This is a response for Councillor Antony Hook and fellow Abbey Ward Lib Dem Candidates Hannah Perkin, Chris Williams and Denise Knights
If an existing Councillor, what do you consider your best achievements in the last four years? Antony joined the Town Council in January 2017 after a by-election. His main achievements are: 1) Bringing about a specific plan and £45,000 funding to make the dangerous Zebra Crossing on Whitstable Road safer, which is promised by Highway Officials to be done “this Spring”. 2) Changing the tone to the make the Town Council more outward looking and more engaged in all age groups and social backgrounds in our town. 3) Won the battle to have the Town Council show its support for LGBT equality and fly the Rainbow Flag during Faversham Pride. 4) Moved the idea of 20 mph limits for Faversham forward from a good idea nearer to a concrete plan after I walked every street in the town with a Highways official over two days. 5) Though Hannah, Chris and Denise are not currently councillors, they have had impacts in their own right, Denise and Chris as founding members of the Faversham Traders Association have supported businesses across town. Hannah, has worked hard on a range of issues including affordable housing, health, education transport. disabled facilities and facilities for young people. In addition they have worked with residents on a range of campaigns to bring attention to a range of issues across town, including fighting to get a changing places toilet at the library.
What are voters’ main priorities in your ward? Making our area a better place to live for everyone. There are many roads and pavements that are unsafe and there is also a need for better street cleaning. Crime and anti-social behaviour is a big concern and we would like the new Town Council to commission advice on what we can too in the absence of adequate policing. There is a need for more facilities for young people and all the sports clubs and recreational facilities need support. Supporting these is worthwhile in itself but also reduces the low-level anti-social behaviour problems.
Have current councillors have spent our money wisely since the last elections? We are very concerned at the large amount of money spent on 12 Market Place. The Town has many good meeting and exhibition spaces. The Town Council now has both a Guildhall and a Town Hall and will be paying the mortgage on the latter for 60 years. We would like the new Town Council to review all options with that building and also with the Guildhall which is empty for most of the week. The Guildhall is a registered wedding venue but could use some work to make it attractive to generate a good income that the Town Council could use for public benefit.
Many local people are disappointed about controversial decisions made by councillors behind closed doors e.g. the war memorial garden, buying the former shoe shop at 12 Market Place. What is your view? Should they have been made in secret? No, they should not have been made in secret. The decision to but the most expensive asset the Town Council has ever owned should have been taken in public and with public views listened to. There should have been a serious appraisal of all the other ways that vast sum could have been used. The situation with the War Memorial Garden is deeply troubling, especially the way volunteers were dismissed. The lack of openness around the design of the new garden was totally wrong, although this was not a process that the Town Council controlled.
Is Faversham’s local government transparent enough? If not, how would you improve openness and accountability? It is not open enough. We should conduct as little business in private as possible.
How would you develop opportunities for the town to draw on its heritage? We’re a beautiful Market Town but the maritime aspect is distinctive and makes Faversham different. We need to make the Creek a focal point in giving the town a sense of place for residents and visitors alike.
How should our creek be regenerated to boost local tourism whilst preserving its character and maritime heritage? We must keep up the pressure on KCC and Peel Ports to deliver an opening bridge and working gates. We would also support the concept of a new wharf being fully investigated and, if viable, supported. A new wharf could receive up to 10 barges, bringing new jobs and visitors to Faversham.
How can local infrastructure (traffic, road network, shops, schools, medical facilities, social care, local law enforcement) cope with all the new residential developments without damaging the environment further? Developers must expect through S106 or CiL contributions to pay for necessary infrastructure with the strength of the Swale Local Plan behind this. If this reduces the value of development land – tough. Swale are wrong to just allocate land for housing as this is done in massive areas and therefore is developed out by the national house builders. They should look to allocate land for specific housing association development. They should look at setting up a Council owned development company to develop affordable homes. They should allocate land for self builders. We need local housing for local people with a flexible range of options and not just rely on the crumbs from the national house builders table. That is lazy planning. We need new ideas and new people.
What is your view on the proposed solar power station threatening Graveney Marshes? We oppose it and Antony Hook has called on KCC to oppose it too. We support clean energy but solar panels should go on the roofs of buildings first before filling up such a large area, affecting the natural habit of birds and wildlife. Preserving bio-diversity matters, just as clean energy does. Solo panels belong on roof tops not beauty spots.
What role do you think party politics should play in Local Government? Parties are groups of people with shared aims and values. Whether they are forces for good or bad depends on the people in those groups. A party identity helps people know what candidates stand for and everyone who is endorsed by “Faversham Liberal Democrats” in these local elections is part of a group that lives and works locally and wants the best for everyone in our town. Party interest should never come before the interests of the town and with us it never will.
