The PPPS's second year in existence has been no less active than the first.
The first problem to be overcome was an extremely difficult first Committee Meeting after last year's AGM. This broke up after about 90 minutes after it became clear that it was impossible for the remainder of the Committee to work with the elected Fund Raising Officer, Chris Ford. Sadly, subsequent discussions amongst the other Committee Members led to the conclusion that if the Committee was to carry out its functions to the best of our collective abilities then we would have to continue without Mr and Mrs Ford, the latter having been elected as Secretary at last year's AGM.
Our application to the Bar Pro Bono unit proved successful and a hearing was granted with a barrister, James Maurici. Michael Downer and Alex Bunn met him on 19th June and on the same day collected the PPPS file from Dawson's Solicitors in Lincoln's Inn. Subsequent to the meeting with Mr. Maurici, we accepted his recommendation that we transfer our business to Richard Buxton Solicitors, Cambridge. His approach is markedly different from that of Gerald Moran of Dawson: whereas Moran was most accessible and ready to write to the Council at a moment's notice, Buxton prefers to keep a watching brief and to intervene at the appropriate moments. One such moment came in March this year when he was confident that we had grounds to challenge in court the Secretary of State's decision that the Council's appropriation process did not need an Environmental Impact Assessment. Despite our best efforts, it was decided not to pursue this because there was too poor a response from the membership to our appeal for further funds. Although Richard Buxton has been highly recommended to us from a number of sources, we have had considerable difficulty at times in making contact with him.
One member who did far more than any other to raise funds for the Society was Janet Gormley, whose sky-dive raised well over £400 to the cause. This was a brilliant effort.
The true extent of the Council's attitude towards an open and honest debate of the issues relating to Priory Park came later in the Summer when Keith and Sue Richardson, who with five other PPPS members stood as Independent Candidates in the May election, were forced to appear in the High Court to defend themselves against charges relating to the Representation of the Peoples Act (some of their literature did not bear the obligatory Printer's Name & Address). The two Council representatives who were responsible for the prolonging of their ordeal were Roger Weaver and his wife Verina Wilson, insisting that a court hearing take place even though they were unable to present any evidence. At approximately the same time I learned that I was being investigated by the Police for my part in the election 2002 and a three-month dialogue with a detective constable culminated in me presenting myself for interview at Brentwood Police Station on 9th September. This procedure was only terminated after I sent a strongly worded complaint that the Crown Prosecution Service was not equitable in the application of its Code of Practice. Subsequent complaints to the Ombudsman and the Standards Board for England are ongoing. To give credit where it is due, Chris Ford has pursued Mr. and Mrs. Weaver with a remarkable tenacity and after an alleged incident involving an electoral placard at about 1 a.m. on 1st there, are outstanding allegations against Mr. Weaver which are currently being investigated by the Police. This was published in Private Eye, as well as on the front page of the Evening Echo, and can be seen on the PPPS website.
Meanwhile, it became known that the cost of the road scheme had more than doubled, as the Council had suddenly realised that if they wanted their new road to go over the railway they would have to build a bridge. They set the wheels in motion to appropriate the land known as The Shrubbery and this process was completed on 14th November, despite overwhelming public opposition. At this self-same meeting Roger Weaver announced to the World that there had been a serious land-slip on the sea front at Westcliff. The PPPS were quick to make the link between this land slip and the removal of the 26 mature trees in Prittlewell Square. Trees remove water from the soil, these trees were removed in May 2002, and according to information obtained from English Nature and the Essex Water Company, a build-up of up to 1000 tonnes of water could have accumulated in the soil during this time. We then made the connection between tree removal and landslips along Priory Crescent, where there is a relatively deep cutting very close to the site where the Council are intent upon removing 120 mature oak and beech. Railtrack were informed and their engineer made contact with the Council. We are convinced that this will have added a considerable but unspecified sum to the Council's costs as their new road is due to run along the edge of the cutting, a Victorian structure which will require considerable strengthening if it is to support the Euro-juggernauts which are intended to use the road.
It needs to be borne in mind that the Council's plan F5 is part of an overall Integrated Transport Policy and that this policy was originally to have been fully funded by central government. The Council have been aware for a year that they needed more funds and, via the Transport Team at GO-East, they requested a further £4.8 million. Despite a series of meetings in December and January, that funding is still not forthcoming, quite probably because PPPS and Parklife were very active in refuting the Council's arguments on virtually all grounds. PPPS submitted a 36-page report to the Sec of State, copies of which may be seen at this meeting (if you would like to take a copy away with you a £10 donation to PPPS funds will secure...). Repeated telephone calls to John Brown (GO-East) indicate that the Council's funding is still not forthcoming.Meanwhile, undaunted, the Council issued Compulsory Purchase Orders on land currently belonging to Morley Fund Management (aka Norwich Union), Lookers Cars, the ARC Car Wash and the Aldi Supermarket. The first of these is in favour of the Council's scheme whereas the other three will be opposing it. The PPPS is liaising with the last three companies and making available to their legal teams the information we have gathered during the past two years.
So far is the future is concerned, it seems probable that there will be a Public Enquiry as the CPOs are to be contested. It is our hope and intention that if this comes about then the entire scheme should be looked at and not just the Compulsory Purchase aspects of it. If we are to be represented at any future Public Enquiry, then our fund raising will have to be a great deal more effective than it has been to date: those members who have taken advantage of the opportunity to keep the PPPS solvent through donations and standing orders have done a magnificent job.Peter Walker