There’s a solution to this issue…

Over the decades, various brownfield parts of Thurrock have been attractive to off road scrambler and more recently, quad bikers. It could be argued that it’s part of the culture of the region. The latest manifestation of this in the area we cover is happening in Stanford le Hope: Biker menaces top of the agenda at Stanford-le-Hope street surgery. This report is about a ‘street surgery’ attended by the Essex plod plus the two local Tory councillors (Cllr. Hebb and Cllr. Piccolo) and the local Tory MP, Stephen Metcalfe.

The two of us who make up the editorial team for the Stirrer live in Stanford-le-Hope and can confirm that yes, the quad and scrambler bikers can sometimes be a nuisance. We can also confirm that this is not a new issue round here by any stretch of the imagination. Back in the 1980s and 90s, a walk along the path across Stanford Warren or down on the seawall would frequently be punctuated by us having to stand aside to let a scrambler biker go past with us getting smothered in dust if they didn’t slow down enough!

The quad and scrambler biker presence around Stanford-le-Hope has been getting more noticeable since the middle of 2015. It’s no coincidence that this has happened since the one facility catering for quad and scrambler bikers in the region, Action Park was closed down by Basildon Council. The operators of Action Park are working behind the scenes to try and get the facility up and running again. Being north of the great divide in Basildon known as the A127 and up against the edge of the greener, leafier Tory voting areas, we’re not sure how much luck Action Park will have in their endeavours.

Why are we as radical anarchists interested in this issue? Because this shows what a combination of a lack of joined up thinking and obstructive planning can do in creating a problem. It’s part of human nature to want to take a few risks and have some fun in the process. That’s why some people get on quad and scrambler bikes and ride them off road to test their skills and endurance. What gets us is that there was a facility for this to take place that has now been closed down, thereby creating the issue there is at the moment. Perhaps Messrs Hebb, Piccolo and Metcalfe could have a quiet word with their mates in the Tory Mafia over in Basildon to suggest they support the re-opening of Action Park and see if that resolves the issue.

What will not work is hassling the quad and scramble bikers away from one area because as sure as night follows day, they will find another location to ride off road. If Action Park is not permitted to get up and running, then with a bit of imagination and flexibility, some kind of informal, ‘at your own risk’ arrangement on the still numerous brown field sites that are scattered across the region could be reached.

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‘Regeneration’ threatens the future of martial arts club

We noticed this story in the Thurrock Gazette with some alarm: 1,000 sign to save martial arts. The Martial Academy based in the old fire station in Civic Square in Tilbury specialises in teaching martial arts and fitness classes and also ensures that disabled and vulnerable people of all ages and abilities have the opportunity to take part in a range of health, wellbeing, and sporting activities. It’s the kind of volunteer run charity that plays a vital role in ensuring community well being and is effectively plugging the gap left by years of austerity that have left social services from local authorities in tatters.

Yet despite all of this, Thurrock Council in their arrogance have informed the Martial Academy that they intend to demolish the current venue but as yet, have made no steps to offer them alternative accommodation. You would have thought that a charity providing a vital service to a local community would receive considerably more in the way of support and encouragement from the council – sadly, that does not appear to be the case.

The good news is that the people of Tilbury are not taking this lying down and are ding what they can to persuade Thurrock Council to ensure that the Martial Academy has a future. A petition that has already gathered over 1000 signatures has been launched – it can be signed here.

Don’t ask Thurrock Council difficult questions!

In a blog post on Your Thurrock, the leader of the Thurrock Independents, Cllr. Luke Spillman, has taken Thurrock Council to task over the chilling impact of their media strategy: Blogpost: Thurrock Independents leader calls for council to “rethink press strategy”. Thurrock Council released this ‘media strategy’ document in the summer of 2017 – it pretty much demands a right of reply to any media coverage it thinks will be damaging to its reputation.

Reading between the lines, it’s as though the council just want the local media outlets to reproduce, word for word, the anodyne contents of their press releases. Given the parlous state of local journalism and the chronic under-staffing that characterises it, that’s pretty much what many local media outlets are reduced to doing anyway. What the council’s media strategy does is to reinforce that trend by discouraging the few journalists left who do ask difficult questions from doing so for fear of being all but ‘blacklisted’. In other words, the council want to control the narrative.

