Sunday, July 23, 2017

The Erith Lighthouse.


The building in the above photo is one of the landmarks of Erith. It is the first thing many visitors see when they enter the town for the first time, but it is also one of the least memorable. I wrote last week about the major stakeholder in the building, one of the large African churches that have several plans for the future of the building, many of which may not come to pass without council planning approval. The large and nowadays rather run down and scruffy brick building is called Electricity House – though many locals are unaware of this. The blue painted block to the left in the upper photo above is a former car tyre warehouse. The structure was built back in 1938 and opened in November 1939 as a showroom and offices for the local electricity company, which at the time was run by the council. Pre – war services such as gas, water and electricity supply were quite commonly managed and supplied by local councils; the idea of private companies being involved was something that did not happen until after the war had ended. Electricity House was also a place where new electrical customers could view domestic appliances which they could buy via hire purchase (it sounds like an early version of BrightHouse, but without the crippling interest rates). As well as the showroom, Electricity House was home to what contemporary accounts say was a very upmarket dance hall with a fully sprung Canadian Maple floor; there was also a small Pathe cinema. The local electricity business was astonishingly successful – probably much helped by the fact that it offered the cheapest metered electricity in the entire UK at the time – one penny per unit. Ten thousand local people signed up for electrification in the first month alone, attracted by the offer of free connection to the local power grid – unusual at the time – many suppliers would even charge for the copper cable to connect new customers. In 1939 the Erith electricity board made a (for then) massive profit of £13,000. The idea was that the money would be used to improve local services and amenities for all, but the advent of war meant that early in 1940 Electricity House was handed over for war work, and once peace was restored, the money intended to benefit local people was absorbed by the LEB during nationalisation, and nothing was ever seen of it. Much of Erith was still lit by gas until relatively recently. I believe that some houses in West Street did not get electricity until 1947 when the London Electricity Board was formed, and the local council control of power was nationalised. Since my last update, events have been moving rather swiftly in respect of Electricity House and the activities of the African churches within. Bearing in mind that the work to convert the upper floor, which until recently contained Erith Snooker Club, (which had been located in the building since 1948, and who recently were unceremoniously evicted - an action which is currently subject to a court case) into an events venue has been going ahead despite a legal challenge case which is ongoing, not to mention the fact that no planning permission has been granted for either a change of use, or for the building conversion work, it would seem that things are progressing apace. Last weekend I got a series of Emails from a long time reader who has concerns over what is going on. They write:- “We went to bed as normal last night in order to get up early for our trip away from Erith. When we were both alarmingly woken up at around 12.45am, by very extremely loud music, singing and preaching which was all clearly coming from the old Snooker club, lights were on, door and windows all open, the noise was at such a level it caused vibrations through our walls!  Many attempts to call 101 police number but no joy as high levels of calls. I have left  rather irate messages on Councils Enforcement answer phones for them to hear and call me on Monday morn. We got up, and walked round building to investigate. By 2am. church service was in full swing. After a while, a stroke of luck, we flagged down a metro police car coming round the Pier Road car park, so, 2 policemen went up to  snooker club and told them to turn noise  down, close windows and they are sending report to our local police about this.  Within about half an hour after police had gone the music crept back up again. We got absolutely no sleep, We drove away from home at 4.30 am this morning and it was still going on then! Apparently, according to their Podium radio Facebook video info content of 4 days ago (I have only just seen it myself) The Snooker club is the venue being used all over this weekend and there is some huge church event taking place there from 1pm tomorrow from the sounds of it, there is going to be hundreds of people turning up to the P-square venue at 5 Pier Road”. Further to this message, I went round to Pier Road on Saturday afternoon, and a few churchgoers were present in their striking white silk costumes and hats. There was no music playing, and little noise of any description to be honest. I have had reports from other locals of the unlicensed and antisocial behaviour coming from the building. The reader who had initially reported the loud noise and disturbance then Emailed me with an update. "I had heard that there was a planned public police meeting at Pier Rd Police Office. They confirmed to us that they had indeed attended the snooker club on Sunday afternoon just before 3pm, (Hence, the silent time) as they could hear the noise all the way down to their offices! They went up there again to call a stop on the music at around 7.30pm. It`s unfortunate you didn`t plan your walk a little bit earlier or later, as contacts have got footage of the large speakers arriving and said that "the walls were rocking. By the way, you may have noticed all the large amounts of recurring piles of fly tipped rubbish and furniture being dumped around the recycle bins around Erith Town? This has all been identified as the contents which keeps coming out of the Snooker club, by the so called Christian church. The Council are at least taking some further action on this". For a group that purports to be of Christian origin, they don’t seem to be loving their neighbour as thyself. It all seems to be extremely hypocritical. The antisocial behaviour they have exhibited will very likely count against them as far as Bexley Council planning department are concerned; any contraventions of planning regulations is taken into account when a decision is made regarding a planning application. Also the fact the former snooker hall cum chapel is directly next door to residential housing is a major deciding factor in these kind of cases. What do you think? Leave a comment below, or Email me at hugh.neal@gmail.com.


