Sunday, August 21, 2016

Crimbo.


The information sheet above was published by Bexley Borough Neighbourhood Watch Association on Wednesday. The two individuals pictured have a long history of stealing motor bikes, riding them locally without a licence, tax, insurance or a helmet, and then breaking the bikes for parts, which then get sold on. They have been a regular presence on the Frobisher Road Estate, off Manor Road in Erith for some considerable time. I am not aware of what other sentence they have had imposed. The issuing of a Criminal Behaviour Order (CBO) goes over and above any judicial sentence - it is on top of, not instead of. In case you were wondering, a Criminal Behaviour Order (often known as a Crimbo) is a court order that replaces the better known Anti Social Behaviour Order (ASBO). The Crown Prosecution Service describe the CBO thus:-“On 20 October 2014, new anti-social behaviour (ASB) sanctions were introduced and Criminal Behaviour Orders (CBOs) replaced post-conviction anti-social behaviour orders (ASBOs). The CBO is available on conviction for any criminal offence in any criminal court. The order is aimed at tackling the most serious and persistent offenders where their behaviour has brought them before a criminal court. CBOs include prohibitions to stop the anti-social behaviour, and may also include requirements to address the underlying causes of the offender's behaviour. The court may make a CBO against an offender only on the application of the prosecution. For a CBO to be made: The court must be satisfied, beyond reasonable doubt, that the offender has engaged in behaviour that caused, or was likely to cause, harassment, alarm or distress to any person; and that the court considers making the order will help in preventing the offender from engaging in such behaviour. The CBO replaces the Anti-social Behaviour Order (ASBO) on conviction and the Drinking Banning Order (DBO) on conviction. The main differences between the ASBO on conviction and the CBO are: The behaviour (first limb of the test for imposing an order) only need to cause or be likely to cause harassment, alarm or distress to any person (removing the "not of the same household" requirement); The "necessity" test becomes a "helpfulness" test (as with that for Football Banning Orders); and the court may impose requirements as well as prohibitions. The police will usually raise the possibility of an application for a CBO against an individual at the point of charge. A local authority may also approach the prosecution directly with a request to consider an application for a CBO without having to go via the police. The police / local authority must provide evidence to support the request for a CBO. Prosecutors should be alert at charging stage and beyond to cases in which a CBO application may be appropriate. Before applying for a CBO for a youth, the prosecution must find out the view of the local youth offending team (YOT). In practice, the organisation preparing the application for the CBO (the police or local authority) will find out the view of YOT. If the views of YOT are not present on the file, the prosecutor must contact the police / local authority to request the information. A CBO may be varied or discharged by the court which made the original order. Either the offender or the prosecution can make an application but if this is dismissed by the court, neither party can make a subsequent application without the consent of either the court or the other party. It is a criminal offence if an offender fails to comply, without reasonable excuse, with the prohibitions and / or requirements in the CBO". It sounds to me as if the CBO is designed to fill in the loopholes and weaknesses of the old ASBO system. Anything that curbs the local lowlives has a thumbs up from me. 

Following the terrible fire in Moat House last week, there have been a few developments. It turns out that the fire alarm in the building actually worked exactly as it was programmed to do. The claims that the alarm did not sound were true in a way, but not in another. It turns out that many modern multiple occupancy alarm systems are not designed to sound out loud to the whole block, but only to alert the occupants of flats potentially affected by the fire. Regular reader and occasional contributor Caroline Field, Project Manager with Orbit Housing Association (and unconnected with the Moat House development) explains:- “Interesting to read about the fire - and have of course made mental note to be particularly careful of the wiring sign off on our PVs. However just to pick up on one of your points, it would not normally be fire service advice to have a fire alarm in a block of flats. Each flat would have an individual (these days, mains wired) alarm which would go off if the fire was actually in your flat. Firstly of course it would go off every time someone burnt the toast. Secondly the strategy is generally that residents stay put. (unless the fire is in their flat of course) The flats are all built to a high standard of containment and people should stay put until the fire brigade either make safe or rescue them from the building. If you think about it, the last thing you need is people all panicking to leave the building, quite likely leaving their safe flat to blunder into the fire zone. There are also obviously risks to people going down stairs etc (lifts can’t be used) in haste, perhaps when they are drowsy , panicked, disabled, drunk, encumbered with children etc. They will also get in the way of the fire brigade who will be arriving and wanting to get rapidly to the site of the fire. All flat blocks will have automatic opening vents – AOVs – which open in the event of fire and help to ensure that smoke, gases etc. don’t amass in the stairwells. There’s no point giving people an alarm and then telling them to stay put –they won’t!. To put it in perspective, about five years ago there was a fire in Cambria House. The flat where it happened was totally gutted. The landing was very dirty with smoke - presumably when the door was opened for the family to escape or when the fire brigade went in. The old lady in the flat next door was pottering around her flat until a very nice fireman knocked on the door to ask her to leave. Her flat was totally unaffected. Remember that this was a really old flat – and just before they all had fire protection upgrades”. Fascinating stuff – and to be honest, it does make perfect sense. I guess that the new residents of Moat House were unaware of, or had forgotten how the alarm system operated. Moving into a new home could well cause "information overload".


