After the debacles over the re-building of the railway station at Stanford-le-Hope and the widening of the A13 between the Orsett Cock and the interchange with the A1014, you would have thought that Thurrock Council would pause on any new infrastructure projects. If only… It seems that the council still want to pursue the project of replacing the level crossing on the High Street by the railway station at Grays with an underpass. The only saving grace at the moment is that a number of members of Thurrock Council’s Planning, Transport, Regeneration Overview & Scrutiny Committee do have their doubts are are questioning the council’s ability to deliver this project: Anti social behaviour, consultation issues and unknown cost are all concerns as councillor give tentative move towards next step in Grays town centre project.

Sure, the level crossing could be improved with better surfacing and more security to prevent people jumping over the gates and trespassing on the railway. The point is that a well refurbished and maintained level crossing provides easy, unbroken access between the lower and upper ends of the High Street in Grays. Not only that, it makes life a lot easier for disabled people, particularly those relying on wheelchairs or mobility scooters. Yes, access of the disabled is planned into the new underpass but, a short, straight line journey is replaced with a twist and turn at either end, making it more inconvenient.

There are also concerns about security that need to be addressed. Underpasses in urban environments generally don’t have a great reputation for making people feel safe, even though they were planned in with what were seen as the best of intentions at the time. While we’re not in any way into moral panics or demonising the youth, it would be naïve of us to deny that there are problems with anti-social behaviour in Grays town centre. Those are a reflection of the atomised, dog eat dog society we have to endure. If the only access from the lower to the upper ends of the High Street in Grays is via an underpass, those who feel vulnerable may well choose to not visit the town centre unless they absolutely have to. The underpass, instead of being an access point, will for quite a few people be seen as a barrier.

Then there’s the ability of Thurrock Council to deliver an infrastructure project on time and within budget. As mentioned above, the screw ups over the re-building of the railway station at Stanford-le-Hope and the widening of the A13 don’t exactly inspire a lot of confidence!

As ever, the ‘consultation’ with local residents was rightly called into question by the Scrutiny Committee. Thurrock Council do not have a good record when it comes to implementing fully inclusive consultations with local residents on schemes planned for Grays town centre. Looking at the plans for the underpass, it would appear that the business along the north side of Station Approach going round the corner into the High Street are to be swept away to make way for the access to the underpass. As with the vanity project of expanding the civic offices just round the corner in New Road, it would seem that businesses mainly run by people of migrant origin are considered to be expendable. You could be forgiven for thinking there’s a pattern starting to emerge here…

We acknowledge that improvements to Grays town centre are needed. However, these need to be implemented only after there has been full engagement with all members of the surrounding community. That’s not happening. In the social engineering project of re-making Grays into a more affluent commuter town, the voices of the diverse, mainly working class community around the town centre are being routinely dismissed. There’s a name for that – it’s called social cleansing. Here are some words of advice to Thurrock Council about their attitude to the community around Grays town centre – acknowledge existence or expect resistance!