Sunday, June 11, 2017

The White Hart revealed.

The photo above was taken during last week by a local person who wishes to remain anonymous; it shows workers removing the scaffolding that has hidden the exterior of the White Hart for several months, and reveals the extensive and very expensive renovation work that has been undertaken to return the listed building to its former glory, after having been extensively criminally vandalised when it was run by the owners of Potion Bar - who removed the acid etched glass and salt glazed Victorian frontage expressly against the instructions of Bexley Council's planning department, and then installed an entirely inappropriate and hideous plate glass frontage which totally destroyed the look of the historic local building. One of the conditions of the conversion of the pub into flats was that the developers had to return the frontage to its original historic look, and to their credit, they have done just that. It looks fantastic, and very close to how it used to look. Work has now begun on the former pub garden, which is going to house a block of low rise flats, complete with underground parking. More on this story in the weeks to come. 

I had a very interesting response to the article I wrote last week about fly tipping. It shows how local councils can be their own worst enemies when it comes to people trying to properly dispose of waste materials. I was Emailed by a regular reader a long and fascinating insight into just how much trouble and expense local residents can get into, which you can read in full here:- “I read, with interest, the piece you included in your latest blog concerning fly-tipping in the Bexley area (and beyond). Perhaps an incident that happened to me recently may go some way in explaining this problem, but is not intended to excuse it in any way. I currently do not own a car, so when I found I needed to take some items to my local recycling facility which is located on Dartford Heath (I am a Dartford resident nowadays), I hired a small van from a local rental company. This cost me almost £40. I loaded my items into the van (an old chair, a couple of small electrical items, and an old dining table) and set off to the recycling facility. On arrival I was stopped at the entrance by one of the employees who informed me that vans were not allowed. I asked why, and I was told it was the rules. I explained that I was a Dartford resident and offered to show proof of that. All to no avail. He said vans were banned because builders had previously abused the facility by dumping inappropriate/dangerous items. I assured him I was not a builder and offered to show him what I had in the van, No joy. I then offered to park outside and carry the items in myself. No that would be dangerous I was told. Dangerous to whom, I replied? No, it’s not allowed. I suggested that perhaps this was the kind of attitude that tempted the less socially aware that it might benefit them to simply dump their rubbish on the side of the road. A shrug of the shoulders was the answer to that.  I was then informed that I could take my items to the facility in Sevenoaks where they would happily take them at a further cost. This was not acceptable as I am a pensioner and could hardly afford the amount I had already spent. He then gave me the number of the department at County Hall, Maidstone who dealt with such matters. On phoning them, I was informed that the council policy was, indeed, as described. However, I could (for a cost) apply for a special coupon that could be presented at the Dartford Heath facility which would allow me to enter with a small van. It would take 28 days to be processed, however. Which was not a lot of help when I had hired the van for just one day. I then had the embarrassment of having to return home, remove the items, and return the van. I then had to hire another vehicle (a five door car, this time) a couple of days later and repeat the whole saga again. This time, however, I simply drove into the facility, put the items for disposal in the appropriate places, and left. A very expensive lesson”. Following on from this message, a poll has been carried out by a furniture company into the public’s attitude towards fly tipping; the results, if accurate, are quite surprising. An astonishing seventeen percent of the people surveyed admitted having fly tipped on at least one occasion. Of that seventeen percent, the reasons they stated for their fly tipping broke down as follows:- 1. There is nowhere else to take rubbish (38 per cent) 2. Unaware it was illegal (30 per cent) 3. It was the easiest option available (28 per cent) 4. The cost of disposing properly was too high (20 per cent) 5. Because they didn’t realise they were fly-tipping at the time (16 per cent). I find this utterly staggering, and frankly somewhat hard to believe; for a start, if the respondents were only allowed to pick one response, how come it adds up to 132 per cent?. According to Government statistics, local authorities reported 852,000 cases of fly-tipping last year, and almost 98 per cent of fly-tipping prosecutions resulted in a conviction. I feel that the responses listed above are actually covering the real truth. From my own experiences investigating fly – tipping, the proponents are well aware of what they are doing is illegal – but they just don't care, as they think the chances of them being caught are minimal at best. It is a cynical and exploitative attitude from criminals who should (and indeed sometimes do) get jailed for their activities. This got me thinking – the poll of fly tippers may be a start, but it is not the only facet of the situation. Why do certain individuals fly tip in the first place? I think that there are several factors involved. Firstly I think there is a degree of ignorance – some of the fly tippers do not have English as a first language, and may assume that since there are recycling bins and hoppers, such as those found in Erith Morrison's car park, that anything can be deposited there. Of course this precludes those who tip anywhere at any time – there can be no excuse for that. Other tippers may be lazy and not bothered to go to the official council tip in Thames Road, Crayford. I think the biggest reason is down to cost. 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 £120 for a single tipping visit. 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.

