Tories under fire after buying buildings in pursuit of civic office rebuild

A LEADING Thurrock councillor has slammed the current administrative system after it appears the ruling Conservative group are set to ride roughshod over the democratic process.

At last month’s full council meeting a significant majority of councillors voted to support a motion put by Labour leader Cllr Jane Pothecary for the council to scrap its plans to knock down half of the current civic offices, building flats in its place as well as a new extension on the site of a World War II memorial garden created to honour borough links with the D-Day Mulberry Harbours, and several local businesses.

However, under the council’s constitution the ruling minority Tory administration do not have to abide by that decision.

And though the Conservative Cabinet has announced it will ‘consider’ the motion at a meeting in September, it seems they are determined to press on regardless. 

Today (Friday, 5 July) the council’s publicity team announced that council leader Cllr Rob Gledhill  has met with local businesses to discuss the impact of the council forging ahead to buy their business premises – which will be demolished under the new project.

No cost has been announced for the purchase and it does not appear to have been factored into the overall ‘announced’ cost of the project which currently stands at around the £10 million mark.

The council said: “Cllr Rob Gledhill, has met with leaseholders operating businesses near the Civic Offices to talk to them about exciting plans for Grays Town Centre and the opportunities it will create for them. 

“Plans for the town centre include projects stretching from the Thameside Theatre to the very heart of town including an underpass at Grays Station, which has received £11 million funding from the Government through the Local Growth Fund, new Civic Offices and new housing to be built on part of the current civic offices site in New Road Grays along with private investment which will transform the State Cinema site and create a revitalised shopping centre which owners NewRiver say could include a gym, a hotel and food retailer. 

“The redevelopment of the Civic Offices will also deliver dozens of new homes in the centre of Grays. 

“Thurrock Council has now purchased the freehold of four properties in New Road Grays and the High Street in preparation for the planned regeneration.”

Cllr Gledhill (pictured cash in hand with Sadie Alakirik, owner of the threatened Angel cafe who has organised a petition against the scheme) said: “I was happy to meet with the leaseholders affected by the Grays Town Centre regeneration and highlight the opportunities our exciting plans will make for them. 

“We will be working hard to ensure that all these business will remain open throughout this process and I would encourage local residents to continue to make use of these excellent local shops and café while relocation takes place. 

“We are a council which is here to help businesses, especially highly valued small local traders like these, so I wanted to make sure that the leaseholders who operate these establishments know we are available and will make sure that they will get all the assistance they need when it comes to time to relocate. 

“Our ambitious regeneration plans will set a tone for the future high quality development of Grays Town Centre, invigorate the High Street and encourage more people to use our small businesses. We want local business to be at the heart of these plans. 

“The name Mulberry will live on as part of the new Civic Offices. The development will include new and enhanced green spaces and public areas.”

However, Cllr Luke Spillman, leader of the Independent group on the council and s fierce critic of the scheme, said the Tories’ apparent determination to press ahead despite a democratic vote against the scheme, said: “Motions are absolutely meaningless in the council other than for a headline.  

“Almost all the decisions of any note are made by officers and simply rubber stamped by cabinet. 

“Committees are similarly now almost entirely redundant. They make recommendations only to be entirely ignored. 

“That’s the cabinet system for you.”