Sunday, February 08, 2015

The old college comes down.

Bexley is Bonkers author Malcolm Knight is doing a first class job of documenting the construction works currently under way between Abbey Wood and Plumstead stations as preparations continue for the launch of Crossrail in 2018. The station will allow very fast rail access to large swathes of greater London and the outer boroughs that have until now been difficult to reach by public transport. It will also make travel into business areas such as Canary Wharf much speedier – the new Crossrail station at Canary Wharf is utterly huge – I work in an office building right next door, and have watched it go up over the last four years. When it opens, it will have six storeys of shops, a cinema, numerous restaurants, bars, a landscaped park and a roof gardens located over the rail tracks. The aim is to increase the working population to two hundred thousand people over the next fifteen years. Abbey Wood and Woolwich are cited as being two of the areas which will most benefit from the huge increase in cross – London travel capacity that will result from the huge capital project. The work being undertaken at Abbey Wood will be the largest addition to the local train network since the North Kent rail line originally opened back in 1849. As I have previously mentioned, the whole area between Woolwich and Erith / Slade Green is likely to experience a strong increase in house prices, as commuting times to both Central and West London will be cut considerably. It will be instructive to observe what actually happens; for example, Woolwich has been labelled as an “up and coming” area for over a decade, with nothing much actually happening. I think that when the Woolwich Crossrail station opens in 2018, things will finally get moving. When the realisation that Woolwich based commuters could be in Canary Wharf in eight minutes, the City in fourteen, Bond Street in twenty two minutes, and door to door at Heathrow in fifty minutes, I think new residents will flock into the town. I just hope that the whole of Woolwich benefits, and not just those fortunate enough to be able to afford  a place in the Royal Arsenal Riverside development, which to my mind is too isolated from the town proper – it is a high end gated development that to my mind is too introspective. Matters may improve if moves to migrate Woolwich Arsenal station from Travel Zone Four to Zone Three actually come to pass (the word is – “don’t hold your breath”). Whilst modern flats have been built over the giant Tesco superstore (which I understand is safe from the Tesco cutbacks I featured last week), most of the relatively affordable accommodation in Woolwich comes in the form of former council properties. It does beg the question, if former council / housing association housing stock is being sold off, where can people find somewhere to affordably rent? The usual answer is that people in that position end up moving further outwards and into the suburbs – into places like Abbey Wood and Thamesmead, where the Peabody Trust is investing £200 million to create what they call a new “garden suburb” that will include apartments along Thamesmead’s three miles of River Thames waterfront, and be connected to the new Crossrail terminus at Abbey Wood. As I have previously written, Erith is also in the middle of the largest boom in house building for at least a generation; we have Erith Park (a mix of social and commercial flats and houses on what used to be the old Larner Road estate), The Erith Quarry development (high end housing, a new Primary School and environmental landscaping), along with further housing on the site of the old Bexley College campus in Tower Road (more on this shortly). There are also housing developments in Slade Green – the upmarket Ratio housing scheme in Slade Green Road, along with the Howbury Centre rebuild project. The latest in this long and extensive list of newly built housing is one that many locals have been worried about, due to the potential implications to Erith Riverside Gardens. London and Quadrant housing association are holding a public exhibition on Wednesday the 11th February from 4pm until 7pm  in the new Bexley College building in Walnut Tree Road. L and Q propose building a total of seventy one homes for people on a range of incomes on the former site of Erith Riverside Baths, which has been empty since the old swimming pool building was demolished due to vandalism after the replacement pool was opened at Erith Leisure Centre.  The main concern that many locals have is that any development of the old Riverside Swimming Baths site has will involve building on part or possibly even all of the Riverside Gardens – an area that is sacrosanct to Erith residents, but not seemingly to some Bexley Councillors. It will be instructive to see what plans London and Quadrant have for the prime riverside location. I will be attending the exhibition at around 5.15pm – as soon as I can get to the college after work; fortunately though I work in Docklands for much of the time, I start very early, and can normally get away at or around 4pm.

Bexley Brewery are going from strength to strength; they are now wholesaling draught real ale to a large number of pubs and clubs, not just in the local area, but as far as outlets in Margate and Dover. You can see a map, along with a list of Bexley Beer retailers by clicking here. They have also diversified their range of quality real ales to include a Golden Ale and a Porter, as well as their existing Red House Bitter and BOB (Bexley's Own Beer - my own favourite). They are holding a publicity session and "meet the brewers" at the Penny Farthing micro pub in Crayford next Wednesday evening. I have yet to visit the Penny Farthing, and unfortunately have to be elsewhere on Wednesday evening (all will hopefully become clear in the update next week). I would strongly encourage you to pop along to the local micro pub if you can; not only are such independent hostelries the best way to sample quality real ale and cider, but with Bexley Brewery staff on hand to answer questions, it is bound to be an excellent evening. 

