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Saturday, 10 May 2014

Rocheway College's Uncertain Past and Future



On 9th November 1959 MP for Essex, South East - Bernard Braine -stood up in the House of Commons and spoke about the "the serious lack of provision for secondary education in Rochford; and, secondly, the inadequacy of present proposals to remedy that situation in the future". (At the time, with a far smaller population than now, MPs' constituencies covered far greater areas - the future Sir Bernard Braine's stretching to Thundersley).

In Rochford the problem was due to the massive post war population explosion, it had doubled since 1945. At the time, Rochford's primary Secondary School was at what is now the Adult Education Centre in Rocheway and it had run out of space. The result was that around 600 children were being taught in the local British Legion Hall, The Congregation Church (which he described as a "slum school out of Dickens") and other temporary accommodation.  

The existing situation was made worse for the existing school, Bernard Braine explained, by the expanding Southend Airport; "every fifteen minutes of the school's working day an aircraft takes off or comes in directly over the school building, making teaching difficult and sometimes intolerable for both staff and pupils. I know this myself, because I have attempted to speak in the school at such a time with aircraft overhead."

He explained that the situation was likely to worsen due to the proposed increase in airport movements.  

A year earlier an extension to the school had been proposed to deal with the situation.  However, the Ministry of Transport decided that, with Southend Airport's intended expansion, it was inappropriate to site any expansion directly beneath the take off and landing path.

Bernard Braine's appeal to the Commons, therefore, was for a brand new school to cope with the existing and projected new numbers for the District.

Mr Kenneth Thompson, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Ministry of Education, responded that the build of what is now known as Greensward Academy was underway and, additionally, referred to the future King Edmund school by saying that "The local education authority is trying at the present time to complete negotiations for the acquisition of the Oxford Road site to which my hon. Friend referred. Negotiations are almost completed. There are only one or two minor details to finalise and that school will be in the building programme for 1960–61". And so it was. Parliament keeping its word...

In recent years, the old School has continued to play its role in the centre of the community as a centre for Adult Education, a Nursery school and HQ for a local football club.  Now, all that is under threat as Essex County Council has given notice that it is centralising Rochford area Adult Education provision to Rayleigh.  

As the future for the College hangs in the balance, while Essex CC and Rochford DC establish whether the College can still play a role serving Rochford, Mini Marvels, the pre-school nursery, and others, are considering their options.  It is surely ironic that the expensive and controversial Disability Essex Centre next door may have been an ideal tenant and precious green belt need not have been sacrificed.  The worst case scenario is that no further use is found and this attractive and historic building is put up for Auction by Essex County Council as an Asset no longer required.  But that is not the case as I write, discussions to secure its future continue, so let's hope for the best and watch this space!

UPDATE 22nd May 2014

The Centre will still have a role to play until, at least, the end of the year as "Mini Marvels" has secured an extension on its lease until that time.






Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Transport Issues discussed at JAAP Inquiry


I attended a short (just over an hour) session this afternoon where the Government Inspector led a discussion on Transport issues arising from the JAAP plans.

There were 13 round the table, representatives from both Rochford and Southend Councils, as well as Essex Highways.  Also two from Friends of the Earth ("FOE") but no resident participation this time.  Interestingly, Cogent (think "Coombes Farm") were absent.  They had raised better East/West transport connectivity across the District as their requirement for supporting JAAP but I guess they did not feel that strongly about it after all.

The main points to come out from the discussions were the focus on required improvements to the local road network to support forecast traffic growth.  All agreed that the intention was for the A127 to take the brunt of the additional load and junction improvements, particularly at Kent Elms and The Bell junctions were discussed as essential, with work planned to start in the near future.

