A DEGREE of mystery surrounds the clearance of a former allotment site in Grays.
Last week a team of workmen descended on the land at adjacent to the junction of Orsett Road and Dell Road. They cleared the site of trees and other vegetation and debris.
Workers on site told the Thurrock Independent the site was being cleared to make way for 15 homes. We were told they were to be built by the Keepmoat Housing company.
Keepmoat have recently completed work on a housing estate on the nearby site of the former Treetops School. When that development was in its early stages of planning, several years ago, both sites were initially linked in discussions. But in the end no sale took place of the smaller plot – though the then ruling Labour Cabinet had agreed to a disposal of both sites in what was widely believed to be a linked deal in 2014.
Several years later council officers, without any public reference to the now Conservative Cabinet, apparently authorised the decision for a land sale. However, we were told the council still owns the land. A deal has not yet been completed and council officers have been somewhat sketchy about the detail.
“Approved for disposal”
That appears somewhat surprising given statements by several current cabinet members about deals brokered under the previous administration – and their financial veracity.
However a council spokesperson said: “The site was approved for disposal in 2014. Given the length of time it has taken to conclude these negotiations, the transaction was revalidated for disposal earlier this year. The disposal of the site had already been approved by Cabinet and the revalidation of that disposal was under delegated authority.”
We have contacted several cabinet members, including council leader Rob Gledhill about the matter “ but none have responded. Nor have Keepmoat, reported purchasers of the former allotment site.
Keepmoat’s interest has not been confirmed by the council either. In response to a question suggesting Keepmoat were the buyers, the council said: “The council currently owns the site, however we are in the process of disposing of it.”
They would give no further details other that, when prompted about the costs of clearing the site and the work that has taken place, saying: “The company currently has a licence to enter the site to undertake site investigation works. The purchaser is undertaking site investigations at their cost.”
The value of the land would vary considerably depending upon its condition, works previously undertaken and any projected commitments to what would be allowed to be built on the site.
We consulted a land expert who said: “Industry practice would normally be that the owner of the site would carry out its own site investigations into the state and value of its asset before going to market!”
The council would not comment further on the ‘disposal’ or revenue it would generate. The previously mentioned concern by incumbent Conservatives is that their predecessors sold off land too cheaply.
What is clear is that there has been no planning application for the site submitted – nor any discussions about what might be built there being put on the record.
Despite the comments by workmen that there will be 15 houses on the plot, the council spokesperson said: “There is no current application nor have there been any formal pre-application discussions regarding a proposed application.”
Councillors in the Grays Thurrock ward, in which the plot sits, are also in the dark with the spokesperson saying: “There is no current application nor have there been any formal pre-application discussions regarding a proposed application.
“Should a formal pre-application submission be made, ward members would typically be briefed on the proposal. Should a formal application be submitted, the application would be publicised following national requirements (neighbour notification letters, press notices and site notices etc.).”
The council did also add: “The council’s Landscape, Ecology and Tree Advisor has been consulted on the work that has been carried out and has raised no objection to the works.”
Trees and planting on potential and developed sites has recently been a subject for debate at both planning and cabinet meetings, with the current administration ken to rule that any trees lost in a development, would be replaced.
We did ask: “As part of the disposal of this site, has there been any requirement for the purchaser to replace the trees that have now been lost?”
The council response was: “There is no requirement to replace the trees. Any future planning application may include a draft landscaping plan.”