Sunday, August 14, 2016

After the fire.

I think pretty much anyone living within three or four miles of Erith must have seen the terrible pall of filthy black smoke that hung over the town on Monday afternoon. It was almost certainly the worst fire to hit the area  since the notorious arson attack on the Wurth industrial warehouse off Yarnton Way in Lower Belvedere in February of last year. The fire hit the Moat Housing Association block of flats in James Watt Way, between the KFC drive through and Morrison’s petrol station. The photos above show the emergency services as they cleaned up after extinguishing the blaze, which caused extensive damage to the roof and top floor of the brand new apartment block, which has only been occupied for a number of weeks. After speaking to a number of people regarding the event, it would appear that the fire alarm system did not trigger in the building, and several people were unaware of the blaze; one chap mentioned that his daughter and grandchild were asleep in their flat, and only when he rang her mobile phone and woke her up did she find out that the building was alight. As if this was not bad enough, I have heard accounts of external doors jamming and not allowing residents out; this would seem to be borne out by eye witnesses reporting at least one person was forced to climb down an external drainpipe to escape the fire. Thankfully all residents of Moat House were able to escape, and they were temporarily housed in the restaurant in the nearby Morrison’s supermarket, where they were given free food and drink. By this time the fire had been declared a major incident, and a huge number of emergency service vehicles were blocking many of the roads around Erith. Personally I saw fire engines from as far away as Islington and Brixton, not to mention from Grays, just across the River Thames. By 6pm the fire was over, and forensic officers from the London Fire Brigade and the Metropolitan Police were checking the roof. It was originally thought that some of the residents of Moat House who lived on the lower floors were to be allowed back into their flats, whilst those who lived in the upper flats were found alternative accommodation. Some apartments were untouched by the fire, but drenched by the water used to extinguish the blaze. In the end the decision was made to move all of the residents into the Marriott Hotel in Bexleyheath. This has proved somewhat controversial. In an interview with the News Shopper earlier this week, Moat House resident Darren Braithwaite said: “No one even cares. There’s no food for us. Our building has burned down and they do not know what to do, why aren’t they showing some empathy? That is disgusting. We’re stuck in this hotel and it’s just not right. It’s not a place to live. We don’t have any clothes. We look like a bunch of homeless people stuck in a rich hotel. We’re none the wiser but they do not have any other temporary accommodation available. Once we’re split we’re on our own but we’re all standing together on this.” Each resident has been granted a daily allowance to survive while the housing association in charge, Moat, decides its next move. Initially the group was told that each resident was entitled to a £10 bursary until the housing association relented and increased this to £20. The children’s bursary remains at the same level of £5 per day but only the cheapest main on the menu is salad charged at £10. It is currently unclear whether the displaced apartment block residents are permitted to bring in food from outside of the hotel. The whole event has been a bit of a public relations disaster for Moat Housing Association. The roof of Moat House is covered by solar panels; it would seem from initial analysis the fire seems to have started in one of the electrical high tension inverters, but at the time of writing, the investigation is still ongoing. Bearing in mind the apartment block has only been open for a couple of months since construction was completed, there would seem to have been a serious failure in testing and oversight. If the solar panel electrical controls were faulty, this should have been detected during user acceptance testing and not signed off. I get the feeling that there will be some very red faces at the building contractor's project management team right now. I would not be surprised if some form of legal action would result from all of this. What does also immediately strike me is that fire engines had to be sent from as far away as North London to cope with the blaze. It is abundantly clear that the cutbacks in the fire service have gone way too far – many stations, Erith included only have one fire engine – so what happens when there is a fire whilst the single engine is already out on a job? I counted twelve fire engines when I visited the area around Moat House at about five thirty in the afternoon. Bearing in mind that there was a second, very serious fire at around the same time in Greenwich, it seems that much of London’s firefighting capability was taken up. What do you think? Leave a comment below, or Email me at

