Sunday, September 21, 2014

Bexley gets tough.

Since around this time last year, the old Erith Trades and Social Club building, which had been closed and disused for ages has been demolished and a new structure is now taking shape. Property developer Moat is building a block of flats that have been partly funded by Boris Johnson as apartments that will be for affordable rent. There are going to be six one bedroomed apartments, twenty nine two bedroomed apartments and five three bedroomed apartments, making a total of forty new homes near the junction of James Watt Way, Erith High Street and Manor Road. The fact that the apartments are being built for affordable rent is to be lauded; most developers are after a quick buck, and knocking up shoddy flats to flog at the maximum profit often ends up being the case. It would appear that Moat are taking a more socially conscious approach on this development. My only concerns are more down to the physical location of the apartment block. It is packed into a relatively small parcel of land which has the KFC Drive Through on one side, and the Morrison’s petrol station on the other. Residents will be awoken by revving engines and the smell of petrol and diesel from 7am each morning, and then will have to endure the smell of frying chicken and chips and engine fumes from the drive through for the rest of the day. It is just as well that local residents rose up and managed to prevent the KFC from effectively becoming a 24/7 operation, as the franchise owners had wanted, otherwise the inhabitants of the new Moat block would have disturbance around the clock. It is often stated by economists that the state of prosperity in any urban area can be roughly estimated by the number of construction cranes on the skyline. By those measures, Erith could be said to be doing well – not only is the new Bexley College campus on the verge of officially opening, but new accommodation is going up on Erith Park, the aforementioned Moat development, the Slade Green “Ratio” housing development by Orbit Homes, and the much discussed future Erith Quarry development. Compared with some readers, I am a relative newcomer to the area; I moved into Erith in October 1996, so by some standards I am still pretty much a “new boy”. Nevertheless in my time living in the area I have seen it transform from a run – down post industrial backwater mainly inhabited by people who could not afford to move elsewhere into a dynamic, modern commuter town. I feel that Erith is on the verge of a major positive change; the opening of Bexley College, and the Cross Keys Centre, the expansion of the Erith Riverside Shopping Centre, with the rumoured opening of a second Mambocino restaurant which it is said will offer proper “sit down” hot meals in the evenings. All this points to Erith becoming “gentrified” in a similar way to what has occurred in parts of North East London such as the London Borough of Hackney, and specifically Dalston. Some might be alarmed by this, but personally I think it is a very good thing; Erith has traditionally been one of the very cheapest places to live within easy commute of Central London. Sooner or later the developers and money people were bound to pick up on this – in my opinion it is the reason why some of the development we have seen recently is for three bedroomed houses and apartments – for families with children, rather than smaller places aimed at first time buyers. This is going to be especially true for the Erith Quarry housing estate – the developers actively state that they are not building for first time buyers.  It shows that the local housing market is changing and maturing. I won’t go as far as to say that we will soon know that Erith has officially become posh – we would need a local Waitrose to open before anyone could make that statement with any degree of credibility! The town is however changing, and for my mind it is definitely for the better. What do you think? Either leave a comment below, or Email me directly at