The upper photo was taken by Pier Road based professional photographer George Gilbert early in the morning of Sunday the 17th of July 1966. It shows what Erith High Street looked like fifty years ago, including L.B Stevens the Butcher. The only buildings still in existence in the photo are The Cross Keys, which can just be seen to the extreme right of the photograph. Slightly to the left of it you can just see Erith Post Office, which is still open as well. It was only a very short time later that the whole of the centre of Erith was demolished to make way for a horrendous brutalist concrete shopping centre, which was universally loathed (and as a child, my main recollection of which was a strong smell of stale wee and Jeyes Fluid). I don't know a single person old enough to recall the old town centre who would not have it back if it was possible. The lower photo shows the last day of trade for L.B Stevens - Master Butcher, photographed on Saturday the 27th May 1967, just before the shop was shut for good and demolished. By the look of things, the immaculate shop, with Len Stevens in his bow tie, spotless apron and straw boater hat was a real credit to the area. If the redevelopment vandals had not come in and demolished things, I do wonder if Stevens the Butcher would still be running today? With the increase in popularity of traditional suppliers, with high end butchers Carnivore opening in Sidcup, Erith could have become a haven for foodies. How things might have been different if wiser heads had been in control.

Back at the beginning of July I wrote a piece about a long dead recordable music format called Elcaset, which was developed and marketed by Sony. It was designed to offer reel to reel recording and playback quality in an outsized cassette case, Whilst technically the Elcaset analogue format was very clever, it was very expensive and it never really took off. In fact, the manufacturer Sony ended up killing off Elcaset with another of their own formats – Minidisk. A couple of readers have asked for more history on Minidisk, so here goes. The MiniDisc format began as a research project in the labs of electronics giant Sony in the early 1990s. In those pre-iPod, pre-flash memory days, engineers were struggling with the problem of how to make music portable. Sony was riding high on the success of their Walkman analogue cassette players, which had come to dominate the market in the 1980s. But they were bumping up against the limits of the media: both cassette tape and CD Walkman devices really could not get any smaller, because the medium itself was the limiting factor. Devices like the cassette tape Walkman WM-EX88 and the CD D-J50 were not much bigger than the cases that the cassette tape and CD were stored in: they literally could not get much smaller and still hold the tape or CD. What was needed, Sony decided, was a new way to store music. This new format was the MiniDisc. This development was spurred by two inventions: a new audio compression format called ATRAC and a storage system called the magneto-optical disc. The Adaptive Transform Acoustic Codec (ATRAC) was developed by Sony engineers who figured out an important fact: your ears are good, but not that good. They are attuned to picking up certain sounds better than others. Specifically, if there are two sounds at similar frequencies, your ear can’t separate the two. This is especially true of high frequencies: our ears are more attuned to picking out low frequencies like the rustle of a tiger in a nearby tree. At higher frequencies, your ear is not able to pick out the details. So, what ATRAC does is to effectively lump these frequencies together, losing the specific details that your ear can’t hear anyway. (That’s the theory, at least; audiophiles will argue otherwise, but let’s leave that aside for the moment). ATRAC breaks the sound down into 24 frequency bands, and selectively compresses the sound, with smaller bands (that preserve more of the detail) at lower and middle frequencies, but losing a lot in the high bands. There is much more to the process than that (you can read all of the details here - trust me, it is extremely technical), but the end product is that it compresses the sound down so that the ATRAC version is one fifth of the size of the CD version. Each disc could hold 74 or 80 minutes of music, although this could be expanded with later models that could compress the music more to hold up to 320 minutes. The first MiniDisc players were launched in 1992, accompanied by a large advertising campaign touting the benefits of the new format. Initially, Sony tried to pitch it as an alternative to CD, a new format where you would buy albums on a MiniDisc. The first pre-recorded album was Emotions by Mariah Carey, which was perhaps indicative of the state of mind at Sony after the launch was a spectacular failure, with Sony reportedly selling less than 50,000 players in the first year. The MiniDisc never caught on as a pre-recorded music format, as CDs were the music