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Bonkers Blog March 2016

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31 March (Part 2) - Bexley’s Council Tax. Nothing to be proud of

The Council Tax League Table has been updated a little earlier than usual this year, a number of Councils are rather slow to update their websites and keep the past year’s figures on line until well into April. Because of that the 2016/17 figures from a few boroughs are taken from estate agents’ websites and will have to be checked eventually.

The nine worst performing councils are the same this year as they were last and headed once again by Bexley. The Conservative Council may claim to be a low taxing authority but it is a myth, albeit one that serves them well at elections.

Higher up the list there have been some changes because whilst most councils have gone for the 3·99% maximum permitted increase a few have managed to freeze or even reduce the rate.

Newham has pulled a fast one by raising its tax by the amount of the reduction in the GLA precept and claiming they have frozen the tax rate for a record number of years.

Bromley has dropped a position, so has Greenwich.

 

31 March (Part 1) - They’ve got a lot of Bottle

The Old Leather Bottle pub on Heron Hill in Belvedere was the site of some serious excavation six months ago. To my untrained eye the houses above it looked precarious to say the least. There was nothing about it on Bexley Council’s planning portal and that appears to remain the case. A search on ‘Leather Bottle’ produces nothing newer than 2008 and ‘Heron Hill’ has only one entry since 2012 - and it’s nothing to do with the pub.

I took a look two weeks ago to see how things were progressing and found that so little had changed that I didn’t even bother to take a picture, then yesterday I was urged to get down there ASAP. I did.

As in October the production of a camera created instant interest from the people on site, all very polite and civilised I should add, but they wanted to know why I was taking pictures and was I from the council.

I told the gentleman with the bushy beard and turban that I was simply taking pictures of changes to the local scene and that I wasn’t from the council, adding “far from it, I hate the bastards”. All true and he seemed to be reassured. Our conversation then drifted off in the direction of river crossings and the need for more housing.

He said that Bexley Council had taken a look at the site yesterday and were happy with what was going on and I could check with them if I liked. What was rather strange is that the Sikh gentleman claimed to have no idea what was going to be built there, both houses and offices were mentioned as possibilities. "We will build whatever Bexley Council wants us to."

I suppose there is some truth in that comment, they will build anything that makes a quick buck and there is nothing illegal about that, it just seems to be very much cart before the horse and is bound to raise the suspicions of local residents.

So long as the ground being worked on is theirs and the grubbed up trees were not protected they are probably in law guilty only of digging up their own garden with an unusually large tool kit, however some reports say that work has strayed outside the old pub garden boundary.

There were three vehicles from a specialist sheet piling contractor there this morning.

The old pub building is already occupied and the established footpath through the site appears to have been preserved.
Leather Bottle Leather Bottle Leather Bottle Leather Bottle
Leather Bottle
Reader's pictures taken Tuesday 29th March.
Leather Bottle Leather Bottle Leather Bottle Leather Bottle

 

30 March (Part 2) - Cobbles in Bexleyheath and cobblers in Erith

BroadwayA tip off said that Labour’s Mayoral Candidate Sadiq Khan would be in the Broadway at four this afternoon. I’d not been there since the beginning of the month and it was time I took another look at the Broadway works, two birds with one stone. They appear to be complete for a while at least, another proper pedestrian crossing has been exchanged for one of the take your life in your hands and hope for the best variety.

BroadwayIt was said that Mr. Khan’s visit would not be pre-announced to thwart the efforts of those Tory loons wearing Jeremy Corbyn masks. Does anyone change their vote based on such childish behaviour?

However I think Labour’s candidate found an even better way of thwarting Tory Twits. He didn’t show up, not between 15:45 and 16:20 anyway.

ErithI wondered whether I should have gone to Erith instead to look at the new street market but discovered later that Zac Goldsmith was there looking for support but he too was surrounded by unsavoury people at least one of which was in disguise.

All of the people Zac Goldsmith is addressing are local Conservative Party members. What is the point of that? Maybe he is far too posh for Erith folk. Safer Streets? Turn the lights back on then and don’t remove pedestrian crossings.

 

30 March (Part 1) - £120 million? That’ll do nicely

Exactly a week ago I heard Bexley’s Deputy Director of Regeneration tell UKIP Councillor Chris Beazley that his idea for Bexley to solve all its financial woes in one go was a complete non-starter. He suggested, and not for the first time, that the Council should sell the Broadway Shopping Centre.

So what is all this about then? Maybe Bexley should have gone more decisively towards UKIP in 2014.
£120 million
Click image for source website.

 

29 March - The contents and the discontents

Bexley’s Conservative Councillors can be divided in several ways. There are those who will give a friendly nod of acknowledgment when passing by and those who will pretend I don't exist and have never said a word.

There are those who will engage in businesslike or even friendly conversation and those who will let a door swing in your face.

There are those who conduct their business in the Council Chamber in a civilised manner and those whose instinct is to fling insults at opposition members and occasionally members of the public too. But it doesn’t really matter by which criterion they are judged, the names that fall on either side of the divide remain much the same.

Another measure of possible discontent is the amount of gossip that comes in anonymously. I am loathe to use it as I like to be sure sources are reliable but it would appear that for a long time another division is those that are in the Teresa O’Neill camp and protected by her and those who are not. Probably those names divide in much the same way as all the others.

The Cabinet has all the power and an additional allowance of £13,197 but since the Leader’s 2014 attempt to overload Scrutiny Committees in the expectation it might reduce their ability to scrutinise, it has been the Scrutiny Chairmen (an extra £8,802) who carry the biggest workload. At least that is what the grapevine would have me believe.

The General Purposes Committee which recently rubber stamped the Old Farm Park decision has come in for some flak as a load of ambitious sycophants anxious to do what the Leader tells them in the hope of patronage coming their way.

However far better than anonymous griping which one doesn’t know whether to believe or not is when someone summons up a bit more courage. What can be more anonymous than a brown envelope posted in some far off corner of the country?
Secret
Perhaps the discontent and the divisions are growing.

 

28 March - Another look at Lesnes Abbey

Lesnes Abbey park continues to take some sort of shape. The main gates have made no progress in two weeks, left in very much a half baked state for all that time but a pedestrian ‘roundabout’ has appeared where five paths meet. Rumour has it that it will feature a mosaique.

Hidden in the woods next to the fossil bed is a wooden carving of some prehistoric beast and rather easier to find, the Monk’s Garden is looking good.

I still feel the path construction is somewhat slip-shod and I was relieved to hear another walker say the same thing this week. It is anyone’s guess whether they are going to bed down with the passage of many feet or be kicked up. It’s not very encouraging to already be seeing the imprints of dog’s paws in the surface and weeds sprouting here and there.
Lesnes Lesnes Lesnes Lesnes
Lesnes Lesnes Lesnes Lesnes
Lesnes Lesnes Lesnes Lesnes
CrossrailMeanwhile, at Abbey Wood station, Storm Katie has put paid to the expectation that the London bound North Kent line would be roofed over by now and the expensively hired crane lies idle. Maybe the gale will abate by ten o’clock when the hire period expires.

Those planning to travel tomorrow may be relieved to hear that the new Dartford bound track is in place, tamped, welded and ground smooth. The power cables are hooked up and the new signal is working. It has been a sometimes noisy four days for those of us who live close by and a sometimes wet one for those in orange on the track, but Crossrail is proving to be a boost for Abbey Wood like none ever seen before.

Abbey Wood will be on the tube map and announced at stations to Heathrow and beyond every five minutes. It has to be a good thing.

Note: Crossrail’s crane resumed operation during a horrendous rain storm (but reduced wind speed) at 17:30. Fortunately I was passing by at the time with the camera in the boot of the car.

 

27 March - 54 weeks in the planning

Four days of no trains through Abbey Wood and there has been a massive amount of work going on. Frequently three engineering trains could be seen nose to tail between Abbey Wood and Belvedere and those more energetic than I am said there were at least two more stretching out towards Erith.

The long weekend has been divided into two, first nearly a mile of track to the east of Abbey Wood was ripped up on Good Friday - I missed most of it - and the following 48 hours has been spent removing the old ballast and replacing it to a depth of 600mm before track laying.

The capacity of trains removing and delivering materials must have been carefully calculated because with possibly five in a line, requiring more sand when the train behind is loaded with 3,000 tonnes of ballast and the one behind that with track would be somewhat disastrous.

When each train had done its job they were taken to Battersea Park sidings where it could be reversed and taken back to the recycling facilities at Hoo junction.

The final track laying was highly mechanised with a purpose built train.

The diesel engine spotters have had a good couple of days.
Di3sel engine
Crossrail CrossrailThe constant passage of trains through Abbey Wood prevented the other major operation starting until this morning. The installation of the station support beams at Abbey Wood. 17 lorry loads of massive concrete beams were dropped into position as precisely as if they were Lego bricks.

I have often cursed the filthy Perspex windows on the Harrow Manorway flyover. Nothing can overcome the flare caused by what is in effect a cheap lens filter when shooting into the light but I have learned how to prevent the reflections affecting the pictures. Now I am going to miss it. Soon there will not be a view at all except of the new station floor.

If peering at the detail of one of the pictures is not misleading me, the unfortunate exit from the station footbridge on to the new Platform 1 has been improved.

The pictures of the track work east of Abbey Wood station may be augmented as the day goes on but they show most of the recent events, night and day, and the month long build up to it. The photos that will make up the next installment of ‘Developments around Abbey Wood station’ are also incomplete but there is nothing to stop anyone taking a sneak preview now.

The 'technical' information above comes from various members of Network Rail staff. Each line closure begins planning 54 weeks in advance.

 

26 March - South Thamesmead Regeneration

The brief reference on Thursday to my attendance at a Peabody presentation provoked some correspondence which I wasn't really equipped to answer. Housing Associations are not something I regard as being within the remit of Bexley Council is Bonkers, to give the website its full title. As such I know not a lot more than any other resident who lives south of the railway line.

CrossrailToday, in between looking at Network Rail ripping up a mile of track East of Abbey Wood station, I have been doing a little bit of research into Peabody’s plans for the area that stretches from Southmere Lake down to that railway line. I have also listened carefully to the recording I made of Ken Baikie’s presentation on behalf of Peabody. Whilst it was made with the permission of the meeting chairman, it was not made for the purpose of blogging, so what follows comes from various sources and information from Thursday’s presentation is only what is probably widely known already.

Binsey Walk is now empty apart from one tenant and two leaseholders so it will soon be demolished. Residents are currently beginning to be moved out of Coralline Walk too.

Southmere Village - by the lake - will have about 500 new homes and some shops, with Binsey and Coralline Walk it adds up to about 1,500 homes with around 45% being classed as ‘affordable’. Planning permissions are not yet all granted - or even applied for - so building is about a year away.

About 170 homes will be built on the old Gallions HQ site between Sainsbury’s and Thistlebrook. It is unclear whether or not that is included within the 1,500.

Thamesmead SouthThere are 19 tower blocks with nearly 2,600 homes to be given attention either by refurbishment next year (13) or demolition (six). The 13 have been almost untouched for nearly 50 years and still have their original single glazed windows and inadequate insulation. Average fuel bills approach £2,000 per annum. Displaced residents will be given the opportunity to move to one of the new homes.