Local Arts and Culture commissioning group The Exchange have just published the following announcement:-

"WE WANT YOUR VOTE! - Your chance to vote for the first ever Pier Commission on Erith Pier.  Have your say on the shortlisted proposal and pick your favourite at :-

https://www.theexchangeerith.com/the-pier-commission/  Voting opens midnight tonight."

It is not often that a local politician makes it into the national news, and when they do, the results are usually not very edifying. This week Labour councillor and former parliamentary candidate Danny Hackett, the councillor for Lesnes Abbey ward got into a very public dispute with the minor celebrity Lily Allen when he got into an argument via Twitter over comments Ms Allen made about former Prime Minister Tony Blair. You can read details of the case here. I have met Danny Hackett on a number of occasions and he comes across as a nice chap who is dedicated to his community. According to reports online, Danny Hackett was one of, if not the youngest councillor to be elected in the UK. He has admirable dedication to his role, but I do think in this case his youth and relative inexperience have been highlighted. He got into a very public spat with Lily Allen, which did not reflect very well on either party; I get the feeling that a more mature head would have maintained a dignified silence. There are times when saying nothing is by far the least bad option – and I get the feeling that this was one of them.

There has been much concern, and much activity relating to the Bexley Regeneration Consultation Project that I wrote about last week. Whatever the reality of what the outcome of the consultation project will be, it has cast alarm and concern amongst the community in Slade Green and parts of Erith - and potentially it may well cause housing blight in some of those areas. As I wrote last week; I feel it is very unlikely that many, if any of the proposals in the draft plan will actually come to pass - but that really is not the point. It is the fear that they will that is the problem. On top of the council proposals recently published, there is another development under discussion which has up until now not been mentioned; it is a private one that proposes to redevelop the former Sportsman Club / Slade Green Football Club in Moat Lane into a brand new community centre, sports club, medical centre, a meeting room and vocational and literacy hub, along with around three hundred apartments. A public meeting to show the proposals is to take place in St Augustine's church hall in Slade Green Road on Friday the 28th July between 7 and 9pm. 

