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  • John Payton

Why can't the Conservatives get their story straight on Mill Hall?

It has been an eventful week in our campaign to save the Mill Hall from demolition by the Conservative majority Rochford District Council. Our efforts to get the message out about the appalling plans to destroy the hall and build four storey flat blocks in the Rayleigh Conservation Area gather apace. We have led a brilliantly supported drive to deliver leaflets to residents in Rayleigh and further afield - some 13,000 leaflets have been delivered. We have also campaigned in Rayleigh High Street a number of times. The petition stands at over 3,700 signatures and the Facebook Group approaches 1,000 members.

Meanwhile at Conservative HQ the councillors just can’t make their minds up as to how they feel about the Asset Delivery Plan, or so they’d have you believe. Conservative Councillor Bob Milne recently published a video hailing the designs and benefits of the proposals for the Mill Hall site using terms such as: "a housing site, done very and nice houses" and on the replacement hall: "an optimum size hall that according to research from Sheffield Hallam University actually hits the sweet...ballpark, thing" and "It can make a return and be such an attractive venue" and "when you come into that space, you'll see the road coming in and you will see the windmill, straight on ahead and it's gonna have a bit of a wow factor". Here is his video:

But not a few days later, the very same Councillor Bob Milne, in his role as councillor Rayleigh Town Council would not respond to a residents request at a council meeting to know what Rayleigh Town Council thought of the development. Bob simply hid behind the argument “it’s not for us to comment on - it’s a Rochford District Council plan, we have to wait”. When challenged about his comments on the above video being pre-determined towards the development, he denied saying anything of the sort. So where do you stand Bob? Is it the ‘wow factor’ or ‘not for us to comment on’?

You see, pre-determination is a real problem when it comes to being a councillor. It’s not supposed to happen. The problem residents of Rayleigh face is that RayleighTown Council is predominately made up of Conservative councillors who are the very same councillors in majority at Rochford District Council, who make decisions on such planning matters. The very same councillors voted for the whole thing to go ahead, and have continued to campaign on it in the upcoming local election.

A Conservative flip flop or smoke and mirrors?

Then yesterday came the news that our campaign and the objections of residents had clearly rattled Conservative HQ. Rumours of an ‘announcement’ swirled in Rayleigh town. Low and behold, a letter from ‘Rayleigh Conservatives’ popped through Rayleigh residents letterboxes entitled ‘Conservatives listen on Mill Hall’. A seemingly heroic statement is made in the letter “Rayleigh Conservatives have confirmed that they do not wish to support the current proposals and are calling on Rochford District Council to carry out a comprehensive review and a rethink of the Mill Hall site in light of comments from Rayleigh Residents. As a result, plans to redevelop the site will be paused while a review takes place and new proposals are brought back for consideration by the Autumn”.

Hoorah the Mill Hall is saved! Except nothing is as it seems.

The Conservative Leader of Rochford District Council was contacted soon after this release was published and confirmed that “nothing can be stopped as we are in Purdah”. So pre-election, decisions and communications of this kind are forbidden due to election rules. Indeed as confirmed by opposition councillors, no suspension of the Asset Plan can take place without a vote from the whole of Rochford District Council.

So again, what’s the story Conservatives? Are you for or against your own published plans?

Well, we believe the story is that days from a hotly contested local election with the Asset Plan and proposed demolition of Rayleigh Mill Hall on everyone’s lips, the Conservatives are in a mess. Their plan to destroy community venues and car parking spaces and to build monstrous flat blocks in spitting distance of heritage landmarks like Rayleigh Windmill are entirely misconceived and unacceptable to residents. Upon realising this, the Conservatives spin the story that they can save the day by ‘pausing’ the plan and ‘listening’ to residents. Now you can vote Conservative on 6th May! The community sees through this.

Nothing has changed, no decisions have been made in the Asset Plan. No pause, no halting, no review, no comment or confirmation from Rochford District Council. Rayleigh Conservatives cannot get their story straight.

Our campaign will continue, and this is just the beginning. We will not rest until the Mill Hall is saved and a commitment is made by the council to protect and renovate the hall for the whole of the district. We will also fight to see all plans for flats in Rayleigh be abandoned. The campaign suggests that on 6th May, residents take the opportunity to vote for candidates who do not support the council’s plans such as Liberal Democrats, Rochford District Residents, Green Party and Independents. These are parties who do not support overdevelopment of our towns and who are just as appalled by the Conservative’s ill-advised adventure to build plush new offices in Rochford at the expense of the Mill Hall.

Vote on Thursday 6th. Save Mill Hall.

John Payton, Save Mill Hall Campaign

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