Presented by the Regeneration Programme Manager, the report informed the Committee of the process of the pedestrian underpass. The project was in a position to begin the next design stage.
In the design process of the underpass, Councillor Anderson asked for assurance that the design included measures to prevent the underpass from becoming a hub for anti-social behavior. The Regeneration Programme Manager answered that certain parameters would be set such as the height and width of the underpass and installing CCTV. Network Rail would be drafting the technical design and Thurrock Council would add in the finishing touches. There were 3 design stages to follow:
1. Design in principle and approval.
2. Applying for planning permission.
3. Consultations with the public and businesses.
Voicing concerns on anti-social behavior, Councillor Pothecary understood why residents would be concerned on a underpass as there was already one in Grays. These concerns had to be taken into consideration for the design of the Grays South underpass. Referring to paragraph 5.3, Councillor Pothecary queried when the last consultation had been. Agreeing with the concerns of anti-social behavior on a underpass, the Regeneration Programme Manager went on to say the last consultation had taken place prior to the April 2017 Cabinet report. The service was scheduled to open consultation with the local business community again in February 2019.
Continuing on, the Regeneration Programme Manager said the membership of the town party had changed since the last consultation and had been supportive of the proposed underpass at the time. However, overtime, the Grays barrier crossing would become busier as c2c would be adding on more frequent train services and there would be more freight trains passing as the Tilbury Port and DP World becomes busier. As a result, the barrier would close more often than the current times of every 5 – 12 minutes. The Grays barrier crossing was also known as one of the most dangerous crossings in the Eastern England region and businesses at the time had agreed there had to be an alternative. Although there was a bridge to cross when the barrier closed, making this bridge higher was not possible because it would require more ramps. Having an underpass would give more free flow to pedestrians. Safety issues would be implemented within the design which included CCTV linked to the Council and lighting which was important as well.
Councillor Pothecary agreed there had been issues with the Grays barrier crossing and remembered when the local community had fought against the closing of the barrier. Many residents depended on the barrier crossing to get into Grays town centre otherwise they would have to take a much longer route around. As the report mentioned the Thurrock Council civic offices extension, Councillor Pothecary sought assurance that the proposed underpass did not depend on the extension of the civic offices. The Regeneration Programme Manager reassured the Committee that the underpass would not depend on the extension of the civic offices.
Councillor Piccolo declared a non-pecuniary interest as he attended the town meetings. As Network Rail was constantly ‘changing the goal post’ in regards to funding, Councillor Piccolo queried how dependent the Council was on for the funding. Confirming that the funding from Network Rail did increase and decrease from time to time, the Regeneration Programme Manager said the Council did have a commitment of £1.5 million funding from Network Rail. There was no assumed funding thereafter but the Council would push for further funding from Network Rail.
Concerned on the proximity of the proposed underpass to the main road, Councillor Hamilton questioned if this had been taken into consideration. The works of the underpass would affect the taxi rank, bus station and the high street. In response, the Regeneration Programme Manager stated works would affect the main road which was Crown Road as well as Station Approach and the high street. The design that had been taken to Cabinet in December 2017 had shown the underpass going underneath Crown Road. However, the design team would think of a solution to keep disruption to a minimum for bus routes, taxi ranks and pedestrian flows.
Councillor Hamilton asked if there would be plans in the Local Plan to show what would be underneath the grounds where the proposed underpass was to be built. The Regeneration Programme Manager answered utility plans showed the location of cables and wires. There were survey works underway to identify ground conditions which would go into the stages of design. Councillor Hamilton went on to ask if anything in particular would be found to which the Regeneration Programme Manager responded that a tunnel would be dug so there was the consideration of reaching water so a water pump may be used. Archaeological finds were also considered so the survey results would show what was underneath.
As the project would affect two of the Committee Members because they were Ward Councillors for the affected area, the Chair was pleased with the information given. Regarding general engagement strategy, the Chair asked how the service department was engaging with residents. He suggested the service engage with the Seabrooke Residents Association Group as they would welcome the consultation. The Regeneration Programme Manager confirmed the service would be engaging with the Seabrooke Residents Association Group. A website would also be set up to have ongoing engagement with residents and would need to talk with businesses as well as statutory consultees.
With concerns on some elderly residents who were not familiar with the use of websites, the Chair suggested face-to-face interactions as a solution. Giving assurance, the Regeneration Programme Manager answered face-to-face interaction would be on a regular basis and that the website was to support this and for those who were not available to attend meetings.
In regards to the existing underpass, Councillor Piccolo asked if these could be made more secure. There were 3 underpasses in Grays:
1. The underpass within Grays train station
2. The underpass near the Aldi supermarket
3. The underpass running under Crown Road and into Grays town centre.
Councillor Piccolo clarified that he referred to the Crown Road underpass that led into Grays town centre which many people were not aware of. He wondered whether this underpass was publicised. The Regeneration Programme Manager replied that the underpass was only under Crown Road and not the railway line which was why another underpass was needed to resolve the issue of the Grays barrier crossing. He added that the underpass also needed updating.
Referring to the steepness of the Derby Road bridge, Councillor Pothecary mentioned that the Thurrock Disability Group and Coalition Group should be considered in the design as well. Agreeing with this, the Regeneration Programme Manager would confirm with Network Rail that there was no alternative to the barrier crossing.
That the Planning, Transport, Regeneration Overview and Scrutiny Committee are asked to comment on the approach to managing the delivery of the next stages of the Grays South Regeneration Project set out in this approach.