Problems may arise where occupants have exercised the right to buy properties which can no longer easily be sold due to current mortgage restrictions on concrete homes. Owners will be offered market value plus 10% and moving expenses which may sound generous but will be a psychological shock to those have a small mortgage or are mortgage free and suddenly find themselves with a large debt again or only partly own their new home. Elsewhere in Bexley and London generally, affordable homes have been a misnomer.

However an accountant might look at things differently. The concrete flats will be worth relatively little whilst a new home should appreciate rapidly especially once the Crossrail effect kicks in completely. Owning half of a valuable asset instead of 100% of a virtually unsalable one may be a good deal but I doubt it feels like that to everybody. A home is still one’s personal castle, not to be given up easily. Change is never easy.

Discussions and meetings are still going on to hopefully placate the inevitably worried. I would be too. Peabody, like Crossrail, has the law on its side and whilst their presentation looked impressive to an outsider such as me, just like Bexley Council, they can do what they like.

Note: there are a lot of different figures available on the web about the number of homes to be demolished and the number to built. As most schemes have not yet gone before the Planning Committee the numbers cannot yet be absolute. For the avoidance of doubt, all the numbers given above came from the Director of Thamesmead Regeneration three days ago.

 

25 March - The Code of Conduct Committee. All over in nine minutes

I don’t think I have been to one of Bexley Council’s Code of Conduct Committee meetings before but I was a bit concerned that I had to report the last one courtesy of several third parties and their information inevitably didn’t line up in every last detail. An audio recording is so much more reliable.

Also the appointment of a new Independent Person was due to be discussed and how the present one remains in post a year after the appointment expired is a bit of a mystery, and best of all, I estimated that the meeting couldn’t possibly go on for more than 20 minutes.

Although the Committee consists of only six Councillors assisted by three Council Officers the meeting was held in the main Council Chamber complete with microphones, an active hearing loop and ample well placed seating. Possibly this was a reaction to the failure to anticipate a public presence the last time around.
Committee
Ironically, given the nature of the meeting, two of the four on the top table are currently being considered by CPS Counsel for a Misconduct in a Public Office charge. On the other hand, this is Bexley so maybe not that big a surprise.

The Independent Person is required by the Localism Act to be consulted when complaints are made against Councillors. In 2013 Bexley went through a recruitment exercise in which they rejected anybody who knew anything about Bexley Council and chose an unknown young woman. That she might come from a family with strong links to the Conservative Party has been denied. The proposal now is that “at least one and if not two additional persons” be appointed to provide some flexibility, probably not a bad idea.

A recruitment campaign will commence “within the next few months”. A panel will be established to supervise “the recommendations of this Committee”.

Councillor Borella asked if the current Independent Person’s extension of office was advertised in case someone else wanted to apply for the position. The Legal Officer, Mr. Alabi, said there was no need to advertise an extension of a post but there is for new appointments.

Councillor Nigel Betts said the current Independent Person was willing to continue until May 2017, “are we looking to appoint somebody before May 2016?”

“Yes, we will be looking to recruit before the current term runs out” said the Head of Legal.

The Chairman asked if “everyone was happy to accept those recommendation as set out” and everyone was.

The Legal Team Manager, Lynn Tyler, said that complaints against Councillors in 2014 had all been judged to be “Not in Breach of the Code”. There was only one complaint in 2015 and it is not yet resolved due to “quasi-judicial” matters. There have been two complaints in 2016, both of which related to an incident at a Planning Committee meeting on 3rd March. Two members of the Council are involved.

The meeting was concluded after nine minutes and nineteen seconds, more than two minutes of which was taken up with the usual preliminaries, agreeing minutes etc.

 

24 March (Part 2) - Harrow Manorway to get cycle tracks and bus lanes - probably

I wasn’t able to get to Peabody Housing’s last exhibition come consultation session on what they were planning for South Thamesmead, the date clashed with something long forgotten so last night when another opportunity to hear about their plans cropped up I decided to sacrifice the Bexley Council’s Transport Users’ Committee meeting instead. Don’t worry if you think you may have missed the Peabody presentation, it was a special arrangement for a small local group of which I am a guest member.

I didn't catch the Peabody man's name except that it was Ken, I suspect he was Ken Baikie their Director of Thamesmead Strategy and very impressive his slide show and talk was too.

However the bit I wanted to bring to your attention was the plan for Harrow Manorway, maybe you know about it but it was new to me.

It has been recognised that once the Crossrail station opens at the end of next year, Harrow Manorway will be totally inadequate for the projected traffic, it sometimes isn’t adequate now.

From the new Sainsbury’s through to the A2016 Eastern Way the Manorway will be widened to four lanes. Well more than that really, a footpath, a dedicated cycle track, a bus lane and a proper road going each way, separated by a central reservation which on the drawing at least will be tree lined.

The section right outside Sainbury’s will be a pinch point so negotiations are in hand to hopefully acquire some of the land associated with the petrol station and the industrial units.

The flyover itself is also a pinch point if footways and cycle lanes are required. It was built 41 years ago to accommodate four carriageways only, albeit of reasonably generous proportions. No answers were forthcoming on how it might be improved.
Harrow Manorway
It was said that Transport for London recognise that Abbey Wood station is effectively inaccessible to those who live north of Eastern Way because the bus routes from Thamesmead Central all meander east and west and none take the direct route.

No decisions have been taken but this is likely to be put right and some routes diverted to the station. This prompted the question of where would they go from there. There is no easy route onward to Bexleyheath which is a longstanding problem for Abbey Wood residents. The speculation was that diverted buses might go round the Knee Hill roundabout and back the way they came.

To the right of the bus in the picture above is Coralline Walk which has acquired an unfortunate reputation, burglary, drug taking and prostitution all got a mention last night, and it is scheduled for demolition - but not just yet.

In the meantime a substantial fence is being erected around it. This has provoked the rumour that demolition is imminent but Peabody is anxious to make it clear that the fence is for security purposes only.
Fence
The Peabody housing charity seems to be unafraid to spend money on improving their tenants’ lot; on the other hand Twitter users often suggest the opposite. But even Wolvercote Road, untouched for nearly 50 years is on the programme for improvement.

 

24 March (Part 1) - Old Farm Park. The Ides of March re-enacted

On 15th March Councillor Rob Leitch spoke for eight minutes on the disposal of four Bexley parks and Councillor June Slaughter kept up the pressure for very nearly 20 minutes, but no one could beat Councillor Francis’s 61 minutes of questions and answers. Nevertheless, he came back for more.

He said the disposal was perhaps the most important decision he had to make during his twelve years on the Council. He referred to the legal training he had been given as a member of the General Purposes Committee and the definition of an unresolved objection. He believed that the objection relating to the covenant and planning conditions on Wilde Road were unresolved and “therefore I cannot come to a conclusion on that matter”.

In West Street the “officers have told us tonight that again they can’t confirm the position if that land did form part the [previously quoted] planning agreement, therefore I believe that planning objection is unresolved”.

At Old Farm “the issue relating to the Gaelic Football Ground and the planning application there, if you refer to page 158 of the main document, that relates to our objections in 2004, and tonight we have been unable to get clarification on whether the planning designation of the Gaelic Football Ground is the same as Old Farm Park and therefore we are not able to confirm we are going down a contradictory road and therefore I do not believe the objection has been resolved”.

“Given the fact they are unresolved I do believe an Inquiry is required on those issues however I am happy to move that we defer for officers to come back on the planning issues and those objections which I don’t believe have been resolved. However I will say that if that vote is lost I shall be voting against because I believe a Public Inquiry is needed because those grounds have not been resolved this evening.” Loud applause from the public gallery.

The Human Resources Manager, Nick Hollier, said the Committee need only consider those objections and whether a Public Inquiry was required depends on the Committee believing it can “reasonably and practically deal with the issues that have been raised and the criteria around what is an exceptional case relates to significant disputes that the fact central to the ultimate disposal decision on substantial disputes of law so it would be open to members of this Committee having read the officers’ response to the objections that have been raised having taken into account the consultation which has been included for consideration by this Committee to conclude that it is able to deal with the objections and issues that have been raised and to decide that a Public Inquiry isn’t necessary”.

A hideously convoluted way of saying the Committee can do what ever it feels like doing.

Councillor Francis was not moved from his previous position and repeated that he was happy to defer “so that officers could come back with an answer on those [issues]”. Mr. Hollier repeated that “it was open to this Committee to weigh up what has been said and what has been included in the responses. Where we haven’t got all the information those matters would be dealt with in the normal planning process. Members may take the view that that sufficiently deals with it in order to be able to proceed.”

Opposition Leader Alan Deadman also spoke in favour of deferment. A vote was taken on the deferral and of course it was defeated by the Conservatives.

Councillor Sharon Massey said she wanted to challenge some of the comments made earlier by Sidcup Councillors Leitch and Slaughter.

She said that the Council had never said there was an over-provision of open spaces - obviously Councillor Massey has not been paying attention. At the Cabinet meeting last November there was a reference to “the relatively high level of publicly accessible space in Bexley”.

She continued. “The statutory process which the officers followed is statutory. At times we find it frustrating. If you had an objection to the consultation process then it is down to you guys, but there is no argument that the public aren’t aware what was out for consultation, the evidence is in the room.”
Sidcup address
Address “I am a resident of Sidcup myself so you understand the position where I am coming from, I’m doing it because I am supporting a recommendation put forward at Cabinet and Full Council because I am here for all the residents of the borough. We have got a quarter of a million plus residents growing all the time so for me it’s not just about the residents in my ward. The decision I take tonight is in the best interests of all of us.”

The Chairman asked the Committee Members if they were confident they could make the decision. Councillor Massey said she had no unresolved objections. She seconded Councillor Betts’ proposal.

The vote was taken. You know the answer.

Against For
Of the six Tories with raised hands seen here, Councillors David Hurt (Barnehurst), Nick O’Hare (Blendon & Penhill) and Geraldene Lucia-Hennis (Crayford) said nothing for all of the 160 minutes. Nigel Betts (Falconwood & Welling) spoke only to move the motion and James Hunt (East Wickham) asked only about the redaction of objectors’ personal details. So only Councillor Sharon Massey (Danson) made any relevant contribution at all, and then only to say she was disappointed with Councillor Daniel Francis for asking questions publicly.

Not a single relevant question from any of them. Nothing but Teresa O’Neill’s voting fodder.

 

23 March - Public meetings are not a place for questions suggests Councillor Massey

After Council officers had assured Councillor Francis that they had conducted all the consultations, investigations and researches into the sale of Old Farm Park and its smaller brethren perfectly and there really was nothing at all to worry about because the few people who used them could easily go elsewhere, Councillor James Hunt (Conservative, East Wickham) decided to be first off the starting block with further comments.

HuntHe said he was unhappy about the extensive redactions in the Agenda and asked why Burr Farm was still reserved. Deputy Director Toni Ainge said the redactions were the email addresses of objectors.

Mrs. Richardson said that Burr Farm was being retained “because of the population pressures we will be facing. It is part of our education planning”. Her foresight may be commendable but it’s a pity that green space planning has turned its back on the future. James Hunt had promised to be brief and he was as good as his word.

MasseyCouncillor Sharon Massey (Conservative, Danson Park) was “disappointed that Councillor Francis had not raised his questions with officers before”. That is a thought I have frequently had about all council meetings but if that became the norm would there be a need for any public meetings?

I think one must accept that there is an element of theatre about public council meetings, they are there only because the law says they must be. The ball is batted to and fro but nothing ever changes and total non-answers are too frequently accepted because pursuing them further is just a waste of time. The massive Conservative majority under an intransigent Leader will always win.

