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Looking outside at the world from inside the most boring town in Britain: Brentwood, Essex, known locally as 'Boredtown'. A Grumpy Old Man's take on the absurdities of small-town life, politics and the encroaching forces of bureaucracy.

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Welcome to Boredtown

Looking outside at the world from inside the most boring town in Britain: Brentwood, Essex, known locally as 'Boredtown'. A Grumpy Old Man's take on the absurdities of small-town life, politics and the encroaching forces of bureaucracy.

Ham-fisted Sandwich Board Policy
31st January 2010

Last year, Brentwood spent £7m of their residents' money making the High Street look pretty. As part of these works, the unsightly proliferation of sandwich boards had to be removed. This would have been a good time to consider sandwich board policy, to consult with all interested parties (including able-bodied and disabled shoppers, and mothers with babies), and to produce clear and simple guidelines. So that didn't happen.

Instead, a few weeks ago the major works finished and one by one, the sandwich boards crept back. With the tacit approval of the Council. And we struggling pedestrians, wheelchair users and pram-pushers again had to form patient queues by each sign, and filter past in single file. Shop signs

Then wonder of wonders, two weeks ago, the Council decided to take action. Traders were summarily given 48 hours to remove the "illegal obstructions" from outside their shops. Hurrah!
At last the council was supporting the ordinary citizen against the tacky commercialism which was blighting the High Street. Double Hurrah!
The Council was striking a blow for the blind and partially sighted, the wheelchair bound, the pushchair parents and those who like to walk arm in arm, providing free unobstructed transit for all ! Triple Hurrahs for Brentwood Council !

But even before the sound of the cheers had faded, the Council had done a U-turn. The traders have whinged and complained, and in response they will now be consulted on the ban. "We're not saying traders can't have any boards at all, we need to decide on a protocol going forwards" says council leader Louise McKinley. She didn't explain why she hadn't decided on a protocol while the boards were absent due to redevelopment.

I wonder what this consultation will reveal. I have no special insight, but I'm willing to bet good money that the traders will want their ugly placards back - duh, that's why they kicked up. Incidentally, I'm still waiting for announcements about the consultation with High Street users, who picked up the bill for the re-development and are severely inconvenienced by these illegal obstructions.

What really grates is that the reason for the ban in the first place wasn't aesthetics, disability access or improving pedestrian traffic flow: it was the terrible twins of 'elf&safety, and fear of litigation. A two year old child (presumably under inadequate parental control) tripped over one of these signs but wasn't hurt. Go figure.

Sugarhut Fire
14th September 2009

Sugarhut fireThe historic 15th century coaching inn, formerly the White Hart, has been seriously damaged by fire on Sunday 13th September. Fortunately, no staff from the restaurant were hurt, but the timber structures of this Grade II* listed building are irreplaceable. Hopefully the Essex Fire Service will ascertain the cause of the fire.

Long-time residents of Brentwood will recall a string of serious restaurant fires over the years - usually resulting in a change of ownership - the latest being the old-fashioned timbered, but uninsured Italian restaurant the 'Old Logge' opposite Shenfield Common, now torn down and replaced with yet another block of flats.

It will be interesting to see what happens with the White Hart building now. It should be restored to its original condition. If there's a 'convenient' argument that this shouldn't or can't be done, then the question will be "Who benefits?".

Reasonable and necessary force ?

It's a gas!

As if there wasn't enough drama on the High St that evening, a lairy Romford lad drinking in O'Neills got himself into trouble and for his alleged sins got sprayed directly in the face with CS gas by two police officers holding him handcuffed over the bonnet of a police car. Not a very bright thing to do from either side. After G-20, you'd think the police would have enough sense to drag him into the dark alleys between William Hunter Way and the High St to "forceably restrain" him, well out of sight of cameras. Watch the BBC Video: BBC News footage


28th February 2009
The Battle for Brentwood

STOP PRESS: Disaster Strikes!

Conservative councillors have approved the William Hunter Way plans ensuring the face of Brentwood's town centre will change for ever. An inappropriate monstrosity will be a blight on the Brentwood landscape for many years to come. The shops will be as empty as they are in the Bay Tree Centre, and gradually the graffitti, the litter and the yobs will lurk in dark corners.
Eventually, the new cinema will fold for lack of interest, and be turned into some other public arena - a drinking den or gambling casino, perhaps. The pretext for this whole speculative venture will disappear, and council-tax payers will be expected to pick up the tab.
This is big business, once again, over-riding the wishes of towns-folk.