The new Saxon Business Park will have a main access from Cherry Orchard Way.  When discussing this, there was disagreement between Southend, Essex Highways (supported by a Consultant from "Atkins") and Rochford.  Atkins had undertaken traffic modelling to support a new roundabout  in Cherry Orchard Way to provide access to the Business Park.  They claimed that by doing so, there would no adverse impact on traffic flows on Hall Rd.  However, Rochford Councillor, Keith Hudson (who holds a Planning remit), supported by his Planning team, argued that, regardless of the traffic modelling, a "no right turn" (towards Rochford) would be their preference.  He made a strong case, saying that drivers always prefer the "easy option" and if it was easy for them to head East through Rochford (which a Roundabout would provide) then more would do so.  He wanted the JAAP plans to discourage traffic flowing through the centre of Rochford as far as possible.  This presents the Government Inspector with a dilemma, he has authoritative evidence from Atkins that a roundabout wouldn't worsen the situation versus reliable local knowledge that it would.  I know whose side I'm on!

East/West Connectivity was also discussed briefly, though the JAAP states that this is not an urgent requirement.  The Inspector asked, however, where a proposed route was intended to go.  Southend Council explained that the focus was on extending the newly built St Laurence Way towards Warners Bridge.  However, it was admitted that this would be a challenging project and require substantial demolition of existing housing, etc.  I think it's worth reiterating that there appeared to be no appetite by the Councils for making this a priority and, thankfully, the outer Southend bypass wasn't raised.

I was interested to hear about the provision of cycle routes through Rochford, given the District has barely any. JAAP provides for new routes to Saxon Business Park but Southend and Rochford advised that they are currently discussing additional routes, not already included in the plans.  I'll be following any developments in this area keenly. My personal wish is for the Prittle Brook route from Priory Park towards Rochford to be be invested in, and I know that this is on Sustrans "wish list" as well.

New bus routes were also discussed but Southend Council admitted that these were aspirational and nothing concrete had been agreed with the bus operators.  There was an admittance that this Country has a long standing history of minimum public funding for public transport.

Other items that came out of the afternoon included the fact that the Airport believes it has sufficient car parking capacity to support growth up to 2m passengers, so I don't know what will happen if growth ever exceeds this figure.

Southend Council stated that it did not believe there was a big problem with on street parking by Airport users at present and therefore no requirement for a Residents Parking Scheme or similar at this time.  The situation is reviewed annually, around August time however.

Park and Ride arrangements were initially included in an earlier iteration of JAAP.  Southend Council, however, admitted that such plans have now been withdrawn as the site identified for such plans falls within the Public Safety Zone, where no new building would be permitted.

The JAAP hearing continues next week and all relevant documents can be found from the home page of Rochford Council's home page.









Tuesday, 29 April 2014

Residents question Airport development plans at Government Inquiry


I attended the first session of the Joint Area Action Plan (JAAP) Examination today at the Civic Centre. JAAP is Rochford and Southend's plan for future expansion of the Airport, as well as Employment and Econmic growth and environmental proposals.

Chaired by a Government Inspector and attended by representatives from both Rochford and Southend Councils, and Interested parties, including Friends of the Earth, Residents, and Cogent (the Developer behind the Coombes Farm proposals), the purpose was to help the Inspector come to a decision on the "soundness" of the JAAP proposals.  This includes legal compliance to various Planning Laws and Environmental regulations.  The public were permitted to attend, though not speak, and it was a great opportunity to see how our Planning process works and, even more interestingly, democracy in action.

My initial reason for attending was to hear what Cogent had to say, particularly interested as I am about any developments on the green belt land that is Coombes Farm and which Cogent remain keen to develop for housing.  However, I found the whole session interesting and many facts were disclosed that dealt with some of the myths and misunderstandings that always seem to accompany major developments of this nature.

Very early on the impact of any new Airport at the Isle of Grain was discussed.  The Airport Commission will decide next Summer on where future Airport growth will take place and, if Kent is chosen, it's likely to lead to Southend's closure.  The Inspector therefore questioned whether the progress of JAAP should be suspended until the outcome of the Airport Commission's report is known.  Both Rochford and Southend Councils were adamant that their proposals were well developed (both have had their local development plans or "core strategies" as they're formally known signed off by the Government) and did not believe a Thames Estuary Airport would be chosen over Southend.  They also made the point that JAAP was not solely about the Airport but also to bring Saxon Business Park to fruition, as well as other developments.

