Sunday, November 20, 2016

Proper Top Gear.

The photos above (thanks Ian) were taken last night at The Mick Jagger Centre in Dartford. They show Genesis tribute band Los Endos performing the whole of the Genesis "A Trick of the Tail" concert set from the 1976 world tour, to commemorate its 40th anniversary this year. The gig was a sell - out, and The Mick Jagger Centre was packed. The venue has had a refurbishment since my last visit, and it is much improved - the toilets especially have been greatly enlarged - so no queues when going for a leak in the interval. If you have not visited the local performing arts centre, I can highly recommend it. There are events to satisfy all musical and theatrical tastes, and it is also conveniently nearby.

I rarely comment on items in the national press; the main reason for this is that they will have already been covered in detail by "proper" journalists, leaving very little for me to bring to the table. I am making a notable exception this week. As regular readers may recall, I refused to watch the Chris Evans and Matt Le Blanc relaunched version of Top Gear earlier this year. I am of the opinion that almost any television programme is far greater than the sum of its parts, and that presenters can come and go - if the show is sufficiently strong, it can survive all sorts of changes in cast, crew, director and producer - a couple of prime examples of this are Coronation Street and Doctor Who. There is one exception to this rule, which the BBC have now found out to their great cost. Top Gear was Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond and James May. The BBC somehow got the erroneous impression that Top Gear was a car show with presenters who could be replaced at will. In fact it was a show about the three presenters acting like eight year old boys, larking about, bickering and falling over. The car element was entirely incidental. Now the trinity of presenters have moved to Amazon Prime and an (ostensibly) new show called The Grand Tour - which is basically Top Gear touring the world on an astronomical budget. The Producer is still Andy Wilman, and the technical crew are largely defectors from the BBC who worked on the original show. The Chris Evans / Matt LeBlanc BBC version has already catastrophically crashed and burned, with microscopic viewing figures - to the point where Chris Evans left the show after one series. After the launch this week of the rival The Grand Tour, I would imagine that BBC executives are wondering whether to throw good money after bad - The Grand Tour (already termed "Proper Top Gear") is so much better that is is in an entirely different league. Critical reception of The Grand Tour has been almost universally positive, only the BBC review being somewhat cool - but sour grapes are to be expected, I suppose. The BBC Top Gear reboot has been likened to the Director's cut of "Star Wars - The Phantom Menace" with extra scenes of Jar Jar Binks - whereas The Grand Tour has been likened to "Star Wars - The Force Awakens". Make of that what you will. I took out an Amazon Prime membership purely to watch The Grand Tour - all of the other benefits are welcome, but entirely incidental. Off the soap box now, and normal service is resumed. 

Last week I opened the debate about the right of the public to buy and use for private use. Since 2003, under 18’s have been prohibited from buying or using fireworks. The measures come under the Fireworks Act 2003, which also bars any member of the public from possessing high-powered "category four" fireworks of the kind used in professional displays. Now many activists, animal lovers and others have been campaigning for a further strengthening of the law, and as a result Police have been getting tougher with people using fireworks illegally. The clampdown is intended to tackle the problem of anti-social behaviour involving fireworks, Further hard line enforcement is due to come into force next year, including curfews on the setting off of fireworks, recognised training for display operators and the introduction of a tougher licensing system for suppliers. Since the article I wrote last week about the problem use of fireworks, which runs from mid-October until mid-January nowadays, I have had a considerable amount of feedback, almost all of it supporting the concept of a complete ban on members of the public buying or using fireworks at all. I have since discovered that Canada, South Africa and Australia have limitations or bans on private firework displays and the UK needs to seriously consider if it needs to follow suit. I was also made aware by a reader that an organised campaign to get heavy restrictions on the sale and use of fireworks is already under way.  A UK Government petition has been started, which describes itself thus:- “Ban the sale of fireworks to the public and only approve organised displays. Every year 1000's of people are hurt, burnt, maimed and even lose their lives through accidents involving fireworks.  Every year people are terrorised by the misuse of fireworks. Every year animals are hurt and traumatised by fireworks.  Ban them please”. You can see the petition by clicking here

It would seem that the waste incinerator in Lower Belvedere (see the photo above - click for a larger view) is going have its input ramped up by a very significant degree in the near future. Reports in the local press – both the Bexley Times and the News Shopper are featuring the story – say that the number of lorries carrying waste from other London boroughs to be incinerated at the Cory plant in Lower Belvedere. The owners of the Norman Road plant are already bringing in 660,000 tonnes of waste per year by river but want to boost its share by road up to 195,000 tonnes - a 129 percent increase. It was discussed recently at a council meeting that the energy waste company, Cory, which oversees the operators Riverside Resource Recovery Limited (RRRL), wants an additional 56 trucks - or an average of 4 vehicle trips an hour - brought to North Bexley’s roads. The motion was put forward chiefly to mitigate the possible loss of its contract at Northumberland Wharf in Tower Hamlets. Cory currently processes 100,000 tonnes of waste per annum onto the river via Northumberland Wharf. It is worried that it may lose access to its Northumberland site if its owners, the council of Tower Hamlets, decides to operate its own waste contract.  The News Shopper reported that Bexley Councillor David Leaf said "I have some quite grave reservations about this application. The contingency was for emergency only in terms of being able to use the road network. What concerns me is in relation to issue about the Northumberland Wharf being out, now clearly if you are a big business making a huge investment, we’re talking hundreds of millions of pounds, you would do your risk analysis and you would calculate what would happen if one of our main wharfs go out? Clearly there hasn’t been any contingency planning and Bexley residents are going to end up feeling the brunt of that. I’m very concerned and apprehensive about that.” What do you think? Leave a comment below, or Email me at

