What are they thinking?

When I heard that the council and the Osborne Trust (who are responsible for Thameside Infants School in Manor Road) had got together and coooked up a plan to build a school on the site of our much loved park I didn’t sleep for a couple of nights. It is an utter betrayal of the community that use the green space in Elm Road. Thames Park (the name of the new school) was discussed at a parent’s meeting last year they were kept in the dark about the location. They were told teh school would be opening for Year 7’s this coming September. They were told that the site had been identified and was within “walking distance of here (Thameside)”. At that meeting Mr Griffiths, the head of the trust, categorically stated that the school would not be built on the park. No surprise there – who would think a secondary school on our park was a good idea?

The mysterious location of the original site of the school is still that – my information, however, was that it was going to be built near Grays Beach on Curzon Drive. There have been enabling works on the beach side for months, many of the businesses down there have moved out and there are signs for demolition companies on units that were going to make way for the development. Again, my understanding is that the delay to this point had been to do with a couple of businesses on that estate really digging their heels in and refusing all efforts to move them – as is their right. It seems that the issues presented by these businesses have become so insurmountable that the council have come up with a right stinker of a Plan B – to build on our park.

Thurrock Council and the Osborne Trust tell us that the borough needs many, many more secondary school places than currently exist. This isn’t my area of experise so I will take them at their word. Unfortunately the Trust have a very poor record of consulting with the community on anything they do. Thameside was expanded to a size completely inappropriate for the existing road infrastructure. They moved the entrance to the school to Elm Road Open Space without consultation leaving residents in Elm Road, Maple Road as well as other local roads out to Broadway in a terrible predicament at the start and end of the school day.

I’m not overstating it when I say hundreds of children use the park on a daily basis. They play footbll before and after school, they play on the play apparatus and generally use it to be more active and healthy. At weekends the courts are always full and families use it constantly. The irony is that most of these kids are pupils of the very trust that are prepared to steal it from.

Of course it isn’t just about children. The dogs that walk their owners around there every week must number in excess of three figures. The people that excercise there has increased greatly since the path was put in around the field. I can only guess that the gang that have made this initial decision to try to press ahead with this don’t really understand how much this space is used by us, the community.

I’ve spoken to many residents who are so upset by the prospect. Some believe it is such a stupid idea it will never get planning, some say that there’s no point fighting it because, in the end, “they” will do what they want anyway.  There is a process to be followed both by us, the residents and Thurrock Council. We need to fight every single step of the way and make our opposition to this as plain and as obvious as possible. This means engaging with the facebook page, retweeting anything you see from the Twitter account and sending in pictures and video clips of your kids playing on the park or explaining why they love the space so much. Having been involved in a previous campaign against an unwelcome development I cannot stress enough how important it is for us residents to get involved at every opportunity. Social media is an incredibly powerful tool to hold people in authority to account.

I’ll finish with a message for the trust and the council; we understand and accept the borough’s population has grown in recent years and new school places need to be found. They cannot be found in Elm Road Open Space. More school places yes; but not at any and all cost to our community. We will fight you every step of the way.

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