Sunday, May 28, 2017

Natural England.


The photo above shows a unique view of Erith which was taken by a reader a couple of years ago. It was taken from a flat in one of the old tower blocks on the former Larner Road Estate, which has now been rebuilt as The Erith Park Development. Pretty much all of Erith can be seen in this astonishing photograph - click on it for a larger view.

I am not an overall fan of Apple. I don’t see the point in the iPad (no keyboard, useless to me), I don’t like mobile phones in general, so the iPhone leaves me cold, and the iWatch is a solution looking for a problem that it has thus far been almost totally unable to find. Having said that, I do like Apple computers. I find them well made, thoughtfully designed and very reliable. The fact that Apple’s operating system is based on BSD Unix is a strong bonus too. For this reason I have been using an Apple iMac as my main personal computer since 2003 – a very long time before Apple were popular with the general public. In that time I have had three machines – Apple hardware seems (at least in my experience) to be longer lasting that your average Windows PC, though I do concede that you pay a hefty price premium for this longevity. In case you were wondering where this is leading, let me explain. The blog update this week may look very slightly different to normal; this is due to it being compiled and formatted on a different computer this week. My five year old iMac has died – it had been getting rather cranky for a while now, and it now looks like it will need a trip to the Apple store at Bluewater to get fixed. I have a pretty good idea as to what is wrong with it, and the fix should be relatively straightforward. My particular iMac model has a Sold State Drive (SSD) as well as a mechanical hard drive in it – the idea being that regularly used files, such as those used by the operating system are stored on there for very quick access, whilst files only used on the odd occasion are stored on the mechanical hard drive, which has slightly slower access times. I believe that the SSD drive has developed a fault – something not unknown with the particular model that I own. Most Mac users know little if anything that goes on under the hood of their computers, and this is fine – for many the Mac is just another domestic appliance. I, on the other hand do know quite a lot about how Macs tick; whilst they are deliberately difficult to fix or upgrade yourself (Apple try to lock you in to having everything done by them – at a price), they do have excellent inbuilt diagnostic and administration tools which very few users are even aware of their existence. You can boot a Mac into this mode to enable you to restore it to a previous configuration using the Time Machine utility, to return it to a factory fresh state – very useful if you are selling it. You can also transfer your files from an older Mac to a brand new one – all of your system settings will be replicated across – effectively setting up your new Mac to an identical look and feel to your old one. This used to be called “Mind Meld” – until CBS, the owners of the intellectual rights to Star Trek sent Apple’s lawyers a rather stiff letter objecting to this. Now it is just called file transfer. If you are curious, and own a Mac. You can access all of these powerful utilities by starting the computer whilst holding down the CMD and R keys. Be careful what you do when you get to the main utility menu – you can completely wipe your Mac if you pick the wrong option  – you have been warned.

A couple of messages from Bexley Borough Neighbourhood Watch Association:- "Please beware of an automated telephone call claiming to be Her Majesty's Revenue & Customs. The message tells you that you have tax owing and instructs you to press a number to be connected to your case worker. DO NOT DO IT! END THE CALL.! Bexley Borough is being targeted by this scam and has been for a few months. The message is generic and is played to anyone who receives the call. If you press the number to be connected to the case worker, you will be charged an extortionate rate per minute. Secondly, Bexley police are holding a bike marking event on Tuesday 30th May 2017 from 10 am to 4 pm at the Broadway Bexleyheath. Come along with your bikes and get them marked and registered for free. Neighbourhood Watch will also be there recruiting new Coordinators".

A technological milestone was passed last week, and very few people even realised. The patents that formerly existed on the MP3 audio file format have expired, and the owners, the Fraunhofer Institute have declined to renew them. In a statement published online, a representative of the institute said "Although there are more efficient audio codecs with advanced features available today, MP3 is still very popular amongst consumers. However, most state-of-the-art media services such as streaming or TV and radio broadcasting use modern ISO-MPEG codecs such as the AAC family or in the future MPEG-H. Those can deliver more features and a higher audio quality at much lower bit rates compared to MP3", MP3 built on the idea that the ear can be tricked – it' is called psycho acoustics – to allow information to be thrown away. The Fraunhofer team's work allowed audio wave files to be compressed into a file to one tenth or one twentieth the original size. Developed for commercial transmission – the work was funded by AT and T and Thomson – the Fraunhofer Institute's discoveries were first incorporated into the MPEG-1 standard in 1991. MPEG-2 layer III followed in 1994, and "MP3" became a file format with an .mp3 extension in July 1995. MP3 languished in the mid-1990s and was rapidly obsoleted by its inventors – almost overnight. The same developers' AAC format corrected many of the limitations of the original design. As Stereophile Magazine’s John Atkinson explained in an article on the Register website, when it came to AAC: "The designers of the codec obviously decided not to waste the limited bit budget by encoding information that would most probably not be heard even from the CD. Instead, they devoted those resources to a more accurate depiction of the musically significant regions at lower frequencies." However, the older, less efficient specification became a de facto standard after the Fraunhofer encoding software was acquired using a stolen credit card, pirated and repackaged with a bogus README file claiming: "This is freeware thanks to Fraunhofer". The original MP3 licencing model was intended such that encoders would be expensive, and decoders relatively inexpensive. This would allow people to buy software to listen to MP3s cheaply, but the creation of MP3s would be expensive, and thus handled by studios and music labels. This all changed when a high-quality MP3 encoder was leaked to the public, and suddenly it became possible to readily convert your CDs at home into the MP3 format. MP3 really took off with the release of the extremely popular music pirating service Napster in 1999. When that was eventually closed down after a series of legal cases, the format was well established. MP3 was by no means the best audio data format – the compression algorithms were not nearly as sophisticated as many of its’ rivals, but it was good enough, and thanks to Napster, it had become ubiquitous. Ironically as MP3 has now in essence become a free format, it is now in the shadow of other audio file formats such as FLAC, Ogg Vorbis and AAC which offer better sound quality at lower bit rates.

