Nethermayne Election Result

Letter to Local Press

For those wo may have seen my letter to the local press about Basildon Council’s Local Development Framework, specifically may have read it in The Enquirer, here’s the FULL text of the letter….

Dear Sir

Basildon Borough Council is currently consulting on its plans to regenerate Basildon Town Centre and on the Preferred Options for its Local Development Framework.

At full council Borough Councillors were given just 5 minutes to comment on the latter, proposals of huge significance for the future of the borough. I was criticised for the narrowness of my comments by restricting myself, as I did in the short time available, to the concerns which from my perspective most profoundly affect the communities I represent, namely those within the Nethermayne Ward.

These concerns centre on the proposal in each of the three Preferred Options to develop the land formerly known as “The Land North of Dry Street” and now designated the “Nethermayne Cluster”. Each option promotes the building of at least 850 homes, approximately half the size of the Lee Chapel South Community, on land which for the most part is designated a Local Wildlife Site (LOWs) and falls within the Langdon Hills Living Landscape, and contains also a much used equestrian centre. The land serves also as an important buffer between the existing urban community and the farmland, nature reserves, country parks and Sites of Special Scientific Interest that are either adjacent or in close proximity.

There are also serious issues of infrastructure: road congestion at Basildon Hospital and implications for emergency vehicles, town centre access, school capacity and medical facilities, some of which are acknowledged but not addressed to any meaningful extent.

Basildon Borough Council abandoned its attempts to include this area of land in the Green Belt and they, together with the Homes and Communities Agency now seem determined to consign it to the bulldozer.  One of the principal “Key Drivers for Change” of the report includes Protecting and enhancing the Borough’s built and natural assets, landscapes and heritage & achieving sense of place” and its vision declares that by 2031 “The Green Belt and countryside will have been protected enhanced (sic) through land management and environmental improvements;”.

I leave it to your readers to set what store they can by this statement but would suggest that the vision of  at least 850 houses for the Local Wildlife Site and Living Landscape that is the Nethermayne Cluster does not bode well for other such environmentally sensitive areas within the borough.

Whatever your readers’ opinions I would urge those resident in Basildon to take advantage of the opportunity to comment on this important stage of the Local Development Framework process that runs till April 11th. It is the only meaningful opportunity so to do.

Yours sincerely,

Plus ça change… Basildon Council Meeting 2nd February 2012

Though fairly tame by the standards of some past meetings, the first Basildon Council meeting of the New Year demonstrated the short-lived nature of the Season of Goodwill with Cllr Horgan calling a member of the public – our own Phil Jenkins – a “pompous arse” for asking the Leader of the Council if his bag-carrier, Cllr Luke Mackenzie, should not be given an opportunity to apologise in public for remarks made on Twitter about the ‘unwashed’ protesting against government benefit cuts. The ‘unwashed’ in this case including many disabled people. I am not an afficianado of Twitter, but it seems to have caused quite a stir, and apparently Cllr M did apologise and edit his comments. Hey ho.

Things warmed up with references and comments on Basildon Golf Course. The council sought agreement to a waiver of standing orders in order to procure consultants to advise on the procurement process for a new ‘developer’ for the course. Meanwhile, a working group of council officers has been set up to prepare for a “market-test exercise” to ” explore opportunities to develop some of the depot / car park area”.  Ironically, council members had recently been treated to a rather good training session on the role of Scrutiny in the contract procurement process. After all the issues surrounding the last lessee of the golf course and the Jack Barker débacle you would have thought that the administration would have avoided like the plague any suggestion of “waiver of standing orders” around anything to do with the golf course – however relatively insignificant this particular decision. However, in a glimmer of sunlight, Cllr Blake, with responsibility for leisure, did indicate (nudge,nudge,wink,wink) that interested, non-council, parties would be kept advised… Has the council taken on board that the Friends of Basildon Golf Course are not a force to be trifled with ?

The meeting concluded at a civilised time. A party colleague, an observer from a neighbouring borough, commented on the combative nature of the meeting. Despite assurances that it had been fairly tame by recent standards he opined that “It would never happen like that in ******* “

Basildon Town Centre Masterplan

Basildon Town Centre MasterplanThese are very much initial and individual comments. As a local councilllor I want to be able to represent the views of my constituents to The Powers That Be. So I welcome your thoughts on the proposals that are before the Basildon community. To see the whole draft plan click on Town Centre Masterplan under the Blogroll menu on the right . Please use the facility on this website to make your comments. You can make your comments by clicking on the Your Views box  in the Get Involved menu (top right).

The Plan

The Basildon Town Centre Regeneration Master Plan is out, published to acclaim by the Echo, and about to enter its consultative phase in February. The thrust of the proposals – to re-invigorate the town centre by promoting mixed residential, retail, commercial and leisure use – remains much the same as the plans unveiled in February 2006; with one or two spectacular changes.

The Changes

Number one is the U-turn on the Towngate Theatre and the Basildon Centre. Both were originally scheduled for demolition…and rebuilding elsewhere in the Town Centre. There was public outrage in 2006 at the thought of buildings, scarcely 20 years old at the time, and however controversial their initial development, being simply knocked down by a Conservative administration, only to be rebuilt somewhere else, out of some sort of peevish spite towards a previous hung council that gave the go-ahead for their construction back in the 80′s. But that proposal has now slipped to the bottom, if not off the bottom, of the administration’s list of priorities.

