In July of this year, I moved a motion at Full Council as follows:
“Given the considerable costs incurred when illegal/unauthorised occupation of Council land takes place, Council believes that pro-active action should be taken to protect such land from incursions using whatever means necessary to prevent vehicle access and the establishment of residential encampments and requires the Regeneration and Environment Committee to consider at its next meeting the options for this being undertaken and commenced at the earliest opportunity.”
Basildon Borough has an increasing problem with illegal encampments and my ward of Crouch has had more than its fair share, most recently back in June when a group of Travellers pitched up on the playing field off Wash Road in Noak Bridge, just days before the village summer fête. This was very upsetting for local residents, whose children could not play football because a clothes line was erected between the goalposts and there were also residents’ reports of public urination. So I felt I had a very strong mandate from my residents to seek urgent action from the Council.
My motion was unanimously passed by the Council, so I was hopeful that something would be done quickly. But I should have known better. Despite putting their hands up for my motion, the new Administration were quick to find an excuse to duck the issue. This I discovered when the matter became before the Regeneration & Environment Committee last month. Despite an officer report that outlined the fact that Basildon Council has already spent £60,000 over the past twelve months dealing with the consequences of these kinds of incursions, the Labour-led coalition proposed to spend £30,000 on an entirely unnecessary ‘survey’ of Council-owned land, which will take an estimated six months to complete. Before the Conservatives lost administration, we had begun a scheme whereby a list of vulnerable areas of land was being compiled with a view to seeking Harlow-style injunctions. That piece of work had been ongoing when we left office but there has been no news of it since, leading to a suspicion that the new Administration junked it. Either way, officers are already well aware of where the vulnerable areas are. So why do we need to pay consultants tens of thousands of pounds to tell us what we already know? The Council could take action now but instead they want to waste six months and spent £30K.
I attempted to propose an amended resolution at the meeting (you can hear my speech at 23:17 on the audio-recording here), suggesting that the Council adopt a phased approach, using Noak Bridge as a pilot area, and acting to protect our most vulnerable areas and then progressing by stages to identify and install preventative measures where necessary but, ultimately, to pursue the injunction route. This amendment was seconded by my colleague Cllr Andrew Schrader (Con, Billericay East) and supported by Conservative colleagues on the committee but was voted down by the coalition members.
The Council wasted no time in putting out a press release announcing the ‘review’ but what a shame that, once again, the new Administration are fobbing off the residents of Basildon with expensive ‘studies’ instead of action being taken.
Cllr Terri Sargent
Councillor for Crouch