The recent death of former Bond star Sir Roger Moore got me thinking; quite a few famous people have come from the local area; Moore used to live for many years in Wansunt Road in Old Bexley Village. For some reason musicians seem to feature prominently – we have Kate Bush (Upper Wickham Lane, Welling), Keith Richards and Mick Jagger (Dartford), John Paul Jones of Led Zeppelin (Sidcup) and David Bowie (Beckenham / Bromley). Other famous local residents have in the past included Bernie Ecclestone (Bexleyheath), Lennox Lewis (Danson), Nevil Shute (Hatherley Road, Sidcup), Delia Smith (Bexleyheath) Linda Smith (Erith), Michael Crawford (Bexleyheath), Roald Dahl, (Hurst Road, Bexley), Sheila Hancock (Erith), Boy George (Shooter's Hill), and Sir Edward Heath (Old Bexley), and Steve Davis (Danson) All of these well – known and illustrious people have contributed to both the local and the national well-being in one way or another.


Word reaches me from a regular source of information (two days before the News Shopper published the story) that the Spice Master restaurant in Nuxley Road, Upper Belvedere was the target of a group of thugs recently. I understand that last weekend a group of six or seven youths tried to enter the restaurant; as it was close to closing time and the group were rowdy and very drunk, the owner refused to admit them. After some altercation the group eventually agreed to leave, but asked the owner to call them a cab. As the group were abusive, and in any case had not been customers, the owner declined. The group eventually left. I have been informed from several sources that the yobs turned up at around 2 AM, long after the restaurant had closed, and proceeded to break all of the windows. You can see the temporarily boarded up windows in the photo on the upper of the two photos above - click on it for a larger view. I know that Spice Master has a number of CCTV cameras; I am just hopeful that they were recording and managed to get some good images of the scumbags who carried out this spiteful attack. The lower photo  was taken last night, and shows the repairs to the restaurant, which is now back open and serving customers; thanks again to the same person who took both shots, and who wishes to remain anonymous. My understanding is that the total repair bill, not just including the broken windows, but also furniture and soft furnishings at the front of the restaurant comes to nearly ten thousand pounds. Whilst most of this will be covered by insurance, I do hope that this will be borne in mind when (if?) the culprits are brought to justice. 

The London Borough of Bexley is currently undergoing the largest amount of house and infrastructure construction since the 1930’s when much of the borough was transformed from farmland to suburban residential land. Places such as Barnehurst were pretty much created from scratch, and Bexleyheath was transformed from not much more than a large village into a bustling commuter town. A similar degree of transformation is happening now. We have already had Erith Park as the replacement for the much maligned Larner Road Estate; the Tower Hill development on the site of the old college, the shortly to commence redevelopment of the old Pop-In-Parlour, and the huge new 600 house development called Erith Quarry.  In April, the council’s cabinet approved a strategy outlining potential growth up to 2030, which includes bringing in 31,500 new homes and 17,000 new jobs in infrastructure by 2030. Thamesmead will also be growing substantially, where the Peabody Trust has plans for another 1,500 houses. Much of the council’s other figures hinge on the potential extension of Crossrail beyond Abbey Wood to Gravesend, calling at Belvedere, Erith and Slade Green, and potentially all of the way down to Ebbsfleet, to link up with the  forthcoming Paramount London Theme Park. The council believes the extension will help bring investment, including thousands of homes and jobs, to the towns. The council is asking members of the public for their opinion on this expansion. I am aware that many people have concerns about an increase in traffic and the pollution that this would bring. Others worry about how the local water and drainage would cope – especially as Sandcliff Road (known to locals as “Poo Mews”) has been flooded with raw sewage on several recent occasions when the outdated Victorian drains could not cope. Sandcliff Road is close to the site of the Erith Quarry development, and it is felt that major upgrades will be needed to the local drainage infrastructure to cope with the additional requirements of approximately two thousand extra residents. There are also concerns about the provision of healthcare and education,  To address  these and many other issues, the council are holding a series of consultations which will be open to the public. These events are to be held at the following times and locations:- Saturday June 10, 12 noon-4pm – Erith Riverside Shopping Centre; Thursday June 15, 3pm-4pm – Mobile van outside Belvedere Junior School; Thursday June 15, 4pm-7pm – Mobile van on Station Road, Belvedere; Tuesday June 20, 3pm-7pm – Morrison’s superstore, Erith; Thursday June 29, 9am-9pm – Bexleyheath Shopping Centre, Bexleyheath; Saturday July 1, 9am-6pm – Bexleyheath Shopping Centre, Bexleyheath. It will be interesting to see exactly how much the council will be listening, and how much of their plans are actually a fait accompli. It would be far from the first time that Bexley council have steamrollered through a project – witness the whole Belvedere Splash Park debacle.

