We have opened public consultation on the Basildon Town Centre Masterplan. This document in its final form will lay out the vision for Basildon Town Centre, but crucially will also determine what actually happens in terms of built works. In fact it will be a Development Plan Document and a material consideration at Planning Committee meetings. So far I am advised that reaction has been very positive, with a general recognition that something needs to be done to reverse the decline of the Town Centre. This is key as the Conservative Administration really believes in Town Centres over the Retail Park model for shopping and leisure. We simply don't think our Town Centres should be the second-best solution for those without cars. Social cohesion matters, and thriving Town Centres have the supreme virtue of large scale employment. This may be tough to deliver given the retail climate at the moment, but we can do tough.
I would be misleading if I left it at all sweetness and light though. There are two major issues: the new FE College and moving the market. The new college is funded by the development of an area of Special Housing Reserve land at Dry Street. This is owned by the Homes and Communities Agency and they have got approval to give monies from a housing development to the FE College project instead of returning it back to the Treasury. So, we get a new College, which our young people desperately need, housing on non-Green Belt land, which our builders and then our people desperately need, and then an institution in Basildon Town Centre with around 2500 students, which the local economy desperately needs. All good? Well, we have to give up an important green space to do it, so it is a judgement call. Needless to say, the local Councillors for Nethermayne Ward are not happy, and I respect that. The other problem is that the new College is set for the current Market site, so the Market is proposed to move to St. Martin's Square. This proposal has made many of the existing traders very unhappy as they rely on permanent cabins on the existing site, which are not proposed for the Square. I am trying to arrange a meeting with them soonest, but there is no magic answer to this one.
As for the local Labour Party, I genuinely have no clue on what they think. This worries me a lot as Regeneration has generally been apolitical in Basildon. No one is in favour of bad housing or empty shops. So, I offer the opposition any briefing of meeting that they wish. I don't expect them to love me, and we will end up with some sort of disagreement, of that I am sure, but I don't want the representatives of an important view point and a large chunk of our Community not to understand the Administration view, even if they don't agree with it. Basildon Councillors are vigorously political, but let us make sure we row about facts, not fictions eh?