The statutory six week consultation period on the draft Basildon town centre masterplan started on Monday 1st June: In the news: How do you imagine Basildon in the future? Town centre masterplan launched. This is where to go to access the draft plans and make your comments: Basildon town centre regeneration. This is the vision for the town centre that has been very keenly promoted by Cllr. Gavin Callaghan (Lab), the leader of Basildon Council. Also, just to confuse things a bit, there’s a separate consultation by a developer, Orwell Real Estate, for a proposed development to the north of Market Square. Here’s where you can access it: Welcome to our consultation website on Orwell Real Estate’s emerging plans for a sustainable, high-quality development on the land north of Market Square, at the gateway to Basildon Town Centre. Enjoy:)

Regular readers of this blog will know that we’re pretty cynical about ‘consultations’ on re-generation schemes which always seem to come at quite a late stage in the process. This maybe called a ‘draft plan’ but once you start wading through the documentation, it’s abundantly clear that a lot of work has already gone into ‘re-imagining’ what Basildon town centre will look like in the future. Basically, the residents of Basildon are being presented with a ‘vision’ to comment upon rather than being involved right from the start in actively shaping what will happen to the town centre.

It’s all too clear to residents and visitors alike that Basildon town centre is, to put it bluntly, on it’s arse. We can all agree that change is needed. What has to be questioned is how that change is planned so residents and visitors have full ownership over what happens. With the economic and social system we have, we’ll never get full, citizen led input into planning the future of our towns. It will always be top down planning, dressed up in the bullshit language of ‘consultation’.

As a result of the ongoing COVID-19 crisis, the consultations are limited to being online. Putting the whole process online excludes those who don’t have access to the Internet from their homes,. It would have been more democratic to have paused the consultation process for at least six months to allow for a physical display of the plans and face to face discussion. However, when you have a ‘vision’ you want to impose, sweeping aside the digitally excluded is most likely viewed by Cllr. Gavin Callaghan and his mates as ‘collateral’ damage. Bear in mind that Callaghan does have some ‘complex’ relationships with certain sections of the property/development sector: What a tangled web they weave.

Also, another very valid reason for pausing the consultations is to allow time to assess the impact of the economic crisis resulting from the lockdown in the face of the COVID-19 crisis. Physical retail was already in trouble as a result on competition from online retailers, many of who have done pretty well out of the lockdown. The draft plan envisages the night time economy coming to the rescue. Okay but, the night time economy will only be viable once COVID-19 physical distancing protocols finally disappear. The evidence so far is that physical distancing will be continuing a long way into the future – long enough to push many cafe, bar and restaurant chains over the edge into collapse. There’s also that nagging feeling that some of our lords and masters would be quite happy for us mere mortals to not have the opportunity to socialise over a drink and/or a meal and instead, become ever more atomised, fearful and malleable.

So, in the face of all of this, the only part of the ‘vision’ for Basildon town centre that would remain will be the forest of apartment blocks. When the new towns were planned from the late 1940s onwards, one key element was providing the feeling of space as an antidote to the crowded streets of London people were moving away from. Shoving up to 4,000 apartments into Basildon town centre will inevitably make the place feel enclosed and oppressive. Also, when the next ‘pandemic’ and lockdown hit, 4,000 apartments effectively turn into 4,000 digitally connected but socially isolated prison cells. Is this the future people really want for the town centre?

Having said all of this, we would still recommend taking part in the consultations. It’s a case of ‘by any means necessary’ to ensure that the voices of those who live, work in or visit Basildon are heard. If enough people respond, maybe, just maybe it will bring about the re-assessment of the plans that are needed to create something more human in scale and feel instead of the bland, corporatised nightmare that’s being proposed.

Lastly as a bit of an aside, we had a detailed look at the above graphic that been widely used in promoting the draft masterplan. Notice anything a bit odd? We did – namely that whatever conurbation the ‘vision’ of the ‘re-imagined’ town centre was plonked onto, it sure as heck wasn’t Basildon. There’s no Gloucester Park for starters. The whole backdrop looks a lot more urban than Basildon does with tall blocks way off to the horizon. When you get to any elevated point in Basildon town centre and look outwards, the one thing that strikes you is that despite it’s faults, the place actually looks pretty green with a decent amount of now mature tree cover.

It can’t be that hard to obtain an aerial shot of Basildon that a visualiser can drop their ‘vision’ of the ‘re-imagined’ town centre onto. To use a bog standard stock shot of an area that looks considerably more urban than Basildon does is not only potentially alarming but a sodding insult to everyone who lives there.