Are you a Freemason? Should members of such organisations standing for public office be required to declare their membership? None of us our Freemasons. Currently all councillors have to make a declaration of interests, including membership of any organisations they aim to influence decisions of public bodies. We support that rule continuing and breaking that rule should be viewed as a serious matter.
Are you in favour of increasing Swale Borough Council’s contribution to Faversham Swimming Pools? Is the current level of council funding for the facility adequate in your view? Sittingbourne and Sheppey Leisure Centres – swimming pool plus dry side sports have received around £650K revenue support between them every year for about the last 10 years. A new contract with Serco is supposed to reduce this to around £350K in future. Additionally the Serco contract requires SBC to support capital refurbishment. Faversham Swimming Pools have until now received £80000 pa revenue support and run far more efficiently even though they do not have a dryside operation which is normally expected to be profitable. From 2019/20 the revenue support has increased to £100000 pa. Sittingbourne and Sheppey have also each be given £1M capital refurbishment. Faversham had £150K 2 years ago to renew toilets and showers. Clearly that is all entirely unfair on Faversham and it should have more financial support from SBC.
Where do you stand on proposed cuts to Faversham Library’s opening hours? Hannah, who’s husband works in KCC libraries, and who is an avid user of Faversham library, has pushed on this issue, working with Antony Hook. Antony as our County Councillor has led the fight jointly with Hannah Perkin against these cuts. Antony drafted the written representations which FTC adopted in answer to the consultation. This led to Faversham being moved from Tier 2 to Tier 1 – the maximum number of opening hours for all libraries in Kent. He also launched a petition which was very influential on the decision to raise Faversham to Tier 1. The £1 million cut to Kent Libraries, including Faversham, is party due to the Conservative Government giving Kent £96 million less this year. At the same time KCC is spending £250,000 subsidising a gold tournament this year, which is an odd priority.
What more should be done for young people in the town? After May we will be launching a competition for young people to give their ideas about what they like and what they would like to change in Faversham. We need job and housing opportunities and also more sports and recreation opportunities. We would bring young people into meetings like the Faversham Future Forum and try to bring youth and sports clubs together for greater impact in dealing with problems and opportunities.
What is your view on Swale Councillor Andrew Bowles’ retweet describing Islamophobic extremist ‘Tommy Robinson’ as a ‘patriot’. Was Bowles’ half-day social media training course and 13-day suspension from the Conservative party an adequate response? His actions were completely outrageous. To describe far-right leader Tommy Robinson as “a patriot” is wrong and offensive. His more recent comments indicated that his “apology” was not well meant and he launched an extraordinary attack on people who were offended by this actions. He is not fit to hold any public office and we wish the Green candidates every success against him in Boughton and Courteney ward.
Are you happy with policing in the town? If not, how would you improve it and deal with crime and antisocial behaviour? No, it is not adequate and the Police Commissioner should come here and explain why it is so limited. Swale should stop cutting CCTV. We would like the new Town Council to commission advice on what can be down to prevent, deter and detect crime locally. There is a real drugs problem in parts of Faversham and treatment for people who are addicted to drugs is important as is the arrest and imprisonment of the people who are selling drugs. Denise Knights as a former Met Police officer understands the value of community policing, and has called for a return to local neighbourhood policing to help prevent crime, and restore faith in the local constabulary response times. All our candidates support the recruitment of Special Constables to help bridge the gap caused by the devastating cuts made by the Conservative Government under Theresa May both as Home Secretary and Lame Duck Prime Minster.
As a current councillor, what have you done to address air pollution problems in Faversham? Or, as a candidate, how should air quality problems be solved? Antony Hook has raised this at Full Council at Kent County Council, leading to the creation of an All-Party Group looking at Air Quality, but so far there has not been enough action. We need a Low Emissions Zone on the A2 to ban the most polluting vehicles. We should reject any applications to build housing in areas where air quality is already beyond legal limits as it is in parts of Faversham.
Hannah Perkin is a founding member of the Faversham Parents Clean Air Network. She has written to schools asking for help in getting parents to switch off their engines when waiting at the school gates and to encourage people to use alternative modes of transport where feasible. Chris Williams has assisted local groups in the planting of trees and other plants to help clean the air we breathe. He has also taken the step of replacing his works van with an electric vehicle. All our candidates have called for Swale to take advantage of a government grant scheme to install electric vehicle charging points throughout Faversham and the borough to enable resident to make the switch to EV.