The photo above was taken back in 1995, when the Erith Deep Water Wharf was closed, and prior to the start of the redevelopment of the area. No Wharfside Close, and no Aveley Close, and no riverside retirement apartments behind the Cross Keys. As I have written in the past, one of the most underused and overlooked assets that Erith has is the pier. Erith Pier is the longest pier on the River Thames. It was originally constructed for commercial use for the unloading of goods from cargo ships that used to moor at the pier. Most of the cargo were large reels of blank newsprint for what was then Fleet Street and the newspaper printers. Erith Deep Water Wharf provided many local jobs for years, but as container ports such as Tilbury took over, the wharf became less popular with shipping companies, and it was closed down – it remained empty for a number of years. Back in 1998 work started to convert the former wharf into what is now Morrison’s supermarket and the aforementioned pleasure pier, which opened to the public in 1999. The pier is a great place to go for a walk, to watch the world go by, and to watch the river traffic come and go. There were tentative plans a few years ago to extend the Thames Clipper service to Erith Pier, but these came to nothing due to a number of technical issues, and objections from Morrison's supermarket, who did not want commuters taking up parking spaces in their car park. This situation appears to be revisited, according to a story in the London Evening Standard on Wednesday this week. Whilst Erith Pier is not specifically mentioned in the article, it may well be included in the expansion of river transport services. Many people not from the local area are completely unaware of the existence of Erith Pier, and it would not surprise me if this was the case with the original author of the Evening Standard piece. I would personally be interested in commuting to and from Canary Wharf by river if it became a feasible, reliable and affordable transport option. In fact, even discounting the potential expansion of the Thames Clipper service, over the next year or so, the level of shipping using the Thames is scheduled to increase by a substantial amount. The reason for this is that environmental campaigners have recently lost an appeal into the planning approval of a giant cruise liner terminal at Enderby Wharf in Greenwich. They had contended that the air pollution in the residential estates around the proposed cruise linter site would become substantially worse due to the ships using their internal power generators rather than using (substantially more expensive, but far greener) shore side generated power. Protestors said that a cruise liner using internally generated power would create as much air pollution as over six hundred heavy goods vehicles, and they claimed Greenwich Council had not carried out adequate assessment of the emissions from the development before approving the planning permission. But after a two-day hearing the judge Mr Justice Collins ruled against the claimant, and said the development would boost the tourism economy for Greenwich. Thus in time we will see a greater number of cruise liners passing Erith – a boon for local ship spotters such as the members of the World Ship Society, but possibly a pollution problem for residents of Enderby Wharf and the surrounding area.

The photo above shows some horrendous fly tipping, which is happening on an almost daily basis in the ditches and dykes on the Erith and Slade Green Marshes. The shot shows illegally dumped rubbish on Ray Lamb Way, and was taken by a local resident called Guy. Currently there is no CCTV camera system or other such monitoring of the area; bearing in mind it is a "one road in, one road out" area, it would not be particularly difficult or onerous to arrange something of this nature. Parts of the Marshes are supposedly protected areas, though this does not stop fly tippers and illegal bikers to use it for nefarious purposes. Commercial operators (basically any person not in a private car) get charged heavily for legal tipping. A single Transit – type van full of waste can be charged over £100 for a single tipping visit at a licenced waste site. I have spoken to the Council about this. I understand that when illegally tipped waste is cleared up, it is done by a council subcontractor, who charges the council over £300 for the work. Basic arithmetic would dictate that it would be cheaper for the council to allow waste dumping to be carried out by traders for free, rather than to have to clear up the illegally tipped waste at a later stage. I would propose a six month trial period where commercial waste tippers were not charged for using the Crayford dump; in all other ways they would still have to comply with the existing waste disposal rules, and the content of their loads, the company name and vehicle registration number would still be recorded, but no money would change hands. If at the end of the trial, the amount of fly tipped waste had substantially reduced around the borough, then the scheme would be judged a success. I think a pragmatic approach may be worth trialling, as the current system does seem to be failing, and the amount of council tax payers money spent on clearing up after the illegal tippers could be far better spent elsewhere. Don’t think I am opting for a soft approach to criminal activity – I am still strongly of the opinion that catching and prosecuting fly tippers should be a high priority, but a mixture of both carrot and stick, rather than stick alone may deliver better results for both the environment and the council taxpayer. More on illegal bikers now - who says I don't plan these things?