Representatives from Friends of the Earth ("FOE") and Residents spoke throughout the session about poor communication from the Councils about the JAAP Proposals and restricted opportunities for the Public to participate in the decision making process. Whilst attention was drawn to the "Airports Consultative Committee" as the forum for the Public (as well as Councillors and other interested parties) to contribute to issues arising from Airport operation and development, FOE and Residents advised that some had been barred from participation due to being categorized as "vexatious" complainers, even though the number of complaints were minimal.  FOE pointed out that the Campaign Group "SAEN" (Stop Airport Expansion Now) had been prevented from joining the Committee altogether.

The issue of "Compulsory Purchases" was raised by one resident concerned about the possible loss of her home adjacent to Jubilee Country Park.  Rochford's Head of Planning, Mr.Scrutton, assured her that "over my dead body will Jubilee Park be bought by the Airport" and a member from Southend's planning team advised that there was no provision or reference to compulsory purchases in the JAAP proposals.  This last comment caused some uproar from some members of the Committee and Audience who were adamant that JAAP did include such references. The Inspector, however, noted that this issue was really beyond his terms of reference.

The threat of pollution, in particular to the River Roach, was a great concern and participating Residents drew attention to instances where the Airport had already been responsible for sewage deposits directly into the River.  The Councils, however, claimed that the Environment Agency had not flagged up any problems and the water quality was regularly monitored.  From my viewpoint, I felt FOE and Residents made a strong argument on this point, especially as the Airport wants to grow the numbers from 2 to 5m passenger per annum eventually. (On this point it's worth noting, and the Inspector made a specific mention of this, that JAAP only deals with a possible growth to 2m pa.  If the Airport grows to a point where 2m looks likely to be exceeded, it's back to the drawing board with the planning process).

Finally, and the whole reason for me attending, Cogent's contribution.  There will be a later session dedicated to Transport issues and this is Cogent's theme.  They do not believe the JAAP plans can be sound unless there is better access to the Airport from the East of the District.  The fact that this would also provide better access to their wished for development at Coombes Farm is entirely coincidental, of course.  At present Coombes Farm falls outside of the JAAP area and Cogent also, funnily enough, believe it should fall within it as it would probably increase their chances of obtaining a review of planning permission.

Monday, 19 August 2013

Stambridge Mill's dereliction




What remains of Stambridge Mill is a building site of half demolished structures and the derelict former office building.  Yesterday, walking past, I was surprised to see that the Developers have not secured the area and it's possible to walk around and into the skeleton of the buildings' remains. What a mess. Upturned and smashed up office furniture, including filing cabinets with spilled guts of reams of Allied Mills headed invoices from the 1980s, and before.  Graffiti everywhere.

I hope the site is secured before an accident, or yet another fire, occurs.  Eventually it'll be a new housing development, though I wouldn't be surprised if local residents have to endure this ugly reminder of Stambridge's heritage for a while longer.  The Developer, Inner London Group ("ILG"), is obliged to bear the cost of improved flood defences.  This will benefit their own scheme, of course, but also nearby properties - including homes in Mill Lane and Broomhill Nursing Home.

To undertake the scheme requires ILG to work with other land owners, including Cogent Land - owners of land at Coombes Farm and also the Environment Agency.  As it stands, it appears there are both technical and commercial obstacles preventing the flood defence scheme moving forward - for example ILG will require access to land that is owned by Cogent, and this is subject to commercial terms being agreed.  No doubt Rochford Council will come under pressure from the Public, complaining about the state of Mill site, in much the same way as nearby Esplanade House in Eastern Esplanade, Southend, has been left resembling a bomb site.

Robert Leonard, the Developer of Esplanade House, appear to be using that as a negotiating ploy to allow their own housing scheme to be agreed by Southend Council.  I hope ILG are not planning to use the same bargaining chip, threatening to allow the Mill to remain an eyesore for years, to try to force their redevelopment scheme to move forward with amended terms in their favour.  If this is the case, legislation is available to the Council to force the site to be cleared up and Rochford should not hesitate to consider using this if this becomes a protracted stand off.



