Thursday, 24 October 2013

An Open Letter To Anglian Water

On occasions, it is necessary to put party politics aside and the recent flooding in Shoebury is one of those occasions where councillors from West Shoebury and Shoeburyness have come together for the good of local residents.
I have had real concerns about the state of the River Shoe and its ditches from North Shoebury Corner through Shoeburyness Park and at the back of Jenna Close and in addition the Gate Flap Valve at the end of Barge Pier Road.
All of these areas are the responsibility of Anglian Water which I believe have been the cause of at least two of the three recent flooding events over the past seven weeks. I am not alone in this and councillors from West Shoebury and Shoeburyness have this evening written an open letter to the Chairman of Anglian Water calling for immediate action.
I know councillors from all over the town have concerns about the Anglian water drainage network and we are also calling for a representative of Anglian Water to attend a meeting of councillors so that concerns can be addressed.  

Saturday, 19 October 2013


Full Council on Thursday evening was all about one word, democracy. This was the first Full Council meeting to be webcast opening up proceedings to those who can not make it to the public gallery.

503 people watched the debate over webcast on the night and 51 people had watched up until noon yesterday. These figures dwarf the 50 plus people in the public gallery on the night. The entire meeting can be viewed here.

Democracy, was the vogue word when 'all up elections' were debated. As I suspected the proposal was defeated but my contribution to the debate can be found here. My views have not changed since an earlier post on this subject but it was noticeable that I was not the only member who thought that the number of councillors should be reduced.

The irony of the debate however did not escape me. There was a comment made that the Conservative group were whipped in the vote at the end. Yes, whilst the majority of the Conservative group voted for the proposal, some voted against it and some opposed it. This is in contrast to the three opposition parties who all voted against it with some being mere lickspittle to their party leaders.

The proposal was to go out to residents to consult them on the change and then have a special meeting whereby a two thirds majority would be required to impose a change. In an earlier debate we had some members criticising that we do not consult the public, yet the same people did not want the public to tell us how they would like to elect us. Just fancy that.      

If You Talk The Talk Then You Must Walk The Walk

Last week it was announced in the Echo that my old foe in elections past, James Moyies, will be standing again in West Shoebury next May. This was announced in a 'big interview' feature as part of the revamped Southend Echo.

A question was asked of James if he felt that UKIP was a party of 'fruit cakes' and closet racists. I do not however agree with David Cameron in that all those who are members of UKIP are closet racists but the answer to the question was revealing.

James was quoted as saying:

"However if we have any closet racists as members they should be warned never to come out of the closet because they will be immediate disciplined and thrown out of the party"

Strong rhetoric, but is this strictly true? Since 2008, UKIP have had a policy whereby membership is not available to anyone who is or have previously been a member of the BNP, National Front, EDL and other like minded organisations.

Last month, Robert Ray, a UKIP councillor in Thurrock, was exposed as having a fascist past after a leaflet emerged showing that Cllr Ray had stood as a National Front candidate in 1977 for a ward in the London Borough of Newham.

It was revealed in the Echo this week that Cllr Ray joined UKIP in 2011.

Are you confused as to why Cllr Ray continues to be a UKIP councillor? Enter the explanation given by James Moyies. UKIP were unable to 'under English Law' to expel members of a political party so new rules were introduced last year so new members have to sign a declaration denying previous membership.

Based on this snippet, I decided to have a look on the UKIP website as to how people join the party. It was quite revealing. Yes, those wanting to join the party have to click to confirm that they have not belonged to BNP, National Front, EDL etc but they also have to abide to the UKIP constitution.

4.2.3 of the constitution states that UKIP can treat renewal of membership as if it was membership for the first time. This surely would have allowed UKIP to deal with Cllr Ray in 2012 and this year? The fact is UKIP didn't want to as Cllr Ray confirms that the UKIP hierarchy have give him the green light to continue.

James Moyies actions are also worth looking at. Whilst he described Cllr Ray's past as 'disappointing' and 'uncomfortable' he could not bring himself to condemn his membership of UKIP. I mean, how could he, as the article revealed, as Eastern Counties Chairman James set up a Thurrock branch last month with Cllr Ray an integral part.

Interestingly, a UKIP member alerted me to a recent conversation on his twitter feed from May this year.    

Now if this is James Moyies committment to eradicating closet racists from within UKIP in Essex when Eastern Counties Chairman it can only be compared to the Captain of the Costa Concordia's committment to passenger safety!

