Earlier this month, officers from Thurrock Council published a list of potential sites for new housing to be built: Council targets open spaces, car parks, garages and existing homes as sites for new homes. Little did they know the rows this would create… Cllr. Sue Little, a member of the Tory ruling cabinet at the council, expressed her horror at the suggestion low density council homes could be demolished and replaced with a higher density development in her Orsett ward: Fury of cabinet member at plans to demolish homes in her village – “I will fight to the death”.
This gets better… One of the suggested sites was a park alongside Springhouse Road in Corringham. Once news of its inclusion got out, understandably local people were up in arms about it. Cllr. Barry Johnson, the portfolio holder for housing on the cabinet issued a hasty apology stating that the inclusion of the park at Springhouse Road on the list was an ‘administrative error’: Top councillor in apology after open space is pulled from list of possible housing developments. Seriously, we’re expected to believe this was an ‘error’ rather than a panicked council hastily backtracking when they realised the strength of opposition they would be facing. We don’t think anyone who has been following this farce thinks it was just an ‘error’.
Things came to a head at the Housing Overview and Scrutiny Committee held on Tuesday 11 February when senior council officers tried to justify their actions in drawing up this list of potential sites: It’s just a list! Senior officers rebut concerns as passions run high at meeting over development sites that could take away homes and open spaces. It’s worth taking the time to read through this report of the scrutiny meeting, not least because it’s an example of the kind of local journalism we need to hold council officers and councillors to account.
From our reading of the report, it seemed that time after time, the response of the senior officers was ‘this is only a list’. These officers showed no sign of regret at the distress and anger the publication of this list has caused residents across Thurrock. This is not about ‘sites’ – it’s about the threat to cherished open spaces and in the case of Orsett, to people’s homes. This is yet another display of high handed arrogance from senior officers at Thurrock Council.
The cabinet at the council are due to discuss this list tonight (Wednesday 12 February) with a view to them giving it their approval. Two members of that cabinet have already expressed their unhappiness with this list, with particular reference to the threat to parkland at Springhouse Road in Corringham and existing homes in Orsett. All of this yet again raises the question of just who runs Thurrock Council – the elected councillors or the senior officers? If the senior officers had been under proper scrutiny, they wouldn’t have been allowed to get as far as coming up with a list that pissed off a fair few residents and councillors across Thurrock. Yet again, this is more evidence of how local ‘democracy’ is broken and dysfunctional…