Grays call for delay and decision on car plant and stadium is deferred

By Neil Speight

6th Apr 2023 | Local News

The crowded public gallery this evening.
The crowded public gallery this evening.

THURROCK Council planning committee members met this evening to debate the controversial application to create a new car preparation plant on land adjacent to Thurrock FC's former Ship Lane stadium.

As part of the scheme the stadium will be renovated and gifted to Grays Athletic and there were many scarf-wearing supporters in the public gallery to support the bid.

There were also Aveley residents who oppose it.

Senior planning projects manager Matthew Gallagher briefed councillors on the application, which is a joint one between Group One Automotive and Grays Athletic.

Mr Gallagher ran through two previous similar applications which were rejected by councillors and a third which never even made it before them as officers threw it out.

He said the fourth submission was not significantly different in principle to what had gone before and he said all the same objections remained.

He summed up by saying: "We are not satisfied that benefits clearly outweigh the impact on the green belt."

Cllr Paul Arnold quizzed officers about how long it would take to turn vehicles around on the site, how would they be transported to and from the site and how many vehicle movements there might be?

Mr Gallagher, and transport officer Julian Howes, were unable to give detailed figures but Mr Howes indicated that he did not see the amount of traffic being sufficient to merit a substantial opposition that would have sufficient weight.

This evening's meeting.

Mr Gallagher also downplayed concerns expressed by Cllr Arnold that individual vehicles would be leaving the site for road-testing and for repairs, but Mr Gallagher said that was not his understanding. He believed new cars would arrive on transporters, be prepared and would then leave, either being individually driven, or on transport, to showrooms.

Cllr Allen Mayes wanted clarification on why little weight was being given to the reuse of the stadium, to be told by Mr Gallagher that it was not a planning consideration. "The stadium is there, it is just being reused." he said.

"The only planning considerations here are the change of use of the flat above the clubhouse and the pre delivery inspection (PDI) centre. The stadium could be reused without any planning application."

Cllr Mayes then turned his attention to the proposed mitigation put forward to improve HGV movement and access and departure. "We don't see it as a great mitigation", said Mr Howes who almost summarily dismissed his argument that the proposals were significant.

Cllr Lee Watson reiterated concerns over flooding in the Mardyke valley that she had highlighted in a previous debate during the evening and that she feared that HGV numbers would be high and that traffic restrictions would not be enforced.

She was told the land was classified as 3A in terms of flooding risk by the Environment agency who were satisfied that though it was within the high risk flood zone there would not likely be flooding on the actual site.

The Thurrock FC site actually sits in the West Thurrock and South Stifford ward and, while there has been lots of input from Aveley residents online and via a petition, it was left to John Rowles from the Purfleet-on-Thames Community Forum to represent local interest at the meeting.

The planning committee meeting can be viewed in its entirety above.

He told members that residents in Purfleet had been ignored and there had been no direct communication with them.

He said local residents were against the scheme because of the environmental impact, saying: "The site is in the green belt and on a flood plain. If it is covered over where will the water go?

"This is the last green buffer.

"We suffer from some of the worst air quality in the area which will be made worse."

And in contrast with Mr Gallagher's opinion, he said cars would be leaving the site and driving around the area as part of their preparation.

He said: "I believe the vehicles will be tested on the highway" and he detailed a route around the area which including going to a petrol station, adding: "Who is going to police this route?"

He concluded by saying: "When it comes to green belt, it's not the best, but this a darned sight better than having a PDI site. This is the entrance to a nice village. Will this make the entrance to Aveley and Purfleet and the Thames better? No.

"The benefit will be to a football team five miles down the road. Why should we support it?

"It is detrimental to one of the final buffers between the green belt and London."

Grays Athletic director Glyn Jarvis and Julian Sutton, representing Group One Automotive, then spoke.

Mr Jarvis said: "We are 100 per cent owned by out supporters, We have been homeless for ten years.

"We understand the stadium has been valued at £3 million which we cannot afford but if we are gifted this we can bring it back and make it a community asset for all time.

"This is a last chance solution for our football club. If it doesn't happen this could be the death of an institution that has been in Thurrock for 130 years."

Mr Sutton then, sprang something of a surprise by asking for a deferment, saying: "We recognise this is a complex application."

He suggested that there had been 'disinformation and untruths' and suggested it be deferred for the proposers to bring more information to the committee.

Members agreed and also arranged to have a site visit.

A second, related application, for a new community pitch facility at Aveley, which would be a replacement for the lost pitches at Ship Lane, was also deferred.

When both applications come back to the committee, probably in June, it could well be that very few councillors who heard all the detailed presentation tonight will be eligible to vote and the decision could be made by as few as four members.

Two members of the committee this evening are up for re-election in May and might not return, while it is likely other members will not remain on the planning committee if there is a political shake-up.

Only members who were part of the first meeting will be eligible to take vote when it comes back.


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