Ambitious plans for the transformation and expansion of the Lakeside shopping mall have been announced: Intu Lakeside outlines plans for major shopping centre expansion. The announcement has been ‘cautiously’ welcomed by the two councillors representing the ward Lakeside is located in: West Thurrock councillors cautiously welcome plans for Lakeside expansion. Let’s just say that Cllr. Victoria Holloway and Cllr. Oliver Gerrish have put plenty of caveats into their cautious welcome to cover their backsides!

When a development like this is announced, it’s always interesting to look at the comments on social media. Granted, the commentators are self selecting and it’s not scientific in any way but it’s one way of assessing whether a major development is welcome or not. Thurrock is no stranger to traffic congestion and gridlock and the closer you get to Lakeside, the worse it gets. It’s well known that pre-Christmas congestion is a total nightmare.

So, it’s understandable that people living in the west of Thurrock have expressed legitimate concerns about a proposed expansion that will increase footfall at Lakeside and exacerbate an already serious traffic congestion problem. They also raise the issue of increased levels of traffic contributing to an already serious air pollution situation in Thurrock: Thurrock is among UK’s worst for air pollution. Bear in mind, a large distribution centre has been mooted for nearby Aveley – Green light for controversial new distribution centre – and Purfleet is set for a major redevelopment – Purfleet-on-Thames: How will the town look after £1bn development brings 3000 homes and film studios? Both of these will put extra traffic onto the roads and the extra housing will put further strain on the local health and education infrastructure.

A growing number of people in Thurrock are starting to feel hemmed in by growth they feel they have no control over and understandably, are saying enough is enough. This isn’t NIMBYism – it’s a realistic recognition there’s only so much growth that can be piled onto an area before the infrastructure starts to buckle under the strain. That point is being reached and people are starting to kick back. Whether this leads to a questioning of an unsustainable political and economic system that demands constant growth is a moot point. Being realistic, there’s a long way to go before we reach that stage but there are definite signs that a number of people are starting to make the connections.

On the other hand, a few people have pointed out that the proposed re-development and expansion of Lakeside may end up creating a massive white elephant. They have pointed to the growing number of dead shopping malls across the USA to back up this assertion: A Haunting Look Inside America’s Creepiest Abandoned Malls. Changing shopping habits and the rapid growth of online retail outlets are a factor in the decline of the now traditional mall. Obviously, that creates extra traffic with an ever growing number of delivery vans zipping back and forth.

The point is that there’s an issue with development and growth being piled into an area without any meaningful dialogue with, and addressing the concerns of, the residents living there. People in places like Thurrock feel that development is something that’s done to them and they have no say in the process. It’s this sense of powerlessness that’s a factor in alienation of an increasing number of people from the political process. Which is why eventually, we need radical change so everyone has control over how their community and the region they live develops into the future.