Dermot Kavanagh, the Chair of GAG 2011 thanked the 120 plus supporters for attending. He gave details of the agenda: a presentation by Miriam (Heppell) on the legal case, input from Geoff (Williams) on the political status and details of where GAG stand financially from Pat (Roberts). DK asked that questions be left to the end of the presentations when there would be a question and answer session at the end, he pointed out that we had a time restriction on our use of the hall. He also explained the meeting would be recorded purely for writing minutes, and confidentiality would be respected.
Miriam introduced herself and explained that she was the secretary of GAG2011 and that she had her name on the legal papers as it was easier (for solicitor and barrister) to deal with one person and there are financial benefits to there being a single claimant against Basildon Council. Although, she said, it had become apparent that it wasn’t just Basildon Council we were taking on. Miriam then went on to explain using a power point diagram that we were still seeking a judicial review and where we were in the process. She confirmed we were still in the process of appeal. Miriam referred to the previous public meeting on 13th May when supporters agreed to apply for appeal as this was going to a relatively cheap paper exercise but this had been unsuccessful and had actually cost us more in solicitors fees than we had anticipated as the solicitor had to chase documents and respond to demands by the Court of Appeal for a Costs Protection Order. The judge looked at our appeal papers on 31st July and commented he was unable to find a pertinent document, although checks later by the solicitor showed it to be in the bundle. Permission was denied.
Our next option is to have a hearing to appeal for permission for judicial review but this will be very expensive. Miriam then showed some comments from the barrister on the case including his opinion on our chances for this appeal hearing. We do still have legal points that are arguable. She pointed out that we have been granted leave to appeal, although the odds are against us, we are still in the system. Due to the very short time scale involved in asking for an appeal hearing (required by 7th July) she had already paid the court fee and asked the solicitor to apply to keep that opportunity open. That doesn’t mean we have to go ahead but we do need to confirm this week.
Geoff opened by saying that everyone was aware that things changed in May after the local elections and we now have a majority of non conservative councillors. At the first full council meeting in July Geoff moved a motion seconded by a Labour Councillor and this was supported by UKIP, Labour, Ind. Labour and Liberal Democrat councillors. The motion read:
Council regrets the proposed Nethermayne site development approved by the DCTM committee on 4 June 2013. The site is recognised as of local, county and national ecological significance and its loss is irreplaceable; furthermore the development will deprive Basildon of a much loved and well used equestrian facility and reduce the learning and training opportunities for young people in the borough. Council believes such development is wrong and damaging to the wider public interest.
Conservative councillors abstained but did not oppose it. Geoff went on to say it’s now clear that the majority of councillors now oppose the planning consent which may be helpful to our court case but council officers and the legal department seem intent on defending the case. He continued that changes at the next general election may bring changes to the departments such as the Homes and Communities Agency and reminded us about what the development would mean in terms of losses for our community and the landscape of Langdon Hills and our children’s future in the town. Miriam commented that the political climate may be changing but it isn’t going to come in time and our hope lies in the legal case, we can’t wait until April, the bulldozers are on stand by waiting for the result of the legal case.
Dermot asked if there were any questions. A comment from the floor floor by a councillor said the feeling he got in speaking to council officers was that they were very sure they would win. He said it was unfortunate that Geoff’s motion wasn’t debated through lack of time and cannot be put again within six months. Councillors opposing the development need to think of ways to keep the situation in the public eye in the run up to April, he said. He continued, we should continue the campaign and use all the resources available. Geoff agreed and said they must ‘keep the pot boiling’.
A lady from the ‘Love Laindon’ campaign said she supported our aims. Her campaign are trying to create youth housing in Laindon and regenerate the area. She commented that Longwood needed renovation. Geoff responded and explained that Longwood haven’t had the opportunity to invest in their premises given that they have had to operate on a series of short leases with no guarantee of their future.