The photo above was taken last week in the Bluewater shopping centre - a place which personally I don't like very much - too big, anonymous and crowded for my tastes. Nevertheless I had to take a visit there in order to get my Apple iMac taken in to the Apple Store for repair. The hard drive had failed. Whilst making our way to the Apple Store, my chauffeur spotted the Shepherd Neame brewery pop - up shop. I am a keen fan of Shepherd Neame ales, so I was keen to check the place out as soon as we had dropped off the Mac. I have to say that I was a little disappointed with the Shepherd Neame shop - it promised a lot, but did not really deliver for me. The first thing one noticed on entering the shop was how unbearably hot it was - I felt very sorry for the staff, as it was almost unbearable. The shop mainly sells Shepherd Neame branded clothing and collectables - though I did notice that nearly all of the T-shirts and polo shirts were only available in Medium and Small sizes - not in Large or Extra Large as one would have expected for an outlet catering for a wide variety of the population. To summarise, the pop - up shop was high on style, but unfortunately lacking in substance. As a publicity stunt / promotion for the Kent based brewery it looks like a success to me even so. 

There has been much controversy in the press about the ticketing arrangements for the recent charity concert for the victims of the Manchester suicide bombing. There were many complaints that it was impossible to obtain tickets when booking online; This seems to ring true for many fans who tried repeatedly to book tickets, only to discover that they had all gone within fifteen minutes. Many took this to be an indication of the huge popularity of the event, but unfortunately the situation runs far deeper than that. A problem exists now when anyone wishes to book a popular cultural event such as a concert or play or even tries to book a table in a popular restaurant – the venue will be booked out for the entire period however assiduous the booker has been. The reason for this situation is that certain unscrupulous people – often ticket agencies and others who wish to resell tickets or restaurant bookings at a profit, hire programmers to create what is known in the trade as a Bot. A Bot is a piece of software code that automates the process of making a ticket reservation or restaurant booking. It scans the relevant booking website and sends regular requests for page updates, looking for openings such as cancellations and filling in the web page request form far more rapidly than any human could ever hope to do. The Bot can run for days – never getting tired, never making a typo or missing an online field, and just grinding on until the required bookings have been made. It is almost certain that the Ariana Grande Manchester benefit concert was mainly booked by software Bots. Although the promoters have put pretty strict conditions on concert attendees (booker has to turn up with photo ID and their companions have to be with the booker at the time of entering the venue). This has already been shown to be ineffective. Tickets with a face value of £40 were available via a number of outlets at prices varying between £1,000 and £1,500 each. What the Americans call “scalpers” and we call “ticket touts” are behind this behaviour. I recently read about “Bot Wars” where organisations such as Ticketmaster are trying to analyse online booking behaviour in order to exclude orders submitted by Bots; recently they rejected just over 120,000 orders made for a number of events after they had been detected as Bot generated. The Bot writers get more sophisticated and there is a war waging between the two sides which shows no signs of abating. I can suggest that the only way to be sure that an event is not booked out by software Bots is to remove online ordering completely – go back to ordering via telephone or turning up at the venue in person to book tickets. Something that is unlikely to happen in many cases due to the high costs of employing staff to carry out the bookings. It may well mean that confidence in all forms of event booking are irretrievably damaged unless some drastic actions are taken – such as making the use of Bots a criminal offence with a suitably hefty penalty. People will swiftly cease booking events online once they lose faith in the system, and this would be a real shame – it would be like taking one step forwards, followed by two back. You can read more about software Bots by clicking here

You may recall that I previously have written about the heavy engineering company Fraser and Chalmers that were based in Erith for many years. They made mining equipment, pumps, boilers and ore separation machines, many of which were exported to the gold and diamond mines in South Africa. The photo above was taken back in 1907, and shows the main foundry and many of the men that worked there - click on it for a larger version. Notice the lack of safety equipment, and the huge amount of manpower available - by World War 1 there were 4,000 employees. It was hot, backbreaking work, and the average labourer worked a 54 hour week - including Saturday mornings. This is one of the reasons that football matches traditionally start at 3pm; historically this was to allow the men to get home, have a wash and some lunch, before heading out to the game.

