Friday, August 03, 2007

Bizarre Blackmail Claim in Wickford

It is actually pretty simple:
  1. The government sets housing targets for each Council.
  2. Each Council can decide more or less how it meets its government target.
  3. Refusing to play ball is not an option.
Oh and:
  1. If the Conservatives win the next general election then central housing targets will stop.
In Basildon District the Conservative administration has decided that we would rather build on Brownfield sites in town centres than on the Green Belt. Because we have identified housing sites in our town centres we a much better chance of staving off greenfield developments like the planning application for Barn Hall in Wickford. This has led to the rather odd claim that the Council is engaging in 'Blackmail' by some individuals, as if all of this building was our idea. In Barn Hall the developer is certain to cite government housing totals as a justification for their unwelcome development, I know this because they told me they would. Our defence is our town centre policy, and that's it. The Council is simply stating the facts: more dwellings are going to be built and all we can do against this Labour government is try and limit the damage. Frankly, some of the people commenting on this issue either don't know how the planning system works or they are being deliberately misleading. Since they appear to be tools of the local Labour party then I am pretty sure which.


Anonymous said...

Hello Councillor Horgan,

My god, you are an utter twit

Steve Horgan said...

I am sorry you feel the need to express yourself in this way.

Onlinefocus Team said...

Steve, have you got anything to back up your comment that a Tory govt would scrap these housing targets? The feedback from 'my' local Tories is that wouldn't.

That makes them rather dispirited...

Steve Horgan said...

Hello Chris,

This from Peter Ainsworth, Shadow Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Secretary to the CLA Conference in May of this year:

'Local authorities, accountable to their electorates, are best placed to balance the need to meet local housing pressures with the need to protect local landscapes. The democratic process would ensure that this happened.'

The link is here.

Anonymous said...

Just about everyone in Wickford is opposed to the Barn Hall development, including the Wickford Action Group. However, it is NOT green belt, it is designated ‘Special Reserve’ and available for building, and this is how the developers were able to submit their application, as I’m sure you’re aware. Let’s hope the council can correct their error in not re-designating the land back to green belt, in time to stop the next application for 1500 homes.

However, the Wickford Action Group are also opposed to the monstrous blocks of flats in the Master Plan, many of which have already been approved, and we strongly object to the council’s repeated use of the Barn Hall application as justification for it – the implication is ‘you have one or the other’. No doubt that is the reasoning behind the ‘blackmail’ article you referred to in the Echo, under the picture of Lynda Gordon.

The Wickford Action Group is non political, and I know for certain that we have members who support all parties. Just because we agree with the only councillor on the planning committee who consistently opposes blocks of flats does not mean we are ‘tools of the local labour party’, far from it, and some members strongly resent that accusation!

You say that if the Tories win the next election the housing targets will stop. Whilst we won’t hold our breath, I'm not sure you answered the last message from Chris Black; we’ve also been searching the Conservative Party website for confirmation of your statement but can’t find the Tory policy on housing, presumably they would still build some? What we did find was David Cameron’s mission statement ‘Built to Last - Aims and Values of the Conservative Party’, which has one interesting statement, on page 10: []“7. To give power to people and communities.(etc.)..
Today that means: - Giving local communities greater control over local services, welcoming directly elected mayors in cities where they have public backing, and enhancing the role of local communities in determining plans for regeneration.”[
It would be nice to see Basildon Council involving the people of Wickford in their own future in regard to regeneration, which you seem singularly determined not to do.

In the same edition of the Echo, which you cited above, reporter Jon Austin quoted your comments made at the Cabinet meeting in July, in which you said “I wish everyone agreed with me, because we are right.”

This last statement, together with your stated assumption above that anyone who disagrees with you must be a ‘tool of the labour party’, and your refusal to allow the people of Wickford the right to have a say in the regeneration of their town, demonstrates an amazing arrogance. I must remind you that as cabinet member for regeneration, you have been entrusted with the task of determining the future of the whole Basildon district, which includes Wickford, (as well as your own constituency of Billericay, which incidentally does seem to have a consultation agenda), a task which you are not performing to the satisfaction of a great number of Wickford residents.

Perhaps if you spent less time writing these blogs, and started working on an S106 policy for Basildon, the developers would not have such an easy task getting their obscene blocks of flats approved. Is Basildon the only Council in the UK without an S106 policy?

Steve Horgan said...

A few points:

It is Council policy to return Barn Hall to the Green Belt, but our attempts to do so have been delayed by the government changing the Local Plan system. The original designation to an area of housing Special Reserve was the work of a government inspector, not the Council. It is grossly unfair to accuse the Council of culpability in this situation.

I wish the Barn Hall Planning Application had never been made, but it is a simple fact that the building in Wickford Town Centre and the planned building will be an argument against the application at any appeal. I am unclear as to the position of the Wickford Action Group on the construction of homes in Wickford Town Centre. The current planning system means that homes are going to go somewhere in Wickford. If not in the Town Centre then where?

The Labour Party have an agenda for Wickford that they clearly articulated at the last Basildon Council Cabinet meeting. The Wickford Action Group is doing joint media with them. What are people supposed to think?

As you are well aware there was consultation on the Wickford Master Plan, members of the Wickford Action Group even contributed to it. A further round of engagement is currently being planned, but we can't do this sort of thing over election periods or during the summer.

No one from the Wickford Action Group was at the Cabinet Meeting where Wickford was discussed, which is why you have to get your quotes from the press. The one sentence quoted wasn't even all that was in the paper, never mind all that I said. Not everyone who disagrees with me has to be somehow related to the Labour party, but if they parrot Labour policy and do joint media with them then, again, what are people supposed to think?

