Council Criticised Over Lack Of Affordable Housing

Wendy Goodwin, Cabinet Member for Homes

CASTLE POINT BOROUGH COUNCIL (CPBC) was heavily criticised this week by the charity Shelter. Its Local Housing Watch revealed that there are 1,374 households on the waiting list for affordable housing in the constituency and that, at current letting rates, this will take over 14 years to clear.

One would, the charity says, have to earn £47,727 per year to afford to buy an average-priced house in the area – almost twice the average annual income of residents, which is just £24,778.

The average selling price of a home in the borough is £175,000 (down from some £200,000 in 2006)..

Shelter’s independent experts say Castle Point needs to build 209 homes per year; but criticise the council for not saying how many homes it intends to build. Just 10 new affordable homes were in fact delivered, on average, in each of the last three years.

Just 95 lettings were made to new social tenants last year.

46 households are considered as homeless, and 66 are housed in temporary accommodation.

With just five percent of the number of affordable homes delivered, Castle Point was rated at the bottom end of the charity’s housing league table. It was number 303 out of 323 councils rated, and performed particularly badly when compared to its Basildon and Southend neighbours – who were positioned 13th and 102nd respectively. Basildon delivered 91 percent of its 208 target, and Southend managed 26 percent of its 344.

Cllr Wendy Goodwin, Cabinet Member for Homes, was contacted regarding Shelter’s criticism; but no reply was received by the time this article was published.

Last year, the local Labour Party were suggesting that 1,014 empty homes in the borough could be utilised in solving the local housing problem; but that figure, from 2008, does not paint an accurate picture. Included in that headline total are natural and seasonal movements in the area’s housing as properties become empty waiting for new owners or tenants to move in – or remain temporarily unsold in a weak housing market.

Of that headline figure, 649 private properties (693 in 2009) were identified as having been empty for more than six months; but, once again, the figure also includes properties that await being sold or renovated by their owners. Furthermore, while it is probably true that some of these properties, if money were available, could be purchased by council to add to its housing stock, the truth of the matter is that, in most cases, renovating a run-down property is often likely to be more expensive than knocking it down and rebuilding from scratch.

In short, the option of buying-up aged empty properties is not the viable solution that many would like us to believe.

With projected Council income from Government likely to be cut by some 25 percent in response to Britain’s financial crisis, the outlook for overcoming the borough’s housing crisis in the short term is bleak. If there is to be a silver lining, it is only likely to come from the private sector in reaction to the 2012 Olympics and local town centre regeneration.

On Wednesday, the Development and Control Committee will meet to examine proposals by Barrett to develop the mainland’s Kiln Road site, which includes plans for 53 affordable new homes.

Locally, the plan is opposed by the Thundersley and Daws Heath Hands Off Our Greenbelt Action Group; but the plot is actually designated as possible building space and Barrett have sought to address the outstanding nature conservation issues on the site – as well as providing for contributions towards highway and public transport improvements, early years and childcare education.

Given the current financial crisis, and the borough’s poor housing record, it is difficult to see how the plans could be refused. It is probably the only option the borough has to provide suitable accomodation for its homeless.

On the island, the Town Council has made no attempt to identify private property availability; suitable building locations or, indeed, the housing needs of its residents. Instead, in line with Canvey Island Independent Party strategy, its position is simply to oppose any new homes on Canvey.

In this, the first real test for the CIIP since the local elections, and Blackwell’s comments here to ‘work with the ruling group,’ it will be interesting to see if that promise holds any truth. As the borough’s only opposition party, will they put the needs of the constituency’s homeless first? Or will they simply adopt their Canvey Island stance and oppose the only opportunity our most deprived residents (mostly islanders) have to better their conditions?

Wednesday evening’s vote will serve to make things clear…

… (CPBC, 26/05/2010) – Barrett proposals refused

… (28/05/2010) – So Much For Barrett’s ‘Proposals’

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New Political Year – New Mayor for CPBC

Mayor David Cross

TO MARK THE START of the new political year, Castle Point Borough Council elected a new mayor. He is David Cross, the Conservative councillor for St Mary’s Ward, who replaces last year’s mayor, Cliff Brunt.

His deputy will be Jackie Govier, the Conservative member for St George’s Ward.

