RESIDENTS turned out to hear plans for 500 new homes in Aveley – and proved a tough audience for the panel of would-be developers to crack reports the Thurrock Enquirer.
Tuesday evening’s annual meeting of Aveley Community Village Forum became a platform for four representatives of the team behind the new homes project on the site of the former Fire Brigade Club.
They bravely put their head in the lion’s den and came up against some biting comments from residents who were clearly unimpressed by their arguments.
Lead presenter was Nigel Bennett, a partner in Metropolis PD, who are the prime movers behind a bid to get the site adopted under Thurrock Council’s soon-to-be-reviewed preferred site allocation in
its local development plan.
Currently the site includes a multi-room sports, social and function club, with sports pitches and a bowling green.
Under the plans the club will make way for 500 homes, most of them designed for families, while the football pitches will transfer to ‘scrubland’ adjacent to Belhus Sport Centre. The developers say they will also relocate the bowls club but have not yet identified a site.
As well as creating new sports pitches and changing rooms at Belhus, Metropolis have also offered to provide new pitches and a sports hall at Treetops Special school in Grays.
That echoed previous plans suggested by the leaseholder of the land at Aveley, former Grays Athletic Chief Executive Mick Woodward, who tried and failed to broker a housing and sporting deal with the now defunct Thurrock Thames Gateway Development Corporation.
His initial scheme, in conjunction with house-builder Weston Homes, was also to provide a new £700,000 stadium for Grays Athletic – though that idea appears to have been dropped from the latest proposals which Mr Bennett said have already been discussed in detail with Thurrock Council’s head of major projects, Nigel Hebden. Ironically, it was the Development Corporation, where Mr Hebden was senior planning officer, that blocked previous bids to develop the Aveley site.
However, Mr Bennett says he has had an encouraging response from Mr Hebden and his new colleagues at Thurrock Council.
He did stress to Aveley residents though, that the current scheme was very much in its infancy, and the idea of Tuesday’s meeting was very much the beginning of a consultation process with residents.
He said: “We are putting this site through the local plan process for site allocation at the moment and we are nowhere near putting in a planning application.
“That will only come after consultation, which starts with you tonight. “
Mr Bennett said that as well as Thurrock Council, discussions had also taken place with Sport England and Treetops, with a view to ensuring the project had a community and sporting legacy.
“We will also make sure the bowls club is relocated and we are looking to locate four new junior pitches and five new senior football pitches at Belhus Park. We are also working with Treetops, who have planning permission for a sports hall and as part of any 106 planning agreement we would build that for them as part of the package.
Funding for all of the community activity would come from the sale of new homes on the site at Aveley, which Mr Bennett said was already being coveted as a profitable site. “We are talking to a number of housebuilders, there is lots of interest in this site,” he said.
Residents, however, seem less than impressed with the plans, citing potential problems with traffic, sewage, and a lack of community facilities including health provision and education in the area.
A common theme from those who spoke was that they felt Aveley itself was getting a raw deal, with little infrastructure happening in the immediate area.
Mr Bennett conceded he did not have much detail to offer but stressed the developers wanted to talk to the local community about their needs and what could be developed in the area.
Despite his repeated assurances that his company were very much at the beginning of the process, the message appeared not to get through to some, with an emotive address from members of the bowls club, who feared being thrown off their site immediately after putting in thousands of pounds of work on their facility.
The mood of the audience was perhaps summed up by local councillor Maureen Pearce who said she was “disappointed” with the lack of detail in the presentation, adding: “I don’t trust you, I don’t trust Thurrock Council and I smell a rat. I shall be fighting this all the way and voting against it.”