The Council does have a s106 policy, but it is oriented more towards the provision of Social Housing then general infrastructure, which is why it is being revised.

One reason for doing a blog is to engage with people, which, oddly enough, is what we are doing now.

Mr. Rushton, my observation is that the Wickford Action Group seems determined to maintain an adversarial relationship with the Council. We are blamed for things that are outside of the control of any local Council as if we had total control over what is a very complex local planning process. I do not believe that this sort of division is best for the people of Wickford and I would like to find some common ground if at all possible. This is an honest offer, so please give it some thought.

Anonymous said...

There is probably ONE piece of common ground between us, that we want to see Wickford improved, but there is also one thing we certainly disagree on, the way it is being done.

Somewhere in between will be all the residents of Wickford, we think most are nearer to our viewpoint, and I’m sure you think the other way. So why don’t you ask them? I’ve just received a leaflet from the council about a Community Forum to discuss Barn Hall next week, why don’t you do one for Wickford as a whole, like you do in Billericay?

When we first saw the Master Plan, I must admit I was impressed, albeit with reservations. Regeneration of empty sites with new housing, shops, health and leisure facilities, meeting areas, tree lined avenues etc etc. is pretty much the position of the Wickford Action Group, as clearly stated on our website:

We want to see improvements in Wickford.
This can be achieved by regenerating derelict sites with homes, shops and improved leisure and health facilities, accompanied by upgraded support infrastructure where required. We do NOT think that the Wickford Master Plan will provide these improvements, because it is almost exclusively for blocks of flats, in some cases 6 storeys high, totally out of keeping with the town, and it does not address satisfactorily the current and ensuing supporting infrastructure requirements:- roads, parking, doctors, dentists, school places, water, sewage, electricity and gas supply.

We are now 2 years in and look what’s happened! We make it that 351 flats have recently been approved within the Master Plan area, in 4, 5 and 6 storey blocks!
· Where are the benefits promised by the Master Plan?
· Why are you only now ‘looking for’ a Strategic Partner?

Can I just ask you to stop for a second and imagine how you and the residents of Billericay would feel if it happened there? Yes, I know it couldn’t happen in Billericay, but just imagine how you would feel, with seven or more tower blocks of flats in the town centre! Well I hope you can see why we feel so strongly about what is happening in Wickford, and we can’t understand why you won’t meet and talk with us, like you do in Billericay, and are doing for Barn Hall.

Could I ask you before closing, where we can find a copy of the S106 policy please? We’ve been searching the council website without success.

John Rushton, Wickford Action Group

Anonymous said...

I have been reading the comments on this blog over the last few days with considerable interest because I live within walking distance of Wickford Town Centre; have done so for some thirty years. Its not an amazing place, quite ordinary in fact, but quite comfortable when you get used to it. All it needs is bit of TLC to put some life back into it and make it a good shopping centre again.

I’m surprised at you Steve, I hope I may call you Steve, it seems so much more friendly. I am surprised that you should be unclear as to the position of the Wickford Action Group on building homes in the Town Centre. You really don’t get it do you. They are not against building homes. What they are against is the sheer number that are about to be dumped in such a small area. The road system won’t cope and neither will the schools, doctors, dentists etc, etc. Still you don’t have to worry about that because you don’t live here. Surely a towns population has the right to believe that its councillors and planners will make sensible and appropriate decisions when it comes their environment and future well being. A bit of joined up thinking is all we ask because we are the ones who will have to live with the planning mistakes for a very long time.

I was interested by your comment that the Labour Party have an agenda for Wickford and that the Action Group is doing joint media with them. You ask: What are people supposed to think? Well, I think I don’t understand what you are talking about. The Action Group have told you they are non political and it could easily be construed as mischief making for you to say otherwise. Surely they are concerned that the Town will be turned into an overcrowded nightmare. I don’t see that as doing joined media with the Labour Party.

With regard to the Wickford Master Plan Consultation: mull this one over, if residents had full confidence in these consultations; that their input as to what is and is not appropriate in such a small town, was truly being listened to and acted upon, then there would be no need for an action group in the first place.
When the next Master Plan Consultation comes round will it be better organised than the first debacle held in the church next to the Somerfield Supermarket. How about a Roadshow or two, like Billericay. Sorry I was forgetting myself there, Wickford has nothing worth saving does it. No centuries old Coaching Inns etc.
The conclusion that I draw from all this banter back and forth is that you do indeed seem to demonstrate an amazing arrogance and a goodly measure of conceit to boot.
Just listen to another opinion for a change, because no one is right all the time. Or didn’t your parents teach you that?
More power to the Action Group I say!!

Steve Horgan said...

I think that we are all concerned about the infrastructure in Wickford, or rather the lack of infrastructure. Housing policy is set by the government, that is a simple fact, but in that context it is up to public bodies, and that means Basildon Council, Essex County Council and the PCT to manage the situation. That means deciding on housing types and locations, but also on getting the infrastructure in place for the people who are going to live in the houses because the government is happy to specify housing totals but does nothing about schools, transport or medical facilities. We are absolutely trying to do that, and the master plan is an example of a delivery vehicle that is specifically designed to deliver public facilities. In addition there will be a new consultation exercise in Wickford soon, we aren't allowed to do this during election periods and there is no point doing in during the summer, hence the delay.

I am very happy to talk to anyone in Wickford about regeneration issues and if the Wickford Action Group would like a meeting then I am at your disposal.