Monday, 14 October 2013


Although Halloween may be on the 31st October, calls are made by 'trick or treaters' in the weeks leading up to it. For residents that want to avoid any unwanted calls, they can print off this leaflet and display it in their windows.
For those residents who are unable to print this leaflet and would like one sent, please email me at 

Sunday, 13 October 2013

Parking At Royal Mail Depot in Short Street

Despite the efforts of my colleague Cllr Hadley and I in getting Royal Mail to reverse their crackpot decision in closing the George Street Delivery Office, Royal Mail were unrepentant and still went ahead and forced Shoebury residents to collect their parcels and signed for Mail from Short Street.

This weekend, for the first time since the new arrangements, I had to visit Short Street to collect a parcel. It was utter chaos. Trying to find one of the four customer parking spaces was impossible as staff we're utilising the spaces and the queue was out of the door. In the end, I used the station car park to park.

Parking was one of my main concerns but Royal Mail were insistent that I was the mad one and that the new arrangements would work swimmingly. I would have loved to have been proved wrong but sadly I haven't. Come on Royal Mail, admit failure and please reinstate the Delivery Office in George Street.

Policing In Shoebury

In the Echo this week there have been a couple of high profile incidents in Shoebury which have made front page news. Whilst these types of incidents are thankfully rare, the Police reported to scrutiny this week that overall crime is up across Southend especially burglary and street robbery.

I have always been of the belief that whilst violent crime is extremely unpleasant, it is low level crime like burglary and street robbery which have more impact on people and local communities. For example, burglary makes people feel that their own private space has been violated, then it is the unpleasant clear up, the fear and then an increase in insurance premiums.

At the last Shoebury Police Neighbourhood Action Panel, the attendance is always an indicator of how the impact of crime us as if there is low attendance then things are generally fine. At this particular meeting, there was standing room only.

One after another, residents were reporting instances of Anti-Social Behaviour all over Shoeburyness, from Bishopsteignton to Shoebury High Street. This post isn't a criticism of the local Shoebury Policing Team as they do a sterling job, but local Policing Teams do not patrol 24/7.

As a result, I took an action to contact Nick Alston the Police & Crime Commissioner to ask if he could raise the issue of Policing and Anti-Social Behaviour with the Chief Constable when they next meet.

I was delighted this week to receive a response back from the Commissioner, who confirmed that he will be taking this issue up when he next meets with the Chief Constable. Hopefully, the Chief Constable will agree that additional Police resources are needed to help the Neighbourhood Policing Team in Shoebury.

Friday, 11 October 2013

Southend Walking Festival

Southend Walking Festival comes to West Shoebury on the 28th October. Full details of the Walking Festival can be found below.

A Message From Southend Police

Following reports in the local media this week of an unknown man in a white van trying snatch young children, I thought I would share an email message sent to me today from Southend Police that was recently sent to all Head Teachers in the borough on this issue:

Dear Head Teacher,

In the light of recent reports involving an unknown man in a white van accosting young children in the Southend area, I feel it is prudent for me to contact every Head Teacher in Southend to provide a personal update.  I am sure we are all very aware of the understandably high levels of coverage this matter has received in the media (social & local) and that parents and children alike are extremely concerned.  To date you will only have received information from well-intended but often misleading comments made on social media sites.  These have been compounded by two successive, very strong and in my opinion misleading front page headlines in the Southend Echo.  As a result I have decided to provide a summary of some of the key facts from the 4 incidents reported to us so far, in order for you to provide advice and reassurance to your staff, parents and pupils.  As such, I actively invite you to share this correspondence with staff, parents and pupils as you see fit.

Our investigations are still on-going and further reports are now being received by the Police across Essex and into London on a daily basis.  Each one is being assessed and proportionately investigated in turn.  The highest priority for the Police will always be to protect people from harm.  Clearly however, harm can come in many different forms and includes suffering from fear.  As such I would like to offer the following words of reassurance based upon the facts as established by the Police –

·         No attempt has been made to physically take hold of a child.
·         Of the 4 initial reports,  2 involve young males describing being offered a lift / asked to get in a van.  The descriptions of the male  and the van vary.  They occurred within 15 - 30 minutes of each other, 6 miles apart during the evening rush hour on Thursday 3rdOctober. 
·         A further 2 reports involved people aware of this story on Facebook  being understandably concerned when watched by a male in a white van.  One was an adult with two very small children.
·         The descriptions of the males (old / young / bald / short hair / green top / white top) and vans (small white van / Transit / dirty / clean) vary on each occasion.  As such it is unlikely that the four reported incidents are connected.  That said, we cannot conclusively state that they are not connected and therefore continue with an open mind.
·         Despite Facebook comments to the contrary, there is no known registration number for any of the vehicles involved.  We are monitoring Facebook and have made several enquiries in relation to claims made, all of which are incorrect and not linked to the incidents reported.

