It’s not Rockit science…

It’s nearly two years ago that we wrote about the disappointing decision to turn down the application to turn long-empty hairdresser’s ‘Rockit’ in to a sushi bar.   And, guess what?  The site on Royal Parade is still empty.  Not only is this is a simple waste of space, but it’s also a crying shame that the sushi bar application in particular was turned down as,  judging by our Twitter exchanges, there’s huge demand for this sort of place in Blackheath.

So, two years on and – despite promises from local councillors to look in to the matter – no change.   Actually, scratch that, things have got worse.  Putting aside for a moment your unsatisfied need for raw fish, if you had a say in what should fill some of the empty spaces in Blackheath, what would you go for?  Keeping in mind the hairdressers has been empty for more than two years would you go for a….hairdressers?  No?  Really?  Something else?  Don’t be silly.  Hairdresser it is.

Now, the Revolt bows to no one when in its free market credentials.  Indeed, we started this ‘blog as a response to those locals who seemed to think they could hold back the tide of development in the village and instead ‘will’ their own outcome on the place (most notably by opposing any sort of pop festival for ages).  So we’re not stupid enough to think that just because we might want something to appear in the village – or not disappear from the village (the loss of the fishmongers was a blow) – that it will happen.  But in this case, there was an application!  For a sushi bar that would have been popular! And despite the fact that the fishmongers was replaced by a hairdresser and that ‘Rockit’ is still empty, the long-vacant Black Vanilla site in the middle of the village is to become a barber shop.

To be clear – we wish the new venture every success.  Our argument is with the Council.  What is it thinking?  The official reason for turning down the sushi bar is as follows (courtesy of Revolt favourite ‘Dr Dick’ @drdickdickson):

Translated this means they were worried about too many ‘non-retail’ units in the village.  Underlying this has to be a presumption that one restaurant is the same as another.  That a sushi bar would take  custom way from an Argentine steak house.  Possible, but more likely is that both would benefit from the village’s reputation for good food growing (which it has massive scope to do).

But, fear not!  Rumours abound that Blackheath is about to get a whole new dining experience.  Oh year, milkshakes! (Apparently at the Costcutter, but not yet confirmed.  Anyone know?).

Doh! Nuts!

What to do then?

For a start, we’d encourage those interested in this to raise it with local councillor, and all-round decent bloke Kevin Bonavia.  Cllr Bonavia has tweeted in the past about this and said he would look in to things.

Second, given the problem seems to be the planning rules concerning a concentration of non-retail outlets in the village (apparently this specifically means no more than three restaurants in a row), the question arises as to whether these rules makes sense and if they can be changed?  Are they national or a local policy?  If the latter then surely there is scope for changing them?  One option might be to retain the general principle but to apply it alongside a general preference against long-term empty properties.  Another would be to have a more nuanced approach to the type of restaurant when considering an application.

Anyone know how to start an on-line petition?  Perhaps one could be organised to bring these matters to the attention of the Council?

Finally, should there be another application for a sushi-bar, or something similarly interesting (cheese-monger, anyone?), we should all write in as part of the planning process to support that application.

MM Season 4, Episode 1

The current fad of ‘binging’ on TV box-sets has rather past the Revolt by, but in sitting down to pen this write-up of the opening night of Street Feast’s fourth season at the Model Market in Lewisham, it’s hard not to think of at as a series.  Will MM resume where it left off last year?  How might the cast change?  Will there be any dramatic new twists?  Just how messy is devouring one of Mother Flipper’s finest going to be whilst nursing a rum punch?  You get the picture.  But before jumping in to this series…

… Previously on Model Market:

Season 1

Season 2

Season 3

Season 4: And so, for the fourth successive time, a full set of Radicals, plus chums, descended on the Model Market and were pleased to be able to secure our favourite perch to enjoy an evening of street food and people watching. (You’ll understand of course if we don’t reveal where said perch is – nothing personal – except that it’s within easy striking distance of the main bar.  Obvs. ).  Thankfully the weather was kind, despite the dark clouds overhead, and indeed remained remarkably mild throughout the evening.  Aided by what seemed like more heaters than before and the familiar smokey warmth from the braziers.

One addition – we were perhaps a tad too excited to notice (though it gave us something to talk about) – was that of a roof over the street to the left as you look from the main bar (the one you enter the place on).  It also looked like the roof on the other side had been improved.  Which will be very useful when the weather does turn for the worse.  Enough on the roofs.

