TORIES on Basildon Council have been accused of rushing through crucial town-centre plans, just weeks before elections could see the party kicked out.
The planning application for the relocation of Basildon Market, so crucial to plans for a town-centre college and a 725-home estate in Dry Street, is coming before Basildon Council’s development control committee next Tuesday.
The plans were vetoed by the committee at the end of February, due to concerns over the design and look of the market.
Basildon Town Centre Management, which owns the market, has come back with a new battleplan, including dropping the number of permanent stalls from 51 to 46, and removing a proposed fence around the site, replacing it with CCTV cameras.
But according to residents and opposition councillors, the authority should not be debating the plans so close to borough council elections on May 22, where if the Tories lose three of the 11 seats they are defending and make no gains, they will lose overall control.
Nigel Smith, leader of the Labour group, said: “To be deciding this at the fag-end of this administration is just sneaky and underhand.
“There is no reason why they can’t wait until the end of May.
“It is riding roughshod over democracy and means they are making a huge political decision when they could be out of power in a few weeks’ time.”
If the market moves from its current site in Market Place, it will pave the way for South Essex College to build a £30million town-centre campus in its place.
It will mean the college selling its current Netherymane site to developers, which will kickstart the development of the 725-home estate in Dry Street, as the college site forms part the project.
The Echo understands that cash promised from the college to the market will be withdrawn if planning permission is not given for the market relocation by 2015.
Dry Street campaigner Danny Lovey said: “I am sure the administration will ensure the membership of the committee will push the plans through as it is a central core policy so Dry Street can be built.”
The new application proposes fewer stalls so there is a view through the market, and seven fewer trees will be cut down following criticism, meaning only 20 will face the axe.
Tony Ball, leader of Basildon Council, said: “Labour have predetermined how they are going to vote when applications should be voted on by merit.
“The last application wasn’t very good and we showed that by voting it down, but hopefully this has given the market a kick up the butt.”