It has been quite a while since Bexley had a proper, local radio station. There have been a few attempts in the past – probably the best known of these was Millennium Radio (originally Radio Thamesmead), which was rebranded as Time 106.8 at the beginning of 2003, in a move to associate the station with local town Greenwich's connection with the Greenwich Meridian. Businessman Avtar Lit's Sunrise Radio Group purchased the station in March 2004. A later decision was taken to rebrand other stations in the group under the same banner - of which only Time 107.5 in Romford continues to use the name. More on them later. The Plumstead based station consistently struggled to perform in a highly competitive London market in terms of audience figures, with its market share steadily declining in RAJAR performance since the middle of 2005. In its final survey at the end of 2008, Time recorded an audience of 13,000 listeners, representing a market share of one percent of the available audience. In an unusual move, the Sunrise Radio Group put the station up for sale via a message on its website in mid-October 2008, and following disputed claims a buyer had been found, Time 106.8 ceased broadcasting at midnight on Saturday 4 April 2009. It had not been a popular station for many years, and it always struggled for advertising. It also had problems with identity – it tried to be all things to all people, but ended up appealing to almost nobody. Another local station fared little better; TGR Sound 103.7 FM was based in the Europa Industrial Estate in Fraser Road, Erith. TGR stood for Thames Gateway Radio, and it was designed to provide training in radio presentation, recording techniques and business administration to local volunteers. It was a well – intentioned but ineffectual project that relied on grant funding from a number of non-government organisations and public bodies . The presentation of many programmes was amateurish at the very least – one could often hear what was going on in the studio as the music was playing because the presenter had forgotten to close the microphone fader.  The station struggled on for some time with a lack of staff, but by the summer of 2008, the end was in sight. The station owners published the following announcement online “It is with much regret we have to announce, that as of Sunday 22nd of June, your local Community Radio Station, 103.7 FM TGR Sound will cease broadcasting. Since its launch in 2004, the station has provided over 300 community groups with support and free publicity for their events and services, trained in excess of 5,000 people and forged partnerships with 200 organisations. This has all been achieved by the hard work and dedication of a team of mainly volunteers. 103.7FM TGR Sound was well regarded by OFCOM and had become as one of the foremost community radio stations and possibly one of the only stations that would have been in a position to offer 'Live' broadcasting from 6.00am to Midnight, seven days a week had it been able to continue. However despite the efforts of our members to bring in advertising and sponsorship from the local councils and both local and national companies, it has proved an impossible task in an increasingly difficult and competitive environment. Although regular revenue from training and hosting festivals existed, it is not sufficient to cover the total costs of running an FM Radio Station and therefore we became increasingly dependent on grants and funding to survive and pay for the cost of rent, electricity and other essential services. These forms of funding by their very nature cannot be guaranteed and a succession of rejected applications have left 103.7 FM TGR Sound with no major source of income for the remainder of this year. We would like to thank everyone for all their hard-work and involvement – not only the volunteers but the community groups, organisations and individuals who helped to make 103.7 FM TGR Sound the number one listened to local radio station across Bexley, Dartford, Thamesmead and Woolwich”. So now the only local radio station is the internet only Miskin Radio which covers the Dartford and Gravesend area. Ironically the only local radio station broadcasting to the North part of the London Borough of Bexley is ironically the aforementioned Time 107.5 FM which is located in the centre of Romford in Essex, over on the other side of the River Thames. The station is located only around seven miles from Lower Belvedere, Erith and Slade Green and the surrounding areas. It is a “proper” local station that has its studios in the Liberty Shopping Centre in Romford. You can see their website here. Quite a number of the station’s listeners are actually located on this side of the river. It is worth a listen, it is not bad at all. 

