Category: News

Are Thurrock Council really interested in your views?

At this week’s meeting of Thurrock Council, the proposals for the Lower Thames Crossing were up for discussion for the first time since Highways England announced they would opt for Route C, running just west of Orsett, skirting round Chadwell St Mary to cross the river between Tilbury and East Tilbury. Feelings were running high at the meeting as campaigners against the crossing in the public gallery were prevented from asking questions and speaking: Thurrock Council meeting suspended after Lower Thames Crossing campaigners express their outragehttp://www.thurrockgazette.co.uk/news/15436135.VIDEO__Council_meeting_suspended_after_Thames_Crossing_campaigners_express_their_outrage_before_being_escorted_out/

The Tory leader of the council, Cllr. Rob Gledhill, presented a report setting out the authority’s next moves and creating a Lower Thames Crossing task force to lead their response. The council claim they want to listen to the views of residents on the crossing, however when George Abbott, the leader of the Thames Crossing Action Group requested to speak to the meeting, he was denied permission. The action group has over 9000 members on its Facebook page so it should have been considered influential enough to be allowed a voice at the meeting. The council didn’t see it that way and for reasons beyond us mere mortals, saw fit to deny George Abbott and other members of the action group a voice.

As you can see from the video clip in the Gazette piece, George Abbott was understandably not best pleased at being denied the right to speak to the meeting. Let’s just take a step back here and look at what Thurrock Council did… Despite claiming they want to listen to the views of residents about the crossing, they denied the leader of the action group the right to address the council. When George Abbott questioned that, the council meeting was suspended and security were called in to escort supporters of the action group out of the meeting.

To our eyes, this is the council wanting to control the narrative right down to the last full stop and comma and silence anyone asking difficult questions. This episode is not the first instance of Thurrock Council’s tendency to be control freaks. This is what we had to say a few weeks back about a proposal by the council to decide which news outlets could or couldn’t report on their proceedings: Thurrock Council in control freak modehttps://southessexstirrer.wordpress.com/2017/07/03/thurrock-council-in-control-freak-mode/

We can’t help coming to the conclusion that Thurrock Council’s objections to the river crossing are mere window dressing and that they’re coming under pressure from central government and the Tory MP for Thurrock, Jackie Doyle-Price, to not rock the boat. After the fiasco at these week’s council meeting our advice to the anti-crossing campaigners would be to not trust Thurrock Council as far as they could throw them…

Newham Council…it’s just got personal…

I took part in a protest organised by Focus E15 today (Monday 24th July) outside the Newham Council housing office at Bridge House, Stratford. The protest was called to offer solidarity to Chantelle who’s facing eviction and possible relocation out of Newham this week and also for Elina who has been re-located by Local Space Stratford to Pitsea miles away from her family and support network. We support protests like this because what happens in London as people are socially cleansed as part of the project of making the capital a welcome home for the global super rich has direct consequences for our communities out here along the estuary: Booted out of London…https://southessexstirrer.wordpress.com/2017/06/19/booted-out-of-london/

Along with Basildon & Southend Housing Action, we’re doing what we can to support Elina, working closely with Focus E15 in the process. We know that as far as Newham Council and Local Space Stratford are concerned, once their residents have been re-located out of the borough, they have effectively washed their hands of any meaningful responsibility for their welfare. Not only that, communication between the likes of Newham Council and the local authorities receiving their former residents are pretty much non-existent. When people being booted out of London are dumped on estates in Basildon that already have more than their fair share of problems, it exacerbates existing tensions…

This is why we’ve produced the above flyer to explain to locals in Basildon what the situation is, to not blame the people being relocated out here but instead, aim their anger at the authorities in London complicit in social cleansing. We know there are divide and rule merchants out here who will exploit this situation to promote their own reactionary agenda – we’ve no intention of letting these bigots get away with it. The actions of the likes of Newham Council in dumping people out here make our lives as activists more difficult as we have to deal with the consequences. Outside Bridge House today when I took the mic for a few minutes, I let Newham Council know in no uncertain terms that as a result of their actions, they will have to deal with us and Basildon & Southend Housing Action as well as Focus E15 and their allies. To put it bluntly, it’s now got personal…

Bridge House, where the protest was held, is just round the corner from the Carpenters Estate with its iconic tower blocks surrounded by low rise housing. In its heyday, the estate had a reputation for being a thriving community where people got along regardless of who they were or where they came from. The tower blocks are now empty and Newham Council are now putting pressure on the remaining residents in the low rise housing to leave. This is so the council can flog off the estate to developers and trouser the cash. In their greed and hubris, they’ve killed off a community. Newham Council along with all the other London councils engaging in social cleansing need to be told that breaking up communities and decanting residents right out of the capital has consequences and they will be made to pay for them…