Pam Challis, Conservative, St Peter’s, was officially re-elected as Council Leader, along with her deputy, the Conservative member for Boyce Ward, Jeffrey Stanley.

Godfrey Isaacs, Conservative, St James, was appointed as the Member for Safer Communities – replacing Tony Belford, who retired ahead of this month’s local elections.

The Canvey Beat Launches Online Petition

IN A RECENT STRAW-POLL, conducted on this blog, 96% of readers believed that residents should have the power to sack their elected councillors.

Today, the Canvey Beat has launched an online petition, calling upon Castle Point Borough Council to amend their constitution and provide residents with that ability.

Please sign it.

In a constituency that elects its councillors by thirds, and denies voters the ability to replace its elected officials every four years, this matter is of fundamental importance to the effective operation of Democracy in this borough.

During the local election, no party voiced support for the proposal, despite feelings amongst residents running high.

Now is the time to make your voice heard – or forever remain silent.

It is your borough.

Make sure that your councillors represent your views – and that you have the power to recall them when they do not fulfil their obligations.

Take control now by signing our petition…

Council Officer Rich List

(Guardian) – THE NUMBER of local council staff on six-figure pay packages has risen 14% in the last year last year thanks to inflation-busting pay rises, according to the Taxpayers’ Alliance (TPA) annual “town hall rich list“. It finds 31 senior officials earning more than the Prime Minister and 219 paid better than cabinet ministers.

The average 2008/9 increase in the remuneration packages of the top earners was 5% – twice that given to nurses and teachers – despite intense pressure to rein in public spending. New rules introduced by the Government amid concern at spiralling pay and perks at local authorities came into force yesterday, forcing local authorities to publish more details.

The TPA research – based on replies to freedom of information requests – identified at least 1,250 council staff getting £100,000 or more – 151 more than in 2007/8 – averaging £2,418 a week. There was also an increase in the very top pay scales, with 166 on packages worth more than £150,000 – up from 135 the previous year. It identified Kent as the county council with the most officers on six-figures sums (27) and Liverpool the metropolitan district with most (22) – although not all councils responded.

Castle Point Borough Council responded to the FOI request on 6th January 2010. They referred the enquirers to its Website to discover names of the officers concerned. This is what the TPA discovered:-

Name Position 2007-08 2008-09 % Increase 2008-09 Band
David Marchant Chief Executive £145,000 £155,000 6.9% £150,000 – £160,000
Devinia Board Strategic Director Improving the Borough £105,000   £100,000 – £110,000
Andrew Smith Strategic Director Improving the Council £105,000   £100,000 – £110,000
Alan Longford Director of Health & Housing £115,000   £110,000 – £120,000

It’s All About Respect…

THERE IS A COMMON THEME running through articles and comments on this blog, and it has to do with ‘respect.’

Perhaps I am guilty for promoting the topic by refusing to allow the ‘Page that will not go away’ to be archived and disappear from its prime position; but two events this week have once again highlighted the Respect issue.

The first was a fairly innocuous piece entitled ‘Former Canvey Soldier Wins Her Case’ – taken directly from an impartial report by the BBC; and the second concerned my own angle on the old Concord pool affair.

Many more facts are yet to emerge in the case of our own Donna Rayment, about whose case against the Army the BBC report refers. But, fortunately, The Canvey Beat was first to publish locally, showing the BBC version of the facts alongside the Echo’s opening paragraph from its RSS feed. Many readers, therefore, read the BBC version before examining the Echo link or reading the printed article.

I do not buy the local Echo, for reasons which readers will know. But I do follow its reporting of Canvey on its Website.

Whomever wrote the piece about Donna did not provide a by-line. And that is probably because the piece was designed to curry favour with the ‘just for the money’ and ‘wretched single mums’ brigade. Indeed, its opening sentence even leads ‘A SINGLE mum…’ in preference to referring to Donna as a once-serving NCO in Her Majesty’s Armed Forces.

It was an amateurish attempt to copy the Daily Mail’s angle, aimed at their sedentary armed-forces supporters whom wish they can somehow achieve, for themselves, a particle of the Fallen’s Glory from the comfort of their well-worn, civilian, armchairs. Not only did they denigrate Donna’s attempts at righting the undeniable wrong done to her, some even went so far as to attack her regiment.