Moving forward, I would like to make the following points –

·         We will take every report seriously.  This is not just our job, it is our responsibility.
·         Our advice has not changed.  Child abduction is EXTREMELY rare, but that is not to say that it cannot happen.  I am greatly reassured by the way in which the children in our Borough have demonstrated their ‘stranger danger’ awareness.  Clearly this message has been taken on board and I am aware that many teachers have recently re-enforced this message as part of a proportionate response which can only be a good thing.
·         There are hundreds, if not thousands of white vans in Southend alone, with many more visiting on a daily basis.  By the very nature of their use they will often be parked up in highly populated areas as they wait for people in connection with their business.  We have to guard against seeing every white van as a threat and owners / drivers of white vans must recognise the fear local residents may feel in their presence, considering the impact of their actions accordingly.
·         Children must be reminded to report honestly and avoid the temptation to become part of the story.  I make this point knowing the possible reaction it could cause but it must be said.  Whilst typing this message I have taken a call from an officer who has just had a young student confess to fabricating an account after considerable time was spent on the matter by teachers and officers alike.  No further details will be provided as there will be no repercussions from us on this matter due to the fact that the student found the courage to be become honest and considerable extra public alarm was averted as a result.  I must stress that this occurrence will not alter the way in which we approach future reports.
·         I would like to remind everybody that Facebook is a social media site and as such its success is no doubt due to it being superb in that way.  It is not however, a system for accurately recording investigations into serious matters such as this.  I urge everybody therefore to use Facebook in the way it is intended and resist the temptation to believe that it provides an accurate, credible and up to date source of information into serious investigations because it does not.

Lastly I would like to provide further reassurance by stating that I too am a resident in the Borough and have 3 children, all of whom are at school in Southend.  I am in receipt of all the facts and have reassured my children that everything is OK and they are to carry on as normal.  In other words enjoying themselves whilst always being aware of ‘stranger danger.’  I therefore ask that parents are encouraged to do the same.  Should the situation change I will ensure that everybody is made aware, but the facts at present demonstrate that this is not likely.

Yours faithfully

Matt Bennett

Sunday, 6 October 2013

All Up Elections

At the next Full Council meeting, all 51 councillors will be making a decision as to whether Southend should elect all it's councillors every four years or continue to elect a third of its councillors, one from each ward, every year with what is known as a fallow year in the forth year.

For there to be a change to the current arrangements it will need the agreement of two thirds of councillors. Whilst I am not necessary sure that the proposal will receive backing, I will be voting for the new proposals.

By electing all councillors once every four years it is estimated that it could save £50,000 every year. Whilst I complete accept the concept that you can not put a price on democracy, we elect MP's and MEP's once every five years and I do not get a sense from the residents that I speak to that this is undemocratic.

The reason why I do not believe that this proposal will get the required two thirds support is that ultimately turkey's do not vote for Christmas. I also suspect that the opposition parties will not support the move is that they would struggle to find 51 candidates. I have no actual proof of this but the fact that the Lib Dems have not been able to field a full slate of candidates for the past two elections would suggest that I might be on safe ground with my assumptions.

I would also go slightly further than the report suggests as I would have reduced the number of councillors. Again, this would never see the light of day as turkey's would not vote Christmas but if America can run with just 100 senators does Southend need 51 councillors? Even the House of Commons was looking to reduce by 50 odd seats until the Lib Dems got cold feet.

Ultimately, if we are asking the public to accept the savings that we are having to make then I think the political classes also need to do their bit and reduce our costs. Saving £50,000 a year without making any cuts to front line services is something that warrants serious consideration.

Victoria Gateway Review

Tomorrow night, the Victoria Gateway Scheme Review will be debated by a cross party group of councillor's who will have the chance to make comments and give suggestions before a final paper is given to cabinet in November for a final decision to be made.

