Highways England tell us what we already knew!

At Thurrock Council’s Lower Thames Crossing Task Force meeting on Monday 22nd January, Highways England made it clear that while they will ‘listen’ to the concerns of residents, the horizontal and vertical alignments of the road are ‘project led decisions’: Thurrock councillors and residents told they have “no influence” over Lower Thames Crossing route by Highways Englandhttp://www.thurrockgazette.co.uk/news/15904908.Thurrock_councillors_and_residents_told_they_have__no_influence__over_Lower_Thames_Crossing_route_by_Highways_England/ As you can read in the article, the ‘areas of influence’ are in the main cosmetic.

The Chair of the Lower Thames Crossing Task Force, Councillor Peter Smith, said: “I appreciate Highways England explaining to us quite candidly that we cannot influence these areas.” Let’s be blunt, any Thurrock councillors participating in this task force are merely going through the motions for the sake of appearances. In effect they’re doing the bidding of Highways England in conferring an illusion of legitimacy on the forthcoming ‘consultation’ process when the stark reality is that it is nothing more than an exercise in bullshit.

The Chair of the Thames Crossing Action Group, Matt Jackson, has a considerably more realistic take on the consultation: “The consultation Highways England plan to run during 2018 will be little short of a waste of money. What is the point consulting the general public when they; a) have no effect on the final design. b) their opinions are discredited due to local business wants and needs?”

Why are we not in the least bit surprised by all of this? Regardless of whether it’s the Lower Thames Crossing or the re-vamp of Basildon town centre, we’ve always made the point that these are exercises by the planners in attempting to fool the public while ramming through what they deem to be right. We have a top down planning system that is inherently skewed towards delivering what big business demands regardless of the detrimental impact on ordinary people.

Until people wake up to whose agenda is being served here, the power dynamics that enforce that agenda and join in making an effective challenge to a political, economic and social system in thrall to neo-liberalism, we’re going to have more of this bullshit. It really is time to wake up, smell the coffee and start to do something to mount a serious challenge to this…

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Another quango making decisions about our lives

Yet another quango has come into existence to make decisions about economic and housing growth along the Thames estuary: Thames Estuary Growth set to be discussed by Thurrock Councilhttp://www.yourthurrock.com/2018/01/05/thames-estuary-growth-set-discussed-thurrock-council/ Don’t be taken in by the headline – sure, Thurrock Council will be discussing the priorities of the Thames Estuary 2010 Growth Commission but any conclusions they come to will be advisory at the best.

This appears to be a re-heated version of the Thames Gateway initiative which was being discussed ten or more years ago. The Thames Gateway initiative made a token nod to public consultation but most of the decisions were made behind closed doors before it disappeared into the ether. We strongly suspect that it will be the same with the Thames Estuary 2010 Growth Commission – a token nod to asking us plebs what we think with the big decisions being made well away from any scrutiny or public accountability.

The ‘consultations’ about the Lower Thames Crossing have been a joke in that all we’ve been asked to comment upon are variants of the proposal – there is no possibility that the need for the crossing will ever be allowed to be questioned and challenged. Whatever the Thames Estuary 2010 Growth Commission lay out in front of us mere mortals will most likely be a series of proposals with slight variations between them which we’ll be asked to comment upon.

Look at where we are now with the only employment growth coming from massive distribution facilities such as Amazon at Tilbury with shite employment practices, ever increasing traffic and pollution levels, housing being stuffed into every available corner with the infrastructure needed to support it lagging way behind… If people had been asked if this was what they wanted for the future development of the region, the answer most likely would have been a resounding no!

We suspect that what we will be getting is more new roads carving up what little green space is left, more housing to absorb the overflow from London as the project of social cleansing from the capital intensifies and more precarious ’employment opportunities’ in logistics and distribution that operate 24/7. In other words, we get what suits big business rather than a more sustainable and liveable future that most people in the region, if they had the chance to really think things through, would much prefer.

Yet again, we have a planning initiative where major developments that suit the interests of big business are imposed upon a population that has no say in the matter whatsoever. Seriously, what else can we expect from a political and economic system in thrall to the doctrine of neo-liberalism? We’re not going to get bottom up participation in shaping planning decisions for the benefit of the people who live here until there’s a serious challenge to a political and economic system that regards us plebs as little more than interchangeable and ultimately, disposable work units.

Have Highways England won?

On Monday 20th November, members of the Lower Thames Crossing Task Force (made up of Thurrock councillors), the Thames Crossing Action Group and representatives of Highways England met to discuss developments regarding the route the crossing will take through Thurrock. See here for the full story on the Thurrock Gazette: Further details on Lower Thames Crossing route unveiled in meetinghttp://www.thurrockgazette.co.uk/news/15673129.Further_details_on_Lower_Thames_Crossing_route_unveiled_in_meeting/

Just take a few moments to absorb this – the Thames Crossing Action Group, initially set up to oppose any route for the crossing, have been sitting in a meeting alongside representatives from Highways England discussing the finer details of the route. There’s no longer a debate about the need for the crossing in the context of moving towards a more sustainable future where we don’t have to rely on a mode of transport fuelled by a finite resource. There’s not even a discussion about whether improvements to the existing road infrastructure that would relieve congestion at the Dartford River Crossing could render the construction of a new crossing unnecessary. In short, there’s no meaningful opposition to the Lower Thames Crossing. Highways England have won because they are dictating the agenda.

