Let’s just say that 2021 has been an eventful year in both Thurrock and Basildon. It’s been a year when the hubris and also the incompetence of the councils who are supposed to be serving us has been exposed to full view. It’s also been a year when residents and workers have started to fight back. So amidst all of the doom and gloom, there are a growing number of beacons of light. Let’s start by taking a look at what’s been going on across the area we cover…

Thurrock

Thurrock Council are in a deep financial crisis as a consequence of a poorly conceived and executed ‘borrow to invest’ strategy: Down the pan we go:( – December 1, 2021 and: Gaffes and finger pointing – just another day at Thurrock Council! – November 23, 2021. A crisis that residents will be paying for with austerity for years to come as jobs and services are cut in a desperate bid to balance the books: Austerity 2.0 – November 17, 2021. One of the many ways the council are trying to claw back some money is by trying to close the Thameside Complex in Grays which currently houses the theatre, library and the museum. Trying being the operative word because they’re meeting some stiff resistance to this: Save YOUR Thameside.

Some things never seem to change – almost three years on from the demolition of many of the buildings at Stanford-le-Hope railway station, we’re still waiting for the new, state of the art facility we were promised a good few years ago now: Still waiting for answers and a new railway station at Stanford-le-Hope:( – October 1, 2021. Also, we’re still waiting for the completion of the over-budget and delayed A13 widening and an end to the weekend closures that end up sending an unacceptable level of traffic through Stanford-le-Hope: Asking for a community… – November 24, 2021.

Then there’s the floods. We’re supposed to be in the driest region of the country yet when we get heavy rain, drainage systems fail and we get flooded. We’ve been hit two times this year, firstly back in January: After the flood…the questions… – January 16, 2021 and again in October: Again FFS! – October 21, 2021. After the floods in January, Thurrock Council said they would produce a report looking into the causes of the flooding. They did but to be honest, it was pretty evasive and disappointing: Not the holistic look at the January floods in Thurrock that we were hoping for – July 13, 2021. Currently, we’re left with buck passing between various parties as no one is willing to bite the bullet, do some joined up thinking and come up with a solution to the flooding issues we keep getting hit with: Passing the buck:( – October 26, 2021.

Before we move onto Basildon, we’ll leave you with our thoughts about the relationship between Thurrock Council and the concepts of transparency and accountability: Accountability? Transparency? – November 26, 2021. Basically, they’re two mutually exclusive concepts!

Basildon

One of the big issues in Basildon is the future of the town centre. A town centre that successive administrations at Basildon Council have allowed to slide into decline to the point where the developers think they come come in with their grandiose plans to level much of it and build high rise apartment towers aimed at affluent commuters without anyone raising objections. A town centre that became the subject of a masterplan that was swiftly nicknamed the ‘disasterplan’. Needless to say, many local residents did not like what was proposed. Up until the local elections in May, the previous Labour / Independent administration headed up by the puffed up ego known as Gavin Callaghan enthusiastically backed the town centre masterplan which would have facilitated this: Cllr. Gavin Callaghan – the master of bullshit! – April 23, 2021.

Unsurprisingly, the future of the town centre became an election issue. Somewhat disingenuously because the way the planning system is rigged, there’s only so much any local council can do to rein in the developers. In order to win votes, the Tories promised more than they could or were willing to deliver – basically, the same old same old from most parties come the local elections. Given that previous Tory administrations had harboured ambitions to re-model a town centre they had as much of a role in allowing to decline as Callaghan’s mob did, the inevitable disappointment didn’t really come as much of a surprise to many seasoned Basildon Council watchers. Basically it turns out that all the current Tory administration can or want to do is try and manage the march of the high rise blocks by imposing an arbitrary height limit on them: Facing both ways are we? – August 9, 2021 and: New faces, same old shite:( – August 7, 2021.

The fate of the Laindon Community Centre became an election issue in that part of Basildon: An uncertain future for a valued community asset – February 1, 2021 and: You can tell when the local elections are coming up… – March 2, 2021 and also: Keep it up:) – March 11, 2021. The Tories promised they would secure it’s future which they did, albeit it cost a lot of dosh: ONE TO WATCH – THE MOST EXPENSIVE VOTE BUY IN THE HISTORY OF BASILDON POLITICS – November 29, 2021.

The good news

Believe it or not, after this litany of local council hubris, incompetence and arrogance that’s screwing us over, there has been a fair bit of good news to celebrate this year.

Thurrock

In one of their more deluded periods of arrogance, Thurrock Council thought they could impose a deal on their bin workers that would worsen their pay and conditions.

What happened instead was a lengthy but solid strike by the bin workers that enjoyed the support of many residents across Thurrock despite the growing inconvenience: Not backing down:) – April 19, 2021. After the election when the Tories somehow managed to cling onto power, they thought they could get away with discrediting the bin workers. They were wrong: Some advice for Thurrock Council – drop the fecking shovel and stop digging NOW! – May14, 2021. Not long after this, Thurrock Council were forced to concede victory to the striking bin workers: Thurrock Council are forced to concede – May 21, 2021 and: How the Thurrock Bin Strike Won – May 28, 2021.

As mentioned earlier in this piece, in a bid to claw back some money, Thurrock Council want to close down the Thameside Complex in Grays. This is meeting with some stiff resistance from the Save YOUR Thameside campaign who have already staged two protests in Grays, both of which we attended. This was our report of the first one we attended: The people turned up… – September 22, 2021. This protest must have rattled the council because prior to the second one, some councillors wanted the council meeting the second protest was due to take place outside of postponed. Failing to achieve that, they insisted on a security and police presence: Some Thurrock councillors really need to get a grip! – November 19, 2021. Suffice to say, this second protest did take place: Facing the music…from a distance! – November 24, 2021 and we saw the biggest number of cops together in one place that we’ve ever seen in Thurrock! Let’s just say that yet again, Thurrock Council have bitten off more than they can chew…

Basildon

There’s only so much people can take of a council drunk on its own arrogance and the lack of any credible opposition before they take matters into their own hands. From a group opposing the Basildon town centre ‘disasterplan’, the Basildon Community Residents Party emerged. From a standing start, for a new party, they put in a credible showing at the local elections back in May. Unlike the mainstream political parties and some of the other fringe parties that still focus on a national rather than a local agenda, the Basildon Community Residents Party is run by the residents for the residents. In some ways, it reminds us of what the IWCA used to do at the grassroots with a combination of year round community activism and standing in the local elections. On that note, out of the opposition to the ‘disasterplan’ the Basildon Residents Action Group was also formed. This year has seen a welcome boost to grassroots community activism and politics in Basildon that bodes well for the future.

There’s more… A local artist, Stephen Waters, the creator of Old Man Stan’s Bazzo Stick Gang has been a scathing critic of not just the town centre ‘disasterplan’ but also, the moves towards artwashing and eventual gentrification. He’s now launched The Basildon Bugle as a platform for his views. We’ve always said we would welcome any grassroots publication that holds truth to power. We see The Bugle as a collaborator – we do not see it in any way as a competitor. Also with someone firmly focused on Basildon, it takes the pressure off us and allows us to concentrate our efforts on Thurrock for as long as we’re around.

A brief conclusion

There’s a lot of shite to deal with in both Thurrock and Basildon. The good news is that there’s a growing level of grassroots activism that’s calling truth to power. There are others fighting alongside of us. You can tell that in both Thurrock and Basildon, the respective councils do no like being held to account by stroppy, well informed residents who can see through their spin and bullshit. Let’s hope that in 2022, these stroppy residents can up the ante and really start making waves.