By Independent candidate, Jim Woollard
“I WAS recently contacted by the Chairman of Thurrock Independents and he posed some questions that he intended to send to all of the candidates. This was just prior to the Hustings and because of that I replied to him that I wouldn’t answer them until after the event. The reason for this was that some of the questions were very similar to questions that had been posed for the Hustings and I didn’t think it a good idea to pre-empt that event by making my answers public.
During the original mail the Chairman of the Thurrock Independents Oliver Smith, stated Quote:” Our members and Councillors, like all Thurrock residents, will have opinions on who to vote for in this election. However, the Thurrock Independents will not be formerly endorsing any candidate.”
This was mailed out at the same time as Jackie Doyle-Price published an article which Your Thurrock also circulated that clearly stated that Councillor Allen Mayes would be supporting her for the 2019 General Election Quote: “Thurrock Independents Councillor Allen Mayes has today come out in support of me and the Conservatives for the General Election on 12th December 2019”
From this publication it made it seem that the Thurrock Independents did indeed support a candidate and I challenged Oliver over this fact. He has since replied Quote: “In reference to the stance of TI on the elections, our councillors are not whipped so are free to do as they choose. My personal stance is to not come out in support of any candidate as I believe this risks our position as an independent local issue focused body but without a party whip I can’t force everyone to do as I choose!”
So the conclusion I suppose is that Thurrock Independents are not as cohesive and you would think. I would also suggest that political figures should make it clear the difference between personal opinion and party policy.
And now to the point of this article. The questions posed and answered are as below:-
Thurrock is facing a housing crisis. Property prices mean that buying a home is no longer an option for many: especially young people. Rents are unaffordable for many local residents. For those who can afford to rent, the proportion of their income spent on housing costs is a heavy burden on their quality of life and on the local economy. Every pound spent on housing costs is a pound lost to the local economy. Thurrock has no plans to build a significant amount of council homes. Families are being forced out of the borough. The proposed 32,000 home local plan seems almost certain not to include the building of council homes in serious numbers.
Q. What plans do you have to resolve the housing crisis in Thurrock and provide genuinely affordable homes to Thurrock residents?
The current trend, which has been going on for quite some time, of only building housing for sale has to stop. We have seen the promises of a percentage of new builds must be for affordable housing often ignored and as you have said even when they are built they are still outside the price range of most new buyers in the borough. Most new housing seems to be for people moving into the borough and not for those already here, struggling to find accommodation. What we need is a massive investment in council accommodation.
Of the 53,700 homes in the Parliamentary Ward of Thurrock under 10,000 of these are council properties. That is a fall of nearly 300 since 2015. The council’s statement of 2018 said
“It is not our policy to raise revenue from the sale of council housing. Any net income that can be released from the sale of housing, after central government contributions, is invested back into social housing.”
We have seen no evidence of this in practical terms. We need a new policy led by government, that 50% of all new housing should be council accommodation.
Many places in Thurrock have become increasingly dangerous in recent times. Indeed, some places, and we include Grays town centre, are becoming no-go zones in the evenings. Gangs are operating; drugs are being openly sold; violent crimes have become commonplace. It appears that in many areas the police have lost control of public spaces altogether.
Q. Thurrock has faced a surge in crime, disorder and anti-social behaviour. What will you do to make our streets safe again?
Data from the House of Commons Briefing Paper No. 00634 31/10/19 shows that since 2010 we have had a fall of 21,600 police officers in the United Kingdom. We have also lost 7,371 PCSO’s, 4,865 Specials, 18,616 Civilian Support Staff. The population has grown by almost 5 million over the same period. Based on a simple calculation of Police officers by population we should have 184,865. We currently have 150,000 showing a short fall of 34,865. So the governments pledge of 20,000 new police officers is not sufficient. With these figures it is not surprising that we see an increase in crime. What we need is an increase of Police or PCSO’s on the streets. Having mobile officers is all well and good but they do not see the anti-social behaviour happening at street level. They are also not such a deterrent as Officers walking the streets. As a bus driver
I know first hand how long you have to wait for police assistance when antisocial behaviour occurs. Often I have seen drivers wait hours for help and that simply isn’t good enough. At Lakeside you see armed police walking through the centre on a regular basis. They have a small station above the office in the bus station at lakeside and there are always officers present. Why cant this happen in Grays. I would put pressure on Essex Police to make sure that the new officers promised for this borough are used in this fashion.
Air quality and pollution are a major problem in Thurrock: a problem that is reflected in the levels of respiratory disease in Thurrock. This will only get worse with the proposed Lower Thames Crossing, 32,000 homes and major industrial expansion.
Q. What key policies do you believe need to be implemented in order to tackle air pollution and contaminants in Thurrock?
This question kind of combines two of the questions we had from the Hustings. Firstly the Dartford Crossing.
