Sunday, September 11, 2016


The photo above shows a somewhat unusual view of Erith; it was taken from the window of one of the apartments in the Erith Riverside Shopping Centre. The view is Eastwards, down river. You can see the roof of Morrison's Supermarket, and in the distance the blades of the Erith Wind Turbine, which is almost directly next to Bexley Brewery.  More on the shopping centre, and a forthcoming new occupant a little later.

In a shocking report which was published last week, the Child Poverty Action Group have identified The London Borough of Bexley as the borough that is most likely to appoint bailiffs to collect unpaid council tax. This is the first year Bexley has used bailiffs and charged costs for households that are unable to pay their council tax charges. In the year, Bexley has referred 3,741 low-income residents to bailiffs following an increase in minimum council tax charges - more than any other London borough. Council tax arrears have risen since the localisation of council tax support to London boroughs in 2013, and the capital has seen a 45 per cent hike in the use of bailiffs to chase down the debts from the capital’s poorest households. In Bexley, the minimum payment in 2016-17 is now 20 per cent, up from just five per cent in 2013-14. Before the changes, council tax benefit covered claimants’ council tax bills in full, but under the new scheme councils are free to set a minimum payment from claimants of between five and 30 per cent. Although a hardship fund was set up by the borough to help the most vulnerable, its budget was halved from £100,000 to £50,000 in 2015-16. The report calls on central government to reinstate council tax support as a national benefit, providing up to 100 per cent support for people not in work. The chances of this actually happening are minimal at best. in an interview with the Bexley Times, Chief Executive of Z2K (a charity addressing poverty caused by unfairness or incompetence in the legal, welfare benefits and housing systems) .Joanna Kennedy said: “Over the past year Bexley has sent bailiffs after 3,741 of its poorest unemployed, low-paid, sick and disabled residents – the most of any London borough. What’s all the more shocking is in previous years the council exempted claimants from bailiff action as they were deemed too vulnerable, why the sudden change in policy? The real reason these people can’t afford to pay is that the amount they are charged has quadrupled over the past three years from five per cent to 20 per cent. For those Bexley residents struggling to get by on insufficient incomes these charges are simply too much.” Until 2013, those on small or no incomes had some protection from paying the full tax under a national support scheme. Since then, councils in England have had to administer their own, locally devised schemes, with reduced funding from the government. The result has been mass failure to pay council tax by those who would previously have been exempt, and a surge in cases where benefits are docked to make good on arrears. Data released under the Freedom of Information Act from 133 local authorities reveals that 190,198 households currently have money deducted from their benefits in this way. Given the number of councils that did not provide figures, it is likely that around 360,000 households could be facing this form of sanction, which requires an order from a magistrate. Many of them would not have had to pay any council tax prior to the government’s reform of the system. The bottom line is that many of the local residents who have not paid council tax simply don't have the money to do so. Yes, there will always be those who plead poverty just because they don't want to pay the tax, but these are very much in the minority. It is ironic that Bexley have cracked down so hard, when they have a long standing reputation for doing very little of public benefit with the collected council tax, except pay their senior executives very well indeed.

The photo above (click on it for a larger view) shows the vacant corner unit at the entrance to Erith Riverside Shopping Centre. It is located outside of the centre gates, which are closed between 6pm and 6am daily - this was a stipulation from before the refurbished centre opened - the gates stop vandalism and crime at night. This means that any business operating out of this unit has the unique ability to stay open later than 6pm. The windows of the unity are currently obscured, and shop fitters are working to fit out the interior ready for opening. I passed by the unit recently and stopped off to ask the workers what the new shop was going to be. I was told that it is going to be a "sit in" fish and chip restaurant. Another source has told me that the place will also have an alcoholic drinks licence - although this has yet to be confirmed. This is in my opinion excellent news for the town, as whilst there are a number of fast food outlets, there is nowhere that you can go to sit down for a meal and use a knife and fork, unless you count the cafeteria in Morrison's supermarket, which for the purposes of this piece, I don't.  If the information I have been given is correct, then it is a great boost for Erith. The location of the restaurant is in a prime site, very close to bus and rail public transport; there is car parking very close by, and it is easily reached by foot. I predict that it will be a great success, and I will certainly be visiting it once it opens. If anyone has any further information about the new restaurant, then please let me know by Emailing me at