Housing association Orbit published some good news this week; their plans to redevelop the Arthur Street Estate have been boosted by a grant of £9.64 million from the Mayor of London's office towards the cost of demolishing the three 1960's tower blocks, and replacing them with 280 new homes. Built in the last 1960s, the street currently provides 263 homes, but developers warn “many components are now failing and the blocks no longer meet modern standards”. Orbit hopes 80 per cent of its new homes will offer affordable rent and shared ownership, with associated parking and public open space. Whilst the story of the substantial cash grant has only just broken, I reported the whole Arthur Street redevelopment project almost exactly a year ago. The estate, which is located on the opposite side of Northend Road to the Erith Park Development (which, incidentally has recently won London Regeneration Project of the year at the London Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors Awards (RICS) and has been shortlisted for a National Housing Award for Best Regeneration Project). The Arthur Street Estate consists of three high rise blocks of flats – Cranbrook House, Cobham House and Canterbury House, and some low level accommodation – Challock House, Charing House, and The Nursery. Orbit Housing Association have managed the estate since February 1998. Historically the Arthur Street Estate has been regarded by many as somewhat of a problem, this is principally because historically there has been a large proportion of prolific offenders, people with a criminal background, and people with high support needs - particularly with drug and alcohol dependency living on the estate. Figures from a police report for the 12 months to 30 September 2011 showed 56 suspects of crime in Bexley living within the postcodes for Arthur Street Estate. Of the 56 crimes, only 1 was a motoring offence and 3 public order offences, the remaining 52 more high level crimes. The effect on community sustainability has been huge, with law abiding residents seeing this as short term housing, a means to an end. They have often been subjected to incidents of Anti  - Social Behaviour. This led to those residents requesting transfers, moving out from the properties and increasing turnover of residents. Orbit have been working with Bexley Council and various authorities to address these issues, and much good work has now been done, in a similar way to how Orbit were able to filter out the real trouble makers from the old Larner Road Estate, and not permit them into the new Erith Park Development, and since the start of the programme the situation has markedly improved. In an interview with the News Shopper, Maggie McCann, development director at Orbit said: “We want the Arthur Street estate to be a great place to live now and for future generations. The regeneration of Arthur Street looks beyond bricks and mortar and will encourage an inclusive community for people who wish to work in London and live in a neighbourly community.” Paul Nicholls, regional managing director, added: “The regeneration of the Larner Road Estate and subsequent development of Erith Park is the perfect example of what good development really looks like with both the area and community having seen a vast improvement in their surroundings and Erith Park becoming a highly desirable place to live.” The main Arthur Street tower blocks are old, fuel inefficient and end of life, and should be demolished and replaced with modern, energy efficient apartments with better buggy and wheelchair access – as has proved so popular from the new flats on the Erith Park Estate. As for the lower – level accommodation, I feel that some could be extensively refurbished, but many of the buildings will have concrete frames, which are always problematic, especially as they age. To be honest, most of the housing stock on the Arthur Street Estate is old and looking understandably rather worn and past its best. There is also the spectre of fire resistance - I suspect that the old blocks would not fare well in the event of a major fire, whereas any new builds will be constructed to the very latest fire safety standards.


More sightings of drug paraphernalia have been made in the local area over the last week; one lady who prefers to remain anonymous spotted various suspicious items located at the bottom of the footbridge over the railway line, between Peareswood Road and Slade Green Road. The footbridge is used by children on their way to school or nursery. The items are Nitrous Oxide canisters and the cardboard boxes that they are supplied in. These are illegal to use for anything other than their intended industrial purpose. This is a growing problem in the local area. If you have any photos of illegal drug paraphernalia taken in the area, please send them to me at hugh.neal@gmail.com

The reports this week from Bexley Borough Neighbourhood Watch Association read as follows:- "Two recent incidents in Bexley Primary Schools. An Eastern European male entered a primary school and walked directly to the year 6 area and spoke to a teacher. He said he was there to collect a child, who he named as Julia. This was the class where a Julia had recently left with one of her parents. The parent of that child was subsequently spoken to and had no idea who this male was. In a separate incident, an Eastern European female called another Primary School and named a child by their full name and stated that they would be collecting at 2.30pm to take her to a hospital appointment. They did not turn up and the child was collected by dad at the end of the school day as normal. He had no knowledge of who may have called. Please be vigilant and ensure that police are made aware of any similar incidents that you may know of". (Sgt. Alison Bateman, Borough Police). I know that this story sounds very similar to several "fake news" stories created by extreme right wing groups in the past; indeed a couple of concerned readers contacted me earlier in the week asking if the story was actually true - in this case I can confirm that it is true, I am sorry to say. Barnehurst Ward:- From Police SNT Team - PC Mark Laker. "Unfortunately we have had a theft of motor cycle this week, the bike, a silver and black Moto Guzzi, registration number LJ11GXT was stolen overnight from the 12th to the 13th July between 10.30pm and 9.15am from outside an address in Spring Vale Barnehurst. We have also has an attempted break in to an outside office/shed located at the bottom of a garden in Parkside Avenue. Thankfully no entry was gained however damage was caused to the door and locks. The garden is accessed via an alleyway which runs along the rear of the properties, Please make sure that any outbuildings are locked and secure with any garden tools and ladders locked away We are aware of some ASB issues within Martens Grove Park mainly by the basketball court area and the derelict premises situated behind Grovelands care home, we have liaised with the local authority and the area around the basketball court has been cleaned and litter removed, arrangements are being made to have the derelict premises secured. We will not tolerate any anti-social behaviour and a robust approach will be taken to deal with such. Please enjoy the parks and open spaces and treat them with respect “use it, don’t abuse it” As always you can follow us on twitter @MPSBarnehurst. We also hope to have a Facebook page up and running by next week, please search Barnehurst Police and give us a like and follow". Belvedere Ward. From Police SNT Team - PC Robert Holmes / PC Ashley Green:- "On Monday 17th July officers were on patrol along the footbridge of Picardy Manor way when a moped came towards us on the path. The rider stopped, dumped his bike and ran off. Unfortunately the rider got away, however the moped was uninsured so this was seized by Police. On Friday 14th July the team attended the Lesness Heath Primary School fete. We had a stand with crime prevention leaflets for the adults while the children enjoyed having their fingerprints taken for a certificate and played in the Police car. On Thursday 13th July the team paid a visit to the Brownies group at the Church Hall, Nuxley Road. The girls were shown our equipment and a play with the handcuffs (arresting each other all the while). We also spoke about some general safety concerns which they can utilise while out and about". Christ Church Ward:- "We have had a number of incidents in Warren Road that I would like to report. There is a vicious looking dog that often escapes the garden of a house in the road and terrorises the neighbours and the postman. On 17th July at approx. 01.30hrs a car pulled up and a bunch of kids jumped out with baseball bats, golf clubs and knives and smashed up a resident's car. The thugs returned twice more during the night causing a lot of commotion. Since the road was made one way as part of the Albion Road upgrade, Warren Road is now used as race track by a bunch of youngsters. Tearing up the road at 60-70 miles an hour, one day they will kill themselves or a pedestrian. The alleyway from Warren Road / Pincott Road on to Latham Road plus the unmade road at Warren Close is used a meeting point for many youngsters. The are often unsociable, causing disturbances, through things into neighbours gardens/conservatories and making lots of noise. Most mornings there is a another load of little canisters (Nitrous Oxide?) littered on the floor along with broken glass bottles". Crayford Ward:- "We have had reports of ASB on bikes, this plague seems to be across London at the moment of gangs of young riders on pedal and motor bikes being a general nuisance and hampering traffic as well as committing crime. Please report any incidents to either NW or your police team, giving number of youths / bikes together with place and time".


