Pants on fire

I had previously reported about my asking a question of the Leader of the Council at last week’s Full Council meeting.

I asked: Does the Leader believe that the Scrutiny system is the best way to test the suitability of various schemes, as well as to hold the Administration to account?

This received a fulsome response from Cllr Nigel Holdcroft. My supplementary was to inquire his views about a substantial application being agreed by just three councillors.

Here is a verbatim record of the response to my second question:

Thank you. It would have been nice to have had some notice of a question that has got absolutely nothing to do with his primary question but of course the issue with regard to Seaway Car Park and its redevelopment was adequately scrutinised at the time the decision to re-develop Seaway Car Park was taken.

I disagree that it had nothing to do with my primary question – I am trying to understand why process was allowed to be set aside for the move of the Seaway Coach Park to Warrior Square. Since it was a question about process it was entirely pertinent.

Of course, Cllr Holdcroft’s actual response raises more questions than it answered. It stands in contradistinction to the replies that I had already received about who made the decision. Cllr Holdcroft suggests that it was a decision made at scrutiny, whereas the three responses I had from an officer and two Cabinet members gave an entirely different answer. (See There is something decidedly fishy going on here.)

There is something decidedly fishy going on. It is beginning to look like this decision was rushed through without due process, indecent haste perhaps in anticipation of an imminent change of administration.

At the very least I have to question why on every occasion I have asked about this decision it has brought forth a different response. It is almost as if they are making it up as they are going along.

I want the administration to concede that a grave error has been made here. I also want them to abandon this decision and to use the scrutiny process properly.

Planning application in Milton this week

APPLN. NO: 14/00528/PA3COU

Officer: Sophie Glendinning Date Valid. 26 March 2014

Change of use from office (B1a) at rear of 30 Hamlet Court Road to dwelling (C3) (Amended Proposal).

28 – 30 Hamlet Court Road Westcliff-On-Sea Essex

Milton conservation areas

There are fourteen conservations areas in Southend-on-Sea, and four of them are in Milton ward. These are:

Clifftown
Milton
Shorefields
Warrior Square

The last one is interesting, because not only have the council managed to ruin a Victorian park here (spending £1.8 million in the process), they are now proposing to put a coach park next to it.

Warrior Square was designated a Conservation Area in 1990. It consists of Warrior Square North (Nos. 1-43).

My letter of objection to the proposed lagoon

Cllr Anne Jones has kindly agreed to read this out at Wednesday’s Development Control Committee

Dear Sirs

Application 13/01411/BC4M

Form lagoon, erect single storey toilet block and associated landscaping

Owing to work commitments I am unable to attend this meeting of the Development Control Committee. I would be grateful, therefore, if you would be able to take this letter into consideration when considering the merits of the application to form a lagoon on the foreshore.

I oppose this application, and I have four reasons for doing so.

These, in précis, are that I object to any building on the foreshore as it is special and a cherished natural resource that must not be allowed to disappear. I object to the destruction of the natural environment that this application would cause. I object to see a long-standing yacht club threatened with extinction. And finally, I object to seeing Southend-on-Sea converted into a plastic version of Marbella.

Building on the foreshore: In my opinion we already have too much development on the foreshore. Every new application that is allowed makes the next one easier to make. The foreshore is special, and is enjoyed by vast numbers all year around. Its enjoyment is largely derived from unspoilt views of the beach, the Thames (and North Sea), and the estuary. Every time a structure is erected this vista is eaten into.

Natural environment: The extensive foreshore is a significant area for biodiversity being designated as international and European sites for nature conservation. The Seafront Area is not a defined area but relates to any area that has a material relationship with the Seafront. The Seafront is also an important component of Southend-on-Sea’s heritage that has defined the development and form of the town. The foreshore is Southend-on-Sea’s most valuable amenity, biodiversity and natural resource and is recognised as such by international, national and local designations.

These are not my words, although I agree with every one, but are taken from the Council’s own documents. There is not only the disturbance to the immediate area, but what affect this could, and would, have on a wider scale. I understand that sometimes we have to develop on natural areas, but surely this is a last resort measure, and only for essential schemes like houses and health facilities.

Alexandra Yacht Club: The Alexandra Yacht Club was formed in 1873. It is the fifth oldest in the UK, and the ninth oldest in the world that is still sailing today. It has 350 members, of which about 22 are cadets (youngsters under 18). Its facilities are also used by the TS Implacable (who have something like 45-60 cadets). The lagoon threatens this club’s existence as the lagoon makes the slipway which the AYC uses dangerous. The lagoon, as proposed, is a mere fifty feet from the slipway. With the prevailing south-westerly winds that are seen here it is not difficult to imagine the clubs dinghies struggling to avoid colliding with the lagoon. I am told that many members would consider it too dangerous to use.