AddressCouncillor Massey said she had liaised with Ms. Ainge over “many months”. “I have lived in the borough over 50 years and a member of this council 18 years, we have to make tough decisions and a downside of being the governing party is that you make decisions the public do not like. I live walking distance from Old Farm Park, I was there yesterday. It’s a place I go to, I use it. In the next couple of years we will probably have even tougher decisions to make. Over 55 pence in every pound we spend is spent on social care, it is a massive priority”.

The cry of “absolute nonsense” from the public gallery was met with “People cannot convince me just by being abusive, it is an unconvincing argument I'm hearing from the public gallery. Stand for election, it is open to anyone. I am here tonight to do what is best for Bexley as a whole. I had a harder problem with West Street [than Old Farm] because I see that as having a higher number of residents impacted by our decision than they will in Sidcup. The decision tonight will not determine what will be built or not built on that land. All we are suggesting is where this goes next with the legal process. If it goes up for sale the people in the public gallery could purchase it if they wish to put in a planning application”.

“Anyone going up to London by train on a Sunday can see that the left side is full of football and play area and on the right side it is pretty empty. I go there regularly and I rarely see anybody. That’s all I wanted to say but I would like some clarification about the air quality.”

The air quality question was answered by Deputy Director Toni Ainge (£84,264 per annum plus £4,590 towards a car and 20·6% of salary taxpayer contribution to her pension fund) who said the figure was “twenty two to twenty three - I am not quite sure what the measure is - but the national objective is forty”.

Somewhat belatedly a question asked earlier by Councillor Francis was answered. “The residual [unsold} part of Old Farm Park is two hectares and the part to be sold off is 1·45.”

This was hotly disputed by residents in the public gallery who are very familiar with the published plans. “Sorry but you are not leaving a bigger part than you are taking.”

There was no consensus on this and the Chairman, anxious as always to gloss over any weaknesses in the council’s case, asked if any other councillor had a question.

Councillor Chris Beazley (UKIP, St. Michael’s) returned to a theme that had been jumped on at a previous meeting. The sale of “properties that the Council rents out. The Broadway shopping centre produces an income of a million pounds but a fifty million sale [a figure based on a similar property sale in Portsmouth] would easily fill the black hole”.

The answer from Deputy Director Jane Richardson was that shopping centres could not be sold because they are on a long lease.

Councillor Beazley said that doctor’s surgeries and schools around Old Farm Park were all over subscribed. Ms. Richardson said she was working with the Clinical Commissioning Group to resolve the capacity problems and school places are kept under weekly review but “currently there is no problem in Sidcup”.

With all questions and alternative strategies safely dismissed it was time for Sidcup Councillor Rob Leitch to line up his weapons, as reported a week ago.

 

22 March - Good questions and sometimes poor answers

Adopting the same format as before, here are Councillor Francis’s questions about the disposal of Old Farm Park. It doesn’t really matter what he asks, Council officers will always tell him there is nothing to worry about. It is what they are paid to do and the Council’s tanks must be allowed to crush all opposition.

Questions.


Old Farm Park
• “Do the population per hectare figures include all planning permissions in the area?”
• Are the Site of Scientific Importance issues protected?
• The Cabinet received the usage numbers taken over the summer holidays in November but “we took a decision to survey the park and the numbers in October and I wish to ask officers why we thought it was appropriate to survey in August…” public applause masked the remainder of Councillor Francis’ question.
• “If we were Judicial Reviewed on this, have we considered other alternatives?” Objectors have said why did you not consider selling off Burr Park or Webster House. Are we clear in making this decision that we are legally robust?”
• “There is this strange part on Page 69 where we dispute the figures in the House of Commons Library. The MP quoted the figures in the House of Commons Library and we disputed them, who is definitely right and who is definitely wrong?”
• “Trees again. I’d like something on that.”
• “My normal question on the size of alternative parks”.
• “Are we quite clear that our objections on [nearby] planning applications are not the same as the residents’ coming forward tonight and therefore we are not contradicting ourselves?”


Answers.


• The population per hectare figures were calculated “on the same basis” as West Street and Wilde Road. “They use the latest population projections.”
• “Yes I can confirm that the area of the extended SSI has been identified in our latest review and has been excluded from the site for disposal.”
• “The report does not dispute that the survey was undertaken in the winter, neither does it dispute there was usage. I think the issue is about that there are other suitable parks in the area and I wouldn’t disagree that had we undertaken a summer survey the figures would have been higher. We did the survey in the winter not to prove there was a low usage but the fact is there is capacity in the park. (Ms. Ainge’s recorded comment has been reviewed many times but I am no nearer to understanding the point she may have been trying to make.)
• “There are a lot of [alternative] sites which are being considered. It is not a case of either or, we are considering everything.” (From Deputy Director Jane Richardson.) “Burr Farm is educational land and it may form part of our plans for the future”. (So population growth in connection with the Growth Strategy cannot be taken into account, but the possible impact on educational requirements can be.)
• The HoC Library figures are not up to date.
• The fate of “established trees will be dealt with through the planning process.”
• “Norman's Rec is 3·6 hectares and we don’t seem to have the other figures.”
• “The Council did not object to the loss of open space at the Gaelic Sports Ground.” It was alleged that it was a public objection that referred to the loss of open space. Councillor Francis may have disputed this but his words were lost in the noise from the public gallery. He later provided evidence that he was probably correct but it was dismissed on the grounds that the objection was not about Old Farm Park. The Council officer appeared to entirely miss the point that an objection apparently deemed to be valid at the nearby Gaelic Park could not apply to Old Farm Park. The officer claimed that this was because the criteria applied in Greenwich (Gaelic Park is just over the border) might not be the same as in Bexley. Another glib answer. The chairman saved the day by saying “we will move on”.


However there were no more answers due so it was time for non-Committee member councillors to have their say. More soon.

Note: One Hectare is almost 12,000 square yards.

 

21 March - The Wilde West

The General Purposes Committee meeting which sacrificed Old Farm Park and three smaller areas to the concrete mixers seem to be a long time ago now but the opposition put up by Labour and UKIP members should not go unrecorded.

Councillor Daniel Francis (Labour, Belvedere) took the leading role, his questions on the minor sites were…


Wilde Road
• The original plan for this site “clearly appropriated some land for communal benefit”. It was “part of the planning conditions 21 years ago, should it be maintained for that purpose”.
• The report says “it would not be appropriate for a CIL (Community Infrastructure Levy) contribution to be made however for Old Farm Park is is appropriate for a developer contribution to be made for play space. Why the contradictory advice?”
• The maps “tell us of the existence of alternative play provision but at no point do they ever tell the size of the pieces or the size of the alternatives”.


Answers.


• The planning conditions would be “a material consideration and weighed in the balance including the [Council’s] policy position. It would not determine the outcome".
• The Council “is not aware of seeing anywhere that a CIL contribution would not be appropriate for any particular…” - Councillor Francis found the appropriate statement among the 1,282 pages - “we would need to have a look at the existing level of provision of play space within the area but an initial examination suggests a sufficiency. The likelihood is that we wouldn’t seek any contribution because the provision is acceptable”.
• “The size of the sites 21 years ago was 0·88 Hectares and if we agree this tonight we will have sold off 0·33 Hectares." (This was Councillor Francis’ summary of detailed individual figures provided by the responsible Council officer.)


West Street
• “Given those planning permissions that exist and the figures in the growth strategy will this still comply with the guidance on the number of persons per hectare for open space in the local area?”
• There is an acknowledged flood risk. “It is in a Category 3 flood plain, the highest category. [The guidance says] it can only be built on if there is no alternative. Are we happy?”
• “The objections state that the open space was a requirement of the planning condition. Was it?”
• Are we happy with the advice regarding the loss of trees?
• What are the sizes of the open spaces [on the existing development]?
• “There is a footpath running through the park, Is it a public right of way?”
• Will the parking bays on the site be removed?


Answers.


• “The calculations in the report are based on the amount of space left after disposal and the latest GLA projection for population growth. They are not based on the growth strategy. The growth strategy will look at what new open space will need to be put into the area.” The nonsense of that potential reversal of policy was not lost on the public in the gallery.
• “On the flood risk we are continuing with the advice which is in the report.”
• The third answer was “the same as given for Wilde Road". Planning conditions take second place “to the Council policy position”.
• Trees could be replaced “by planting in neighbouring parks”. (Much cynical laughter from the public gallery.)
• The north side of Riverside Gardens is 1·16 Hectares, the south side is 0·32 Hectares. Ocean Park is 0·3 Hectares. The part to be sold is 0·03 hectares.
• The Chairman indicated he was not familiar with the footpath because he had not visited the site but it would be “redirected” if necessary.
• Parking is a matter for the Planning Committee.


After seeing all his questions on Wilde Road and West Street batted away with answers that were barely good enough and sometimes ridiculous, Councillor Francis turned his attention To Old Farm Park. At least we discovered that planning conditions are not really worth the paper they were written on.

As with the last GP report, the quotations provided are extracted directly from the recording but some have redundant words removed. Where the question or answer has been condensed very considerably the quotation marks are omitted.

One Hectare is almost 12,000 square yards.

 

20 March (Part 2) - The Lesnes Abbey update

The Lesnes Abbey project continues to give the impression that no one is in a hurry. One of the new ornate gates began to make an appearance last Tuesday, it has not advanced since. Nevertheless there has been progress, in particular a start has been made on the soil and moss roof of the Visitor Centre. It will probably all look very good when everything is completed. One of the staff on site said this week that that would be by the end of May. It seems to be an optimistic forecast, they not only have to finish the job but also restore the damage, which is quite widespread.
Lesnes Lesnes Lesnes Lesnes
Lesnes Lesnes Lesnes Lesnes
Lesnes Lesnes Lesnes Lesnes

 

20 March (Part 1) - The Crossrail update

During the past two weeks the removal of the old Platform 1 has not progressed a great deal but the seven steel columns which are part of the support system for the new high level station have been decked out, literally, with scaffolding which has led to them being topped off with concrete beams today.

The crane arrived before 7 a.m. this morning but progress has been slow. The first beam was lifted at 10:30 and it was more than three hours before the second one was put in place. A great deal of time was spent grinding off concrete splashes from the steel, precisely why is hard to guess as the columns will be pumped full of concrete eventually and the steel spigot below the moulded concrete beam will be submerged in the stuff.

The afternoon saw much more rapid progress.

The pictures below depict track work east of the station. Two week’s worth of station photos are in the usual place.
Crossrail Crossrail Crossrail Crossrail
Remember there will be no trains through Abbey Wood on any of the four days of the Easter holiday.

 

19 March - Saying one thing, doing another. Another green space protest in prospect

Bridge With more than 20,000 new houses planned for Bexley the pressure on green spaces is immense. Last Tuesday showed that Bexley Council is prepared to be ruthless in its quest for money and there is a danger that its transition from being against major growth to enthusiasm for it will result in the pendulum swinging too far in the other direction. Growing the tax base may be essential but no one wants to see a concrete jungle.

The Labour and Conservative candidates for London Mayor are both proclaiming their green credentials. A letter from Sadiq Khan (Labour) this week told me he “will always protect the green belt from development”. On Twitter Zac Goldsmith (Conservative) has said “If elected, I’ll stand up for our Green Belt and protect Greater London’s precious green spaces”.