That’s the way it’s always been when it comes to major transport infrastructure projects. The system is rigged so that any discussion about a proposal is around ‘alternative’ routes or when just one option is presented, making tweaks to it. The political and economic system we have and the planning system that underpins it will not allow any fundamental discussion about the future direction of society and the transport infrastructure that will support it. Those decisions have always been taken behind closed doors and until people wake up to the reality of whose interests the system really supports, they will continue to be taken behind closed doors.

As we’ve written before, most local amenity groups take the conventional route when it comes to opposing housing developments or major road / transport infrastructure projects. These groups have the best of intentions but sadly, they don’t understand that the system is rigged and at the very best, they may be permitted to suggest a few tweaks to a scheme but that will be it. The Green Action Group did their level best working within a rigged system to stop the a development of executive style homes (that will do jack shit to ease the housing waiting list in Basildon) on meadow land at Dry Street – the meadows have gone and the houses are going up. It’s the same with Thames Crossing Action Group – they’ve put in a phenomenal amount of work to state the case against the crossing but because they were working within a flawed, rigged system, they’ve been reduced to sitting in the same room as Highways England to discuss tweaks to the route.

Above are two examples of what happens when there’s no militant opposition and amenity groups opt to work within the system. In both cases, our environment and along with it, our health and peace of mind have been the losers. We would like to suggest that a change of strategy and tactics is needed as an urgent priority before any more damage is inflicted…

They kept that quiet didn’t they?

More details of the plans for the Lower Thames Crossing have been released by Highways England: Thames crossing plan details revealedhttp://www.echo-news.co.uk/news/15635823.Thames_crossing_plan_details_revealed/ During the latter part of 2015 and into early 2016, in the initial phase of consultation, we saw a fair few maps showing different options for the Lower Thames Crossing and variants within those options. This is the first time we’ve seen a map showing a spur road going off towards Tilbury from what is an equally unexpected junction to the west of East Tilbury. Presumably, this little surprise is tied in with this development: Plans for a new £1bn terminal at Port of Tilbury lodged with Planning Inspectoratehttp://www.yourthurrock.com/2017/11/01/plans-new-1bn-terminal-port-tilbury-lodged-planning-inspectorate/

This is quite a significant addition that has been sprung onto the people of Thurrock seemingly without any warning. Although with the proposals to expand the Port of Tilbury, to be honest, it’s not really that much of a surprise. However, what does rankle is that Highways England blithely present this as a fait accompli knowing that they’ll get away with it. We know that Thurrock Council are formally opposed to the Lower Thames Crossing but with the way the planning system works in relation to projects deemed to be of national strategic importance, that opposition is nothing more than a gesture.

Thurrock Council have set up the Lower Thames Crossing Task Force which basically is a channel of communication between Highways England, the council and ultimately, any residents directly affected by the proposals: Crossing changes to affect 200 landownershttp://www.thurrockindependent.com/2017/11/02/crossing-changes-to-affect-200-landowners/ So while Thurrock Council have expressed their formal opposition to the Lower Thames Crossing, they are obliged to liaise with Highways England and are pathetically grateful to them for any information they release.

If a project is deemed by the government to be of national strategic importance, then any local authorities affected by it, let alone us mere mortals who will be adversely impacted by it have no real say in the matter apart from participating in ‘consultation’ exercises put on by Highways England. ‘Consultations’ that are an exercise in looking at a range of options and essentially picking the least worst one. Forget about any serious questioning of the need for the crossing, discussions about sustainable, future proof transport options and the like – discussions like this are not on the agenda. Which is pretty much what we expect from an economic and political system that’s incapable of taking a long term view, aided and abetted by a planning system designed to meet the needs of big business regardless of the environmental consequences.

There was an outpouring of opposition to the Lower Thames Crossing proposals towards the end of 2015 and into the early part of 2016 when the initial consultations took place. The problem was that many of the opponents took the view that they could win by working within the system and arguing their case. Well, that didn’t work with the development by Redrow Homes of an estate of executive homes up at Dry Street whose construction is now well under way. It sure as hell won’t work against an unaccountable agency such as Highways England. Purely as a point of information, we’ll leave you with this: Earth First!https://earthfirst.org.uk/actionreports/

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…

Dragging party politics into the campaign against the Lower Thames Crossing

Back in February 2016, we attended a packed and very lively meeting at the Tilbury Cruise Terminal to discuss the options on the table for the Lower Thames Crossing. Campaigners against the crossing such as George Abbott were there in force. Highways England were there to attempt to sway what was a largely hostile audience – they failed miserably! Also present were councillors and MPs from across the political spectrum. In the fractious world of Thurrock politics, it seemed that for one brief moment, divisions had been forgotten and we were all united against the crossing. The one thing we took from that meeting was the desire of the campaigners against the crossing to keep party politics out of it.

