Julian worked as a local government officer helping young people get into work for over 30 years and is now heavily involved in local campaigns and groups in Faversham. He is Treasurer of the Faversham Footpaths Group and the Town Twinning Association. He organised a recent petition to protect Faversham Library’s opening hours. In his spare time he is a keen cyclist and walker.
“ I’ve always worked hard to ensure that the public get good council services, I will be doing the same as a councillor”.
If an existing Councillor, what do you consider your best achievements in the last four years?
What are voters’ main priorities in your ward?
We have been knocking doors in St Ann’s for the last 18 months to establish voters’ local concerns. Pedestrian safety when crossing roads, the quality and availability of local health services, the pressure new housing development will place on services and infrastructure, traffic congestion and problems parking are most commonly mentioned.
But voters are also concerned about crime and anti-social behaviour, housing availability and costs, declining public services and the shortage of local jobs.
Have current councillors have spent our money wisely since the last elections?
At a Swale level we are concerned about councillors having borrowed £28 million to bail out a private developer building a cinema, hotel and retail complex in Sittingbourne We are also unhappy that the council has sat on reserves which could have been used quite safely to improve community facilities like play areas.
The Town Council’s failure to put an adequate business plan in place for developing 12 Market Place as a tourist attraction means this building is providing minimal value to the town currently. Turning this situation around will be a major challenge for the new council.
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?
It’s a shame the memorial garden has become a source of controversy. This could have been avoided with greater consultation and more open discussion.
It’s also disappointing that a viable plan for making effective use of the ground floor of 12 Market Place is not in place. The new council now has the challenge of developing a plan for the building which ensures the local community gets real benefit alongside tourism being encouraged.
Significant local council decisions should be made in public. It is also important to run effective consultation processes and respond to the feedback that comes out of them.
Is Faversham’s local government transparent enough? If not, how would you improve openness and accountability?
No. Swale Council has been controlled by a small select band of Tory councillors for too long. Labour will be more open and collaborative, consulting across parties and giving councillors the opportunity to represent their wards. We would restore an area forum for Faversham and Swale East, examine the case for re-introducing a committee system so more councillors were involved in decision making, allow opposition councillors to chair scrutiny panels, review existing shared service agreements.
Obvious ways to improve the transparency of the Town Council would be to supply more detailed minutes for committee meetings making key decisions and to make sure that working party minutes are also available.
There is also a need to ensure local people are fully aware of the roles of Swale and Faversham Councils. As a local community we should be scrutinising the actions of Swale far more closely.
How would you develop opportunities for the town to draw on its heritage?
Along with other Labour candidates I feel we need to make it easier to walk round the town centre and appreciate its buildings, by reducing the times of day when cars have access to town centre roads and actively encourage walking by improving the signage of our local alleys and paths. As a cyclist I am also keen to encourage visitors on bikes by promoting quieter roads as safe cycling routes.
How should our creek be regenerated to boost local tourism whilst preserving its character and maritime heritage?
I fully support the local Labour position on regenerating the creek. We want a creek bridge that opens, funded by KCC, Peel Ports and already promised contributions from other councils. We would expect creek side development to be in line with the neighbourhood plan which was overwhelmingly supported in a local referendum. We will campaign for as much public access to the area as possible, which will boost tourism. We also want to see regeneration which generates sustainable jobs.
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?
The Tory approach to development nationally and locally, hands over too much control to developers, resulting in a lack of infrastructure and housing development which doesn’t meet local housing need. We need to get back to public led planning and development as part of a new approach at a national level which invests in our infrastructure.
In the short term our local infrastructure will struggle to cope with the scale of new development we are expecting. So I support our local Labour commitment to campaign for more school places and at least one new school; our fair share of investment in surgeries, dentists, children’s centres and social care; guarantees that developers will make proper contributions to infrastructure; and improved water treatment facilities.
What is your view on the proposed solar power station threatening Graveney Marshes?
I am personally opposed to it, as is Faversham Labour. We have submitted an official objection to the proposal, which is something I understand that the Tories and Lib Dems have not done.
I feel it will damage our local environment and economy and threaten nearby villages. As a community we need to develop the supply of local solar and wind power and reduce our use of fossil fuels. But we should do it through better insulated homes, more domestic solar panels and more small scale solar farms.
I am afraid the scale of the development is an inevitable outcome of the Tory government approach which involves withdrawing solar power subsidies and passing over responsibility for meeting our energy needs to private sector developers.
What role do you think party politics should play in Local Government?
The reality is that councillors will always form parties and groupings even in councils that have relatively small responsibilities like town councils. If someone stands under a party banner you should have a clearer idea of what view they are likely to take on a particular issue than if they are unaligned.
The real problem is that our current electoral system can result in parties without majority popular support totally dominating a local council. This has been very much the case with the Town Council. If voters want to get away from this, they need to vote for the candidates they judge as best able to beat sitting councillors. Where that is Labour, they can be assured that we are used to working cooperatively across political boundaries and will be happy to work with others who want to give our town a positive future.
Are you a Freemason? Should members of such organisations standing for public office be required to declare their membership?
No. I am in favour of councillor transparency in relation to all personal interests including organisation memberships.
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?
I am a regular user of the swimming pools, they are a fantastic facility, but some of their basic fabric – lockers, changing rooms, showers feel tired and unloved. So more investment in the pool is really desirable. While the government’s austerity programme grinds on and the central grant to local councils declines, it will tough to achieve this, but we need to argue for improvements in funding and service quality.
Where do you stand on proposed cuts to Faversham Library’s opening hours?
I campaigned actively to oppose these cuts, setting up a non-party petition which was signed by over a 1,000 people and giving up a number of Saturday mornings to collect signatures. Although we can take some comfort from our library now being in the top tier of Kent libraries alongside places like Canterbury and Sittingbourne it is still facing a large reduction in hours. The Town Council urgently needs to work with library staff to encourage greater use of this great facility by individuals and groups or we can expect further cuts. If elected this will be one of my priorities.
What more should be done for young people in the town?
I spent most of my career working for services that support young people. We need to help them make a successful transition into work and adulthood. Our local Labour plan to campaign for better support for the youth provision at West Faversham Community Centre, get youth provision into other parts of the town, encourage education and training providers to set up in the town and get support services for young people at risk of drifting into petty crime and drug use re-established, will help.
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?
Far right extremism is on the rise in the UK and poses a very real threat to our whole society. So, it’s disappointing that the council leader seems to have had such a slap dash attitude to spreading this propaganda. Fellow Tory councillors also seem to be remarkably relaxed about him continuing as group leader.
Are you happy with policing in the town? If not, how would you improve it and deal with crime and antisocial behaviour?
It’s a sad fact that across Kent police numbers have declined and crimes have increased. Locally people feel there has been a rise in petty crime, anti-social behaviour and drug misuse.
I support Labour’s plan to increase police numbers. But we also need to re-establish agencies that work with young people at risk of getting involved in crime and anti-social behaviour and rebuild the softer side of policing – community support and community liaison
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?
I am hopeful that technological advances can allow us to cut vehicle pollution dramatically in the next twenty years.
In the meantime we can take steps to minimise the air pollution caused by vehicles by reducing vehicle speeds, improving public transport and encouraging journeys by foot and on bike. We should also take account of air pollution risks when deciding on planning applications. Labour is opposed to an expansion of East Kent Recycling at Oare which would increase lorry traffic, we also support efforts to control heavy lorries using town streets.
While we have a government that won’t invest in our national infrastructure, new roads that might ease pollution problems don’t seem an immediate possibility, however much people would like them.