By Local Democracy Reporter
BENEFIT to the public is the top reason that the council’s planning officers have recommended that controversial plans for Thurrock Council to extend their offices are approved.
The £10 million plan is set to go before Thurrock’s planning committee next week and if permission is granted it would see the existing offices on New Road, Grays split in two.
One side would be retained and extended for council use and the other converted into a residential area comprised of 120 flats.
The council’s Conservative administration has been keen to see the plans through, claiming they are vital for the regeneration of Grays.
A report published by the council’s planning team notes that while the extension will mean the demolition of four independent businesses, as well as a residential flat, this loss is “balanced against the wider benefits of the development”.
One example cited in the report is the loss of Angel Café, which is currently located next door to the council offices.
It is noted that this business will be lost if the extension goes ahead but the fact that a new café will be included within the extension will “offset” this loss.
There is no information on whether Angel Café owner Sadik Alakirik will be offered the opportunity to relocate his business into this new café or if any relocation will be offered to any of the businesses lost in this process.
The report goes on to say that the demolition of the businesses will also “open up vistas of the church along New Road”, which will “enhance the significance” of the Grade II listed St Peter’s and St Paul’s church.
The extension will also mean the loss of Mulberry Square garden but planning officers regard this loss as acceptable because “improved open areas in and around the site would be usable for residents and visitors and would also improve the quality of the street scene”.
The report concludes that councillors should grant planning permission because the plans will “create a high quality, distinctive landmark” building and the loss of the four businesses should be accepted due to the “public benefits that would result from the development”.
This recommendation has come three months after the majority of councillors voted in favour of a motion from Labour leader Jane Pothecary that said the development should be scrapped.
Ms Pothecary told councillors in June that the public does not understand why £10million would be spent on new council offices.
The council’s cabinet has still not discussed this decision and with the next cabinet meeting not scheduled until September it is possible that when they do, plans will have already been approved.
The council report states that they have had 10 letters of objection, with residents raising concerns such as “no benefit to the community” and a “waste of public money”.