Having the crossing anywhere in Thurrock will not help Thurrock with the congestion and pollution problems of the borough. My alternative proposal would be to use the A12-A130 corridor. Then to pass under Canvey and across the river to the Ilse of Grain A2/M2. This would link the east coast ports from Felixstow to Dover and those in between. This will reduce most of the east bound traffic that uses the current crossing. By moving the crossing further east we spread the pollution levels with the idea of allowing the environment more chance of dealing with it. Also by moving it further east we thin out the impact of congestion when something goes wrong on the crossing. Not part of your question my I am also committed to lobbying to get the current crossing charge scrapped as promised so many times. The current excuse is it controls the use of the crossing.
This is utter nonsense. It can only be used as that if there is a viable free alternative. People don’t use the crossing for fun they use it because they have to.
Second Air Pollution.
We all know that green spaces help to reduce pollution levels and process carbons from the atmosphere. Any new builds, as part of the planning approval, should have a detailed plan on what measures the developer is going to take to protect the majority of existing trees. Where trees have to be removed plans should be in place to plant the same number of new trees. If it is deemed insufficient permission should be withheld until brought up to an acceptable level.
We have all seen the drive to lower emissions from vehicles and the push towards electric vehicles. So far this primarily consists of charging people to drive through a low emissions zone. That doesn’t really solve the issue. All it does is increase the costs of getting places and moving goods. I’ve seen a few reports on the internet that bring into question whether electric vehicles are actually any better than combustion engines for reducing pollutants. This is down to an excessive processing requirement for the manufacturing of the vehicles and the batteries. There is also the overhead of producing the electric to charge the batteries. However this could improve with the research into Graphite batteries. These charge in a fraction of the time compared to current batteries which will of course reduce the charging overhead. We need to support this kind of research and find cleaner alternatives.
GP waiting times in Thurrock are entirely unacceptable. People’s health and well-being is being directly affected by the waiting times. Mental health services are entirely inadequate with people waiting until they have hit absolute rock bottom before they receive any meaningful treatment. Basildon hospital has persistently been in the news for poor performance. Orsett hospital is facing closure.
Q. Health care services are struggling in Thurrock. How would you address this? How much extra funding would be required to bring the services back to an acceptable level? What reforms, in the delivery of health services, would you promote?
The NHS as a whole has been struggling since 2010. At that point the budget for the NHS was 7.6% of GDP. This has consistently fallen to a level of 7.1% of GDP but over the same period we have seen a population increase of around 5 million. Add that together with an aging population and you can see it is in a major deficit of funding(source: Nufield report ). Orsett Hospital first came under attack in 1986 with the closure of the Maternity, Gynaecological and Children’s Services. This happened while we had a Labour MP, Oonagh McDonald. In 1991 we saw the closure of the A&E against public out cry. This time we had a Conservative MP, Tim Janman. In 1998 despite fierce public opposition and the refusal of Thurrock Council to grant planning permission the Labour Environment Secretary John Prescott granted permission for most of the Hospital to be demolished for new housing (Source Lost London Hospitals). The Hospital has continued to be slowing stripped of services and land despite having both Labour and Conservative MP’s elected for the borough. I believe it has gone too far now to save Orsett Hospital. Most of the land has gone leaving a very basic facility. This however should be preserved for medical services. What we need is a new A&E Hospital to be built in Thurrock. Basildon can not cope with the extra population across the region as we’ve seen time and again. We had our own hospital when the population of the borough was far less and we definitely need one now. I would fight for that regardless of with prime minister we had.
Our party considers the proposed 32,000 extra homes as entirely unsustainable. We believe that even half this level of extra homes will bring Thurrock to a standstill and cripple local health and educational services.
Recent infrastructure projects involving the council have been an unmitigated disaster. Projects, such as the A13 widening and Stanford-le-Hope train station refurbishment, have been significantly delayed and are wildly over-budget. Residents have been persistently inconvenienced and seen their council tax being frittered away due to embarrassingly poor project management.
Q. With 32,000 new homes and massive industrial expansion on the horizon, what will you do to make sure that required infrastructure projects, to facilitate such growth, are built first?
I would try and slow this massive expansion as a first point. As mentioned in a previous question I would push for 50% of all new housing to be council properties. I have had a few conversations in regards to the current taxation on new builds. I would want a total review of the s106 and CIL regulations as they do not seem fit for purpose any more.
A change to the planning laws are also required whereby all infostructure required to meet new demands are put in place before any further building happens.
Our schools have faced punitive funding cuts from government for almost a decade. It’s a testament to the commitment and care of educational staff that the system hasn’t entirely collapsed. Despite having a premier service within Thurrock, Special Educational Needs Services are woefully short of meeting demand.
Q. How much extra funding is required to release the pressure on our schools and meet the demand for SEN services? Would you promote any particular reforms to delivery of education services in Thurrock?
I’m still in the process of researching this topic. However from data I have seen from shoolcuts.org.uk it shows that 48 of our schools in the borough are in crisis situation with massive shortfalls in funding per student. It seems obvious with some of the other issues in the borough and indeed the country as a whole that the whole spending priorities needs to be addressed. How is it logical for the council to spend 10 million on a revamp of the civic offices when our services are so underfunded? Our roads are atrocious and the pressure on our borough is going to only increase with the government housing plans.
These are all very good questions and definitely outline some of the huge difficulties we face as a borough and indeed as a country.