Dave (the editor)

Falling apart…

Back in March, we wrote about the complex planning chain involving the housing development at Dry Street, the re-location of the Basildon campus of South Essex College to the current site of Basildon Market and the re-location of the market to St. Martin’s Square: A breakdown in the chain?https://southessexstirrer.wordpress.com/2017/03/27/a-breakdown-in-the-chain/ Well, evidence is growing that there really is a break in the chain, one that centres around the fate of the Basildon campus of South Essex College…

We noted with interest this comment on the GAG2011 Facebook page:
Are South Essex College actually quitting Basildon leaving behind a mess? They were the key factor in the Nethermayne /Dry Street development. The plan to sell the current college land and relocate to the town centre was essential for the development to go ahead. Basildon Council agreed to move the market and allow a new college to be built. Basildon Council were so committed they even got Essex CC to give them more money when they ran out of cash relocating the market. Phase 2 of the development which involves demolition of the college has now been granted but there is no sign of a new one and now the college is in special measures. So are the young people of Basildon going to lose the college altogether? We want to know!
Now in a previous guise, we’ve had our differences with GAG2011 over tactics but what we like about them is that they are pretty thorough when it comes to researching stuff and backing up statements with facts. So their comment above has to be taken seriously. Whether Basildon Council (and South Essex College for that matter) will ever come up with a straight answer is however, another matter…

South Essex College are currently in special measures – https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/628656/SFA-Current_Notices_of_Concern_and_Serious_Breach-Issue-17-July_2017_fin….pdf With Phase Two of the housing development at Dry Street having received detailed planning permission, logically the demolition of the current site of the college should be getting underway at some point. However, work on the re-location of the market is proceeding at a snail’s pace and there’s no sign of any progress being made on re-locating the college to the town centre. There’s growing speculation that there may be no long term future for South Essex College in Basildon…

It’s well worth reading the comments below the post quoted above on the GAG2011 Facebook page as they reveal a total breakdown of trust in the planning system and a considerable degree of cynicism about the integrity of local government. A growing number of people are coming to the realisation that Basildon Council have pulled the wool over people’s eyes regarding this planning chain that has resulted in the destruction of much loved open space at Dry Street and the desecration of St. Martin’s Square. It looks as though the council (and the college) could well deservedly become victims of their own hubris…

Out of sight, out of mind…

That has up until now, generally been the attitude of Thurrock Council when it comes to dealing with the growing problem of flytipping down alleyways across the borough. The attitude was that if it can’t be seen from the road, it’s not a problem, even though the lives of residents have been blighted by the alleyways behind their houses being blocked by flytipped trash. Well, according to this piece on Your Thurrock, the council may be having a change of mind about this: Thurrock Council pledge to undertake fly-tipping reviewhttp://www.yourthurrock.com/2017/07/17/thurrock-council-pledge-undertake-fly-tipping-review/ Mind you, it’s only a review so let’s not get too excited that we might be moving towards a solution on this…

On the subject of solutions, we’re reproducing in full a comment left after the Your Thurrock piece which makes some very useful practical suggestions but also expresses the poster’s utter frustration in dealing with the council:
1. Fire gates either end with keys distributed to all households. 2. Organising residents who wish to maintain the alleyways. 3. Up north most alleyways are now small communal gardens made by the residents. 4. Clean, organised alleyways deter dumping as tippers know they’re being watched. It also deters residents from dumping out their back gate. 5. Making the resident responsible for their allotted area of alleyway also helps. 6. Lighting would be good too as this seems to deter the drug users. Some councils have employed solar lighting to deter these and fly tippers. 7. Portable CCTV can be employed, again tippers never know if the cameras are live or not. Most people who live with alleyways behind their properties are sick of all the dumping and fly tipping. We live on one that when we moved in in 2000 was a lovely little alley, well kept and maintained. We have motorcycles that we store in the back of the garden and it was easy to get them out. Now it’s impossible to even walk down these alleys. We have contacted the council on numerous occasions telling of the needles from drug use in the alley, but they said they sent someone to a look, bit of a lie, as I was around when the inspector viewed it and he stood at the top of the alley then got in his car and drove off. I was told he even picked up some discarded needles. Oh no he didn’t. We, the neighbours have removed the needles ourselves. We even had a cat come home with one stuck in his paw. The trouble with this council is the attitude of “If it cannot be seen from the road, we do nothing”. That was exactly the words used when we complained over two years ago. As for our councillors, I have mailed all of them and had no reply. One was too busy being Mayor (Cathy Kent as mentioned in this article), the other (her husband) running for MP, and the third I don’t even know who he is. Waste of space if you ask me. Well, there you go. You want comments, now you hear it from the streets affected. I bet I’m not the only one that’s so angry with the “Clean up the Town and forget the outskirts” mentality of the council. Oh, and by the way, Mrs Kent. we now have spilled oil, welding gas canister, 3 bed frames plus mattresses, a couple of fridges, a washing machine and a sofa. There will be a TV next week, we’ll have all we need to set up home right there in the back alley. Coming round for tea? No, I thought not.
robbiep

