Sunday, December 13, 2015

Erith Christmas Tree Festival 2015.

This weekend marked the 2015 Christ Church Erith Christmas Tree Festival and Winter Fair. The idea behind the Christmas Tree Festival is simple, but very clever. Local companies, organisations and individuals sponsor a tree - this costs £30 per tree if you decorate and personalise it yourself, or £35 if the organisers decorate it for you. The money raised is split between the church and local charity, the Greenwich and Bexley Community Hospice. Up to eighty trees are on display in the church, and it makes an amazing spectacle. Entry is free, though donations are always welcomed. Visitors come from a long way to see the festival. and for many locals it is a sign that Christmas is really on the way.

It sadly looks like gang - related violence has hit Erith again; both the News Shopper and the London Evening Standard are reporting that there was a shooting in the early hours of last Friday morning at a house in Crusoe Road, Erith, where a A 47-year-old man was found suffering from a gunshot wound to his arm and was taken to hospital by ambulance. Detectives from the Trident and Area Crime Command are investigating - which makes it sound like it could well have been a gang related incident. Violent crime throughout Greater London has been on the decline for the last couple of years, but this attack, along with the recent murder in Slade Green of former soldier Terry Wiggins who was stabbed to death in Lincoln Close on the 17th November, really are showing that serious violence and death is not far away after all. 

Sir Robin Wales, the Mayor of Newham has been getting a lot of press recently; he believes a crossing – either a bridge or a tunnel – at Gallions Reach should be built sooner rather than later. In a recent interview with The Wharf newspaper, he warned the crossing needed to become a reality as quickly as possible to tackle the predicted increase in traffic in the area and help create thousands of jobs. His call comes after Transport for London (TfL) started a public consultation on the potential usage of a new crossing between Beckton and Thamesmead. It forms part of the Mayor of London’s idea for thirteen new Thames crossings between Imperial Wharf and Dartford. TfL has said the earliest a new crossing at Gallions Reach would be completed would be 2025 and it is planned to introduce a toll on any new crossing to help towards covering the cost of building it. But Sir Robin is unimpressed at how long this could take. He said: “Finally the Mayor of London has listened to our calls that a crossing at Gallions Reach is much needed by our residents and businesses and vital to the regeneration of East London. We have been fighting for years for a river crossing for different modes of transport to help tackle congestion and open up the economic growth in this part of London. It is bitterly disappointing that we could have to wait another decade before any crossing is finished. It is infuriating that our residents and businesses will be penalised for years of under investment in east London by having to pay to use any new crossing when those in west London are not charged. We will be pushing for fair reductions and concessions for local people.” There is a degree of polarisation of opinion regarding the necessity of extra river crossings; Latest estimates have London’s population growing by 1.5 million in the next 15 years, with South East London already taking on vast new housing developments - Erith alone has Erith Park, Tower Hill, the proposed redevelopment of the former Riverside Swimming Baths site, and the large development on Erith Quarry. Proponents of the scheme believe more road links linking the north and south banks should be built sooner rather than later to accommodate the extra traffic this would bring. There is also a discrepancy between crossings in the West and East of London – there are twenty six Thames crossings between London Bridge and Kew Bridge to the west, while there are only eleven from Tower Bridge to Dartford Crossing in the East. I have mentioned the proposals to build either a bridge or a tunnel that would link Lower Belvedere with Rainham in Essex on several occasions before. Both options have plusses and minuses. There are a number of factors to consider if building a bridge at Belvedere:- 1) It would be close to major working wharves and would therefore require a high and long span, which could increase the cost to be similar to the cost of a tunnel at Belvedere. 2) Pedestrian / cycle facilities could be accommodated, although users would be exposed to poor weather. 3) Being further from the London City Airport, there is more flexibility on the type of structure that can be built than at Gallions Reach. Conversely a tunnel would have its own issues:- 2) It could be a similar cost to a bridge. 2) It would have little or no impact on shipping. 3) It potentially has less of an impact than a bridge on local properties and the future development of the area, particularly after construction. 4) It would be less susceptible to poor weather than a bridge. 5) A pedestrian and cycle tunnel could be considered less attractive to users than a bridge. You may recall that I discussed the positives and negatives of a new river crossing between Lower Belvedere and Rainham in Essex back in April of last year. The tunnel I proposed is purely my own thought, and is not intended to reflect on any of the other “official” transport solutions which are currently being proposed. My suggestion, provisionally entitled “The Arthur Pewty Memorial Tunnel” 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. This coincidentally is pretty much the same route that the the official crossing solutions (both tunnel and bridge) would take. 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 will be far lower than the levels now, and many of the cars may well be zero emission via either conventional batteries, Hydrogen fuel cells or possibly even LENR (Low Energy Nuclear Reaction) power, if one is somewhat on the optimistic side. This would not be the only new link needed across the Thames South of Tower Bridge; I suspect that the proposed Gallions Reach crossing will probably go ahead in some form or another, despite the traffic having to run through a housing estate and close by a large residential nursing home on the South side of the river. The Bexley Against Road Crossings campaign website do list some other alternatives, some of which are pretty clever and well thought out. Their only weakness is that they concentrate on using public transport to move people, but the act of moving large amounts of freight is not addressed. Whatever solution is eventually employed, the movement of bulk freight will have to also be taken into account. 

