Posted: 10.06.20 at 14:07 by The Editor
THURROCK MP Jackie Doyle-Price and the Local Government Ombudsman have delivered a damning indictment of Thurrock council for its failure to enforce planning legislation on the Buckles Lane Traveller and Showpeople's site.
And Ms Doyle-Price has gone further - slamming the authority for its failure to deliver on major infrastructure projects, risking millions of pounds of investment cash.
And she has thrown down the gauntlet to fellow Conservative and council leader Rob Gledhill to get the council's house in order quickly to rectify a series of failures that have led to residents in the borough developing a cynical attitude to the council's ability to manage its affairs.
The catalyst for Ms Doyle-Price's action in making a complaint to the Ombudsman was the council's failure to act after she, some councillors and residents repeatedly flagged up the abuse of planning regulations at Buckles Lane - which has grown to become the biggest Traveller encampment in Europe - much of which is totally unauthorised.
One of the complaints came last year from Ockendon Cllr Andrew Jefferies who damned the council’s lack of action – but was subsequently reported threatened with disciplinary action by officers for doing so. Officers then rebutted Cllr Jefferies’ complaint.
Specifically Ms Doyle-Price’s complaint to the Ombudman, which has been upheld after a lengthy investigation into her ‘outrage’ at the council’s repeated failure to act, referred to the failure to regularise the Showmen’s permission to be on the site and the failure to enforce against the non-Showpeople who had settled there without planning permission.
Sub-letting means that several hundred occupants of the site are now single men from outside the UK!
Ms Doyle-Price points out that this illegal sub-letting of the site is generating thousands of pounds a month in revenue.
She says: "Mobile homes are being openly advertised for rent and yield approximately £600 per month. There are now 460 households there and the site is three times the size it should be.
"It is, of course, a green belt site and should therefore be properly protected by the planning authority."
The MP stated that it was unfair to residents who do abide by planning laws and was a dereliction of the Council’s duty as a planning authority. She laid the blame over several years of maladministration under both Labour and Conservative control of the council.
Ms Doyle-Price says: “In the ten years that I have been a Member of Parliament, Buckles Lane has come up with extreme regularity. Whenever I raised the issues with the Council the response would be most disappointing and the complainants would feel fobbed off.
“It was incredibly frustrating, but ultimately Members of Parliament cannot instruct councils to do things. In the end I decided enough was enough and I asked the Local Government Ombudsman to investigate.
“Ultimately there is a failure to deal with planning issues over a number of years. This has led to a green light for more unlawful development. Residents tell me the site is growing in size all the time, with site clearance and construction happening in plain sight. Mobile homes for rent are openly advertised in the Thurrock Gazette and online.
“Those responsible know that Thurrock Council will leave them be so they continue. There are now 460 households on the site, none of them paying council tax. The inadequate provision of utilities is hazardous. It is a terrible situation for those who live on the site legitimately.
“This situation cannot continue any longer. It is time to get a grip. It now falls to all 49 councillors to make sure that Thurrock Council discharges its responsibilities. Our residents deserve nothing less.”
And after the Ombudsman delivered a verdict back up her claims – with severe criticisms of much of the council’s policies and failure to adhere to pledges and promises of action Ms Doyle=-Price says things must now change.
And not just at Buckles Lane.
In a summary of the situation to Cllr Gledhill, which recalls previous condemnation of the ‘staggering ineptitude of council officers’, she says: “This is yet another example of the council's inability to deliver significant projects.
“It is now four years since I said I had no confidence in Purfleet Centre Regeneration Limited to deliver the regeneration of Purfleet.
“It is barely any further forward since then and I have had to intervene to get the objections of statutory consultees withdrawn.
“In 2017 the government awarded £10 million for the regeneration of Grays Rail station. The lack of progress means we are at risk of losing that cash.
“Taken together these indicate a failure to ensure that projects are being managed by staff with the right skills and the authority to get things done.
“If Thurrock is ever going to deliver on its ambitious agenda this needs to be addressed.
“The people of Thurrock are becoming very cynical about the promises made to them by their political leaders and given these examples, who can blame them?
"None of us want to be embarrassed by failure to deliver what we have promised.
"Now you have the advantage of a majority administration, the time has arrived to give the appropriate challenge to ensure that the internal management of the council is capable of delivering its obligations and its promises.”
As well as the Purfleeet regeneration (which Ms Doyle-Price fears is at significant risk)among other major projects under council control that have also been of significant control are the completely botched planning of the regeneration and rebuild of Stanford-le-Hope station - which has cost millions more than expected and is still a considerable way from being completed - and the overrunning widening of the A13, a project which is also well behind schedule and tens of millions of pounds over its original budget.