Talking of things related to plumbing, a large number of people in Erith and parts of Lower Belvedere have had severe problems with low water pressure over the last week or so. I understand that a very large water main just off Fraser Road was damaged a while back, and it is taking Thames Water some considerable time to repair the fault.


Improvements are planned to the Thames riverside footpath all of the way from Grain, Westwards as far as Woolwich. I have been contacted by an organisation call Natural England, who are a non-departmental public body in the United Kingdom sponsored by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. It is responsible for ensuring that England's natural environment, including its land, flora and fauna, freshwater and marine environments, geology and soils, are protected and improved. It also has a responsibility to help people enjoy, understand and access the natural environment. Natural England has begun to investigate how to improve coastal access along a 78 km stretch of the Kent coast and Thames Estuary between Grain and Woolwich. This new access is expected to be ready in 2019. The end point of this stretch was changed in April 2017 from Gravesend in Kent to Woolwich in London in order to join the capital to the England Coast Path along the Thames Estuary. Officers from Kent County Council, Medway Council, London Borough of Bexley and Royal Borough of Greenwich are providing Natural England with expert local advice and helping to make sure there is full consultation with local interests during the development of the route. Natural England is now visiting all the land on this stretch of coast that is likely to be affected by the proposals and discussing the options in detail with the people who own or manage the land, relevant local and national organisations who have an interest in the stretch. After final discussions have been held with those who have a legal interest in the land, Natural England will begin refining and checking their proposals to improve access to this stretch of coast. This may start sooner for some sections of the stretch than others. The proposals will be finalised and then published in a report to the Secretary of State for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. This is expected to take place in spring 2019. Once published, the report will be available on GOV.UK and advertised in the local press. Copies of the report will be placed in council offices and other appropriate locations in the local area for people to view. Natural England will contact affected property owners and occupiers and the local and national organisations that must be notified by law, to make sure they are aware that the report has been published. Once the report has been published, local residents have eight weeks to comment on the proposals. Anyone who wishes to comment will be able to make a representation on the report and owners or occupiers of affected land will be able to make an objection. The Secretary of State will consider all representations and objections before making a decision about approval of Natural England’s report. For advice on making a representation or objection, Please click here to go to the relevant page on the Natural England website.


The photo above shows two radios that look very similar, but are actually markedly different. I know that I have many readers who are radio enthusiasts, and I want to ensure that you don't make the same error that I did. The radio on the left of the picture is a Tecsun PL 360 receiver, which I bought from a EBay seller in the UK. It was advertised as having Single Sideband (SSB) reception on the H.F bands. It does not. I complained to EBay, who refunded my money after confirming the radio was not as described in the advert. The Tecsun radio is actually pretty good - it covers the Long Wave, Medium Wave, VHF FM and Shortwave broadcast bands, and bearing in mind I got it for free (the vendor did not want me to return it) it is a nice little radio. The radio to the right of the photo is a completely different beast, the CountyComm GP-5 / SSB is a full communications receiver in a handheld unit. It is not available for sale in the UK; I had to personally import mine from the USA, and pay a substantial customs charge in the process. It covers Long Wave, Medium Wave, VHF FM, Shortwave broadcast bands and also the full LSB and USB amateur radio bands. It has digital signal processing - something remarkable in a small handheld radio. The GP-5 / SSB was developed for use by U.S emergency personnel and the military in natural disasters such as floods, hurricanes and forest fires as a means to keep staff in contact. The ability to listen to military and commercial H.F broadcasts, along with being able to monitor radio hams. I have spoken to Nevada Radio, one of the largest importers of amateur radio equipment into the UK to find out if they had plans to import this excellent little "all in one" radio receiver into the UK, but they said no. Although the units on sale for personal importation are absolutely brand new, they are technically U.S military surplus. The cost of having them UK type approved, along with the limited stocks available make it not financially viable to bring them in, unfortunately. If you would like details of where I got mine from, and the total cost of importing a unit privately from the USA, please Email me at hugh.neal@gmail.com.

