Are the dice loaded against us?

This may not be as bad as having to speed read a 500 page draft of a Brexit ‘deal’ before a critical Cabinet meeting but Highways England are certainly in the same league when it comes to their ‘consultation’ documentation on the Lower Thames Crossing which runs to thousands of pages: Angry Thurrock councillors slam ‘sheer size and complexity’ of Highways England Lower Thames Crossing consultation. The ‘consultation’ runs until Thursday 20th December.

From what we’ve read, Thurrock councillors council officers are struggling with the sheer amount of documentation from Highways England they have to read, analyse and respond to in a limited time frame. If the full time council officers who are tasked with responding to this are struggling, imagine what it’s like for us mere mortals who want to respond to the Highways England proposals but also have these pesky things called lives to deal with. Even the non-technical summary contains technical language and acronyms. The easy read version is only available on request. There is a 15 working day response time for e-mails. Basically, the dice are loaded against anyone hoping to make a meaningful response to the Highways England proposals.

The remit of the ‘consultation’ is about the technicalities of the route alignment, depth of cuttings and heights of any embankments, location of junctions and also any environmental amelioration and noise reduction measures that may be included in the proposals. There is absolutely no scope for any questioning of the need for the Lower Thames Crossing. Essentially, we’re being presented with a done deal. A done deal not just in terms of the road being imposed upon us but, given the complexity of the documentation people are obliged to wade through, it appears to be a done deal in terms of the technical aspects of the route planning.

However, as we’ve said a fair few times before, the Lower Thames Crossing only exists in the form of numerous computer files, a heck of a lot of paper, and as an idea in people’s heads. As we write, there are no physical manifestations of the approach roads or the tunnel. However, that hasn’t stopped Highways England from hitting people with Compulsory Purchase Orders and blight notices. See herefor more information on these. If the will is there for a radical change in tactics, it’s still possible to stop this unsustainable and largely unwanted proposal in its tracks.

The consultation is available at: Paper copies of all the consultation documents are also available at Grays Library and Tilbury Hub during normal opening hours.


Introducing our new sister project

It’s easy to know what you’re against in a dysfunctional, unsustainable and increasingly dystopian world. Railing against the world we have to endure may make you feel better but…does it lead to positive change? We know that the political, economic and social system we inhabit is rapidly heading towards its use by date and that we have to bring about radical change if we’re going to survive. There are many ways of bringing about the change that’s needed.

Our sister project, Alternative Estuary has been set up to promote what can be done in the here and now to boost sustainability, community cohesion and neighbourhood resilience in an increasingly volatile world. It’s about building the new world we need and want in the decaying shell of the old one we currently endure.

This blog is in your face and a bit snarly. The kind of content we want to produce about positive alternatives and building a new world in the shell of the old won’t really sit that well on here and even though it involves more work, we thought it would be best to set up a new blog. Also as the political, economic and social climate becomes ever more unpredictable and volatile, if things get really hairy and we’re forced to mute or shut this blog down, Alternative Estuary offers us another way of carrying our project for change forwards.

Focus E15 monthly meeting

We’re posting up this contribution from Focus E15 as a reminder to people out along the estuary concerned about the housing crisis that the fight for housing justice is one, unified fight and we won’t tolerate the divide and rule merchants with their reactionary agendas attempting to split us.

Thanks to all who came and contributed.

We heard updates on Carpenters Estate and the fight for refurbishment and repopulation; the battle of Brimstone House residents for decent longterm housing; valuable information about the Magpie Project. We learnt about the under fives and homelessness, threats from social services to remove children, and families with no recourse to public funds, many of whom Newham Council are sending to Bradford.

We had excellent solidarity and contributions from Macintosh Court residents in Lambeth experienced at challenging Labour councils; and Debt Resistance UK with the latest from their report of the LOBO loan scandal and financial mismanagement and corruption in Newham, the council has been shamefully leading the way in this field nationwide.

Remember Newham council is uncovering 10,000 deleted emails from the Robin Wales era and the details of corruption just keep on coming. NOTE that Robin Wales is on the list of speakers at a meeting of the right wing think tank Policy Exchange on Monday 19 November evening… Let’s go and make sure he knows we’re still watching him…

Come to the stall every Saturday 12-2 outside Wilko’s on The Broadway E15, take part in our monthly meetings, write for the website, share stories – let’s educate, agitate and organise!