Another new block of flats is planned close to the site of Abbey Wood Station – and the news has not pleased many local people. The new block (if the planning application is approved – and I suspect that it will be) will be 29 storeys high, and will contain 208 apartments and a 90 bed hotel. The scheme has been drawn up by developers HUB in partnership with Bridges Ventures. Pending planning approval the developers aim to start work on the site in the summer of 2017. I already have the feeling that these apartments will be mainly bought up by absentee owners, many from abroad who will look to "land bank" them as investments. They are certainly not the kind of properties that many local residents will be able to afford, more is the shame. 

I am somewhat surprised at Bexley Council’s recent announcement of a pre – Christmas pop – up cinema to be held on the Erith Riverside Gardens on Saturday the 26th November from 4.30pm. The announcement on the Bexley Council website says:- “Riverside Gardens is hosting a fantastic, free pop-up cinema screening for the community. The fun starts with Home Alone (PG) at 4.30pm followed by Gremlins (12A) at 6:30pm, with a short break in between. Bring along chairs and blankets to keep warm and comfortable. Hot food and drink will be available to buy from local chefs and businesses.” Admission to the event is free. As I mentioned last week, I had hoped that the event would be held in a large marquee or other temporary structure on the site; the wording of the council piece does not fill me with confidence in this respect. The venue is ideal in many ways, but it is very exposed, and is one of, if not the coldest place in the whole of the town, with the wind coming straight off the River Thames. I am also concerned that it is now only a week before the event, and very little if any publicity has been noticeable – I would have expected far more advertising and promotion of what could be an excellent community event. I do have some suspicions that once again Erith is being “set up to fail” – as happened with the recent unsuccessful relaunch of Erith Market. On that occasion, the relaunch of the market was done with a little bit of publicity (some of which came from me) but the market was only held on Wednesdays, not on Saturdays, something that a regular reader pointed out:- “I hear are giving Erith Market a trial go. When they know it will fail before they start. They only seem to be catering for the unemployed and the elderly. Because they are the only one that can go to the market. The market should have been bigger and on Wednesdays and Saturdays like it used to be. Saturdays for the people that go to work all week”. My anonymous reader’s comments turned out to be prophetic; the first week there were eight stall holders on the piece of land adjacent to Morrison’s car park; the next week six, and it petered out until no stalls appeared by the end of the first month. As I have previously written, plans are afoot to relaunch the market on a far more ambitious scale, although it will be some time in the new year before this comes to pass. I get the feeling that the pop – up cinema is similarly being set up to fail – with only a week to go, very few local residents – especially those with children – appear to be aware of the existence of the event. I can only hope that the council pull out the stops at the last minute – otherwise the pop – up cinema could show to a handful of hardy people only. It would certainly enable to council to not carry out any further community events in Erith, citing a lack of interest from local people. I really want the event to be a great success, but the track record of Bexley Council in regard of public events in and around Erith does not inspire me with confidence. What do you think? Leave a comment below, or Email

The recent road resurfacing works in and around Erith Town Centre caused considerable confusion and disruption to motorists; in an email to members of Erith Town Forum. Local councillors Joe Ferreira, Abena Oppong – Asare and Edward Boateng wrote “There was much disruption last week with road works taking place at Queens Road Roundabout. These works had started at 7pm and ended each night at 2am. Disruption included long tail backs, drivers driving the wrong way up and down the one-way Erith High Street and drivers cutting through Erith Town Centre car park as a shortcut only to then go against the flow of the diversion route. Each night we raised these matters with the relevant officers overseeing the work, and although the disruption continued, some of the issues improved with additional signage put out including No Through Road signs to the car parks and the congestion clearing quicker. Thankfully the works have since completed”. I must admit that I did not realise just how much disruption that the roadworks caused. I don’t live in the town centre, but on the outskirts – it does sound like the resurfacing could have been planned with more care and less disruption.

I came across the advert above in an old map of Erith that I have had for absolutely ages. It was old when I was given it. Hedley Mitchell was the largest and by far the most important shop in the old Victorian Erith town centre. It was the towns' department store, and as large and grand as Hides in Bexleyheath. Many older local residents recall Hedley Mitchell with great affection. The store had a very high reputation for formal service. It was the first building to be demolished when work began to create the new (and subsequently much hated) brutalist concrete shopping centre in 1966. In fact the first act of demolition was carried out by the then Deputy Mayor, Councillor Mrs M Barron, ceremoniously smashed the window of Hedley Mitchell's store to mark the commencement of the demolition of Erith Town Centre to make way for redevelopment. As a consequence, all the existing Victorian buildings were lost. With hindsight, this was a terrible mistake - the existing town centre should have been sympathetically restored. I gather that this was considered, but would have cost too much money; instead they built a relatively cheap but undeniably ugly replacement out of bare concrete. I don't know anyone who had a good word to say about it. Consequently a lot of businesses upped sticks and moved to Bexleyheath or Northumberland Heath, and it is only now, nearly fifty years later that much of the social and economic damage is being put right. The current Erith Riverside Shopping Centre is actually a very clever redesign of the much hated sixties structure, rather than a ground up new build, but it has been done with taste and sensitivity - something entirely missing in the original, which was a smelly and soulless concrete monstrosity, detested by all.

