Firstly, an apology. It is, I suspect, not an apology owed by myself, but I will give it nonetheless. To anyone who attended the hustings last night at Hinguar Primary School in order to see and listen to me, you would have been disappointed.
I arrived at Hinguar at ten to seven, only to be told by Cllr Anne Chalk that I wouldn’t in fact be speaking. It had changed, apparently, from the West Shoebury and Shoeburyness hustings that had been advertised, to a Shoeburyness only debate. And as such, only Conservative Cllr Roger Hadley and Independent candidate Nick Ward would speak.
Now, I don’t know when this decision was made. I do know that I had discussed my intentions today and last night with senior Labour councillors, and no such communication had reached any of us. I do however know that the decision served to make it an Independent vs Tory battle, and that the accusation that the Labour Shoeburyness candidate had not turned up was entirely spurious. Maggie Kelly was never intended to come, as she was working.
But actually, having sat through the spectacle ensued, I’m not sure I’m not glad to have been little part of it.
As I said, it was an Independent vs Tory bunfight. Nick Ward against Cllr Roger Hadley.
The issues, as I had prepared for, were chiefly twofold. The sea wall was the first issue. It’s a contentious project, and it was discussed in great detail, with Cllr Hadley bearing the brunt of the considerable hostility. There is certainly an argument that the council have failed to properly consult with the residents. Certainly the residents do not feel consulted with. Whether, though it is a done deal or not, whether it is too late to make any changes or nor, whether there is a better, cheaper, more effective option I do not know.
I do, however, note that the proposed site of the sea wall is not in Shoeburyness, it is in fact in…er, West Shoebury…
The other contentious issue was the proposed housing on the Gunners Park site. I have some sympathy for the concern of whether there would be sufficient infrastructure to support the extra housing. However, unlike some I believe the solution is not to scrap the (much needed) housing, but rather to ensure that there will be such infrastructure.
I did challenge Cllr Hadley on the provision of affordable housing. My understanding is that at present the proposal does not include any. Cllr Hadley’s answer is that there would have to be some affordable housing, else money to build it there or elsewhere. I’m slightly unenthusiastic about this; affordable housing is necessary, and there is a need for it in Shoebury.
But most of all, what struck me was just how weak the independent candidate was. I am no fan of the Conservatives, nationally or locally, but I have to say that at least he had some ideas. Mr Ward had precisely two; no to the sea wall, and no to building houses. Which is fine, I guess, but he seemed generally clueless. I had to repeatedly press him to name anything that he was for, and even then it was nicked from others; improving the paddling pool, for one, as well as building a permanent health centre in Shoeburyness (which is actually a Labour manifesto pledge).
He also seems to think that the council can dictate to the MoD regarding the closure of East Beach. Which whilst being an important issue in itself, is hardly within the ability of a borough councillor.
All in all, Mr Ward came across as a sponge. Froth. Lacking substance and meaning. When asked (by me) what he would do if the sea wall and Gunners housing were scrapped on day one of his being a councillor, what he would do with the rest of his four years, his only answer was a shrug and “I have lots of ideas”.
It’s a shame he couldn’t share a few. Then there might have been some sort of reason for voters to vote for him.