‘Sorry chaps,’ says Jim, ‘she’s unlikely to ever to be in the front line. She’s in the HAC. The HAC is TA and may become operational but their role will not put them under fire. They’re more like an exclusive club for City slickers.’

Tell the HAC’s Fallen that!

And as to her not putting herself in harms way: she was the Commanding Officer’s driver! But Jim appears to believe that COs simply conduct operations from their own armchairs – like him.

Like virtually all other contributors to the Mail’s offering, the nearest the reprehensible Jim has ever come to combat is probably changing the uniform on his beloved Action Man doll.

Donna was a lance sergeant, for goodness sake. Do these (predominantly sexist) male contributors think that the Army promotes individuals to such a rank because they have a pretty face?..

Gratefully, the Echo’s piece did not generate anywhere near the wannabe-soldier-but-was-afraid-to-apply feedback that the Daily Mail’s article did. But the Echo can take no responsibility for the respect paid to Donna by its silent readers. Indeed, the Echo has form when it comes to generating public outcries against the righteous. Their coverage of the Julie Abel affair was written from their position of support for Dave Blackwell, then leader of the Canvey Island Town Council. And the paper even reported that Bob Spink, our local MP, would be appearing at the disciplinary hearing on the former’s behalf (as if this was evident proof that Julie would lose her case).

But were residents informed of the Borough Council’s decision in that ‘newspaper’s’ pages? No. They were not.

Well, what a surprise

Respect was the theme of that second piece this week, regarding the Borough Council’s decision to fill-in the old Concord pool. In this case, there was no respect shown to islanders. And I am not referring to Tory Borough Councillors here (whom, with the exception of Ray Howard and Tony Belford, do not live on the island).

Ray has already made clear that he disagreed with the CPBC decision to lump-in a decision on the Concord pool with other motions he agreed with, and then be whipped into a voting position. Tory councillors should be admonished for taking their eye off the ball; but it is the Canvey Island Independent Party that must bear the majority’s criticism. It is they who are responsible for the lack of any intelligent, political argument in Castle Point – and their entrenched opposition to anything that is Tory proposed has fatally wounded democracy in this borough.

Readers will know, I hope, that I personally have no political affiliation; but that I am a strong supporter of the organised Party system, which, I believe, enables problems to be quickly resolved. I certainly have no time for a disorganised rabble with no detailed manifesto for this island or its inhabitants.

Colin Letchford emailed me his report on the two seafront pools on Tuesday, and I immediately decided to publish once I had confirmed what it contained. Unfortunately, I was unable to meet-up with him until Friday morning – and only made arrangements with him to meet-up late Thursday night. I was unaware that he had also emailed the Echo.

I knew the story was ‘hot,’ and was also worried that this Blog could not do it justice. So, when I saw Matthew Stanton’s piece in the Yellow Advertiser, I sent him Colin’s report to use as follow-up.

Embarrassingly (for those who wish to provide documents to the Yellow Advertiser) Matthew emailed me back, saying that he could not open .docx files. Could I supply them as .jpgs?

Eventually I did; but it was not until late that evening (and I was a bit peeved by having to grab various screen shots in Windows 7 and then stitch them together in Photoshop to enable a fellow journalist to do his job). Moreover, I had converted and sent Colin’s .docx files as old MS Word .docs – and provided them as an email grab. As a freelance, I work constantly in Word, and could not understand the problem.

Anyway, Matthew probably didn’t get the .jpg version until the next morning – by which time he was probably thinking: ‘Who is this fool of a blogger who has sent me this when the Echo has already published it?’

Mmm… A ‘news journalist’ who does not take the local paper…

Anyway, it was late the following evening when I arranged to meet-up with Colin and verify his facts. And, as I was putting down the phone, it occurred to me that I was proposing to do nothing more than blog the story. I was not taking an active part in trying to get the problem resolved.

‘Not a good example to set your readers,’ I thought. So, despite the late hour and an early meet set for 9.00am the next morning, I decided to test my own theories on the party-political system.

Normally I would have called the local MP; but, given facts revealed on this blog, I decided not to bother. I thought about contacting Pam Challis; but Collin had told me that he had already emailed her; so I thought about contacting Julian; but that would probably back-fire on me by creating a local election issue that would see the problem remain unsolved.

