[Yellow Ribbon] Priory Park Preservation Society
Chairman's Report, AGM 30/5/2002

The PPPS has had an eventful first year. From the inaugural meeting on 26th July the PPPS, along with Park Life and other groups, have led the campaign against the Council's plan to widen Priory Crescent.

Our first major project was the Petition, which by the time Jon Steer handed it to the Council on 31st January contained more than 11,000 signatures and was therefore the largest of the numerous different petitions and protest letters, numbering some 26,000 in all . In particular, Joe Shields, Peter Mead and Alex Bunn worked especially hard on the gathering of signatures after Chris Ford had organised the production of the printed sheets. At the same time, the Yellow Ribbon campaign clearly caught the public imagination and cars bearing the ribbons on their aerials are commonplace throughout south-east Essex.

In the meantime, the Council had changed its plan several times while fairly consistently denying that any plans existed. We must be able to claim some credit for the acknowledgement that "no park land would be used" as opposed to the Council's original claim that "only a sliver of park land would be used". Of course, a Council who continually boasted that they were receptive to suggestions from members of the public strenuously denied that Campaigners had had any influence on their decision not to use Park Land. However, we must guard against giving the Council's utterances any credibility at all as there is no material difference between the various schemes they have proposed. Park Land will be used, as the Shrubbery area protected by the 1929 Covenant is park land just as much as any other part of the Park.

Another early project was the Carnival float. Chris Ford and Ralph Lycett expanded upon an original idea from Peter Mead and the PPPS float succeeded in turning heads and received considerable acclaim.

All the while our membership increased slowly and twice in the winter we managed to produce editions of Priory Park News. At least 10,000 copies of the first issue were delivered, and this co-incided happily with the Council's own "Civic News", although our own newsletter was probably more widely read than the Council's and certainly more factually accurate.

In early December we organised a demonstration in which we walked around the Park and then went on to the Civic Centre where speeches were well received by the hardy few who had ventured out. It was flattering to note that special branch officers were patrolling in an unmarked van, occasionally pointing a camera at us for the sake of posterity.

In February Park Life led a 12-hour vigil and PPPS offered support. Shaun Qureshi and family were first there, braving a sharp frost to display their banners. Motorists gave audible support in the form of horn blasts: it is a shame that each blast could not have been transformed into a 10p donation as the day would have raised hundreds of pounds.

A visit to Victor Mishiku of the Covenants Movement provided us with a good deal of advice on which to act and, under Victor's advice, in early March we submitted a letter supported by more than 80 signatories, all of whom live in properties affected by one or another of the Covenants protecting the Park. In this we requested that the Council reconsider their proposals. Although this letter was submitted on Monday 4th March and we expressly requested a response, we are still awaiting Charles Latham's reply. The Town Clerk made reference to this document in the Cabinet meeting of 5th March, but consdered that it was of no legal significance.

On the strength of this rebuttal, and again guided by Victor Mishiku, we instructed a firm of solicitors, Dawson & Co, to act on our behalf. Gerald Moran, of Dawson's, wrote a strong letter on 11th March to which the Town Clerk replied on 25th March. Given that the only area of common ground between Moran and Krawiec was that to seek leave for Judicial Review would have been premature, and that our funds would not support further letters by Dawsons, there was little more that could be done prior to the Council meeting of 25th April when a decision would be taken by the Full Council.

One thing we manifestly failed to do was to enter into a proper dialogue with Councillors. However, this was not for lack of trying. An attempt was made to organise a meeting in the Civic Centre and nine Councillors were invited, but our booking of the Charter Suite was mysteriously cancelled. Eventually we met in this Hall and were joined by Chris Dandridge (Lab) and Graham Longley (Lib Dem) who answered Members' questions. It became clear that the ruling Conservative group had no desire whatever to meet us and it was this fact that persuaded some of us to stand as Independent candidates in the May elections.

Most recently, we have appointed a fund-raising sub-committee headed by Chris Ford and a legal sub-committee consisting of Alex Bunn, Michael Downer and myself, whose job is to take the legal challenge forward in the most effective manner we can afford. Applications have been sent to the Bar Pro Bono unit, who supply free barrister time on a "pot luck" basis; the Environmental Law Foundation, who have expressed an interest in our cause, and Planning Aid, whose representative John Franklin has expressed the opinion that we need to press for a Public Enquiry: the Priory is a Grade I listed building as well as a registered Ancient Monument, and Mr. Franklin's opinion is that whenever a proposed development affects the curtilege of such buildings, a Public enquiry is the norm.

Clearly the two most important tasks ahead of us now are maintaining the Legal Challenge while at the same time raising funds to support it. I still urge all members who can afford to do so to set up a standing order of 5 per month (more if possible) to ensure that we have a constant supply of money coming in.

Finally, I would like to thank all members of the Committee whose help and advice have proved invaluable during the first year of the PPPS. I am certain that our existence had been a far greater thorn in the side of the Council that the official Opposition have been and I would urge all members to continue to badger their Councillors and the local press because we still have a great deal of work to do.


Peter Walker

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