Do I Detect The Seeds Of Another Canvey Petition Protest?

IT SEEMS THAT  Canvey Island Town Council, under the new chairmanship of CIIP member John Anderson, are now about to spend more residents’ money in obtaining the views of islanders regarding a pedestrianised shopping precinct in Canvey’s town centre.

Not content with wasting £180,000 on Canvey Lake, which is in any case earmarked for improvements under the Town Centre’s regeneration plans, the Town Council has apparently decided that the 3,687 participants in the public consultation process do not reflect islander opinion. They are certain that, given the opportunity, islanders would choose a pedestrianised High Street as opposed to wider pathways; cycle tracks; and a two-way traffic system to overcome the present congestion problems.

Indeed, it seems that congestion – whether it be island traffic or just petulant opposition to any modern progress – is the Town Council’s stock-in-trade. They have had the opportunity, since September last year, to promote their own ideas regarding the town centre’s regeneration; but instead they have, as usual, waited until the last moment to criticise the consultation process and infer that the developers have it all wrong.

True to form, the local Echo has taken to providing its column inches to the Town Council’s view – with no coverage of the alternatives that the visitors to Canvey Island’s Regeneration Shop have had the opportunity of choosing between. Furthermore, the Town Council is not urging residents to visit the Regeneration Shop to make their views known, they would rather just pose a simple question to residents – rather than give them the opportunity of making an informed decision.

The Town Council’s proposed opinion survey is heavily weighted against the developers. Most people, asked if they would like to see the Town Centre pedestrianised – and given no alternatives – are likely to say, ‘Yes.’ A fact that is not lost upon the Canvey Island Independent Party (CIIP), which has a reputation for taking arguments out of context and then organising petitions around them.

The protests over the Concord pool and Kismet Park’s Adizone have since flowered and gone to seed; but the CIIP is determined, in this the Town Council’s election year, to create another local issue that it can use to retain its political foothold.

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Too Important For Islanders To Ignore

IT WAS IN JULY 2006 when the Echo voiced the exasperation of local businesses and residents about the continuing delay in regenerating Canvey Island’s town centre. Three years later, after successfully obtaining a one-million-pound grant for the seafront from Thames Gateway, the Borough Council has been able to attract further funds to finally transform the rundown High Street into a modern community area that islanders can, once again, be proud of.

The plans are ambitious and, since July this year, residents have been able to provide the Castle Point Regeneration partnership with their own thoughts and ideas about making the town fit for its growing population and a new generation of islanders. But the recent comments by Steve Rogers, Head of Regeneration and Homes at Castle Point Borough Council, regarding the link between new homes and town centre improvements, have set some on a dangerous course of jeopardising the island’s future.

Of course there is a link between desperately needed new homes and town centre regeneration. Regeneration provides new job opportunities for those whom are currently living in overcrowded accommodation and existing on meagre incomes. Regeneration provides opportunities to find full-time employment and afford a home of one’s own to raise a family. Regeneration provides an environment in which business and residents can prosper. But regeneration requires sufficient homes into which a growing and revitalised community can expand.

Without the desperately needed new homes that Canvey needs to absorb its growing 40,000 population, the island will stagnate and die. Just as it has been doing during the course of the last three years. Do not make the mistake that town centre shop closures have been no more than the effects of the current recession. Businesses have been moving-out, and traders have been calling for help, for the past five years.

Dutch Village SiteFour-hundred new homes are proposed for the Dutch Village site on the island, and, inspired by our local MP, Bob Spink, protesters have been quick to adopt a cause and criticise the Greenbelt location. But the cry is simply, ‘Hands off our Greenbelt!’ without putting forward alternative suggestions for a suitable brownfield site. Moreover, the protesters are not addressing the important logistical questions that an alternative site would raise.

On the question of selecting the Dutch Village location for the proposed new homes, Steve Rogers told this blog:-

‘Land East of Canvey Road offers significant community benefits. In addition to the residential development [the location offers]: a new access road to the Cornelius Vermuyden School; a site for a new leisure development; a site for a new health facility; and public open space.’

In other words: the best available site on which to accomodate island expansion is the Dutch Village location. Broadening the argument to encompass Castle Point and suggest that all new home requirements could be placed somewhere like Thundersley (by redeploying Manor Trading Estate to a more accessible position near the A130 extension and freeing-up its brownfield site) does not address the direct needs of Canvey. Neither does it address the employment needs of such a large housing development in Thundersley.

Choosing a site for new homes is not easy, nor is choosing to build on what is designated Greenbelt land. But the Dutch Village location, when viewed in context on a map, can be seen for what it is: an orphaned pocket of land adjoining Canvey Road at the rear of Cornelius Vermuyden School. It is not a swathe of wide-open space and heathland containing rare flora; neither does it conform to the definition of what Greenbelt actually is (a belt of recreational parks, farmland, or uncultivated land surrounding a community).