Raising the roof

There were also quite a few changes to the food outlets.  The much anticipated Namban – Japanese street food based in Brixton – was there.  And its Eringi mushrooms went down well.  Less popular was the new taco place (Tacos del Rey) which seemed to take an age to assemble and then underwhelmed when they were.  Worth a second visit though as it’s not impossible that having taken the spot of past favourite Yum Bun had something to do with the verdict.  The SE Cakery, which provided one Radical with a much envied, apparently very tasty, and resolutely un-shared, chocolate brownie, is now in place of what was the rather popular hot-dog shop.

Taco look at this lot

Back off the brownie!

As mentioned, stalwart Mother Flipper is still there as is Mama’s Jerk, whose jerk chips rather divided opinion, though were demolished in good order.  The Italian place (‘Cheeky Italian’?) has gone as has ‘Smokestak’, Rola Wala and no doubt some others we’ve forgotten.  There’s also a new Venezuelan place that was a big hit.  A new bar is due to open next week (in the shop opposite the main bar which seemed previously to be used for particularly, ehm, relaxed, people to sit in) and the main bar itself now offers Sierra beer which offers a very welcome alternative to the Frontier lager.

New bar? Oh well, suppose we better come back next week then…

Winyl is still there though no longer providing the music, with the DJ station having re-located to the main bar.  Despite the relocation the music doesn’t appear to have changed much, which prompted the other main topic of conversation of the evening (having calmed down about the roof and had a rather unexpected discussion about Winnie Mandela – don’t ask).

So, the problem with the music is that it consists of a series of tracks that contain familiar beats from popular songs (think Beat It, by Michael Jackson or some of the more bass-laden David Bowie tracks) but without actually breaking in to the up-tempo part of any of those tunes.  Which.  Is.  Very.  Frustrating.  And not at all conducive to people dancing, if that’s your thing.  A bit like having your songs on some sort of ‘first 30 seconds only’ shuffle so that you never get the opportunity to belt out the chorus.  It wasn’t always like this and indeed some of the Revolt’s first visits to Model Market were memorable for there being a great deal of dancing (which we observed in a dignified manner of course) but at the last few visits there has not, and in our view this is partly due to the music being played.

After another ale and having by now exhausted all sensible topics of conversation and resorted instead to sending people amusing whatsapp messages the Revolt finally left Model Market satisfied at having seen it open for a fourth year in a row.  Which is something worth reflecting on; what the people behind this place have done with a seemingly futureless site, and that it has been such a success for the past three years and still going strong, is really impressive.  It’s given the area something it lacked as well raising its profile across the city.  And, as our thoughts on the music no doubt reveal, it provides the Revolt with possibly the only ‘trendy’ venue that we attend with any regularity and, somehow, really like.

 

New Franchise, Better Service? Have Your Say

“Services on the South Eastern rail network have been unacceptably poor for far too long.” A sentiment all regular passengers on the service running through Blackheath will no doubt agree with. The implication of this statement in the consultation for the new South Eastern franchise due in 2019 is that things will change. And they should. The Revolt has, on occasion (okay, quite a bit), commented on the issues with the current service. Now time to shift the moaning – for despite everyone, including the Dept for Transport, recognising things are not good enough, little came of the many complaints – and push for change. The Revolt encourages everyone with a view to take the time to respond to the consultation to ensure the voice of passengers is heard. It is here: https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/future-of-south-eastern-rail-services

The consultation also highlights some existing improvement plans to be delivered that the Revolt has been pushing for: more flexible season ticket options (including Oyster-style smart cards); on train wi-fi (due to be fitted across the network by end of 2018, although we’d like to see this done faster); compensation for delays of 15mins rather than the current 30mins – on a journey from Blackheath of 20-25mins, being 30mins late only occurred when things went very wrong, whereas 15mins delays are more regular occurrences. But also a very concerning suggestion (Q17 below) that trains from Blackheath could be limited to just running to Cannon St.

The consultation sets out the challenges and asks a range of questions. The Revolt has some thoughts. If you agree or disagree, don’t use up all your enthusiasm or ire on the comments here but respond to the consultation!

Q2) Introducing longer trains – although it requires the infrastructure to be in place across the network, platforms have already been extended at Blackheath and a default of 12 car trains at peak time (up from the current eight or ten) would be most welcome.

Q3) Better designed trains to handle capacity – a contentious point based on some of the comments on the Twittersphere. The Radicals would love seating for all but this is unrealistic. Anyone getting on at Blackheath should realise that even with 12 car trains there will not be seating utopia. For those of us who do regularly stand, the yellow door trains (the Electrostar – not donning the anorak, the consultation describes the train types) are much better than the trains with the small vestibule (the Networker) for capacity. Many will take umbrage at the suggestion that more standing areas are the solution but the Revolt prefers to be pragmatic and realistic – and no, this does not mean support for all standing trains, sitting on the roof etc. The existing yellow door trains seem to have the right balance.

