Hope for Grays Ath as Woodward’s Aveley homes scheme gets green light

CONTROVERSIAL plans for a 501 home housing estate on a sports club in Aveley look set to get the green light after the casting vote of Thurrock Council planning committee’s chairman went against his own officers’ recommendations.

At Thursday evening’s meeting of the planning committee details were given of a plan to build the homes on the former London Fire Brigade Sports and Social Club.

Councillors heard a lengthy and detailed report from planning officer Gallagher who spoke of the merits of the scheme, including a community support package which would see an £800,000 contribution towards a new sports hall at Treetops school in Grays, new sports pitches and changing rooms at Belhus and a new bowls club as part of the development. Those offers were part of the section 106 agreement which developers have to make to offset the impact of their schemes. Contributions were also included to meet education and health costs.

However, Mr Gallagher and his colleagues recommended that the scheme be rejected. He put forward five detailed arguments for the recommendation, most significantly being that the development would have an “overwhelming” negative impact on the greenbelt.

A packed gallery heard the developers’ agent Nigel Bennett ridicule those arguments and he spoke of his client’s disappointment with the recommendation after spending months working on the project in close liaison with the Council’s planning department.

The company behind the scheme is Westview Properties, which is run by former Grays Athletic owner Mick Woodwood. He was in the gallery to watch events unfold, reaching a dramatic conclusion when councillors were split 4-4 when voting on the proposal. Chairman Cllr Terry Hipsey, who had abstained in the vote, then made the decision to approve the plans – to cries of “shame” from the public gallery where a significant number of objectors to the scheme were also sat. Their views had been put to the meeting by local councillor Maureen Pearce, who told the meeting she was speaking as part of a joint objection with fellow ward councillor Robert Ray.

Because the vote went against the officer’s recommendation, Cllr Hipsey then had to come up with a recommendation supporting the developers. He did, saying the Section 106 benefits to the community outweighed the impact of the greenbelt. His proposal was then put to the vote and went through 5-4, but that immediately prompted the intervention of the Council’s Head of Planning and Growth who said that he declared the planning approval to be “tentative” and so Cllr Hipsey’s recommendation will have to be brought back to the next planning meeting on 24 October for final approval.

Earlier in the meeting Mr Gallagher had detailed one of the letters of objection, which came from Aveley Football Club, saying the plans to relocate sports pitches to Belhus could compromise their own planned new ground at that site.

Ironically, while they might suffer because of last night’s decision, local rivals Grays Athletic, who are currently tenants of Aveley at their Mill Field ground, are set to benefit from any approval as Treetops School have earmarked a gift of part of their playing fields to Grays Athletic for a new ground because of the £800,000 they will be getting for the sports hall.

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