At Last, Some Co-Operative Local Politics

YESTERDAY EVENING’S Cabinet meeting had two surprises in store: an admission by a Canvey Island Independent Party member that the borough has a housing problem, and the reported support of Canvey Island Town Council (CITC) for a cabinet proposal to introduce a borough-wide dog fouling scheme. (The Town Council has, of course, been endlessly debating its own costly proposals regarding dog fouling on the island, which have been heavily criticised).

Unlike the Town Council’s proposals, however, Castle Point will enforce its scheme using current personnel and introducing maximum fines.

Cllr Peter Burch

The plan was put to cabinet by Cllr Peter Burch, the cabinet member for Leisure and Environment, who recommended that:-

  1. The Cabinet endorses the proposal to make a borough- wide Dog Control Order which would make failure to remove dog faeces on all open land to which the public have access, an offence;
  2. The Cabinet endorses the proposal to set the fixed penalty fine at the maximum allowable, i.e. £80 and to prosecute persistent offenders (maximum fine £1000); and
  3. Officers undertake the necessary consultation and report back their findings prior to Cabinet determining whether to recommend to Council to proceed with the making of the Dog Control Order.

Castle Point Borough Council (CPBC) is obliged to consult with CITC on its plans.

Cabinet member and Town Councillor, Ray Howard, spoke of the Town Council’s strong support for the measures proposed, which were carried unanimously.

Cllr Jeffrey Stanley

Cllr Jeffrey Stanley, cabinet member for Corporate Policy Resources and Performance, provided a detailed assessment of the important Housing Revenue Account reforms, enacted by the previous Labour government and now under consultation.

Unlike the present situation, where the difference between rent income and maintenance costs disappears from the Borough to assist other local authorities with poor housing stock – and 75 percent of any revenue from tenant home-purchase is paid to central government – CPBC would be able to retain all those funds to build affordable housing of its own.

However, in order to ensure poor local authorities are not disadvantaged, the Borough would need to take-on a central government debt of £33.9 million – to be repaid over 30 years.

The proposals would not provide CPBC with the ability to meet its own housing needs; but would go a short way towards it – perhaps providing enough funds to build some six units per year. The vast majority of the borough’s affordable housing would still need to be met by local housing associations and private developers.

Cllr Lee Barrett

Surprisingly, Lee Barrett, of the CIIP, took time-out to attend the cabinet meeting and speak in favour of the proposal. He read a prepared statement in which he accepted the need for more affordable housing and, in his personal capacity as serving on the Audit Committee, provided his support.

It is the first time, to this author’s knowledge, that a CIIP member has ever formally accepted the need for additional housing in the borough – or address the financial issues involved.

It was agreed to note the report’s contents and approve the draft responses to the consultation.

Steve Rogers

Steve Rogers, Head of Regeneration and Homes, addressed the Coalition Government’s changes to PPS3 (its Planning Policy Statement regarding housing).

‘The government reissued its policy statement on 9 June,’ he said, ‘to give local authorities the opportunity to prevent overdevelopment and garden grabbing.’

Under the new PPS3, private residential gardens have been excluded from the definition of ‘previously developed land,’ and the national indicative minimum density of building 30 dwellings per hectare has been deleted.

However, he continued, local authorities are still expected to demonstrate the extent to which their existing plans identify and maintain a rolling five-year supply of deliverable land for housing. So it continues to be the case that CPBC needs to ensure that plans demonstrating a five year supply remain in place.

His explanation made clear the reasons why Cabinet was still obliged to present its Core Strategy for approval by the government inspector.

Cllr Pam Challis, OBE

In proposing: ‘That the Cabinet notes the commencement of the Examination of the Castle Point Core Strategy Development Plan Document on Tuesday 22nd June 2010, and agrees that the Chief Executive or the Head of Regeneration and Homes in consultation with the Leader of the Council may agree to minor amendments to the Core Strategy which the Inspector may suggest or recommend to the Council,’ the Leader of the Council, Pam Challis, highlighted:-

  • On 27 May 2010, the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government wrote to Council leaders highlighting the new Government’s commitment to rapidly abolish Regional Spatial Strategies (RSS) and return decision-making powers on housing and planning (including housing supply and the provision of travellers sites) to local councils without the framework of regional numbers and plans.
  • Formal revocation of the RSS has not yet occurred and, in legal terms, the current RSS (East of England Plan) is still part of the development plan. National policy (including PPS12 & PPS3) also remains in force. Nevertheless, because the Government intends to abolish RSSs this becomes a material consideration in examining development plans. For this reason, it is necessary to defer, at the very least, the hearing session on housing (Matter 7) into the Castle Point Core Strategy until clarity is provided in a formal Ministerial statement.
  • It may also be necessary to revisit matters where the consequences of abolishing the RSS could have some effect although there is no intention to do so at the moment.
  • Should national or regional policy change, or the scope and nature of the examination alter as a result of new government statements, the agenda, nature and content of the matters and issues for examination may need to be further amended.
  • In light of these changes hearing statements on housing matters should not be submitted until indicated by the Inspector.

In addition, she noted that: ‘An additional question has been added to the opening session of the Examination (Matter 1) in order to provide all parties with the opportunity to comment on the changes now being proposed to the planning system.’

It remains to be seen how quickly the Coalition Government can act to prevent the previous government’s Regional Spatial Strategies from being adopted.

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