Looking at the tenure of properties in areas affected by flytipping may also be an idea. From when we’ve been doing door-to-door deliveries of the Stirrer paper, it seems that there are some areas with a lot of buy to let properties with a fair few being rented out on short term leases. Add in an element of landlords who cut corners and get away with the bare minimum they’re obliged to do with some blatantly flouting the rules, then you may well have an explanation for where at least some of the flytipping is coming from. Whether Thurrock Council are prepared to spend time and resources chasing up rogue landlords is however, another matter.

As we’ve written before, a large number of buy to let properties in a neighbourhood is going to cause problems, particularly if a fair number of them are on short term leases: Where the new town dream has died…https://southessexstirrer.wordpress.com/2017/07/06/where-the-new-town-dream-has-died/ With people constantly moving in and out, there’s no community spirit or sense of belonging which is why flytipping becomes a major issue because the flytippers sense that no one cares and that they can get away with it. It goes back to the long term project of trying to rebuild community solidarity and addressing issues of tenure to introduce an element of stability back into neighbourhoods affected by these issues. That however, is unlikely to happen this side of a major political, social and economic change…

Keeping up appearances

We noted with interest this piece on Your Thurrock on how Thurrock Council are preparing themselves for the future as funding from central government continues to be slashed year on year: Thurrock Council finance boss looks to a future of “not a penny from the government”http://www.yourthurrock.com/2017/07/14/thurrock-council-finance-boss-looks-future-not-penny-government/ Obviously a Tory run council isn’t going to be challenging the narrative from a Tory government about continuing austerity and will be more than happy to implement an agenda of cuts…

In a period where Thurrock Council make no secret of the measures they’re having to take to bring expenditure down while building up their cash reserves, it’s not surprising that people are starting to ask some searching questions about spending priorities. Where we live in Stanford-le-Hope, we can’t help noticing that the council appear to have gone into overdrive (resources permitting) on their cleaning and greening agenda with verges getting regularly cut and Ruskin Road Park looking better than it has done for a long time. The people we know in the area have picked up on this and half jokingly have been asking ‘when is the royal visit happening?’

When the talk a couple of years back was about handing over pretty much every public space for resident led groups to run (as has happened at Hardie Park in Stanford-le-Hope) in a bid to save as much money as possible, it now seems that the money is there for them to be maintained to a reasonable standard. The answer to that is that it’s about surface appearances. What residents and visitors to the area see are the pavements, verges and parks and that goes a fair way to forming their impression of what Thurrock is like as a place to live and work. Hence the effort and money that’s being spent on what to all intents and purposes, is keeping up appearances.

Unless you have an ill or elderly resident in need of a care package from social services, what is provided in this sector is hidden from a large section of the public. These are services that most people don’t pay much attention to until they’re in the unfortunate situation where they have to turn to them. When they do turn to what are increasingly outsourced social services, all too often they’re found to be inadequate. As most of this suffering takes place in private away from the public eye, it’s one area where cuts can be made and corners cut because by and large, the council can get away with it.

In a political, economic and social climate where people are judged by the contribution they make to the bottom line through work, anyone who for whatever reason isn’t working, is seen as a burden on society. When those out of work are forced to turn to social services for support, they are demonised as ‘scroungers’. With these attitudes, it’s not hard to see that the axe will fall on services being provided to people that elite elements in our dysfunctional, dystopian society see as ‘undeserving’. So when you see the trimmed verges and cleaner parks across Thurrock, don’t be deceived by appearances because there is a lot of hidden suffering under the surface…

One part of the problem…

Referring to the previous two posts about the state of the ¾ estate in Vange and our highlighting the large number of buy to lets being rented out on short term tenancies as being a contributory factor, this piece from Your Thurrock encapsulates the problem in a nutshell: Thurrock homeowner fined for dumping rubbish at front of househttp://www.yourthurrock.com/2017/07/06/thurrock-homeowner-fined-dumping-rubbish-front-house/

Granted, the story is about a property in Grays but it illustrates the attitudes of too many landlords to the neighbourhoods they operate in – basically, they don’t give a s**t! In a case like this where the landlord lives in London E17 miles away from the property concerned in Grays, it’s easy to not give a s**t as they don’t have to deal with pissed off locals. To scumbags like this, their portfolios of property are seen as a tidy income stream and nothing more than that. If that income can be maximised by cutting every corner they can get away with, they will do so. In the case of this particular landlord, he took the piss once too often and was hauled before the court.

