Sunday, September 17, 2017

The Royal Alfred refurbished.


Many readers will be familiar with the building in the photo above; it is the former Royal Alfred pub in Manor Road, Erith. The pub has been empty and unused for years due to a number of factors. It has been a landmark on Manor Road since it was built in 1874. Over the last couple of years, the building has been covered in scaffolding whilst a complete new roof was installed, and huge changes made to the internal architecture of the building, which was also extended to the rear by a significant degree. A very large amount of exceedingly expensive work has been undertaken, and I have a bit of a scoop - the first look inside the refurbished former pub, now that work on the refurbishment of the upper floors has just been completed, and before the first tenants move in to the extremely high quality apartments which are shortly to be available for private rent. You may recall that I ran a feature on the Royal Alfred almost a year ago, when the place was little more than a shell - you can read my original article by clicking here. things have progressed amazingly in the intervening time, as you can see in the photos I took last Saturday afternoon, which you can see below. Click on any one for a larger version. All of the photos were taken using natural light, and no electronic flash.


I was given free reign to go wherever I liked in the building, and take whatever photographs I wanted to; I have to say that the workmanship of the refurbishment is of an exceptionally high quality, and the materials and domestic appliances installed are all absolutely top notch. Manjinder and his family have done a stunning job - I expected the fit and finish to be good, but what he has achieved has exceeded my expectations by a substantial margin. Now that the upper floors are now complete, work will shortly begin on the ground floor - turning it from a building site into a new, expanded Londis store to replace the cramped and outgrown shop on the opposite corner of Appold Street that the Bains family have run very successfully since 2002. They plan to keep as much of the former Royal Alfred pub identity as they can. If you are interested in learning more about these lovely apartments, then drop me a line to hugh.neal@gmail.com and I will put you in contact with Manjinder.

The News Shopper are reporting a story that I predicted well over a year ago. The Dartford River Crossing Dart Charge system has not been anything like the success its operators had promised when the number plate recognition system was introduced. Recently released figures show that the Department of Transport has failed to collect a total of £32.5 million in unpaid fines, just from the last financial year. As I originally wrote, the Automatic Number Plate Recognition system used at the Dartford Crossing is easily fooled by dirt on the number plates, by certain foreign number plate designs with non – UK fonts, fog, rain and road spray. Basically unless the plate is scanned in near perfect weather and visibility conditions – something of a rarity in the local area, there is a strong chance that the number plate will not be recorded by the Dart Charge system correctly. On top of this, there is the well-known local issue of a large number of stolen and forged number plates in wide use by drivers which enable the criminal fraternity to travel over the crossing with impunity. If this situation was not bad enough, a lot of foreign drivers who ignore the Dart Charge system – the reports says that 437,304 unpaid crossing fines were forwarded to European debt recovery agents in the last year, very little, if any of which will be repaid. What also occurs to me, is if the level of fee avoidance is as high as now becomes apparent, how much does the collection process in itself actually cost? I wonder if it would actually work out cheaper to make the crossing – both the bridge and the tunnels free as had originally been intended? I have no vested interest in the Dartford Crossing myself, as it is not something that I personally use. I feel that the cost of administration versus the actual toll receipts could do with being looked at. Would a free crossing make a difference to the traffic levels in North Kent and South Essex? I am not an expert, but it would be interested to hear the opinion of a professional transport analyst on the subject.

One tends not to think of the local area as being one that fosters much in the way of agriculture; a fairly unglamorous South East London / North Kent suburb is not exactly the kind of place one would expect to find much in the way of food production. In many respects this may be the case, but in one particular area it is most definitely not true. Erith, Slade Green and Dartford are renown for the quality of honey that is produced in the area; indeed Dartford Bee Keeping Club have just won an award for producing some of the best quality honey in the country. I guess that this is due to areas such as the Slade Green Marshes, with the large open areas covered with heather, wild flowers and bulrushes. For what is thought of as a predominantly urban area, we actually have quite a large amount of uncultivated, wild wetlands and other places which bees find attractive. You can read more about Dartford Bee Keepers on their website here. I must warn you that the text on much of the site suffers extensively from rogue apostrophes – “bee’s” occurs on multiple occasions, amongst other misuses of possessive apostrophes. The site is obviously a labour of love, created by someone with rather more knowledge of bee keeping than good web design, or English grammar and punctuation.