As many readers may already know, I don't send Christmas cards, for a number of reasons, mainly as I think them redundant now that the Western world is now online, and via social networking, Email, Twitter and a host of other services; people keep in contact all year round, not just via a once a year bit of printed card. Cards use a huge amount of natural resources, both in their production and transportation, and generally get shredded or dumped after the annual festivities. I think we really need to move on from them.  I know many regard me as a grumpy old curmudgeon when it comes to the Christmas festivities; and I suppose I am to an extent. I suppose having no children does mean that I don’t see the holiday from their perspective. For the most part it is a period for me to endure, rather than enjoy. I am not saying that the festival is a complete anathema, but it sometimes feels that way. One thing I really detest is the journey home from work on the couple of weeks before the Christmas break. One invariably encounters “amateur drinkers” who have been on a boozy Christmas lunch; not able to hold their drink (or to know when to stop before the effects impaired their actions) they generally make the lives of their fellow commuters insufferable, even if it is just by sitting close by and breathing alcohol fumes over their fellows; I have to say that when in the office, either in Canary Wharf or Watford, my habit is to start early and finish early. In doing this I avoid the worst excesses of those suffering from a Yuletide surfeit of Dizzyade. I feel sorry for fellow commuters that have to travel later in the evening – I have been there in years past, and it is not pretty!

Rumours have surfaced every so often about the future of Erith Morrison’s supermarket; last year a story did the rounds that the store was to be sold off to Aldi or Lidl, but when the claim was investigated, it came to nothing. I get the feeling that this story was prompted by the fate of Waitrose at Dartford, which closed with the loss of 120 jobs. It later became an Aldi outlet, and seems to be doing well now. On Monday the London Evening Standard published a worrying article in their City pages. They said that the “Big Four” (Tesco, Asda, Morrison’s and Sainsbury’s) supermarkets all continue to lose market share, with Morrison’s suffering the worst losses. A market analyst company called Exane BNP Paribas  has been looking into the situation, and has come to the conclusion that the solution for Morrison’s would be “better retailing and less space – this means that carve – ups and disposals / closures are more likely over time, and Morrison’s are the prime candidate”. The analyst thinks that with Aldi and Lidl eating into Morrison’s market share “something has to give”.  It thinks that a merger with Sainsbury’s would make some sense for Morrison’s, but thinks the supermarket chain is more likely to retreat from London and the South East, and return to its roots in the North of England. Last month Asda boss Andrew Clarke said that he expected some form of industry consolidation to cope with the rise of the German discounters, but Sainsbury’s boss Michael Coupe also said that he thought such an action as unlikely, as it would leave any resultant merged company with too many retail stores. Whatever the result, it does start to sound like the Morrison’s supermarket at Erith may be under some kind of threat – a real worry, bearing in mind I understand it employs around five hundred full and part time staff. The town needs a large sized supermarket, and indeed, the Erith Morrison’s store was one of the first the Bradford, West Yorkshire based company opened in the South, back in 1999. I recall being served by the then company Chairman, Sir Ken Morrison, on the day the Erith store opened. The supermarket definitely forms an integral part of the contemporary DNA of Erith, and any changes would have wide ranging implications. I really don’t want to set any hares running, especially on the basis of a single story in the Evening Standard, but it would seem that the supermarket sector is in real disarray at present; changes look like they are indeed happening, and Erith may not escape them. It is all early days, but I will be keeping tabs on this story in the months that come.

