The Leader introduced the
report and stated that Thurrock had been part of ASELA for three
years, and all six local authorities who were part of the group had
worked hard to implement cross-boundary working and improve
infrastructure for all south Essex residents. He stated that ASELA
had already received £24million in funding from central
government for the digital connectivity full-fibre project, as well
as strategic planning. He added that ASELA had also received
central government funding for infrastructure, transport studies
and difficult brownfield site development. He explained that
£20million of funding had also been received for a South
Essex University which would focus on apprenticeship degrees, and
would be the first in the country. He added that ASELA had received
£5million in funding for a South Essex Estuary Park, which
would be shared across the proposed Joint Committee. He stated that
ASELA also had longer term goals such as super-fact broadband
connectivity, which had already begun work. The Leader highlighted
that Southend-on-Sea Borough Council had chosen a different method
for fibre connectivity, which he felt proved that each individual
council could undertake their own projects outside of the ASELA
framework. He explained another long-term project was for
£250million of funding for pipeline infrastructure, which
would help deliver housing on sites which had planning permissions
but no infrastructure. He added that ASELA also wished to improve
economic development across the whole of South Essex, through
increased employment, construction and through the support of key
sectors. He explained that ASELA had also been endorsed by the
Thames Estuary Growth Board who felt that the group removed
arbitrary local authority borders for cross-party working.
The Leader highlighted that this report did not create an ASELA council, or remove current governance processes. He added that the report also did not insist that all government housing targets be located within one authority, and Thurrock would not lose planning powers. He stated that each local authority within ASELA would be considering the report which proposed a joint committee to help improve the south Essex economy and bounce back from the pandemic.
He summarised and stated that a Memorandum of Understanding would be brought to Cabinet in March, which would consider the merger of Basildon and Thurrock Councils into one, larger unitary authority. He stated that this would not happen immediately, and each Council would closely examine the implications of a merger, as well as the impact it could have on adult social care, transport and waste. He explained that government wished to see local authority reform, and although this had been paused due to the pandemic, he felt it would be good to have improved local governance consensus.
Councillor Halden thanked the Leader for his report and felt that it demonstrated the good work that ASELA had undertaken, as well as their future plans. He outlined that the future Memorandum of Understanding would not create a unitary authority, but would open the conversation, and would highlight how the proposal could benefit both authorities. He felt that one, larger unitary authority could have benefits for both parties, but stressed that the proposal coming to Cabinet in March would not be a commitment. The Leader added that the announcement due in March would also not cease the work of ASELA, as ASELA looked at the whole of South Essex in a collective way.
Councillor Coxshall felt that the Memorandum of Understanding would show residents the benefit of merging the authorities, for example on projects such as the A13 widening which could be continued on into Basildon, and the East Facing Access on the A13. He felt that a merger would increase synergy between the two authorities and reduce competition. He added that the government had proposed the largest local authority in fifty years and felt it would be good for Thurrock to be leading on this. The Leader added that local government reform was also a Conservative party manifesto pledge, which ensured local sovereignty continued and people’s views were heard. He felt that Thurrock and Basildon created a natural economic corridor, with the A13 and A127 running through both. He stated that the proposed Joint Committee outlined the report would show collegiate working to central government and improve the levels of funding given.
RESOLVED: That Cabinet:
1. Noted the updates provided in the report.
2. Approved the establishment of a joint committee, under Section 101 of the Local Government Act 1972, to oversee ASELA and provide enhanced transparency and accountability in the new delivery stage of its work programmes.
3. Approved the governance arrangements of the joint committee as set out in Appendix 1 and the related Joint Committee Agreement and Terms of Reference.
4. Appointed the Leader of the Council to represent the Council on the Joint Committee with the Cabinet Member for Regeneration and Strategic Planning as substitute.
Reason for decision: as outlined in report.
This decision is subject to call-in.