to stipulate the number of rooms permitted, the type of tenancy agreement and tenant demographic permitted and even the type of lock installed on internal and external doors. All this being considered, Bexley as a borough has pretty much turned a blind eye to HMO landlords until relatively recently. In October 2010 the Coalition Government amended the legislation. They included a ‘Change in Use’ from C3 to C4 within the General Permitted Development Order (GPDO). This allowed landlords to change their properties from a C3 Dwelling House to a C4 HMO without the need for planning permission. They also gave local authorities the power to remove permission for the C3 – C4 ‘Change in Use’ by means of an ‘Article 4 Direction’. Councils have used this to designate whole areas and limit the number of HMOs in a geographical area. Bexley Council somewhat unwisely opted out of the article 4 direction, thus leaving local residents at risk of an HMO springing up next door at very short notice indeed. The reason that Bexley Council did not sign up to the article 4 direction has been debated by Malcolm Knight of Bexley is Bonkers. His analysis of the situation (with which I concur) is that if they did sign up to article 4, they would have a statutory obligation to inspect HMO properties to ensure that they complied with the law; as they would not be able to charge a fee for this, they opted out of the arrangement – something which looks like it has already bitten them on the bum. A FaceBook page “Say No to HMO” has been set up to protest against the spread of HMO’s in Bexley. Sky News held an investigation into illegal houses of multiple occupancy earlier this week; they featured a single house in Kingsbury, in the London Borough of Brent, which had a total of seventeen men living in it in utterly squalid conditions, and paying a total of £3,400 a month in rent to an absentee landlord. This kind of thing is happening all over the place with many “beds in sheds” being discovered by local authorities. The situation is only going to get worse locally, as Bexley council don’t want to take any of the proactive steps that other councils like Brent have already taken. Nothing new there then!

Currently there is a lot of debate as to where in Erith, and how the £3.9 million development grant should be spent. Suggestions have been made by a couple of readers, one of whom’ s thoughts I published last week. Several people have commented that the retail block facing the infamous fish roundabout could be a prime candidate for redevelopment. The large and nowadays rather run down and scruffy brick building is called Electricity House – though many locals are unaware of this. It was the location of a very early speech by then parliamentary candidate Margaret Roberts (later Thatcher) back on the 17th February 1950. You can read a transcript of her rather boring presentation here. It was built back in 1938 and opened in November 1939 as a showroom and offices for the local electricity company, which at the time was run by the council. Pre – war services such as gas, water and electricity supply were quite commonly managed and supplied by local councils; the idea of private companies being involved was something that did not happen until after the war had ended. Electricity House was also a place where new electrical customers could view domestic appliances which they could buy via hire purchase (it sounds like an early version of BrightHouse, but without the crippling interest rates). As well as the showroom, Electricity House was home to what contemporary accounts say was a very upmarket dance hall with a fully sprung Canadian Maple floor; there was also a small Pathe cinema. The local electricity business was astonishingly successful – probably much helped by the fact that it offered the cheapest metered electricity in the entire UK at the time – one penny per unit. Ten thousand local people signed up for electrification in the first month alone, attracted by the offer of free connection to the local power grid – unusual at the time – many suppliers would even charge for the copper cable to connect new customers. In 1939 the Erith electricity board made a (for then) massive profit of £13,000. The idea was that the money would be used to improve local services and amenities for all, but the advent of war meant that early in 1940 Electricity House was handed over for war work, and once peace was restored, the money intended to benefit local people was absorbed by the LEB during nationalisation, and nothing was ever seen of it. Much of Erith was still lit by gas until relatively recently. I believe that some houses in West Street did not get electricity until 1947 when the London Electricity Board was formed, and the local council control of power was nationalised. Almost two years ago I heard a rumour that Electricity House was to be coming up for sale. The story went that the current owners of Electricity House realised that the building is end of life, and no longer fit for purpose. The current commercial tenants don’t pay very much rent for the place, and as the building is old and very scruffy, it is unlikely to attract new tenants prepared to pay higher rents. The only real money earning part of the building is actually the roof, which hosts a number of cellular telephone repeaters and their associated antenna masts. The most profitable course of action would be for the owners of the site to sell the building to a property developer, and for the current building to be demolished to make way for a modern alternative which would attract new and more prosperous tenants prepared to pay higher rents. Personally I would rather see the existing building extensively refurbished, but I somehow doubt that would be commercially viable. The longest term tenant in the building is Erith Snooker Centre, which occupies a large portion of the upper floor, and has been there since at least 1946. Others like the various African stores, the Redeemed Christian Church of God, and The Celestial Church of Christ (which seem to both share the former tyre warehouse; part of the building that faces Erith Council Offices) would all have to find alternative accommodation if this redevelopment went ahead; two years later and nothing has happened – the site seems to be still limping along, with a reduction in rental income now that the largest tenant – AGlory African health and beauty has relocated into the former Owens ironmongers shop in Cross StreetEarlier this week I did some detective work into the whole Electricity House situation, and I found that I was not the only person interested in the building. It turns out that there may actually be some substance in the rumours of a redevelopment of the site – or at the very least someone is speculating that some development may be in the planning stage. Erith Snooker Centre has been put up for sale, and has been successfully sold to a new owner. The club is the single biggest occupant of Electricity House, and pays £28,000 a year in rent for the premises. A new owner has purchased the club for £305,000, with the existing lease with the snooker club lasting until 2047. The return on investment would be something like eleven years. I immediately smelled a rat. There is no way that the snooker club / Electricity House would last eleven years in the same building, let alone until 2047 – when the building would be 109 years old. My impression is that a canny investor has bought the biggest chunk possible of Electricity House in the full knowledge that they won’t make a profit from the rent from Erith Snooker Centre. In my opinion, they, like me, can see the development potential of the entire building, and they are “land banking” their part of it in the hope of being bought out by another developer with deeper pockets – and thus making a large profit for what is a relatively small investment. It will be instructive to see what happens. If anyone knows anything further, please drop me a line with the details. Email me at - thanks!