Taking landlords like this to court is like trying to put a sticking plaster over a gaping wound. It’s a token gesture which may make a few landlords look at how they operate and decide to pull their socks up but it does nothing to address the underlying problems. Prosecuting cases like this is being seen to be doing something while conveniently ignoring the attitude that sees housing as an investment vehicle as opposed to the basic human right it should in a civilised society.

Whether it’s slum landlords like the one in this case or developers building block after block of apartments in formerly working class areas of London that end up as investment vehicles which remain empty as they’re ‘flipped’ on the market, the attitude that housing is an investment prevails. As long as that thinking remains unchallenged, we’ll keep on seeing slum landlords like this operate in our neighbourhoods while at the same time, more working class areas of the capital are demolished to make way for more sleek, sterile apartment blocks. To get housing seen as a basic human right is going to require fundamental political, economic and social change…it can’t come soon enough!

Eight weeks!

This story from the Echo pretty much sums up the problems experienced by residents on the ¾ estate in Vange: Rubbish left to fester for 8 weeks in bin shed as rats and maggots enjoy the messhttp://www.echo-news.co.uk/news/15387717.Rubbish_left_to_fester_for_8_weeks_in_bin_shed_as_rats_and_maggots_enjoy_the_mess/ The rubbish has now been cleared but the fact it was left for eight weeks speaks volumes about the attitude of Basildon Council and Circle Anglia Housing (they ‘manage’ the social housing on the estate) to the residents of the ¾ estate. Basically, they don’t give a s**t!

Regarding the accumulation of rubbish that was left for eight weeks, this statement from Basildon Council is telling: “The bin shed is owned and operated by Circle Anglia Housing and it is for the managing agents of the properties to allow the council access to empty the bins. This includes the removal of dumped large items”. As ever, the problem is being batted back and forth between a council that doesn’t give a s**t and a housing association that’s not noted for its transparency and listening to their residents when they express concerns. If either of these two actually cared about the residents, they would have been on the case after the first report of a missed collection to work together to resolve the issue rather than pointing fingers at each other like two naughty kids in class trying to avoid being blamed by the teacher for misbehaviour!

So as well as working with residents to organise a community clean up, it looks as though our friends from Basildon & Southend Housing Action (BASHA) will need to be getting on the cases of both Basildon Council and Circle Anglia Housing to get them to pull their socks up. There is some good news however – residents have set up the Vange Hill Community Grouphttps://www.facebook.com/groups/180311358699122/ – in a bid to turn round the fortunes of the estate by lobbying the council, Circle Housing and re-building community spirit and morale. If you live on the ¾ estate and care about its future, join this group and help them to improve life in the area…

The weird cult of Jeremy Corbyn

After the general election, I naively thought that we had reached the point of peak Corbyn and that elements of the left and other radicals would start to think a bit more independently again. Far from that happening, to all intents and purposes, the mania about Corbyn seems to intensified to the point where it has become a cult…a disturbing and weird one…

This was brought home to me on Saturday July 1st when, for the purposes of reporting the event and showing solidarity with any independently minded elements, I attended the Tories Out! Protest organised by the People’s Assembly. If you didn’t know anything about UK politics and saw the name People’s Assembly, you would assume that it was a left wing front representing a fairly broad range of opinions on that end of the political spectrum. Not a bit of it, the People’s Assembly is nothing more than the Jeremy Corbyn fan club. In fact it could well be argued that they do not represent the people in any way shape or form…

As for the Tories Out! protest, apart from a small autonomous block, a few other small, independently minded groups such as Class War and some individual renegades who all grouped together on the march, it was one massive Corbyn love-fest from start to finish. There were endless chants of ‘Oh Jeremy Corbyn’ pretty much from the off. Thousands and thousands of people putting their faith in one political leader and pretty much abandoning any vestige of independent thought let alone, autonomous grassroots action that has some relevance to the daily experience of most working class people.

