Sunday, July 04, 2021

Unveiling the plaque.

The photo above was taken by me only about an hour ago; it shows the Mayor of the London Borough of Bexley, Councillor James Hunt, as he unveiled the dedication plaque to the toilets in Christ Church Erith. The toilets were funded by a number of grants, and by money raised by The Friends of Christ Church Erith, who also managed the design, construction and commissioning of the new facility via a number of third party specialists. Chair of the friends group is Doreen Ives, who can be seen in the foreground of the photograph; click on the image to see a larger version. Due to a number of complex and often demanding issues, the installation of the toilets have taken approximately five years from inception to completion in January of this year. If you would be interested in joining The Friends of Christ Church Erith, and helping to preserve the historic, listed building, then please click here for details of how to join the group

If you are a listener to one of the local radio stations, such as BBC Radio London 94.9 FM, Maritime Radio 96.5 FM or my personal favourite, the excellent Time 107.5 FM, then you will no doubt be very familiar with their travel reporting. As well as updates on road and rail issues, one thing that all local radio stations have in common is the almost constant reports of trouble with The Woolwich Ferry service. The two, relatively new Polish built ferries suffer from innumerable mechanical and electrical problems, which mean that the ferry service seems to be far less reliable than when the old ferries were still in use. If this was not bad enough, the crew of the ferries have been on strike on several recent occasions. The current level of ferry service is the worst that it has been within my memory. The ferry provides a vital transport link across the River Thames – it is less important for pedestrians nowadays, since the Docklands Light Railway extension to Woolwich Arsenal Station opened back in 2009, but for vehicles and especially oversized freight vehicles that cannot get through the Rotherhithe or Blackwall tunnels it is vital, unless they wish a detour via central London (with the associated congestion charge) or out to Dartford and the crossing there, with the toll. The ferry service provides one of the few available crossings of the River Thames east of London. Although there are seventeen river crossings in the twenty miles west of Tower Bridge, there are only three river crossings  the same distance east. As long as there is a demand for a vehicle ferry it is unlikely to be discontinued, and it would require changing an 1885 Act of Parliament to do so. The rather controversial works to create a new toll tunnel at Silvertown have begun, but there is objection to the creation of this new tunnel from groups on both sides of the river, they claim that an additional tunnel will create extra traffic on the Greenwich Peninsular and add to the already high levels of local air pollution. As you can see from the graphic above (click on it to see a larger version) the new Silvertown tunnel will run parallel to the A102 Blackwall Tunnel approach, and then will branch off – as anyone who has used the current tunnel approach, it invariably becomes congested at multiple times in the day. It is a bottle neck that the new tunnel will actually make even worse. In my own recent experience, I was in a car travelling North via the Blackwall Tunnel at around 11am on last Saturday morning – not a working day – but even then there was a traffic jam of vehicles trying to use the tunnel. In my opinion the Slivertown tunnel will be built in the wrong place. A tunnel connecting Lower Belvedere and Rainham in Essex would to my mind be a far better proposition. It would stretch between the Ferry Lane roundabout, South of Rainham town centre and the A2016 Bronze Age Way / Picardy Manor Way roundabout in Lower Belvedere. In effect, this would connect the A13 and Rainham in South Essex with the A2 and M25 via Bronze Age Way, and the South Circular via the A2016 Eastern Way towards Woolwich. It could also have the added bonus of connecting Rainham and Belvedere railway stations via a regular bus service through the tunnel. My vision would be of a structure very similar in size and scope to the existing Medway Tunnel which links Strood with Chatham in Kent. The Thames tunnel would use the same kind of immersed tube construction that the Medway Tunnel does – that is, sections of prefabricated tunnel sections are sunk into the river, joined together, then the water is pumped out. This relatively new method of construction is well suited to shallow and medium depths of water, and creates tunnels which are both very strong and relatively cheap to construct. Unlike the Medway Tunnel, I would hope that the Lower Thames tunnel would permit the use of bicycles via a raised cycle / walkway kept physically separate from the vehicular traffic. As previously indicated, by the time any tunnel of this nature had been constructed (which I understand normally needs an Act of Parliament) the level of harmful pollutants emitted by vehicles should be far lower, thanks to the increase in use of zero emission, electric vehicles. The proposed Lower Thames Crossing seems to be mired in legal action at present. Its proponents state that "The Lower Thames Crossing will provide a new 14.3 mile 70 mph road connecting Kent, Thurrock and Essex, and will be the world’s third-widest bored tunnel. It will almost double road capacity across the River Thames east of London, connecting communities, reducing delays and providing more reliable journeys". Its opponents - Transport Action Network (TAN) are challenging the second Road Investment Strategy (RIS2), which includes the controversial LTC, in High Court. Campaigners are claiming that Grant Shapps, the Secretary of State for Transport, broke the law when approving RIS2 by failing to consider its effects on the environment. They claim he unlawfully failed to take account of the "obvious material" impact of the roads programme on the UK's climate commitments. Published in March 2020, RIS2 set out plans for England’s Strategic Road Network (SRN), including 50 major road schemes, with LTC as the largest proposal. Over the last few years, there have been numerous criticisms made from campaigners towards the LTC including environmental concerns - namely the fact the crossing would produce 1.5 per cent of the UK's current annual emissions. The fact remains there is a massive imbalance in the number of crossings between the East and West sides of the city.  The need for additional cross – Thames transport links is nothing new; the issue has been at the forefront of both politicians and civil engineers since Roman times. The first tunnel to be built under the River Thames was actually the first tunnel to be built under a river anywhere. Back in 1843, a 396 metre long tunnel at Rotherhithe was constructed by Marc and Isambard Kingdom Brunel, the first to have been successfully built underneath a navigable river. It was the first tunnel to utilise the innovative tunnelling shield technique invented by Marc and Isambard that is still used to build tunnels today, although now huge tunnel boring machines do the hard work instead of hundreds of men. The tunnel was a marvel of engineering, and made underground transportation around the world a possibility, all because of the tunnel shielding method invented by Marc Isambard Brunel. Before his innovation, tunnels had been attempted twice before beneath the Thames, but had failed because of the soft clay, quicksand and flooding that collapsed the efforts, leading to loss of life, and bankruptcy for the tunnelling companies. The tunnelling shield was a sort of cage structure that was pushed to the front of the tunnel. In the original design, men in the cages would dig forward a little, while those behind were shoring up the tunnel by building its walls. The design was later improved by engineers working for the railway companies building the London Underground and still forms the basic idea behind modern tunnel boring machines. Despite the vast improvement in methodology, digging the Thames Tunnel was still a dangerous job; one in which Isambard himself, working as an engineer for his father, nearly died. He was the only survivor of the second major flood of the tunnel in 1828, when six men died. Half-drowned, he was sent to Bristol to convalesce and here he designed his first individual project, the famous Clifton Suspension Bridge. Back then, labourers would spent two hours at a time digging, often while also being gassed and showered with excrement (the Victorian Thames was an open sewer, and vastly more polluted than nowadays). As it was constructed, the tunnel was constantly waterlogged, leading to a build-up of effluent and methane gas. The result was that not only would miners pass out from inhaling the noxious gas – even if they didn’t, men who re-surfaced were left senseless after their two-hour shift – but there were also explosions as the gas was set alight by the miners’ candles. All in all it was an extremely hazardous place in which to work. The hard work paid off; once the tunnel was completed, it opened to some fanfare. Originally intended as a means of getting cargo across what was then a hugely trafficked river, the Thames Tunnel ran out of money before it was able to build the extended entrance necessary to get horses and carts underground. Instead, the tunnel was opened for pedestrian use in 1843. It quickly became a major tourist attraction, with two million people a year paying a penny to walk through. It sounds pretty successful, but Londoners were also paying a penny to use any of the other ways to cross the Thames and the tunnel – tolls were charged whichever way you wished to cross the river back then. The Brunel foot tunnel was new and daring, this was seen as pretty risky way – literally walking underneath the River Thames. To try to scare up some more payback for the massive investment, the tunnel opened up some of the very first tourist souvenir shops, selling Thames Tunnel memorabilia and souvenirs like cups and plates – so you could prove you were brave enough not only to walk through the tunnel, but to stop and browse along the way. As time went on, the seedier side of Victorian London started to reckon a dark, underground tunnel might be the perfect place to conduct some nefarious business, and the numbers of respectable tourists declined. The tunnel became the haunt of prostitutes, and the number of assaults and muggings increased, further driving tourists away. Various projects to make more money out of it were tried, including turning it into what must have a been a fantastical underground fairground to attract even more visitors, before it was sold to the East London Railway Company in 1865. A part of the original tunnel is still visible today if you look  down the line from Wapping station towards Rotherhithe. A fascinating piece of historic construction – and worth remembering the next time you drive through the Dartford Tunnel, which along with nearly all modern tunnels around the world, was built using with engineering techniques developed by Marc and Isambard Kingdom Brunel in Rotherhithe in the early 1860’s.