Interestingly, in the same message to members of the Erith Town Forum, the councillors state that the old Carnegie Library building in Walnut Tree Road is under consideration for a change of use:-  “The Council are looking to find a suitable operator for the Carnegie Building to bring it back into use as a high quality skills and training centre, and are actively pursuing potential operators. More will obviously follow on this as we get it. In addition, some works to maintain the building’s fabric and general upkeep will be carried out between November 2016 and January 2017”. It is not clear at present what Wetherspoon’s are planning – when I spoke to them a couple of months ago, they were very cagey – which is understandable, as they are a commercial operation where advance information of their intentions could be potentially damaging to their business. I made a few educated guesses as to potential locations for a Wetherspoon’s outlet in Erith – after all, the one thing that they did confess to me was that they were indeed looking at the town as a potential site for a new pub. My guesses settled on the Carnegie Library and The Running Horses in Erith High Street, overlooking the Riverside Gardens. As far as I am aware, no decision has been made at this point, though I will be asking more questions of them in the future. 

One of the once common features of Erith has largely disappeared - mostly for the better. Up until June of 2014 mobile scrap collecting vans were one of the commonest sights on the roads of the town. I mentioned this to a friend, and he commented on how the once very familiar scrap collecting vans had all but disappeared, almost overnight. He was entirely correct; before the start of June 2014, the roads of Erith were flooded with “Scrappies” – small vans, usually based on a Ford Transit chassis that were crewed by a wide variety of people – but always men. I have never seen a female scrap van driver. If you walked down Manor Road at around 7am on a weekday morning, you would see whole convoys of these vehicles as they left their depot on the Wallhouse Industrial Estate on the Slade Green Marshes. The biggest local scrap company by far was City Scrap; I would have said that prior to June 2014, around eighty five percent of scrap vehicles in the area were theirs. As you may recall I wrote at the time, Police and Revenue and Customs officials raided the offices and yard of City Scrap after finding strong evidence of a series of frauds and tax evasion, including an insurance fraud worth around £30,000. On top of the list of forty five offences the owners were charged with were making a false statement to obtain insurance, perverting the course of justice, and making a false statement to obtain  a scrap metal licence. I also understand that many of the scrap lorry driver / operators were claiming benefits whilst working, as well as other offences. All in all the closure of City Scrap was a necessity; they were operating well outside of the law. What surprises me in the two and a half years since City Scrap were officially wound up as a company, no other scrap dealer has emerged to occupy the void left by the once dominant, if corrupt firm. OK, scrap recycling giant Scrapco have moved into a depot in Landau Way, in the Darent Business Park, but they seem to mainly be involved in commercial and industrial scrap from large organisations - they don't get involved with domestic scrap collection, s they are not a direct replacement for the defunct City Scrap. Metal recycling is a vital part both of the local economy, and it also has great environmental benefits, so a new company taking over the business makes sense in a number of ways. Before June 2014, if you left a scrap of metal anywhere in Erith it would disappear in moments. I recall that back in 2009 I had a new central heating boiler installed. Part of the process involved flushing the existing radiators of accumulated sludge and treating them with a rust inhibitor; a special pump had to be fitted to the lowest point in the heating circuit – in my case, one of the radiators in the living room. This was carefully removed and taken outside by the heating engineers. Despite the radiator being laid on a tarpaulin and two heating company vans being parked outside, in the space of the two hour flushing period I had a total of seven scrappies trying to take the radiator, even though it was obvious it had only been temporarily removed whilst work was carried out. One even accused me of taking food from his children’s mouths when I caught him trying to steal the radiator. He soon shut up and ran off when I told him that he was being recorded on CCTV! Nowadays it has all changed – a friend had a dead fridge freezer and left it in their front garden for four days before a scrap dealer removed it. The local scrap market seems to have dried up - which is not good news for those wishing to recycle old appliances and the like, and is not good for the environment.

The end video this week features the 2016 Erith Model Railway Society exhibition. Another event that you might possible like to add to your calendar is the forthcoming Bexley Model Railway Show, which will be held at Bexleyheath Academy, Graham Road Entrance, Bexleyheath, Kent, DA6 7EG on Sunday the 11th December between 10am and 4pm. There will be a number of layouts and traders at the exhibition. Refreshments, free parking and disabled access are available. Admission: £6 (£4.95 pre booked) £5 (£3.95 pre booked) and Family £15 (£12 pre booked). Contact telephone number is:- 020 8694 1888. 

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