left at 19.21
Before the item began, the Leader invited Councillor Piccolo to read his question as follows: can you explain why there has been such a change in opinion, over the sale of the Billet Field site, by the current administration, about the sale proposed by the last administration. Councillor Coxshall replied that there were three overarching reasons why, the first being the 3R’s policy that had been adopted by the Council in 2016. He elaborated that the 3R’s were release, retain and reuse and all assets had been analysed under this policy. He stated that the Billet Field Site had been earmarked as retain in 2017, although the Council would continue to analyse. He stated that the second reason was the Local Plan which had been moving forward since 2014, and ensured that all assets helped to deliver the bigger strategy of ‘work, rest and play’. He stated that the third reason was the undervaluation of the asset. Councillor Piccolo was then invited to ask a supplementary question as follows: can you confirm the land had been designated green belt and is therefore protected under this status. Councillor Coxshall agreed that the land was designated green belt, and a green belt review had been taken place in 2019. He stated that the new Local Plan would help to protect green belt, but would also help to deliver the Council’s strategy of ‘play’ so residents could participate in sports. Councillor Coxshall mentioned that the Football Association had reviewed Thurrock and found the borough was under the suitable number of football pitches, so the Council wanted to increase participation in sport, and would be looked at through the Local Plan.
Councillor Piccolo thanked Councillor Coxshall for his response, and the Leader invited Councillor Coxshall to present the report. Councillor Coxshall introduced the report and stated that the proposed decision was to decline the request for the disposal of the Billet Field Site. He described how a lot of time had passed since 2014 when the process had started, and since then two stages of the Local Plan had occurred, during which it had been decided that the borough needed more homes and more participatory sport under the ‘work, rest, play’ strategy. He outlined the 3R’s strategy and informed Members that the Council did not want to sell assets that may be needed in the future, and Billet Field had been identified for retention. He added that the Football Association had found there to be a lack of football pitches within the borough. Councillor Coxshall described how the site had been undervalued in 2014, but the Council now wanted value for money. He summarised and stated that the Council wanted to work with East Thurrock United Football Club to find a new home if they needed one, and did not want to see the club fail.
Councillor Hebb stated that even though he was Ward Councillor he was open-minded and had considered both the pros and cons of disposal of the site. He felt that the report should be looked at from the Council’s perspective, as a property owner and as a fan of East Thurrock United Football Club. He felt that the applicant had put forward well-considered plans to create a good space, which managed traffic and was of high quality. He added that he also wanted to see security for East Thurrock United Football Club, and felt they would be a good neighbour. He added that the space was used by the community and should be kept open to protect the borough’s green belt. He stated that as a property owner, the Council wanted to make sure they received value for money. He summarised and felt that there was still lots of work to do regarding the site, and many questions still to be answered, but felt it was premature to dispose of the site now.
Councillor Coxshall added that the Local Plan still needed to evolve, so East Thurrock United Football Club could still deliver plans in the future, but in the five years since the original proposal, Thurrock Council had further analysed all assets. He felt that as the Local Plan was currently being designed, it would be inappropriate to lose land at this time, and the Council had to consider the whole picture as a landowner. The Leader added that the Local Plan did not just include houses, but all assets including open space and football pitches. He felt that added value was not just about money, but included value for the community and Local Authority, and how the space could improve resident’s lives. He also clarified that Cabinet had received correspondence regarding a planning application for the Crooked Billet pub, but this was not a part of the Billet Field site. He also clarified that all statistics in the reports were correct that day. The Leader also highlighted point 2.3 of the report to Members, which stated that the previous Cabinet in 2014 had only agreed to disposal of the land if planning consent had been given, but plans were not currently at that stage. He summarised and stated that the submissions received in April 2019 were high-quality and felt there may be conversation in the future regarding disposal of the site. He added that the Council wanted to see East Thurrock United Football Club remain successful and would help them to look at other sites across the borough if they so wished.
It was highlighted that Councillor Watkins would not be taking part in the vote due to his declaration of interest.
RESOLVED: That Cabinet:
1. Considered the contents of the report and agreed that the request to progress with the disposal of Billet Field be declined at this time.
Reason for decision: as outlined in the report
This decision is subject to call-in
Councillor Watkins returned at 19.39