As I have previously written, I am deeply cynical in respect of the current government programme to roll out smart utility meters around the UK. The reason is that the technology each supplier employs is different in each case, and is not compatible between suppliers - if you choose to change utility supplier, you will need to change to the new suppliers smart meter system - at additional expense to yourself. The meters also communicate with their companies by the means of an unencrypted 3G mobile phone signal - something that is extremely vulnerable to hacking and exploitation. As always, it is the law of unintended consequences that comes into play.  Some 53 million smart meters are due to be installed in residences and small businesses by the end of 2020, at an estimated cost of £11bn. So far only 3.5 million have been installed. The government has said it expects the scheme will save £17bn. However, the technical delivery of the national platform behind smart meters – which is the responsibility of the Capita-run Data Communications Company (DCC) – has been subject to heavy criticism. The DCC in particular has been accused of mishandling the delivery of the communications infrastructure for smart meters’ readings linked to energy suppliers. That IT system was supposed to go live last month but has been delayed until the late autumn. Smart meters are being touted as a means of allowing consumers to switch providers and help people to reduce their energy consumption and switch their usage away from peak times. However, a report by the World Energy Council earlier this year said there are questions "about whether all locations will have the necessary wireless signal, and whether the price of the smart meters can be recouped by consumers through modified energy use.” It named a number of countries where similar schemes have failed to work. Last September the Major Projects Authority downgraded the risk of the project from amber/red to amber, suggesting some progress has been made on the DCC scheme. Time will tell.

The News Shopper have reported that an Erith based independent film maker by the name of Koby Adom of Maynards Close, who has made a public plea to Bexley Council for funding for the arts. Mr. Adom must have only been living in the area for a relatively short time, or possibly he’s never had any prior dealing with Bexley Council until recently. Either way, he’s found out the hard way that Bexley Council collect money, not spend it. Koby Adom has made a short film, which he shot on location in Accra, Ghana on a tiny budget of around £15,000. The film is about the life of a household servant in Ghana. In an interview with the News Shopper, Mr. Adom said:- “We had a lot of challenges making the film. We had challenges when we landed. We had challenges on day one, day two, day, three, we had challenges on all the days and all the way through. I was passionate about the film but it was so stressful. Bexley needs to do more,” he said, “I emailed Bexley and didn’t get any response, they weren’t interested. You get to a film office and they charge you for it. There are really talented people in this borough but the council needs to do more for the young people, it’s the next generation and it doesn’t make sense. I do not feel there is anything in Bexley where there is the support. I’m not going to be shouting about where I’m from - it’s really bad. Even if it wasn’t money it could have been something else. My advice for young people, you have to make things happen for yourself. It’s not good to rely on anyone, you have to keep going.” To be honest, I am surprised that he was surprised at the lack of response from Bexley Council. The chances of them coming up with any funding for what they would classify as “frivolous” enterprise were always next to non – existent. Indeed, the response published by the News Shopper from Bexley Council only goes to bear this out. A spokesperson from the council was quoted as saying “Bexley residents expect to see their council tax spent on providing council services, from caring for vulnerable children and adults, to collecting waste and keeping roads in a good condition”. In other words “sod off – you are a waste of time”. Initially many reader may think “well the council has to make priorities, and financing a film is pretty low down the list”. On the other hand, some London boroughs make considerable sums of money from film location hire, licencing and consultancy. It does not seem that Bexley takes a holistic view of this. It does occur to me that perhaps Koby Adom could have approached Accra Municipal Assembly for funding, especially as his film was shot in location in that city. 