The junction of West Street, Walnut Tree Road and Erith High Street, shown in the embedded Google Street View above, has been the subject of much local controversy recently. Over the last couple of years there have been repeated collisions between road vehicles at the junction, and on the 10th November a motorcyclist was seriously injured when he was involved in a collision with a BMW car. The story was covered by the London Evening Standard here. It would seem that the double lines that designate give way at the end of West Street (to the centre left of the embedded image above) have become very worn, and drivers moving from West Street into Erith High Street are not giving way to traffic coming down the hill from Walnut Tree Road, and collisions are happening as a result. The News Shopper have reported the situation, which you can read here. In typical predictable News Shopper style, there is the obligatory photograph of the lady and her daughter posed with their arms folded - which is the News Shoppers' clumsy way of indicating the people are fed up. Not exactly likely to win the Pulitzer Prize I feel.  If you have an opinion on this issue, or have information not yet in the public domain, either leave a comment below, or email me at

I have frequently bemoaned social networks like Facebook, and how some people seem to publish all sorts of intimate and what one would have thought were private details about themselves. If that were not bad enough, the professional social networking site LinkedIn is now the target for organised cyber criminals. LinkedIn, which has over 400 million users globally, is a prime target for scammers looking to connect with professionals across a variety of industries, including information security and oil and gas. Scammers copy information from real LinkedIn profiles to pose as recruiters and attract new connections. Security analyst Symantec have been investigating the situation. They found that most of these fake accounts followed a specific pattern. They bill themselves as recruiters for fake firms or are supposedly self-employed and primarily use photos of women pulled from stock image sites or of real professionals. The primary goal of these fake LinkedIn accounts is to map out the networks of business professionals.  Using these fake LinkedIn accounts, scammers are able to establish a sense of credibility among professionals in order to initiate further connections. In addition to mapping connections, scammers can also scrape contact information from their connections, including personal and professional email addresses as well as phone numbers. Symantec said LinkedIn users should be very sceptical of who they add to their network.  “If you’ve never met the person before, don’t just add them. We weren’t surprised to learn that these fake LinkedIn accounts received endorsements from real users”. I would add to this by recommending that if you are a LinkedIn user, and you receive a request from someone that you don’t know, do a Google search on the person to see what you can find out about them – and if they actually exist at all. As always, be careful; once something is online about you, it is impossible to remove it. Publishing anything online is very much a one – way process.

Time Out magazine recently published a feature on London's micro - breweries, amongst which was Erith's own Bexley Brewery. They will next be open for personal visits to purchase beer directly from the source on Friday 18th December 11am-3pm, then Saturday 19th December 11am-2pm (Bar open 12pm-2pm). You can get more details from their website here.

