Council left Byrned as rail station planning progress is put on hold by unhappy councillors
By Neil Speight
12th Feb 2021 | Local News
THURROCK Council's top brass got a bit of a bloodied nose as plans to push through designs for Stanford-le-Hope's new station hit the buffers when planning councillors decided they would not be railroaded into making a quick decision.
As reported yesterday (Thursday, 11 February) the council's new designs for the station were due to be debated by the planning committee last night and officers were recommending they be approved.
However, all but one of the committee members decided they could not make a decision of what has become a two staged development of the station itself and its adjacent parking and transport facilities.
Concern was sparked by Tuesday night's meeting of the transport overview and scrutiny committee when details of the stage two development were aired – and sparked controversy in the virtual meeting that often bordered on the fractious.
The whole botched railway station project has been a stain on the council's reputation for the past three years after work was halted when the original designs submitted – which had been ratified by the planning committee – proved unworkable and too costly.
Embarrassed by the fact that they had been talking into supporting a flawed plan, planning councillors were determined not to be caught out again and they refused to bow to pressure from officers – and committee chairman Cllr Tom Kelly – and give approval to just a scheme.
In an embarrassing blow for the council hierarchy members voted seven to one to defer the scheme until plans and a workable budget and timescale were drawn up for the second stage. In short, they want to make a decision on the whole station project, not just a part of it.
Not even the words of ward councillor and mayor Terry Piccolo could sway them. He wrote to the committee backing the plans and praising the designs but his words – admittedly probably penned well before Tuesday night's debacle – failed to sway opinion.
Chief protagonist against the plans was Stanford Homesteads independent ward councillor Gary Byrne who wanted to waste little time on any presentations or discussion – right from the start of last night's meeting he was adamant it should not be discussed piecemeal.
He said: "We are being asked to vote on just a bit of the plan for the station, it's not right. This is one station, not two parts. We want the whole plan before us and residents want it done properly. It's a bit part. Please defer it. We and the residents would prefer to wait."
However, Cllr Kelly insisted that senior planning officer Matthew Gallagher be allowed to make his full presentation about the actual station rebuild but he failed to impress Cllr Byrne who was dismissive of Mr Gallagher's offering, questioning his knowledge of the site, the background to the financial and engineering calamities that have befallen the project and even bereted him for not detailing recent flooding around Stanford town centre.
"I don't know where you have been, but the place was flooded and we were up to our knees in water just a few days ago. Look into it and give the residents what they want, not what you want."
Less vehement, but nevertheless equally convinced that dealing with the station in two parts was committee vice chairman Cllr Mike Fletcher who said: "We have been here before. We started with a plan which you eventually decided you couldn't deliver and we were left with a demolished station.
"We are in danger of doing this again. I would rather not make the same mistake this time. "We could have a stage one and then a stage two that we may not be able to deliver. We need to see the whole picture.
Despite Cllr Kelly's best efforts to shepherd the meeting towards making a decision on the plan and debating it there and then, the opposition of Cllrs Byrne and Fletcher was mirrored across the committee and in the end – with no one other than himself prepared to back an officer recommendation for approval he had to succumb for the clamour for deferral.
Not even the intervention of assistant director of planning, transport & public protection Leigh Nicholson, who told councilors there were no grounds for deferring the application as the issues of cost and accountability were not material planning issued failed to change minds and in the end Cllr Kelly was forced to bow to the pressure and allow a vote – which saw him the only supporter and seven councillors determined to force the council to bring just one, well worked out and deliverable project before them for approval.
You can view the whole discussion and exchange of opinions about the station project here. The station agenda items begins four hours and three minutes into a meeting that ultimately lasted five hours and 24 minutes!