Agenda item

Portfolio Holder Verbal Update


Councillor Coxshall stated that he had been looking into the capacity levels within Thurrock Council to see whether the Council could survive alone as a Unitary Authority or if a Combined Authority was needed. Thurrock needed to ensure that they could survive as an entity and also be sustainable.


There were currently opportunities for Thurrock Council that would support the survival of Thurrock Council but the capacity issues needed to be considered. Thurrock currently had a large capital programme which was large in comparison to other Local Authorities. The current priorities for Thurrock were: 


  • A13 Widening Project;
  • Stanford Le Hope Hub;
  • Grays Town Regeneration;
  • HRA Homes to transform places where people lived; and
  • Purfleet-on-Thames Regeneration.


He went on to say that the New Towns Board had put a lot of pressure on Thurrock’s projects. He mentioned that the SELEP plans to grow the Thames Estuary were also linked to Thurrock’s programmes as it was part of Thurrock’s future. The goal was 2050 to grow the Thames Estuary by but he felt that with the Freeport plans in Thurrock, this could be achieved by 2030. Referring to the Local Plan, Councillor Coxshall said that Thurrock was moving in the right direction and was looking at how the Local Plan could be delivered.


The Chair queried the timeframe for the delivery of the Local Plan. Councillor Coxshall explained that the Local Plan had been delayed due to the Lower Thames Crossing as it removed homes. The service hoped to bring forward Local Plan Consultations in the summer and hoped that the delivery of the Local Plan would be ready by 2024.


Councillor Halden raised concerns on the demographics of Thurrock and said that the service needed to ensure that Thurrock was ready for the Local Plan. He asked if the Association of South Essex Local Authorities (ASELA) solution was one to follow. He said that Thurrock would require complicated financial modelling and asked if the service had the capacity to lead on this. Councillor Coxshall agreed that there were demographic issues but stated that it was hard to say which was the right solution for Thurrock and whether Thurrock needed to find partners. He said that the service needed to see where there were capacity issues and where it was needed. The service needed to find the best solution for Thurrock.


Councillor Okunade asked for an update on the Thameside Theatre and the Civic Offices. Councillor Coxshall said that the service had met with community groups since the last Corporate O&S meeting. They had been working together on a business case to find a company to manage the Thameside Theatre. The service needed to ensure that the theatre was a viable asset before handing it over and was helping the community groups to find funding.


In regards to the Civic Offices, Sean Clark said that this had been near ready to open in the first week of January. However, in the second week, the Council was informed of delays to the supply chain for the furniture. There were also cases of self-isolation which added to the delay. In regards to the Thameside Theatre, he added that there was a meeting with community groups next week which would be the third one since the last Corporate O&S meeting.


Councillor Okunade felt that Members should have been regularly updated on the progress of the Civic Offices as there had been no information about its delay. Councillor Kent also voiced his concerns over this and felt communications could be better. Sean Clark explained that the Council had been informed of the delay very recently but would look into the communication issue and feed back to Director’s Board.


Referring to the regional and capacity issues in delivering regeneration projects, Councillor Kent mentioned that he had experienced a ‘blockage’ with Essex County Council in partnership working. He queried whether this was still the case. Referring to the government paper of Levelling Up, he commented that combining authorities would allow the government to recognise the extra capacity that was being brought in. This would help with funding as it would give the government confidence and trust in an entity of that size to deliver to its residents. He questioned what the service’s thoughts were on the Levelling Up paper. He mentioned that Thurrock’s Leader of the Council had signed a Memorandum on Understanding with Basildon’s Leader last year to work on the position of both authorities. He asked for an update on this work.


In response, Councillor Coxshall said that Thurrock had reached out to new Leader of Essex County Council who was more open to working together. Regarding the Levelling Up paper, he said that it was Thurrock’s decision to choose devolution unless the Secretary of State decided this instead. He stated that local authorities needed to be able to survive but it was hard to say how this could be done. He commented that ideas included looking into the centre of London or across the river as the Thames Estuary Board had suggested to be a centre just outside the city. He said that the administration had pushed to work on a combined Local Plan with South Essex which didn’t work out. Then the administration looked to Basildon Council to work on a combined Local Plan which led to the Memorandum of Understanding but now, the administration in Basildon had changed.


Councillor Kent pointed out that the administration change delayed progress and highlighted the need for a combined authority. Councillor Coxshall explained that the government did not agree with this as it was the ‘vehicles of political changes’. Referring to the Local Plan, he said that Thurrock needed to work as 49 Councillors together which would give the government more certainty that everyone was committed and that the Council was moving in the right direction. He agreed that a combined authority with South Essex would work but had to be on the right terms and ensure that Thurrock would be sustainable.


The Chair asked when the A13 Widening Project would be completed. Councillor Coxshall replied that the project was nearing the end and it was hoped that all lanes would be open by the end of quarter 1 or the beginning of quarter 2. There would still be works going on in the background.


The Committee thanked Councillor Coxshall for his update.