Residents and councillors making their feelings known about the proposed extension and redevelopment of Thurrock Council’s offices in New Road, Grays

Last night (Wednesday 19.6), the vanity project mooted by senior Thurrock Council officers and ruling group Tories to extend the council offices, obliterating several small businesses in the process was debated by councillors. Before the meeting, there was a protest (called at short notice) outside the council offices where residents plus Labour and Thurrock Independent councillors made their feelings known about the proposals. This is a report of the protest: Protesters urge Thurrock Council to scrap council office plans.

Cllr. Jane Pothecary (Lab) tabled a motion urging the Tory administration to abandon the scheme. After a debate, the motion was voted on and carried with 26 councillors voting in support and 15 against. The problem is that the ruling cabinet do not have to abide by the vote and can still push this destructive, hubristic vanity project through. Full coverage of the proceedings can be read here: Thurrock Councillors vote down plans for £10 million civic offices (despite Trump-style protest from Tories).

As much as we want to join the residents and councillors opposing this hubristic scheme in celebration, we feel there’s still a long way to go. A cabal of ruling group Tories and senior council officers have been developing some pretty grandiose schemes for the redevelopment of Grays town centre. We wrote this piece a while back looking at the motives of Thurrock (and other councils) in wanting ‘regenerate’ their town centres: What’s behind the urge to tart up town centres? They are not going to give up their plans without a fight…

So, there’s been a petition launched by the owner of the neighbouring Angel Cafe, plenty of objections from local residents, a protest outside the council offices against the extension, a motion calling for the scheme to be abandoned and a vote in favour of that motion. Yet, despite this clear evidence of the unpopularity of the scheme, the ruling cabinet still has the option to ignore all of this and force the scheme through.

If the cabinet does choose to take this option, it will make a mockery of local democracy and will be yet another nail in the coffin of resident engagement with local politics. If a ruling cabinet feels it can force through an unpopular decision, residents will think – ‘what is the point of even attempting to engage with local politics when our views are constantly ignored?’

Having said this, we’d like to say fair play to those councillors who supported the motion calling for the scheme to be scrapped. Despite everything, there are still a number of councillors around who genuinely take note of what residents in their wards want and who prioritise that while ignoring the siren calls of the property developers. This stands in stark contrast to some of the councillors in Basildon we wrote about in our previous post!