I am not inclined to believe him. Boris Johnson has broken nearly all his pre-election promises and carefully eliminated them from the web. However among those I remember are not raising the Congestion Charge, keeping tube ticket offices open, not cutting the fire service and restoring the rush hour Blackwall Tunnel contra-flow. I heard him promise no more speed humps at a meeting in Bexley.

Goldsmith GoldsmithZac Goldsmith may claim to be in favour of green spaces but he failed to stand up for Old Farm Park, nor for that matter, did James Brokenshire, the local MP, appear to do so.

The Conservative candidate was out in Northumberland Heath this morning with his campaign bus promising more houses and cleaner air. Alongside him was Bexley Councillor and GLA Member Gareth Bacon. Only two days ago, Councillor Bacon voted for Erith to lose one of its fire engines. More homes but a reduced fire service. It’s just the sort of muddled thinking that makes the prospect of growth in Bexley a worrying one.

How will Mr. Goldsmith reconcile building more houses, preserving the green spaces and cleaner air as his bus promises? The answer is that he probably can’t. He is keen on electric cars which is a good thing but he is also keen on extending the Congestion Zone. I heard him enthusiastically pushing the case for road charging across London during an LBC interview before Christmas; now one of his leaflets accuses Labour rival Sadiq Khan of wanting to do the same thing.


Promise Zac Goldsmith has promised that “London’s Green Belt and Open Metropolitan Land will enjoy the highest possible protection. New planning guidance will be issued within six weeks of Zac taking office to guarantee those spaces are protected”. (Click the image for his guarantee in full.)

That guidance will come too late to save Old Farm Park, but what about elsewhere in the borough?

Despite the encroaching warehousing and industrial building the Thames marshes remain the biggest open spaces in the borough, but for how much longer?

Cory Environmental, a name that some might regards as deeply ironic, wants to build right next to a nature reserve.
Thames marshes
Map Both Bexley Wildlife and The Thamesmead Grump have something to say about that, the latter with its usual collection of excellent photos of the birds to be seen near the river.

Cory themselves claim that Great Crested Newts may be found there, which may not be true, but there are red listed birds in evidence. Bexley Wildlife reports that the planning application fails to mention that.

As part of a publicity campaign there will be a 'protest' meeting at the nature reserve at 10:30 on Friday 1st April, the main purpose of which is to take a photograph of the event for publicity purposes, so obviously the more who can get there the merrier.

 

18 March (Part 2) - Procedures. It’s not cricket

Following Councillor Betts (Conservative, Welling & Falconwood) somewhat premature call for a vote on the sale of the four parks, Councillor Daniel Francis (Labour, Belvedere) said he had some procedural questions and some on each of the four sites. He would be “most unhappy” to move straight to the motion. “What I am hearing is that one member believes the report completely deals with the objections with no outstanding queries” - he was interrupted by Councillor Sharon Massey who has no idea of how to behave at meetings but at least she did not call Councillor Francis a ‘Dickhead’ on this occasion - but he ploughed on anyway saying that “we should not be proceeding to the motion without a single question having been asked”.

It seemed a reasonable point and the Chairman agreed, asking Councillor Francis to put his questions. The ‘questions’ were mixed with requests and statements.


Francis Massey• The Legal Officer was asked to remind members of the reasons why a Public Inquiry may or may not be necessary.
• There was a reminder that the Agenda stated that selling 26 sites would raise £710,000 and Agendas as far back as March 2016 had said the same thing.
• In contrast a Consultation had stated that four sites could raise £1 million.
• It had been stated that the land was designated neither Metropolitan Open Land nor Green Belt and clarification on what the designation was was requested.
• Councillor Francis was critical of the placement of the Legal Notice in the News Shopper and said that publicity in the Bexley Magazine would have achieved a wider distribution. (Councillor Massey attempted another interruption.)
• In reference to the West Street site it was said that only 30% of households in Erith received the News Shopper. It was only 1·33% in Thamesmead.
• Councillor Francis reminded the meeting that a Cabinet Member had said the final decision would be taken “tonight” and queried whether that might invalidate the decision making process. (The decision will go back to Cabinet and Council.)
• Impact Assessment advice was that disabled people would be disproportionately affected by the sale of parks. Was the Committee happy with that?
• Was there an investigation into why the Consultation email address was generating bounce backs?


Legal Officer Akin Alabi said unresolved objections should be considered by the General Purposes Committee “on their merits having regard to the guidelines”. The Committee must decide whether “the objections are of such a nature to make this an exceptional case”. It was a superb piece of waffle that without any legal training whatsoever I could easily have come out with myself. The “sheer voloume of objections” was of no consequence. “They do not import any significant point of law.”

Ms. Ainge and her colleagues attempted to answer the outstanding questions.


Ainge• She said the Consultation “would stand up legally”. There was no requirement to include any financial information in it.
• The two Wilde Road sites were designated for Residential Use and the remainder of the land under consideration was designated Urban Open Space.
• The Act only requires a single advertisement in the local newspaper and three were placed. (This in no way widens the distribution but Ms. Ainge was not interested in practicalities.)
• She confirmed that Cabinet had stated the final decision would be taken by General Purposes, but this was wrong, but her actions remained “compliant”.
• The impact on the disabled was “a judgment call” and it is for the Committee to consider. It might be resolved by “additional signage” to the nearby park. (The one which can only be accessed by means of a railway footbridge.)
• One respondent who experienced an email bounce back eventually managed to get his objection through the system so it was not an unresolved objection. Ms. Ainge believed there were no other bounce backs.


The Chairman suggested that the bounce back may have been caused by the sender’s error. Councillor Francis showed that the email which was eventually received bore the same email address as the one that failed - and was appended to the second attempt.

AgendaThere was no comment on the £710,000 v £1 million question.

As you may surmise, Council officers have a glib answer to everything and when their actions have been less than perfect it is never of any real consequence. When all else fails, ignore the question. The result is predetermined and any concession would be more than their job is worth.

The opposition’s procedural questions were probably the result of much time consuming research among those 1,282 pages but the ensuing argument was no different to any number which go on in Council meetings. They are rituals that have to be gone through for appearances sake.

The opposition bowls a googly, the ball is allowed to run into the long grass and rarely is anyone interested in retrieving it.

What’s the point? They’d only change the rules. When the stumps are knocked from the ground, it’s always declared a no ball.

Not that Councillor Francis gets disheartened, he announced his intention to ask specific questions on the four sites for sale. It seems like a good time to end this report and maybe continue tomorrow.

 

18 March (Part 1) - Brighter, cleaner, fairer and cheaper?

After at least three months of darkness, the Harrow Manorway flyover was properly illuminated last night, the rubbish in and around Gayton Road was removed thanks to the intervention of Councillor Danny Hackett (Labour, Lesnes Abbey), and confirmation came through that a CEO who decides against issuing a PCN to a resident's car parked away from home but in the same Controlled Parking Zone is merely following the rules and not doing the resident with a valid permit a favour.

If you live or work in or near to Erith you may wish to know that a weekly street market is to be trialled in Pier Road from Wednesday 30th March.

Note: When I went to Harrow Manorway the following day to check out the lighting report I found that that all the east side lights were out again. Maybe they were never on.

 

17 March - Listening to you working for you. Its author says it’s become a mockery (in this context)

There was a good turnout to see the first batch of Bexley’s parks listed for disposal actually being given the chop, close to 70 unhappy residents. (The photograph shows only one of the two public seating areas.) The Committee Officer had wisely decided to move the meeting to the main chamber and display the Agenda via the projection system, it wouldn’t really be practical to hand a six inch pile of paper to everyone present. I hope it never becomes a regular feature, I missed the freedom to thumb through the pages and pick out bits that should be featured here, but that may have impractical too with 1,282 pages to look through.

PublicThe unfortunate Chairman was Councillor Cafer Munur who showed some impatience to press on at the outset, but maybe that was just as well given that what is usually a 40 minute meeting went on past ten o’clock.

Those looking forward to seeing how Committee member Aileen Beckworth (Conservative, Sidcup) might vote on the park disposals were disappointed. Someone, the Leader probably, was upset by the prospect of a vote being other than unanimous so Councillor Beckwith was banned from attending. ‘Predetermined’ was the official phrase. Accused of having made up her mind before hearing the debate in plain language.

Councillor Rob Leitch (Conservative, Sidcup) is the appointed substitute but he might prove to be an embarrassment to party unity as well so he was ruled out too and the absence was filled by Councillor David Hurt who said nothing all night long.

The predetermination issue was of course just a one-way device; every councillor present had made up their mind which way they would vote long before hearing the arguments again.

The first half hour of the meeting was taken up by relatively mundane matters like boundary revisions to which we may return another time. The main Agenda item began with Deputy Director Toni Ainge’s usual speech. £56 million has still to be saved - a euphemism for cut - of which nearly half is not yet identified - a euphemism for prepare yourself for more shocks. She then referred councillors to her Agenda report on park disposals which the public could not see.

There was a reference to the Statutory Consultation conducted over the 2015/16 Christmas and New Year period the detail of which was again difficult for the public to follow.

She said that the Committee would have to decide whether or not a Public Inquiry was required but in her opinion it was not.

As soon as Ms. Ainge stopped speaking, Councillor Nigel Betts made a quite useful summary of what the Committee had to do. He said the need for selling the sites had been “already well debated, we need to ensure that we have followed the right procedure for disposal to take place. The actual decision falls to the Cabinet [under £3m. sale price] or the Council [over £3m.] but tonight we need to be satisfied that objections have been properly answered”. He went on to say that “residents have to put up with these things for the good of the Council”. He “moved that a public enquiry isn’t necessary and the disposal of each open space should be proceeded with”.

There then followed 80 minutes of questions, mostly from Councillor Daniel Francis (Labour, Belvedere), of a frequently technical nature which were one by one dismissed by various Council officers, including Mr. Alabi the Head of Legal Services. These will be summarised when time allows. In the time available today it is only possible to summarise the relatively simple bits and what for many would be the highlight of the meeting. The critical addresses by Sidcup Councillors Rob Leitch and June Slaughter.

Councillor Leitch is one of the very best speakers the Tories have in Bexley - when he lays off the pointless political barbs - and he did not disappoint.

Rob started with a reminder that he was there to represent residents. “Disposing of parks is neither financially sustainable or socially sensible. it sets a dangerous precedence at future times of financial difficulty.” He said this applied to the sale of any park, anywhere, not just in Sidcup. He wished to draw Committee members’ attention to the following points.


Leitch• In March 2015 the business case for selling parks had been passed in the budget. It implied the case had been “predetermined”.
• The identity of the parks being considered for disposal were not made public during the budget consultation, thereby implying the result of that consultation was invalid.
• Any money raised “would be used to offset further reductions in grounds maintenance in other parks yet in truth such money cannot be ring-fenced. That was not made clear to residents”.
• The Christmas 2015 Consultation was missing from the Council’s list of consultations [for three weeks] and when it was, no instructions were given on how residents could respond were given. In fact the only method was to a “bizarre” email address to which several are known to have bounced back. The campaigners brought the consultation to the attention of more residents than the Council did.
• Councillor Leitch’s own consultation on distribution of the News Shopper in which the statutory notice was published showed that fewer than 30% of roads in Bexley get a copy. Old Farm Avenue was one of the omissions. The Public Notice had been another “tick box” exercise.
• “Politics should be about more than process, it is about people and we are unfortunately forgetting that.”
• One of the conditions for a Public Inquiry is that there should be “numerous objections”. There had been 4,998, the recent budget consultation provoked only 378 responses.
• There are alternatives to selling parks. He had raised in excess of £15,000 to restore the Sidcup Walled Garden mainly through business sponsorship. “Sale of open spaces should be avoided.”
• Councillor Leitch urged colleagues to listen to residents.