Could I instigate a speedy resolution to the matter by calling on the one Prospective Parliamentary Candidate (PPC) whom I have constantly criticised in these pages for being too feeble to speak?

Well, I was not prepared to have her hang-up on me at that late hour – and decided an email would better suffice (supplemented with a ‘you have mail’ text).

I simply asked if she could meet-up with Colin and me the next morning, and sent her a copy of his report. But I received no reply. She was probably, like all sensible people at that hour, firmly asleep.

I met Colin at 9:00am as promised, and we were some ten minutes into our discussion near the old pool when Rebecca Harris arrived.

She did not bring a photographer; and she was completely unaccompanied. Just Colin, Rebecca, and myself.

I took up observer status as the Conservative Party’s PPC immediately placed the surprised Colin at ease, and then accompanied us both around the two pools while allowing him to fully present his case. She was attentive and, from time to time, gently probed Colin’s extensive island knowledge to fully grasp the situation.

Rebecca is highly intelligent, with a firm grasp of all island matters. She even knew where the Concord Cafe was (which I thought I did; only to be proved wrong – and completely unassisted by locals I stopped to ask, whom had no idea of where it was either).

Fortunately for me, Colin had said he would be wearing a distinctive red coat!

I am not going to turn this into a ‘he said, she said’ piece; because it would not do justice to the intelligent and exhaustive discussion I was witness to. But I will say that Rebecca identified an extremely original way in which the problem, which basically rests in a technical ‘what is Council Revenue and what is Capital Expenditure’ issue, might be resolved.

This was not a PPC fighting a rearguard action over her party’s Council Members; and it was not someone trying to proclaim she could immediately solve the problem. As a mere PPC she has no power or authority; but she is in a position to mediate on islanders’ behalves with her fellow Tories and, like me, she is passionate about Democracy.

I had not expected Rebecca to turn-up. I had, most certainly, not expected her to turn-up on her own (providing a non-Tory journalist with the opportunity of taking any of her candid remarks out of context or ‘quoting’ things she did not actually say). And it bothered her not one jot that Colin might have arranged to be accompanied by a troop of angry islanders to ensure his message was taken-up by this blog.

The reason why Rebecca has so little press coverage is because she does not seek it. She just likes to get on quietly with matters and give them her full attention.

In the Labworth over coffee, afterwards, I could not get her to say one bad or controversial thing about her opponents. It seems she is determined to ‘just let the public decide.’

I walked Rebecca back to her car, and she stopped to look at three plaques, peering up from the earth and uncut grass on the seawall side of the road from the council car park.

The plaques were aged and weather-beaten, proclaiming the names of lifeguards that are no longer with us.

Mounted upon stubs of wooden board, just above foot level, Rebecca read: ‘This tree is dedicated…’

She stood there a little while, letting the full impact settle in. And then she read out loud, almost to herself: ‘This tree is dedicated…’

[For non-Canvey readers: there are no trees there. Just an expanse of grass.]

When she turned around there was a tear in her eye.

‘That is so sad,’ she said.

Her words resonated with me as I walked back along the seawall to my own car. They seemed to fit my view perfectly of the island’s political situation – and I was reminded of those numerous Town Council trees and plaques.

It is all about Respect…

… (22/02/2010) – If You Are Listening Ray: Rebecca Has An Idea…

… (Yellow Advertiser, 18/03/2010) – Plans for memorial to mark lost coastguards

Council Tax 2010 To Rise By Just 2.99%

CASTLE POINT BOROUGH COUNCIL is set to increase its proportion of the Council Tax by 2.99 per cent from 1 April.

The Council’s financial management which has been recognised as performing well in an independent assessment, means it is able to maintain priority services for the coming year and hold £1.1m in reserves for unforeseen circumstances.

Taking into account requirements from Essex County Council, Essex Fire and Police authorities and Canvey Island Town Council, the Council Tax for a Band D property will be £1,535.85 for residents of Canvey Island and £1,514.88 for other Castle Point residents. Castle Point Council receives just under £230 of this sum – with the remainder going to the other authorities. The rise equates to around 13p a week for a family for services provided by the Borough.

