A LEADING borough historian and passionate advocate of promoting its past has called on Thurrock Council to do more to recognise the area’s rich heritage.
Susan Yates, chairman of Thurrock Local History Society, says the authority has squandered opportunities to get money from the Heritage Lottery Fund and she has singled out the council’s chief executive Lyn Carpenter for sitting in an ‘ivory tower’ and putting commercial development of the borough ahead of its history.
She says: “What is the problem with Thurrock Council and Thurrock’s heritage? Why do they continually choose to ignore it?
“Recently the council were offered, as part of a Heritage Lottery Funded project, money, which they had to match fund, to improve and protect Belhus Park.
“This is a registered park, (the equivalent of a listed building), and it is marked as being ‘at risk’. Was it lack of money? NO! They have £5,000,000 section 106 money in a bank account. Disputed ownership? NO! Thurrock Council owned the park and still do (with Impulse Leisure as leaseholders).
“Thurrock has a great history and it is being totally ignored by this council, to the detriment of our heritage. Maybe we need another impassioned speech such as Queen Elizabeth I gave to her Armada Troops at West Tilbury or another Peasants Revolt as we had at Fobbing in 1381.
“We should be preserving and promoting our heritage. The CEO should come out of her ivory tower and tour the borough she is paid to work for by the residents and then set about selling Thurrock as a tourist attraction with its beautiful villages and its history instead of continually building on every available plot of land.”
Ms Yates says the council has a track record of letting historic areas and building fall into disrepair – when it has a responsibility to manage them better.
She cites Cholley’s Farm in Horndon on the Hill as example, saying: “It is marked by Historic England as being at risk. It is very badly damaged holes in the walls roof etc. So it is not weatherproof and therefore decaying rapidly. A number of people in Horndon brought the matter to the attention of the council who did nothing.
“The council employ someone specifically for this purpose – who is supposed to deal with this sort of thing and his attention was drawn to the state of Cholley’s Farm at a Heritage Links meeting I attended. As far as I am aware nothing has been done.”
The council has responded by denying some of Ms Yates’ assertions and says it is committed to supporting borough heritage, adding: “Thurrock Council is proud of the borough’s heritage and continues to invest in and actively promote the exciting history of the local area and community.
“Our heritage service works with a number of local volunteers and offers educational visits, talks, exhibitions and engagement events alongside an open gallery space for members of the community at the Thameside Complex.
“Belhus Country Park is managed by Essex County Council under a partnership arrangement. The nature of this arrangement means that Thurrock Council was unable to accept contributions offered by the Land of the Fanns, the Heritage Lottery Funded Project mentioned.
“It is entirely incorrect to say that any part of Belhus Country Park has been sold. The land sold to Aveley FC was part of Belhus Leisure Centre grounds and not country park land. This land was used by the club to create an enhanced sporting offer for the local community.
“The use of Section 106 money is subject to strict regulations under the National Planning Policy Framework. There are also legal agreements between a developer supplying the funding and the Council outlining how the money must be spent.
“The council is part of the Land of the Fanns project board which is funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund. Together, with match funding from the council, this board supports projects seeking to bring developments and initiatives to the community.
“So far this has delivered a number of projects in South Ockendon, Bulphan and Langdon Hills alongside supporting community groups such as Friends of Bonnygate Park.”