It’s not just cream that rises

What has risen to the top – and it’s not always cream – is the proposal for a new college on the site of the current market. The market itself will re-locate to areas indicated within St.Martin’s Square which the accompanying map suggests will be close to M&S and Westgate. There are potent signs that the market trader community is not overly pleased about these proposals. For one thing, the council seem to be thinking of demountable, storable market stalls whilst the traders favour the ‘log cabins’ where they can keep their stock without having to transfer it every market day.

Members of the council administration are rubbing their hands at the prospect of the spending power of 2000 students and the effects it will have on the retail businesses of the town centre. Is that why Cllr Horgan has identified “an under provision of leisure, restaurants, cafes and bars” according to the council’s press release ?

By contrast, it seems “There is clear evidence to suggest that the town centre has an overprovision of retail”, in plain speak “too many shops” .

A TOWN CENTRE COLLEGE

Evidently South Essex College,  comprising the Southend, Basildon and Grays sites, is committed to town centre locations. Much the same is happening in Thurrock, where even more cynically, the council actually removed the Woodview (old Thurrock Tech) site from the Green Belt so it can be developed for housing. That branch of the college is being transposed to a site close to Grays civic offices. In Basildon in 2011 the council gave up any pretence at trying to protect the green fields off  Dry Street that will be sold off along with the current Basildon college site to help finance the college relocation, despite voting to try and get them into the Green Belt in 2006. To be truthful it was the Labour government that rejected their inclusion, after which Basildon council seems quietly to have given up on the project. They have justified this with such statements as: “Young people in Basildon deserve the best education. Education leads to better jobs and better life chances.” (Echo, 18 January 2012) Not exactly rocket science, but sufficient to imply, as has already been implied, that to oppose the sale of the Dry Street land, because the proceeds will go towards the development of the new college, is not to support “better life chances” for local young people. This is at least arrant, if not arrogant nonsense.

The quality of education provided to Basildon’s youngsters does not depend on the age of buildings but on the quality of the teaching and the courses offered. As one young correspondent with the Green Action Group put it I’m an eighteen year old student who went to Woodlands and studied at Palmers College, Grays. From experience I know that a new building does not mean better education.” As for the spending power of college students, he writes: ” The scrapping of EMA (Education Maintenance Allowance) will mean more students with less money than before, even with a job I  found it hard to find money to spend at all, let alone everyday in Basildon town centre as HCA, Basildon Council and South Essex College seem to think will happen with the relocation of a college.”

CREATING A TOWN CENTRE COMMUNITY

Getting more folk to live in the town centre is probably a good idea. Brooke House was built for that purpose, and is now a Grade II listed building. More flats over shops and hence more human traffic across its blustery spaces may well make the place more attractive of an evening. Together with a hopefully thriving Towngate Theatre  and other town centre leisure opportunities the much desired night-time economy could be boosted. But a cinema ?  It sounds good but with the Festival Leisure Park, BasVegas, on its doorstep, how viable will it be ? Why not something a bit more imaginative, an ice-rink for instance ? Perhaps an ice-rink that could transform to a dance floor: Strictly Come Basildon has a certain ring to it.

SHOPS – “an emphasis on quality rather than quantity”

A decent book shop would be a good start, not necessarily huge – quality rather than quantity. Or an ironmongers.  People will have their own preferences, but something needs to be done to extend the retail offer beyond mobile-phone outlets and £-shops.

That’s an exaggeration of course because there are some good shops in Basildon. We just need more of them !



Golf Course Hotel ?

Amongst the options that Basildon Borough Council officers are considering for Basildon Golf Course is one for a hotel. There’s no indication of where  on the golf course it could be, but those who occupy their minds which such things need to remember that the Golf Course is in Green Belt. Of course they might be thinking of somewhere closer to the golf club buildings and the ancient barn that BBC rented to the Jack Barker outfit before that company dropped off the scene. Local residents and the Friends of Basildon Golf Course battled hard and long, and expensively, to save the course from corporate vandalism: is another battle looming to protect this unique landscape ? The council has spent millions of ££££s to protect the Green Belt at Dale Farm. Can we expect the same commitment in south Basildon ? So far the signs aren’t good. Despite committing itself to do everything possible to get the Dry Street meadows into the Green Belt in 2006 the council gave up at the first hurdle and has acquiesced in plans to develop those meadows (together with the Basildon College site) for housing and other purposes. They intend to treat them, it seems,  in exactly the same way as they have mistreated parkland at Northlands Park and Kent View Road, looking at these sites with £ signs flickering in their eyes like Tom and Jerry.

Why won’t the council be straight with us ?
When the proposal to develop the Land North of Dry Street  - now called the ‘Nethermayne Site’ – was announced in May the council’s response was “if the council did not support proposals from  the Homes and Communities Agency, the development would be forced upon them with no gain to the borough.”                               (  Cllr Horgan in a meeting with Cllr Geoff Williams)
HCA officials at a meeting with Geoff Williams in  September confirmed that the driving force for the development of the Dry Street land was Basildon Borough Council . The HCA was just doing what Basildon Council wanted….
Let us have your views on the proposal to develop the Nethermayne Site -
To move Basildon College to a ‘Town Centre Location’
To develop college land and HCA land for housing and other uses
All potentially to add to Nethermayne’s traffic mayhem
With increased pressure on schools and other essential infrastructure