Posted: 25.02.21 at 22:33 by The Editor
THE hopes of Grays Athletic fans that they might get a new home at the former Ship Lane ground of Thurrock FC were dashed at a Thurrock planning meeting this evening, despite the best efforts of committee chairman Cllr Tom Kelly.
The club were hoping a planning application for a new car preparation plant adjacent to the football ground would open the door for them to move in – but it proved not to be as a landslide of opposition from Aveley prompted all but two of the nine committee members to vote against the plan.
Cllr Kelly was clearly a passionate advocate for the scheme and spoke about its merits and that it offered a solution to HGV problems that blight the lives of Aveley residents as well as helping Grays Athletic – but he was only able to muster the support of Cllr Gerard Rice when it came to a vote.
Officers had recommended rejection of the scheme put forward by the Group 1 Automotive company who want to build a new pre-delivery inspection (PDI) centre for vehicles on current youth pitches at the side of the existing stadium.
They offered to gift the football stadium to Grays Athletic Football Club as their new home but with a 50/50 split for community football use.
Group 1 Automotive were also proposing a number of additional benefits for local residents including an additional £500,000 for football facilities in Belhus Woods Country Park and transport infrastructure.
Julian Sutton, managing director of JMS planning who are submitting the application on behalf of Group 1 Automotive told the meeting that there would also be a further £50,000 for highways issues on the approach to the town, saying: “Many of us know that Ship Lane in Aveley has a traffic problem.
“This can be a silver bullet to stop HGVS going through Aveley.”
But, even at a beneficial gunpoint councillors were not persuaded.
Cllr Mike Fletcher said: “They are increasing traffic by a factor of ten. This PDI place is in the wrong place at the wrong time. There will be extra traffic on the roads, extra pollution and in an area that is already polluted.”
That was a view expounded by Teresa Webster, chair of Aveley and Kenningtons Community forum who told members: “120 residents and the developers attended a public meeting in 2019. There was no support for this application.
“Ship Lane is one of the main routes in and out of Aveley and is already affected by congestion. In addition to the thousands of impending vehicle movement from the new Ocado distribution site and the HGV movements using Ship Lane to the logistics centre in Ockendon, now there is this.
“We do not want it. There is no benefit to Aveley as a community by the Ship Lane ground gift to Grays. Grays Athletic belong in Grays, not in Aveley. The loss of this green belt site would be harmful to the residents of Aveley.”
Even Cllr Kelly was forced to concede : “The developer is trying to appease the residents of Aveley by coming up with a solution but I am not sure it works.”
Cllr Rice said: “Obviously there is a problem with Ship Lane, for the benefit of all of us, perhaps we should go and have a site visit which would give us the opportunity to see the problems at first hand” but that idea was ultimately rejected.
Cllr Angela Lawrence said: “This is a carrot and stick trying to entice people to support them because a lot of people like the football club. They sold their own ground, why didn’t they go out and get another one rather than wait for one to be handed to them?”
Senior planning officer Matthew Gallagher said: “To the best of my knowledge Grays’ ground was in private ownership and was leased to the football club. I think the terms of the lease expired and the football club found themselves without a home.”
Even a warning from Mr Sutton, who said: “We are told Thurrock is open to business. There is no alternative to this, if this is rejected all of those benefits to the community will be lost” had little effect and Cllr Gary Byrne said: “If we go for this, Thurrock is just that place where you can pick and choose as long as money talks. There is already a football club in Aveley and here we are talking about giant car parks. What is the benefit of this to the residents of Aveley?”
And Cllr Lawrence added: “I know Grays need a place but this is the wrong place.”
The sympathy for Grays was shared by Aveley councillor Colin Churchman but he said the residents of Aveley had to come first. He said: “I don’t think there is anyone on this committee that does not want to see Grays have a ground.
“We want to see Grays do well but we already have a football club in Aveley. This is wrong. We have got to look at this properly and it's not the right place to put this, it needs to be somewhere else.”
Non-voting member Steve Taylor who represents the Council for the Protection of Rural England said the green belt had to be protected. He said there was merit in the site as an open green area and said that it should not be built on – adding: “When it’s gone, it’s gone, you can’t bring it back.”
Cllr Sue Sammons said: “The whole thing is terrible, I am not in favour of this application.”
At the end of the day the overwhelming opinion was to reject the scheme, much to the clear disappointment of Cllr Kelly who told members: “Grays do need somewhere they can play but it is what it is. I think it could have been workable.
“The site has got huge pylons on it. It’s not pristine green belt. It was a good opportunity here but that’s my opinion and you are entitled to yours.”
He also warned that unless there was some flexibility in planning permission another borough football club might soon be homeless. Making mention of moves by the new owners of East Thurrock United to develop the Corringham club’s Rookery Hill ground and the lack of an alternative venue unless the council offers one, he said: “Let’s hope East Thurrock United don’t end up homeless as well.”
Earlier Cllr Kelly had ruled that even though it was in his gift as chair, he had denied the opportunity for Aveley councillor David van Day to speak against the scheme. And a bid by Grays Athletic’s vice-chairman Glyn Jarvis to make a personal pitch for the scheme was also ruled out by council protocol.
After the meeting Grays issued a short statement, saying: "During the committee meeting, there were a number of inaccurate statements aired about our football club and we will ensure that the appropriate people are corrected.
"The club will consult with Group 1 in the next few days and and release a statement shortly."