format that everyone used. Never ones to admit defeat, Sony decided to try again in 1996. This time, they decided to play up the recordable and reusable aspects of MiniDisc, touting their new discs and portable players as being tougher, better and cooler than CD or tape, because you could easily move tracks from CD or tape to MiniDisc, then skip or shuffle tracks on the player. This relaunch met with some success: the MiniDisc players were lighter and more flexible than CD players, and they offered the skip protection and shuffle play features that cassette tape players were missing. Other manufacturers (such as Aiwa and Sharp) supported the format and started offering recorders and players. The new breed of portable MiniDisc players could record music directly from the digital output of a CD player, so the quality was great. You could also sacrifice quality for more music, storing up to 320 minutes of audio on those that supported the higher compression levels. One niche market that loved the MiniDisc were radio journalists. The aforementioned ability to write to MiniDiscs meant that you could record to them with many portable MiniDisc devices, and the ATRAC compression worked extremely well for voices and ambient sound recordings. It didn’t have quite the premium audio quality of DAT (Digital Audio Tape), but it was cheaper and more reliable than the notoriously mechanically finicky DAT recorders. The game was soon up, however, when Apple announced the iPod. The benefits of the iPod over the MiniDisc were obvious: the first iPods offered 5GB of capacity that meant up to 1000 songs, or hundreds of hours of music, while each MiniDisc held just 320 minutes at most. And the iPod didn’t ask where the music came from, or limit how you could copy it: it accepted most MP3 files without complaint or limitation. This caused a seismic shift in this industry: the iPod went on to sell millions, while the MiniDisc remained a niche product that was loved by some, but ignored by most. The writing was on the wall. The MiniDisc format lost ground over the early 2000s as MP3 players got better and better. Even the uniqueness of MiniDisc being able to record audio on the player was lost, as solid state recording devices started offering more flexible recording and editing features than MiniDisc ever could for professional users. The Minidisc format was discontinued by Sony in early 2013, though many fan sites and third party resources are still available for a product that never really made it out of a niche.


The photo above was taken by one of my local anonymous sources. It shows the rear of the K Spice African restaurant after a kitchen fire back in July. My source writes:- “I refer in particular to K`s Spice African restaurant which used to be a takeaway, since 2010 became a licensed sit in restaurant causing much noise and disturbance to us all and the anti-social behaviour when it closes at around 11pm drunken customers proceed to their cars in the Pier Road car park, frequently using it as an outside toilet. We have been complaining to the council and police for the last 6 years but nothing seems to ever improve. It has recently been granted planning permission to be knocked through into Mumbai curry house and will become twice the size. I just wanted to mention and publicise that we had a fire here too, Thankfully not anything like the scale of the one that occurred last Monday, but just as scary. It happened on Wednesday 20th July `16 (a really hot day) at 4.50pm. The cooking oil drums which K`s spice stupidly store in their ` rear fire exit` exploded, melting the plastic roof setting fire to the huge piles of cardboard and rubbish also regularly stored here ! The fire brigade said it was `Very poor housekeeping`”. I have to say that I too witnessed the fire; it was only the very rapid arrival of the Fire Brigade that stopped the minor conflagration from turning into a major blaze that would have seriously threatened the flats above the block. K Spice have had brushes with the authorities in the past; they unsuccessfully applied for a very late night licence, which only got refused after strong protests to the council from local residents. You can read the story from back in 2014 here. As I have previously mentioned, I get the impression that several businesses are engaged in a mini "land grab" over Electricity House and the block next to it in Pier Road. I think several savvy local business people are buying up as much of the place as possible, prior to a large developer coming along to buy the entire site for redevelopment. The snooker club recently got sold for £305,000, and as it only brings in £28,000 a year in rent, something is definitely happening. I think that property speculation is going on, and it will not be very long before an offer is made for the entire site - the land is now worth far more than the buildings on it. What do you think? Do you have any information concerning this? Leave a comment below, or Email me at hugh.neal@gmail.com.

