Standing for election

You have probably realised, due to all the extra letters and articles appearing in The Focus, through your door, and online, that we have reached election time again. When I was told that a two-page spread in The Focus would be fully paid for, I felt like the cat that had got the cream. Blatant electioneering, which I quite dislike; but you all know by now that I do like a good write-up, so I will be using every inch. Few wars ever start with too much communication; few problems are ever solved with too little. Grab a drink, relax, this is our fifteen minutes together; we are going on a journey.

To be fair, it is going to be quite difficult for me to stand as a Conservative Party candidate at these forthcoming local elections. Over the last few years, we have all seen a Conservative Government struggle within itself; and a Parliamentary Party more interested in legitimising its internal clique culture rather than focusing on delivering manifesto commitments. However, these elections are not for our highest tier of Government, but are for our two lowest tiers, namely, our Town Council, and Chelmsford City Council.

At the Town Council level, there is an unwritten rule that you do not bring party politics into play. This is mostly adhered to by all your Town Councillors, and it works well as the consensus view is extracted on most debated items and reflected in the votes and decisions. My last four years of tenure serving you on South Woodham Ferrers Town Council has seen me serve as your Deputy Mayor and your Town Mayor through that dreadful period of covid & lockdown. We had to think on our feet, learn as we went along and assist the staff both as their employers and with social distancing rules that seemed to change each month.

It was both painful and heart-breaking. Our town lost over 60 residents to covid, some were personal friends, and we all know someone or a family that was affected by this awfully sad event. We believed in regular communication in The Focus, and I trust we provided balanced information, guidance and moral support that helped our community spirit wherever we could. I am both humbled and honoured to have played my small part. We have a strong sense of community here in SWF that many communities aspire to.

I believe our Town Council has become a more representative, and hence, a stronger council than it was when I first joined in 2015. We have many talented town councillors, from a broad range of experiences and I hope all my fellow town councillors will re-stand in the upcoming election. If you believe I have served you well on our Town Council, I would very much appreciate your vote.

At Chelmsford City Council (The Borough/District Council that our town falls under), I confess, this is my first time of standing and asking for your support. This next tier up of local Government has far more decision-making capabilities than our Town Council. This makes it harder to steer legislation for the good of our town without having a ‘flag’ to rally around. The flag that aligns most to my personal values, and the flag that I truly believe will deliver the best local government outcome for our town of South Woodham Ferrers, is for a Conservative City Council to be returned in Chelmsford. Let me give you my reasons why.

Firstly, since the Lib-Dems took control of Chelmsford four years ago, the words ‘Chelmsford City Council’ seem to have gone completely to their heads. An extremely city-centric and disappointing regime in control, South Woodham Ferrers has received nothing at all. OK, they will dine out on things like they replaced a worn-out play area at Saltcoats, they resurfaced Compass Gardens car park (funded by the contractor that laid a pipe through the area), maintained a boiler at the swimming pool and such. Err, hello! That’s called the day job, it’s routine maintenance, upgrades & refresh. Get on with it. Like creosoting the upper decks of a cruise ship, I expect that as the norm, not some “let’s shout about it” thing for the next couple of years.

Unfortunately, real achievements for our town by the Lib-Dem controlled city-centric regime are non-existent. They planted a load of trees opposite Creekview Road as part of their response to the ‘climate emergency’. When challenged, the Lib-Dem response was something along the lines of ‘It’s our land to do with as we please’. Funny, I never regarded myself as a landowner of council lands. For me, councillors are guardians of the lands and assets on behalf of the people. The land will be here long after we’ve passed.

As for those trees, 95% died (a horticultural something somewhere) but this was a vanity project for the Lib-Dem City Council cabinet members for a greener, centric, and photo-opportunistic Chelmsford. Fence off any grass, smother it with Roundup weedkiller and then leave it, of course the weeds re-grow as will a few wildflowers. But this was healthy green grassy open space to start with. The city-centric narrative has become ‘it’s cheaper to replace dead trees, that was all part of the plan’ which prospective councillors are now being photographed doing at the rate of a few a week (Remember…electioneering). This is a mess of the land that was completely made by the Lib-Dem controlled City Council against local residential wishes.

A couple of weeks ago, at a City Council meeting, the leader of the Lib-Dem regime in control at Chelmsford City Council stood up and said, “We build communities, we don’t just build homes”. I almost spat my coffee out as I heard that. You could have fooled me. The obnoxious approach the current regime has adopted and used to vote through its cynical, city-centric, planning process has resulted in just under 1,250 new homes being dumped on our community, of which, over 1,000 have already received planning permission.

Like almost all of you, I am not a NIMBY. I truly believe we need some essential residential development in our town. We have our young adults being forced to move away from their parents and, in these times – for many – close parental support for children and grandchildren is essential for our mental health; and leads to a vibrant and healthy community.

However, these housing plans have NO new infrastructure. A few ponds to trap rainwater, a mending of a ditch over Saltcoats so it can cope with the runoff, and the pumping of new and existing sewage twice around the town before delivering it, when overload conditions permit, straight into Fen Creek. Necessary road improvements include white lines (Remember… the day job), new roundabouts and six new crossings.

Cycleways shared with footpaths (that serve no one as cyclists can’t cycle at speed for fear of hitting someone and pedestrians walk them with the anxiety of being rammed by a bike if they put one leg on the wrong side of the paint).  In the 1980’s, our town was supposedly the poster child for leisurely footpaths and leafy alleys. Now look at them, arguments about who maintains them, crumbling, dimly lit, overgrown, high-maintenance and often, no-go areas after dark. This is not a sustainable approach; the proof is here.

Chelmsford City Council has not built enough social and affordable homes in its city-centric wards. Their current overall all target is just over 20% out of a mandated 35%. They are under target, having failed to implement the policy as it was intended through the planning process within the city-centric areas of Chelmsford over the last four years. We all support social housing and affordable homes; they are sorely needed. But there’s a difference between a balanced amount that promotes a sustainable community and a sink estate to make up the numbers. The developers have quietly switched to building their private homes, towards the back of the South Woodham site first. Ask yourself what do you think happens next?

With Bradwell B likely, over 10,000 new homes on target for the Dengie along with another potential 1,800 homes right on our border before you turn left to Stow Maries, I believe that the Lib-Dem controlled Chelmsford City Council have spectacularly failed to carry out enough due diligence on the greater impact of road infrastructure in our area. The strong Lib-Dem centric areas of North Chelmsford, with less than half the total forecasted new homes of SWF and the Dengie, get a new train station (don’t get me started on how this will reduce the number of trains available to us between Shenfield and Stratford during peak times, that’s a debate I am gearing up to have). North Chelmsford also gets a brand-new strategic bypass link-road, we can’t have voters in those strong centric Lib-Dem wards sitting in queues each morning, can we?

As a town, we must continue to be vocal, so where permitted, we can ensure that this ‘planning process stitch-up’ will never again happen to our town. A few people warned this would happen, I value their input. This is one of the reasons I am opting to stand for election at the City Council, to carry influence, to try and make a difference, and to get what’s best for our town.

I am standing, along with my fellow Conservative Councillors Ashley John, Malcolm Sismey and Bob Massey, who behind the scenes, are constantly trying to effect change and handle your inquiries as soon as you ask them. If you would like me to represent your views and stand up for our town at the City Council level, I would very much appreciate your vote.

I make no promises other than to ensure your voice is truly heard. Change is required at Chelmsford, and if I can be part of that, at my first time of asking for your support, I quite relish the challenge ahead. Murrough

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