Fast forward to the present and we have this: Thurrock UKIP claim to be only party to “reject Thames Crossing proposals”http://www.yourthurrock.com/2017/05/20/thurrock-ukip-claim-party-reject-thames-crossing-proposals/ Yup, Tim Aker has attempted to hi-jack a non-party political campaign in a cynical bid to boost his election campaign in the Thurrock constituency. Aker is up against John Kent, the former Labour leader of Thurrock Council who’s also on record as being opposed to the crossing and the sitting Tory MP, Jackie Doyle-Price who was in favour of Option C, Route 4 that mainly went through the neighbouring South Basildon and East Thurrock constituency.

Supporters of Labour have waded into the debate refuting Aker’s claims to be the only party against the Lower Thames Crossing: Letter to Editor: UKIP wrong over Lower Thames Crossinghttp://www.yourthurrock.com/2017/05/21/letter-editor-ukip-wrong-lower-thames-crossing/ Fair enough, Labour have a right to counter the crap that Aker is coming out with but there are issues with this… Namely that responding in this way has turned the campaign against the Lower Thames Crossing into a party political football in what is a bitter election battle in the Thurrock constituency.

As much as we have occasionally questioned George Abbott’s strategy and tactics in the past, our sympathies go out to him and the other campaigners on the ground who want the crossing stopped and don’t want the fight against it sullied by petty political point scoring in an election clash. Dragging this campaign into the squalid realm of party politics and the squabbling and bickering that goes with it is going to damage it. That seems to matter little to the politicians who seek to exploit the issue to gain an advantage for their respective parties, regardless of the consequences. This is why we as anarchists want nothing to do with party politics and the system as it stands and why we prefer to work with grassroots campaigners whose concern is the issue they’re dealing with and not seeking political advantage…

Pre-election desperation!

The Tory MP for Thurrock, Jackie Doyle-Price, has held urgent talks with PM Theresa May regarding the decision by Highways England to go for Option C (Route 3) for the Lower Thames Crossing: Thurrock MP Jackie Doyle-Price in urgent talks with Prime Minister over Lower Thames Crossing proposalshttp://www.thurrockgazette.co.uk/news/15257677.Thurrock_MP_in_urgent_talks_with_Prime_Minister_over_Lower_Thames_Crossing_proposals/ Those of you who have been following the saga of the Lower Thames Crossing will be aware that Doyle-Price has long been an advocate for Route 4 which was to run between Orsett and Stanford-le-Hope and eventually join up with the A127. She saw this route as having the least impact on her constituents because it predominately went through the neighbouring South Basildon & East Thurrock constituency. Don’t you just love politicians when they play their little games of divide and rule?

Doyle-Price has long criticised opponents of Option C, basically saying we had no option but to accept it. However, as soon as Highways England announced their preference for Option C (Route 3), she expressed her objections to it, fearing for her slim majority. Well, not long after the decision, May goes and calls a general election sending Doyle-Price into a panic. At the 2015 election, it was pretty much a three horse race. Our gut instinct is that a fair view of the votes that may be leaving Labour will go to UKIP and as much as we detest Tim Aker and think he’s a total plonker, there’s a fair chance that as he opposes Option C outright, he could oust Doyle-Price from her seat.

Doyle-Price holding urgent talks with May is a deeply cynical move – no surprise really, she’s an MP desperate to hang onto her seat and the influence and perks that go with it. While the furore over the Lower Thames Crossing will make the election battle in Thurrock even more of a spectacle for those who like their politics dirty, we would like to add a few words of caution… Basically, don’t rely on the outcome of the election in Thurrock to make any difference to the intentions of Highways England. While a fair number of voters will see it as a chance to give Doyle-Price a well deserved kicking, that’s all it will be. As anarchists, we don’t believe that elections will make a significant difference in a system that’s rigged…

We want to conclude with this excerpt from a post we wrote back in April when the decision was made: Lower Thames Crossing decision – let battle commence!https://southessexstirrer.wordpress.com/2017/04/13/lower-thames-crossing-decision-let-battle-commence/ However, this question has to be asked – has it come to the point where direct action aimed at physically stopping the road and crossing from being built has to be considered? That could well be something along the lines of the infamous protest against the Newbury bypass in the 1990s: Twenty years after the protests, what is the legacy of the Newbury bypass?http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/jan/24/newbury-protest-camp-bypass-legacy with the obvious caveats that lessons from their experience need to be taken on board. For obvious security reasons, we don’t want to publicly comment on what could happen in terms of direct action as we don’t fancy being branded as ‘domestic terrorists’! Suffice to say, there ‘s a lot to discuss in terms of strategy and tactics…