Thurrock Council accused of misleading Grays business owner for Civic Centre photo opportunity

THE owner of an independent café in Grays has accused Thurrock Council of using a photograph of him to promote the redevelopment of the Civic Centre – a scheme that will lead to the demolition of his business.

Gledhill

Sadik Alakirik, owner of the Angel Café in Grays, said his business took a downturn after it was revealed it would be demolished to make way for the council’s £10million Civic Centre expansion and he had launched a petition urging customers not to support the plan.

Soon after, Mr Alakirik received a visit from council leader Rob Gledhill who promised to promote that the café remains open.

“I told him that we may have to shut and he said he’d like to take photographs to show that we are still open,” he explained.

“People think we are already shut so we said ok we’ll take a picture – this was about six or seven weeks ago.”

The picture of Mr Alakirik being handed money by the council leader was then used on July 5 when the council published a statement promoting regeneration plans for Grays, including the Civic Centre.

It included confirmation that four properties, including Angel Café, had been purchased – all are earmarked for demolition to make way for the Civic Centre plans.

The council and Councillor Rob Gledhill were asked to explain why the photograph had been used to promote the Civic Centre redevelopment and they referred to the statement in which Mr Gledhill stressed that the council would work to ensure businesses remain open “throughout this process”.

He said: “I would encourage local residents to continue to make use of these excellent local shops and café while relocation takes place.

“We are a council which is here to help businesses, especially highly valued small local traders like these, so I wanted to make sure that the leaseholders who operate these establishments know we are available and will make sure that they will get all the assistance they need when it comes to time to relocate.

“Our ambitious regeneration plans will set a tone for the future high-quality development of Grays town centre, invigorate the High Street and encourage more people to use our small businesses. We want local business to be at the heart of these plans.”

After questions were raised by the Local Democracy Reporting Service about the use of the photo, it was removed from the council’s website.

The former Labour Group leader and parliamentary candidate John Kent said he “cannot recall a time when the authority has been so far removed from the needs of local residents” and it had left him “shocked by the level of arrogance and contempt”.

He added: “I have to question Councillor Gledhill’s sensitivity to issues that have clearly upset and aggravated a wide section of the Grays local community.”

Labour leader, Councillor Jane Pothecary, said: “I am appalled that they have used a photograph suggesting support from Sadik when he has the most to lose from this project and is desperate to save his business.”

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