Friday, December 8, 2023

Planning Committee: A Law Unto Itself?

THE EDITOR of the Essex Enquirer, Neil Speight is a seasoned journalist with over thirty years experience of reporting the news.

Sometimes sitting next to him on the press benches is similar to sitting next to the late cricket legend Freddie Trueman, who used to look out from the cricket commentary box and pronounce in his broad yorkshire tones: “I do not know…. what is going on…. out there.”

Mr Speight has been a force of nature for the borough and to some extent the powers-that-be must be relieved that he is no longer the Editor of the Thurrock Gazette where his brand of award-winning firebrand journalism and demands for scrutiny was a key part of the culture of Thurrock.

If your not an opinionated journalist then you are in the wrong job. It is because you care.

YourThurrock couldn’t be at last nights Planning Committee meeting but Mr Speight was. Here, reprinted with kind permission by the Essex Enquirer is Mr Speight’s account of last nights events:

THURROCK Council’s planning committee – already a longstanding source of embarrassment, ridicule and controversy to the authority – plumbed new depths on wednesday evening when it’s chairman was forced to offer a grovelling apology to the public and agents of planning applicants.

Once more the committee found itself being directed and instructed by officers, who advised and browbeat elected councillors to throw the public out of the Council Chamber while they moved into secret session.

Angry members of the press and public were forced to loll in corridors for more than 30 minutes, twice the time committee chairman Stuart St Claire-Haslam had pledged they would be cast out, and when they returned they were told the councillors would not be debating three contentious issues, deferring them for a third or fourth time.

As editor of the Essex Enquirer, I challenged the legality of the proceedings, as the committee had gone way beyond its permitted timings without publically lifting its standing orders.

I also asked for the explanation for deferment on each of the issues which the chairman had promised before ejecting the public, but which were not voluntarily and individually forthcoming.

After a look of horror among officers and hurried, whispered conversations I was told standing orders had been lifted in the private session and that the applications – a leisure centre for Orsett Hall Hotel, a change of use for Mardyke Farm at Aveley and a two storey extension at Manor House Farm, Bulphan – had been deferred to allow councillors to be given ‘rejoinder advice.’

This despite the applications having all been running for several months and gone through up to four deferments. The two farm connected items had once been agreed by councillors but were rescinded after officers refused to action the councillors’ decisions and brought in a top barrister to rebuke them.

They were the source of the rebellion by Tory grandee Anne Cheale who won a vote of no confidence in Tory Council leader Garry Hague on the back of her anger at “officers running the Council.”

That was a frequent comment from the public gallery on wednesday evening and there were many other angry comments at the end of it.

Though personally I care not about whatever decisions are reached on all three applications, the secrecy, lack of clarity and the apparent cowardice of councillors against officers – who one source told me were threatened with standards board disciplinary action behind closed doors – are of great public concern.

Cllr St Clare-Haslam had the look of a man battered to his wits end when he apologised to the public, including people who had travelled from Manchester for the meeting, as they streamed out of the chamber.

“It’s less than satisfactory. The decision to defer should have been made a lot sooner. I personally extend my apologies,” he said.

As editor I rarely mix news reporting with comment, but feel compelled to do so after Wednesday’s shambles.

Apart from questioning the legality of the proceedings, there is clearly something very wrong with the whole Thurrock Council planning process – with ‘fault’ undoubtedly on the side of both elected members and officers of whatever discipline, planning, law or administration.

In 32 years of covering councils up and down the country I have rarely come across anything as dysfunctional as Thurrock’s planning process.

During Wednesday’s meeting Cllr St Claire-Haslam had said: “We’ve had almost a month for officers to consider this information, it would be remiss of the authority not to consider it this evening.”

Cllr Gerard Rice had said: “It’s going to look pretty rich when it is written in the paper that this authority has not looked at the applications.”

Two voices across the political divide appeared to concur but in the end councillors capitulated and the public were left to reflect on Cllr Rice’s earlier words when he said: “No wonder we lost the big planning items to the Development Corporation. This makes us a laughing stock.”

He’s not wrong – and as I quit the chamber myself in anger and frustration I could only remember that old saying – Mickey Mouse has a Thurrock Council planning wristwatch!


  1. Some great reading there from one of the leading lights of the Thurrock Press, (or ex Thurrock Press), Neil Speight was on top of his game when with the Gazette and the paper has drifted downhill since he left for the Enquirer, what is our loss is their gain.

    Can we not get a regular guest blog from Mr Speight on this site???

    Both Mr Casey and Mr Speight’s editorial eloquence is great for the leading stories around the borough.

  2. Thanks lambo but lets not get a way from the facts. Thurocks planning officers they are an [embarrassment] Williams is a dog Fact . Garry leader of the gang where was he hiding.W Herd giving facts about green belt when she put her hand up for 350 house in her ward on the green belt.