Monday, 15 July 2013

Summer 2013 - Coombes Farm won't go away




Despite the Council's plans for future growth of the district being signed off by a Government Inspector, they are subject to ongoing review.  In fact, Hearings are taking place in September to discuss, amongst other things, whether housing schemes are going to plan - particularly that homes are being built in the numbers and timeframe set out by the Council.

Cogent Land, Owner of Coombes Farm, will be attending the Hearings.

It seems to me that those interested in ensuring that development does not take place at Coombes Farm should never rest easy, unfortunately.

Cogent Land own the land at Coombes Farm and they will be constantly looking to exploit any gaps or shortcomings in the Council's growth plans for Rochford.  If, for example, housing schemes fall behind schedule and the Council can be challenged that they are not complying with their own Plan, Cogent will be quick to step in with what they regard as an easily deliverable scheme for 250 homes plus...

See link below for Attendees at Hearings in September

http://www.rochford.gov.uk/sites/rochford.gov.uk/files/all_drafthearings_0.pdf

Wednesday, 17 October 2012

East Community Forum - 16th October

I attended the local Community Forum last night, in theory a great opportunity to put questions to representatives from both the local Council and Essex County Council.  Representatives were also available from the Police and Health Services.

Rochford Life has posted a summary of the meeting here;

http://www.rochfordlife.com/ForumOct12.html

I agree that it was a pity that there was such a poor attendance from the Public.  As an estimate, I reckon there were perhaps a dozen or so there at maximum.  I wonder how many people were actually aware the meeting was taking place?  Not everyone has the opportunity to regularly check the Council's website or read "Rochford Matters". That said, is also partly a case of public apathy?

Some of the questions raised, including by this writer, did indeed cover old ground.  Issues like youth nuisance in and around the Square, and the ongoing problem of traffic queuing to park in the Square blocking traffic, particularly buses, trying to pass through.

However, the reasons that questions like these are raised repeatedly are that the Council and other bodies are not properly responding to residents' concerns.  If issues are not addressed, the problems do not vanish.  So, as boring as it appeared to be for some of the members of the Form panel last night, people should keep holding the Council to account.  We pay our Council Tax and expect our reasonable concerns about local services to be listened to, and where possible, resolved.

Essex Highways had planned to reconfigure vehicle access to the Square so that entry and exit points were swapped around.  However, for a number of reasons, this appears to have been abandoned and any solution now lies years away for re-consideration as part of the "Rochford Area Action Plan".  At least this is what I was told by the Leader of the Council last night.  In the short term, the Council and the Police do not seem overly concerned about the frequent traffic chaos that occurs in the area.

And don't expect any resolution to the Youth nuisance any time soon either.  Because they are not committing any actual "crime" they will be allowed to congregate in as large a group as they wish, and to shout and swear as much as they like, causing grief to local residents and businesses alike.

That said, the Police did encourage anyone who felt a crime was being committed to contact them immediately.  A member of the Public complained that he and his neighbours had been regularly kept awake until the early hours by gangs congregating outside their properties.  Far more seriously than the usual shouting and screaming, he complained that urination in public, under age drinking, etc, was taking place.  It appeared, however, that this was the first time he had raised the issue with the Police.

Friday, 5 October 2012

Rochford Sorting Office - What's happening?



The Evening Echo recently reported that Rochford Delivery Office may close as the Post Office looks to save money by centralising operations at Short Street.  There is the potential jobs to be lost and the inconvenience caused by having to travel into Southend to pick up missed deliveries.  Whilst this isn't a "definite" yet, it does seem to be a genuine threat to a much cherised local service.  I am confident that the local community will fight this, however, and already some neighbours have designed some posters to raise awareness.

There is an opportunity to find out more about this, or any other local issue that concerns you, at the next Community Forum at 7pm on Tuesday, 16th October at The Hawthorn Centre, Rochford Hospital, Union Lane.  Follow this link for more info http://www.rochford.gov.uk/council_and_democracy/your_council/community_forums