On Wednesday 13th May, members of Basildon Council’s Town Centre Revival Committee, chaired by the leader of the council, Cllr. Gavin Callaghan (Lab), discussed the town centre masterplan prior to its adoption as a supplementary planning document to the Local Plan. The next stage will be a six-week statutory public consultation starting on 1st June – given current circumstances, that will be conducted online. This is one report on the masterplan from the local media: Committee approve next steps for Basildon town centre masterplan.

For those of you who enjoy wading through page after page after page of planner’s bullshit and hot air, here is the Basildon Town Centre Masteplan. Be warned, there’s a lot of left to right scrolling as well as up and down scrolling involved in wading through this – good luck!

Callaghan certainly knows how to manipulate the local media. On Wednesday 13th May, his missive in the Echo to the residents of Basildon detailing his vision for the future of the town centre was published: Basildon Council leader Gavin Callaghan writes to Echo readers.

In what now feels like another lifetime, on 1st September 2018, we posted this piece questioning Callaghan’s role with the consultancy, Cratus Strategic: What a tangled web they weave. This is how Cratus describe what they do:

At Cratus our ethos is ‘our world is local’, this defines us and drives everything we do. We recognise the importance of decision making at local level and our primary goal is to help clients navigate the process to secure results. We are a political engagement and community consultation company. Established in 2009, born from our Chief Executive’s dedication to local government, Cratus is committed to creating and improving partnerships between local authorities, the private and third sectors. Cratus has brought together a powerful cross-party team from the top of local government to provide insight and counsel to our clients as they work with emerging local government structures, as well as the wider public sector.

Yes, it’s corporate bullshit but at the end of the day, it’s about ‘partnerships’ between local authorities on the one hand and property developers, housing developers, construction companies and the like on the other hand.

Our attention has been drawn to this post from the Tory group on Basildon Council: Town Centre Project: Questions to be answered. Essentially, they’re questioning Callaghan’s role with Cratus and also with any other companies that are involved in the re-development of Basildon town centre. Questions that even though they come from the ****ing Tories, are legitimate and need to be answered.

At this point, we should remind people that while Callaghan is evangelical in his enthusiasm for the transformation of Basildon town centre, the ball was set in motion when Cllr. Phil Turner (Con) was the leader of the council. For us, the issue is not grinding any party political axes because we don’t have any. It’s about the lack of transparency over the relationships between senior councillors and property developers and how that might skew the way re-development proposals are framed and promoted. It’s an issue that applies to all local authorities, regardless of where they are or what their political composition is.

The real question is this – whose interests are local authorities really serving? Is it solely the interests of the residents or is it the case that property developers are being given favourable treatment, even when their proposals are met with objections from residents? Bear in the mind the revolving door between ruling group councillors and senior officers on the one hand and property developers and the rash of consultancies that seem to surround them on the other. From where we’re standing, it’s pretty clear that the looking after the interests of residents is coming way behind sucking up to the property developers. Which is why we reckon local ‘democracy’ is a sham.