As regular readers will be acutely aware, I am a great supporter of the Scores on the Doors food hygiene rating system, and I have been very critical of local food outlets with atrociously low scores. I have also in the past been critical of Bexley Council and their seemingly somewhat relaxed approach to enforcing the public food hygiene laws. Recently things have begun to noticeably improve, which I have also written about. There are definite signs that Bexley are stepping up their inspections, as you can read in the following press release which was sent to me by one of my best sources on Friday afternoon:- TOUGH MEASURES PAYING OFF Bexley's tough stance on food safety continues to raise hygiene standards in the borough.  On Wednesday (17 September) two applications went before Bromley Magistrates' Court to condemn a quantity of imported foods seized from two separate food businesses in Belvedere. The court imposed food condemnation orders in respect of- Tropical Foods, Pier Road, Erith for melon seeds and peanuts contaminated with excessive (up to four times legal limit) of aflatoxins, and smoked fish with more than 40 times the legal limits of benzo-pyrenes. Aglory Cash and Carry, Erith High Street, Erith for whole melon seeds, ground melon seeds and peanuts contaminated with excessive levels of aflatoxin. The levels detected were up to six times the legal limit.  Cllr Alex Sawyer, Cabinet Member for Community Safety and Leisure said; "Importing and selling dangerous products in Bexley is not something we will tolerate. The health and well-being of our residents is a priority for us and we want to make sure businesses like this, have dangerous goods destroyed." Last year ‘Which?’ highlighted the poor food hygiene performance of a significant number of Bexley’s food businesses. This was based on the proportion of food businesses deemed to be broadly non-compliant with food hygiene requirements. Since 1 April this year, the Council has put extra resources into food law enforcement and a new tougher approach has been adopted towards dealing with non-compliant food businesses. This has made it possible to inspect non-compliant businesses much more frequently than the minimum required by the Food Standards Agency. The increased level of inspection coupled with targeted training sessions and robust enforcement has led to the serving of 171 hygiene improvement notices on 93 separate food businesses. The impact of this new approach has been that the percentage of all Bexley food businesses (including restaurants, take-aways and shops selling food) achieving a Food Hygiene Rating Score of 3 (Broadly Compliant) is now better (74.5%) than the London average (73.4%). When looking at all food businesses, some are exempt or excluded from the FHRS scheme then Bexley (86.3%) still outperforms the London average (85.1%). Cllr Alex Sawyer added; "Bexley has always been proud of its tough stance on inspection - we will not compromise on the health of our residents. This, along with the additional enforcement measures, the comprehensive support and advice we offer businesses, and encouraging residents to vote with their feet, is making the businesses raise their standards.  "We will continue to focus our efforts on securing compliance in those businesses that have a score of less than three, as well as taking foods - that do not meet safety standards - off the shelves. But we still need residents to continue to play their part, by checking the scores of food establishments before ordering. "Over the next three months, with a grant from the Food Standards Agency we will be taking steps to encourage all compliant businesses to display their FHRS scores prominently at the entrance to the business. Help us to help you and ask to see their score." For more information visit Notes - Aflatoxins are a type of toxin found naturally in some foods that have been linked with cancer when eaten at high levels. Some spices, nuts, dried fruit and cereals, including cereal products like breakfast cereals, can contain high levels of aflatoxins. Aflatoxins are mycotoxins produced by two species of Aspergillus, a fungus which is especially found in areas with hot and humid climates. Since aflatoxins are known to be genotoxic and carcinogenic, exposure through food should be kept as low as possible. Several types of aflatoxins are produced in nature. Aflatoxin B1 is the most common in food and amongst the most potent genotoxic and carcinogenic aflatoxins. There are limits on the level of aflatoxins that can be in foods imported into the UK and the rest of the European Union (EU). Benzopyrene is a Poly Aromatic Hydrocarbon (PAH) compound. PAH’s are genotoxic carcinogens. These substances can contaminate foods during smoking processes and heating and drying processes that allow combustion products to come into direct contact with food. In addition, environmental pollution may cause contamination with PAH, in particular in fish and fishery products. It is good to see that the Council are starting to pull their collective fingers out in respect for health and hygiene inspections and enforcement in the local area; I hope we see a lot more of it in the near future. A crackdown is long overdue and most welcome in my opinion. Forcing food outlets to display their star rating stickers would also be a big step in the right direction. 

The photo above shows a rather unusual view of Erith High Street, which was taken from the first floor Presentation Suite in the Cross Keys Centre. The Post Office / HQ for WDS Signs to the right of the photograph is possibly the oldest structure in the town centre; I believe at one stage it was a stables and livery store dating back to the 18th century.

