Labour councillor left angry after Tory response to planning issues in South Ockendon

LIMITED engagement and a lack of basic information is how Labour councillors have summed up a residents meeting where a Conservative councillor was accused of being unable to answer questions on housing.

Thurrock Council has been under fire for weeks after revealing a list of potential housing development sites where they could build up to 1,500 social and affordable homes over the next 10 years.

On Monday, a meeting of the Belhus and Ockendon Residents Forum was attended by around 100 people expecting answers from Conservative Councillor Barry Johnson, who oversees housing, about why open green space was included as development land.

But Labour Councillor Sue Shinnick, who represents Ockendon, accused Mr Johnson for being “unable to answer their most fundamental questions”.

Ms Shinnick said: “Councillor Johnson told local residents, the forum wasn’t a consultation and they’d have to wait for the official consultation to start to make their views heard.

“When asked when the consultation would open, he said he didn’t know.

“Local people were left angered at the lack of basic information and the unwillingness of Councillor Johnson to engage with them in a meaningful way about his plans. He seems to lack the basic knowledge of his own plans.

“Residents don’t know if they have to wait three months or three years before they are formally consulted on building on their open green spaces.”

Mr Johnson has refuted the claims, explaining that he was invited to the meeting by the forum secretary and found that Ms Shinnick had invited residents under “false pretences”. He said there are “no plans to build on a number of green spaces”.

“I explained that it was their input from a full consultation that I was seeking,” said Mr Johnson.

“Feelings certainly did run high but no doubt fuelled by the Labour groups scaremongering.

“I pointed out that individual petitions for each area would certainly resonate more with me than a politically motivated petition from Labour.

“I promised to listen when the consultation feedback is complete and the meeting closed some two hours later after I had answered many questions.

“Councillor Shinnick’s suggestions that residents left the meeting angered with feelings that I had not engaged certainly do not resonate with my email inbox and calls I have received. Residents were informed that the consultation would begin as soon as possible.”

The extra homes are part of a bid to meet a government-directed housing target that calls on the council to find space for 32,000 new homes as part of the Local Plan.

The government wants to see all councils delivering more homes over the next 18 years and if they fail to do so, there could be intervention from Westminster that could see officials from outside the borough making decisions about where homes are built.

At a cabinet meeting last month, Mr Johnson acknowledge the proposed sites will not please everybody and many could be removed following the consultation. However, he said the list was published in the interest of transparency.

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