Ms. Ainge dismissed all of Councillor Leitch’s comments except that she agreed the money raised could not be ring-fenced and said she had put the notice in the News Shopper three times and not the legal minimum of once. She said her Consultation exercise had been a success.

Mr.  Alabi said that the number of objections “did not of themselves lead to a Public Inquiry. The objections were not sufficiently complicated to justify an Inquiry”.

Councillor June Slaughter sensibly attacked the park sales from a different angle.


Slaughter• Residents were concerned not only with “the difficult financial situation the Council is in but also the physical future of the borough”.
• “Consultation is at the heart of the matter and there should be proper publicity.” The non-statutory Summer consultation was reasonably fair and could be completed in a variety of ways. “The rules for this legislation [Statutory Consultations] were passed in 1972 when we had proper local newspapers with reporters who actually reported local news. But there is nothing in the Act to say that nothing else should be done. It was a minimum requirement, why didn’t we do more?”
• She had alerted the Acting Chief Executive to the lack of publicity material in libraries on 9th December. A reply nine days later said the issue would be discussed on 22nd December. Half the consultation period had passed by then. “The notices subsequently exhibited were of the smallest and most insignificant type you could imagine and right on top of Christmas”.
• The consultation did not appear on the Council’s website “because it was a statutory consultation”. “Statutory consultations are arguably more important than voluntary ones.” At no time did it appear on the Council’s website Home page.
• “Openness and transparency was lacking.”
• Her questions about the advice given to officers about Statutory Consultations asked on 20th December 2015 were eventually answered on 8th March.
• Publicity was “too little and too late, and why? I will leave you to draw your own conclusions”.
• The Council’s strapline, Listening to you, working for you, was her invention. “Residents now feel this is a mockery.”
• “Members of the Committee were given a legal briefing and it was a pity that other council members were not invited.” Her advice was that “an unresolved objection was one on which there was no consensus and for any exception a Public Inquiry may be necessary.”
• There are no very local alternative parks and the development of a nearby football ground was rejected on the grounds of “the loss of recreational land”.
• Usage statistics were gathered during a very wet week in October.
• The fact that Old Farm Park is only 0·29% of the borough’s open spaces is irrelevant. “The relevance is the importance that residents of Sidcup place on the amenity. Do we need to cover the whole borough with housing?”
• “Were there no alternatives? Burr Farm has been mentioned. What about Woodside School in Halt Robin Road which is likely to be disposed of in due course?”
• “Maybe there should be a referendum to see if residents would prefer a rise in Council Tax as an alternative to selling off the family silver.”
• “These things are unresolved objections and should be taken into account when deciding if there should be a Public Inquiry.”
• “Should this Committee be taking the decision at all? Councillor Beckwith has been told she is predetermined. Which of you can say that you are not predetermined? You have already voted for disposal in principle.”
• A Public Inquiry ought to be held.


The Conservatives did the Leader’s bidding and unanimously voted down the need for a Public Inquiry.
Voting down
Note. A report such as this takes a very long time to prepare, four hours for the above and for various personal reasons time is very short at the moment. It may be possible to fill in the gaps in this report at the weekend, and it might not.

Some of the quotations in this report should be regarded as close approximations of what was said. There has been insufficient time for all of them to be verbatim transcriptions.

 

16 March - Nothing but complaints

You may have noticed that there has been nothing very significant on BiB for more than a week. First there was that Britelite window installation which went very well but resulted in the tedious chore of curtain fittings being changed and the alarm sensors being refitted. Then the cough and cold which everyone seems to have came and got me. BiB ought to be put on the back burner while I attempt to catch up on the things that have been neglected in recent years. Not sure if that will ever happen, but it should and I am going to try.

However while I have been opting out to some extent, it hasn’t put an end to correspondence, mainly complaints as usual.

Flytipping
With Bexley taking a certain amount of pride in being the most expensive Council with its charges for removal of large unwanted items and cutting the street cleaning schedules it comes as no surprise that flytipping is a major problem in the borough.

A report last week said that the footpath behind Elstree Gardens, Belvedere, was particularly badly affected but by the time I got there, whilst it was far from being clear of litter, it was not exceptionally bad by Bexley’s dismal standards. Just a couple of sacks beneath the sign promising offenders 12 months imprisonment.

There are places nearby which are regular flytipping hotspots. Gayton Road Car Park is a favourite and a newer one is Gayton Road itself.
Flytipping Flytipping Flytipping Flytipping
There used to be a semi-permanent dump outside the Abbey Arms but a combination of the landlady and Councillor activity (Danny Hackett’s) put an end to it. However a new pile was started on the other side of the road. It grew and grew for four weeks and then it was gone - but a new one took its place a day or two later.

Photos 3 and 4 were taken two days apart. It looks like commercial waste to me. It surely cannot be impossible for Bexley Council to trace the source.

Road works
Disruption to traffic is never popular especially when it is done with no regard for motorists, pedestrians, or in the following case, bus passengers.

A report from Thamesmead said that FM Conway was using a bus stop as a lorry park making passengers walk a long way to the next one for no good reason, and it turned out to be true.

The bus stop was occupied, maybe temporarily, by a parked lorry when there is a perfectly good car park not fifty feet away. The bus lay-by has also been used as a dump for broken paving stones which could very easily have been put on the very wide footpath.
Yarnton Way Yarnton Way Yarnton Way Yarnton Way

Residents’ Parking
In most places in Bexley a residents’ Parking Permit costs £100 a year. It went up by that amount because when Councillor Peter Craske cooked the books four years ago; he claimed that every permit was costing £240 a year to issue. It wasn’t true than and it certainly isn’t true now because permits have been abolished. It is all done electronically now. The CEO punches the registration number into his box of tricks and it reports whether of not the fee has been paid and by whom and from where.

In Abbey Road, not far from Abbey Wood station, Bexley Council handed over half the residents’ spaces to Pay & Display, since when residents have found finding a space ever more difficult.

One has taken to parking in an adjacent street but became the victim of over-zealous CEOs. A more sympathetic CEO has said that such ‘wrong street’ parking should be penalised but offered to turn a blind eye.

Parking ZoneParking Zone CEOHowever both roads are in the same AW Zone. It makes no sense to me and it makes none to the lady who has reported it. However, nothing should be surprising about a Council that issues a PCN to lorries queuing to dump track ballast for Crossrail. They refused to waive the fines.


Street Lighting
Harrow ManorwayHarrow ManorwayAnother complaint concerns the continuing lack of street lighting on Harrow Manorway and refers to the danger to unaccompanied women. The claim was that there has been no lighting since the end of December. I don’t think that can be right. It was a month before I got around to getting pictures of the failed lights and I took them on the 19th December.

Bexley Council clearly could not give a damn or they would be chasing whichever authority is responsible for the failure. Elsewhere in the borough, Bexley Council has been wholly responsible for no street lighting and it is now asking what residents think about it.

Another consultation.


Facebook
It has been said before but perhaps it is worth repeating, Bexley is Bonkers on Facebook is not run by me, there is simply not enough time to do everything and with my full agreement it is run by a volunteer. I rarely engage with the Comments section and whilst I should see the Message notifications when I log in and be responsible for dealing with them, it is never likely to be the primary BiB communications channel.

Today I received an email from Facebook alerting me to an unread Private Message, I had no idea there was one lying there but it exposed my unfortunate neglect of the messaging facility.
Teri Jayne
MessageThe message was from Teri Williams and it said that Bexley Council had labelled hers a ‘Jeremy Kyle’ family. Even I, who almost never sees any television, knows that is a disgraceful insult.

The incident that could have been on Bexley is Bonkers a week ago is today’s front page news in the News Shopper.

Ms. Williams has achieved something that has never been achieved by Mick Barnbrook or Elwyn Bryant or any other complainant I know of, she got a written apology out of Bexley Council.

Apology

Click for source document

Teri Williams is lucky to have had her complaint heard by David Hogan, if it been handled by Human Resources Manager Nick Hollier, Teri may have received a warning about referring to trashy morning TV programmes. I was reprimanded by him for using the word ‘lying’ in a complaint about Bexley Council lying.

Well done Teri, and please accept my apology too for not being aware of your message for a whole week. Could have been a week ahead of the News Shopper too!

 

15 March (Part 2) - Old Farm Park is the biggest victim of Bexley’s cuts so far

BettsThis evening’s General Purposes Committee meeting went pretty much to the pre-ordained plan. Deputy Director Toni Ainge began her well rehearsed spiel about why it might be a good idea to dispose of - they try to avoid use of the word sell - four parks and open spaces at 19:55 and spent five minutes doing so.

At 20:02 Councillor Nigel Betts (Conservative, Falconwood & Welling) moved that the sale be put to a vote. There was a 1,282 page Agenda before the Committee and no one had had a chance to ask even a single question, but according to Councillor Betts the sale should be voted through there and then “for the good of the Council”. Nothing else matters apparently, as undemocratic voting fodder Councillor Betts has few rivals, the good of the Council is the only thing that matters to the likes of him.

However, Councillor Daniel Francis (Labour, Belvedere) managed to put a spanner in the works by asking a large number of probing questions and one way or another the meeting was spun out for a further two hours.

Not that it made a scrap of difference, all six Conservative members voted to send the measure back to Cabinet for their final approval. The three Labour and UKIP members voted against.

As the Cabinet sent the proposals to General Purposes in the first place I think it can be safely said that retention of the first tranche of four parks is now beyond all hope - unless someone is planning on taking the issue to Judicial Review.

 

15 March (Part 1) - 90% say Teresa O’Neill was wrong

Crossings No BridgeNot all anonymous messages are cryptic and leave one unsure of whether they are authentic or not, today’s tip off alerted me to the result of the recent Thames Crossings Consultation.

It reports that the consultation resulted in more than 4,500 responses of which nearly 90% supported either one of both crossings at Thamesmead and Belvedere, 77% for both. The heaviest concentration of respondents was in Bexley.

It is an overwhelming message to the effect that Teresa O'Neill and Gareth Bacon were entirely wrong when they campaigned against any river crossings only a few years ago. The local Labour councillors were right and around ten years will have been wasted before Bexley ceases to be cut off from the north.

 

14 March (Part 2) - General sell off

Old FarmTomorrow evening Bexley Council’s General Purposes Committee is due to consider, or quite likely nod through, the sale of four public spaces including Sidcup's Old Farm Park.

The Council leadership appears to be a bit worried about the strength of the public backlash and the grapevine says they have taken legal advice on whether or not their procedures have been watertight.

It’s a strange situation when the well paid Cabinet hands over the final decision on the sale to a small collection of relative nobodies on the General Purposes Committee, but it has already allowed the leadership to suggest the ultimate responsibility is not theirs.

The meeting will not be webcast and is not scheduled to be in the main chamber. The allocated side room known as Public Gallery West, is not very big, perhaps they are not expecting much of a turnout. All the more reason to be there and resist to the last ditch.

 

14 March (Part 1) - To the relief of parents everywhere - except Sunderland

Read MurphyAn anonymous message a week ago was rather too cryptic for me but it appeared to be suggesting that what may be Bexley Council's longest surviving Deputy Director was on the move.

