The Preschool Debate

The council chamber was packed, probably the fullest it has been since the Southend United stadium application. The parents behaved impeccably.

Downhall Under Fives – application for single storey building.

The debate began with a presentation by the planning officer. He emphasised that the proposal was against council Green Belt policy, and that there weren’t any exceptional circumstances. He also mentioned that there had been a lot of support from the public for the preschool. As a last minute addition to his written report he had added the previous planning history of the site and 2 1/2 pages of comments taken from what people had written here on onlinefocus.

We then had Hayley Bloomfield speaking on behalf of the preschool. She emphasised the problems the preschool had without a permanent home. We then had a resident speaking against the application, expressing his concern about likely parking problems.

Chris Black then spoke and said that the application had caused a lot of anxiety to both sides. He had visited 3 homes near the entrance to the site, and 3 people from the preschool. He had decided to support the application , and moved approval, on condition that there would be no evening use. Chris emphasised that the preschool was greatly needed, they had already been there for 19 years, and that the parking problems would be less than before because there would be no evening use and the preschool was arranging parking facilities for the 6 staff and Lubbards Farm.

Lesley Butcher from Hullbridge spoke next in support , saying that the we couldn’t afford to lose a community facility like the preschool.

Ron Oatham then seconded the approval, saying he couldn’t see any reasons for refusal.

Terry Livings then spoke firmly against the application, saying he was fighting to save the Green Belt. The tension among the audience went up a notch – would his comments swing the councillors against the application?

Next speaker was Tory leader Terry Cutmore.He came out in full support of the preschool. What’s more he was very critical of the officers report – why did it say ‘there is no relevant planning history to this site’ when there were planning applications passed as long ago as 1986?

Chris Lumley also spoke in support – “We are making a nonsense of ourselves otherwise”

Phil Capon from Hawkwell also came out in support – “If the scout building has been made of brick the preschool would be on the site right now”

After a question from Great Wakering councillor Colin Seagers and a summing up from Chris Black , it went to a vote.

It was passed by 16 votes to 2 , with 3 abstentions. Cllrs Terry Livings and Mavis Webster voted against.

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  • Chris Black, Ron Oatham and Terry Cutmore were BRILLIANT! I was fantastic to see our local councillors standing up for us, and has certainly reassured me that although we might not always be pleased with the Council…in our case, they stood right by us. Thank you to everyone who attended the meeting (I was laughing when they had to get out more chairs!!), and to those who voted in our favour.

  • Well done Down Hall Under Fives!! Your hard work and determination paid off, I am so pleased you now have a permanent home.

    Good luck to you all.

  • Unless those 3 abstentions had very good reasons for not voting then I am ashamed of them. I wonder who they were. I hope they were not conservative councillors – I will be changing my vote if they were.

  • Rita, I really wasn’t viewing this in party political terms, because there is no ‘whip’ at planning, and as already mentioned Terry Cutmore gave notable support. but I counted 21 district councillors at the meeting (it’s possible I could have miscounted, but I don’t think so)

    Voting was 16-2 in favour of the preschool, the 16 consisted of 4 Lib Dems (myself, Ron, Jackie and Chris Lumley) and 12 Conservatives.

    So for what it’s worth, 3 Conservatives abstained.

    There were 15 absentees from the meeting – 13 Conservatives, 1 Lib Dem and 1 residents councillor.

    We are glad to have every vote we can get Rita. 🙂 But what worries me more than 3 councillors abstaining is the attitude of the council bureaucracy as a whole. Groups like the preschool have to jump through SO MANY hoops and overcome so many obstacles to get what the community needs.

    Of course planning applications have to be dealt properly and fairly but the council should be more pro-active in finding suitable locations for community activities like this. (If the scheme had been refused on Thursday night was there an officer ready there to say to the preschool, “don’t worry, we’ve got an alternative lined up for you”? I don’t think so! There would have been a shrug of the shoulders and ‘move on to the next item’)

    The council has a poor record at this sort of thing – after all the council was supposed to be involved in marketing the Asda site, to ensure that it had some buildings for community facilities – but nothing’s there.

    Unless we are going to make every community group go through the same ordeal as Downhall Under Fives, we desperately need some more councillors who are willing to rock the boat and fight for better community facilities. About 60 people left comments in support of Down Hall Under Fives, I wish we could get some of them to stand for election….

  • I am sorry that I have not responded more fully than my very brief post “Thank You” in the earlier thread. Needed to spend my time focusing on my family – they missed out a bit when my attention was distracted by the planning application.

    My family was not involved at the beginning when the pre-school was forced to move from the Scout hut, so we miss out on the stress and worry of what to do when the Pre-school was given notice leave. (Lucky for us, I guess) but even before our daughter started at the pre-school my husband used to track what was happening here because every now and again, threads would appear about Downhall pre-school. So thanks for keeping us informed.

    We were really excited when the planning permission went in, shocked when it was recommended for refusal and thrilled to bits that the application was accepted.

    Major respect and thanks to Hayley for speaking on behalf of the pre-school, I could not have done it. Obviously I was supporting the application but I think that the resident that was spoke against was a lot braver than I, speaking infront of the councillors themselves and all the parents (that were there to support an application). I agree with Hayley now is a time for our community to pull together, so that we can meet the needs of the young children of our community.

    I was also surprised that there was no report in the Evening Echo the next day. I don’t know how long it takes to add a story to the next edition… (although it was reported on the internet echo website) but we bought a copy especially to read a report about what happened at the council meeting. I was a bit surprised and disappointed that there was nothing in that issue.

    A few of us parents thought that the thin man standing at the side may have been a reporter. Reporter or not maybe the planning meeting was not exciting enough. Retrospectively the cynic in me thinks that maybe an overwhelming vote in favour of the pre-school’s application to grant planning permission, is less of a headline than a refusal…(‘uncaring council rejects Charity’s application to grant planning permission for homeless under 5’s…???’ etc)

    Anyway, even if our news that public opinion +support and common sense prevailed- we may have got the planning permission but there is a huge way to go because it is going to cost thousands of pounds to get the building we need.

    So I’d like to say again “Thank you” to everyone that voted in favour of the application. I hope that people don’t forget that we now need to raise lots of money. Maybe some of the local papers could help raise public awareness of our charity.

  • in reply to Jane Lydford, I beleive the ‘story’ will be in todays Echo (monday) they were very keen to follow the story through too… possibly help in getting help with the new building too! stayed tuned!

  • Jane, the chap at the meeting was probably there for one of the later applications.

    The Echo do their best, I think their coverage of the district has improved over the last couple of years, although don’t have the resources to cover all meetings. It’s very hard for them to predict which ones are worth coming to.

    Anyway, I suspect Downhall Under Fives will get good coverage in the Echo this week….

  • Hey Hayley – Mark just rang apparently we made it to page 5!

    You are probably right Chris.

    Anyway will look forward to reading it for myself

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