THURROCK residents rallied to support a preschool under threat of closure after the council tried to impose a 76 per cent rent increase that would have forced it to close.

Jacqui Maney (pictured inset), Conservative councillor for Aveley and Uplands, presented a petition signed by 700 residents in support of Aveley Preschool demanding the council reconsiders its “unfair” rent demand on the not-for-profit preschool in Stifford Road.

Presenting the petition at a full council meeting, Ms Maney said: “We call on Thurrock Council to reconsider the proposed rent increase for the building occupied by Aveley Preschool. The excessive increase sought by the local authority cannot be sustained by the preschool which would need to close if a compromise is not agreed.

“I’ve been working alongside the preschool since October on this issue. I’m pleased that the council is now listening. However, we are yet to receive a firm decision and I hope this petition will go some way to reinforcing the strength of feeling in Aveley. The preschool has served Aveley children and parents, many from deprived backgrounds, for 17 years. Unlike most other childcare providers, it does not operate on a commercial basis and is a community interest company.”

Ms Maney revealed at the meeting on Wednesday how the preschool’s boiler has been broken since last year.

She said: “We fully understand the need for the council to review all authority rents to ensure they are in the best interests of all parties.

“The preschool recognises this too and accepts that it has not had an up to date lease or rent increase for some years. However, the council is to blame for years of poor asset management and to set a 76 per cent increase now is wholly unfair. Make no mistake, Aveley Preschool will close if the council were to increase their rent by the proposed amount. This will be a hammer blow to the local community.

“I will put on record now my disappointment the manner in which the council has dealt with the preschool. There has been a lack of compassion or understanding and the fact that the preschool has been without central heating since September due to a broken boiler is a disgrace.”

Council leader, Andrew Jefferies said the rent increase would be reconsidered.

He said: “None of us are in any doubt that Aveley Preschool is a valuable asset to the community. I would like to restate my apology that I gave for the lack of heating of the building. This is wholly unacceptable and I gave a direction for immediate action once it was brought to my attention by. I really am sorry for the time it’s taken to get repaired.

“I agree that the proposed rent increase is not a fair offer and I’ve tasked officers with working up a fair alternative.”