I can normally tell if a protest like Tories Out! is going to be a large, because when there are huge London protests, there will be people getting on at various points along the c2c line to go to it. I didn’t see anyone getting on at any point on my journey into Fenchurch Street who looked like they would be attending Tories Out! As per usual, the train pretty much emptied at West Ham as most people piled off to go up to Westfield at Stratford for some retail therapy…

My guess about the numbers on Tories Out! is that the attendance was around the twenty thousand mark. Most of the attendees were the usual suspects plus people who have been swept up by the cult of Corbyn. It felt like a very middle class affair with lots of well meaning people but apart from a few of us renegades, little or nothing in the way of anger. Apart from a small autonomous block, the anarchist presence was pretty much zero. The working class presence was also pretty low as well. It’s pretty obvious by now that Corbyn is pitching for the young middle class vote and that everyone else is expected to fulfil their allotted tasks in securing that to ensure his victory.

Halfway down the Haymarket, a few of us had reached the point where listening to one more chant of ‘Oh Jeremy Corbyn’ would have pushed us over the edge so we departed for the pub. In the pub, the idea was hatched that a few people from Class War should go down to Parliament Square and get as close as possible to Corbyn to tell him a few home truths about the complicity of London Labour councils in social cleansing in the name of ‘regeneration’. Suffice to say, the plan was executed and not only did we manage to get the point across to Corbyn, prior to that we also encountered Len McCluskey as well – two for the price of one!

Needless to say, McCluskey and Corbyn weren’t best pleased at being called out on the dismal, anti-working class attitude of London Labour councils who are cosying up to the property developers. The Trots, stewards and Corbyn worshippers weren’t all that pleased at our intervention either. However, far from the metaphorical lynching I was expecting, there were people who were curious about what we had to say and there was a range of encounters and discussions with a few Class War papers getting handed out as well. All in all, it was a worthwhile intervention…

As for the cult of Corbyn, what has to be born in mind is that it is just that and doesn’t have a wide social base outside of the liberally educated, young middle class. The cult of Corbyn exists in a self reinforcing bubble that is apart from the day to day reality of most working class people. Hardly anyone on the estates in Thurrock and Basildon is talking about Corbyn – he’s simply not relevant to their lives. There’s still a massive political vacuum to be filled…

Dave (the editor)

Fire safety issues with Orchard Village

We’ve written before about the problems afflicting the Orchard Village development in South Hornchurch which was built to replace most of the Mar Dyke estate: Building the slums of the futurehttps://southessexstirrer.wordpress.com/2017/02/22/building-the-slums-of-the-future/ It has come as no surprise to us that given the shoddy construction at the development and what can only be described as a lack of oversight during its construction, residents are quite rightly raising concerns about fire safety: Orchard Village Rainham residents demand more action over fire safety concernshttp://www.romfordrecorder.co.uk/news/orchard-village-rainham-residents-demand-more-action-over-fire-safety-concerns-1-5065312

Colin Nickless, chair of the Orchard Village Residents Association raised concerns about fire safety issues late last year. He provided photographic evidence showing breaches in building regulations and failures in fire protection which would counter the Stay Put policy in the event of a fire breaking out. Stay Put depends upon the building being fire resistant to the extent that any fire that does break out is confined within its point of origin and does not spread to neighbouring homes. A resident who knew a retired fire officer invited him to look at the development. The retired fire officer made a list which was submitted to the London Fire Brigade’s fire safety department. The upshot of this is that an additional engine will be submitted to any fire calls at Orchard Village.

Let’s just take a step back here… Superficially, Orchard Village might look fresh and modern but once you take a closer look at the development and the numerous flaws in construction are revealed, as we wrote back in March, it’s set to become a slum of the future if serious remedial work isn’t undertaken soon. Residents, regardless of what form of tenure they hold, should not have to be fighting to have shoddy construction remedied and most definitely should not have to be highlighting serious issues with fire safety. In the 21st century in a supposedly advanced country, it ought to be a matter of routine to get any housing development built to a high standard shouldn’t it?

Reality check… We live in an age where money talks loud and if cutting corners means more dosh in the bank for developers, builders and suppliers, cutting corners is what will happen. If you want a textbook example of cutting corners on a development, pop down to Orchard Village and take a look. This is an object lesson of what happens when the provision of decent, safe and truly affordable housing is not seen as a basic duty but as a source of profit in a dysfunctional, parasitic economy that is over-dependent on the property market. The problem is that when housing is being built for maximum profit, decent, safe and truly affordable are all too often pushed down the priority list…