Councillors were split over 'difficult decisions' but controversial Youth Zone to be built on open space in Tilbury gets the green light
By Neil Speight
28th Oct 2023 | Local News
THURROCK Council planning councillors have given majority approval to plans to build a new youth activity centre on part of Tilbury's open space.
The move to create a new Thurrock Youth Zone in Tilbury on the open space known as the Anchorfield was first mooted in 2022 and a planning application was submitted in June by national youth charity OnSide.
While there was general approval for the principle of the youth zone, concern at last week's meeting of the couincil's planning committee was raised about the proposed location, with many Tilbury residents believing it was inappropriate to tear up a green site, while there were brownfield sites available in the area.
A number of objections to the scheme from residents were registered with the council.
The Anchorfield site is owned by Thurrock Council, which will lease it to Onside and will contribute, alongside the Tilbury Towns Fund Board, towards the construction and running costs. OnSide has committed to fundraising towards the remaining cost, which has not yet been ascertained.
Discussion at the planning committee can be viewed via this link, and it started around three minutes into the broadcast, having been moved to the head of the agenda because of local public interest.
The planning application says the site will include a range of facilities including sports hall, fitness suite, boxing and martial arts room and a climbing wall alongside an external multi-use games area/kick pitch and associated outdoor recreation area, car park, cycle parking, sub station, fenced boundary, paved areas including a new pavement alongside the roads, landscaping and an attenuation basin.
The proposal to also include community use facilities for arts and craft, health & wellbeing, a music suite, teaching kitchen, cafe and a performing arts studio.
Reservations about the site and the builkding were expressed by a number of councillors, including those who eventually voted for it.
It was opposed by Cllr Lee Watson who said she was 'a bit frightened' by the vagary surrounding the funding of the scheme. She said the financial implications including ownership of the land needed to be flushed out first.
She asked: "Has there been any other site that you have considered outside of this, for example, the fire station, which is just boarded up?" She was told by planning officer Chris Purvis the applicant had looked at other sites but had discounted them.
Committee member Steve Taylor, who represents the Countryside Charity and is a frequent critic of green belt development and the way it has been implemented in Thurrock, expressed his concern that if the youth centre application was agreed in principle, it might still not happen and then, he said: "Who knows what may be put there.
"And I'm struggling with this concept of who owns the land. From what I can gather it's the council. Are they gifting it to the developer or are they buying? This is being built in the back garden of the people of Tilbury, I would have thought there ought to be a better idea about the arrangement. It all looks a bit kind of flimsy in terms of what is the model."
Mr Purvis said there was 'agreement outside of planning re financing, but he did not know what it was as it was 'outside of planning'.
Interim chief planning officer Tracey Coleman intervened and said: "These are questions that are not relevant. It's not part of the planning process."
Ward councillor John Allen, addressed the meeting and said though he welcomed the idea of a youth zone for Tilbury he wanted to stress he was strongly opposed to the location of the centre on 'what's left of our loved Anchorfield'.
He said: "This should be under the protection of Fields in Trust, however in the past we have seen, under the wisdom of Thurrock Council, plans to build on such land. The council seems intent on taking away our green, open, recreational spaces in Tilbury, which I find alarming."
He said he also believed consultation about the zone had been flawed, criticising the times that residents had the opportunity take part in consultation because they were working.
He said: "The council likes to paint Tilbury as an area of deprivation, in truth it's a working class community and people were working when this happened.
"Please stop trying to take away our green spaces in Tilbury. When they are gone, they are lost forever."
Local resident Craig Austin, damned the application, saying it would take away resources from the wider Tilbury public and only be available for a restricted age group.
He said: "This is a vital space for our local community." He was highly critical of the application, slating parking provision, adding: "The application says it relies heavily on public transport links, which frankly do not exist."
He also questioned the lack of financial detail behind the scheme, saying: "Lots of nice words, no numbers. There is a lack of financial data, the committee needs to know this is not another long-term rape of our finances."
Cllr Paul Arnold said he was "genuinely sitting here, torn down the middle. I have some reservations", a view that was shared by councillors Watson, Sue Shinnick and Georgette Polley, who added: "There are real concerns."
Cllr Jacqui Maney said she could see issues with anti-social behaviour, a view countered by Cllr Arnold who said he believed the centre would develop into an asset for the community, though it 'might take some years to get to that point'.
The proposal to support the application was recommended for approval by Cllr Polley and seconded by Cllr Piccolo. It was supported by chairman Cllr Tom Kelly, who called it a fantastic proposal, albeit with difficult decisions to be made, and Cllr Arnold.
It was opposed by Cllrs Maney, Watson and Shinnick and so was approved 4-3.
It is now expected to open in 2025 and will join the OnSide network of 14 similar Youth Zones supporting over 55,000 young people with locations in the North West Midlands and London, including one in nearby Barking and Dagenham, which has supported over 14,000 young people since it opened in 2019.
OnSide Chief Executive Jamie Masraff said: "This is a huge milestone and an exciting step towards a Youth Zone for Thurrock's young people.
"Youth Zones are amazing places that support and inspire young people, giving them opportunities to try new things, showcase their talents and make new friends. It will also be packed with a team of brilliant and passionate local youth workers.
"Our recent Generation Isolation research showed that 83% of youth club attendees in the South East say they have had the ability to learn new skills and we can't wait to give young people in Thurrock those opportunities. We will now continue our fundraising campaign and will look to start on site early next year."
For £5 annual membership, plus 50p per visit, young people will have access to world class facilities including a sports hall, 3G outdoor kick pitch, fitness suite with boxing and martial arts facilities, as well as a music room with a built-in recording studio, arts and crafts area, climbing wall, dance studio, sensory room, and mentoring kitchen. Hot, nutritious meals will be available for just £1 from the Youth Zone's café.
In addition to the facilities, trained youth workers and dedicated volunteers will be available seven days a week to offer guidance and support to help Thurrock's young people to thrive. It will create a number of full and part-time jobs and many volunteering opportunities.
Cllr Andrew Jefferies, leader of Thurrock Council, said: "This is an extremely positive step in creating what I am sure will be an excellent facility for young people across Thurrock.
"I visited the OnSide Youth Zone in Barking and Dagenham recently and saw for myself how impressive they are. I am pleased that planning permission has been approved and look forward to welcoming this facility to Tilbury."
Local young people will have the opportunity to get involved in helping to shape their new Youth Zone. Working in partnership with the council and existing providers. OnSide will soon set up a Young People's Development Group of local young people who will meet regularly to make key decisions for the Youth Zone, including supporting with the design and branding and interviewing potential staff members.
For further updates on progress visit website: www.onsideyouthzones.org.