The Priory Ward Liberal Democrat team thought it would be helpful to provide a team response to your questions concerning councillors and the forthcoming local elections. We have a close knit team consisting of Alison Reynolds who is a new candidate for Faversham Town Council, Ben A Martin who has been a Faversham Town Councillor for 4 years and is now standing for Swale Borough Council, and Mike Henderson who has been a Swale Borough Councillor for 22 years and is retiring this May. As we work so closely together we can best answer your questions as a single team.
If an existing Councillor, what do you consider your best achievements in the last four years?
Ben A Martin has achieved the establishment of a planning committee on FTC so that planning applications can be considered properly. He has Improved the development plans for Oare Lakes – design, quality of build, environmental and biodiversity enhancement, and resolved individual constituents problems. Alison Reynolds has already picked up and resolved a number of individual constituents problems, developed a number of ideas for providing better facilities for young people locally, and talked to over 500 local constituents to learn what they most want by way of local improvements.
Mike Henderson has achieved a great deal over 22 years but is most proud of (1) solving constituents personal issues, especially resolving housing problems which most often involve repairs by landlords, avoiding homelessness or actually helping families to move to better housing; (2) chairing the group for the last 10 years which has greatly improved the heritage and natural history of the Oare Gunpowder Works Country Park and (3) holding the Tory controlled Swale Council’s feet to the fire in preventing financial waste and increasing expenditure on worthwhile projects
What are voters’ main priorities in your ward?
In Priory Ward it is – Lorries, traffic levels, dangerous road outside Davington School, absurd proposals for Creek footpath together with high cost, lack of affordable housing for local people, things to do for young people.
Have current councillors have spent our money wisely since the last elections?
FTC – No – huge unnecessary cost of 12 Market Place, Huge proposed cost of Creekside footpath with £112000 already committed, war memorial garden – public money from SBC Cllr grants, charity money. SBC – No – £35M spent on Sittingbourne regeneration – some no doubt justified but much of this with dubious and risky economic returns especially cinema and restaurants (see problems with similar Ashford project), £2M refurbishment of Sittingbourne and Sheppey leisure centres – (not bad in itself but zero equivalent spend on Faversham swimming pools). Also lack of enough expenditure on promoting tourist industry in Swale, failure to maintain support level for CAB, refusal to budget enough Planning Income and many more.
Is Faversham’s local government transparent enough? If not, how would you improve openness and accountability?
Controversial decisions – Issues discussed and decisions made by either Council should always be in public with published minutes (except in rare cases when it is absolutely necessary to discuss in private personal issues relating to a member of staff or a member of the public or where commercially confidential matters are discussed in relation to contracts). Full minutes should then be published. Perhaps even more importantly where any public consultation is pursued the results should be independently verified and publicly available.
Is local government transparent enough. – No. See above. Aim to pre announce important potential decisions to allow public discussion and response. At SBC the Policy Review committee should be made a scrutiny committee. A scrutiny committee should be created at FTC. In both cases scrutiny committees should be chaired by opposition Cllrs. as used to be the case, not as at present by a member of the ruling group.
How would you develop opportunities for the town to draw on its heritage?
Should be led by groups of the public, who should be actively supported by both local councils in developing plans to maintain and improve our heritage assets. Some modest financial backup should be provided. Work should aim to improve the economic strength of the Town.
How should our creek be regenerated to boost local tourism whilst preserving its character and maritime heritage?
Heritage Harbour project, with all it requires in regeneration of the Basin should be supported. Creek bridge must be fully restored – lifting or swinging and including working sluice gates, Town jetty must be restored, and footpath project along Upper Brents must be cancelled with some of the money proposed for this going to the other projects. Again building economic improvements through tourism must be a part of all projects.
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 his. If this reduces the value of development land – tough. Additionally the necessary infrastructure improvements must be provided alongside the housing development not 10 years later.
What is your view on the proposed solar power station threatening Graveney Marshes?
Regretfully we oppose the plan. It damages the environment and biodiversity too much and destroys an important landscape and high uality farmland. We continue to support low carbon power generation generally.
What role do you think party politics should play in Local Government?
