Concern over lack of clarity on historic Grays site and what is going to happen to it

MEMBERS of Thurrock’s Local History Society have spoken of their concern over the future of an important part of the borough’s heritage and confusion that appears to surround it.

The Thurrock Independent recently reported on the state of affairs surrounding a site of considerable local interest adjacent to the new Keepmoat housing development off Dell Road in Grays.

In our article we drew attention to vandalism and antisocial behaviour on a woodland area that is supposed to be protected and developed going forwards into a local conservation area with historical interest.

Now John Matthews of the society has contacted us on behalf of society members to highlight what has happened in the past and what the society’s expectations for preservation of the site are.

He says: “This is a site of ecological and heritage interest. I would like to provide some background on the history of the site over the last few years.

“In the summer of 2014, the Thurrock Local History Society became aware that the Thurrock Council was advertising the site of the former Treetops School for sale as a residential development opportunity.

“At the time, we were trying to ensure the preservation of The Dell (built by Alfred Russel Wallace) as a heritage asset. We realised that part of the advertised site was physically close to and similar to Wallace’s lost garden.

“After a meeting with the then Council Leader, John Kent, we were allowed to view the site in the company of Ian Rydings who was Thurrock Council’s Property Asset Manager responsible for the sale.

“Myself and a number of other members inspected the site. It was clear that many of the original Victorian garden features that had once been part of the Elms were in place, although in need of restoration.

“We contacted the Land Trust and in due course introduced them to the proposed developers – Keepmoat Homes. The garden was in a deep former quarry and was unsuitable for house building.

“It emerged that the Land Trust was prepared to take over the management of the site, but needed funds to cover the cost of this.

“Negotiations settled on the idea of a one-off payment by Keepmoat, together with an annual fee paid from a service charge payable by home buyers. In addition, Keepmoat would undertake some work on the site including provision of a viewing platform. These plans were included in the planning application made in the spring of 2016, although the Land Trust was referred to (in error) as the Woodland Trust.

“In the summer of 2017, I attended the ceremonial launch of the Treetops housing development on behalf of the Thurrock Local History Society.

“In addition to the Keepmoat executives, this was also attended by representatives of the Land Trust, by councillor Mark Coxshall (Cabinet Member for Regeneration) and by Thurrock’s newly re-elected MP, Jackie Doyle-Price.

“At that time, I was given to understand that Keepmoat and the Land Trust were close to agreement on the details but there remained a few items to be resolved.

“I was told by both Keepmoat and by the Land Trust that they expected to conclude the agreement within a few months.

“The Thurrock Local History Society became aware of some of the problems earlier this year. After receiving an e-mail from the Land Trust, we responded, asking about the reports of vandalism, asking whether in fact the Land Trust owned the site and suggesting a meeting on site to look at the problems.

“To date we have not received a reply to this e-mail. We are very concerned about the report that appeared in the Thurrock Independent about the state of the site and the confusion as to responsibility.

“We would like to meet with all interested parties to attempt to resolve the situation.”