Sunday, April 21, 2024


The ULEZ camera in Manor Road, Erith was cut down for the third time at some point last Thursday evening. When I checked, not only had the pole been cut, but the ANPR camera had been physically removed. The cameras seem to have an average life expectancy of three to four weeks before a person or persons unknown take action to disable them. London's Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) has become a battleground, with a shadowy group called the Blade Runners emerging as its most vocal – and destructive – opponents. The ULEZ, introduced by Mayor Sadiq Khan, charges drivers of polluting vehicles a daily fee to enter central London. The Blade Runners, named after the science fiction film featuring replicants rebelling against humanity, see the ULEZ as an unfair burden on motorists, particularly those struggling financially. Their methods are far from subtle. Clad in black and often wielding power tools, the Blade Runners have been filmed sawing down camera poles and using blow torches to disable the ULEZ's Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR) technology.  They claim to have taken down hundreds of cameras, causing significant disruption to the enforcement of the scheme. The Blade Runners operate with a Robin Hood-like mystique, portraying themselves as defenders of the everyday driver against an overreaching government. They have garnered extensive public support, with some Londoners feeling the ULEZ unfairly targets those who can't afford to upgrade their vehicles. However, their actions have not been without consequences. The vandalism has caused safety hazards, with some incidents leading to traffic accidents.  Police have launched investigations and made arrests, while Transport for London (TfL) has reportedly hired security guards to protect the cameras in some areas. The Blade Runners' actions highlight the deep divisions surrounding the ULEZ. While some see it as a necessary step to clean London's air, others view it as an attack on their wallets and way of life. Whether the Blade Runners can truly cripple the ULEZ remains to be seen, but their fight has undoubtedly added a layer of drama to London's ongoing battle against air pollution. Additionally, some time ago I predicted that the expansion of the ULEZ to cover all of Greater London would give rise to a greater level of criminality, with more people trying to illegally evade the charge by using false or cloned vehicle registration plates. This has now come to pass. Criminals are copying legitimate plates, placing them on their own high-polluting vehicles to avoid ULEZ charges. This can lead to innocent drivers being wrongly fined, as reported in several cases, including one particular case. According to the London Evening Standard, A motorist has been handed a ULEZ fine despite their car being parked 200 miles away in Manchester when the supposed offence happened. Retired designer Arthur Bailey reported that his son was sent a fine even though his Ford Mondeo “had never been within a hundred miles of London”. It comes as other drivers complained about similar incidents, with one motorist being handed a fine despite donating his car to the Ukraine war effort. Mr Bailey said in an interview:- “My son received a penalty charge from them with the registration number and correct details of his vehicle. However the vehicle in the attached photograph, the ‘proof’ of the alleged crime, was clearly a completely different vehicle to his, possibly a Nissan SUV and certainly not the Ford Mondeo he owned which had never been within a hundred miles of London. This typifies how incompetent the ULEZ system is. You’d think they’d have better things to do than chase fines for the wrong vehicles.” Transport for London later established that Mr Bailey’s number plate had been cloned and used on another car, resulting in him being charged.  It has since waived the fine. What do you think? You can send your thoughts and comments to me at

