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Watling Lib Dems’ Response

If an existing Councillor, what do you consider your best achievements in the last four years?

Many candidates not yet Cllrs but have made achievements anyway. Getting  repairs to potholes bus shelters and paths cleared across the town.

Ben and Eddie have secured jointly some concessions from developers on both the Canterbury road and love lane, including the road sweeper after each delivery at love lane. Eddie Thomas has secured road patching on Lower road, wallers road and grove place to improve persistently bad road surfaces.

Ben J Martin has led the fight for an Ospringe bypass, collecting a petition that was submitted to KCC, SBC and the DFT. He has also secured footpath clearances from Network rail. Ben also secured safety improvements to the footbridge over the A2 by the abbey school.

John Irwin has arranged a litter pick of the mount.

Sam Blair has got bus stops repaired following criminal damage.

What are voters’ main priorities in your ward?

Watling ward residents want better consultation over significant spending projects like the Town Hall.  The lack of infrastructure development prior to housing development are all concerns we have found, lack of affordable housing for local people, things to do for young people. The lack of an Ospringe bypass, parking and congestion issues and Air Quality are some of the biggest concerns along with pedestrian safety.

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 – much of this at 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. A lack of investment in youth services, that could prevent costs down the road like graffiti removal.

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 when it is absolutely necessary to discuss in private where personal issues are discussed relating to a member of staff or a member of the public or where commercially confidential 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. Borough council meetings should be available to watch online like county council meetings.

How would you develop opportunities for the town to draw on its heritage?

Should be led by groups of the public who should be 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, 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 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?

Regretfully we oppose the plan. It damages the environment and biodiversity too much and destroys an important landscape and high quality farmland. We continue to support low carbon power generation generally. Solar panels belong on rooftops not local 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 £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. 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. We demand a fair share for Faversham.

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. and needs to be open maximum possible hours. Additionally KCC have just very usefully installed a “Changing Places” disabled facility. What is the point 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.

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. Other actions need a widespread public consultation including discussion with both secondary schools. 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?

At best it showed shockingly bad judgement. He will have to take the public’s response on May 2nd.

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 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

Ben J Martin on behalf of Watling ward Liberal Democrats

7th April 2019


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