To say we are fantasists and not on this planet is disrespectful and typical of politicians who have lost touch with what is happening in the constituencies they represent.
We have never claimed that “all the green belt will be lost”; we have only said that we wish to preserve the land that is already protected under law. Our main issue is in the number of houses that Basildon for the Borough. The “Objectively Assessed Need” was assessed using an economic model that requires more housing for the planned economic development of the Borough. This economic development is planned for Basildon itself and the Local Plan will deliver no economic development in Billericay yet we are required to “take our share” of new housing. We believe this figure is overly inflated beyond the needs of the Borough. The figure is the foundation for the Local Plan. We therefore believe the Local Plan is deeply flawed.
Essex County Council have already objected on the grounds that there is not the infrastructure in the town to support the Local Plan and have also stated that there is no money to deliver any additional infrastructure to cope with a near 25% increase in the number of homes. We have around 11,000 homes at present so an additional 2,500 homes required in the Local Plan would change the character of the town completely.
When the Local Plan was published even Basildon could not clearly show how they would squeeze 1,400 new homes in the West of Billericay. The best they could come up with was a bright orange “swoosh” on a basic map of the town. During the May Council election campaign Cllr Turner was one of several Basildon Councillors telling the electorate that, due to the objection by Essex County Council, these plans would be scrapped and in all likelihood the plans for the East of Billericay would also go. Indeed Cllr Turner was quoted in the press as saying that there would be “carnage on the streets of Billericay” if these (his own) plans went ahead. Who is the scaremonger here ? BAG has already received confirmation from one of those Councillors that they cannot deliver the withdrawal of the Billericay housing quota and therefore nothing has changed. It would appear that the politicians misled us during that election campaign.
Cllr Turner’s accusation that we are Nimbys is lazy and ill-informed. It is not Nimbyism but Localism. Mr Cameron has spoken eloquently about the need for local people to be involved in local decision making. Through BAG the residents of Billericay are doing just that. They are telling our elected representatives what they want for their town. And it’s not what Cllr Turner and his colleagues are proposing. BAG is well aware of the need for a robust local plan and will work to achieve one which is both realistic and sustainable. We only ask that the character of our town is preserved along with the Green Belt. The Green Belt is there for a reason and prevents the Borough’s towns and villages from merging into a single conurbation. We do not stand in the way of progress and we understand the need for generic growth.
The election of Adam Adshead as an Independent, supported by BAG, to Billericay Town Council is a timely reminder to Cllr Turner. We’ve shown that the electorate can be mobilised to constructively challenge the best laid plans of his Council. There are more elections next year and BAG will continue to campaign for what is best for the town. If the existing Borough councillors representing the Town will not work with us we will work to have them replaced by people who will put the needs of our town first. Cllr Turner should remember that calling his own electorate fantasists and NIMBYs is not a vote winner come election time.
"BAG are scare-mongering with residents saying all of the greenbelt is going."
No one in BAG has ever said all the Green belt is "going". We are against the scale and proportion of the housing proposed. However, if residents are scared by what Basildon Council has proposed Cllr Turner should not be surprised.
"Residents should not listen to the action groups."
Residents (voters ?) should listen to whoever they want to and make up their own minds. We would argue the dangers of listening just to politicians who have been known to say anything to get elected and then fail to deliver. We would argue that they should listen to anyone who has the welfare of Billericay at heart and who have spent much time and effort informing residents of the Local Plan, people who Basildon failed to inform. This sounds like he is stating that it will be the Council's way or else. BAG aims to inform residents and to encourage them to participate in the next and any subsequent consultations. What residents say will depend on how well informed they are.
"They are painting themselves as the saviours of green belt and that is not going to happen."
We have never claimed to be the “saviour of the green belt”; we are aware of the significant challenge that we face, but we are prepared to stand up and fight for what we believe. The only people who have claimed that Billericay has been saved are Councillors commenting in local papers.
"It is very easy for a party that can’t deliver to stand up and say no to anything and everything."
We are sure it is - just look at the build up to an election when our politicians make all sorts of promises. However, we are not a political party. We are a non-political group of individuals who care about Billericay enough to give their time, energy and funds to ensure that every Billericay resident has the information needed to respond to the next round of consultation and beyond. BAG is delivering actual, factual information without political bias.
"It is a fantasy and at best they are not on this planet. They are playing to the gallery and it is misleading and misdirecting residents who are concerned for greenbelt in this way."