Did you know that there is a connection between a former Plumstead based manufacturing company and the world famous actor and director Clint Eastwood? No? Then read on. Thanks to a long time reader and occasional contributor with a strong interest in local industrial history, who wishes to remain anonymous, and who supplied the following information some time ago, which I have now updated and revisited. Associated Motor Cycles Ltd were a large and successful manufacturing organisation which was based in Plumstead for many years. They owned three major motor bike brands, namely Matchless, AJS and (latterly) Norton, which were designed, manufactured and assembled in their large factory in Plumstead. The founder of the firm that was eventually to become Associated Motor Cycles Ltd was Henry Herbert Collier, an ex Woolwich Arsenal engineering supervisor, who started manufacturing bicycles under the Matchless name at his home in Herbert Road, Plumstead in 1878. Henry Collier had three sons; Henry Albert (known as Harry) and Charles Richard (Charlie) from his first marriage, and Herbert William (Bert) from his second. It was not long until petrol engines were added to the pedal cycles and, when the two eldest joined him in the business, it became H Collier and Sons. There was a most significant change for the company when production outgrew the converted stables that it occupied in Herbert Road at the end of 1912. Business had been good and a new factory was built in a much more suitable location away from the select housing near the common and within easy reach of the Woolwich Arsenal Railway Station. The factory building itself was in Burrage Grove at the junction with Maxey Road. Burrage Grove (the Eastern end of which is now renamed Walker Close) runs parallel to the main Plumstead Road. New offices with a showroom were built fronting Plumstead Road which thus backed onto the new factory premises. The move was made early in 1913 and it proved to be a wise one indeed for these same premises, progressively expanded over the years, were to serve as the home for motorcycle manufacture until the factory finally closed its doors in 1969. At the time of the move Henry was recorded as being the Managing Director while Harry was the Works Manager and Charlie the Manager of the Finishing Department (presumably the Assembly Shop) but it is clear that Harry was becoming the prime designer of the products. During the 1914-18 war, the Plumstead factory was occupied on munitions and aircraft parts, the latter to a degree of accuracy one would expect from a firm whose trade mark had, for so long, been two hands using a micrometer. H H Collier (Senior) died in 1926 and the company became Matchless Motor Cycles (Colliers) Ltd in 1928. In 1928 Matchless expanded their activities by relocating their manufacture of sidecars to a separate factory at Mast Pond Wharf near the Woolwich Ferry. This had once been part of the old Woolwich Dockyard where it had formerly been the prison building. It is believed that the sidecar manufacture was managed by George Alfred Walker, father of AJS and AMC designer Philip Walker. They also made a small number of the Matchless 'Hawk' bodies for the Austin Seven there. In early 1930s, the AJS concern passed into the control of the Matchless company, the models of the old Wolverhampton factory being henceforth produced at Plumstead Road. In 1938, following the acquisition of Sunbeam, the Matchless enterprise, together with its other concerns became Associated Motor Cycles Ltd and in subsequent years James (1952), Norton (1953), and Francis Barnett (1957) came into the AMC fold. Harry Collier, the elder of the brothers, died in 1944 and Bert (the youngest) had been killed in a road accident earlier in the war, leaving "Mr Charlie" as the last of the firm's founders, who was taken ill, whilst still working in the factory, in 1954 at the age of 70, and then taken to his office where he died. The foresight of the Collier family in planning this building was impressive. It was at one time a two storey structure and may have initially only been just a single floor, but by the 1940's it consisted of four floors with an extension on the roof as well. The base structure must have been planned with potential expansion in mind from its inception. In 1966 AMC went bankrupt and was taken over by Manganese Bronze Holdings (who already owned two-stroke engine manufacturer Villiers) and formed Norton-Villiers Ltd to oversee operations. This company then formed a sub-division called 'Norton Matchless Ltd' to market the remaining models. For a couple of years, work at the AMC factory was limited to the production of the few remaining Matchless models and the new Norton Commando, the engines and gearboxes for which were shipped down from Wolverhampton. Then, in late 1968 the Plumstead works at Burrage Grove, were presented with a Greater London Council compulsory purchase order for a major road widening scheme, finally closing in July 1969, with the land that it occupied given over to a housing development. If you were wondering where the connection with Clint Eastwood is in all of this local history, then I suggest that you read the article below - click in it for a larger and more legible image.

Months after being quizzed by a committee of cross-party MPs, the UK government is still failing to clarify ways to support the substitution of millions of smart meters that will become obsolete when 2G and 3G networks are switched off. The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) reviewed the roll out of smart meters, a project beset with multiple delays since its inception in 2012, and published a damning report in October. It asked serious questions about the ramifications of aging mobile networks being switched off with some smart meters losing functionality. Jeremy Pocklington, Permanent Secretary at the Department of Energy Security and Net Zero (DESNZ), last week responded to the PAC but did not offer any sort of timetable for replacing devices, as had been heavily recommended. Nor did the senior civil servant inform of any measures the government is taking to pressure smart meter suppliers to put greater importance on exchanging the approximately 3 million smart meters installed that are either already faulty or not working properly – even before the 2G and 3G network switch-off. Pocklington addressed the PAC recommendations to set out measures ensuring the newer installations are future-proofed. "The department continues to work on future-proofing the smart metering technology," he said in an article on technology news website The Register. A year ago, the National Audit Office said 57 percent of homes and businesses across Britain had smart meters installed – or 32.4 million out of a total available base of 57.1 million targets. It estimated that 9 percent were not working. In the PAC's October report on smart meters, it said: "A fifth more (an estimated seven million) will lose functionality when the 2G and 3G mobile communications networks are closed if they do not receive costly hardware upgrades (the cost of which will ultimately be borne by the bill payers)." Millions of smart meters contain a SIM card that connects to 2G and 3G wireless networks, and second-generation devices will be able to upgrade and connect to 4G with provision of a new SIM from 2025. When it launched in 2012, the government put the legal onus on energy suppliers to complete the roll out of smart meters by 2019. That deadline was pushed to the close of 2020, then 2024, and finally 2025. It is highly likely to overrun this latest deadline.  Comments to me at