The News Shopper reported earlier this week that a rather unsavoury lady called Sandra Okoh was sentenced to five years in prison for running an Erith based employment agency “Blue Feathers Guarding” which employed security guards and paid them only around £3 per hour, often on 24 hour shifts, whilst still charging their clients the full going rate. The employees did not complain or seek employment with other agencies as many if not all of them were in the UK illegally, and liable for deportation if they were found out. Okoh and two of her fellow company directors (who were prosecuted and jailed last year, as I reported at the time) used this fact to treat their employees as virtual slaves. Employees could not complain, as doing so could see themselves prosecuted and subsequently deported. It is thought that Blue Feathers Guarding actually turned away legitimate applicants for guarding vacancies on the grounds that they were not able to exploit such workers as they could with the illegal migrants. This sorry situation was only discovered when staff at the Cross Street Law Centre were alerted by a former Blue Feathers employee who acted as a whistle blower on conditions of anonymity. The employment agency was subsequently raided by The Home Office’s South London Criminal Investigations team, supported by the Security Industry Authority, raided the company's Viridian Way offices in October 2012.  When they searched the premises they discovered a large quantity of forged identification documents relating to staff who they had illegally employed. The game was up, and the people behind the company were suitably punished. All this is well and good, but unfortunately the News Shopper then dropped the ball – they completely missed the bigger picture. The Cross Street Law Centre was forced to close due to cuts in their funding in March last year – a fact reported on by the News Shopper at the time. This means that future detection of illegal employment practices is considerably reduced now, as there is nowhere in the area that a whistle blower could turn to. Secondly it raises the issue of the number of people that found work, albeit illegally in the past, and what has subsequently happened to them? It strikes me that we have a vibrant underground economy that is passing under the radar of both the benefits agency and the immigration service. Whilst not the most desirable of situations, it occurs that in a pragmatic sense this is not always a bad thing. Local people living illegally still have to eat, heat their houses and travel – all of which means returning money to the local economy. From conversations I have had in the past from people well – placed to know, it is entirely possible that if all the people illegally working in the UK were able to be accurately identified and deported, that large parts of the British economy and infrastructure would crumble. It is an interesting theory, and not something I would wish to see tested in practice. What do you think? Comment below, or Email me directly at

I recently discovered that South East London and North Kent once suffered from a serious earthquake. On April the 12th 1884, and powerful earthquake shook an area from Woolwich to as far as Margate. Initially residents thought that one of the armament storage warehouses at Woolwich Royal Arsenal had exploded – as had happened back on Saturday the first of October 1864, when two massive gunpowder stores on the marshes in Lower Belvedere detonated – which was one of the largest non – nuclear explosions in British history. It was understandable therefore that almost twenty years later many who experienced the massive explosion would automatically assume that the earthquake was caused by another accident whilst handling explosives. You can read more about the Belvedere explosion by clicking hereThe earthquake was a different beast altogether; the epicentre of the quake was in South Essex, from there the shock waves spread out causing disturbance over an area somewhat in excess of 53,000 square miles. It measured 6.9 on the Richter scale and caused buildings to sway and develop structural cracks, chimneys to collapse, slates to cascade down roofs, and several fires were caused. In North Kent, well away from the epicentre, the effects were still profound. People were understandably terrified – the ground beneath their feet was moving, and great clouds of dust rose into the air. Some people were knocked over, whilst others were sick with fright. Some even wondered if the day of judgement had come, as the motion of the earthquake caused many church bells to ring spontaneously. Eventually the earthquake passed; fortunately there were few serious injuries and no reported deaths. To date the Kent earthquake of 1884 remains one of the most serious geological events to have taken place in England. Let’s hope we are not scheduled for another, as the potential damage both to life and infrastructure would be proportionally worse nowadays – there were few gas mains, almost no electricity cables and certainly no fibre – optic lines for an earthquake to destroy back in 1884 – the same most certainly could not be said of today.