Q5&6) Improving customer service – The Revolt has written about this before… A Treatise on Customer Service ; Service? No, we’re Southeastern et al. In short, less automated crap, more relevant info provided quickly, more info on the train (hit and miss as to whether the driver is feeling chatty at present), more visible station staff (Blackheath is nominally a staffed station). As already noted, reducing the delay-repay to 15mins and making it easier to claim is a good thing. Data should be available to South Eastern on actual timings of services and this should be quickly and pro-actively publicised – passengers shouldn’t have to work out if their train was 14 or 16mins late.

Q7&8) Fares and ticketing – more flexible season tickets to take account of how people work and travel (e.g. working from home, not using the service regularly on a weekend etc.).

Q9&10) Access and improvements to stations – the not-so recent update to Blackheath makes it pretty accessible but more cycle racks would be welcome.

Q14&15) New services – Support additional trains in the evening and weekends. Blackheath doesn’t do too badly on this but as an example on paper there are four an hour to Charing Cross on Saturday but they come in pairs about 7mins apart leaving gaps of 23mins between services.

Q16) Effective timetabling – Blackheath is a bit beholden to services coming in but as noted above, sometimes services can end up clumped together. So options for having trains at ‘clockface’ intervals would be good.

Q17) Single Terminal option – Certainly not as the example suggested of all Metro services on our lines only going to Cannon St. This would represent a marked reduction in service and increase costs for many who do the point-to-point tickets to Charing Cross and Victoria.  A Zone 3 travel card is £500 more than a Blackheath to London terminals ticket. This would also increase journey times for all those that don’t currently use Cannon St.

In addition this would have a knock-on effect on the Underground with additional large numbers of passengers accessing the Tube at London Bridge and Cannon St. Over-crowding is already an issue at London Bridge at peak times and this would make it a regular occurrence there and for the Circle/District line connection at Cannon St. Revolt experience is that routes to Charing Cross, Cannon St, and Victoria are almost equally popular. And the suspicion is that a single terminal option would lead to fewer trains and less capacity as one station has fewer platforms than three. So, No.

It would not benefit the occasional and weekend passengers as arguably Cannon St is the least of the ‘destination’ stations for theatre-goers, shoppers, cultural activities, etc.

Q18&19) Better partnership between operator and Network Rail – Revolt recognises that the franchise runs on a network that struggles (historic lack of investment, running at capacity). Closer working and greater incentives to deliver a reliable service for both the operator and infrastructure would be welcomed.

Blackheath Village Day 2016

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The Revolt always looks forward to the Christmas lights being switched on in the village, and are veterans of many such occasions.  And over the years the event has got bigger and more organised so that yesterday we had ‘Blackheath Village Day’ on a scale never before seen.  And overall it was great success.

This year there was a proper stage on Montpellier Green which was surrounded by stalls from the likes of Everest Inn and Chapters.  And as in previous years there was also a stage outside The Crown and events at Blackheath Halls and throughout the village.  Dozens of performers provided the entertainment with everything from gospel choirs, Nepalese dancers and Morris Men to lantern making and a board game workshop (which we thought best to avoid so as to avoid one Radical’s board game competitiveness emerging in a potential awkward manner).

Seriously though, we really are lucky to have a day like this which brings together such an eclectic mix of cultural experiences set against the beautiful backdrop of our very own village.  So, a huge thanks to all those who gave their time to entertain us and to everyone who helped organise the event.  Our favourite, though it’s invidious of course to single anyone out, were the Blackheath Morris Men – who really went for it with their sticks and handkerchiefs, not to mention some classic ‘cracker jokes’, and in the process seemed to leave the crowd feeling as jolly as the dancers themselves.

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Spending the day in the village, starting with the excellent Royal Horse Artillery in the morning, it’s quite clear that the event generates lots more footfall and that the local traders were benefitting from this.  Which is great and hopefully continues through the festive period, if not at the same levels as they day itself.  [Though for those around, the Morris Men will be back on Boxing Day!].   And the advantage of taking a more systematic approach to the day, with a programme, branding, and an ever expanding set of ‘draws’, is that the day itself will become better known and hopefully even  people will start to come along and spread the word about Blackheath and all it has to offer.