There is an issue which will shortly become a front page story, but at the moment very few people are aware of it; the Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) is requiring that all energy companies roll out smart power meters to all UK houses and small businesses between next year and 2020. The thinking is that the meters will have a remote display showing how much power the householder is using, and providing advice on how best to reduce their power consumption. All well and good you might think, but the whole project is riddled with problems. Firstly, the government is worried that by the time the five year project is completed, the smart meters will be out of date and obsolete. It is predicted that the smart meters would save the average consumer around two percent of their annual bill – that is £26, but the programme to roll out the meters will cost at least £10.6 billion – a cost that will be passed on to the customer. It is thought that the project will cost more to roll out that it will save. There is also the issue that each energy company would be issuing their own model of smart meter, and it is currently unclear if the different models are compatible with those of their competitors – if you were to change your energy supplier, you might well find that your meter stopped working, or charged the wrong amount per unit. There are also concerns about people on low incomes who currently have “pay as you go” meters; under the current legislation there is no mention of any provision of smart metering for prepaid meter customers, and it would seem that at the time of writing this sector of the energy consumer market has been overlooked. There are also security concerns in respect of the technical specifications of the smart meters, which use 3G mobile phone technology to communicate with their service providers. The issue is that the information transmitted by the meters about the amount of power used by the specific customer, the unit charge and the usage pattern is sent unencrypted, and someone keen on committing identity theft would have a relatively straightforward job of extracting valuable personal information from the meter system data stream. All in all, it does seem that the whole smart meter project has not been properly thought through – it would seem that someone at the top has thought “wouldn’t it be a good idea?” without consulting those who actually know about the pros and cons of the devices. Please feel free to leave a comment below, or Email me at

I took the photo above on Friday lunchtime in the blissful cool of the conditioning room in the Bexley Brewery, just off Manor Road in Erith. The brewery started operation last week, and the results of the first brew are now sitting in casks to condition before they are ready for delivery to customers all around the local area, probably in another week. I am told that the current output is close to being all sold out to pre - booked orders The second brew is due to finish fermenting and be transferred into casks and bottles in the next day or so. The Bexley Brewery has applied for an off - sales licence, and once this has been granted, customers will be able to buy ales directly from the brewery. You cannot get any fresher than that! Incidentally the Bexley Brewery bottled beers do not contain finings (a fish extract used to clear the particles of yeast suspended in the beer), so the beers are genuinely vegetarian / vegan, should you be so concerned. Currently there is a moratorium on details of the outlets that will be stocking Bexley Brewery ales, but I hope to be able to tell you by the next update.

Local resident Pam Cutterham dropped me a line earlier this week; she had the following recollections about living in Erith in the Early 1960's:- "Sorry I am a week late with this memory. Yes, I remember the waiting room, when I started work in London in May 1962, a week after my 15th birthday, ( we were grown up at that age then ) the Waiting Room was very clean with polished long wooden benches to sit on , and yes, it did have a coal fire which during the winter of 1962/63 was a very welcome sight when you had to wait at least 2 hours for a train to arrive. I remember the Station being very well run in those days , lots of staff , clean and tidy with a nice garden on the Down side , and a lovely man who as we all ran over the bridge to catch the train would hold up the red flag until we got on the train. Running down the steps one morning my high heeled shoe came off ,slid across the platform down onto the track, after waiting for the train to leave my nice man got a long pole with a hook on the end and got my shoe back for me, needless to say I was late for work that day. My husband (retired river person) has told me to tell you that it is a Causeway NOT a Jetty at Erith, we both remember the old PLA Hut which was wooden and built on stilts into the mud , we would often talk to the chap who worked there but neither of us can remember his name . The River Police used to have one of their launches tied to the Causeway which had to be moved with the tide all the time and the other launches behind the Police Station, so in an emergency there was always a launch available. I did meet my husband in the White Hart pub 49 years ago , it was a decent pub in those days with Nell and Alf and after them Nell and Jack as the Landlords, there was a Public Bar one side and a Lounge Bar the other side , upstairs there was a function room but I don't remember it being used very often. Nearly all the males that used the pub worked on the river or had a connection to it plus a few from the Police station. Apart from the Cinema and Diploma's Coffee Bar in Pier road which closed about 8pm the pubs were the only place to go for socialising. I did have orders from my big brother never to set foot in the Prince of Wales because he used to drink in there. In those days you could spend all evening , buy a round of drinks and still have change from 10 shillings ( 50p). Well, there are a few memories from the 60's in Erith when I was a teenager. Regards Pam Cutterham". Excellent stuff, and many thanks for sharing those memories Pam. I am sure my readers will appreciate the effort you put into putting your recollections into fascinating prose. 