This defensive and aggressive posture from Thurrock Council towards journalists who rightly persist in asking them difficult questions has a number of parallels with the experience of residents who’ve had less than satisfactory dealings with them. We’ve written this before in relation to other local authorities in the area but it looks as though we’re doomed to repeat it until the message starts to sink in. We may be naïvely idealistic but the role of a local council, officers and councillors alike, is to serve all of the residents in the area they cover. If a council are to be the servants of the people, nothing less than complete and open transparency and accountability is required. That also means being open to criticism from the local media and responding to that in a constructive manner by learning lessons and improving performance.

Alas, we live in a world that’s far from ideal. All this crap from Thurrock Council about their ‘media strategy’ does is reinforce the view we hold that the system of local and national governance we endure is not fit for purpose because it doesn’t serve our interests. While we welcome the pressure the Thurrock Independents have brought upon the council to agree to editors from the local media being able to speak at the upcoming Corporate Overview & Scrutiny Committee on Tuesday 4th September, with the best will in the world, this may be akin to trying to put a small sticking plaster over a gaping wound. If we are ever going to have a more just, open and accountable way of running our affairs at a local level, fundamental political, economic and social change will be the only way to achieve this.

A new dawn?

Basildon Council have announced a series of community clean up roadshows in a number of wards across the borough: Community Clean-Up Roadshows. At these events, there will be information on dealing with these issues:

– Top recycling tips including recycling rules.
– Information about recyclable materials – with a focus on plastics.
– Help with setting up community recycling programmes.
– Information about flytipping and the correct ways to dispose of rubbish.

This all sounds good but, hang on a minute – isn’t educating residents on these issues what the Vange Hill Community Group (VHCG) and Basildon & Housing Action (BASHA) have already been doing their level best to do? Both of these groups have been banging their respective heads against the wall to get a hearing from Basildon Council and to get some degree of support and co-operation for what they do on the ground. In return, all too often they’ve been treated with disdain and rudeness and any concessions that have been squeezed out of the council have come after unnecessarily long battles.

After all VHCG and BASHA have been through in trying to educate residents on the estates while battling against the council, the powers that be announce a series of roadshows to educate residents on rubbish collection protocol and recycling. You know what – VHCG and BASHA are both fully entitled to take the announcement of these roadshows as a resounding victory for all of the pressure they’ve had to put on the council! Let’s hope that from this point, it will be onwards and upwards in getting support and co-operation from Basildon Council for what residents are already doing for themselves on the ground.

Joined up thinking on planning?

We noted this news item with some interest: Thurrock Council sign up to “common approach” for development of 90,000 homes in region. On the surface, it looks as though the Association of South Essex Local Authorities (ASELA) are treating the need to look at infrastructure issues to serve the needs of the population that will come with the 90,000 new homes that are mooted to be built across the region over the next twenty years with the gravity it deserves. Within the constraints local authorities operate in and the fact these housing targets are more or less imposed upon them by central government, being charitable, they’re probably doing the best they can in difficult circumstances to deal with this.

However, there’s a massive elephant in the room – our noisy, greedy all consuming neighbour otherwise known as London. As we have written and said more times than we care to remember, what happens with the housing situation in London has a direct impact on us out here along the estuary. Again, as we have written and said more times than we care to remember, London is being turned into a welcome destination for the global super rich – and their money. An obscene amount of money has been poured into property development in the capital and a lot of that is in the form of luxury apartments. Apartments that function as a crash pad when the super rich float through London but don’t want to lower themselves to book a hotel room. Apartments that are probably empty for nine months of the year. Then there’s the apartments that are purchased and left empty as investment vehicles to be flipped for a tidy profit. Also, there are the streets of barely occupied luxury houses in boroughs such as Kensington & Chelsea where there are very few lights on at night because hardly anyone’s living in them on a full time basis.

We have the obscene situation where property in London is seen as a cash cow as opposed to providing a decent place to live for the workers needed to keep the capital and its economy functioning. Workers who in order to find a place to live are forced to move further and further away from London and endure long and arduous commutes. A combination of work and commuting that leaves them exhausted and having no meaningful life outside of the weekend. The southern half of Essex has been lined up to become what will to all intents and purposes, be a dormitory for workers who have been priced out of London. Sure, we know that there will be an effort to create employment opportunities in the region such as the port at London Gateway and the expansion of logistics facilities along the estuary. Not everyone living in the region will be travelling into London for work but a substantial proportion will.