I may use an Apple iMac as my main home computer, but I am most certainly no Apple fan boy – I don't have an iPhone (or any mobile phone whatsoever, for that matter), I don't have an iPad or other such portable device. I like Apple computers because they are very well made, ergonomic and mainly because Apple OS X is based on BSD Unix – a rock solid, industrial strength operating system that has been around since 1977. It predates Windows and Linux (love Linux, not so keen on Windows) and was a wise choice when Apple were looking for an alternative operating system after they realised that their own proprietary Mac OS9 was not cutting the mustard. Many of Apple co – founder Steve Jobs quotes on life the universe and technology are enshrined by Apple fan boys as some kind of gospel; personally I find much of what he said at public meetings to be crass and somewhat self – serving. One thing I most certainly do agree with him, is his stance on the multimedia web browser plug in Flash. Flash has been around for nearly twenty years and it has always been a vector of malicious computer attack, and also the cause of many crashes – back in 2010 Steve Jobs said “Symantec recently highlighted Flash for having one of the worst security records in 2009. We also know first-hand that Flash is the number one reason Macs crash. We have been working with Adobe to fix these problems, but they have persisted for several years now. We don’t want to reduce the reliability and security of our iPhones, iPods and iPads by adding Flash. To achieve long battery life when playing video, mobile devices must decode the video in hardware; decoding it in software uses too much power. Many of the chips used in modern mobile devices contain a decoder called H.264 – an industry standard that is used in every Blu-ray DVD player and has been adopted by Apple, Google (YouTube), Vimeo, Netflix and many other video streaming companies. Although Flash has recently added support for H.264, the video on almost all Flash websites currently requires an older generation decoder that is not implemented in mobile chips and must be run in software. The difference is striking: on an iPhone, for example, H.264 videos play for up to 10 hours, while videos decoded in software play for less than 5 hours before the battery is fully drained. When websites re-encode their videos using H.264, they can offer them without using Flash at all. They play perfectly in browsers like Apple’s Safari and Google’s Chrome without any plugins whatsoever, and look great on iPhones, iPods and iPads”. Since Jobs made this speech, Google have removed Flash use from YouTube and exclusively use the H.264 codec – which all modern web browsers support natively. Having said all that, Adobe (who now own the Flash brand and technology) persist in publishing new versions of the now outdated media player. Flash has serious security flaws which malicious attackers exploit to do nasty things to your computer, and however regularly Adobe issue patches and updates, the insecure design of the underlying architecture means that hackers soon find a loophole and Flash is once again compromised.  My advice to you is to Uninstall it and see how you get on across the web. If you really need it, go into your browser settings and make it click-to-play. That means Flash files aren't automatically opened on every page, reducing the risk of being owned by a dodgy advert or malware injected .swf file. In Google Chrome, go to Settings, click on the Advanced Settings link, click on Content Settings under Privacy, scroll down to Plugins, select "Click to play" and save. In Safari, open Preferences, go to the Security tab, click on Website settings alongside Internet Plugins, select Adobe Flash, and alongside "When visiting other websites", select "Ask" or "Block". You can whitelist certain sites in the box above. In Firefox, type “about:config” (minus the quotation marks) into the browser address bar and press “enter” and click on the "I'll be careful" button, and search for plugins. click_to_play. If it says "false" in the Value column, double click on it to change it to "true". Then restart Firefox. You now have true control over your web browser, and thus your computer.

The photos above were sent to me by a local photographer who chooses to remain anonymous. The shots show the demolition of the old Bexley College campus in Tower Road. I understand that the demolition has not been straightforward, and it is taking longer than was initially anticipated. The site will be ready for re - use for housing once fully cleared. More on this in a future update.

As regular readers will be already aware, I have been warning of the pernicious nature of bookmakers and their Fixed Odds Betting Terminals – often referred to as the “Crack Cocaine” of gambling, as it is possible for a gambler to lose up to £100 every twenty seconds. Betting shops are limited to five such terminals in each shop location; it is said that the main reason there has been an explosion in the number of betting shops on most high streets is that the betting shop chains open extra shops just so that they can get more Fixed Odds Betting Terminals out there – and until recently, cash strapped local authorities have accepted the extra bookmakers outlets, as they would rather get council tax payments from a working business, than leave an empty shop unit that earns no revenue. Things now do appear to be changing, however. The government recently raised the rate of duty on gaming machines, which has had the knock – on effect of making many bookmakers far less profitable, as the FOBT machines have historically been the most lucrative source of income from betting shops. Traditional gambling on sports events has lost a substantial amount of ground to the electronic machines. The number of betting shops is being slashed on many high streets; Ladbrokes, the second biggest gambling chain in the UK closed ninety of its 2,250 stores in the last year, including the one that used to be located in Erith High Street, which nowadays still stands empty. It expects to close more this year, as does its rival William Hill, which recently cut 420 jobs and closed 109 betting shops. Whilst the loss of jobs is to be regretted, the employment situation is not all bad; in many cases the old betting shop units are being converted into restaurants – this trend has been strongest in central London and the West End, but there are indicators that it may spread to other areas. If we really have weathered the recession, but the betting companies are now laying higher taxes and rates of duty, we may see a real retreat of them from the high street, and hopefully the return of healthier alternative businesses.

