Thursday, September 28, 2023

EXCLUSIVE: Tory plans to sell off Grays Beach Park could cost Thurrock taxpayer millions


THURROCK TAXPAYERS could face a million pound bill should Tory plans go ahead to privatise Grays Beach Park.

Two weeks ago, the Thurrock Conservative group pushed through a number of amendments to the ruling Labour groups budget including the possibility of handing over the running of Grays Beach Park, Thameside Theatre and other facilities to a private company.

However, earlier this week, Cory Environmental Trust, who have a 25 year lease to run the park, sent a solicitors letter to Thurrock Council’s Chief Executive Graham Farrant, informing him that they could ask for the millions back that they have pumped into the popular beauty spot.

In 1999 Cory signed a 25 year lease to regenerate the area. Since then they have ploughed over £5 million into the borough.

The trust are extremely angry at the proposal.

Secretary, Geoff Howell said: “There are specific clauses in the lease which state that should the park be disposed of then we can claim our financial investment back.

“Cory have invested in the park since 1999 for specific reasons. It is a haven for families. For families who cannot afford a holiday but know there is somewhere on their doorstep that has sand, swings, a cafe. It has brought a lot of joy to those families”.

Mr Howell confirmed that no-one from the Tory group had contacted him regarding the plans.

However, a leading Tory councillor has defended the decision.

Cllr Barry Johnson said: “Before these plans/proposals were put forward we met with the Chief Executive Graham Farrant and Director of Finance Martin Hone who, both agreed that the proposals were viable.

“The plan is to package up the leisure activities currently run by the Council and seek a professional company to offer the services on our behalf. This would be done in the form of a trust therefore ensuring that the council retained ownership, but offered a service that would be more beneficial to our residents.

“I do not believe that we are not putting council tax payers money at risk here, but I am afraid I cannot help thinking that this has come from our counterparts within the Labour group, still sore for not getting their budget agreed.”

Cllr Johnson admitted that they did not discuss the matter with Cory Environmental Trust beforehand.

Thurrock Council has confirmed that they did receive a letter from the Trust.

A spokesperson said: “The Chief Executive has received a letter from Cory Environmental Trust regarding the conditions placed on the original grant to develop Grays Beach and is looking into the original conditions and what options might be available to the council.

No decision has yet been taken regarding the future of Grays Beach, and no decision will be taken until members have had an opportunity to fully consider all of the implications of any decision that they might take.

The discussions between Tory leader Garry Hague and the two senior officers have, it appears, become a matter of deep embarrassment for the council. These discussions, we understand, took place, just hours before the vital council meeting.

The key question is whether Tory group leader Garry Hague made the officers aware of previous controversies involving Cory Environmental and Thurrock Council. Controversies that occurred while cllr Hague was part of the ruling cabinet.

In 2008 the Thurrock Gazette ran a front page splash with the headline: “We Want Our Money Back”. The article revealed that “The Trust…may seek a £1.3million refund because the children’s play facility has been allowed to become run down.

Councillor Hague has not responded to questions sent to him by YourThurrock but if he didn’t brief the senior officers fully on this issue then it may illustrate why the government watchdog the Audit Commission, highlighted a fundamental division between councillors and officers under the Tory administration.

Either way, YT understands that council officers have now been issued with strict instructions not to discuss budgetary or policy matters with councillors.

Council leader, John Kent (Lab) has told YT where the issue goes from here.

“The democratic will of the council has said that we need to investigate whether the proposal is viable. That is what we will do. Officers are spending a great deal of time researching the matter.

Cabinet meets in April to discuss the issue but a decision may not be made until July. Who is in power to make such a decision will of course be made on May 5th.”


  1. This shows how “Clever” Garry Hague and Tory colleagues are with money. Nearly Bankrupted the Council before. £3 a year Council Tax cut to everyone saving £145000 from Budget (which could have gone to Community Forums restructuring) but prepared to lose a million for political vanity over Grays Beach.
    Community College / Grays Beach / Council Tax – supreme Political Stupidity.
    Wasting Council Tax payers money to achieve political points.
    March tomorrow against cuts – Victoria Embankment 11am – Keep Thurrock Green oppose the easy planning rules.