Last week I ran an article on the proposed closure of Bexleyheath Police Station; Dana Wiffen of Bexley Borough Neighbourhood Watch Association sent me the following report on a recent public meeting to protest against the proposed closure:- "Thursday night’s meeting at The Council Civic Offices-main chamber, with representatives from The Mayor's Office including the Deputy Mayor-Sophie Linden and Bexley Police Borough Commander-Stuart Bell who took questions from a passionate 90 Bexley residents who attended. The top table included with the above two, plus Joyce Sutherland Chair of Bexley Safer Neighbourhood Board and myself. Many of those who attended were NW-Coordinators and most of NW's Committee was there also present, all NW members are volunteers that work in the Borough to try and reduce crime; all are against the planned closures of both front desk and then the police station itself, moving all police and front desk to Marlow House in Sidcup. There are also plans to close the police sub-offices in the Borough as well. We were told that this is part of a London wide programme to try and save £400 Million pounds from the MET's budget. Some of the arguments against were:- 1) Bexleyheath is Central to the Borough-Sidcup is not. 2) Bexleyheath allows a quick response to crime in the North of the Borough such as Thamesmead, Sidcup would not. 3) Bexleyheath is accessible from all parts of the Borough by bus, Sidcup is not. 4) Bexleyheath Town Centre has its own problems around pub closing times on Fridays and Saturdays - how would police responding from Sidcup be able to handle these problems quickly? 5) Pushing for a reality type police contact would exclude the 30% of over 65 year olds that do not have computer access. 6) There are no public parking facilities near to Marlow House and bus services to other parts of the Borough are limited making travel say from Erith to Sidcup difficult. 7) With a growing population in Bexley, the planned building in the North of the Borough as well as around Bexleyheath was pointed out with residents amazed that none of this has been taken into consideration. Although the figures for cost saving of Bexleyheath Police station were offered none were available for the amount of money needed to be spent on Marlowe House to allow it to take all the extra officers and vehicles and also the cost of installing a 24/7 front desk, which Marlowe House does not have at present. Already Bexleyheath Police Station has been devalued with the holding cells closed last year, it is ridiculous that police now have to take those arrested to either Plumstead Police Station or to Bromley meaning they can be off-line for a long period of time while offenders are booked in and they travel to and from Bexley. What seems just as bad is that Marlowe House does not have this facility either and there are no plans to include them if these changes are made. We feel that the plans to close both the 24/7 front office and police station will rip the heart out of community policing in the Borough, and that the already rising crime figures will continue during this process if it goes ahead. In addition to being able to respond the MOPAC on-line questionnaire (which is loaded towards the closure and reality policing), Bexley residents can sign an online (38 degrees) petition and if they prefer or do not have computer access they can sign hard copy petition and use it to gather their neighbours signature etc which are available from Bexley Borough Neighbourhood Watch. (Tele: 0208 284 5537 Email: bexwatch-office@btconnect.com). The fight will go on with the on-line petition approaching 3,000 signatures there is scope to push this to 10,000 in time for both types of petition to be presented to our London Assembly Member-Gareth Bacon in time for him to present to the Assembly in early November. It is important to remember and this seems something both the MET and MOPAC have lost sight of Community Police Officers on the beat are "the eyes and ears" for fighting crime along with NW-Coordinators who continue to work with these teams to reduce crime and improve safety for residents, with the ever present danger of terrorist activity and the continued increase in gun and knife crime as well as the continued rise in lawless and dangerous biker gangs, the closure will give them the green light to carry on with their criminal activities knowing there is even less chance of them getting caught. While we are assured that there is going to be 2 fixed officers in each ward, by the time they have travelled from Sidcup to their ward, set up planned "Hubs" and start working on their newly acquired tablets there will be little time to patrol their wards. Bexley's residents should be aware and act now, as once these plans have been rubber stamped, the plan to build flats on the site will be the next step and Bexleyheath Police Station will be gone forever". You can sign the anti Bexleyheath Police Station closure petition by clicking here.


In a similar story, a reader alerted me to the advertisement above - which shows the former Belvedere Police Station which is now up for sale.  The plot of land, which is located on the corner of Woolwich Road and Nuxley Road in Upper Belvedere (NOT Nuxley Village - there never has been such a place - it is a recent, historically incorrect invention of estate agents that do not live around here, and have no knowledge of local history) is up for sale for redevelopment. Whilst I have no ideas what property development companies have expressed an interest in the site, but you can be pretty much certain that a large block of flats will end up being built on the site. Nuxley Road is already about to see some extensive changes; the very long established Walk Around store and the hardware store Nuxley DIY next door to it are about to close for good. The owner of the buildings is selling up and both buildings are being redeveloped for housing in the form of an apartment block. The whole nature of Nuxley Road is about to change. It seems that the threat of the closure of Bexleyheath Police Station and the selling off of Belvedere Police Station are not isolated cases; indeed it has come to my notice that our neighbours across the River Thames in the London Borough of Havering are experiencing a similar problem. Indeed the borough issued a public announcement last week that read:- “Havering Council Leader Roger Ramsey, is urging residents to speak out against proposals to close a number of police public access points. The Council strongly opposes the Mayor of London’s Office for Policing and Crime’s (MOPAC) proposal to close both Hornchurch and Rainham police stations along with seven Safer Neighbourhood bases.  Cllr Ramsey, said: “I understand that there are cuts being made to the service which has put the Mayor in a difficult position, but closing these stations and bases is a short-sighted decision. It will leave our residents feeling unsafe and for some, in particular residents in Rainham, this means having to travel over an hour to their nearest police station, which isn't acceptable. “I urge residents across the borough to attend MOPAC’s public meeting tonight (Wednesday 13 September), at the Salvation Army in Romford from 6pm to 8pm." It would seem from that midweek announcement that the two boroughs share a lot in common in terms of challenges that we both face.