  3. How long is this going to have to go on, Before. Somebody says whats going on, you know Garry the time is near Very near .You and the two[ C ]brothers you know what i mean, when it comes out it comes no stopping all the way

  4. Albert, Wendy Has not put her hand up for 350 house in aveley on green belt.
    The whole of Aveley, including all its councillors are opposed to building on green belt land. It is the TTGDC that want to desicrate green belt land. but i feel that the applications that have been submitted by manor farm, mardyke farm and orsett hall are probably acceptable, this is their land and they just want to extend their properties,. I dont see that as much of a problem, but ripping up 125 acres of green belt used for horse grazing and turning it into a housing estate is dispicable. and should be stopped.

  5. Albert is trying to say Wendy Herd voted for the development on the green belt in Aveley when the decision was made by the TTGDC after being rubber stamped by a Government Minister.

    The document Albert is talking about is the Local Development Plan that mentions the development on the Aveley by-pass. The Local Development Plan does not give planning permission, planning permission has already been given. The development is a fact and whatever the council does it cant be stopped.

    I think Albert just wants to bad mouth Wendy Herd. I wonder if he or a friend or relative is standing in Aveley?

  6. albert you will have to get over your ” problem with wendy!”.

    she has worked non stop for aveley. all three councillors were against that development, they all attended meetings with residents, organised the protest and went to london. but the labour minister did not wait until the end of the consultation before making his decision.

    wendy and her fellow councillors are well respected in aveley & beyond. please stop being spitful

  7. Eddie and Susan I am not being spiteful only want to highlight that despite all the marching and the rhetoric emanating from Councillor Herd’s mouth late last year this was all undone during the course of the Full Council meeting on the 27th January 2010 when she together with her colleague Councillor Amanda Wilton and all the other Councillors at Thurrock Council voted in favour of the draft Core Strategy which included amongst a number of strategic development proposals within the green belt none other than the development of 350 Homes on green belt land on the Aveley By-Pass. FACT!!!!! I have checked my facts i suggest you check yours. It is important to understand in all this that whatever is in the core strategy will dictat the shape of housing and other development in Thurrock for years to come and it is as a result important that Councillors supposedly fighting against green belt development do not then stab their residents in the back by supporting a core strategy that firstly includes the development which residents in Aveley have fought hard to prevent and has been devised by the Leader of Thurrock Council who no doubt in my belief is doing the bidding of other significant developers within Thurrock. As for Dingle’s throw away comment i have not got any friends or family in Aveley neither do i suspect you do Dingle.

  8. So i take that is that no winners or losers only the people of Aveley who W. Herd is looking out for ,what a load of bo——–cks

  9. albert, albert, albert.

    The development on the Aveley by-pass isn’t a proposal. Planning permission has already been granted.

    The core strategy recognises that planning permission has been granted. How can any councillor pretend otherwise?

  10. Wendy Herd unfortunately has been the ineffective Councillor representative for Aveley for the last four years and she is supposed to speak up for the residents of Aveley no matter what her party think and any alternative agenda that she, you and they may have! Whilst you are correct in stating that planning permission has been granted by the Thames Gateway nevertheless why did Wendy Herd not voice her opposition to the inclusion of the Aveley By-Pass development in the core strategy for housing? Whilst the Development Corporation make decisions on big planning applications the strategic planning remains vested in Thurrock Council and by failing to speak against the inclusion of this development on the core strtategy she and the local Tory run administration have scored an own-goal and handed the Thames Gateway the strategic planning justification for this development!!!!! Surely the fact that this is a development on green belt should have been enough to ensure that she and the local tory run administration had sufficient reason to block this development that is not wanted by the local residents she was elected to represent and speak up for. Why did Wendy Herd and her Tory colleagues not use this essential point to prevent this development been granted planning credence through the back door????? As for Wendy Herd pretending otherwise Dingle remember one golden rule which you too should take on board that Wendy Herd was first and foremost elected to represent the residents of Aveley and represent their interests not the interests of herself and her Tory colleagues. She should have spoke against inclusion of this development within the core strategy and she did n’t. Time for a change Dingle and i don’t mean the Tories and more of the same in Aveley Kenningtons and Uplands.

  11. Albert.

    Developer submits plans for aveley by-pass site – rejected by Thurrock Council.

    Plans go to TTGDC who approve them and plans then rubber stamped by Government Minister.

    The development is now a FACT.

    There is nothing that any individual, the council or courts can do to stop it.

    The Local Development Framework can’t stop a planning permission that has already been given. If Thurrock Council had said in this document the site should be green fields for the horses to frolick on the development would still go ahead becasue its been given planning permission at the highest level.

    The LDF recognises the FACT the site is allocated for housing and planning permission has been granted.

    I might add.

    The development is going to be on the location of an old landfill site and nobody knows what has been dumped in the hole this site used to be. Asbestos? Toxic waste? Who knows.

    I wouldnt want to live in a home that is built over unregulated landfill waste would you?

    I wonder if the developer has started drilling to see exactly what is under this site, is it safe to build on and is it stable enough to take the weight of a housing development?


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