The beaching of dinghies, necessitated by changing weather conditions, is a frequent occurrence (four or five times a year on average). This becomes very challenging, if not impossible, if there is only fifty foot of beach to use. There is a threat to life and limb if dinghies cannot remove themselves from the water safely when required.

The lagoon makes sailing dangerous for children.

Plastic Marbella: I appreciate that my tastes will not tally with everyone, but I am aghast at the tacky and tasteless drive to make this town a pale imitation of a Mediterranean resort. I have made my feelings known about palm trees, which do almost nothing for the local environment. Lagoons and palm trees are what people expect in tropical climates (which are becoming even more accessible with the success of London Southend Airport). I do not believe that visitors to the seafront expect, or want, to see anything other than a traditional English seaside resort. Besides which, most of the palm trees look decidedly sad for much of the time and attract far more derision than praise in the experience of this councillor.

Yours sincerely

Julian Ware-Lane

Councillor

Two ground floor flats applied for

APPLN. NO: 14/00353/FUL

Officer: Sophie Glendinning Date Valid. 7 March 2014

CHANGE OF USE OF GROUND FLOOR FROM DOCTOR’S SURGERY (CLASS D1) TO TWO SELF CONTAINED FLATS (CLASS C3)

31 PRESTON ROAD WESTCLIFF-ON-SEA ESSEX

So much for the boost to the local economy

Here is a sample of recent news stories about the construction of The Forum.

Contractor apppointed to build new £27m Southend library  (9 February 2012)

The library is set to bring benefits for the town, as Wates has pledged to source as much labour and materials as possible from the local area.
It will also provide four apprenticeships, stage community days and host 70 work experience days for students and pupils.

New Southend Library bringing work boost  (7 June 2013)

TRAINING and employment in Southend has been given a boost as building work continues on a new £27million landmark library.
Wates Construction, which is building the Forum in Elmer Square, has taken on four apprentices for the project and provided 160 hours’ work experience to youngsters.

Essex companies benefit from Southend’s new £27m library  (8 August 2013)

Contractor Wates Construction chose ten Essex suppliers to make sure the county’s businesses benefited from the cash coming into the area.

A number of promises about using local Labour; I have tried to find out the truth of these statements.

After a bit of to-ing and fro-ing I have received the following information:-

Local Employees at the Forum, Southend on Sea

Employed by Wates (Direct & Agency) – 15
P&J Decorators – 6
Kershaws Mechanical Services – 6
F & W electrical – 12
SCL Ceilings and Partitions – 2
Knightbuild – 4
Swift Brickwork – 4
Swift scaffolding -6
Axiom flooring and carpets -6

TOTAL 61

I also managed to tease this out of a council official as regards to total numbers employed:

…it is approximately 220 excluding off site manufacturing.

I have received confirmation from Wates that of the four apprentices employed on site two were residents of Southend-on-Sea.

So, 61 out of 220 of those employed are local – a mere 28%; so much for Wates pledges and the boost to training and employment in Southend.

Bearing in mind just how much Southend’s council tax payers paid into this project one cannot help but feel somewhat cheated.

There is something decidedly fishy going on here

You may need to familiarise yourself with these two posts before continuing:

A coach park for Warrior Square – another example of Milton ward being dumped again by the Conservative administration

£641,400 for a temporary solution – tax-payers money spent on the whim of one councillor

You would imagine that if asking a relatively straightforward and simple question you would not get four different answers. You would imagine. I have asked the following question:

“It was agreed to proceed with Warrior Square as the most suitable site for the coach park and this is now within the Planning process.”

Who was it agreed by?

Answer 1 (senior council officer):
This was considered and agreed by the Project Team in consultation with the Portfolio Holder, Leader and Deputy Leader.

Answer 2 (senior council officer):
Apologies, too quick on typing my response and I have sent you incorrect information. Consultation was with Cllr Cox not the Leader.

Answer 3 (Cllr Tony Cox):
I was asked for my input by XXXXXXXXXX on some potential locations from a transport perspective along with the portfolio holder for Planning, Andrew Moring who has the asset in Warrior Square as this paper and proposal will not come under name I haven’t has any input with regards to consultation with ward members. I believe John lamb may also have been asked with his regeneration hat on.

Normally when a paper is under my name, yes, I am asked for a decision to approve then I ask if the ward members can be informed. As in the past the ward members have been informed either via email or at a face to face meeting.

Answer 4 (Cllr Andrew Moring):
The requirement to relocate the coach park was laid out in the paper relating to the redevelopment of Seaways car park, this scheme was approved by Council.