Like the City Beach the Independent report confirms that Victoria Gateway is safe. Let's be clear, if the report suggested that the scheme was unsafe, regardless of costs, I would have suggested tearing it up, but it doesn't and the accident data shows that with even more pedestrian movements since it's introduction there have been less recorded accidents in the area.

What I accept which hasn't worked so well is the pedestrian area which does look barren and needs more to make it a public space rather than just a space that people walk through.

I agree with the report in that continuous delineation of the kerb edge on the 'shared space' area by using a form of tactile paving is required. This is the same recommendation as the City Beach review.

I was also pleased that the report identifies the main part of the Victoria Gateway scheme which for me does not work well - the junction from East going West which has two lanes doing a right down Victoria Avenue and one Lane going towards London Road.

There are a number of vehicles who use that middle lane to go straight across which is prohibited and the proposal to hold the two lanes doing a right down Victoria Avenue whilst the other lane going straight across moves is a welcome proposal.

Whilst the report suggests some minor remedial works, I did pay a recent visit on foot to observe and whilst I accept that there are some who will never like the scheme at Victoria Gateway, what is undeniable is that since the introduction of the new scheme, more people use the area and it provides that link what was previously missing from the High Street to Southend Victoria Station.

Thursday, 3 October 2013

Chalking Up More Hypocricy

A somewhat bizarre letter appeared in yesterday's Echo from the Shoeburyness ward Independent Party councillor Anne Chalk on the issue of CCTV Vehicles. I thought I would share with you my letter penned to the Echo in response:


Often we have to witness Cllr Chalk trying to re-write history to mask the hypocrisy in what she will say to her residents as they differ from her actions in the Civic Centre and sadly her actions on the issue of CCTV Vehicles are typical of her behaviour.

It was interesting to note Cllr Chalk (Echo Letters 02/10/13) wants to see the CCTV Vehicles abolished yet never asked for their removal when a review of the CCTV Vehicles was debated at pre cabinet scrutiny, three times at full council, cabinet and at scrutiny committee.

I also noted that Cllr Chalk again questions the CCTV Vehicles legality, but conveniently forgets that she was exposed by the Echo for wanting the CCTV Vehicles to patrol East Beach to monitor Anti-Social Behaviour which is outside Government guidelines on their use.

In fact the Independent Party have had a somewhat chequered relationship with the CCTV Vehicles. Despite using this as an election issue in 2012, as part of the CCTV Vehicle review, we actually had their leader Cllr Terry propose that the hours that the vehicles are in operation be increased. 

The most shameless actions are arguably from Cllr Stafford, who appeared in a BBC documentary in January of this year as part of an action group campaigning for their withdrawal, yet he and his fellow Independent Party colleagues in Thorpe signed a memorandum of understanding with the Conservative Group in May 2012 where one of the agreed areas were the continued use of the CCTV Vehicles in Southend.

Cllr Chalk's parting shot was suggesting that we should use the CCTV equipment from the vehicles to record proceedings in the Council chamber. I can only assume that Cllr Chalk must have forgotten that this administration voted to introduce webcasting of Full Council meetings. To remind Cllr Chalk, when webcasting of council meetings was discussed, she voted against it.

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

Your Blue Food Waste Bin Needs You

On Monday evening I chaired a meeting of the Council's Waste Management Working Party. I actually like this quarterly meeting as it gives us councillors a chance to scrutinise our waste collection scheme.

There was one interesting statistic given on the night which I feel deserves wider attention. Back in March, I had to make the difficult and somewhat unpopular decision at the time, to remove black sacks that were given to residents.

With the rising costs of putting waste into landfill, we needed to get people recycling more to avoid rising costs of the £3 Million we spend each year on landfill charges.

In conjunction with removing black sacks, we introduced new blue food waste bins and food waste sacks. Since the introduction of food waste sacks, food waste tonnages have increased significantly, reaching over 400 tonnes in April, May and August of this year.

Compared with ppre-scheme tonnages of 255 tonnes per month on average in the 2012-2013 financial year, it is forecast on current projections that over 4,500 tonnes of food waste will be collected in 2013-2014.

This represents an overall 54% increase in tonnage captured on the previous year. The additional food waste tonnage diverted from landfill from March and April this year saved approximately £13,000 in landfill costs.

So much for the Armageddon of rubbish piled high in our streets as predicted by the opposition parties!

Reporting Back - September/October Edition