Following my recent series of articles on the poor mechanical reliability of local bus services run by transport company Arriva, another bus related issue has come to my attention. A number of travellers are boarding buses and telling the driver that they have lost / run out of credit / damaged their Oyster card, and that they only need to go a couple of stops, and can they get on? A majority of bus drivers reluctantly agree to this, as they kind of people mostly doing this look like they would cause a great deal of trouble if the driver refused. Personally I have seen the same characters using the same excuse on consecutive days with the same bus drivers. It would also seem that Arriva do not appear to employ many bus inspectors, and the freeloaders seem to operate with impunity. This is merely one form of local fare evasion;  there is also a constant battle against fraud. While fare evasion is a concern, a more sophisticated type of Oyster card fraud exists, costing Transport for London (TfL) millions. One method involves tampering with concessionary fares. In 2018, a criminal ring was exposed for creating fake applications for child and Zip cards (discounted fares for 16 -18 year olds). These cards were then sold on social media, allowing ineligible users to ride for free or at a reduced cost. This elaborate scheme defrauded TfL of an estimated £2 million. Another tactic involves tampering with the Oyster card itself. Fraudsters might try to alter the card's data to reflect a higher balance or a different fare type. This is technically challenging and less common, but TfL says it remains vigilant. TfL takes a zero-tolerance approach to Oyster card fraud. They employ sophisticated systems to detect suspicious activity, including card usage patterns and illogical fare deductions. Additionally, inspectors with handheld readers can verify card validity during ticket checks, although, as previously mentioned, this option does not seem to be common locally. 

The old and long abandoned site of the former Tram Depot which was located between Stonewood Road and Walnut Tree Road in Erith, adjacent to Bexley College and opposite the Old Carnegie Library is to be redeveloped, following an announcement from Bexley Co - the commercial property development arm of Bexley Council. In a press release, Bexley Co say:- "The development comprises 65 quality new 1, 2 and 3 bedroom apartments and a ground floor commercial unit. The development also delivers improved public realm and pedestrian links between the station and town centre. Lucy Morris, an Associate, from Nexus Planning, said “This is the culmination of two years hard work, helping to steer this challenging brownfield site through planning and we are pleased our client, BexleyCo, has achieved another planning consent for a high quality development in a strategic location.” Graham Ward, Managing Director of BexleyCo , said “The team have worked hard to achieve BexleyCo’s fifth planning consent and the 65 new apartments will provide much needed housing for local residents as well as contribute wider benefits to Erith.” The London Borough of Bexley’s Cabinet Member for Growth, Cllr Cafer Munur said: “This new development will bring new homes to an area where we are working to bring further opportunities and growth for local people and businesses. I look forward to seeing work start on the site.” Walnut Tree Depot, Stonewood Road, Erith, DA8 1RA,  joins the already consented schemes at Old Farm Place (completed), West Street (under construction), the former Sidcup Library and Lesney Park, providing over 200 new homes for local residents". One point that some observers have noted is that the development will not contain any residences for affordable rent. It is also unclear how Erith residents will access Erith Station following the construction of the new tower block, as the plans include the re-purposing of the existing foot tunnel as a bicycle store. I do wonder if the provision of a bike store is a green "box ticking" exercise. I regularly use and also pass by Slade Green railway station, which has a large, dedicated bike store next to the platform entrance; I have yet to see a single bicycle parked in the store. 

In a move which I believe is unique to date in the history of micro pubs in the UK, the Dartford based micro pub The Long Dog (previously known as The Dartford Jug, as can be seen in the photo above - click on it to see a larger version) has had its' licence revoked. It has been reported on news website Kent Online that Police have investigated the establishment and have made allegations of serious breaches of licencing conditions. You can read the full story by clicking here.

The end video this week is a short aerial tour of the oldest church in the London Borough of Bexley - St. John The Baptist in West Street, Erith. Comments to me at

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