You may recall that last week I did a photo feature on the second birthday party for Bexley Brewery. The food provider for the event was local BBQ specialist Steve's Kitchen. I have been in contact with Steve since the event; here he describes how the barbecue business started:- "Over the last two years I've been cooking up a storm in the garden at the Belvedere Hotel on Picardy Road. I use charcoal and chunks of real wood, to slowly roast and smoke good quality cuts of meat and local veg for the pub’s customers. I guess you could call what I do, at "pop-up" restaurant. I'm not too sure how I feel about that, because it feels a little too much like Shoreditch to me! But Steve's Kitchen does fit the mould :) (especially with my beard and glasses!) It all started because I love to BBQ, and wanted to share the taste of good food cooked with fire.  So after many years of compliments on my fire skills I popped into my local pub and asked them if I could put on a grill.  I was really lucky that Shaun and Jackie at the Belvedere let me use their kitchen and garden.  They were a little weary at first – because it’s not everyday someone asks you to cook in their pub, but once I brought down some ribs to try – they were sold! And the first BBQ went really well.  Me and my red and green BBQs sold out before the evening was finished.   Over the last 18 months I've built a bit of a local fan base, with a bunch of regulars who come to the pub just to eat my food.  And that is really neat.  As well as the usual compliments on my food, I also get people telling they're just chuffed that there is something like this happening in their neighbourhood.  Something local, run by local people and that is different.  I’m a big fan of local food and try really hard to buy British meat and vegetables from Kent.  The pork ribs are free range and specially cut so they are thick and meaty.  I cook them slow and low for about 5 hours and then give them a bit fire at the end to give that great BBQ flavour. And then there is my speciality – bacon sushi.  As you probably saw down at the Brewery - it’s not raw bacon! And it doesn’t have fish in it either! It’s cooked and tastes a lot like a smoky bacon cheese burger.  I wrap cheese in minced beef and then wrap that in bacon – it’s delicious.  Most of the afternoons I've been BBQing have also coincided with one of the many local bands that play at the Belvedere.  The combination of music and BBQ are a winner with the local punters. The next BBQ, and the last one of the year, is at the Belvedere on 24 September.  At the last event at the Belvedere we sold out - and we did the same at the Bexley Brewery party on Saturday.  So if you do want to come along, be there early to make sure you get something to eat!" You can read more about Steve's Kitchen on his website here.

There has been much press coverage of the release of the Apple iPhone 7 in the press over the last few days. For some reason Apple products seem to get a lot more press attention than that given to manufacturers of rival products. I for one am not about to state an opinion on the new iPhone – as many readers will know, I don’t own a mobile phone, and personally I cannot stand them. I appreciate that they are a cornerstone of life for many people, even if I cannot really understand why. My only real comment on the new device is to note that whilst most commentators have made much of the removal of the traditional 3.5 mm phono socket, and the adoption of wireless Bluetooth ear bug headphones, this is not the feature that has most concerned me. One new facility incorporated in the new iPhone 7 are stereo speakers, which are reported to be twice as loud as an iPhone 6S. For me this is terrible news. Personally I think playing music on mobile phones in public should be a criminal offence. It is nearly always someone who looks like they would stab you if you complained to them. Why people do this rather than using headphones / ear buds is completely beyond me. The issue has even been discussed in the House of Lords. In 2006, The Piped Music and Showing of Television Programmes Bill was presented to Parliament, calling for "the wearing of headphones by persons listening to music in the public areas of hospitals and on public transport" to be made compulsory, although it never made it into law. The phenomenon has even been given a name – it is called “Sodcasting”. "Sodcast [noun]: Music, on a crowded bus, coming from the speaker on a mobile phone. Sodcasters are terrified of not being noticed, so they spray their audio wee around the place like tomcats." To say there is a backlash against "sodcasting", that it is felt to be antisocial, is a massive understatement. The fact that the music played is usually hip-hop or other forms of urban music, often seen as threatening by those who don't listen to that music,  exacerbates the sense, felt by many, that the very practice of sodcasting carries an implicit threat: "You don't want to mess with me." Indeed, in 2006 a couple of thirtysomethings from London launched a Music Free Buses campaign and a petition asking TfL (Transport for London) to ban the practice. "People think they can sit on a bus and blast music out, and when you ask them to turn it down you get abuse, especially from teenagers," they told their local newspaper. Around 4,500 people signed the petition, and in a poll carried out by the campaigners, 84 percent said under-18s caught playing music out loud should have their free travel revoked. Only 2 percent of respondents said they found the playing of music in public acceptable; the same proportion of those polled who were 18 or under. The message was clear: youngsters are the ones sodcasting, and adults despise it. TfL declined to ban it, though. Apple, by fitting stereo speakers to the iPhone 7 are playing into the hands of sodcasters everywhere. What do you think? Leave a comment below, or Email me at