I have been aware for some time that a series of special events has been planned for Erith over the late Summer and early Autumn. I was asked to keep quiet about them whilst the details were finalised, but now the events have been made public and I am now free to publish the details. The official press release is here:- “Residents in the borough are being invited to enjoy Erith's riverside this summer, and to experience an extraordinary ‘pop up’ structure, the Erith Lighthouse, which will be offering a range of dining and family-friendly events. The Erith Lighthouse will host a programme of special dinners and events to explore and celebrate Erith’s unique London setting, and untapped potential. It will be at Riverside gardens from 10–27 August and then at Erith Pier from 7-24 September. The celebrations will begin with an Erith Lighthouse Garden Party on 10 August from 6.30pm. Throughout the summer 17 chefs will host 17 dinners creating distinct menus inspired by Erith’s unique riverside location. The guest chefs will use local growers and producers to inspire their menus and will include Steve Kielty, runner-up in this year’s Masterchef, who will be cooking up a British classics menu with a twist and Tiny leaf, London’s only organic, zero waste vegetarian restaurant. There will be a charge of £25 - £30 per person for a three course meal (excluding drinks). Numbers are limited and dining must be booked online in advance. Alongside this culinary extravaganza, the Erith Lighthouse will host a series of family-friendly events in partnership with the best of Erith’s people and places. Families can try their hand at potato printing, flower pressing and seed sowing, or simply come and spend time playing classic boards games on the Lighthouse deck all day, every day! Cllr Linda Bailey, Bexley’s Cabinet Member for Regeneration and Growth said: “Erith will be one of the first places to benefit from our ambitious growth plans, with a programme of regeneration aimed at developing the area into a thriving riverside community. “The Erith Lighthouse is a chance for local people to celebrate the rich heritage of their area. It’s also an opportunity for Erith to show those Londoners who haven’t yet had the chance to visit, just how fantastic a place it is.” There will also be a variety of tours and walks, including a ‘wild medicine’ walk and an ‘All paths lead to Erith tour’, that will explore and celebrate the many faces of Erith. In honour of Erith’s former market, the Erith Lighthouse terrace will become a marketplace on 26 August, selling goods from local makers. Those wishing to attend any of the events must book in advance. Simply visit www.eventbrite.co.uk and search for Erith Lighthouse. Most of the day time events are free. A small charge of £5 will be made for those guided tours and walks that include lunch at the Lighthouse and numbers will be limited. There will be a £10 cover charge for the Bexley beer tasting event on 19 August. Numbers are limited so book early to avoid disappointment. Erith Lighthouse is commissioned by the London Borough of Bexley and funded by the Mayor of London as part of Bexley’s Greater Erith Programme, a town centre regeneration programme that is enabling the creation of an active town centre that makes the most of Erith’s unique setting by the River Thames. Find out more about the planned events and dining experiences or visit their Facebook page. Space is limited at Erith Lighthouse so booking in advance for all events and dinners is essential”. I think the idea of the idea of the series of Lighthouse events is an excellent one, and really shows some confidence in Erith and its residents. I am also glad to see that the events will make good use of two of Erith’s most important public spaces – the Riverside Gardens and the Pier, both of which have strong maritime connections, which links in with the entire theme of the programme. My only concerns are ones that I raised last year in relation with the pop – up cinema event that also took place in the Riverside Gardens last year. Any public event needs a large amount of high profile promotion and publicity for it to be successful – the problem with the pop – up – cinema was that very few people got to find out about it in advance, and consequently the turnout was not as high as had been hoped. I feel that the Lighthouse events need to be given a strong promotion via multiple methods – the traditional posters and advertising flyers posted through local doors, along with a concerted campaign via social media such as FaceBook. The events also need to appeal / be promoted to people from outside the direct area; especially when the pop – up – restaurant is concerned. A meal costing £25 - £30 a head minus drinks may be the norm for someone from a relatively wealthy town such as Bexleyheath or Sidcup, but for many Erith residents it would be simply unaffordable, and the kind of people willing to spend such a sum on a meal from outside of the town I feel are very unlikely to want to come to Erith to eat. There is also the issue of physical security - the local illegal biker scumbags would relish the opportunity to take a pop at people at an evening event in the Riverside Gardens; I gather private security guards are to be employed.  I think this is an idea a couple of years ahead of its time - when Erith Quarry (the "posh" housing development) is finished and fully occupied, I think this is when an upmarket pop - up restaurant would be a better idea. I have been in contact with the Erith Regeneration team, who have partially assuaged my concerns, but I feel more needs to be addressed before I and many other local people are fully confident of the success of the forthcoming operation. I hope to cover the Lighthouse events in greater detail closer to the time; it is really good to see that the local area is finally getting some well – deserved recognition after decades in the shadows. I hope that many local people will get involved in the events coming in the near future – it look like being a fun time.