The Goodyear Blimp, last seen in the UK back in 2012, has recently made an appearance in the air above the local area.  The photo above (click on it to see a larger view) was taken on Wednesday by Ian of The Belvedere Splash Facebook group. The photo shows the Blimp flying over Upper Belvedere. Why a Blimp and not an airship I hear you ask? Well, there is a vital difference between the two lighter than air vehicles. An airship has a lightweight chassis framework over which the material of the external structure is stretched. This makes for a rigid, but expensive design. You can see photos of the Stella Zeppelin I took back in 2008 here. A blimp is simpler - it relies for its'internal gas pressure to hold the shape of the exterior shroud. Blimps are a lot cheaper to manufacture, but are very hard to control in crosswinds or other complex weather. The Daily Telegraph and the Daily Mail both inadvertently gave support to the rumour that a UFO had been spotted over the Stratford stadium during the firework display that marked the ending of the opening ceremony at the 2012 Olympic Games. You can see what the Mail said at the time, by clicking here. As you will see from their breathless and rather under researched prose, they were pretty convinced that ET was about to land in the East End. The trouble was, if you listen to the sound track of the video footage, you can clearly hear a couple of four stroke petrol engines. Now, I don't know about you, but if I was needing to traverse vast swathes of interstellar space, I would want to use something with a bit more poke than a brace of Volvo six pots. If you watched the BBC TV coverage of the opening ceremony at the time, there was extensive footage shot from above, from precisely the location where the flying saucer was supposed to have been. Starting to see a pattern here? The "UFO" was actually the shiny underside of the Goodyear Blimp, reflecting the flashes of the fireworks as it was used as a filming platform by the Beeb. Only the very most hard of thinking cannot have worked this out. It was lazy journalism to have so unthinkingly reported what really was the most flimsy of stories that stood up to very little in the way of analysis.

The apartment block under construction on the corner of Nuxley Road and Woolwich Road in Upper Belvedere is now almost complete. The block of flats, on the site of the former Belvedere Police Station, is far larger and more imposing than many locals anticipated. As previously mentioned, the developers managed to get the original planning permission for the building amended so that an additional storey was added to the already large building. When I attended the original planning presentation for the proposed development, the staff assured visitors that the block of flats would be very similar in profile and dimensions to the Police Station. This has not proved to be the case in reality. What do you think? Email me at

On the 30th of June, The Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government and Luke Hall MP published the following announcement:- "The government has appointed independent reviewers to undertake assurance reviews into 8 councils, following decisions earlier this year to provide exceptional financial support to these authorities. The government has formally appointed the Chartered Institute of Public Finance and Accountancy (CIPFA) to undertake the financial element of these external assurance reviews. This follows a decision to provide exceptional financial support packages to 8 councils subject to an external review. These authorities are Bexley, Copeland, Eastbourne, Luton, Peterborough, Redcar & Cleveland, Slough and Wirral councils. The external assurance reviewers will provide a detailed assessment of each councils’ financial position and management, making recommendations where necessary of how each council can take action to improve". So, by the government's own admission, Bexley Council is now firmly sitting on the naughty step in respect of managing its finances. Will this mean changes at a senior level in Bexley Council leadership? I somehow doubt it, but hopefully time will tell.

