Don’t believe the weasel words of the developers!

The letter to the Echo reproduced above concerns the ongoing re-development of the Laindon Centre – a shopping precinct that opened in 1969 and has been plagued by problems pretty much ever since. It’s instructive to read this piece from the Laindon & District Community ArchiveLaindon Shopping Centre – The Decline  – which not only discusses the decline of the centre but also offers a history of what the High Road was like before Basildon New Town was built. Spoiler alert – it was thriving! What is clear from this piece is that back in the late 1960s, the Laindon Centre was imposed upon the community with no consultation as part of the grand plan for the new town.

Well, when it comes to taking into consideration the views of the community, it would appear that Swan, the developers responsible for replacing the Laindon Centre, haven’t learned the lessons of history. When the re-development of the centre was finally given the go ahead, from what we can gather, residents were generally in favour of the scheme. That was with the implied proviso that during the course of the re-development, Swan would make every effort to keep as many shops as possible open. Shops that people in the community rely upon, particularly those who don’t drive. It would appear from the letter reproduced above that Swan have issued eviction notices to the shops which could be taken as breaching their commitment to keeping as many of them as possible open. Understandably, there are now concerns about the continuity of the Health Centre.

Even though there was a consultation about the re-development of the Laindon Centre and promises were made to make every effort to keep as many shops open as possible, at the end of the day, Swan appear to be ignoring the wishes of residents and their own promises! As we’ve written more times than we care to remember, the planning system we have isn’t fit for the purpose of providing residents with what they want and deserve – it exists to serve the needs of the developers and that’s it. A planning system that serves the needs of the developers and rides roughshod over the concerns and aspirations of residents is symptomatic of a system of local governance that is not fit for purpose. Both are top down systems imposed upon residents. Looking at the letter reproduced above, that’s something many residents instinctively understand. At some point, that instinctive understanding has to move towards a movement that will bring about a truly participatory system where decisions about the way our communities are run and how they will grow and develop into the future are made right at the grassroots.

In the meantime we would like to offer this piece of advice to any residents dealing with the ‘consultation’ processes that accompany major developments – don’t believe the weasel words of the developers!


At the risk of endlessly repeating ourselves…

We’d like to draw the attention of the relevant Basildon Council officers and the ward councillors for the area covering the ¾ estate in Vange to this list of posts we’ve written about the issues on the estate and the frustrations the residents are experiencing in trying to resolve them:

Stop moving the sodding goalposts!
Falling apart…an update:(
Admit it…you need us!
Doing it for ourselves (because no one else will!)
Evading responsibility
The fightback starts now

For a blog that has only been going since February and which covers an area stretching from Southend in the east to Dagenham in the west, this is a heck of a lot of posts about one estate! We shouldn’t have to be writing these posts. If Basildon Council officers, the local ward councillors, Essex County Council and both the Circle and Swan housing associations were doing their jobs properly, the ¾ estate wouldn’t be experiencing anything like the problems it has.

To all of the agencies and the ward councillors involved, we ask you to listen to the residents and don’t dismiss their concerns, fob them off with excuses, give them the runaround or treat them with contempt. Remember, you’re supposed to be the servants of the people, not their masters.

When things do eventually get done on the ¾ estate, all too often it’s been after persistent nagging and pressure that creates mistrust and bad blood between residents on the one hand and council officers, councillors and housing association staff on the other. It shouldn’t have to be like this. We know that both the Vange Hill Community Group and Basildon & Southend Housing Action would prefer a co-operative working relationship with Basildon Council, Essex County Council and the relevant ward councillors.

The offer is on the table… Forget about what’s gone on in the past, get round a table, talk the issues through face to face, show residents you’re serious about working in partnership with them and let’s make a new start with a clean slate. It shouldn’t be that hard should it?

Evading responsibility

We had an e-mail from one of the activists in the Vange Hill Community Group the other day which shows the frustrations they’re experiencing in holding the authorities to account for the conditions on the ¾ estate. Basically, it’s buck passing with no one willing to stand up and say ‘this issue is my responsibility and I’ll see that it gets sorted’.

This extract concerning the requested removal of a dumped armchair on Gambleside and dumped wood on Vange Hill Drive illustrates the way various sections of Basildon Council try to bounce responsibility for clearing up items off each other rather than getting the job done: Today spoke to men sent to clear armchair dumped between 12-14 Gambleside and they were only going to pick up chair. I said that I was fed up as I always put out various other rubbish so they should collect everything there. Apparently told by James Hendry not their job as that is dustmen’s job (Ha Ha) as we all know they do not collect it. Street sweeper has said same, told not to collect things as not his job. Basically told that it is enforcement’s job and to leave.