8th August 2008

It's still too big
The Swan Paddock Local Amenities Group (SPLAG) say they are livid that Brentwood Council is distancing itself from the plans for a six-screen cinema, foodstore, three retail shops and 14 one-bedroom flats.

We are sick of this council continuously getting away with saying it's nothing to do with us. Of course it's something to do with them. Stockland has specifically responded to their brief and the land is only being leased to Stockland.
It's everything to do with the council. They represent the interests of the people of Brentwood.
If they felt it was better for the people of Brentwood to have an underground car park, topped by lakes and grass with a stylish cinema complex in the middle they could demand it.
But they won't because they won't be able to find a developer to build such a project because it's not commercially viable.
This council is therefore happy to let the centre of this historic town be turned into a replica of every other crime-ridden, environmentally dangerous and horrifically ugly town centre in the south east of England.

This Grumpy Old Man agrees with SPLAG! The plans for the development look like they are trying to squeeze a quart into a pint pot. The proposal is a classic example of greedy over-development of every square inch of the site. The bottom line is that if retail developments and a cinema with a smaller footprint and lower profile is not commercially viable, then the whole project should be scrapped and the people of Brentwood be asked what they would like to see instead.

Misleading Artists Impressions
The computer generated images released to the press show blue skies and wide open vistas with bright and colourful buildings, a bright sunny day with a thriving happy community walking around in their shirt-sleeves. If you examine these images more carefully, they have been cleverly manipulated in order to give the impression of masses of space surrounding the towering 1000 seat Cinema and 4 level multi-storey car park. The effect has been obtained by a sort of "fish-eye" lens manipulation of the perspective. Not only that, some views would place the vantage-point in the middle of neighbouring buildings - that is, it is impossible to get far enough away from the proposed new complex to obtain the distance shown in these fake impressions.

A slightly more realistic impression

A six-screen 31,000sq ft cinema with a capacity of 1,020 seats
How on earth is a 6 screen multiplex going to be viable in Brentwood? The old 2 screen Cinema was almost empty on most days. This is just the sort of town-centre building that Wetherspoons would love to acquire.
Although the planners say that they would agree a stipulation in the planning consent that it should not be converted into a nightclub - this would not preclude it being turned into a bingo hall or casino. This is actually NOT any concession from the planners - the Class of Use for the building is D2, which specifically excludes nightclubs. Use Class D2 Assembly and leisure allows the building to be used for any of the following: - Cinemas, music and concert halls, bingo and dance halls (but not night clubs), swimming baths, skating rinks, gymnasiums or sports arenas (except for motor sports, or where firearms are used).
(Town and Country Planning (Use Classes) Order 1987)

A new 38,000sq ft food store with a total retail space of 90,000sq ft.
Is that what we need - another food store to compete with Sainsbury, Somerfield and local shops?

Three additional fashion stores
Most of the shops in the new Baytree Centre can't be filled - why on earth should these expect to fare any better?

A four-storey car park clad in a "living wall" for 654 vehicles over 10 levels
Why isn't this submerged? There no reason to have this towering into the skyline in close proximity to residential buildings.
The living wall - how much does this cost to maintain? What guarantee that this isn't a brown rotting mass of weeds within a year?

A total of 14 one-bedroom flats
Flats? More like tiny boxes! These are designed for 1 or 2 person occupancy. So how many parking spaces have they provided for up to 28 people that will reside there? Just 14, that's all.

East elevation
The 2 storey house I've placed on the left of this east elevation plan shows the approximate height of Western Road houses - completely dwarfed by the height of the Cinema.


As one local resident said:

The scheme is too high, too large and too overbearing on the local area.
It will also generate more late night noise and disturbance to the local residents, me included. We already have to put up with the late night and early morning fallout from the pubs and clubs and the bus loads who come in from Romford and other surrounding areas to party and a six screen 1,000 seater cinema and multi-storey car park is certainly not going to help.

Any redevelopment should be of a use, type, scale and design in keeping with the surrounding residential area and allow those of us close to it our quiet enjoyment and not be woken up late at night or early in the morning.

The planning application can be viewed in full on the Brentwood Council web site at: Planning Application - Ref BRW/729/2008

The official BDC Online Feedback Form can be found here (opens in new window).

26th October 2006
The Beast is Back!

The Beast of Brentwood
Residents of Brentwood have reported recent sightings of a potentially dangerous creature loose in Weald Park. The creature, described as panther-like, was observed by several different people at a variety of sites around the park. Brandon the Beast?