I have written in the past about my opposition to a number of so called "complimentary" medicines, especially homeopathy, which I regard as nothing more than a complete fraud. There have been a number of regulatory and legal moves to change the status of homeopathy in the UK. In February 2010, the House of Commons Science and Technology Committee produced a report on the available evidence regarding homeopathy. It concluded that ‘The Government’s position on homeopathy is confused. On the one hand, it accepts that homeopathy is a placebo treatment. This is an evidence-based view. On the other hand, it funds homeopathy on the NHS without taking a view on the ethics of providing placebo treatments. We argue that this undermines the relationship between NHS doctors and their patients, reduces real patient choice and puts patients’ health at risk. The Government should stop allowing the funding of homeopathy on the NHS.’ The British Humanist Association welcomed the report and called for ‘public funds [to only be] spent on treatments that have been proven to work, and on research that is backed up by scientific evidence.’ In June 2010, a number of organisations responded to a consultation on new guidance for pharmacists produced by the Pharmaceutical Society of Northern Ireland which suggested that pharmacists have a duty to advise patients that there is ‘no scientific or clinical evidence base for the efficacy of homeopathic products, beyond a placebo effect.’ They also welcomed the British Medical Association’s (BMA) call to stop the NHS funding homeopathy at their 2010 annual conference, 2013 comments by England’s Chief Medical Officer that homeopathy is ‘rubbish’, and comments to the same effect by the outgoing Chief Scientific Advisor later that same year. 

More local planning changes are happening in the near future; the Mothercare shop in Bexleyheath, close to the Clock Tower is closing as part of a restructuring of the retail group. An application has been submitted to Bexley Council to change the class of use from A1 Retail to A3 Restaurant. The application states that the change of use will create 32 new jobs in the restaurant – but nothing about the job losses from the Mothercare staff who will be out of a job. Mothercare has been around since 1961, when it was founded in Watford by Selim Zilkha and Sir James Goldsmith.  It was first listed on the London Stock Exchange in 1972. In 1982, it merged with Habitat to form Habitat Mothercare plc. In 1986, Habitat Mothercare plc merged with British Home Stores, to form Storehouse plc. In January 1996, it bought Children's World from Boots, and re-branded all of their superstores Mothercare World stores. In 2000, the Bhs stores were sold to Philip Green, and Storehouse reverted to the Mothercare brand. In June 2007, Mothercare bought the Early Learning Centre (ELC) for £85 million. In October 2007, Mothercare launched Gurgle, a pregnancy and parenting social networking website. In November 2009, Mothercare acquired the 50 percent of Gurgle that it did not already own. In July 2010, Mothercare bought the trademark and brand of privately owned rival Blooming Marvellous. In May 2011, it was reported that Mothercare was set to undergo a major restructure in their retail sector, resulting in an undisclosed number Early Learning Centre stores moving into neighbouring Mothercare stores to lower costs. The contraction of store numbers has continued, with the Bexleyheath site being merely the latest, despite its premium location. Who will take it on as a restaurant is not yet known, but I feel it very likely to be a chain or a franchise of some kind. It will have to offer something substantially different in my opinion, as there are already a while host of different food outlets in Bexleyheath, and it will need to differentiate itself from them – especially by having a Nando’s next door. What do you think? Leave a comment below, or Email me at

A warning was issued by Bexley Police earlier this week; it relates to a telephone con that is being carried out targeting vulnerable local people.  "A high-profile telephone scam is spreading across the UK involving fraudsters who pose as tax officials and demand payment in gift vouchers. The criminals are targeting elderly and vulnerable people by phone, making aggressive but completely false demands for thousands of pounds in unpaid tax. They tell victims the quickest way to pay is to buy gift cards — mostly Apple iTunes vouchers, but some also ask for store gift vouchers. In most circumstances, they keep the victim on the phone for the whole day and ask for the redemption codes after they have been purchased at their local shops. These vouchers can then be spent online by the fraudsters or sold on for a profit. In one of the latest incidents, an 85-year-old woman in Nottinghamshire was tricked into handing over £4,000 to the fraudsters. HMRC’s press office is working alongside police and Action Fraud to make people aware of this con. HMRC recommend that if you cannot verify the identity of a caller that you do not speak to them and end the call at once. We encourage you to check GOV.UK for information on how to avoid and report scams, recognise genuine HMRC contact and make payments to HMRC".

The end video this week was produced by Eastside Community Heritage - a charity which seeks to preserve the local history in and around East and South East London. Here they teach members of the Howbury Youth Club about the history of Slade Green, capably aided by well known local historian Ken Chamberlain. Please feel free to leave a comment below, or Email

1 comment:

  1. Not sure I'd like to be in the boots of those guys at Frasers with ladles of molten metal being carried over them by a juddering overhead crane,........