Tried 4 years ago to encourage FTC to go fully independent. This largely failed but may have potential sometime in the future. FTC is the only 1 out of 36 parishes in Swale elected on party political tickets. Likely that for the forseeable future SBC will remain party politically based to achieve a group of like minded Councillors who can set a budget and agreed policies. A “balanced” or “hung” council such as that which existed through the ‘90s would work better. This would reduce the impact of party political groups as policies would have to be debated on their merits and agreed by a majority of Cllrs. Rather than mostly being decided at SBC by a cabinet of only 7 Cllrs., led by a leader who cannot be got rid of over a 4 year period. It may be an arcane argument but we believe it would be better to revert to a committee structure at SBC with a senior Policy and Resources Committee taking financial decisions and where all committees including P&R are made up of Cllrs. chosen to properly represent the balance of political parties on SBC. This would involve all Councillors in decision making and potentially reduce the overarching party political control we have seen for the last 15 years or so.
Are you a Freemason? Should members of such organisations standing for public office be required to declare their membership?
No. We know nothing about their organisation so cannot comment on whether it raises any issues of conflict of interest.
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, but this has not yet been proved. Additionally the Serco contract requires SBC to support capital refurbishment. Faversham Swimming Pools have until now received £80,000 pa revenue support and run far more efficiently even though they do not have a dryside operation which is normally expected to be profitable. The Jubilee Centre in Whitstable Road – invented and created by Alison Reynolds and run by her for 15 years has operated profitably with no financial support at all from SBC except a peppercorn rent. It has paid from its own resources for 2 expansions. From 2019/20 the revenue support has increased for Faversham Swimming Pools to £100,000 pa. Sittingbourne and Sheppey have also each been given £1M capital refurbishment. Faversham had £150K 2 years ago to renew toilets and showers. Tory leaflets at this election campaign boast of having provided refurbishment of changing facilities. This is a lie. It has not happened. 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?
Hours must not be cut. Library is a hugely important community facility – for books, dvds, computer use, community groups etc. all for children, adults and older people, and needs to be open maximum possible hours. Additionally KCC have just very usefully installed a “Changing Places” disabled toilet and washroom facility. What is the point of that if it is only open 30 something hours per week. By the way KCC had initially planned to put the “Changing Places” facility at Faversham Swimming Pools which are open over 84 hours per week. Why was that idea dropped? We do not know. Additionally the local Registrar’s office is in the Library for births, marriages and deaths. Not very helpful if it is only open for not much more than half the week.
What more should be done for young people in the town?
A vital but difficult issue. We intend to develop a Faversham wide Sports Council which will allow all sports activities Town wide to work together to attract more young people. Such a Council could attract funding to publicise opportunities for all young people. We will also support the work of WFCA which under its new management is doing excellent work to draw in young people who may otherwise feel excluded. Most youth club type funding comes from KCC but has been savagely cut in recent years. Lib Dem County Councillor Antony Hook and the Lib Dem opposition group on KCC are fighting hard against this but unsuccessfully so far. Other facilities such as Sure Start have also been cut nationally and this too has a damaging impact on young mums and young children. Other actions need a widespread public consultation including discussion with both secondary schools. Alison Reynolds has a strong record of working for young people, including those with special needs through the Jubilee Centre and is determined to work towards activities for young people – for example by extending the use of the outdoor gym equipment funded in Priory Ward entirely by the Brents Community Association through its own fund raising activities and local grants for example from Tesco.
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?
At best it showed shockingly bad judgement. He will have to take the public’s response on May 2nd . We think it is best to let him stew in his own juice.
Are you happy with policing in the town? If not, how would you improve it and deal with crime and antisocial behaviour?
Not happy. Will press the P&CC to fulfil his plan for extra police and look to strengthen PCSOs and Special Constables. PCSOs in particular can know their ward patches and impact successfully on low level ASB, graffiti, shoplifting and burglary. PCSO powers should be increased.
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?
As a group we have worked hard to promote an Ospringe bypass. We support and work on the 20s Plenty group which will assist in reducing pollution as well as making the Town safer for pedestrians and cyclists. We were heavily involved in developing the SBC Air Quality policy and strengthening it and support this as far as it goes. However the key issue is that central government has placed the responsibility for Air Quality on Borough Councils across the land but has given them neither powers nor resources to implement serious improvements. We plan to put far more pressure on central government than FTC and SBC have done so far.
This provides a brief response from the whole Priory Ward team of Liberal Democrat Councillors and candidates for FTC and SBC. We have been campaigning on this basis for the last 2 years and will continue to do so. Success or otherwise will depend on the choices which the electorate make on May 2nd.
Michael S. Henderson – Chair Swale Liberal Democrats 12th April 2019