Written by Chris Black in the latest Rayleigh Times:
You can do a lot in 9 years, if you have money and a vision. In the 1960s the Americans had both, and put a man on the moon in 9 years. Meanwhile our District Council started its Core Strategy 9 years ago and it hasn?t gone so well, even though it has cost over 2 million pounds ??
What has happened this year shows just how poor the council?s framework really is.
At a council meeting in January Cllr Ron Oatham and I proposed that an outcome of the Core Strategy ? the big development ?North of London Road? – should be refused. We gave reasons about flooding, highways, sports pitches and education. These are basically the questions about infrastructure that the Lib Dems have been asking ? and the Tories avoiding ? for the last 9 years.
But this time we got massive support ? not only from our colleagues in the other minority parties, but from most of the Tories. Even the Tory leaders Cllrs Terry Cutmore and Keith Hudson. We also had support from our local MP and thousands of residents.
Now, this is all very odd. Because the key vote on all this was actually taken at a council meeting back in 2009. This was when the council?s Core Strategy was voted through, which made it council policy to put 550 homes ?North of London Road?. It also included building on the Rawreth / Hullbridge border and putting houses on the Rawreth Industrial Estate, potentially trebling the population of Rawreth.
This strategy was passed by 23 votes to 4 . The 4 who voted against were myself, Jackie Dillnutt and Ron Oatham (Lib Dems) and John Mason (Resident). Councillor Cutmore called me a ?NIMBY?. Councillor Hudson called the Core Strategy ?an exemplary document and a perfectly sound workable plan.?
Isn?t it strange that such an ?exemplary and perfectly sound workable plan? should produce such a poor planning application? The answer is that it wasn?t such a wonderful plan, despite all the millions spent on it. To give three examples:
If the Lib Dems had been running the council, and had decided to build homes in one of our rural parishes , we certainly wouldn?t have been so unfeeling to build so many that they doubled or trebled the population of the parish ,as the Tories are planning to do in Rawreth. But even if we had decided to build a smaller number ? say a hundred homes – we would have engaged with the local people and parish council. We would have had the small council panel dealing with this to meet every month for a couple of years if necessary to get the local infrastructure right. In contrast the Tories have treated Rawreth Parish Council arrogantly, not making any effort to discuss issues with them. And that small council panel has, incredibly, sometimes gone up to two years without even meeting.
Another example is poor public consultation. Even as far back as 2007, when the council had a travelling exhibition but decided to have the exhibition in Rayleigh hidden away ? inside the windmill for just 3 hours on a Sunday afternoon. Ron Oatham wrote to the Council: ?the cynical among us might suggest that they are being deliberately kept in the dark. I urge you to reconsider and make arrangements for the mobile exhibition to visit at a more appropriate time and place.? Ron got the council to back down and hold an extra exhibition in the High Street.
The third example is about infrastructure. At another stage of the process, in 2012, we Lib Dems were very concerned that important infrastructure and amenities issues were being overlooked. When it came to a vote in November, we voted against, saying that the council still couldn?t say what improvements were needed to Watery Lane, there hadn?t been a traffic impact study on the cumulative effect of the sites to the west of Rayleigh and the new open spaces were too small .
We lost the vote. But if just one Tory councillor had been been willing to vote with us in 2012 on infrastructure issues , that might have encouraged some of the others to think harder and we would have got a plan with better infrastructure.
Now the success last January has been reversed. The developers are appealing to a government inspector. The council held a confidential meeting in August to decide what to do ?. and they decided not to defend the appeal ! (Ron and I voted against this). A better core strategy would have compelled the developers to include better infrastructure, which they could have afforded by paying less for the land. But there were too many Tory councillors mutely voting things through and not willing to listen.