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…


Interesting developments in Basildon

On the evening of Tuesday 13th March, the Infrastructure, Growth and Development Committee of Basildon Council was due to meet at the Towngate Theatre to discuss the borough’s local plan and potentially approve the plan so it could be presented to the full council on March 22nd. Normally, council committee meetings will only attract a scattering of those willing to spend an evening listening to councillors and officers talking about what may seem to be quite arcane issues. That was not the case on Tuesday 13th March when queues stretched around the Towngate ahead of the meeting with the venue reaching its 200 capacity leaving 350 people standing outside. See here for the full story in the Echo: Vital meeting on Basildon’s housing plan postponed as 350 left out in the cold

Suffice to say the meeting was adjourned and has been rescheduled for the 19th March in what the council think will be a larger venue. Is this surge of interest in the future development of Basildon a positive development? An initial analysis suggests that the answer is yes…and no… Yes because any indication that people care about the future of the town they live in and want a say in how that’s planned is a healthy sign they’re not prepared to leave matters to councillors and council officers any longer and want a genuine say. Yes because Basildon Council got a shock on Tuesday 13th March as they did not expect such a high level of interest in their deliberations and were totally overwhelmed by what happened. Hopefully, this may cause some of them to reflect on how they have failed to fully engage residents in the process and that they need to completely rethink how they go about this. Although to be honest, given the way local governance is structured at the moment, we’re not going to be holding our breath waiting for this to happen…

While more homes are needed, people are rightly asking questions as to who they are for? From what we’ve seen of the plans so far, what has been planned will make scant impact on the waiting list for social housing on Basildon. A waiting list that has been rigged so that the numbers on it have been substantially reduced. Most of what is planned is private housing, a fair chunk of which is being pitched towards those working in London but have been forced to look further afield to buy somewhere as a result of the skewed property market in the capital. Understandably there are concerns about provision of the necessary infrastructure needed to support an increased population. We’re talking about roads, public transport provision, schools, doctors, dentists…the list goes on. It always seems to be the case that the housing gets built first and the infrastructure always struggles to catch up afterwards. While many people recognise there is a housing crisis that needs to be resolved, they’re not at all convinced that local authorities and government have the answers to it.

While we broadly welcome the display of people power that manifested itself at the Towngate on Tuesday March 13th there is a potential downside to this… Namely the NIMBY element who refuse to look at the bigger picture which includes the distortion of the property market in London as a result of the global super rich parking their ill gotten gains in block after block of empty apartments to be flipped for a profit while ordinary Londoners are forced out of the capital. A NIMBY element that so long as developments are banished from their areas, have no qualms about them taking place elsewhere. The talk of a larger number of people from Billericay coming down to the rescheduled meeting on March 19th suggests that the NIMBY element is mobilising to secure their interests without any regard for the bigger picture. We’ll be keeping a close eye on this situation and doing what we can to influence it so it is a genuine display of people power as opposed to a smaller group of NIMBYs.

A few thoughts on neighbourhood community halls

We’ve been made aware of parking issues occurring on the ¾ estate in Vange on Fridays around the community hall on Vange Hill Drive – this is a day the building is used for a religious gathering. This isn’t the only example of a community hall being used for a religious gathering with attendant parking and traffic problems. This is an issue with a number of religious denominations across the region we cover…

Community halls on estates were planned and built with the intention that they were for neighbourhood use. Use for anyone in the neighbourhood regardless of who they are, where they originated from and what deity they may or may not choose to worship. Catering for a neighbourhood, the assumption was that a fair proportion of the people attending events at their community hall would walk to and from events and only those living a bit of a distance away or with mobility problems would drive or be driven to them. Car parking for the community halls was generally provided based on these assumptions.