There have been rumours of a wild beast in the Brentwood area for many years. The sleek, dark animal has been nicknamed Brandon.

The local horse riding community is up in arms about the actions of this creature. "At present, we have a number of bridleways and open spaces all over Weald Park which we can use as we wish" said a spokesman. "But with Brandon making tracks all over the park, we are frightened that we won't be able to do this in future. Brandon's actions, and fear of Brandon, will make the park a no-go area for horse riders." Other residents echoed this view. "We are concerned that our freedom to roam through the park will be severely curtailed by Brandon's presence" said Ethel, a small tan and white Jack Russell. Police later closed the park to all non-paying visitors, as a security measure.

One of the eye witnesses commented that she hadn't really caught a good sighting of the animal, but had heard the sounds of something unusual under a hedge. "It was a contented sound, as though it had just enjoyed a slap up meal with Mr Blobby at the House of Commons" she said "but once it caught sight of me, it ran off in the direction of Great Yarmouth and vanished. The last thing I remember was that it was muttering something about needing to dig up a car park and bury a cinema, or something like that".

Officials from the Brentwood Menagerie in Ingrave Road, voiced their concern about the nickname Brandon has been given: " It's unfair to call him the 'Beast' of Brentwood - Brandon is just a big soft pussy cat really".

26th July 2006
Olympics is just Go Ape 'in disguise'!

That was the headline that Brentwood Gazette gave to one letter of protest about the 2012 Mountain Biking event. Quite right too. Many have complained that the visit of Seb Coe and his "Roadshow" to Weald Country Park was almost a closely guarded secret. A few schoolkids were borrowed for a photo-opportunity in front of the gaudy 'battle-bus', but in reality the whole visit was kept very private to make sure the media-spin exercise wasn't disturbed by the dissenting voices of 'real' people.

In the letters page of Brentwood Gazette July 26th, a Carol Harding writes:

Just what is going on with the Olympic mountain biking event? I read your recent report with interest, but have ended up even more confused than before. I wanted to go along to the meeting in Weald Park to ask some questions myself - I thought that a meeting of public officials in a public park would welcome public participation, particularly as we are constantly told we must get behind the project. But I was told in no uncertain terms that I was not welcome: that it was "a private event". So I am using my local paper - my local community mouthpiece - to raise my concerns.

At first, we were told that everything to do with the mountain biking event would be temporary, and the park restored afterwards. Now both Bob McLintock and Lord Coe are saying that the track should remain and be part of the "legacy".

Then we were told that the mountain biking event would not harm the ecology or the environment of Weald Park. At the moment there are "no cycling" signs up all over the wooded areas of the park, presumably to protect the park from the environmental damage done by leisure cyclists. How can it be that leisure cyclists damage the park, but sports cyclists will not? And how does it work that, after the 2012 Olympics, the leisure cyclists will be encouraged into areas they are presently excluded from? Also, if 12000 spectators are really coming to the park by bus and coach, that's an awfully big coach park.

We've been told that the event will be funded by the IOC. But I have heard that this is only true of temporary facilities. If it is decided that any facilities are to remain, they will be in essence "bought back" by the Council - i.e. charged onto our council tax. It seems to me that mountain biking is a bit of a niche market, and perhaps not a high priority for the mainly elderly population of Brentwood and Shenfield.

Finally, we've been told that the event will bring economic benefits to Brentwood. The supposed benefits, if any, will be minimal; it's all just spin. Even if the 12000 spectators wanted to come and stay in Brentwood for a few days we simply don't have the hotel capacity - and no business is going to invest in more hotel space on the back of a 2 day event. The facilities, construction, coaches and catering will all be franchised out to outside firms. I asked an officer from Brentwood council about this and she told me that it would be "like Wimbledon - you know, accommodation there is so scarce that people can go away for the whole fortnight and rent out their houses..." i.e. we will benefit economically only if we all decamp for the duration !

The same Council officer trotted out the usual refrain that the Olympics simply won't work unless we're all behind it. Had the people of Brentwood been asked, and wanted this event, we might wish to give it our support. But it has been imposed with no consultation, and in a democracy we have the right to oppose such schemes.

All this reminds me of the Go Ape! fiasco in Thorndon park a few months ago - commercialisation by the back door of a publicly owned and much loved public space. Who can ever compensate us for the damage done to this beautiful, quiet amenity?

16th April 2006
Olympic Destruction in Brentwood!

Congratulations to the Save Thorndon Park protesters for fighting off the Go Ape 'theme-park' proposals!

