It looks as though there will be discussions between Thurrock and Basildon councils about various ways of working together, with merging into one unitary authority as one of the possibilities: Leaders agree to discussions that may lead to merger of Thurrock and Basildon. As we’ve only just heard about this, what follows is an initial reaction.
For readers outside of Thurrock and Basildon, it should be noted that Thurrock is run by the Tories and Basildon is run by an alliance of Labour and a number of independents. Some people may think that the political ‘differences’ between the two would be a barrier to any discussions about working more closely and possibly merging. Given that both councils are in bed with an array of property developers, those differences aren’t really going to matter.
This is because from our point of view, local authorities exist in (a large) part to facilitate what developers want with just a pretence of consultation with us mere plebs. From the perspective of a developer looking to build in the south of Essex, having to deal with what may eventually be one unitary authority will be a lot easier than dealing with two separate councils. What’s not to like?
Well, from the perspective of us mere plebs who pay our council taxes to fund local authorities, there’s a lot to not like at all. The bigger an authority is, the more remote they’re going to be from the people they’re supposed to be serving. Thurrock and Basildon working more closely and possibly merging is not about providing a better level of services to us – it’s about ‘growth’ and serving the whims of the developers.
All this will do is further alienate people from a local democracy that many have already lost faith in. It will certainly alienate them from a planning process which feels as though it’s something done to them rather than anything they have a meaningful say in.
Looking at what’s coming up in the area we cover, particularly with the freeport proposal and the Lower Thames Crossing, a lot of changes are coming. Given the transport corridors both Thurrock and Basildon are on, plus the predominance of the logistics industry in the region, we are going to end up living in some form of linear city. One that will be imposed upon us rather than one that evolves with the active input of people living in the south of Essex.
We had a quick look at some of the comments on social media about this idea and so far, the overwhelming consensus is that a ‘super authority’ is not a good idea. It will be interesting to see how the leaders of the respective authorities play this one given the tarnished reputations of both. As stated previously, this is just an initial reaction. There’s a lot to unpack here and we will be doing that in greater depth over on our Estuary Stirrings blog.