In what has become an annual event, Riverdale Road based country and western musician and composer Wayne Jacobs has just won the ukcountryradio.com listeners club award for song of the year. He has won this award every year since 2012. This year he was also a finalist for UK country artist of the year and UK male country singer of the year. Mr. Jacobs is obviously very talented in his chosen field, and has been accordingly recognised. What surprises me is that he has not chosen to emigrate to the USA, where the main market for country and western music exists. It occurs to me that he would be in a far more receptive environment over there, and certainly far more ability to generate a substantial income for himself in the process.


The Bexley Times published a rather poorly researched story last week; it printed an interview with the Chief Executive of MBNA Thames Clippers, Sean Collins, after the recent trials of Thames Clippers ferrying commuters from Gravesend Town Pier into Central London. In the interview he said:- “The trial has been a total success so far, passengers have been asking a lot of questions to find out when a permanent service could be up and running and how much it will cost. These questions are the reason we are running this trial, I set up this company 18 years ago, and two years later people were asking me about a Gravesend service, the only reason we haven’t done anything sooner is because we’ve been working on other projects across London. We need to set out a full business case, it could take up to two years to start up a service, it would be great to see it stop at other places, such as Erith, Greenhithe, Dagenham and Thurrock. Because of demand we’d need to build at least two bigger boats, at around 300 capacity. They would cost around £6 million each and then there’s the cost of running to consider. By having new, bespoke boats, the journey time wouldn’t be longer, but for now the idea of additional stops is something we would have to evaluate in a business plan, as we would have to bring in the cost of setting up dedicated piers for the service.” Sean Collins obviously made his statement before consulting with either the Port of London Authority, Morrison’s Supermarket, or indeed Bexley Council. As regular readers will recall, I have previously researched and written about using Erith Pier as a embarkation / debarkation point for the Thames Clipper ferry service. The pier, albeit the longest on the entire river Thames, is a dogleg shape with the long axis running parallel to the river bank. At low tide, the pier “dries out” meaning river craft cannot access it for several hours each side of low tide. The solution for this would be to install a floating jetty which would extend into the deep water channel further towards the centre of the river. The problem with this solution is that there are a number of factors acting against it – firstly, a jetty extending from the pier might be construed as a hazard to navigation by the PLA – and would require hazard warning lights at night, and in times of poor visibility. Secondly, Morrison’s, who own the pier and have responsibility for maintaining it do not want it used as a ferry terminal, as commuters would use spaces in the supermarket car park which they would rather see in use for their own customers, and thirdly, Bexley Council say in not so many words that they are not interested; a spokesperson from the council was recently quoted as saying:- “We are not aware of any such proposal. There was a query raised with us about whether the service could stop at Erith pier but it does not have the facilities to allow a vessel to dock and fitting them would be very expensive. We are supportive of increased use of the river particularly for leisure and tourism, but the economics of a commuter service may be challenging. In this context we await the outcome of the trial with interest.” Local MP Teresa Pearce has examined the possibility of ferries stopping at Erith Pier, and she too was told that it was not going to happen. Personally I would love to be able to commute to and from Erith Pier to my place of work in Canary Wharf, but unless there are some drastic changes in policy by several involved organisations, I really cannot see it happening. Let's hope things change for the better.