There was much incredulity in the local press over the last week regarding the announcement that Southeastern had won the renewal of their train service to South East London and North Kent. Southeastern have been consistently under performing since they were selected as the train service provider for the region. This is despite them getting extremely bad feedback from customers when they were surveyed. In February, the News Shopper reported that when seven thousand regular Southeastern commuters were questioned, they gave a satisfaction level of just forty percent – the joint worst in the entire country. Later, in June a total of twenty seven thousand travellers were surveyed; the results were pretty conclusive. As if this was not bad enough, Southeastern also has the second highest number of train cancellations in the country. Figures released from the TSSA transport union show people in south London are the worst hit, with 22,443 trains cancelled in 2013/14 by Southeastern. They were only beaten into second place by Southern - who had a staggering 34,701 services cancelled over the same period. When asked about their satisfaction with the value for money of their Southeastern rail ticket forty five percent considered it to be “poor or unsatisfactory” – the highest level of dissatisfaction in the country. I foresee it only getting worse once the changes to the timetable to accommodate the building works at London Bridge Station take place. There will be fewer, but longer trains on the Dartford to London via Greenwich route; employing twelve carriage trains may somewhat compensate for the reduction in the number of services, but I predict an increase in train and track breakdowns. The longer trains will draw far more traction current, and will put a strain on the electricity supply, despite it being beefed up to cope. Longer trains will also mean an increase in strain on the rail switching points and the track in general – a worry when one considers the huge amount of engineering work also being carried out to create the Crossrail terminus at Abbey Wood. It all seems to be happening at the same time. One thing will be sure – the commuter will feel the brunt of the changes. I think these may be factors behind Southeastern being reselected as service provider – it may be a case of “better the devil you know”. I suspect that despite some fine words from Southeastern, service will continue to be below par, or just about good enough for people to not complain too often.

I need to bring to everyone’s notice a scam that is happening not only in Erith, but all over the country which will potentially affect you if you own or use a car. Someone very close to me was the victim of what in my mind is semi legalised extortion when they parked their car in a visitors car parking space in Chandler’s Drive, off West Street in Erith. They were visiting a resident and had full permission to park there. They arrived at around 11pm and left at just after 6am the next morning. Some weeks later they received a penalty charge notice demanding a fee of £100 for illegal parking. The “evidence” was a trio of photographs taken by a parking enforcement officer at 5.02am on the morning of the alleged offence. The fact that the parking space was privately owned and expressly designated for the use of legitimate visitors seems to have escaped the notice of the enforcement company. As the dispute is still unresolved, I don’t really want to go into the specifics of the individual case, but I thought that I would bring the matter to readers notice, as they may be affected in a similar way. If you are parking in or around West Street, do be careful. If you have had a similar experience, do let me know –

On Thursday the News Shopper published a story that both astonished and annoyed me. Residents of Grove Park have rejected a plan for Network Rail to install a new passenger footbridge and lift at the station; the paper reports that local residents are concerned that the new footbridge / lift structure will be unsightly, and it would overshadow their homes. The dispute over the positioning and specification of the proposed crossing has now gone on for so long that Network Rail have withdrawn the scheme as “we can no longer deliver it in the agreed time scale and agreed funding”. The lift / bridge upgrade work was to have been paid for by the Government’s “Access for All” scheme, which is designed to boost disabled access to railway stations, but things at Grove Park have dragged on for so long that the funding offer has been withdrawn. My first reaction to this was “chance would be a fine thing!” A campaign has been running to get a passenger lift at Erith station for some years, yet Network Rail do nothing to install a lift there – where it would be greatly appreciated and not talked down by NIMBY’s. It is ironic – had we known about the objections to the Grove Park lift, we could have said “since they don’t want it, can we have it?” what also concerns me is that since a Government scheme exists to improve access to stations, why has not Erith station been improved already? Once again it would seem that Erith residents are being treated as second class citizens. To my mind it is imperative that a lift be installed at Erith station – the number of residents in the town are steadily increasing, and the population is set to explode when the Erith Park and Erith Quarry housing estates are completed – and bearing in mind that the Erith Quarry site intends to attract second or third time buyers with children, it is highly likely that those buyers will need to commute to London to work. Besides this, I know of a number of disabled, wheelchair dependant travellers, as well as parents with children who use buggies who currently are unable to use Erith station to travel to London. This is simply wrong, and to my understanding it contravenes the Equality Act 2010.

