PLENTY has happened in 2013 in Thurrock - but all that could be dwarfed by what this year has in store.
This September the new South Essex College campus in Grays Town Centre will open after £45million was spent on moving it from its current campus at Woodview, also in Grays.
The college won’t just benefit young people but adults as well, who will enroll to the numerous evening courses on offer.
Local business is also set to receive a major boost as thousands of students (unsure how many) flood in to the town centre, which is only a minute’s walk from the college.
The college’s new restaurant, coffee shop and hair and beauty salons will also be open for public use.
This year will also see further developments at £1.5billion superport, with two more berths scheduled to open – the first in April and the second six months later.
This will increase the amount of trade with more ships docking at the London Gateway port - in turn this will further bolster the local economy.
Last year, of course, saw the most significant development in the borough since the turn of the millennium, the opening of this port. It is the UK’s biggest port accompanied by Europe’s largest logistics park, together they will eventually create up to 32,000 jobs.
And the Port of Tilbury is not being left behind. Just last week the Gazette revealed a new cruise liner would soon sail to Morocco, Portugal, the Canary islands and Norway.
The ‘Black Watch’ – as the ship has been named – is scheduled to set sail on November 15 after a landmark deal was struck between port bosses and Norwegian-based cruise company Fred Olsen.
The new London Distribution Park, based next to the port, will introduce more than 940,000 sq. ft. of space for rail, port and barge services. More importantly it will provide another 1,100 jobs.
Thurrock council leader John Kent said: “This year (2014) is going to see many changes to Thurrock as the borough’s businesses and business community continue to work with the council and build on the successes of 2013.
“We’re working together for the benefit of all local people, improving education, improving the job market and improving the environment.”
Mr Kent has been very vocal about the need for a decision on the location of a Lower Thames Crossing, to alleviate pressure on the Dartford Crossing, with that also due early this year (2014). It was thought an announcement would be made last week, but the Department for Transport delayed it.
Mr Kent said local business is suffering because of the government’s indecision, saying: “we’re still committed to no new crossing in Thurrock and we will continue that fight throughout the coming year - and beyond if necessary.”
Come October the troublesome tolls at the Dartford Crossing will be removed, with a new “free-flow” system introduced, meaning less congestion, although road users will still have to pay to cross.
New life is also set to be breathed into the former Grays Magistrates Court building, in Grays Town Centre. Since closing in April 2011 it has been unused but it will soon house new businesses and local entrepreneurs.
The £2million project could provide more than 100 jobs within new conference and meeting rooms – with the current Business Centre, based at the old Post Office, fit to burst with small businesses looking for a home.
One building that remains dormant is the old State Cinema, in George Street, Grays. It went on sale in the summer, but its future remains unclear. Hopefully that too will be sorted this year.
Jackie Doyle-Price, Thurrock MP, said the future of the borough was bright - and Thurrock was very much “on the up”.
She said: “I think the people of Thurrock can look forward to a local economy which continues to grow. “Unemployment will continue to fall and more jobs are being created.
“It has been tough to deal with the deficit, but we are through the worst of it and residents can look forward to more tax cuts, the toll barriers being removed, further work on J30 (Lakeside) improvements and clarity on the new Lower Thames crossing.”
One of the gems in Thurrock’s crown is the High House Production Park, in Purfleet, which the Royal Opera House uses as a base.
A new costume workshop could be opened alongside the production workshop this year, which will be moved to the site from East London.
The planning application to locate the costume workshop on site will be discussed soon along with huge housing applications including plans to build 800 homes in Corringham, 350 in Chadwell St Mary and 320 near Lakeside.
Thurrock Council is keen to build more than 18,000 homes by 2026 - this ambitious vision of development will continue to be hotly debated this year.
An application to spend £100million on improvements at intu Lakeside Shopping Centre will also be discussed – with building beginning in 2015 if passed.
A number of the borough’s football clubs are also looking to re-locate in 2014 – including Grays Athletic and Aveley, with the former currently playing at Aveley’s ground.
It seems the future is bright. The future is Thurrock.