The calls for fire safety in tower blocks are NOT a ‘knee-jerk’ response

Last Tuesday, a motion submitted to a meeting of Southend Borough Council calling for better fire safety measures in the borough’s tower blocks was rejected: Call to improve fire safety in Southend tower blocks rejected as “knee-jerk reaction to Grenfell”. It has been claimed that firefighters in Southend do not have the equipment to rescue people above ten stories. There are eleven blocks in Southend that are higher than that.

What Southend Borough Council are doing with their rejection of this motion is hiding behind legislation that was in place well before the Grenfell Tower disaster last year. Legislation which may well not get changed until the inquiry into the disaster has run its course. It could well be a few years before the inquiry reaches its conclusions.

These were some of the demands made by those campaigning for better fire safety in the blocks:

  • Automated fire alarms
  • Sprinkler systems
  • Checks on materials used within the walls

In what is supposed to be a civilised society, any reasonable person would have thought that these were the basics that should be undertaken if an authority is housing people in tower blocks. Basically, Southend Borough Council are trying to get away with doing the bare minimum rather than doing the right thing for their residents in the tower blocks. Dismissing perfectly reasonable demands submitted well over a year after the Grenfell Tower disaster as a ‘knee-jerk reaction’ is a callous, contemptuous reaction.

We’re losing count of how many blog posts we’ve put up about examples of councils treating their residents in an arrogant, high handed, dismissive manner. Seriously, how much more of this are people going to put up with before something snaps?

David Amess – living in the past

David Amess (Tory), the MP for the Southend West constituency, recently voted against the Northern Ireland Equal Marriage amendment which would have allowed for same sex marriage there. This is not the only time Amess has voted down legislation that would secure LGBTQ rights – here are some more instances:

  • On February 5, 2013, Mr Amess voted against allowing same sex couples to marry and repeated the same vote on May 21, 2013
  • On March 5, 2014, he voted against making same sex marriage available to armed forces personnel outside the UK. On the armed forces vote, he was just one of 96 who voted against, while in the February 2013 vote he was one of 170 against, compared to 395 for.

Southend Pride have rightly taken Amess to task over his reactionary voting record on LGBTQ rights: ‘MP David Amess keeps voting against LGBT rights’: campaigners Whether their taking him to task will change his attitude is a moot point. It does seen as though Amess is stuck in the 1980s and secretly missing the Section 28 clause in the Local Government Act 1986 which stated that a local authority “shall not intentionally promote homosexuality or publish material with the intention of promoting homosexuality” or “promote the teaching in any maintained school of the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship”.

We would like to think that in 2018, an MP in a town like Southend would take a more enlightened approach to LGBTQ rights. We would also like to think that people wouldn’t keep voting in an MP with such a dismal voting record on enabling those rights. Sadly, there’s enough of a reactionary element in the town who seem happy to dismiss his backward views on LGBTQ rights and who do keep on voting him back in at every election.

We live in troubled times and it’s clear to any observer of the social and political scene that there’s a reactionary backlash underway. MPs like Amess seem happy to pander to this and isolate groups of people they don’t approve of, setting them up for victimisation and worse. This is a sickening example of divide and rule. This is why we offer our solidarity to LGBTQ groups and individuals who are standing up to this reactionary backlash.

A grudging concession from Thurrock Council

Back in July, we wrote this post about the threat that was being posed to the Elm Road Open Space in Grays: Thurrock Council know the price of everything and the value of nothing… It was proposed that the site would be used for a new 900 place secondary school. The plans were moved forward without any public consultation which generated a lot of anger in the area that would have been affected by the new school. The government’s Education & Skills Funding Agency have now decided that they want to procure a different site. See here for the full report in the Thurrock Independent: Controversial school site plan is rejected – but council claims a silver lining.

While Thurrock Council have announced they’ve now rescinded instructions to sell the park, they have done so with what can only be described as open contempt for the residents living near Elm Road Open Space. Look at the language used by Cllr. James Halden (Tory) who holds the portfolio for education: “The EFSA has accepted this argument, we have won this fight and they will invest additional monies to acquire a private site, as such I have rescinded instructions to dispose of this site.” ‘Dispose of the site’ shows that the council see this as nothing more than a financial asset and shows the utter contempt they have for local residents who see the park as vital to community wellbeing. Then there’s this: “While I know this is the position many people hoped for it is a position that could only be arrived at by forging past NIMBY pressure from the start and ensuring we offered the land available”. Cllr. Halden’s dismissal of the legitimate concerns of residents about traffic congestion and the loss of vital open space as NIMBYism is a display of pig ignorant arrogance.

