Basildon Council couldn’t organise a committee meeting in a theatre…

So…they’re now having to organise the meeting of the Infrastructure, Growth and Development Committee at the Basildon Sporting Village, the largest available venue in the borough – Local Plan meeting will now take place at Basildon Sporting Village. The meeting, whose purpose is to recommend the Local Plan, will take place on Monday March 19th starting at 7pm. A decision on this plan will be made at a full council meeting to be held on Thursday March 22nd starting at 7.30pm. This meeting will also be held at the Basildon Sporting Village.

As we mentioned in our previous post – Interesting developments in Basildon – the council were well and truly caught on the hop on Tuesday March 13th by the sheer number of people who turned up at the Towngate Theatre wanting to hear what the committee was going to decide about the future growth of Basildon. It looks as though the council have taken note of this display of people power and realised that, very late in the day, they need to open up their proceedings to as many of their residents as possible, hence the change of venue to the Basildon Sporting Village.

This sudden desire by Basildon Council to open up their deliberations on a Local Plan that will have an impact on everyone living and working in the borough will make them look like they have listened to the people but, apart from some hassle in switching venues, it’s not going to cost them. There may be a few tweaks made here and there but we suspect that the Local Plan will end up being rubber stamped before going to the full council meeting on the 22nd. Failure by Basildon Council to approve this plan means that central government could well intervene to impose their targets for housebuilding on the area. Being blunt, what people are now being invited to witness is little more than a rubber stamping exercise on plans that have pretty much been finalised.

Such is the nature of our ‘democracy’. Plans are drawn up with the aid of a few ‘consultation’ exercises along the way where variations of an option are presented for residents to comment on before the process goes to the next stage. Discussions about who the new housing is for, what infrastructure will be put in place to support the extra population and the numerous other legitimate concerns that residents have, are superficial at best. If this process was fully inclusive of the residents, it’s safe to say that there would be a much higher proportion of genuinely affordable homes for the next generation of residents planned than is currently being proposed. At the end of the day, if Basildon Council can’t agree on this plan, then central government will wade in to impose what they deem to be an appropriate target for housebuilding. Democracy in action? We think not…

Yes, we should welcome the decision by Basildon Council to open up their deliberations to residents, even if it is a late in the day token gesture. We welcome it because it shows that even Basildon Council can, with enough pressure, be persuaded to change their minds about how they’re seen to come to make important decisions. However, as mentioned in our previous post, it has to be born in mind that the people who turned up at the Towngate on March 13th and those who will turn up at the Basildon Sporting Village on the 19th and 22nd will have a number of varying agendas.

Obviously, there will be many with legitimate concerns, particularly about provision of the physical and social infrastructure that will be needed to support the extra population. However, there will be a NIMBY element there as well, some with not just parochial but also reactionary assumptions. If this element with their prejudices are allowed to dominate the proceedings on the 19th and 22nd, then an opportunity to exercise some genuine, progressive grassroots pressure will have been lost. We will be following developments closely and hope to have contacts at these meetings to report back and help us comment and reflect on the proceedings and their consequences. Watch this space for future updates…

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