Article by Charles Thompson: Councillor have approved plans to spend £350,000 on improvements for Billericay High Street, over the protests of Labour councillors representing deprived areas in Basildon.
The cash will be spent on new bins, benches, railings, bollards, lighting and information boards. The war memorial will also be illuminated and flower baskets will be attached to lamp posts.
The council claimed the works would ’strengthen the sense of place’ and create ’a sense of pride’. But Labour accused Tories of pandering to their heartland at the expense of more deserving areas.
Tory councillor Phil Turner defended the proposal in a public meeting last Tuesday, October 2. He said the Billericay investment was ’pitiful’ compared to his party’s projects south of the A127, like building the Sporting Village and purchasing Freedom House to revamp Basildon town centre.
He also highlighted the redevelopment of part of Pitsea town centre, which saw the swimming pool demolished and replaced with The Range. He said:
“Pitsea has never looked better. Nobody denies that Pitsea does look good, where it’s been touched in that respect. We need to do more for Pitsea... But equally, other areas of the borough need that investment too. Billericay needs that investment to keep pace with the way of life. What the Labour party do is they set one community against the other. That’s got to stop. It’s not Billericay against the rest of the borough. We are absolutely in this together.”
Pitsea Labour councillor Andrew Ansell responded:
“We shouldn’t be spending this amount of money on a High Street that’s fine – Billericay High Street looks fantastic – especially when there is a far greater need for investment in other areas of our borough, like Pitsea. You mention that we are all in this together, but it’s just odd that some of the first things this new administration did was to give Billericay [free] parking, take homes out of the Local Plan from Billericay, and it was Billericay councillors that got a pay rise.”
Labour leader Gavin Callaghan denied his group was ’playing politics’, saying there was ’considerable anger’ in the community about a perceived bias towards the north of the A127.
He cited a heated public meeting in Pitsea last month, organised by Cllr Ansell in response to fears about rising crime. He said:
“When we have had in Pitsea, just two, three weeks ago, such levels of anger, the idea that we sit here tonight and say, ’We must spend £350,000 on flowerboxes so that we can keep pace with a way of life’, I think is completely and utterly ridiculous, and I think the public will not forgive us.”
Cllr Ansell moved two amendments, firstly to redirect the money into CCTV and lighting in Pitsea and secondly to redirect the money into improvements on Pitsea’s Rydene estate.
Tory councillors voted down both amendments but Cllr Turner moved his own amendments to add both Pitsea proposals to the council’s work programme
With Cllr Turner’s amendments attached, the Leisure, Culture and Environment Committee – including Cllr Ansell – unanimously voted through the Billericay investment.
Article by Charles Thompson, Yellow Advertiser