Pat Roberts, GAG 2011 treasurer, gave a report on GAG finances for this year. Pat said that GAG have had a really successful financial year due to the hard work and good will of the volunteers and the amazing support from the community who have come along to activities and brought friends and relatives too. She hoped everyone had enjoyed the events. Pat went on to say that GAG has had donations from within the community and from local businesses which we really appreciate. It shows that everyone is prepared to fight for something that is important. Pat moved on to show a summary sheet of this year’s finances to August 17th 2014. This is attached below the minutes. Pat explained our income from donations and events and commented our sundry expenses were low as supporters refused to be reimbursed for items like stationary/printing/petrol etc.effectively donating it back. The legal expenses have all been paid.
Pat confirmed the deficit shown has now been reduced by recent deposits and she has further pledges. Books with detailed figures can be viewed if required. Pat is pleased that we were able to ‘keep our heads above water’ for so long but we do need to clear the deficit and raise further funds if we are to continue but she is convinced we can do it.
Pat asked Miriam to give details of the sort of amount we may need to raise. Miriam explained the barrister had give a quote of £3, 600 plus vat. We are not registered for VAT so the bill will be £4,200 for the barrister to prepare for the hearing and represent us. The solicitors fees should be less than £2,000. Pat asked for an overall figure to raise. A figure of £10,000 was suggested from the floor. Miriam pointed out we won’t need all this money straightaway but we do need to know we have cleared the deficit and we have at least half the barrister’s fees by next week.
Pat asked that people make some personal decisions about what they would be prepared to commit. She said the fundraising will continue, and she hoped that would be supported and we could maintain the community feel but the crux of the matter is that direct donations or pledges are required. As treasurer, Pat said she needed to know that the support was there and quickly available. Pat gave details on how people could donate or pledge money.
Dermot then asked for questions from the floor. Pat was asked to make a comment on the first line of the envelopes that she had distributed. Pat confirmed that it should say GAG2011 and not 2014 but technology had defeated her attempts. Cheques should be made payable to GAG2011. The next question commented that the amounts discussed were for the appeal bill and had our counsel advised how much it would cost for a judicial review. Miriam answered that judicial reviews cost a lot of money and we were talking about another large commitment of maybe £40,000 but it would be good to get ourselves in a position where we could turn a judicial review down.
A further comment from the floor discussed devolving powers to neighborhoods from Basildon Council. Dermot replied that it wouldn’t happen quickly enough.
Another supporter asked how confident the barrister was, having been turned down at the previous hearing. Miriam replied that our odds at the beginning were higher than now but the barrister says we still have a point. He understands our funding situation and Miriam said she had confidence in the barrister and his opinion. Another attendee said she agreed our battle was against the HCA and this had been going on for a long time and the government were determined to turn the land into cash. She felt the matter was deliberately being prolonged in the hope that we would drop out but we should keep going as we did have a strong case in her view. She asked what the view of our MP Stephen Metcalfe was? Some discussion followed and it was suggested we should put pressure through the press and on the council, councillors and our MP. Geoff urged everyone to write to their MP. He also explained that this all forms part of the local plan and the council are in a difficult position politically without the Conservative majority in pushing that through.
One gentleman said that he knew we were talking about the legal case but it appears the council officers were not acting effectively and were not representing the people of Basildon. He went on to ask what councillors could do to stop this development. Miriam explained that if Basildon Council revoke the plan this will probably lead to a public enquiry and the likely result is that the housing need in basildon will be given importance over other issues by Government officers and we won’t get the result we want. Dermot reminded people that at the meeting on 4th June 2013 at the hotel the Conservative councillors had already been told to vote for the development, this was undemocratic.
Another attendee said he had seen the issue widely reported locally but not nationally like the fracking protests. Miriam relied that local news goes into a news pool and the issue has appeared as far away as Oxford but hasn’t made the national papers. She said that if we get to judicial review stage national coverage is more likely to happen and we will get more interest and can also try for sponsorship. A lady praised the local open areas and said this was a matter of importance not just to Lee Chapel South and Kingswood but for all of Basildon. Dermot confirmed we had leafleted, LCS, Kingswood, Westley Heights and Dry St which was as much as we could do with limited resources but at last years planning meeting he spoke to people from a much wider area. He continued that we need people to spread the word. A supporter asked if we should get another petition going like we did years ago. Miriam replied that it would be a good idea. Geoff agreed.