But there’s always a trade-off.  As we said last year, the big lights switch-on being at Montpellier Green rather than in the middle of the village is a mistake.  A number of people were heard to say that once the count-down had reached its climax it wasn’t actually possible to see the lights (apart from the really nice ones around the nearby trees, which were already on) from where everyone was gathered.  Talk about an anti-climax.  Keep the stage, keep the procession to it, expand the events and who performs, but have the switch-on itself back in the village!  Oh, and the ‘Blackheath Santa’ may have done a good job in leading the kiddies and their lanterns through the village, but as a master of ceremonies for the highlight of the day, he was pretty underwhelming.  Apparently local favourite Nick Ferrari was busy this year.

What did you think?  As usual the Revolt enjoyed proceedings, more and more as the mulled wine flowed in fact, and came away feeling very glad to live in such a jolly place with such great people.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Speeding Fine?

Following the summer break and silly season (okay, quite a long one since the last post) and a bit of a Twitter hiatus (easy to get out of the habit of checking!) the Revolt has become increasingly concerned about the amount of speeding on our local roads and the recent introduction of more 20mph zones is now exacerbating the problem. The worst problems had been on the major routes – Shooter’s Hill, A2, Lee Road, Lee High Road, Burnt Ash Road – where drivers routinely ignore the speed limit. Now anyone walking or driving in the new 20mph zones can’t help but notice that very few drivers abide by the new limit.

This is no surprise. There appears to be little to no enforcement which then makes a mockery of the speed limit. Certainly this Radical’s experience both driving and on foot in the 20mph zone that stretches through Hither Green and Lee is that most ignore a zone that has been in place for many years. Much traffic heading across the heath on the A2 or up Shooter’s Hill seem to treat it as 40mph, as they do on the A20 through to Lewisham. This is not just ‘outsiders’ and people passing through as many locals choose to ignore the limit too. It is a disgrace that so many drivers of all vehicles – although of greatest concerns are the larger vehicles, including TfL buses – can and do regularly get away with speeding.

What is the point of a 20mph zone if it is not enforced? The Revolt is not against 20mph (and has been abiding by the new limit). We know the difference just a few miles an hour makes in an accident with a pedestrian. The Revolt supports 20mph where it is appropriate, such as around schools and narrow roads, and where resources can be focused to enforce it. Reducing the speed limit in such an unfocused way (or as a response to speeding) risks being seen as tokenistic rather than actually being effective. Targeted zones can have a greater impact as drivers are more likely to take note of and be more inclined to slow down for a short stretch of 20mph than a large zone. Lewisham Council’s reasoning is here.

Which brings us back to the main problem, regardless of the limit, of speeding. It appears that many drivers believe they can get away with speeding because they see no risk of being caught. The odd speed camera is not a deterrence – as we all know someone speeding will slow for the camera and speed up again. Speed bumps have some impact but many simply accelerate between them or for the square bumps take dangerous action to avoid them.

The Council and police need to work closely together if we want to reduce speeding in the area. Where were patrols as the new 20mph was introduced? Every day in those first couple of weeks this Radical was amazed by the lack of any sort of monitoring. And let us be clear, we are not talking about the odd speeding car but the vast majority of vehicles flouting the new 20mph limit. At the very least pulling drivers over to alert them to the new limit would have been good. A particular concern is also that many bus drivers speed in 30mph zones and seem to be unaware of the new 20mph limits (your Radical had a bus race up behind whilst doing 20mph on Prince of Wales Road). There is no doubt some worker’s rights reason is deployed why it is not sensible to regularly monitor bus maximum speeds but that frankly should not be acceptable.

The Revolt would hope our local representatives and the police are aware of the many spots people speed but is there anything the public can do to help? The Revolt has been tempted to name and shame commercial vehicles seen speeding as the company may be willing to act against drivers. Can we do more to report and map the worst areas and to report buses speeding but what could the authorities do with that information? And no, let’s not have the answer as more ‘traffic calming’. As noted, the new zones and existing speed bumps are not the panacea some will claim. Just take a walk down Lee Park where there remains plenty of speeding despite speed bumps and the new 20mph limit, or sit in Halcyon books on Lee High Road for an hour to see what difference a couple of speed cameras make. Would targeted 20mph zones have greater effect with drivers taking notice? The Revolt expects that 20mph zones are here to stay and it seems that in London at least, many councils are now introducing blanket 20mph areas with little thought to their relevance or effectiveness.

The Revolt is aware that the answer will almost certainly be resources for enforcement (not more signs and zones) and speeding will be a low priority. A good experiment would be to monitor speeds on some of the routes mentioned as well as in the new zones. A week of focused police resources on enforcement might also make the point that speeding is a problem as well as catch a good number of drivers. That will only highlight the problem but might spur some thought, proposals, and action to deal with this epidemic.