It would seem that Bexley Council have now belatedly taken action regarding Houses of Multiple Occupancy (HMO). At present only HMOs with three or more floors, containing five or more people in two or more households and with shared facilities need a licence – Bexley has 22 of these properties, although there are thought to be around 1,400 smaller dwellings that under current Bexley rules do not need to be registered. Now, later than most London boroughs, Bexley is finally adopting an “Article 4 Direction” It means that in the future, all HMOs would need planning application approval – and this should come into force early next year. Leader of Bexley Council Teresa O'Neill said in an interview with Bexley Times "We understand residents’ have some concerns around HMOs and it is unfortunate that on occasion these properties are used simply to maximise profits by a small minority of private landlords. We must recognise however, that there is also a need for well managed HMOs in the borough. Many are used by students or young professionals, some are there to ease the enormous housing pressure that we are currently under. But we must have some better local regulation in place. This new licensing scheme is being proposed in the current absence of any nationally applied rules.” The decision to proceed with the new licensing scheme was taken by Cabinet Member for Adult Services, Cllr Brad Smith on the 12th of August. The decision will now be subject to a seven day Council 'call-in' period. Following that the next stage will be a ten week consultation period on the new licensing schemes, during which the Council will engage with tenants, landlords, managing agents and other interested parties. Following consultation the licensing schemes could be introduced from early in 2017.The 'Article 4 Direction' means that in future all HMOs would need planning application approval. The nature of the legislation means that this would come into place late next year. Houses of Multiple Occupancy can be a great success. The former Homeleigh care home in Avenue Road, Erith is a case in point. I have described Avenue Road before as “The Beverly Hills of Erith”. It is a very desirable location, with some lovely detached and semi-detached houses, mostly built in the 1930’s. The former Homeleigh care home now houses a number of formerly homeless people. It was unable to continue as a care home due to changes in planning regulations which meant it was no longer suitable for use as a care home, but there was nothing wrong with the building in itself – and just for once Bexley Council took the pragmatic decision to re-purpose the otherwise functional building. There was initial wariness from local residents about the move, but the feedback I have had recently seems to indicate that the arrangement is working very well indeed. HMO's are not automatically bad - it all depends on how they are set up, managed and regulated.


Over the last week you may well have noticed a number of people on the river front at Erith, and on the Slade Green Crayford Marshes; they were equipped with binoculars and cameras. If you wondered who they were, and what they were doing, then I will explain. The Zoological Society of London (ZSL) conducted its fourth annual seal survey. Combining aerial surveys of the Essex and Kent coastlines, as well as sandbanks in the outer Thames Estuary, with more traditional boat and land-based studies, ZSL’s conservation scientists have been counting latest numbers of the marine mammals, as well as looking out for any emerging health trends. Data collected from the research will reveal any change in harbour seal populations and also highlight the ratio of harbour seals to the larger and more dominant grey seals, which increasingly compete with harbour seals for food and territory. Last year’s ZSL seal survey counted 451 harbour seals and 454 grey seals in the Thames Estuary. The 2016 edition will provide the latest update on these figures and also inform future conservation and management of seals in the region.This will be done through implementing the Greater Thames Seal Action Plan, providing scientific evidence during any planning applications that may impact seals, as well as generating comprehensive population data to inform future research in the region. As I have previously mentioned, the seals swim in the River Thames and often into the River Darent; they often float in the water with their heads above the surface in and around Anchor Bay, and well-meaning passers by on the shore sometimes mistake the seals for swimmers who appear to be in trouble in the water. Indeed, the average survival time for a person in the water is estimated to be eleven minutes, due to the extreme currents and undertow in the river in and around Erith Pier. Obviously the situation is somewhat different for seals – the water is their natural habitat, for which they are perfectly evolved. I understand that at least one RNLI callout recently has been as a result of a misidentified seal mistaken for a swimmer in distress.

This weekend has been the first outing for the limited overnight operation of certain tube lines in London. The end video this week shows the behind the scenes final preparation for the 24 hour tube which were made last weekend, when trial runs were made, and the last safety testing was undertaken. Please feel free to leave a comment below, or Email me at hugh.neal@gmail.com.