The point we want to make is that despite all of the fancy verbiage coming from ASELA, they will not make any reference to the obscenely distorted housing situation in London where property is seen as a cash cow as opposed to providing homes for people. ASELA are dutifully doing the bidding of a government that is actively supporting the project of making London a welcome home for the global super rich. Basically, they’ve been tasked with attempting to make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear with both hands tied behind their backs. Whatever they do, they cannot even contemplate asking a few pertinent questions as to what the heck is going on with the housing situation in London.

When you have the prospect of 90,000 homes being built across the region in the next twenty years which with the best will in the world from the planners tasked to deliver this, will result in an urban sprawl that will make the southern part of Essex resemble Middlesex, understandably, existing residents are going to be concerned. It’s not NIMBYism to be concerned that the physical and social infrastructure will be there to support the extra population. It’s not NIMBYism to fear that the open spaces and countryside that we escape to in order to get away from the stress of modern life will be obliterated. It’s not NIMBYism to conclude that the grandiose planning involved in delivering an extra 90,000 homes in the south of Essex is something that’s imposed upon us with little or no consultation. When large scale planning like this is imposed from above, it’s hardly surprising that not only are people concerned about the impact on their quality of life, they get pretty resentful as well.

Again, as we’ve written before, it’s the reactionary political elements who will pick up on this concern and resentment and exploit it for their own divisive, nefarious and hateful purposes. With our very limited resources, we do our level best to explain what’s going on and put it into some kind of context. One that highlights the impact of property in London being seen as a cash cow as opposed to providing vital housing. One that draws attention to the fact that the planning ‘process’ we have and the system of local and national governance that informs it is simply unfit for purpose. One that draws all of this together to make the case that the political, economic and social system we have which forces all of this upon us is unsustainable, unfit for purpose and ultimately, needs to be swept away. One that starts to offer a vision of a society where people’s needs can be met in a just, sane and sustainable way instead of one in thrall to the profit motive.

Is there an answer to drug crime in Essex?

Out beyond the M25 in estuary land, we’ve been put under the spotlight by Vice with this piece about drug dealing in Thurrock and the violence that’s associated with it: How Drug Dealing Gangs Are Taking Over the Countryside. There’s a lot to unpack in this piece so all this post is doing is flagging up issues we want to cover in more depth on here and on our sister blog, On Uncertain Ground over the next month or so.

Firstly, a little bit of perspective – drug related violence isn’t exactly a new phenomena out here. There was quite a bit of it around in the 1990s which spawned a slew of films and books on the ‘Essex Boys’ theme. It’s not an exaggeration to say that a fair sized industry was generated by the activities of a few gangsters operating in the county in the 90s. An industry which stubbornly refuses to die as this expose featured on Vice shows: Why I’m Finally Telling the Truth About Britain’s Most Notorious Gangland Murder. On the subject of perspective, we’ve been witnessing drug dealing and drug use on and off in the park opposite our house since the late 1980s.

What has changed since the ‘Essex Boys’ era of the 1990s are the people involved in drug dealing and the associated violence. That’s down to inevitable generational changes as younger elements move in plus demographic changes relating to forced outward migration from London. Forced migration where London authorities relocate households with no regard as to the context of where they’re moved to. Which in some cases mean youngsters finding they’ve been moved out to the same neighbourhood as their gang rivals!

Outward migration from London to Thurrock – forced and voluntary has caused tensions. Tensions with a material basis as the infrastructure needed to support a growing population isn’t there – worryingly, some of those tensions are racial as well. With what seems to a fair few people to be a swift change in the demographic make up of Thurrock plus what’s perceived to be an upsurge in drug related gang violence, we’re acutely aware of how reactionary political elements could exploit people’s fears for their own nefarious purposes.

Changing tack a bit, look at how Prohibition played a part in the growth of organised crime in the USA, particularly during the 1920s: Prohibition Era Timeline. Can you not see the similarities with the criminalisation of drug use and supply? Okay, that is a very simplistic, glib way of looking at the issues but there are questions to be answered about the ‘war on drugs’ and why it’s a monumental failure.

As stated earlier, the purpose of this post is to briefly acknowledge the piece in Vice and flag up the issues that need to be dealt with in considerable depth. Issues which are complex and which will not be successfully dealt with by some of the knee jerk responses we’ve seen so far.

The Better End

Romford has a reputation for being a bit right wing and ‘traditional’ – whether that reputation is deserved is something, that in our view, is up for debate. With that kind of reputation, we’d never thought we’d read the words and phrases ‘Romford’, ‘activists and squatters’ and ‘independent environmental and cultural space’ in the same paragraph!