I was one of the tens, if not hundreds of thousands of people who was unsuccessful when applying for tickets to see Kate Bush in her series of London concerts - aside from her artistic talents, Kate hails from East Wickham Farm in Welling. She now lives in Devon, but I understand her family still own the farm. Maggot Sandwich reader Em Burdin was luckier, and has written the following review:- Kate Bush - Before The Dawn. In March 2014, it was announced via her official website that Kate Bush was to play some live shows later in the year. For anyone who is a fan of Kate, this was a very big deal. She hasn't toured since 1979 and has been largely out of the public eye for many years. Our family tried for tickets, but we only managed to get the one. I was the lucky member being the biggest Kate Bush fan of us all and so the countdown began. Kate has always been something of an enigma. Hugely talented from a very young age, extremely intelligent with a fierce imagination and so unique. There was and never will be anyone like her. I guess that's why she's always interested me. She travels her own path, does her own thing and is very sure of and true to herself. Her music has mass appeal, it's so diverse. I revisited each of her albums in order prior to the gig, realising that Lionheart and The Red Shoes are still my firm favourites. I never get bored of anything she's produced, I can always hear something new however much I listen. The date was 13th September. The concert had finally arrived. I was so excited. I bought merchandise before the show started, a t-shirt, programme and pendant with lyrics from Cloudbusting. I wanted special mementos to remind me of this occasion for years to come. Then I took my seat. She opened with The Red Shoes album track, Lily - a powerful song with a driving beat. As the intro narration ended and the music started, she slowly descended onto the stage with the rest of the band and the crowd went wild! She was quite small in relation to the others, I noticed later because she was performing barefoot. She looked stunning, dressed from head to toe in black with her long dark locks cascading down her back, her voice was perfect, so rich and strong. Hounds of Love came after Lily, followed by Joanni, Top of the City, Running Up That Hill [A Deal With God] and King of the Mountain. After each song she would thank the audience so humbly. From the moment she appeared tears welled up in my eyes and I don't think they stopped for at least the first half hour. I was just so overwhelmed. This was such a unique event and I knew just how lucky I was to be there. Following King of the Mountain, the theatrics really began. Side two of the Hounds of Love album. Film was shown of Kate, bound in life jacket and floating in the water. She began by singing And Dream of Sheep. The remaining songs - Under Ice, Waking the Witch, Watching You Without Me, Jig of Life, Hello Earth, and The Morning Fog, were all acted out spectacularly. There were enormous silk sheet waves, cracking of ice and pulling Kate from beneath it, actors in fantastic costumes and fish head masks, a leaning living room set, the shooting of yellow confetti into the audience, I didn't manage to catch any, helicopter search lights and sounds. It was a fantastic concept and had the audience in awe. In the second half, they played A Sky of Honey, from Aerial. Kate's son, Bertie had been present in the first half, but he featured more prominently in this section. He had the part of The Painter and was given his own song, Tawny Moon. A wooden puppet played a big part in this bit. Kate also donned a massive bird's wing, and was making bird noises, before being lifted and flown through the air briefly for the climax. For the encore, Kate sang Among Angels alone at the piano. The band then returned and she closed the night with Cloudbusting. Everyone stood and sang along. I ran down to the front to get as close as I could to Kate for the finalĂ©. It was a magical moment. I don't think anything will ever top this night for me. It was truly the best experience ever and no one can ever come close to how amazing Kate Bush was on that stage. Thanks Em - you make me envious that I did not get a ticket. I suppose I will have to wait for the DVD / Blu-Ray release of the concert instead.

The ending video this week is a short amateur film made about Bexley College and how the old campus is being replaced by the new one in Stonewood Road, Erith. The film was made a few months ago, when construction of the new building was still under way. The film gives some valuable background into the venture, and deserves a viewing. See what you think.

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