Councillors hit back at campaigners over green-belt 'hypocrisy'

Thurrock Gazette: Barry Johnson has been very critical of the campaigners Barry Johnson has been very critical of the campaigners

A FURIOUS councillor laid into a group of Ockendon residents who he said cared more about a few trees than hundreds of graves.

Barry Johnson, the ward councillor for Ockendon, hit out during a fiery debate over whether 11 family houses should be built on green belt land.

He compared the proposed development at Bentons Farm, Mollands Lane, with plans to rip up 400 graves and build 15 homes at the old South Ockendon United Reformed Church, known as the Cherry Orchard Chapel, in North Road. This plan was approved in September.

He said it was a “sorry state of affairs” when “resident organisations in South Ockendon were making more fuss about ten trees than 400 graves”.

Councillors, the Concerned Ockendon Residents Group and the developers’ agent locked horns at the meeting before the planning committee voted against officers’ recommendations to refuse permission for the houses.

A formerly listed farmhouse and outbuildings currently sit on the green belt plot off Mollands Lane. The land’s previous owner cut down protected trees on the site.

Opposing the plans, Derek Duke from the Concerned Ockendon Residents Group said: “There’s no attempt here to replace trees and there’s an order on the site to put mature trees back. We appreciate that you can’t get 50 foot trees put back, but they need to be mature.”

He added: “The majority of people agreeing to this don’t live anywhere near this site. The objectors live nearby.”

However, Mr Johnson said: “There’s a bigger picture here. Opponents are saying if this was granted it would affect residents on Mollands Lane the greatest.

“But Thurrock and Ockendon needs housing. We want families to have a choice of housing.

“This site has been a nightmare. This proposal is a reasonable compromise.”

He added: “Just two months ago, this committee agreed to 15 flats that desecrate 400 graves. I think it’s a sorry state of affairs when you have organisations in Ockendon making more fuss about ten trees rather than 400 graves.”

In another twist, two Labour councillors bickered over the plans. Richard Speight, who opposed the proposal due to the land being within green belt, was told by the committee chairman Terry Hipsey that councillors had agreed to build on much larger plots of green belt land than this one.

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