AN angry resident was escorted by a security guard from an emotional planning meeting at Thurrock Council on Thursday evening reports the Thurrock Enquirer.
The controversial Titan Lorry Park at West Thurrock was the cause of the furore as councillors quizzed officers against a background of protest and abuse from members of the Parents Against Lorries protest group.
Committee chairman Terry Hipsey showed a tolerant attitude to frequent interruptions from the public gallery as Council Chief Executive Graham Farrant, Head of Legal Services Tasnim Shawkat, other officers and councillors spoke but in the end called in security guards, culminating in one woman’s expulsion after she delivered a tirade of abuse.
Councillors were being asked to note the first part of a report into enforcement action and a planned stop notice against the lorry park, with the second part to be delivered to them behind closed doors later this month.
The report explained why the Council was unable to issue a stop notice against the site, because it had been operating for four years without action against it.
Councillors had called on their officers to put a stop to the lorry park’s operation after the operators, Grays-based ICG Ltd, appealed against an enforcement notice. That appeal is due to be heard in July.
The lorry park has been a running sore for the Council’s integrity, with allegations of corruption, inefficiency and inter-organisation bickering dominating local headlines. The site has been a source of conflict between the Council and Thurrock Thames Gateway Corporation for some years, with the Corporation calling for enforcement action against the site as far back as 2006.
The starting date of the lorry park’s operation, on the site of the former West Thurrock Power Station, is a matter of contention and the cause of much friction at Thursday’s meeting.
Because the site has been operating for four years, the Council is now unable to act against it, something which has angered campaigners but Mr Farrant said the Council’s position was clear.
“There is not a shadow of doubt in my mind that this site was started in 2006. The evidence we have found is from multiple sources,” he said.
By admitting that, Mr Farrant in part condemns his own authority for incompetence in letting the issue run. Angry residents have alleged that councillors and officers have been in collusion with the site operators to let the site operate illegally, a point conceded by Ms Shawkat when she told the meeting: “It’s a balancing act. Everyone recognised that it was unauthorised, but it served a purpose. On the one hand the interests of residents not having lorries all over the borough, on the other residents near to the site who didn’t want it. It was a question of expediency, a matter of judgement and balance.”
In general councillors found themselves confronting their officers.
Cllr Stephen Veryard, a former chair of the planning committee, said: “What concerns me is that we shouldn’t have turned a blind eye to something that wasn’t proper.”
Cllr Gerard Rice objected to the argument that officers were put in a difficult position because of lorries across the borough. “You don’t have to have a lorry park, you have to have enforcement against illegal parking. You don’t have a lorry park in Basildon, Billericay or Brentwood but they don’t have a problem.
“Members asked officers to take action against this lorry park but it didn’t happen and that’s disgraceful. The local development framework panel instructed the then lead officer, but it never happened.”
Ms Shawkat also suggested there were administrative problems caused by the lack of a local planning and transport framework but Cllr Stuart St Clair-Haslam, another former planning committee chairman, who said: “In terms of the point made about a core strategy and in relation to lorry parks I can say that when I was serving on the HGV committee and chairman of the local development framework committee, until the then leader Garry Hague decided in his infinite wisdom that he should chair it, at no point was I or every other committee ever informed that the Development Corporation was advised that the DC had called for enforcement action. Why wasn’t the clear advice of the Development Corporation given to members?”
At the end of a long and fractious discussion, members voted to accept the report after hearing that many o their questions would be answered in the private session of the committee to be held on 21 March. Mr Farrant told members that the report to them was 34 pages long – but it could get longer as councillors demanded more information, including the provision of photographs taken by the Development Corporation of the site in 2006 and 2007 which they had previously not had access to.