Read the full text of the Council Leader's letter to Prime Minister Johnson.

Thursday 25 July 2019

 

Dear Prime Minister

I understand that you will have many pressing problems and competing priorities in your first days and weeks in your new office as you look to reconcile the promises that you've made. However I cannot let the opportunity pass to put down a marker for Basildon and for local government services.

As I'm sure you are aware, Basildon is the largest economy in Essex and the second largest in the Thames Gateway area - only London's Canary Wharf is bigger. An established centre of excellence for engineering and manufacturing, Basildon boasts some of the most advanced technical facilities in the UK and is home to a number of innovative companies.

Basildon new town is celebrating its 70th anniversary this year and while we are reflecting on what has been achieved since Clement Attlee created us, I am determined that we use this opportunity to revive the ambition and determination shown to create our new town, to secure for this and the next generations who live, work and learn in the borough, a brighter future.  

The question that is on our lips right now is, can we count on Boris backing Basildon?

The support of your Government is vital to our future success and I want to highlight six areas in which urgent action can go a long way to making a real difference to the wellbeing of people in our borough.

First, on the long term future of local government finance, you will understand that all councils are facing uncertainty over their funding beyond next April. While this continues, we are unable to properly plan our services in a sustainable way. Proposed changes to the way the government funds local government covered by the Fair Funding Review and Business Rates Reform are not yet finalised and it is not possible to identify how my council might be affected. We need certainty that revised arrangements will be put in place for 2020/21. Will this be a priority for your government?

Second, Basildon is under a dark cloud from a Ministerial Direction to implement a wholly inappropriate charging Clean Air Zone to reduce NO2 emissions on junctions adjacent to the A127 in an area of significant employment activity in Basildon. I have written separately to the Environment Minister (who issued the Direction) and the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government under the previous administration to protest about this. I am absolutely committed to improving air quality for our local residents, but a charging zone would be hugely detrimental to the borough's businesses and the local economy and would put incredible pressure on the Basildon stretch of the A13.

Basildon Council's preferred option is to implement a reduction in the speed limit on our stretch of the A127 from 70mph to 50mph (we agree with DEFRA on this) and to continue our work on a non-charging Clean Air Zone, developing a range of measures to help businesses, particular small and medium-sized companies, to speed up progress to switch to cleaner vehicles and support their workforce to make more use of public transport. Will you free us from the threat of an imposed charging zone and allow us to get on with developing effective and economic local solutions?

Third, Basildon is suffering from problems caused by permitted development rights that allow conversion of offices into flats, without the need for planning approval, and the Local Housing Allowance rates. There is a toxic combination of factors that is causing real problems in Basildon. It is encouraging the development of poor quality flats in our borough, making it more difficult for us to tackle our homelessness challenges and robbing many vulnerable individuals and families of the support and family networks they desperately need. Too many conversions are resulting in cramped and poor quality accommodation with council planners powerless to do anything about them. On top of this, private landlords know that the Local Housing Allowance is higher in London councils than it is out of London. Basildon landlords are therefore setting their rents at the higher London rate and marketing their properties to London councils. The result is that London councils, who are under huge pressure to find accommodation for homeless families and can't afford London market rates, are increasingly using flats in Basildon and other Essex councils to house their homeless people. This includes criminals and gang members.

I would appeal to your Government to stop the permitted conversion of offices to flats without planning approval and to equalise Local Housing Allowance levels to better reflect local market rates in London and the Home Counties.

Fourth, I believe economically Basildon is a city and we should have the powers to govern as a city in all but name. I have big ambitions for Basildon borough and this council administration is serious about making the big changes that are needed to match those ambitions. That's why we have begun investigating how we can become a unitary authority and I would ask that you treat our approach, when we are ready to make it, seriously.

Fifth, for the past decade the presence of the Felmores Approved Premise has blighted a vulnerable community. After its change of use from a Bail Hostel to an Approved Premise, Basildon has been forced to live with the reality that high risk offenders, released on license, guilty of heinous crimes including against children, are housed yards away from a park, two primary schools and one of the poorest estates in the county of Essex. Basildon has taken its fair share. It is time now for a Government to listen to us and to remove this facility from our borough.

Finally, it is imperative that when you are negotiating trade deals with the world post-Brexit, that the towns are not forgotten. Foreign direct investment in towns is still comparatively low when compared to the cities, yet our infrastructure need is just as acute. I would urge you to ensure that the towns such as Basildon are at the foremost of your thinking when it comes to the opportunities that Brexit will bring.

Basildon is an extraordinary success story for Britain. From the depths of World War II, rose an economic powerhouse in the heart of the Thames estuary. This is a place that Prime Ministers should shout about. So, if I have whetted your appetite to find out more about Basildon, our challenges and the potential we have to power growth in our region, then I would be only too delighted to welcome you to our borough. 70 years after a Labour Government brought Basildon new town into existence, you could be the Prime Minister to kick start the next chapter of untold success and opportunity

Yours sincerely

Councillor Gavin Callaghan, Leader of Basildon Council

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