Officers identified options and worked up costs. The preferred site for the new coach park was recommended by officers and selected by myself as the Portfolio Holder for property, Cllr Cox as the Portfolio Holder for transport and John Lamb as the Portfolio Holder for regeneration, based on the information provided and I am confident it is the most sensible option, being close to the seafront and adjacent to the town centre. It is also adjacent to the road which the majority of coaches would already travel along so does not increase traffic stress in the town. It is also adjacent to an existing car park.

This is a decision to progress a preferred scheme to the planning stage where all interested parties will have an opportunity to comment.

I think it fair to say that whichever answer is correct (and I have to presume that the latest is the nearest to the actual truth) there is something distinctly odd about this decision. For starters, £641,400 is no trivial sum of money and so I wonder why the process did not involve all councillors. Why is this being rushed through ahead of the local elections (when even the Tories privately admit they will lose heavily)? Why hasn’t the Portfolio holder for Planning, who is a Milton member, been kicking up a fuss about his ward being dumped on again (mind you, he has form when it comes to accommodating the wishes of his Leader to the detriment of his residents).

If the process that allowed this decision to happen with just three, or perhaps four, councillors involved can be described as both transparent and democratic then I am a Frenchman.

Je ne suis pas de la France.

£641,400 for a temporary solution – tax-payers money spent on the whim of one councillor

The ‘very early indicative costs’ for siting a coach park at Warrior Square is £641,400. One can imagine this rising. I find it rather a lot of money. Seemingly this amount can be spent on the say-so of one councillor.

Believe it or not, this is the cheapest solution of the costings I have seen. Southchurch Park East, which combined with a seafront dropping off and picking up spot would be my preference, comes in at £1,119,572.

I have no reason to doubt these figures; equally I have no reason to accept them either. So far the whole sorry saga is a fait accompli as regards this humble councillor.

It will now go through the planning process, and this will be brought before the seventeen councillors at Development Control Committee. Their remit will be to examine using strict planning criteria only. At no point, as far as I can ascertain, will anyone be allowed to query how nearly two-thirds of a million pounds can be spent with nothing resembling democratic oversight.

I hear rumours about the site of the old swimming pool and how it is likely, at some point in the future, to see a high-rise of some sorts. This could make the coach park a mere ephemera – which makes the spend quite frivolous. If we are going to have this damnable coach park, can we at least have an assurance that tax-payers money is not about to be wasted as soon as a developer can sense a sizeable profit on the horizon?

A coach park for Warrior Square – another example of Milton ward being dumped again by the Conservative administration

On Friday one of the Corporate Directors emailed me. Here is an extract from that email:

As you will recall from my briefing on Seaways in the Autumn we identified the need to relocate the coach parking from Seaways Car Park and highlighted areas that we were exploring.

It was agreed to proceed with Warrior Square as the most suitable site for the coach park and this is now within the Planning process.

I responded with a simple question: Who was it agreed by?

After a false start (an email which gave a different answer) I got this: Consultation was with Cllr Cox.

However, there is some dispute as to whether this is factually correct. What is certain is that I was not consulted, let alone given a chance to voice my objection to this.

In the first email, referred to above , this was also included: Part of Warrior Square – good central location, access satisfactory, loss of parking offset by new Essex St. Car Park so minimal revenue implications.

Two issues arise from this. One is that this is only a short-term solution as this area is earmarked for housing and redevelopment. Two, in the budget much was made of the new revenue from the new, temporary, car park at Essex Street. If the scheme goes ahead then this revenue will not be new, merely displaced. The £75000 in the budget will have to be re-visited.

I am less than pleased at the idea of a Warrior Square coach park. It is far too close to residences and the noise and pollution will be increased for those that live in the vicinity. Also, the streets around here are narrow and already are often choked with traffic.

This is another example of Milton ward being dumped again by the Conservative administration. I am also astounded that such an important decision can be made behind closed doors with no oversight by the elected members.

Planning applications

For those that wish to comment or object on any planning application
• Send an email to the officer (email format like PhillipMcIntosh@southend.gov.uk)
• Quote the application number

This week’s noteworthy applications:

APPLN. NO: 14/00069/BC4M

Officer: Phill McIntosh Date Valid. 24 February 2014

ERECT BUILDING TO CREATE INDOOR ADVENTURE FUN PARK TO EASTERN SIDE OF THE PIER AT ADVENTURE ISLAND

ADVENTURE ISLAND WESTERN ESPLANADE WESTCLIFF-ON-SEA

APPLN. NO: 14/00240/FUL

Officer: Abbie Greenwood Date Valid. 17 February 2014

CONVERT TWO SELF-CONTAINED FLATS INTO ONE DWELLINGHOUSE 2 AND 2A CASHIOBURY TERRACE

2 CASHIOBURY TERRACE SOUTHEND-ON-SEA ESSEX

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