This weeks incident reports from Bexley Borough Neighbourhood Watch Association; Firstly from Barnehurst ward:- "Another Good week for Barnehurst ward with only one crime of note reported, unfortunately this was a nasty robbery which occurred at 12 noon on the 12th September near to Gravel Hill Primary School by two suspects riding a moped. The victim was crossing the road towards the school when a male wearing a crash helmet grabbed her necklace with such force that she was pulled to the ground. He then jumped onto the back of a waiting moped and made off down Gravel Hill towards the roundabout. If you have any information please call us with any details. Please be aware of your surroundings and take care of your property especially mobile phones and jewellery, for crime prevention advice on how to stay safe please visit the Metropolitan Police web site. We are aware of reports over the weekend of some ASB in Martens Avenue regarding youths on their pushbikes, we will be adjusting our duties to patrol at the relevant times and deal with the youths involved. Please join us on Friday 15th September at 11am at Barnehurst Golf Course to discuss any local issues or concerns that you may have. As always please follow us on twitter @MPSBarnehurst for regular updates from the team". From a member of the public in Martens Avenue:-  "Once again we are plagued by large groups of boys on cycle doing wheelies up and down the centre of the Martens Avenue, Bexleyheath. adjacent to the kids playground. This evening there are about 15 of them blocking the driveway of our house. When told to move they are abusive, rude and give you the one finger gesture. It is quite clear nothing seems to have been done with these kids who seem to be a law on to themselves. I can foresee that one of them will get hit by a car and seriously injured as they seem to hold no fear of traffic and indeed on occasions I have seen them play chicken down the centre of the road and force cars to slow down or stop. Something drastic needs to be done with these kids. They seem to have no respect for anyone or anything and I can foresee the time when if something is not done, one of the residents here taking the law into their own hands to deal with them. Their parents who should take some of the responsibility for these kids as they seem to do nothing and indeed no doubt if something is said to the kids about their behaviour, they would be soon knocking on doors and being confrontational. Please do something before things get out of hand". From Belvedere ward:- "We are continuing to canvass the ward to set up new Neighbourhood Watches. This is a lengthy process, but we have managed to set up 10 watches across the ward since we began. There has been ongoing Anti - Social Behaviour (ASB) by children/ youths acting in an intimidating manner and gathering in large groups in the public car park in Nuxley Road. We are monitoring this area and have spoken to residents of nearby streets to gain further information. Patrols of the area are set to continue and we have spoken to a number of young persons to advise them that any such behaviour will not be tolerated. There has also been a spate of thefts recently on the Belvedere Park estate in Lower Belvedere. Of note, uniforms belonging to the management company Pinnacle have been stolen. If there are any suspicions around people seen wearing these uniforms, we would urge residents of Belvedere Park not to allow these people access to any of the blocks on the estate and to contact Police immediately".


From North End Ward:- "A vehicle has been spotted parked in Appold Street with no registration plates. It looked like they had been forcibly removed . It's a blue Chevrolet and a photo has been sent to the local police team with relevant information". Copy of the photo above - click for a larger view. "There has been a burglary is Masefield Close (off of Bridge Road). Access was gained by a side window and air rifles, a tv and custom made remote control cars were among the main items stolen. The victim has been visited by SNT and is looking into getting CCTV at his home. There has also been an attempted bag snatch near the underpass on North End Road this week. Fortunately they didn’t get the bag but the victim is naturally very shook up. Patrols of the underpass area will be taking place and our advice is that if you are alone, please use the traffic lights at the bottom of Colyers Lane to cross the road. We have a surgery at 1800 hours on Tuesday 19th September in the Community Centre on the Rainbow Road estate. Please come along and say hello if you are around". Northumberland Heath ward:- "A burglary took place in Matfield Road where the suspect has been arrested and is currently on bail. Other than the burglary it has been a fairly quiet week on the ward apart from criminal damage to a motor vehicle parked outside the BNM Store in Brook Street where the victims window was smashed. This took place on Thursday 7th September between 0100 – 0500am. We have received a report from a member of the public of youths on pushbikes outside the post office in Mill Road throwing stones at passers-by. The incident was caught on film. Some rubbish was set fire to in Stream way, the Fire Brigade attended and put the fire out. No damage to property or life. On Thursday September 7th a member of staff from Erith School had her handbag stolen whist working in the school office." From Thamesmead East ward:- "No Burglaries to report. Delivery drivers beware – On Monday 4th September, food items were stolen from an ASDA’S delivery van, while the driver was with a customer, Kale Road. On Wednesday 6th September, a moped was stolen from Yarnton Way, however good news to report is that later in the day a male was seen with the bike, subsequently arrested and charged to court. Between Sunday 10th September and Tuesday 12th September a car was stolen from Pointer Close, officers managed to locate the vehicle in the Belvedere area, and has now been reunited with the owner. Just a reminder that between the 15th and 17th September a summer fete will be held at Southmere Park. Lots planned. We are always interested in recruiting new Neighbourhood watch co-ordinators for the ward. Please ask your family and friends if they would like to set up a Neighbourhood watch in their road. Contact us on 020 8721 2049 or Thamesmead.SNT@met.police.uk for more information, (or reply to this email to contact the NW office direct) For latest news from Bexley Police visit our twitter pages @MPSBexley and @MPSThamesmeadE".

The ending video this week shows the work to complete the new Abbey Wood railway station, which combines both the North Kent Line tracks and the new Crossrail (soon to be renamed Elizabeth Line) into one facility. Do give the short video a watch, and leave a comment below, or alternatively Email me at hugh.neal@gmail.com.