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On Tuesday Basildon councillors descended on Langdon Hills Recreation Ground to officially open the new play area, half of a £250,000 project to revamp the park areas in Langdon Hills and Vange.

The area known locally as “The Rec” now includes a pirate ship with slide and tunnel as well as the usual roundabouts and swings. Apart from a few elements salvaged from the previous playground, the new elements are made from natural wood sculptures with sand and grass to soften the area instead of the previous soft tarmac.

While the younger kids will enjoy the tradiitional elements of the park,  some of the teenagers from the area have already started to make use of the large tree-stumps to practice backflips into the sand. These and other tricks form the current freerunning and parkour craze fueled by videos on Youtube.

While the construction work was ongoing there were complaints about some children breaking into the area. In the last few weeks the construction workers had been allowing them in during the evening.  At one point the police turned up and took names of some children in the park. According to a council worker no real harm was done in Langdon Hills except that some barriers were knocked down overnight. The identical playground in Vange has not fared so well with significant vandalism affecting the area during building.

There have been concerns raised about the long standing problem in the area with people entering the park late at night on Fridays and Saturdays. They often arrive in cars after pub closing and use the area for late drinking time. Often broken bottles and even syringes and condoms are left to be found in the morning. With the potential dangers caused by hidden glass in the sand the locals hope the police will act to stamp out this anti-social behavior. The council worker who I spoke to this morning was well aware of these problems and has vowed to keep the place safe and clean.

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The travellers who stayed on Great Berry Open Space for four days have now gone. A council lorry is now on site cleaning up their mess. A lockable bollard has been put in place at the entrance next to St Johns that they had used to enter the park without obstruction in Sunday.

Finally it is safe for people to go back onto the park without fear from the travellers and their dogs. Let’s hope the council have learnt some lessons. Where will they go next?

Travellers who have been camping on Great Berry Open Space by the playing fields have not wasted time in building up a pile of rubbish. They arrived on Monday night and by Tuesday morning a large pile of scrap could be seen next to a toilet tent on the edge of the fields. Two of the small lorries that had been there the previous night could not be seen but all four caravans were still in place.

Police have advised members of the public in the area to be cautious because the camp is surrounded by kennels housing several large dogs. At times the travellers have let the dogs loose in the park.  Despite their very public choice of location they do not like attention. When I approached to take pictures of the rubbish and their dogs they shouted obscenities and threats. One teenage girl shouted that she would kick in my windows.

The police have now said that they cannot move them on until Thursday when a court order will take effect. This contrasts with police working with councils in other parts of Essex where they have been able to move travellers on within a day when they have camped on common land.

In addition to heeding the police advise to keep your distance, it is strongly suggested that you take extra care to secure your homes while the travellers are in the area. Do not leave pet dogs tied up unattended. Lock your sheds. Do not leave bicycles out, even if padlocked. Do not leave scrap metal that they can take and do not accept offers of casual labour if they knock on your door. If you see anything suspicious you should call the police.

On Monday afternoon a group of travellers set up in Great Berry Open Space at Langdon Hills. There are so far four caravans and various other vehicles parked in the corner of the fields which are normally used by local residents to play football or other games.

At 8pm a police van was seen to cross the field to approach the travellers as they sat around a table. After a minute the police left. Shortly afterwards the travellers lit a fire in the corner of the park as people from nearby houses looked on in disgust.

The community police in Langdon Hills are currently looking at an issue with nuisance youths at The Triangle shops in High Road Langdon Hills. Police report that the youngsters have been gathering and drinking alcohol in the street. The Rec and The Pavillion by Great Berry shops are also identified as trouble areas.

To combat the problem there will be high visibility patrols on the street with police ready to exercise their stop and search powers in these areas. As a longer term solution the possibility of a youth club being created for Langdon Hills has been raised. Langdon Hills has been without any indoor meeting place for teenagers since the closure of the youth club at the old Langdon Hills primary school in the 1970s.

Today the Essex council is expected to make its decision on the admission arrangements for entry into Essex schools in 2011 including the proposed shared admission area for Great Berry and Lincewood primary schools. The proposal was supported by the governors of the two schools and by Councillor John Schofield for Langdon Hills. However, during the public consultation a number of objections were voiced by local residents in the proposed shared area and in surrounding areas.   

The decision notification posted on the council website says:

“The consultation closed on Friday 12 February with no objections to the arrangements as a whole, although a considerable level of response was received in relation to the specific consultation on a proposed revision to the admission arrangements for Great Berry and Lincewood Primary Schools. The arrangements for these schools and all other community controlled schools are determined as attached.” 

The attached copy of the admission arrangements shows only the standard criteria for Great Berry and Lincewood with no shared admission area as previously included. Assuming that these documents will be approved by the cabinet member Stephen Castle, this means that the proposal for the shared admission area will be rejected.

This is a victory for local residents over the school governors, but it will be a hollow victory if it means that no alternative arrangements are made to cater for children from the Great Berry priority admission area. There may be some who put the school down as their first choice and are not allocated a place there. In some past years the school has put on extra classes to cater for the surplus demand. When the surrounding housing estates were new, the demand was very high and extra buildings were constructed to allow three years intake to have an extra class. Currently there is just one year with an extra class so there is scope to have more extra classes for future years if demand is high. However the two other extra classrooms have now been used for a library and an ICT room and the school will be reluctant to use them for extra classes again.

Parents with children to be admitted in 2011 will now have an anxious wait to see how they fare. The demand for places is expected to be at a lower level than previous years but a few may still lose out. If the next few years there is likely to be a small rise in demand due to new housing such as the extension of the estate on the land owned by Tesco next to the railway. Only a further expansion of the Great Berry Primary School can provide a permanent solution to this problem that has dogged the area for the last decade. We will now have to wait to see what plans the schools come up with.

I have received good news from Essex Councillor Stephen Castle. Having looked at the points I made about the need for a larger number of preferences when choosing a secondary school in Essex, he has agreed that there is a case to consider. It is too late to look at changing the next round of admissions for school entry in 2011 because these things have to be planned well in advance, but there will now be a review “to carry out some detailed work to investigate whether it is appropriate to consider consulting upon an increased number of preferences being allowed with effect from the 2012/2013 admission round”.  We should know towards the end of this year whether a consultation will actually take place, so please look out for further news by following this blog or joining the facebook group. It is great to know that the council is willing to take the trouble to consider the needs of our community.