One thing seems clear to me since The News Shopper closed its Petts Wood Office and made its reporters spend much of their time working from home; through no fault of their own, the accuracy of their stories has suffered to a greater or lesser extent. They have also eliminated the role of staff photographer – a pleasant chap I have bumped into at many events over the last few years. The News Shopper seems now to rely on (usually poor quality) photos taken by eye witnesses using camera phones, and to employing stock images. They also seem to have increased their usage of screen captures from Google Street View. I understand that this is all a means to reduce overheads – running a local paper nowadays is a really hard thing to do, with advertising rates static or decreasing, and the widespread use of browser ad blockers by visitors to their website. I can appreciate all of these decisions the newspaper has had to make in order to be competitive, and indeed to survive. What I cannot understand is the dislocation of reporters from the local area when it affects the quality and accuracy of reporting. As if this was not bad enough, not long ago The News Shopper put its website behind a paywall. A move that was in my mind stunningly naive and poorly thought out. As many will know, a few years ago, The Sun newspaper put its website behind a paywall, and its online readership immediately fell off a cliff, from which it struggled to recover. Under pressure from advertisers and angry readers, The Sun eventually was forced to remove the paywall and revert to a free website. If a best selling national tabloid newspaper cannot make a paywall work, how can a tiny local paper with a relatively small readership be expected to? Currently there is no journalist covering local council related events in the London Borough of Bexley. Darryl of the excellent 853 Blog, which covers news stories in Greenwich, Charlton and Lewisham has recently reported that The News Shopper lost the services of its BBC funded Local Democracy Reporter for Bexley, when it contract was not renewed. The News Shopper print edition has been getting progressively thinner over the last couple of years, and it has already stopped printing editions for the boroughs of Greenwich and Lewisham last year, as 853 has recently reported. On top of this, the local area has also lost The Kentish Times and The Bexley Times, leaving the borough with hardly any local news coverage. 

As previously mentioned, the weekly Police Safer Neighbourhoods ward reports have now been discontinued - much to the disappointment of many local residents. Having said that, there is still quite a bit of local crime prevention news from Bexley Borough Neighbourhood Watch Association, including this announcement:- "Bexley Borough Neighbourhood Watch Association (BBNWA) are pleased to announce that Committee Member Karen Nathan was formally appointed as Chair of Bexley Safer Neighbourhood Board (SNB) on Thursday 24th June 2021. We would like to wish Karen all the best in taking the SNB forward and are pleased that she will continue as a Neighbourhood Watch Committee Member". Ourwatch Scam Campaign - From Neighbourhood Watch Office - "Ourwatch is hosting a number of online webinars in July to coincide with our Scams campaign.  The webinars are FREE to attend and are open to anyone who would like to know more about scams, the psychology behind scams, prevention, and how a fraud case is investigated. The webinars bring together experts in their field relating to online fraud, a topic which we are all too familiar with and can affect anyone and everyone, as our lives are played out more digitally. The dates of the webinars and their topics are as follows: Exploring the psychology behind scams and how scammers are so effective at their crimes. Tuesday 6th July, 5 pm. Paul Maskell, Fraud & Cyber Crime Prevention Manager, Dedicated Card and Payment Crime Unit (DCPCU). Insights into how a fraud case is investigated and how not to be the next victim. Wednesday 14th July, 5 pm. Ben Hobbs, Detective Sergeant; and Catriona Still, Head of Fraud Prevention & Training, Dedicated Card and Payment Crime Unit (DCPCU). Scams awareness training from the Friends Against Scams initiative. Friday 23rd July 5 pm. The National Trading Standards Scams Team (NTSST). Don't get hooked by scammers! What you need to know about flubot and phishing scams. Friday 30th July 5 pm. Christopher Budd, Senior Global Threat Communications Manager, Avast. To book, all they need to do is go to and click on the webinar that they wish to attend, they can attend all of them if they wish and then complete the registration page".

The end video this week is by a London based transport historian who goes by the pseudonym of Jago Hazzard. This new video from him covers the history of The Woolwich Ferry, as I covered earlier in this update. Who says I don't plan these things? Do give the video a watch, and feel free to contact me at the usual address -

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