Surviving that is, the death of four year old Rhys Lawrie who Bexley Council failed after reports by medical staff and teachers went unheeded, the death of six months old Ndingeko Kunene who died of rickets in Erith, and the two Serious Case Reviews.

The damning OFSTED Report on Children in Care in 2012 (INADEQUATE on all five measures) saw dismissals but not at senior level. Deputy Director Sheila Murphy led a charmed life and some say she was protected by the Council Leader herself.

Now it is confirmed. Ms. Murphy leaves Bexley on 15th April and is said to be taking up a similar position in Sunderland. Whatever are they thinking?

OFSTED

Inspection date: 11 May to 4 June 2015.

Sunderland was rated Inadequate under every measured parameter. Ms. Murphy should feel instantly at home.

 

13 March - A slow week in Belvedere and Abbey Wood

Lesnes Abbey Lesnes AbbeyLesnes Abbey continues to make slow progress, the main entrance in Abbey Road has occupied several men all week.

The Monk’s garden has been adorned with some new stone features and the Visitor Centre appears to have been partially glazed on its northern aspect; not easy to see or photograph over the high wooden fence. It looks as though the roof is nearing completion too.

As noted previously, it is possible to imagine it all looking very attractive when completed but the quality of the workmanship never looks particularly good. Maybe it is supposed to look ‘rustic’ but everything that might look better straight or level is rough and crooked and at a strange angle.

Lesnes Abbey Lesnes Abbey Lesnes Abbey Lesnes Abbey
Meanwhile, a quarter of a mile away it has been a relatively slow week for Crossrail.

At the beginning of the week the story was that a 350 tonne crane would be at work this weekend lifting heavy beams over the track to begin to form the floor of the high level station; but it didn’t happen.

The scaffold and platform around the support columns are in place but maybe not yet quite finished. The current set of photos show what has been going on, sometimes through the ever dirtier Perspex flyover window and not helped by the week’s rain and mist.

On Wednesday the station was close to being inaccessible because of the blocked drains which Bexley Council has neglected throughout the 29 years I have lived nearby.

Crossrail Crossrail Crossrail Crossrail
Also on Wednesday, Network Rail were publicising the permanent closure of the Felixtowe Road station entrance - the pictures are in the usual place. It is a mystery to me why publicity for the closure of the northern entrance was by means of posters and leaflets by the southern entrance. Maybe there was a repeat performance the following day on the more relevant side.
Entrance Closure

Click to see complete leaflet.

Finally, the Bostall Manorway footbridge has been opened, a mere six and a half months after installation.

 

12 March (Part 2) - Bexley Village misery extended by four weeks

BexleyIf you were looking forward to 28th March and being able to drive out of Bexley Village across a new River Cray bridge, think again; replacement work is running about four weeks behind schedule. The road will remain totally closed to all vehicles until the end of April when southbound movements should resume.

Better news is that the northbound diversion may end rather sooner than in July as originally planned.

New Press Release.

 

12 March (Part 1) - Erith. Suddenly there is loadsa money!

Wilton RoadWhile the 20 shops owners in Wilton Road decide how they would like to spend what is left of the £150,000 awarded by the Mayor (†) for its regeneration, Erith has fared rather better. Another £6·9 million was secured by Bexley Council this week.

They aim to improve public spaces, roads, footpaths and cycling facilities and reduce congestion.

It sounds good although reducing congestion is not something one usually sees in the borough. Narrowing roads and restricting junctions is usually their thing.

The Council’s Press Release says that a total of £20 million is being spent in Erith; They don’t say where every part of that comes from, perhaps it includes the cost of changes currently underway in North End Road.

† About two thirds of the £150,000 from Bexley and Greenwich Councils has already been reclaimed by the Councils in fees.

 

10 March - Live in Bexley Village for the quiet life

Bexley Car ParkI passed through Bexley Village yesterday, the place was deserted. Traffic very light and there were few people in evidence except in the pubs which always seem to be busy. I asked Mr. Bryant if he had any recent pictures of the bridge works. He said he had a couple but every time he has been to look at the bridge construction site, that has been deserted too.

He was a little concerned that the car park has been partially taken over by contractors’ vehicles thereby imposing an additional disincentive to visitors and how the surface may be crumbling under the extra load.

Bexley Council published its new weight restriction order for the new bridge yesterday. 7·5 tonnes, same as before. It comes into force on March 28th.

Bexley Car Park Bexley Car Park Bexley Bridge Bexley Bridge
All photographs taken 8th March 2016.

 

9 March - They are generous with other people’s money

The Taxpayers’ Alliance published one of their occasional reports on profligate councils a few days ago. This one was on councillors’ allowances. A rather misleading headline concluded that £700 million had been poured into councillors’ pockets but those who read on further would discover that this was over the past three years

So how does Bexley compare with other boroughs? You can probably look at the figures in a number of ways, calculating averages and means etc. but but I prefer the simpler approach.

264 councils pay councillors a basic rate which is lower than Bexley’s and only 143 pay more. Bexley pays six times as much as the least generous council and more than twice as much as 138 of them.

TPA Briefing Note.
Raw data. (Excel spreadsheet.)

 



Doubt is cast on Bexley Council’s allegations against Councillor Maxine Fothergill.

8 March - Choose the simple option. Assume it’s a lie, it usually is

The blog below is one of several relating to Bexley Councillor Maxine Fothergill and Bexley Council’s Code of Conduct Committee. This note aims to make it clear that the events reported between December 2015 and the Summer of 2016 whilst accurate reflections of various events, disciplinary hearings and sanctions brought against Councillor Fothergill they are individually insufficient to explain the whole story.

Two members of the Bexley-is-Bonkers team met with Councillor Fothergill at a secret location on 16th September 2016 where she explained to us what had really happened. She was able to convince us that she was the victim of a miscarriage of justice.

There were compelling reasons why Councillor Fothergill should be believed. It seemed likely that the Tory High Command in Bexley had taken revenge on her because Councillor Fothergill had reported one of their associates to the police for theft.

Councillor Fothergill requested that the explanatory note prefixed to relevant blogs (which first went on line a few days earlier) be further strengthened so that readers are fully aware that reported events, whilst accurate at the time, did not reflect her innocence and that Bexley Council’s charge of misconduct and “gaining a financial advantage for herself” was malicious.

This is a modified version of the note Councillor Fothergill asked to be placed here.

Mr. Barnbrook is still trying to get straight answers to his questions which followed Councillor Fothergill’s ‘conviction’ for obtaining a financial advantage for herself, the punishment for which was not being able to sit on the Appeals Committee to which she might be tempted to appeal.

Whilst a couple of people have alleged that Councillor Fothergill has been known to live dangerously, there is still no evidence to suggest that the case against her at the Code of Conduct Committee was other than flimsy, totally lacking evidence or just a fit up.

One question that has been answered, albeit not satisfactorily, concerns the appointment of the Independent Person. One is required under the Localism Act passed in 2012.

Rebecca Sandhu was chosen for Bexley in 2013 after the position was advertised and following a selection process. The position was for a period of two years expiring in May 2015.

In 2015 there was no advertisement, there was no new selection process and there was no discussion in Council. The Independent Person was merely listed like this (see below) in a 28 Page Supplement to the 66 Page Agenda to the Council meeting held on 20th May 2015.

CommitteeProbably nobody noticed. You can elect or reject a councillor every four years. Independent Persons can go on for ever, in Bexley anyway, maybe not in honest boroughs.

Possibly not so easily explained is the decision to exclude members of the public from the Code of Conduct Committee on 10th December.

The Procedural Rules clearly state that the Members of the Committee must be given an opportunity to say whether of not they think the hearing should be in public or behind closed doors.

Then a decision has to be taken. Entirely logical.

However it is not what those who were present on 10th December say happened and the Minutes of the meeting make no reference to any discussion or vote on exclusion. Twice recently I have seen that happen at other meetings where the public might be excluded.

The procedure is that the Chairman says that an exclusion has been recommended by Council officers and asks for a vote in favour. It’s simple enough and insofar that anything is democratic in Bexley, this is.

However the Chairman of the Code of Conduct Committee didn’t do that. She saw the recommendation and the allegation is that she took it upon herself to exclude the public without asking other members. I wasn’t present.

In response to a complaint, Bexley Council has said (sic) “It is clear from the published agenda for the item in relation to the Exclusion of Press and Public preceded the item of substantive business to which the Rules of Procedure to which you refer applies.”

No one is disputing that, the exclusion obviously preceded the substantive business, otherwise the members of the public would have heard the complaint and the need to keep secrets would have gone.

The issue remains that Chairman Cheryl Bacon made no attempt to follow procedures, something for which she has form.

The exclusion vote is not only absent from the Agenda Item, it’s not in the Minutes and three members of the public know they didn’t hear their exclusion either proposed or debated.

Mr. Barnbrook is planning to escalate his complaint and the ensuing obfuscation to the Information Commissioner. I think it is far simpler to assume that Bexley Council is lying again as they always do when caught breaking their own rules or statutes.
Procedure

Rules of Procedure.

 

7 March - Bexley massively increases its Council Tax base

There is lots of information on the GLA website about the 32 boroughs, Bexley included. It will tell you the travel Zone of each district, its population and the average rent of various sized houses.

And of course a few nice pictures to give you a flavour of what may be seen there. (Select the third choice image.)
Bexley
Four windows done. three to go and the doors. So far so good.

 

6 March (Part 2) - The metamorphosis of Lesnes Abbey park continues

By stepping carefully over barriers and avoiding the mud it is not difficult to appreciate what the designer of the new Lesnes Abbey park had in mind. The views on a bright Spring morning are quite spectacular and the bright yellow paths make an eye catching addition.

Unfortunately, according to the management team who held a ‘surgery’ last Friday, the old black asphalt paths will remain which does seem rather like spoiling the ship for a ha’porth of tar. Much of it is now badly damaged, totally destroyed in places.

I was also surprised to hear that the loose sandy surface is final. Last week my neighbour’s front lawn was torn up by an unlicensed motorcyclist, the sand path would fare no better.

Better news is that the new park will allow wheelchair access which has been near impossible hitherto. A dedicated wheelchair entrance will be provided in New Road - where there is no weekday free parking but presumably a blue badge will give relief from the parking gestapo.

Can you see The Shard and two herons in these photographs? Don’t waste too much time on it, the second heron is little more than a grey speck at the dramatically reduced size.
Lesnes Lesnes Lesnes Lesnes
Lesnes Lesnes Lesnes Lesnes
Any blogging activity over the next three days is likely to be minimal. I am having my 26 year old, slightly misted and occasionally draughty, generally tired looking double glazing replaced. If Britelite of Crayford don’t come up to scratch you will probably hear about it here, but so far no problems whatever.

 

6 March (Part 1) - The fortnightly Crossrail update

Crossrail CrossrailAnother fortnight gone, another Crossrail milestone passed at Abbey Wood.

The past two weeks have seen the first train at the new Platform 1, the old London bound track removed and its platform half demolished.

More concrete has been pumped into the new station and its first support columns are now in place.

All of those things appear in the new set of pictures taken in all sorts of weather conditions and through grills and filthy windows.

The railway contractors’ staff have as usual been wonderfully cooperative both with information and putting up with prying lenses. One told me yesterday that the weekend closures will continue through to the summer and probably beyond. I hope he is wrong, there is as yet no confirmation of that on the station. Unfortunately the northern entrance will close on 2nd April. Northerners will have to allow an extra ten minutes to catch their train until the new station opens at the end of next year.