  2. Thank you
    Extract in full
    “2 From Councillor A Wilton
    “It was great news that Grays Beach Park has regained its Green Flag
    Status. Can you confirm the periods of time that Grays Beach Park had
    been awarded the Green Flag Status from the first award in 2000?”
    Councillor Hipsey
    Thank you again Mr Mayor and also Councillor Wilton for your
    question. Grays Beach Park was awarded a green flag for the
    following periods:
    June 2000 to June 2003 (3 awards)
    There was no green flag awarded from 2003 to 2004.
    2004 to 2007 there are 3 awards.
    There was no green flag awarded from June 2007 to June 2008
    Grays Beach Park has now regained its green flag award and that will
    cover the period from June 2008 to June 2009.
    Supplementary question from Councillor Wilton
    I have a copy of the Labour Party Thurrock News and contained within
    it is a very colourful article on the Grays Beach. Prior to the
    Conservatives taking control of Thurrock Council in 2004, had the Cory
    Environmental Trust threatened or demanded back the money it had
    contributed to the park. Thank you.
    Councillor Hipsey
    Thank you Councillor for your question. And the answer is as follows:
    In 2002, a year before the Green Flag was first lost, our friends on the
    opposition benches looked at various options including testing the
    market for outsourcing the Grays Park. It was reported that if Labour’s
    privatisation of Grays Beach had gone ahead under the rules, £1.3m
    would have been returned to the Trust. The previous Labour
    Administration subsequently decided not to proceed the option to
    outsource Grays Beach. And finally I would like to thank Councillor
    Kent who was, who still is, one of the Grays Riverside Councillors
    vehemently argued to keep it in Thurrock Council. Well done.”

    What is going on – in whom do we trust?

  3. Where is Gary Hague? Should he not be defending his troops following this massive wipe out of Thurrocks public services. Is he coming back or has Gledhill finally seen him off paving the way to take over the helm.

    Thurrock Tories are just not reading the signs here are they.

    The residents of Thurrock do not want to see Grays Beach privatised in any shape way or form. This park is such a jewel in our crown and i am sure i would speak for the majority in fully backing any action taken by Cory Environmental Trust to block any moves that would lead us into our parks privatisation.

    Barry Johnson talks about packaging it all up and giving all the services to a trust – two weeks ago Gary Hague spoke in his interview on Your Thurrock about this and clearly let slip that this organisation would be Impulse Leisure. Gary talks about his colleagues having talks with them – would these collegues be Cllr Neil Rockcliffe and Cllr Tunde Ojeotola who both have places on the Impulse Leisure board of directors.

    I along with every rate payer in Thurrock would expect that this council whoever is in charge would do all it could to protect our parks and green spaces – if it costs a bit of our council tax so what – the tories seem to think that they dont need it all anyway so gave every household £3 per year back. If it was at the expense of our park then reverse this stupid decision now.

  4. Cllr Johnson in reply to your counterparts comment – Your alternative budget which you had consulted no residents on was full of cuts to frontline services.

    As with all no overall control councils there was always goin to be a challenge but lets be clear Thurrock Tories agreed with over 97% of the Labour budget that was put forward and this all went through unopposed.

    Lets remind you of some of the cuts your alternative budget gave Thurrock residents.

    Cuts to council staff working week form 5 days to 4
    Cut cabinet from 10 to 8 even though it was the tories that increased it from 8 to 10
    Impose further cuts to Transvol
    Cut budgets to councillors to work with the wider communities that had cross party agreement prior to the meeting
    Privatise – Grays beach –
    Privatise – Thameside Theatre
    Privatise the village halls
    Shut Grays Adult Community College – Relocate to a building that has not even got to the plannning stage yet.
    Make homeless all the other groups that rent space at the community college.
    Introduce David Camerons Big Society idea and use Vertex money to do it.

    What sort of alternative budget do you think this is – These cuts hit residents and hit them hard.

  5. Whilst I have never been a supporter of the previous and incumbent Labour councillors in Thurrock who have continually wasted the publics money, I must confess that Mr Hagues plans to sell off the boroughs prize winning assets which are used by lots of residents are completley bonkers.

    We all know that councils have got to be frugal especially with the recent announcement that the Council Tax is to be frozen across all boroughs and savings have to be made from somewhere, can the current cabinet not find the savings elsewhere, maybe less money to organizations like TRUST that do not incorporate the whole community of Thurrock.

    I have said it before, why not save the money by axing the Mayoral role of the borough, I am sure that this position is not required along with the expences that they incur with the car and other costs.

    I would imagine that like most Councils there are a lot of positions that replicate the roles, these should be streamlined, Ok that may mean some redundancies but this may be needed to help the wider community.

    Do we really require so many local councillors who claim amounts on expenses, try merging wards to cut the amount by 50%.

    Maybe those in office could take a small pay cut or a 2/3 year freeze, also start looking at the amounts of expences that they claim, after all those of us who work outside of the public sector have to pay for the things that these Councillors can claim for.

    Something needs to be done and sooner rather than later before we have nothing left in Thurrock that we cab rightly call our own

  6. Whilst I vent my frustration at events unless I do something at Council nothing will happen. So letter and petition campaign. Very, very worried about planning and the consequences of easing of regulations.


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