Coincidentally the gang to which a great many illegal bike riders belong to - the Bike Life TV UK group (sometimes disparagingly referred to as "Chavs on Mopeds") that I have featured on several occasions in the past was the subject of a documentary on BBC3 on Tuesday nightBike Life TV UK are a notorious gang who operate all around the UK, but seem to have their primary base in and around Thamesmead. They not only ride en masse in public areas on unlicensed, stolen and uninsured motorbikes and quad bikes, usually whilst not wearing helmets. As I wrote last week, the not wearing of helmets is a deliberate tactic – the Police will not chase a biker not wearing a helmet, as they are concerned for the safety of the non – helmeted biker. This is a difficult issue with many different factors involved – the trouble is the scumbags know that they are effectively immune from any form of recourse, as they wear masks with the deliberate intent of making themselves unidentifiable. This aura of untouchability that members of Bike Life TV UK have fostered has got to be forcibly changed. Members of the public are losing patience with the Police, who seem to be powerless to stop them. I know that in reality this is not the case, and certainly in Bexley, the Police have got illegal bikers as one of their three highest priorities. I feel that the problem in part comes from central government and the Metropolitan Police leadership, who effectively hamper the actions of the officers “on the ground” with excessively restrictive rules of engagement. What I notice from reading posts on the gang’s Facebook site is that they seem to have a very high rate of attrition. At least three of the gang have died in bike related accidents in the last three or four months. Last July they famously lost a member, when he lost control of his bike and collided with a lamp post at the roundabout which joins Eastern Way junction with Yarnton Way, opposite the Morgan carvery restaurant /  Pub. The London Air Ambulance attended the scene to take the critically injured motorcyclist by air to the Royal London Hospital where he later died. If the Air Ambulance attends an accident scene, then one can generally be sure that it is a serious case. What is also disturbing is the group of around twenty bikers with whom it is said the accident victim was racing did not stop to help; they continued riding around pulling wheelies whilst two witnesses have stated that one rider in particular used a hand held video camera to film the accident scene and the emergency workers trying to save the man’s life. So much for comradeship. If they keep this up, they may end up becoming a self-solving problem. Somehow I doubt this – there will always be young thugs with more testosterone than brains to take the place of the dead ones. What I really fail to understand is why the bikers are obsessed with wheelies – they seem to spend as much time as they are physically able to on their back wheel. Why? What is the point? It would be just as effective and considerably cheaper to have “I am a complete pillock” tattooed across each of their foreheads. Bike Life TV UK don’t just ride around intimidating other road users and pedestrians, I understand that some of their members are involved in other types of crime. I have heard it said (but not confirmed) that some gang members move drugs around Thamesmead and Plumstead using junior gang members as couriers. Body building and Mixed Martial Arts are also popular with gang members – I have also heard to date unsubstantiated rumours that they have a trade in illegal anabolic steroids. This might well explain the extremely violent nature and short tempers of Bike Life TV UK members – who may well be suffering from “Roid Rage”. Watch the BBC documentary and make up your own mindWhilst attempts are made in various Bike Life TV UK online videos to digitally obscure their vehicle number plates, as I have written before, there are many occasions where the number plates can be clearly read (of course, this assumes that the bikes in question are legally registered, and not on false plates, or stolen, both of which are strong possibilities). The group are also aware of Police surveillance on them – their website even has a news story which reads “Brimsdown Feds filming riders - to all uk bikelife  riders .looks like the police are filming  the riders mostly on the crossers . then putting names to the faces the paying you a visit at a later time so just  be careful  and be aware that you being filmed . keep stuntin uk bikelife.” Apart from the dreadful English and punctuation, and quite why they refer to the Police as “the Feds”, the picture is one of  a group who are deliberately going out of the way to break multiple laws. Personally I am not saying all that I could on the subject, due to an ongoing case that I currently am unable to go into details of for legal reasons. Suffice to say that I have a very personal reason to see the end of the illegal biker culture in the area. A few readers will know precisely to what I am alluding, the rest will have to wait until certain events have finally played out.