Local resident and Maggot Sandwich reader Derek took several photographs recently of the illegal fly tipping that is happening at the Council recycling facility in the car park at the rear of Morrison's supermarket in James Watt Way - you can see one of his shots above. After a period of relative good use, the criminal fly tippers have returned in force. The authorities have been made aware of the increased illegal activity on the site. The facility is designed purely for the proper collection of glass, plastic, cardboard and metal cans and tins, along with the donation of old shoes and clothing for charity. The problem is that some dodgy builders and other trades people use the site for the dumping of building waste, old worn out mattresses, empty tins of paint and varnish, and even dirty babies nappies! I was hoping after the successful prosecutions that took place in 2014 and 2015, the crooks might have got the message. Local Neighbourhood Watch group Erith Watch were instrumental in providing evidence that led to two sets of prosecutions - Mr Stefan Boros, 38, of Gregory Crescent, Eltham and Mrs Rodica Ghiurca, 29, of Elm Grove, Erith, both pleaded guilty to charges that they fly-tipped on the ground by the recycling banks at Morrisons car park, James Watt Way, Erith. There were two separate incidents. The first was on 29 March 2014, where a fridge, two large bags of rubbish and a bag of refuse was fly tipped. The second incident was on 31 March 2014, when a large fridge freezer and a small fridge containing refuse was fly-tipped. Boros also pleaded guilty to two further charges of failing to produce a waste carrier's licence authorising him to transport refuse and of scrap metal dealing without a scrap metal dealer's licence on the above dates. In mitigation the defence said that there had been a lack of forethought and that the offences were negligent rather than pre-planned. They apologised for all the offences committed. Both defendants were given fines of £350 for each of the two fly-tipping charges and each must pay a £101.33 compensation order, £500 costs and a £35 victim surcharge. In addition, Boros was fined £100 for each of the remaining two charges concerning failure to produce a waste carrier's licence and scrap metal dealing without a scrap metal dealer's licence.

The most successful prosecution for fly tipping at the Morrison's recycling facility was back in January of 2015 when a repeat criminal called Anton Munteau was found guilty by Bexley Magistrates in respect of two offences of failing to have a Waste Carriers Licence and one of Collecting Scrap Metal without being licensed. He had dumped pallets containing two tonnes of rotten bananas at the Morrison's facility, which you can see in the photo above - click on the photo for a larger view.  He was sentenced to 26 weeks imprisonment (6 months) on all the fly tipping offences to run concurrently. No separate penalty was awarded for the Waste Carriers Licence offences or the offence under the Scrap Metal Dealers Act 2013. He was ordered to pay £1000 in clear up costs which was broken down to £800 to the London Borough of Bexley and £200 to Dartford Borough Council. He was also in Breach of a previous 12 week suspended prison sentence, The court decided to activate 6 weeks of that sentence and he was given a further 6 Weeks imprisonment to run consecutive to the 26 weeks making a total of 32 weeks - a full eight months inside with no remission due to his having already broken a suspended sentence. The court also ordered the forfeiture of the vehicle concerned in all of the offences, which was a white Mercedes panel van worth around £4,500. I am hopeful that more of the local fly tippers get caught and prosecuted in the same way as in the two cases outlined above. As many of you are aware, I am the Erith Watch leader, and webmaster of the Erith Watch website and Email distribution list. You can see our website here. The unfortunate news is that the current website will be going offline at the beginning of October. The company that both provides the website platform, and acts as the web host is ending support for small, not for profit organisations, and as such is pulling the plug on thousands of community websites that it has hosted for the last few years. If I was to keep with the current platform on the new structure, the cost would rise from approximately £12.50 a year, to nearly £50 a MONTH. The additional features the new structure offers are negligible, and I just cannot justify the huge increase in cost for what is a small, local volunteer run organisation. I am currently looking at alternative hosting options using different (and actually quite a lot more modern) technology. More in the coming weeks on this subject.

The ending video this week takes a look behind the scenes at the old Eurostar rail terminal at Waterloo, and explains how it is being re - engineered for a new purpose. It certainly looks promising to me. Don't forget, you can leave a comment below, or Email me at

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