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Turmoil at Leigh Town Council doesn’t mean parish councils can’t be the beacon for representing local people

There will be very few residents left in Leigh who are unaware of the controversy surrounding the election of the Conservatives to Leigh Town Council and how they have run it so far.

I have my views regarding this, but what I'd like to focus on is the importance of Leigh Town Council itself and how I recognise, like others, that it holds more power than the ones legally bestowed upon it. With hearsay suggesting some wish for its demise, I just couldn't disagree more. I am a huge advocate of local people being able to fix, change, enhance and prevent anything they collectively agree on.

The Southend Confelicity Party is founded on a local platform. If you want to know the difference between us and everyone else, it is primarily that. We face each issue as it comes and we dissect, discuss and debate until we either reach unanimous agreement or we are empowered to pursue our individual views in a respectful manner. No left wing or right wing. No ancient obligations to parties born from different eras with different needs to today - just what we believe is right as residents of Southend. I believe there is room for a local party on the council, but that will be up to residents. 

London vs Southend 

In an ideal world, we would like to see more powers and resources devolved to Southend from London because we believe the people who have first-hand experience of an area will be best placed to make decisions for it. It is doubtful that those who make policy for the major parties include anyone who understands Leigh and Southend. For example, when Sir Kier Starmer says he'll bring back national housing targets - meaning another 20,000 more in Southend over the next 10 years - does anyone believe he personally understands the impact that would have on our infrastructure and public services? 

The same argument cannot quite apply to Southend and Leigh or Southend and any other district across the city. Most of us have lived, worked or played in all corners and have a fairly decent understanding of its varying parts. However, Southend is bigger geographically and by population than many of us think, and there are quite a number of issues individual to each of the eight districts/neighbourhoods that only the residents of that area can truly understand. And what better way to deal with these issues than with a legal body able to act as the facilitator and protector of its residents needs?

Parish Councils

There is an argument to say a parish council, such as Leigh Town Council, is just another layer of bureaucracy, but I believe the opportunities vastly outweigh the disadvantages if run to its full potential. Others argue LTC can do little more than agree on flower displays and community events, which, if it was just that, would still make it invaluable. Yet, this grossly undervalues its true power. According to the government website, "They provide communities with a democratic voice and a structure for taking community action."

Some will be aghast for me saying this, but I believe so much in the principle of local people running things that I would suggest other areas of Southend think about forming their own parish councils.

Resident associations are the next best thing to a parish council and those that run them go out of their way to help and support residents as best they can. However, as good as they are, they have no real power. For example, the 10,000 strong Shoeburyness Resident Association has been unable to stop Taylor Wimpey chopping down around 100 trees for their new development, and from Bellway building on the flood plains between Barge Pier Road and Ness Road and carting 85,000 truck movements of soil throughout Southend over the next few years. Try as they might, and they have tried, it is still happening to the dismay of residents.

Shoeburyness used to have two parish councils, which were disbanded in the 1930s as they became absorbed into Southend Council. Do you think if those councils still ran that it would be possible for those two developments to exist as they are? Whilst they, like Southend Council, would have to work within planning law, there is no doubt the protest against Taylor Wimpey and Bellway would have had a much stronger footing had they been backed by a Shoeburyness Council where residents couldn't so easily be swatted away the way in which they have been so far. Just imagine if developers somehow won approval to build on the Belton Hills Nature Reserve. Do you think Leigh Town Council would just sit there and do nothing? No, it would become the HQ of the battle of Belton!

LTC to take lead against over-development 

Once the current unrest between residents and the current LTC administration is sorted out, perhaps LTC, as a body, can become the lead protagonist in preventing the over-development of flats without sufficient provision of parking, services, infrastructure and general disruption to Leigh residents - topics that have caused endless discussion without any solution. Because if there is one thing above all else Leigh residents can be united on, it is this.

It is not to begrudge developers, they've every right to want to make a living, and those that live in these new homes are no doubt very grateful - Leigh is a fantastic place to live! However, even as a Director of a company involved in property development myself, there is no doubt that we would respect the decision to say no more. There is no point living in a town if you can't enjoy it!

Leigh is now cornered into a position that only an expansion of public car parks can alleviate some of the problem. But where? How much? Is it feasible? And do Leigh residents really want that?  As we know, we are far too late in the day to change what has already been, but it is not too late for LTC to lead the charge in these issues if that is, indeed, what residents want.

The founders of LTC did a great thing. May those who run it today continue to respect its purpose and take advantage of its true value, because if there is any danger of it capitulating, it would open Leigh up to the dangers that Shoeburness and other areas of Southend suffer today.  That is not to discredit Southend Council or the ward councillors, they have their objectives to follow and it is not always easy to work around the system.  But that is where a united LTC can come into its own.

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