The Erith and Belvedere Football Club correspondent Brian Spurrell reports:- "Erith and Belvedere FC are among the last ten teams left standing in a national competition whose final takes place at Wembley!  Their FA Vase fifth round tie at Holbeach United was postponed yesterday, which means they’re still in the hat for the quarter-final draw to be made by the FA tomorrow lunchtime.  The Deres’ Barnehurst neighbours Phoenix Sports were soundly beaten 4-1 at North Shields, so E&B are the south-east’s last presence in the competition. The Deres, currently 2nd in the Southern Counties East league, travelled to Holbeach (8 miles east of Spalding in Lincolnshire) on Friday, staying in a hotel to prepare for the tie.  Many of their supporters were en route to the game when news broke that it had been postponed owing to a partially frozen pitch.  So they’ll try again next Saturday. Holbeach United are 3rd in the United Counties League, and the other postponed tie was between Glossop North End (2nd, North West Counties) and Dunston UTS  from Gateshead (3rd, Northern League).  The six teams already through to the quarter-finals are:
Ascot United (5th, Hellenic League)
Highworth Town near Swindon (8th, Hellenic League)
North Shields (2nd, Northern League)
St Austell (3rd, South West Peninsula)
Shaw Lane Aquaforce from Barnsley (4th, Northern Counties East)
Tadcaster Albion (1st, Northern Counties East)
So tomorrow could either bring us a massive home game or a very long away trip!  The FA website will have the news tomorrow afternoon.  Meanwhile the Deres face Canterbury City in a league game at home (Park View Road, Welling) on Tuesday night".

The news that Ocado are building a large distribution centre just off Bronze Age Way is very encouraging news indeed. Three thousand brand new jobs for an area with a higher than average level of unemployment is excellent news. The location of the new warehouse complex makes good sense – there is plenty of unused land in the area, it is relatively cheap, especially when one considers its relatively close proximity to central London, along with excellent road links to the A2, M20, M25 and the South Circular. Coincidentally Ocado have just published their first quarter showing profits, so hopefully business is picking up for the online retailer. Construction of the new distribution centre is due to begin later this year, and should be fully operational early in 2017. There has been no word yet as to when the company will start recruiting for roles in the local area. Ocado will be joining Tesco, Asda and Lidl, all of whom already have warehouses and distribution centres in the local area – underlining the combination of relatively cheap real estate and excellent communications that the area between Erith and Lower Belvedere offers to the retail and service industries.

I was perhaps a little premature when I announced the formation of a new ten officer Police squad to patrol Thamesmead after the recent spate of drug and gang related violence, there has been yet another shooting last week. Police were called to Erebus Drive in West Thamesmead after gun shots were reported at around 4.30am on the 1st February. This is one of the upmarket areas of Thamesmead, which is adjacent to the Woolwich Royal Arsenal Development, and not where one would normally expect gang related shootings. A chap called Clive Massi was found with a number of people in a couple of cars – he was suffering from one or more gunshot wounds. Ambulance staff tried to stabilise him and got him to hospital, but he succumbed to his injuries two hours later. The usual talk – backers on the News Shopper website have made assumptions as to what had happened – and I must admit that the circumstances reported make the situation look like it had some kind of gang involvement, but until the Police complete their investigations nobody will know for sure. Whatever the specifics of the event, locals will understandably continue to not feel safe walking the streets.  I am unsure if the new Police team have actually started work yet, but it would seem that they are desperately needed in an area which is getting an unenviable reputation for lawlessness. Until September 2011, I used to spend a great deal of time in the area in and around Erebus Drive. My late Dad’s nursing home was (and is) in Pier Way, which leads in Erebus Drive, and the river frontage with some very nice (and expensive) riverside apartment buildings. Not quite as fancy an address as the Woolwich Royal Arsenal next door, but desirable nonetheless. Whether the residents will feel the need to club together to hire private security to patrol their estate, as already happens in the Arsenal is debatable.

The end video this week is something that you may not have seen before. It features a singer / songwriter who really ought to be a lot better known. He is a blues / rock guitarist of amazing virtuosity call Joe Bonamassa. The music press have dubbed him "the new Eric Clapton" - though personally I think he sounds a little more like David Gilmour. The video shows him playing at the Royal Albert Hall. He's well known to musos and listeners to the DAB radio station Planet Rock, but thus far has not broken through to the mainstream. Incidentally, the somewhat dilapidated Fender Stratocaster that Bonamassa is playing in the video was lent to him by the family of the late Irish blues master Rory Gallagher, who was a large influence on the playing style of Joe Bonamassa. The track "Sloe Gin" is a Bonamassa trademark - listen to the blistering solo at the end. The guy is a master craftsman of the guitar. Comments below, or Email me at

No comments:

Post a Comment