The photo above was taken on the 17th July 1966; it shows Erith High Street. In the far left distance you can see the Prince of Wales pub, which was on the site of what is now the McDonald's drive through. The block of shops in the middle of the photograph is now the Sherwood House residential home, and the Tip Top Bakery was on the site of what nowadays is Erith Health Centre. 

And here is (as close as possible) the same location exactly fifty years later - and it could not really look any more different; nothing at all survives from 1966. If you have any photos of old Erith, please send them to me - I would like to re - photograph the same site so that "then and now" comparisons can be made. 

One of my regular readers dropped me a line earlier this week, with an observation that has been made by numerous local people. He writes:- "I wondered if you might be interested in the undernoted exchange between myself and Bexley Council’s WM and Recycling Dept following my complaint that our separated waste (plastic tins and glass bottles) were being collected in one single bin. ME –“On several occasions I have observed plastic, cans and glass bottles, etc being collected up in a single skip so what is the point in households slavishly separating such items”? COUNCIL SPOKESPERSON – “We don’t have sufficient refuse lorries with dual collection chambers so we just put it one lorry and when we eventually have additional vehicles with two compartments in the fleet this will no longer be a problem, so please continue to separate your rubbish in the requested manner for recycling”. ME – “Surely if Serco, who are your appointed refuse collectors, were instructed to have the correct vehicles when they tendered for the contract this should not be an issue”. COUNCIL S/P – “We have to subscribe to the cost of these vehicle purchases so it can take some time for the fleet to be updated with the right equipment”. Also I assure you that when the vehicles return to the depot such amalgamated items are then separated”. ME – “I find it hard to believe that broken glass, bottles, tops, plastic, tin cans, fruit juice cartons, yogurt pots and other items from this same bin are sifted and separated as you have suggested”. COUNCIL S/P – “I can honestly say, hand on heart, that this is the case”. Frankly Hugh I believe this must be a load of codswallop with householders just being bullied into separating things which collectively end up in landfill and is probably just one big con to keep feather bedded councillors and staff in none jobs. Sadly I failed to ask him where this separation took place so that I may go along and witness it".  What do you think? Have you seen the same kind of behaviour from the waste disposal contractors? Leave a comment below, or email me at Following the observations, with the owner's permission, I forwarded them to Malcolm Knight, of "Bexley is Bonkers" for his feedback - Malcolm knows far more about Council recycling policy than I, and it seemed sensible to refer the matter to someone with more knowledge on the subject than myself. Malcolm responded thus:- "I suspect that in this case the story from Bexley Council is closer than usual to being the truth. I have studied Newham Council fairly closely and over there residents only have two bins. Plastic, tins and paper in one and everything else apart from glass in the other. Glass can only be recycled via the large communal bins found in the street. I suspect that may be significant to the separation process. My guess is that paper, tins and plastic are fairly easy to separate but glass isn’t. There is no food or garden waste service in Newham. Bexley should be asked how they separate glass from the other things when Newham apparently cannot. The subject of vehicle renewal is on the public record but you say your deadline is only minutes away leaving insufficient time to search through BiB’s 3,200 blogs or Council papers. My recollection is that Bexley’s vehicle renewal is due every ten years and the Serco contract provided for replacements in 2015. Certainly there are a  lot of 15 reg vehicles on the streets. Those vehicles were specified to have two entry points and separate compartments. It would be disappointing if some of the old style vehicles are still in use and that should perhaps be questioned. The budget allowed for replacement, in fact the financial studies showed that it would be cheaper to bring refuse collection back in house. It’s on the public record but presumably quietly dropped. It may be that if a modern ‘two entry’ vehicle becomes unserviceable a less ideal one might be hired causing a short term separation problem which your correspondent has noticed. What I don’t know, (in all my 29 years in Bexley I have never visited a recycling centre) is what sort of separation machines are in use – if any. I suspect, from the Newham experience and common sense, that it is not good practice to mixed glass with other commodities. I understand that the proportion of refuse going to landfill has increased in Bexley over the past year but this is a mathematical consequence of the reduced amount of garden waste collected following the introduction of the charge. It should not be indicative of a long term deterioration in recycling or of additional landfill. On this occasion I think the Bexley spokesperson is probably right or at least very nearly so".

Don't forget that next week marks the tenth anniversary of the launch of the Maggot Sandwich. If you would like to submit a guest article for inclusion in the blog update, please ensure that you send it to me by Thursday evening at the very latest. It takes me a couple of days to check and edit submissions prior to publication early on Sunday afternoon - each blog update takes a minimum of ten hours work. Send your submissions to

The end video this week is another bit of crime busting. Can you identify the individual in the light coloured people carrier on the left side of Riverdale Road? He illegally fly - tips rubbish onto the pavement before driving away in the direction of Northumberland Heath. The offence took place at 3.48pm on Wednesday the 1st of June this year. If he's done it once, he will no doubt have done it again. If you know who this criminal is, please let me know and I will pass the information on to the Police.

1 comment:

  1. Land banking (or building banking) should be made illegal, if reasonable use isn't made of it (or renovations aren't well under way) within, say a year, it should have to be put back on the market and a large fine paid. In certain cases (for example if a large supermarket buys a whole area, like Lowfield Street in Dartford) and messes about for over a year, they should lose it and it becomes the property of the local council, which they have to use to develop local facilities.