The arrogant, dismissive attitude of Cllr. Halden in particular and Thurrock Council in general over this episode is yet another example of the glaring disconnect between the councillors and council officers who presume to run the borough and the residents who have to endure their antics. As we have said before, these people are supposed to be our servants – at least in an ideal world anyway. Instead, they arrogantly devise and implement their grandiose schemes that all too often have been conjured up behind closed doors with no meaningful transparency and then insult any residents who have the temerity to question their decisions. These people are not fit to run our communities. The question is this – how much longer are we going to put up with their bulls**t before something gives?

Regional planning – keeping plebs like us out of the loop

On October 31st, council representatives from East London, Essex and Kent met with business leaders and major developers at the Thames Estuary Growth Day event held at CentrED at the Excel Centre in Newham: Thames growth day an “opportunity for real, meaningful debate”. Out of interest, how many of you were aware of this? Probably not many of you because apart from the occasional regurgitated press release, a lot of this stuff seems to pass by the attentions of what’s left of an overstretched, understaffed local media that’s all too often in hock with the developers anyway.

How did we find out about this? A contact of ours tipped us off about this by sending the above 3 Fox International link to us. Who the heck are 3 Fox International? In their own words, this is part of what they’re about: Our job is to promote big development schemes, to raise the profile of the places in which they’re happening, to demonstrate the delivery of jobs and homes by the planning authority and to showcase the expertise and effectiveness of the development partners involved. As well as this, after a look through their website, it would seem that 3 Fox International are pretty well versed in the dark arts of peddling corporate bullshit.

This is just one of seemingly numerous high powered gatherings where councillors and council officers can hob nob with developers and business leaders well away from the beady eyes of us mere plebs: Keeping us out of the loop while Thurrock is put up for sale. On top of this, there are the councillors who work for consultancies in the pockets of property developers, one example being Cllr. Gavin Callaghan (Labour) who represents the Pitsea North West ward on Basildon Council: What a tangled web they weave.

Unless you’re a planning geek who has the time to track this stuff down, most ordinary folk living along the estuary all the way from East London right out to Southend and the Medway towns won’t have a clue all of this is going on. The first indication may be notice of a ‘consultation’ event where residents are invited along to comment on what is pretty much a done deal. Even with these events, it’s generally a small self-selecting subset of the overall population that attend and participate. For the vast majority of people, the first they’ll know about any major developments is when the bulldozers come in and the hoardings go up.

Most people see this level of regional planning as something that’s done to them and their communities. They see the ‘consultation’ events for what they are – tokenistic bullshit on what they know is a done deal. The argument that our local councillors are there to influence and temper the grandiose schemes of the developers falls apart when it starts to become clear that like the aforementioned Cllr. Gavin Callaghan, they’re working hand in glove with them. So when it comes to local elections, is it any surprise that turnout is so low? Of course it isn’t!

The problem is that with the level of cynicism there is about regional planning and local government, the siren voices of the reactionary political elements lurking in the shadows out along the estuary will be exploiting people’s legitimate concerns and feelings of powerlessness, twisting them to suit their own divisive agenda. Which means that in order to counter this, we often have to explain that what happens in London with social cleansing has a direct impact all the way out along the estuary and beyond: Booted out of Newham.

The best people to decide on what happens in terms of housing, employment opportunities, transport infrastructure and everything else we need for a decent, sustainable life in our communities are those of us who live, work, study and play in them. Seriously, it’s a no brainer! It’s the wisdom of the commons. It’s the aggregation of all of our experiences, concerns and aspirations. Sure, it will need to be facilitated by people with expertise in a range of areas but those experts would be our servants, accountable to us and not some faceless developer. Dream on the cynics may say. Well, what’s wrong with dreaming of planning that works for us because it’s driven by us? Sure, the profit driven developers and their numerous lackeys in the local authorities would hate it but for us ordinary folk, it would be brilliant.

The problem is that we are where we are. Stuck with a political, economic and social system that’s in hock to profit driven developers and corporations. Despite numerous attempts to astroturf the housing movement in London: Its not funny but it’s a joke: London’s housing activists, people have reached the end of their patience and are not prepared to stand by and watch their communities get smashed up by the developers without putting up a proper fight: #Deptford #London: Furious crowd encircle Lewisham mayor’s car and disrupt council meeting. Could there be hope for the future? The answer is that it’s down to you – if you’ve had enough of being dictated to by unaccountable planners and their lackeys in the councils, now is the time to act!