MP for Dartford Gareth Johnson has called for the government to withhold payment to Sanef, the company that operate the Dart Charge system. In an interview in the News Shopper, Johnson said “Since the Dart Charge system was introduced it has been woefully inadequate. I have had hundreds of people contact me who are deeply frustrated with the system. I have already called on the Department of Transport to withhold payments to Sanef, the company which operates Dart Charge, and I urge them again to do so. I don't want to see any tolls on the crossing let alone a toll system that doesn’t work correctly. Motorists need to be able to trust the system and yet that is not currently the case." The number of complaints about poor service, incorrect charging and fines being sent to people who had actually not used the bridge or tunnel has increased markedly. These were initially explained as “teething troubles”. I am also aware that a considerable number of "ghost journeys" have been reported - where a vehicle is charged for travelling over the crossing, when it was in fact not in the area at the time. There is already a serious problem around the country with false, stolen or cloned vehicle number plates in use by crooks trying to avoid both toll charges and fines for other traffic offences. I know for a fact that in the local area vehicles are illegally on the roads with suspect plates - and the Police are actively investigating those involved; from my understanding, the kind of person who fits false registration plates to a vehicle is the sort of person who is very likely to be involved with other kinds of criminality as well. This week a woman was left furious and upset with the failures of Dart Charge staff - after she received council tax, driving licence and V5 documents of another person in the post. Highways England has put the mistake down to “human error” in what has been confirmed the first case of its kind since the installation of the electronic system in November 2014. contacted the owner of these key personal documents on August 2 to explain she had received them and he in turn is believed to have launched action against the Dartford Crossing. To make matters worse Mrs Carroll (the woman concerned) now fears she could become the victim of fraud as she had initially been told her details had been sent out as well. On top of all this, the Dart Charge system has problems differentiating between "0" and "O", and there have been multiple instances of the wrong person being sent a fine notice. One commenter on the story on the Kent Messenger website wrote:- "My Dad (who lives in Yorkshire and who has never been anywhere near Dartford) just had a penalty notice through. He drives a Volvo V70 yet the car in the photo was a Renault! He rang up to complain but they said he would have to appeal against it! What a waste of time and money!" It is apparent that the Dart Charge system is deeply flawed, and the public are rapidly losing faith in it. Have you had problems with the system, or do you find it more convenient than the old system with cash handling? Leave a comment below, or Email me at

The end video this week features the aforementioned Moat Housing Association apartment block fire, which was filmed by a local resident on his mobile phone - so the technical quality is not so great. It does give a very good idea of just how serious the blaze was, and how many emergency service vehicles and personnel were involved in fighting it. If you have any photographs or video of the fire, that you would like to share with others, then please get in contact with me by leaving a comment below, or by Emailing

1 comment:

  1. Whilst I've not had any ghost journeys added, my annoyance with the Dart Charge is the web site. its still says it is "ALPHA This is a new service – your feedback will help us to improve it."

    Previously I could extract my monthly charges into a PDF , which had vehicle reg number , my details , how much each crossing cost and a monthly total , I could print this off attach to my expenses and Bob's your uncle. (Oyster does it and it's excellent)

    Now no such facility exists , I fed this back using the form 18 months ago , nothing has changed.