All change at Basildon … again

By Michael Hardware, Director of Planning and Property

The politics of Basildon Council never provides a dull moment: for the fourth time, in as many years, the administration has changed hands again. The May local elections saw the council move into ‘no overall control’ with the Conservatives losing two seats and its slim majority.

The opposition groups have joined in an alliance to form an administration, but it has required all of the minority party members, including Labour, Independents and one UKIP. Gavin Callaghan (Lab) is the new leader with Kerry Smith (Ind) his deputy.

The impact of these continual changes in administration have led to flop-flopping in the local plan with sites added in, then taken out, and then added in again. The changes of chair of the relevant committee, now called the Infrastructure and Inclusive Growth Committee, have led to a lack of consistent leadership which has not only delayed the local plan but must be a source of huge frustration for the officers.

That frustration may all be over as the local plan has been submitted and the EiP is expected in the autumn. That said, the council is currently seeking a slight delay while it considers the implications of a ministerial direction concerning air quality around the A127. This may lead to some changes.

The new leadership at Basildon has made some bold statements. Cllr Gavin Callaghan sees climate as key saying, “this will be the greenest administration ever”. His main initial aims are to take Basildon out of Essex, making it a unitary authority like Southend and Thurrock next door, and getting the streetlights turned back on at night (perhaps in direct conflict with his climatic aspirations). He does not mention the local plan, although it is short of numbers – there are no prizes for guessing where they will be allocated: the staunchly blue town of Billericay.