No prizes, but can you identify just what is wrong with the artists' impression of the housing in the forthcoming Erith Quarry development above? Drop me a line if you can. Many of the concerns expressed by readers about the Erith Quarry development related to the potential overloading of the existing drainage system in and around the area of the Pom Pom. Memories of raw sewage running in the street in Sandcliff Road are still fresh in many people’s memories. It would seem that developers London and Quadrant have been mindful of this, and over the last few weeks the Western end of Fraser Road has been subject to temporary traffic lights as drainage engineers install new, much higher capacity pipes deep under the road surface. It would appear that fears relating to future drainage issues are unfounded, which is reassuring for those living in the area. I am aware that many of the houses in Sandcliff Road are effectively blighted due to the history of raw sewage flooding the road during heavy rainfall; even if this problem has now been solved, the reputation of the road has been badly tarnished. I am led to believe that the rare house sales in Sandcliff Road have been to buy to let operators rather than people looking to live in the road. Hopefully the new sewage system will benefit all in the area. Incidentally, the reason the area around the Western end of Fraser Road , Pembroke Road and Alford Road is known, mainly by older residents as the Pom Pom is historical; the old Maxim (later Vickers Son and Maxim) gun factory was located in the area now used by BATT Cables. The gun factory had a  firing range where the 20 mm cannons were test fired prior to delivery. The characteristic deep boom as the small calibre cannons fired was likened to a Pom Pom – and thus the name stuck.

There has been plenty of fuss over the last week about the choice of actress Jodie Whittaker taking over the role of The Doctor in the next series of Doctor Who. Firstly, to settle any disputes, the creator of Doctor Who, Sydney Newman always said that the Doctor could be male or female, and secondly, the press reports saying that Jodie Whittaker would be the first female Doctor are also inaccurate. The first female Doctor was played by Joanna Lumley in the 1999 Comic Relief Special - "The Curse of Fatal Death" - which you can see in full below. Leave a comment below, or Email me at hugh.neal@gmail.com.