Another supporter asked how much we actually need altogether. Miriam replied that for the moment we needed around £10,000 but £40,000 or £50,000 would be needed for a judicial review. The gentleman continued by asking for clarification on the situation. He wanted to know if we went for judicial review, could we get knocked back at that stage? Miriam confirmed that there could be a situation where we won a judicial review and Basildon Council appealed and it would go on.
A lady praised the leaflet that was delivered and the delivery team and commented that there are still people who don’t know what is going on. She went on to ask if Basildon Council would incur any liability from the HCA. Miriam answered that the short answer was ‘yes, they would have a big problem’. Another supporter asked what we thought Basildon Council would do if we got to a judicial review. Geoff replied saying there was no way of telling how they would react but the opposition amongst councilors now is such that councillors may insist to council officers that it is a waste of public money to fight the case.
A lady asked if we were on social media? Miriam confirmed that we had a Facebook account and the intention of using the existing twitter account more. The lady then asked about TV. Miriam said that Geoff had already been filmed, around 18 months ago, by a television company and if we get to judicial review we could get more ‘sympathy’. Pat confirmed we were also using the Lee Chapel Forum and BASHA both community groups with Facebook sites.
A councillor in the audience said he can confirm Geoff’s comments about council officers. When he had raised the issue of revoking the plan after changes in May, it has been made very clear to him by council officers that if they pull back from this, the financial implications would be enormous and he was asked which services he would cut. He asked Geoff if he had had the same approaches. He also suggested people-power could force the issue. Geoff replied to his comments after the meeting.
As time had run out Dermot moved on to voting on a motion to continue legal action. He explained that GAG2011 is a community group and supporters were all stake holders and we would go with the majority decision. Dermot proposed the following motion and was seconded from the floor:
That we the local residents and supporters of GAG, given that committed pledges and financial support reaches the amounts required of £10,000 by 28th September, wish to take the GAG campaign to the appeal hearing for permissions for a judicial review.
The vote was carried almost unanimously with one person abstaining, none against.
Dermot confirmed that if we do not reach the amount by the date, GAG could well decide that the campaign is over. He continued, if every household in LCS gave £5 we would reach this figure, We have Kingswood an all of Nethermayne to consider. Don’t be put off by the sum. As an individual sum it is large but we are not acting as individuals, we are a group. Dermot said he had supported GAG for 25 years. He loves the open spaces of Dry Street and asked people to remember that the homes being built were aspirational homes, not homes for our children and the money made will not go back into Basildon but into Government coffers. We get nothing but 725 houses he said.
Rod Cole, chair of The living Landscapes Group announced some dates for local community activities around the Langdon Ridge. There is a heritage orchard group who are launching their project on 28th September at 1pm at EWT centre at Dunton. Also Dry St have a community orchard project and people may be interested in getting involved. Dry St Memorial Church are celebrating Harvest and had an excellent service. An exhibition with tea and coffee was offered for the afternoon at the church and an evening service.
Thanks were proposed to the members of GAG who do the legal work , raise the finances and put on events and all those helping in the background. Dermot asked those who wished to donate or make a pledge to make their way to the table to leave contact details. The meeting was closed at 12.50 pm.
Accounts year ending 17th August 2014
Presented to the AGM by P.A.Roberts. Sunday 21st September 2014
website,bank transfers,cheques and cash £4,427.60
Organised Fundraising events £6,145.45
Total (A) £12,573.05
Sundry expenses, £842.74
printing inks,stationary,venues, running expenses,
Legal expenses, paid. £11,715.00
Detailed account available.
Total (B) £12,557.74
Total (A) £12,573.05
Total (B) £12,557.74
Balance to hand £15.31
Unpaid legal fees to date £4,296.71