A reader called Chris brought a story to my attention, which whilst a little outside of my normal coverage area, was potentially of interest to a large number of Maggot Sandwich readers. The betting company William Hill wants to convert the old Victorian building formerly used by Barclays Bank in Plumstead High Street into yet another betting shop. An article on The Weekender website reads:- "William Hill’s ongoing bid to open a shop on Plumstead High Street continues, with an appeal against the Council’s refusal for planning permission lodged with the planning inspectorate. The betting chain originally lodged their application for a change in use of 107A Plumstead High Street– from financial services (A2 license) to a betting office (sui generis) – back in 2016 but it was rejected. Following a rejected appeal and a re-submission of plans, residents are up in arms to see them once more attempting to get hold of the ex-Barclays Bank. Objecting residents said there is no need for another betting office in Plumstead, with three existing bookies within 100 metres of the property. One resident reported there are fears that a new betting office would encourage anti-social behaviour on the High Street, with groups of men reportedly congregating and drinking outside the betting shops that are already there. “I’m completely opposed to it,” said local resident and Plumstead and Abbey Wood Regeneration Committee (PARC) member, Lizzie Gould. “I’m not surprised they’re back again. “It’s well-known that betting shops target ethnic areas and deprived areas. It feels like a deliberate strategy,” said Lizzie, in reference to the clusters of bookies already in Plumstead. “It’s so important for people to get online and register their objections. In the last appeal there were over one-hundred objections but they’re banking on the fact that fewer people will complain each time. “We don’t need more bookies in an area that we’re meant to be regenerating. We need nice places to eat or nice places to buy food. “We [PARC] are prepared to have a massive campaign on this.” However, a spokesperson for William Hill insists that there is a “demand” for their services in Plumstead, having conducted “significant market research” in the area. “Footfall, rental rates and population density are the key factors in deciding where to place new developments of which there are now very few. Should we be successful with our appeal, we would be creating up to five jobs in the local area driving revenue and foot traffic to the local economy.” Residents can object or support the application up until June 2 on the Planning Inspectorate’s website. A decision is expected by late Summer. This potential additional betting shop forms part of a pattern. The overall number of adults gambling is increasing. Based on (admittedly quite old) figures from the 2010 British Gambling Prevalence Survey (BGPS; a large-scale research study previously funded by the Government), the number of adults participating in a form of gambling in the previous year (excluding the National Lottery) was 56 percent in 2010, compared with 46 percent in 1999 and 48 percent in 2007. The number of problem gamblers is increasing. BGPS data also indicate that the prevalence of problem gambling appears to have increased from about 0.6 percent in 2010 to 0.9 percent in 2013. This is equivalent to around 450 000 adults experiencing a situation where gambling ‘disrupts or damages personal, family or recreational pursuits’, and where gambling can become a disorder similar to drug or alcohol misuse.  Problem gamblers may be contributing more than 20 percent of all money spent in Britain on certain forms of gambling. Analysis based on BGPS data indicates that problem gamblers contribute as much as 27 percent of the overall betting spend in Britain on dog races, and 23 percent of money spent on fixed-odds betting terminals.  On the high street, betting shops are visibly clustering together. The overall number of betting shops in Britain has marginally increased (in 1961 there were 8802, while in 2013 there were 8889). However, concern has repeatedly been voiced by organisations – including the Local Government Association (which represents 370 councils in England and Wales) about betting shops ‘clustering’ together in large numbers in town centres. For almost half a million Britons today, gambling is no longer a recreational pleasure but has escalated to become a full gambling problem. This is where gambling ‘disrupts or damages personal, family or recreational pursuits’ as previously mentioned, and where it can become a disorder with traits similar to drug or alcohol misuse. Left untreated, a gambling disorder can have devastating consequences for:  the gambler – including higher rates of physical illness, the development of mental health conditions, severe financial difficulties, and criminal activity to fund gambling - and their family – for every problem gambler, 8 to 10 other people are directly affected, including spouses - who may experience domestic violence.

The ending video this week is interesting; it shows some aerial footage shot in and around Abbey Wood and Thamesmead by someone with an aerial drone. You get to see some nice footage of the improvements to the park land in and around Lesnes Abbey Ruins. Give it a watch and see what you think. Please feel free to leave a comment below, or Email me at hugh.neal@gmail.com.