The Dutch Village location is the wrong side of the Canvey Road (and Somnes Avenue) to be seriously considered as text-book Greenbelt.

However, building 400 new homes on the island, as things now stand, is bound to have a negative impact on the community. That is because the local road infrastructure is already at breaking point. Given that each new home is likely to be accompanied by another car, the thought of 400 additional vehicles competing for space in the daily rush hours is worrying — particularly because the addition of the 400 new homes will be at the worst possible location from a commuting perspective: directly upon the main roadway’s pressure point.

Asked about plans for a third road, Steve Rogers said this:-

‘The Council supports the provision of a third access road for Canvey Island. However, the Council could not delay or obstruct development until such a road is constructed — since this would be judged as unreasonable by the independent Planning Inspectorate.’

His statement will not be welcomed by islanders who are rightly concerned about island safety; and prospective developers and businesses, hoping to transform our town centre, are likely to be dissuaded too.

Regeneration of the town centre, and the success of its retailers and businesses, will only be achieved if the new facilities are accessible. A multi-storey car-park; an extension to Sainsbury’s; a paved High Street; a new community centre; green space and decent shops and facilities will be starved of custom if visitors to the island are faced with tail-backs to the Sadlers’ Farm and Victoria House roundabouts.

The consultation process has already identified the congestion caused by the ill-considered one-way loop around the town centre; but to suggest that this is the cause of island congestion at peak times is erroneous. Congestion is caused by the lack of alternative island access.

Canvey Island needs a third road.

Just what ‘BDP‘, the consultants being used to collate and express resident requirements, stands for — remains a mystery; but the exhibition boards that they have produced are impressive. Taken together they precisely represent resident views and provide a detailed overview of the way the proposed development is progressing. (To access an individual exhibition board, click upon its icon).

 Page 1  Page 2  Page 3
 Page 4  Page 5  Page 6

Islanders can still provide their personal opinions by clicking here.

On the subject of town centre regeneration, Steve Rogers had this to say:-

‘Town centre regeneration (for which there is clear public support as demonstrated from the results of the comprehensive public consultation) is an integral part of the Council’s Core Strategy. However the Strategy must also show where the Council will allow new homes and new jobs for the community. Without all this information, it is unlikely to be approved by the independent Planning Inspectorate. The Council is then at risk of development happening in the wrong places, and without any community support or benefits.’

Steve Rogers is not a politician. His comments are devoid of political spin and provide islanders with a candid view of the current situation. It is this information that islanders need to consider when instructing their councillors to vote on these important issues.

The fact is: Canvey Island is a low-wage economy, and the vast majority of its residents are employed in low-paid work. For years, Canvey Island’s town centre has existed on the loyalty of islanders to its independent stores. But the fragility of that relationship has been highlighted by the recession, which has seen retail revenue drop severely as many residents have lost their jobs.

When Lalani’s 99p store was granted access to our High Street, the Canvey Beat was the only publication that highlighted the firm’s history and its threat to established traders. And islanders responded by ensuring those traders, whom have always supported us, received their support. Had they not done so, many more premises would now be vacant.

But an incestuous relationship is not healthy. Just recirculating a community’s wealth between local businesses, residents, and back again will not help a community survive. That is because such a circulatory system bleeds wealth to out-of-town retailers by natural transfer when specialist items are bought or spontaneous purchases made.

Customer loyalty can only keep local retailers afloat for as long as residents’ wages are not spent elsewhere.

A healthy community is one in which visitors can be attracted to spend their hard earned money in its town centre stores. It needs to attract external custom to replace the natural bleed of its own residents’ resources — and it needs to attract additional spending from those customers in order to grow.

Only by growth can business owners afford to increase the pay of existing staff (and therefore provide more wealth to the community upon which it can further grow). And only by business growth can a community hope to sustain full employment.

The regeneration of Canvey Island’s town centre is too important an issue to be left to councillors. Islanders will have to live, and allow their children to grow up, with the decisions that they make. If you have not already taken the opportunity (and only some 2,745 islanders have apparently done so): visit the shop in the former ‘Select’ unit, next to the entrance to Sainsbury’s, in the Knightswick Centre, to see the exhibits resulting from the first part of the consultation process.

The exhibition will remain on display until Monday, the 28th September.

Islanders will also wish to take part in the ‘Affordable housing strategy 2008 – 2010’ consultation on the Borough Council’s website, for which the cut-off date is Monday, 21st September. So click on the link now. (For some reason this facility was only highlighted on the Council’s Website today, providing just Sunday in which to respond).

The Council is due to vote on its Core Strategy at a meeting on Tuesday, the 29th September, and it is important that all residents make their feelings known to their councillors to ensure they take their preferences into account and vote the correct way.

Use the link to locate your councillor and send them an email expressing your views — or make your thoughts known here by leaving a comment (or voting on one already left).

… (30/09/2009) – Anderson’s Sound Arguments Trashed By Conceited Colleagues