This e-mail was also copied to the local ward councillor, Melissa McGeorge, who by now should be in no doubt as to the frustrations felt by residents who cannot get a straight answer from the council for love nor money: I think Melissa it is about time the heads of these sections stopped acting like children guarding their marbles and get on and sort out how to do their jobs properly. This is not acceptable at all, they are paid to provide a service and they are not…Lets be clear here, the council is failing in its duty here and is also being obstructive in providing information allowing our group to keep these sections on its toes regarding health and safety [for residents] and the environment, all areas I personally have experience in. I am dismayed that the council are so indifferent to peoples need to live in a clean and safe area.

There’s one interesting nugget of information that has come to light courtesy of a helpful unnamed source at Essex County Council (ECC) – all roads, parking areas, paths and steps on the ¾ estate are their responsibility. On paper that is… Take a walk round the estate and it’s pretty clear these only get looked at once in a blue moon! So ECC, cheers for admitting these areas are your responsibility – the residents of the ¾ estate are eagerly awaiting the arrival of your operatives to sort out the potholed roads, broken kerbs, uneven paths and wonky steps… Knowledge is power and this map gives the residents a fair bit of that as they now know who to badger in order to get a problem fixed. Here’s the map…

Regardless of whether it’s Basildon Council, Essex County Council, Circle Housing or Swan Housing, the frustrating experiences of the Vange Hill Community Group (and in previous years, Basildon & Southend Housing Action) in trying to get straight answers from them and do the job they’re paid to do proves one thing beyond doubt – they’re dysfunctional. In fact, it’s not an exaggeration to say that none of them are fit for purpose as they continue to treat the resident of the ¾ estate in Vange with contempt.

At the moment the Vange Hill Community Group facilitated by Basildon & Southend Housing Action are trying to hold the line by holding the authorities to account. At some point in the not too distant future, looking at ways of taking responsibility for the estate away from the authorities and giving it to the residents has to be on the agenda. Bitter experience has shown that the authorities have failed the people and that the point is coming where the people will have to take over…

The fightback starts now

Just under a month ago, we undertook a distribution of a Basildon & Southend Housing Action (BASHA) flyer on the ¾ estate in Vange on the southern fringes of Basildon – this was our write up of what we found: Where the new town dream has died… Since that low point, there have been a number of encouraging developments: Positive developments in Vange

On the evening of Wednesday 2nd August, along with our comrades from BASHA, we met up with representatives from the Vange Hill Community Group – – and two of the ward councillors for a walk around the estate to get a fuller picture of what the issues were and start to work out an action strategy to deal with them.

One of the problems on the ¾ estate is tenure… A lot of houses were brought by their tenants when the right to buy came in. Many of these properties have since been brought up by buy to let landlords…some of who are total scumbags. Anecdotal evidence suggests that tenancies on a fair number of the buy to let homes are on short leases. Many of these are ‘houses of multiple occupation’ that are seriously overcrowded. It feels that the sense of community that used to be found on the estate disappeared long ago as the number of people moving in and out on short term leases increased. Instead of neighbourliness and solidarity, there’s fear, suspicion and a collapse of morale…

Then there’s the neglect by Basildon Council, Circle Housing and Swan Housing – all have some responsibility for various parts of the estate but none seem to want to talk or co-operate with each other! There are issues with rubbish collection which have been going on for years and show no sign of ever being resolved. There are broken kerbs and potholes everywhere. As for the walkways and steps, apart from the fact that they appear to be going back to nature as the grass and weeds take over, there are numerous uneven and broken paving slabs that mean you need to keep your eye on where you’re walking to avoid tripping over…

Despite the teeming rain, the walkabout was a positive experience. Vange Hill Community Group are passionate about turning round the fortunes of the estate and members have already started clean ups in the immediate vicinity of their homes. We spent a long time talking to them about how we can support and facilitate what they’re doing and getting the outline of an action plan in place.

One aim is to lead by example… This will be when a small group of neighbours get together to clear up rubbish, strim out unwanted weeds, clear unsafe steps of leaves and weeds and where appropriate, set up a community flower bed. As well as making a physical difference, the process of doing this will start to rebuild the community solidarity and pride that the ¾ estate desperately needs. If this can start to happen at a few points on the estate and can be sustained, then it will hopefully set an example that others will want to emulate it so that the ‘reclaimed’ bits of the estate physically link up with each other.

However, as you can see from the images taken on the walkabout, we and Vange Hill Community Group are under no illusions about the scale of the task…it’s a good job we like a challenge!

A ‘house of multiple occupation’ with a front garden turned into a rubbish tip

Electricity and flood water are not a good mix!

One of the neglected paths and open areas on the estate

One of many flights of steps that appear to be getting left to go back to nature, making them hazardous for pedestrian use

Looks like someone’s had a clear out…