Well, sometimes life can offer up some interesting surprises, one being that what used to be The Bitter End pub on the High Street is being transformed into an environmental and cultural space by a group of activist squatters. Ed Gold, a photographer, spent three weeks living alongside the activists in April and this is the story he produced about the experience: Bitter to better: Squatters transforming a derelict pub.

It’s an interesting project, all the more so for being located in Romford. Given that it’s a ‘caretaking’ arragement while the future of that part of the town is decided, it’s not exactly certain how long the project will be around. There are plans afoot which will transform Romford beyond recognition, a lot of which involves slinging up apartment blocks left, right and centre.

We sincerely hope the project will be around long enough to introduce some ideas about DIY culture, sustainability and social and political alternatives to Romford. We would love it if a part of that legacy is inspiring some of the locals to set up an alternative blog and paper – as we’ve written before, we will warmly welcome any new alternative publications springing up across southern Essex and East London.

At some point, we hope to get over to The Better End to introduce ourselves. If anyone there is reading this and wants to write a few words for this blog or collaborate on any other alternative media projects, we’d love to hear from you – our contact details are in the About section below the header.

Keeping Havering Special?

The Tory administration at Havering Council being taken to task for their housing and planning policies. We’re pleased to see the Havering Special blog emerging on the scene – the more local blogs like this that spring up, the happier we’ll be:)

HAVERING SPECIAL

‘Keep Havering Special’ was the slogan that the local Conservatives used whilst campaigning here in Havering; they may claim it helped them pick up votes but in reality it was the Non-Voters Party who won.  The overall turnout was as low as ever – with a paltry 26.6% of eligible voters going to the polls in Gooshsays;  Upminster ward had the highest turnout, but even there the turnout was a not-very-impressive 45.47%. The reasons for this pitiful turnout may be discussed in a future post on this blog, but going back to the Tory slogan – what DOES it actually mean?

According to them, it means preserving the borough’s green spaces, avoiding over-development of (albeit much-needed) housing, and generally preventing the borough from looking like inner-city London – “letting Romford become a concrete jungle is something I will fight to stop!” as Romford MP Andrew Rosindell wrote in…

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#SaveSouthendNHS statement on STP consultation

The Mid and South Essex STP (Sustainability & Transformation Partnership a.k.a. Slash, Trash & Privatise) public consultation report was released this week. Below is the #SaveSouthendNHS campaign statement issued to the Echo by their secretary Mike Fieldhouse. Here’s the link to the full consultation report. The #SaveSouthendNHS will be meeting to plan the next steps of their fight to stop the destruction of our local NHS services.

“Anyone who attended either of the STP’s public consultation meetings in Southend would have to be completely deluded to claim, as this report does, that he public were “broadly backing the STP’s plans”. It is quite evident that the main purpose behind this proposed reorganisation is to cut costs and plug holes in services created by chronic underfunding, including a worsening staffing crisis in the NHS. Instead of tackling the root causes, these are desperate measures attempting to patch things up that will ultimately put patient safety at risk. Despite all the denials, much of the reorganisation indicates that increased privatisation of NHS services is not far off.

The STP have failed to achieve meaningful consultation with mid & south Essex’s population and even their claim of engaging 4,000 is questionable, as they have undoubtedly counted many people twice if not more. Even if their figure were to be believed, the fact that only 0.3% of the area’s 1.3 million population took part in this consultation suggests that the vast majority of people are unaware of their plans to completely overhaul our local NHS . Without the massive efforts of the Save Southend NHS campaign in raising public awareness of this issue, we expect that consultation responses would have been significantly lower than they were.

As Professor Mike Bewick, independent chair of the joint committee of the five clinical commissioning groups in mid and south Essex has been keen to point out – this is not a referendum and any changes to the STP’s plan following this consultation are likely to amount to nothing more than a little bit of tinkering around the edges.

This whole process has been a complete charade from start to finish. Anyone who filled in the STP’s questionnaire will know that it was constructed in such a way as to only allow for positive responses to their questions.

The people of #Southend have a great affection for their NHS and value it immensely. With their backing, Save Southend NHS will fight on to protect and preserve it. We hope that our local politicians who were so eager in the run up to elections earlier this month to tell us how much they cared for the NHS will remember their commitments and not allow these plans to be rubber stamped through our Council.”