Blundering council lose residents’ petition – vital planning decision is deferred

The new block of flats planned for Stanford-le-Hope.

Full and exclusive report

A DECISION on a controversial planning application for new homes and shops in the middle of Stanford-le-Hope has been deferred after officers admitted they did not know anything about a 500 signature petition against the development.

There were angry comments tonight (Thursday, 10 January) from some councillors during a debate at Thurrock Council’s planning committee after the financial background to the scheme was revealed, with more historic blundering by legal officers allowing the site to be sold for a paltry £350,000 with no conditions as to parking obligations to the local community.

In the start of his address to the planning committee, the council’s deputy leader and ward councillor, Cllr Shane Hebb, speaking on behalf of residents, said: “We live in the real world, not the world that the council wants us to live in.”

Pundits in the public gallery reflected ‘never a truer word has been spoken!’.

The application before councillors was for construction of a mixed use development comprising of retail, leisure or commercial units at ground floor level and 47 residential units on upper floors together with an under croft and surface car park (comprising 56 car parking spaces).

The site has a controversial history since it was sold by the then Labour-run council to developers in 2013 for just £350,000.

The sale was agreed as a forerunner for a development plan comprising a retail store at ground floor level and 22 residential units at first, second and third floor levels together with a surface and decked car park of 101 spaces.

That plan was approved but permission expired without so much as a brick being laid and though a condition of the sale was supposed to be that that any development would include substantial public parking, blunders in wording by the council’s legal team meant that provision could not be enforced and subsequently the site owners have controversially charged residents for parking there.

The controversial town centre car park.

Parking was one of the main concerns expressed over the new application. At tonight’s meeting planning committee chairman Cllr Tom Kelly raised his worries, asking how many dedicated places were available for residents’ visitors – three replied Principle planning officer Chris Purvis.

That was a start of a number of criticisms as councillors and speakers began to pick holes in Mr Purvis’s presentation.

Committee member Steve Taylor said he didn’t believe the additional shops and less parking would enhance the town as envisaged by the applicants – concerns reflected in Cllr Hebb’s address as he took the planning officers’ recommendation for approval to task.

He said: “I, Cllr Terry Piccolo and many residents and the small business think this a contravention of at least six planning considerations. Thurrock Council policy CSTP8 is to retain and promote the retail function of existing centres. This will not maintain it, it will destroy it. We live in the real world not the world that the council wants us to live in.

“This land was sold on the premise that there would be 100 car parking spaces that would be free for three hours.

“The complexity of what is in front of us tonight is that we are going to have a development of 47 new properties. The land was sold for a mere £350,000 and there are flats across the road selling at £200,000! The developers will make a profit of about £5.7 million. Stanford-le-Hope is owed a debt by the council.

“This is an application that takes all and gives nothing back. This will overshadow the town. This is a home counties town, not New York. This is out of character and out of order.”

And he refused to accept the officer suggestion that as permission for a development had been given in 2012, precedent meant it should be given again.

“This is not the same application as what was passed in 2012 but this is a different application. I oppose this development in the strongest terms,” he said.

Representing the applicants, Mr Danny Simmons told the committee: “The principle is acceptable for the following reasons, it is a brownfield site in an accessible town centre location and has been allocated for development for a number of years and is included in your site strategy as a site where retail and residential is deemed acceptable.

The current scheme has the effect of making the most efficient use of a brownfield site but at the same time respecting the character of the area,

“We believe it will enhance the viability of the town centre. Careful consideration has been given to the issue of design. The scheme has been reduced in height and retains views of the listed church from King Street and the town centre. The urban design officer has no objections to the development, it is high quality design that can be successful integrated into the town centre.

“It retains and safeguards much of the car park for public use, in fact it will adequately meet the demand for short stay parking. The car parking is accepted by the highways officer who has no objection on parking or transport grounds.”

Cllrs Terry Piccolo and Shane Hebb took the fight to developers tonight.

Cllr Terry Piccolo, addressed the meeting as a town resident and was quickly into his critical stride, pointing out that the previous agreement had specified 100 car parking places for town visitors plus more for flat residents, saying: “This new plan will decimate the town centre.

“If people can’t park in Stanford, they will go to Corringham and business will suffer.”

He disputed the findings of the report’s transport survey saying: “It couldn’t have been done at peak time, the figures are unrealistic and should be given very little weight” and he ridiculed the premise that the scheme would boost trade for existing shops, saying there would be no benefit as the loss of customers who might have parked did not equate to new residents who might shop there.

Cllr Piccolo then asked what had happened to a petition of 500 signatures opposing the development that had been presented – causing some furrowed brows among officers and whispered conversations.

While that went on Cllr Steve Liddiard asked if there would be any provision for electric car charging in the new car park while Cllr Gerard Rice asked if a new storey could be added to allow for a second undercroft for parking.

Cllr Graham Hamilton then went almost apoplectic as he asked about the legal situation and how a supposed covenant to protect parking – the reason why the land had been sold so cheaply – couldn’t be enforced. Mr Purvis told him: “The land registry documents are completely unrelated to the planning permission before us. They are no longer in place as the application has lapsed.”

Cllr Hamilton said: “It’s atrocious. This needs an inquiry.” He appeared unaware that the matter had been widely reported and a statement on behalf of the council apologising for the error made some time ago.

However, the meeting was soon called to a half as Cllr Kelly interrupted debate after conferring with planning director Andy Millard about the missing petition.

Mr Millard then told the meeting: “This is the first I knew about it, the case officer knows nothing about it and the team leader knows nothing about it. In the absence of any knowledge of it causes me some concern.”

It clearly caused some concern for Cllr Kelly and his colleagues concern. After a brief debate they agreed it was imperative the petition was considered and they adjourned the meeting, deferring the debate to a later date.

A DECISION on a controversial planning application for new homes and shops in the middle of Stanford-le-Hope has been deferred after officers admitted they did not know anything about a 500 signature petition against the development.

There were angry comments from some councillors during a brief debate after the financial background to the scheme was revealed, with more blundering by legal officers allowing the site to be sold for a paltry £350,000 with no conditions as to parking obligations to the local community.

In the start of his address to the committee, the council’s deputy leader and ward councillor, Cllr Shane Hebb, addressed the meeting and on behalf of residents said: “We live in the real world, not the world that the council wants us to live in.”

Pundits in the public gallery reflected ‘never a truer word has been spoken!’.

This detailed report of a major local issue was brought to you by the  Thurrock Independent – a genuine community news and sports service devoted to bringing you the best and most insightful journalism in the Borough. We’re committed to keeping it completely free.
But we can’t do it alone. If everyone who read the Thurrock Independent online gave a small donation, we can go on asking the tough questions, championing community heroes and keeping you up to date with the latest news from your local area.


Thank you for your support.