That bastion of never letting the truth get in the way of a good story, The Sun newspaper has been publishing a very old story using a very new spin. They published a story on Tuesday morning, stating that Isis terrorists could target the wartime wreck of the SS Richard Montgomery, which is located in the River Medway. In the Sun's rather breathless style, they write:- "Crack amphibious specialists are ready to defend the SS Richard Montgomery – which experts say would flood vast swathes of the South East if its dangerous cargo was exploded by jihadists. The American World War Two ship – dubbed the Doomsday Boat – contains 1,400 tonnes of unexploded munitions and lies in shallow waters off the Kent coast. Ministers have revealed round-the-clock radar and video surveillance is watching the wreck to provide an early warning system against a devastating attack. Suspicious signs trigger alerts to the Coastguard and Kent Police, who have a specially-trained marine force. They can also call in support from the South East Counter Terrorism Unit if required. A New Scientist report in 2004 warned the ship would create one of the largest non-nuclear blasts ever seen if it exploded, causing more than £1 billion of damage. It would devastate the nearby port of Sheerness and engulf the Isle of Sheppey which is home to almost 40,000 people Experts say it would also create a “tsunami-like wave” which would sweep up the River Medway, flooding thousands more homes and ruining towns and villages. Towns like Gravesend, Canvey Island and Southend could also be badly affected. A security source said: “Terrorists could create a lot of damage for very little effort if they blew this thing up. It is no surprise the ship has been branded a ‘disaster waiting to happen." Quite. The vessel is still to this day loaded with around 1,400 tons of rather unstable high explosives. According to a BBC news report in 1970, it was determined that if the wreck of the SS Richard Montgomery exploded, it would throw a 1,000-foot (300 m) wide column of water and debris nearly 10,000 feet (3,000 m) in the air and generate a wave 16 feet (5 m) high. Almost every window in Sheerness would be broken and buildings would be damaged by the blast. Back in the days when I was working for Radio Caroline, we would often make tender runs from Strood on the River Medway, out into the Southern North Sea, and the South Falls Head, where the Radio Caroline ship, the Ross Revenge was then moored, outside British territorial waters, and thus outside of the law. These trips were invariably made at the dead of night, navigating by radar and from navigational buoy to navigational buoy using good old fashioned charts and a compass. On one occasion I was at the wheel of the thirty foot fishing cruiser we were using as a covert supply vessel; we had to time our trips precisely; at that time, the Olau ferry company operated a couple of very large passenger ferries out of Sheerness. The skipper of the Olau Britannia was a great friend to Caroline, and would often go out of his way to help us. One way he gave us practical help was by allowing us to exit the Medway Estuary in the huge vessels’ radar shadow, thus hiding our activities from the authorities. I was concentrating on staying in formation with the giant car ferry, when I suddenly noticed a series of warning buoys dead ahead – I was steering the vessel straight into the wreck of the SS Richard Montgomery! Needless to say, I came around hard to Starboard, to the consternation of the skipper and the rest of the crew, who were thrown around by my sudden course changes, and we narrowly avoided a collision. I reckon if we had have hit the wreck, we would probably have been the first fishing cruiser in orbit!

The end video this week is suitably festive; it shows a music video for the charity single "Christmas Spell" which has been released to raise money for the charity Crisis, which is the national charity for single homeless people. They are dedicated to ending homelessness by delivering life-changing services and campaigning for change. The track features Erith based bagpipe master, and occasional Maggot Sandwich guest writer Chic Mackie - look out for him near the end of the song. Chick will be writing a guest piece for publication in a future addition of the blog, so look out for it in due course. 

1 comment:

  1. The Morrisons at Erith makes very poor use of its location directly beside the Thames. A rebuild of the site with housing above a new store would provide flats with riverside views. Sticking the car park below the store or in a multi-storey car park would also open up more land for housing which would be profitable for Morrisons, who unlike many chains I believe own land outright and do not lease. And with, say, 500 flats above and around a new store, that's a hefty amount of additional custom.

    A new store could also accommodate cafes etc beside the river at the area of Wharfside close / James Watt way. Morrisons have to get with modern day thinking. Their Thamesmead store does the same - close to the river and beside a lake and with a large one level car park. The whole site ignores the assets beside it. Really poor '90s planning.

    Sainsbury's are doing such things at various stores. Same with other large retail groups.