If it is a fantasy and misleading to tell residents facts based on Basildon Council’s own documents, to consult and object, and to listen to resident’s concerns – all legal and normal activities – then maybe there are many fantasists in Billericay. We will do nothing more than hold Basildon Borough Council to account for their actions. We will do that as part of the consultation exercises. Unfortunately, without the Billericay Action Group the previous consultation would have had a very small gallery. BAG is ensuring the justification for 16,000 additional homes is put under the microscope and it will then inform residents in an open manner using its website and other social media.
"They are nimbies."
Weak, lazy and beneath the dignity of the Leader of the Council. If it is Nimbyism then we share that description with many other influential bodies such as the CPRE and the numerous other groups around the country similar to BAG. However, this is not Nimbyism but Localism, Localism in action. Mr Cameron has spoken eloquently about local people being involved in the decisions which affect them. Through the Billericay Action Group the people of Billericay are telling their Council how they want their town developed. If our local councillors are uncomfortable with the concept of Localism they need to berate David Cameron, not the Billericay Action Group. In the recent Billericay Town Council election the residents of west Billericay sent a message on behalf of all the residents of Billericay to all those who seek the votes of the Billericay people, whether in local or national elections. Instead of blaming the residents for not accepting the will of the politicians, the politicians should start listening to the will of the people and engage in a constructive dialogue with the people of Billericay, through BAG, about the future of their town.
"But it is the way they just say no to green belt development that isn’t very hard but they are not being honest with residents."
The law says no to green belt development. That is why it exists to protect it. How can we be dishonest with the residents ? We cannot and have not promised anything, unlike certain Basildon Councillors. Indeed when Cllr Turner was, incorrectly, claiming in the run up to the recent local council elections that the west side of Billericay had been saved from 1400 houses he said “this is me lying on front of the bulldozers” and “We have the evidence now and 1200 (sic) homes would be slaughter and carnage on the roads.” What we are doing is informing residents and conducting a campaign. Which of these things is dishonest? When BAG sees a properly justified increase in housing it will give it due consideration, but has yet to see the justification for 16,000 new homes.
"The way to prevent huge development on a scale that none of us want to see is to get the local plan in place."
Few want a huge development on the scale that Basildon Council proposes. The way to prevent huge development is to base the Plan on proper facts and figures and not propose a hugely inflated requirement for houses. Then look where you can put houses in a sustainable way, with proper facilities. What you do not do is come up with an inflated figure and blight small towns with barely adequate infrastructure with huge new estates. Until they can get their figure right in the first place, no plan is acceptable.
"The local plan does it in a managed and measured approach."
We strongly disagree with this. The current Plan does not propose development in either a managed nor measured approach. Constantly repeating this claim will not make it any more believable. Basildon Borough Council has not informed residents of the justification of the numbers in the plan.
"If we don’t have a local plan developers can pick us off one at a time and you could end with twice as many homes in the area."
Now who is using scare tactics! If they had done their job properly in the first place we would not be in this situation. The issue is not whether we have a Local Plan but that the Local Plan must be the right Local Plan. Furthermore, until a local plan is agreed all existing greenbelt still remains as green belt, with the same protections that accords.
"Giving up a small amount of land will protect the vast majority."
That would depend on what they consider small. A small percentage of the whole Borough is a very large percentage of Billericay. Retaining the existing Green Belt will protect the town and all of its residents from over development.
"If we can get the local plan approved I can give residents assurances that more green belt land will be preserved."
That would depend on the Plan. The current version is unacceptable. We understand the need for a Plan but unless the Plan is based on proper need and not manufactured figures it is of little value. Unless the scale of the Plan is sustainable it is worthless to Billericay.
Politics is a fickle business. Cllr Turner may not be in post when the Local Plan is finally agreed and developers submit planning applications and so may not be in a position to deliver on his assurances. BAG will continue to focus upon what will be lost forever.
"It is not inevitable (that we will lose green belt land). This is why the local plan is so important to what we are doing."
Not only is it not inevitable but the Prime Minister, the Communities Minister, the previous planning minister, Nick Boles, and many other politicians have stated that the Green Belt must be protected. It is Basildon Borough Council which has decided to encroach upon the Green Belt within their boundaries, and against the wishes of the people. It is only inevitable if Basildon run roughshod over the will of the electorate. The draft plan and the road shows clearly illustrated that the proposed 16,000 new homes will require many incursions into the existing Green Belt.