The Council has agreed a £2.7m refurbishment programme to revitalise the Borough’s leisure facilities, including £1.3m for Waterside Farm, Canvey Island, £723,900 on Runnymede Pool, Thundersley, and £76, 000 at the Paddocks, Canvey Island, and £10,300 for a new crabbing pool and ramp at the New Sea Water Paddling Pool at Canvey Seafront.

Council Leader Pam Challis OBE said: “The Council, like local residents faces tough challenges as we balance our budget in these difficult times, yet through prudent financial management we have also been able to make significant investment in Castle Point’s future.

“We are maintaining essential services that are important to the local community, like refuse collections, doorstep recycling and concessionary bus travel, yet we cannot spend more than we receive.”

Presenting the budget, Councillor Jeffrey Stanley said: “We continue to strive to work more efficiently and to provide high quality and value for money services to residents.”

The budget means the Council will continue to fund key priority services for residents, including  £57,400  to part fund four Community Support Police Officers, contributions totalling £161,500 to local charities, the Citizens’ Advice Bureau, Castle Point Association of Voluntary Services and Crossroads, £12,200 to renew bus shelters, £15,000 for an out of hours noise patrol service during the summer months, £70,000 for Neighbourhood spending and £248,000 to help disabled residents adapt their homes.

Full details of how the new rates will effect you can be found on the Council’s Website.

Why Does It Take A 62-Year-Old Islander To Point-Out Tory Council Mistakes?

Colin Letchford: "I am at present of no political persuasion. However, I am having to get involved because of the undemocratic way in which CPBC decided to get rid of the best paddling pool on Concord Beach."

WHILE the Canvey Island Town Council has been bleating in the local press about how undemocratic the Tory-led Borough Council has been in deciding to fill-in the old Concord pool on Canvey’s seafront and retain the new pool to the West; and while that same Town Council has been leading residents in emotional protests designed to maximise their media coverage, one, lone, non-political, 62-year-old islander and contributor to canveyisland.org, has patiently compiled a telling dossier comparing the two pools.

Without resorting to placards and demanding that the old pool be kept ‘because it has been here for 80 years,’ or ‘because it is a historical feature,’ or ‘because that’s where I learned to swim as a child,’ Colin Letchford picked-up his camera and took his young dog for a walk.

What he discovered, and carefully documented, was that the new pool, which the council wish to keep, has far more associated safety problems than the old pool, which the Borough Council is proposing to fill-in.

The Echo broke Colin’s story yesterday evening (spiking my own guns since I had not been able to meet Colin until today – and spiking a Yellow Advertiser follow-up to their own piece regarding similar conclusions drawn by the Canvey Coastguard).

Residents should not forget that the Town Council is largely composed of Borough Councillors, whose debating skills and contribution to local government have been questioned before. So it should not come as a total surprise to find that, in order to get anything done, the ruling Conservative group have taken to making some ‘obvious’ decisions via a party whip so they can get-on with more important matters.

No. It is not democratic. But neither is island politics. And, while a reasoned opposition, offering well-considered counter arguments to a ruling group’s proposals is healthy, an inflexible sword of Damocles approach, as offered by the Canvey Island Independent Party, is not.

After receiving many complaints, from islanders, regarding the dangers to small children from having their feet caught in the old-pool’s surrounding walls, or sustaining injuries from rocks, which island children constantly throw into the pool, Tory councillors were of the opinion that it would be cheaper to fill-in the growing danger before they were faced with having to pay large legal damages when someone was eventually hurt.

The fact is: we live in a litigious society – and Councils are by no means immune.

It is inevitable that, sooner or later, the ruling Tory group would get things wrong. It is inevitable that, sooner or later, they would take their eye off the ball.

Filling in the old Concord pool and retaining the lifeless concrete offering, simply because logic dictates a new pool is bound to be in far better condition than one 80 years old, was a truly dreadful decision. And the fact that it has taken a 62-year-old islander to provide a lucid, reasoned argument for retaining the old pool over the new is simply appalling.

Colin Letchford is not a councillor. He holds no political office. He does not enjoy taxpayer funded expenses, nor draw any public salary.

Residents might like to ask why, rather than organising public protests, which their friend Bob Spink could use to muster his local election campaign, did not one of the CIIP members pick-up a camera, and take their own dog for a walk?..

… (20/02/2010) – It’s All About Respect…