For a variety of reasons, a number of community halls are being used for events, some of them religious gatherings, that will attract people from across the borough and not just the neighbourhood. If such a community hall is on an isolated estate with poor public transport, then people travelling there from a distance will be coming by car because there is no other option. Even if there are reasonable public transport links, it may well be the case that sadly, in the increasingly divided and polarised society we live in, worshippers of some denominations might not feel safe travelling in by bus or train and choose to drive simply because it’s the safest option. This is where a car park in a community hall designed for neighbourhood use is overwhelmed and vehicles are parked in neighbouring streets that more often than not, were not designed to accommodate them. Understandably with parking in less than ideal conditions plus attendant traffic issues before and after large scale events, residents do have legitimate concerns about safety that need to be addressed.

What we are talking about should in an ideal world be seen as a planning problem that with goodwill on all sides, can be resolved by constructive negotiation and rational decision making by council planners and the relevant councillors. The problem is that with some of the religious gatherings we’re talking about, prejudice from those opposed to them can get in the way of any rational planning solution. A solution that would allow the worshippers concerned to identify a suitable site that can provide sufficient parking, would ideally would be reasonably well served by public transport and lastly, doesn’t cause any disturbance to neighbouring residents.

We’re in a bit of a bind here… Firstly, residents are afraid to raise legitimate concerns about safety regarding parking and traffic issues for fear of being branded racist. Secondly, because some councillors do, through the use of winks and nods, court an element of the electorate who could be regarded as racist, they will block solutions involving the siting of places of worship in appropriate locations in a bid to hang onto that support. With residents feeling they can’t voice their concerns for fear of being branded racist and some councillors doing their level best to block the construction of places of worship in a bid to pander to the prejudices of some of their supporters, solutions to the problems are not forthcoming. As a result, tensions and resentment can start to grow, particularly if the knuckle-draggers from the far right sense an opportunity to stick their oar in and twist the legitimate concerns of residents to suit their own nefarious, divisive and hateful ends.

Let’s get a bit specific and discuss the issue of the community hall on Vange Hill Drive, it’s use by the Muslim community and a solution that was proposed but for various reasons, was not allowed to come to fruition. Back in 2014, the Islamic group using the community hall on Vange Hill Drive wanted to set up a new centre on the Burnt Mills Industrial Estate: Faith leader defends Islamic centre plan They favoured this site because it wasn’t near any residential areas and wouldn’t cause any disturbance. The move never came to fruition. One of the objections was raised by Cllr. Kerry Smith who back in 2014 was still a member of UKIP. Smith is now an independent and is currently the ward councillor for Nethermayne on Basildon Council and the Basildon Westley Heights division on Essex County Council. Smith’s objections were based on traffic issues. Issues that with some goodwill on all sides and some rational decision making could have been resolved. Industrial estates by their very nature are designed to cope with high levels of traffic and have a pretty good level of parking as most people working on them drive to and from them. On that basis alone, in our opinion, we have to conclude that Smith’s objections were spurious to say the least…

Having worked alongside our friends from Basildon & Southend Housing Action and Vange Hill Community Group on clean ups and community gardening on the ¾ estate, we can see how a large influx of vehicles parking up in the Vange Hill Drive area, for whatever reason, will lead to safety issues. We understand the concerns of the residents and want to see a solution that will suit them and the worshippers that come in on Friday (and any other worshippers from other denominations on other days). What has to be done is to challenge those councillors who put a block on any reasonable solution because of where they draw their support from. We would like to suggest to residents in the Vange Hill Drive area that they ask Cllr. Kerry Smith why, back in 2014, he was one of those who stood in the way of a solution that would have been of mutual benefit to them and the worshippers using the community hall. Until councillors like this are challenged as to what their agenda really is, there never will be a solution to the issue and unwanted and divisive tensions will rise…tensions which will hurt all of us who want to build cohesive, friendly neighbourhoods where everyone looks out for and cares for each other…


Why I am A Focus E15 Campaigner: celebrating International Women’s Day

Rebecca Morris from Focus E15 Campaign gives a personal reflection on International Women’s Day. On March 8 Focus E15 Campaign will be marking International Women’s Day by joining the International Women’s Strike, and singing with Rebel Choir in Russell Square from 1pm. The Rebel Choir is an activist-community choir. Together we will be singing songs […]

via Why I am A Focus E15 Campaigner: celebrating International Women’s Day — Focus E15 Campaign


Ever feel like you’ve been had?