 

5 March - The Mayor complains about mudslinging but not often enough

SmithFollowing the decision to put protection of their own allowances and home delivery of Council documents above more frequent litter collection, Councillors were asked to speak on the main motion, setting the 2016/17 Council Tax rate.

Councillor Brad Smith wanted to be first but mumbled away so quickly it was impossible to be sure what he was saying. It was something about schools and parking and how resident satisfaction had been improved.

Councillor Louie French spoke clearly enough but came out with nothing original. “The decision to raise Council Tax is not an easy one especially for those [almost mandatory swipe at opposition] on this side of the chamber.” There is no alternative and it is all the fault of the “demographic changes and 13 years of Labour government”.

Followed by “Leave no stone unturned. Savings alone are not going to help us. The money raised by the 2% Social Care precept is not enough. When faced with a difficult decision, it is easy to stand on the sidelines. Both nationally and locally the Labour party is fighting on the fringes. It is vitally important that Londoners elect Zac Goldsmith.” You get the idea, he is right behind the Tory budget and all the borough’s problems can be solved by more of the same.


EzenwataCouncillor Endy Ezenwata was invited to speak and nine seconds later the Mayor told him to stop. Not speaking to the Motion again. The Councillor went to disagree but lost his chance when the Mayor switched off his microphone. I’ve not seen anything like that happen before. Is the Mayor after Val Clark’s crown?

No Bridge NewmanCouncillor Seán Newman was invited to speak but he didn’t even get nine seconds without interruption. When he was allowed to get going he said “there hadn’t really been any forward planning on borough regeneration. The figures were vague and sometimes astonishing. The Council had come to regeneration far too late and as a result municipal bankruptcy is staring us in the face”.

Councillor David Leaf can always be relied upon to say something either inconsequential or abusive. He began with the latter. From the opposition he had heard only “nonsense”. He was keen to rake up last year when Labour was accused of voting against Business Rate Relief.

If it was part of the 2015/16 budget proposal the Labour group would have no alternative but to reject the whole lot if they disagreed with any part of it, which is always useful to those whose forté is political mischief. Like Councillor French, David Leaf thought all the budgetary problems could be laid at the door of the last Labour government. (†)

Councillor Leaf said that Labour would have raised Council Tax for the poorest people in the borough which is exactly what his party has done. It was the Conservatives who imposed a 15% Council Tax on residents in receipt of benefits.

Councillor Leaf also rejected Seán Newman’s claim that there had been no regeneration. He said there were more houses in the borough than when Labour was in power. Big deal!

Councillor Peter Reader (Conservative, Northumberland Heath) was more restrained remaining factual about the reduction in central government funding and thanking the Finance team for their budget planning.

Councillor Cafer Munur thought it would be clever to quote from the positive comments made in the “impartial” external auditor’s report, the same impartial auditor that decided to take no action over Bexley Council’s self confessed maladministration in respect of bailiff activity. What it had to do with the Motion no one knew but the Mayor didn’t care because Councillor Munir is one of her own. Quoting from someone else’s report is a useful technique for anyone without an original thought in his own head. It’s surprising that it has not been done before.

To round off, Councillor Munir attacked Labour. “They can’t see the difference between capital expenditure and revenue costs, they worked to the detriment of residents over new ward boundaries, and they have an inability to scrutinise.” The Conservatives applauded.

Councillor Alan Downing said “I am proud to be a Conservative and particularly proud to be a member of this Conservative Council”. He “wholeheartedly supported this budget” and made not a single criticism of opposition members.

Bishop Councillor Brian Bishop said “the budget was well planned”. It is “innovative and I think we got it exactly right”. He derided Labour’s Amendment “written on the back of a fag packet. It was political posturing”.

CHallCouncillor Steven Hall said he was “going to go easy on Labour and not have a go at them like Councillor Leaf did” and promptly had a go at them. “It was such a shame that they did not support the budget proposals.” He “was not quite sure the opposition had a growth agenda”.

After that he followed the familiar path. “Reduced government funding as a result of Labour’s overspend and difficult decisions have to be taken.”

Councillor James Hunt referred to the budget as not having been “produced in a back room somewhere”, yet another uncomplimentary reference to the Labour Amendment.

Labour Leader Alan Deadman voiced what many people will be thinking. “The Leader opposite turned round and told me before the meeting that no matter what this side of the chamber comes up with she won’t listen to it because it came from Labour”. He complained that his Amendment was criticised for being unbalanced but, he said, the Director of Finance had agreed it was balanced. The Mayor stopped him in his tracks.

SawyerDeputy Leader Alex Sawyer said the government settlement was “brutal and he did not care which government was at No. 10. If it is brutal it is brutal”. He didn’t like penalising motorists with increased car parking charges and using them as a “cash cow” but tough decisions were needed. With more than 50% of expenditure going on social care “each portfolio has to make a contribution for the greater good”. However the Labour Amendment “betrays those who went out and voted Labour in 2014”.

Councillor Daniel Francis’s statement was marred by a high level of background noise but he appeared to be making a number of historical comparisons between minor Conservative budget amendments in the past which were deemed to be part of an acceptable procedure but in similar circumstances his party’s amendments were posturing. Response rates to consultations in Labour’s time in the low hundreds were said to be “shameful” but double digit results now were acceptable.

He was lucky not to be cut short by the Mayor. Perhaps like the Leader she was not listening. Councillor Francis said there were areas of the budget he could not quite believe. £3 million pounds on a street light upgrade and switching them off to save £300,000 a year. Whose fault is it, he asked, that we are forced into this position? “Labour’s” said the voices opposite. The Mayor complained about the “mudslinging”. It was not clear which side she had in mind.

Councillor Borella said that it was not correct to say the budget did not affect front line services. The cost of respite care is “exhorbitant” and the users have no choice.

He referred to the failure of Children’s Services which had cost such an enormous sum of money. It was a Conservative strategy that led to the failure. He referred to the forthcoming £450,000 litter cuts too, going ahead even though rubbish is already “strewn everywhere”.

Council Leader Teresa O'Neill summed up. She said she had been reading Labour's last budget for 2006. Productive use of her time is it not?

They had “raided the reserves and put Council Tax up 40% over four years and they left the cupboard bare”. She said the big problem was that Bexley gets a government grant of £56·2 million, Greenwich gets £129·5 million and Lewisham gets £146·2 million. “If we got that we’d be giving money back let alone putting up Council Tax.” She blamed the delay with regeneration on Ken Livingstone. Hang on a moment, wasn’t it Ken who planned a bridge and Teresa O’Neill who successfully campaigned to have Boris cancel it? The bridge might not be universally popular but it is the key to the regeneration without which Bexley might well be on Seán Newman’s road to bankruptcy.

The vote, when it came, was entirely predictable with UKIP dressed in blue again. The choice of all or nothing can be a difficult one.

† An anonymous message, presumably from a Conservative Councillor, has said that there was an opportunity for Labour to have voted on Business Rate Relief separately. Such a correction is I think unique which probably lends extra credence to the report being a well founded complaint. I can only assume that the Labour group made an error of judgment. I vaguely remember them admitting to that once but not sure any more what the subject was. It would be helpful if those who dispute what is written here could supply a link or other reference.

 

4 March (Part 2) - The plan for less litter and and fewer allowances is a non-starter in Bexley

O'NeillCouncil Leader Teresa O’Neill said she had more to say about her Financial Plan than she did on the Capital Programme. We are on “a journey to having a diminished government grant” she said for the umpteenth time.

“The settlement this year is £56·2 million reducing to £39·6 million in three years time which is why growth is key. Social care costs keep increasing. The previous perception of Bexley as a green leafy suburb no longer recognises the needs within our borough and those that need to be paid for.”

“We can ask residents to do more instead of putting up Council Tax, they rose to the challenge of the garden waste scheme. They are up for the challenge.” She means more stealth taxes are coming.

The Leader claimed to have been lobbying for Crossrail and an extension to Ebbsfleet “stopping at Erith, Slade Green and Belvedere”, her perceived lack of direction provoking a little amusement. She repeated that if TfL can be persuaded to pay for things Bexley’s taxpayers don’t have to foot the bill. But we pay for work in all the other boroughs instead.

She concluded with her favourite theme. Residents had shown their trust in the Conservatives by electing them again in 2014.

MasseyCabinet Member Don Massey said he “firmly believed in keeping Council Tax as low as possible, for you, for me and for all residents in Bexley”. Really? I thought he lived in Maidstone.

“Ever since we were elected in 2006 we have been committed to doing just that which is in stark contrast to those opposite who think you should raise as much as they can whenever you can.” They raided reserves and depleted them to £5·7 million. The General Fund now stands at £12·7 million.

“It is right to take difficult decisions but the opposition parties have not come up with any properly thought out or properly costed alternatives. Conservatives were astounded by claims at Public Cabinet that there had been loads. They are in a parallel universe.”

“What is your alternative?”

Labour Leader Alan Deadman produced his alternative which he said had been checked by the Director of Finance. It proposed saving £139,000 this year and more next and spending the same amount on improving services to residents.

The proposals were to stop the recently introduced £18,000 of Scrutiny Vice-Chair allowances, cut 5% off the Special Responsibility Allowances and losing a Cabinet member. (£43,000.)

Going 100% paperless at meetings instead of the target 50%, (£45,000) and £50,000 from revising the distribution arrangements for the Bexley Magazine. It could go on line, be distributed by email and left in supermarkets and libraries.

The money gained could be spent on improved litter collection, not charging for disabled parking, not increasing short term car parking charges by 20% and there would be enough left over to maintain a Splash Park.

Reducing their precious allowances! Surely there was no way the Conservatives would stand for that?

Councillor Deadman said his proposals had something for every resident in the borough. (Well maybe not councillors Alan and you know they always come first.)

Councillor Brenda Langstead (Labour, North End) said that it might have been better to have eased up Council Tax in previous years but Leader O’Neill said it would have had to have gone up by 80%. She plucks the figures out of the air. Councillor Don Massey had said a week earlier that the figure would have been 57%. Both figures assume making no economies at all which has never been Labour policy, but why let facts get in the way of a dishonest story?

ClarkCouncillor Stefano Borella made reference to the four councillors who no longer live in the borough but the Mayor asked him to not to do it. Too embarrassing.

Stefano didn’t like the 20% increase in short term parking charges which would adversely affect high street shops but Councillor Val Clark (Conservative, Falconwood & Welling) thought that not to raise charges would be unfair on those who didn’t own a car. Bexley has the highest level of car ownership in London.

Councillor Borella concluded by saying it was about time councillors made sacrifices to help the people of Bexley.

Councillor Danny Hackett (Labour, Lesnes Abbey) linked the £18,000 of Vice-Chairman payments to the Leader’s payroll vote. He thought making new allowances where none existed before was “disgraceful, they do nothing for this Council”. He was reprimanded by the Mayor for “not speaking to the Amendment” when very obviously those allowances were a large component of the Amendment.

I’m talking!

Councillor Hackett continued to risk the Mayor’s wrath by stating the unthinkable. “We are not here to line our own pockets, we are here to put the people of our borough first. Do Conservatives really think it is fair to remove money from services people really care about while giving money to backbenchers? Will any of them have the bottle to vote with the Labour party on this?”

