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.

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…


Pressure gets results:)

Earlier on this week in the aftermath of the community clean up on the ¾ estate in Vange, we put up a series of posts based on what we experienced and saw. One of those posts was this one berating Basildon Council over their lack of inaction over a ‘temporary’ fence and the accumulation of rubbish behind it: Action?

Well, lo and behold, as you can clearly see from the image above, the rocky, dodgy ‘temporary’ fence and the rubbish behind it has been cleared! We don’t know what buttons were pressed at Basildon Council to get this issue sorted but it has to be said that pressure from the Vange Hill Community Group (VHCG), facilitated by Basildon & Southend Housing Action (BASHA) with some back up from us here at the Stirrer undoubtedly played a significant part. At this point, we’d like to thank all of those involved, particularly the staff on the ground who physically removed the fence and the accumulation of trash behind it – your efforts are greatly appreciated.

Okay, in the grand scheme of things, getting a fence and the rubbish removed is a small victory. It also has to be pointed out that VHCG facilitated by BASHA shouldn’t have to be busting a gut to get Basildon Council to do what should be a routine part of their job. However, a victory is a victory and collectively, we’re taking this one!

There’s a long way to go on the ¾ estate but things are starting to look up and that’s in no small part down to the effort put in by VHCG. All of this goes to show that if a community group shows the determination to stick at it, they can get results and start to turn things around in their neighbourhood. People power and putting on the pressure gets results. If VHCG and their allies stick at it, for the ¾ estate it can only be onwards and upwards…

Lastly, on our sister blog, The Estuary Alternative, here are some thoughts on what could be done with the newly cleared space: Could there be a pocket community garden here?


Dispatch from Brooke House

Water coming from a blocked drain making the stairs dangerous to use

Drains in the basement area not being cleared leading to flooding when it rains

This comment made by one of the residents on the Brooke House Residents Basildon Facebook page ( eloquently sums up the feelings of frustration and despair at the conditions in the public areas of Brooke House: It’s not good enough to be told it takes time. Not acceptable. I’ve complained about the flooding for 2 YEARS! I’ve also slipped twice coming out the lift, contacted the council asked if plastic flooring could be put down like they have in swimming pools until the flooding issue is sorted. Didn’t want to know. Darren Maybin doesn’t even reply to my emails any more, that’s so unprofessional and shows exactly what he thinks of our complaints. So now I’m going to the Echo and as a registered disabled person I will be quoting the Disability Act for the safety. I’m fed up now. I’m sick of being fobbed off. The emergency exits in this place are DANGEROUS. So I hope the council will respond in a quicker time when the echo run my piece and I’m telling them everything About this shit hole. Anyone else wanna join me feel free to. Babies,kids, disabled, elderly all live here and it’s an unsafe crap hole.

We’re aware the the local councillor, Andrew Buxton, is putting as much pressure as he can on the relevant officers at Basildon Council to get on top of the multiple issues at Brooke House. The problem Cllr. Buxton faces is having to deal with entrenched attitudes among too many officers at Basildon Council who regard social housing tenants as a nuisance. Which does lead us to ask the question as to who really holds the power to get things done at the council – the councillors or the permanent officers?

There are elements at Basildon Council who feel that social housing tenants have no right to be living in a convenient town centre location and should be moved out to estates on the periphery so they can flog Brooke House off to a developer and trouser the cash. The deterioration of the public areas of the block and the misery of living with the increasing risk that poses is making more and more of the residents think that the only solution is to apply for a transfer and hope they’re offered somewhere better to live. This is an intentional policy of managed decline. We’ve said this before and we’ll say it again – what’s happening at Brooke House is to all intents and purposes a deliberate process of social cleansing in the name of ‘regeneration’.



On the evening of Wednesday 2nd August, activists from the Vange Hill Community Group (VHCG) and Basildon & Southend Housing Action (BASHA) plus the ward councillors took part in a walk about on the ¾ estate to get a fuller picture of the problems afflicting the area. This is what we wrote about it pretty much as soon as we got home: The fightback starts now On the walk, we stopped by the broken ‘temporary’ fence just off Swanstead shown above where concerns were expressed about its visual impact and safety. We distinctly remember one of the ward councillors, Cllr. Block, taking a picture of the offending fence on her phone and telling us she would be contacting the relevant departments at Basildon Council to get it sorted out.

We have to assume that Cllr. Block did inform the relevant people at the council the next day. If that’s the case, can someone please explain to VHCG, BASHA and all of the residents on the ¾ estate who feel they’ve been forgotten about, why is it that five and a half months after being told that action would be taken to fix this fence, sod all appears to have been done about it? Can they also explain why there appears to have been no liaison between the ward councillor and the council officers on the one hand and VHCG, BASHA and the residents on the other on what should be the simple matter of getting this fence sorted out?

BASHA, this blog and VHCG have acquired a bit of a reputation for putting the boot into Basildon Council. We don’t do this because we’re vindictive or we like bullying people. We do this because the council are supposed to be the servants of the people and when it comes to the ¾ estate in Vange (and many other estates across Basildon), people feel like they’re being let down, ignored and belittled by them every time they raise legitimate concerns. We have to put the pressure on Basildon Council simply to get them to do their sodding job!

When turnouts at local elections hover around the thirty percent mark, you would have thought that councillors and council officers would have the humility to take a hard look at themselves and ask why people have little or no faith in them. It’s constant shite like the five and a half months of inaction over a dodgy fence that leads people to rightly conclude that the council doesn’t give a toss about them so they don’t bother to go out and vote. A little word of advice to councillors and council officers alike from those on the estates who have their fingers on the pulse – people are not just fed up, they’re getting angry now!