However, Councillor Stephen Castle has other plans for Brentwood Parks. He is also behind the proposals for the Olympic Mountain Biking event in Weald Country Park, another plan presented to local people without prior consultation.

After all the fuss is over, we are told the park will be restored to its former natural state. But before that, there will be months of untold disruption and devastation caused by track earthworks and the removal of mature trees, the building of infrastructure: hard-standing for thousands of vehicles, toilets, changing rooms, food stalls, TV gantries, and seating for 3000 or more; all for an event lasting just 2 days.

As if that is not bad enough, can we really believe that they will keep their promise to remove everything afterwards and put right the damage? Or will we be given all the same spin we've heard from Cllr Castle about Go Ape? The argument is utterly predictable: keeping the expensive new facilities as a commercial operation will be sold to us as a great opportunity to bring in 'much-needed income'.

But the arguments against mountain biking in Weald Park are just the same as those against Go Ape in Thorndon - it will be an unwanted intrusion into the quiet beauty of green belt woodland. Accepting it as an Olympic venue is the thin end of the wedge in driving through the total commercialisation of our park.

24th October 2005
Promises, promises - Update!

I'm not alone in smelling a rat on the new Brentwood Cinema proposals.
In the letters page of Brentwood Gazette October 19 2005, a Graham Leigh writes:

... As for the cinema idea, believe that if you will! How is a new high-cost facility going to be an economic success when the previous existing cinema complex was deemed to not to be financially viable?
I wonder what bright spark thought up that tempting morsel. Whoever they are, he or she deserves a medal for a creative imagination. I think that suggested facility would join previous promises of much-wanted amenities that disappeared without trace once proposed plans have been accepted and building commenced.

In the very same edition of the Brentwood Gazette, more of the same pie-in-the-sky promises are exposed:

SCREEN DREAM: Promises that a cinema will be coming to Brentwood have been thrown into doubt after the borough council leader admitted he had not yet spoken to any cinema operators.
Cllr Brandon Lewis had promised that a new cinema would be a cornerstone of any development on the William Hunter Way car park, saying: "Our absolute requirement is that we bring a cinema to this site."
However at a council meeting he admitted he had not yet apprached cinema operators about the idea. But he insisted that he had good reason to believe that a cinema was possible. He said:"I think that the town is now in a position to be more attractive to business"

Dream on, councillor. We don't even know if the new Bay Street shopping area will be any more attractive to people than the old Chapel High wind tunnel. Every week the newspaper publishes complaints how even with car parking for over 400 cars off William Hunter Way, the current lack of in-town car parking is ruining business for shops and local firms. If, by some miracle, the Bay Tree Centre attracts more shoppers there will be even more pressure on car parking. The truth is people would rather go to Lakeside, or Chelmsford, where they can wander round a huge range of shops without the deafening ordeal of fume-belching articulated lorries driving past them a foot from the pavement.

20th March 2005
Promises, promises

So after the uproar from businesses complaining about the idea of building shops and bijou apartments on the 3 acre William Hunter car park, now the council is trying to sway opinion with promises of a multi-screen cinema.
Well of all the things that Brentwood people wanted from the Bay Tree Centre Shopping re-development, a cinema was the one thing most requested. A cinema is the one thing that the council failed to deliver, citing all sorts of excuses. It's a bit rich to try to tempt people into agreeing a stupid proposal with these hollow promises, which no doubt will run into some "unexpected" obstacle after the general principle of building on the only in-town car park has been agreed. What contempt they have for our intelligence.

11th March 2005
Plans to build 350 Apartments on Gasworks Site

People at the Warley end of Brentwood are up in arms about a property developers plan to build 350 flats off Kings Road on the site of the gasworks.
Once again parking is a major concern. Stunning that Brentwood Council should countenance it. There is already a scandal over the lack of GP services in the area created by the sprawling developments on the Warley Hospital Site. Are the inhabitants going to further swamp the lists of desperately over-worked Avenue Surgery?
Apparently developers say parking for so many new people isn't an issue because the occupiers will be young professional people who don't have cars. What planet are they living on - just about everyone has a car.

1st March 2005
Plans to build on William Hunter Way in Brentwood.

Oh great, another bright idea from our local councillors. More shops that'll be boarded up and empty and eventually let to Charity shops for nothing because no-one can afford the ludicrous business rates of Brentwood.
Even with Sainsburys car park, there isn't enough parking space now on busy days. That's why people are abandoning Brentwood shops and driving to Lakeside & Bluewater.