Councillor Rob Leitch (Conservative, Sidcup) began his response with the sort of toe curling subservience to the Mayor that I had hoped he had put behind him but spoke of “doing what is right rather than what is easy”. It sounded as though Councillor Hackett had won a convert. But no, Councillor Leitch did not address the Amendment at all, he was speaking far more generally. The partisan Chairman Mayor pretended not to notice.

At last Councillor Leitch got around to commenting on the Amendment. It was “a last minute populist press release motivated Amendment and was wholly irresponsible”. Additional support for his own Digital Futures recommendations is irresponsible? He was eventually stopped by the Mayor for wandering off topic, even she could ignore it no longer.

Councillor Joe Ferreira (Labour, Erith) said that the present and future financial problems had come about following six years of Conservative government and in each year he had seen the grant to Bexley fall. The Amendment made savings now and protected services and local businesses now.

CamseyAfter speaking for just one sentence the Mayor told Councillor Daniel Francis to get to the point. He held up two pieces of paper which had been delivered to his home last Friday at a cost he estimated as being in the region of £15 a go. He risked the wrath of the Mayor again by suggesting there was “a clear split in the Tory group between those those who wanted to save money now and those who wanted to wait until 2018. Don’t delay until 2018, do it now and help our residents, not ourselves.”

Councillor Francis continued; Councillor Massey does not want to support the Amendment but he was “happy to force changes on our residents. There is to be a £450,000 cut in litter collection next year”.

Council Leader O’Neill complained that the Labour Amendment did not reduce any of their own allowances. That would be because she has not given Labour members any job which attracts a special allowance. She said it was herself and the Conservative members who asked for the Boundary Commission review but failed to mention that she spoke of doing so after the 2010 election and sat on her backside for a further five years. Nearly £300,000 down the drain.

Councillor Endy Ezenwata (Labour, Thamesmead East) attempted to add his comment but whilst he thought he had caught the Mayor’s eye earlier she said he had not. He intended to ask for a vote by roll call but the Mayor was not in a mood to accept that she had missed his earlier gesture. She was “sorry but you are too late”.

I’m in charge!

The vote on the Amendment was taken. Unanimously rejected by the Tories with UKIP voting Conservative again. The Tories didn’t want to see their allowances take a knock and UKIP weren’t happy about the proposed magazine distribution arrangements. There can be no picking and choosing when it comes to votes.

To be continued…

 

4 March (Part 1) - Labour is “beggared” again

MayorMayor Sybil Camsey began the Full Council meeting by expressing the hope that everyone would enjoy the meeting and I am pleased to say I did, for it has been quite a long time since I have been treated to quite such an inept display of partisanship.

Not in the the same league as Councillor Val Clark when she was Mayor. We are unlikely to see that degree of injustice to the opposition members and the public again, webcasts have put paid to that. Nothing is likely to beat Councillor Clark’s letter complaining of Nicholas Dowling’s failure to applaud loudly enough but Mayor Camsey commandeering Councillor Ezenwata’s microphone must run it close.

It was the budget setting meeting where Conservatives are supposed to crow about their dubious achievements and the opposition is supposed to meekly accept it and put forward no new ideas. It didn’t quite work out like that.

O'Neill Council Leader Teresa O’Neill commenced proceedings by asking for her Capital Programme to be approved. She said that the growth in the North of the borough was “pivotal” and she is right. She is “aware of the need to grow our borough.” Shame it took her ten years to realise it. The regeneration work in Bexleyheath and Bexley Village was “innovative” and it was done with TfL’s money.

Deputy Leader Alex Sawyer said that “every pound taken from TfL was a pound not taken from our taxpayers”. The GLA is some sort of money tree that every other borough nurtures and only Bexley picks the fruit. Well he can dream.

Councillor Daniel Francis put forward an alternative idea for spending a tiny fraction of the available money and Mayor Camsey’s attempt to derail it before it could be submitted was both weak and ineffective.
Amendment
It said in essence the money provided by the developers of Norman Park (close to Belvedere railway station) which had to be spent within two kilometres of the new housing should be spent where the Splash Park used to be to ensure a decent new playground there. The money allocated so far is barely more than the cost of the replacement Lesnes Abbey slide. (£104,000.) Councillor Francis (Labour, Belvedere) said he wished to “maximise” expenditure on the replacement facility.

Labour’s Amendment had one major and fundament flaw. It was a Labour Amendment.

Craske Councillor O’Neill dodged the opportunity to comment on the Amendment preferring to pass the buck to Councillor Peter Craske (Conservative, a long way to the south).

He said he thought everyone had already agreed the new plans for the Belvedere play facility though he accepted he didn’t know what the budget would be. (He’d said between £150k. and £250k. at the last Cabinet meeting.)

Councillor Craske said that Labour wasn’t serious about their proposal and had “cobbled it together” two days earlier. He didn’t accept the Amendment.

Massey As noted before, Councillor Craske is not the attack dog he once was and in that role he now has a serious rival. Cabinet Member Don Massey.

Councillor Massey said the opposition must “hold council professionals in contempt” if they thought they could make a last ditch budget Amendment and “it beggared belief”. He then led off on the dangers of Cryptosporidium apparently oblivious to the fact that the Amendment made no reference to what the money might be spent on, only where.

He barged on regardless, raking up the mistakes allegedly made by Labour back in 2005/06 when the Splash Park was installed. Mayor Camsey, who later proved to be unusually keen on members speaking to the subject failed to notice. “it [the Labour Amendment] was quite contemptible. They have lost the plot.”

Councillor Danny Hackett (Labour, Lesnes Abbey) asked for the vote to be taken by roll call. It was and the Amendment was rejected; divided in the inevitably unanimous way with UKIP again voting Tory.

Councillor Maxine Fothergill was absent from the meeting although I am sure I saw her in the building immediately before it began.

To be continued…

 

3 March (Part 2) - Sucking Wilton Road dry

Drain clearing Greenwich Council called an ‘Abbey Wood and Thamesmead Stakeholder Meeting’ for yesterday evening. They were told that Bexley councillors wouldn’t be able to attend because of their Council meeting clash, but they went ahead anyway.

On the Agenda was the Wilton Road Retail Improvement Project, the Wilton Road Highways Improvement Scheme, and a presentation by Peabody Housing Association.

I have only found one Wilton Road trader who was there and his comments were wholly positive. Elsewhere down the road his colleagues are still less than happy with the fact that a third of the £300,000 improvement award has already gone in various fees and expense claims.

Two of them reported this morning how new shop front designs have been presented to them, one design in more detail than the other, were rejected for various reasons, but the designer has happily accepted the shop owner’s ideas.

One must wonder why they weren’t asked in the first place. It may help explain where that £100k. went.

 

3 March (Part 1) - Pay peanuts, get a monkey?

O'NeillSome arcane council rule must dictate that the appointment of a new Chief Executive requires an Extraordinary Council meeting and last night one was squeezed in before the regular 19:30 meeting. Ms. Steward’s appointment was approved in six minutes.

I attended mainly for the experience of being thrown out and at Item 3 the Council duly gave themselves the authority to exclude the public - only me at that stage. This is the correct procedure which Councillor Cheryl Bacon didn’t bother to observe on 10th December 2015. In the event it didn’t happen because no councillor chose to comment on Bexley’s dirty secrets.

Council Leader O’Neill said that the appointment of a new CE was “a daunting task” and it was “crucial to the future of our borough” and with those few words launched an attack on Councillor Deadman the Labour leader. Apparently he had been right behind former Communities Secretary Eric Pickles who said soon after his appointment to ministerial rank that he saw no good reason for any council to employ both a full time Leader and a Chief Executive.

At the same time Mr. Bryant had collected 2,219 signatures for a petition against Mr. Tuckley (the former Chief Executive) being the sixth highest paid council official in the country and calling for the application of more of Mr. Pickles’ recommendations.

Teresa O’Neill, such is her belief in democracy, refused to accept the petition so it was never debated but she did offer the opinion that it was necessary to pay the highest salaries to attract the best brains. Though she appears to have partially changed her mind, she agrees neither with Eric Pickles or Alan Deadman. Councillor Deadman’s suggestion that the Council could save £200,000 a year by dispensing with a Chief Executive meant “he had no understanding of the Chief Executive’s importance”. Who will tell Mr. Pickles?

According to Teresa O’Neill no one else is able to spend Bexley’s £440,000,000 a year and shared Chief Executives in other boroughs had not proved to be a success. She failed to explain how it was that Bexley will have gone more than six months and through a critical budget setting period, apparently successfully, without a Chief Executive.

However in a sharp reversal of previous policy Bexley’s Chief Executive will be the lowest paid in London instead of enjoying a public service salary among the very highest in the land. The Leader hoped that Mrs. Gill Steward “will take Bexley to a new place” - please not Cornwall - whilst most of us were hoping it was Teresa O’Neill who might find pastures new.

The appointment of Ms. Steward was approved unanimously by the Conservative members whilst the Labour members stuck to their principles. No UKIP members were present.

Bexley Council's Press Release.

 

2 March (Part 2) - Vote UKIP get Tory

At the end of a sometimes bad tempered 140 minute Council meeting Bexley set its 2016/17 Council Tax 3·99% above last year’s this evening.
Council
The vote, as always, divided along strict party lines with UKIP joining forces with the Conservatives and both rejecting Labour amendments.

Mayor Sybil Camsey appeared to be intent on provoking discontent among Labour members by constantly complaining that they digressed from the subject and actually switching off Councillor Ezenwata’s microphone to silence the voice of Thamesmead East. Tories were however given free rein to rant about the Scottish National Party and opposition motions allegedly presented on “fag packets”. Neither relevant, original nor edifying and pretty much business as usual from the Bexley Boors.

Because the GLA precept has been reduced, Council Tax bills will actually rise by less than 3·99%. About 3·83% by my calculation but 1·86% according to Page 2 of today's News Shopper. One of us is going to have to go back to school. (†)

†: The difference is that the News Shopper has swallowed Bexley’s propaganda that Council Tax is going up by 1·86% and the BiB figure is based on the full extent of the raid on your pocket which includes the Adults’ Services surcharge.

 

2 March (Part 1) - Drop Bexley Council in it if you can

Splash Park Splash Park
To save the £20,000 a year maintenance cost, Bexley Council has decided to close Belvedere Splash Park. It was thought to be the largest facility of its type in the country and it had continued the proud tradition of there being water play facilities on the site for more than one hundred years.

But what would Bexley Council which is eager to spend nearly ten times that on a new Chief Executive care about that?

BBC London has shown an interest in a television feature about the loss of historical London to include Belvedere Splash Park. Naturally they will need old photos and preferably video or ciné film. If you can help please get in touch with the Save the Splash Park campaigners via Facebook, or via the BiB Contact page if necessary.

 

1 March - Broadway it is not right now

Broadway BroadwayThe traffic congestion caused by the block laying activities in Broadway was quite modest at 11 a.m. this morning, my bus home was queued almost back to Asda but I don’t suppose it took more than five of six minutes to get through. It helps that buses can apparently jump red lights with impunity.

The lady shown crossing the road (Photo 2) was complaining that she had been standing at the eastern end of the road works for a long time and even when the traffic let up for a moment there was nowhere to safely run to. True, although she could have walked up to Church Road and created more traffic chaos by using the light controlled pedestrian crossing.

One of the men working in the rain said the job would be finished by the end of next week. I think he must mean the Bexleyheath bound carriageway.

Broadway Broadway Broadway Broadway

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