Well the young people of Basildon who were led to believe that the sale of the existing campus of South Essex College at the top of Nethermayne to a housing developer in return for a state of the art town centre campus have certainly been had! According to the latest in a series of investigative reports from the Yellow Advertiser, part of what was supposed to be the new college is actually going to be a minor injuries unit: EXCLUSIVE: Campaigners’ anger as Basildon Council says part of town centre college will now be ‘minor injuries unit’ instead.

The complex chain of developments from the executive housing development at Dry Street, the sale of the existing college site to the housing developers, the ‘re-location’ of the college to where the market is and the relocation of the market to St. Martin’s Square has long been a source of controversy. Controversy over an executive housing development at Dry Street which does nothing to reduce the waiting list for social housing in Basildon. An executive housing development which has destroyed an important local site for wildlife. Controversy over £3million of our money being used by both Basildon and Essex County Councils to plug a ‘funding gap’ in the relocation of the market to St. Martin’s Square. Controversy over the destruction of what used to be an oasis of greenery and calm in St. Martin’s Square to make way for the market. Last but by no means least, controversy over the downsizing of what will be on offer to potential students in Basildon at the new mini-campus in the town centre.

With South Essex College operating as a business instead of an educational institution plus a local authority that dismisses the concerns of its residents over the future of the town, we have a classic example of what’s wrong with not just with a top down planning system but the political, economic and social order that system serves. At every step of the way in this sorry development saga, the residents of Basildon have been denied a meaningful say. Is it any wonder that the vast majority of residents don’t bother to vote at local elections when regardless of where they put their cross, it makes no difference as their hopes and fears over the future direction of Basildon are routinely ignored?


People power vs the ‘beast from the east’

For those who know the ¾ estate in Vange on the southern fringes of Basildon, they’ll be aware that it’s built onto a steep (by Essex standards!) hill. With the ‘beast from the east’ doing it’s worst over the last few days, many of the steeper roads on the estate were becoming difficult and dangerous to drive up and down. As regular readers of this blog will know, it’s been well documented that Basildon Council have been less than co-operative when it comes to helping residents on the estate in their efforts to make it a better place to live. So no one was really surprised at the lack of any effort from the council to sort out snowed and iced over roads that had become treacherous.

This is where people power kicked in… The Essex County Councillor for the division, Stephen Hillier had a supply of grit which he was willing to make available to local residents – many thanks to him for doing so. Basildon & Southend Housing Action (BASHA) collected the grit and took it over to the ¾ estate. There, people from Vange Hill Community Group (VHCG) and a number of local residents spread the grit onto the worst affected roads to make them passable. An ad hoc grouping of people recognising what the problem was got together to take action to solve it – people power in action.

A note for the future for the relevant authorities – re-instating the grit bins and ensuring they’re filled up ahead of any forecast bad weather would make this exercise a fair bit easier. All it means is trusting local residents to do their bit – from our experience of helping out BASHA and VHCG, despite the bad reputation that the ¾ estate has, we know there are people on there who will step up to the plate in a situation like this.

This is just one of thousands of stories from across the country over the last few days of atrocious weather where people of their own will, individually and collectively, have stepped up to the plate to assist those hit by the storm. It’s people power in action… When the authorities have been overwhelmed by events (or have simply been negligent in their preparation) ordinary people have grouped together to offer a solution to the problems inflicted by the weather. There’s still a healthy instinct for collective self organisation independent of the authorities to meet the needs of a community…that’s a positive we need to take through the rest of this year and build on…