As Labour’s prospective candidates for your area in next May’s Kent County Council elections, we are writing to you with our update on recent local issues. At present the County Council is dominated by Conservative Councillors. There are 73 of them and just 3 Labour. There have been many setbacks on the County Council in the last few years. They have made an enormous mess of providing Primary School places. Labour believes that a stronger opposition is needed there.
In Your Area
We were disappointed with the outcome of the licence application at a local public house and we know some of you who live in the area felt your views were not listened to sufficiently. Well, we receive regular complaints about people in Sittingbourne not being listened to properly. When we came round on a local Labour Action Day, we were asked to do something about Council staff parking in your streets. We have asked the Chief Executive to find a way of dealing with this problem. Another issue we are trying to follow up is getting some lighting on the pathway from Bell Road to Fairview. We have been in touch with the owners of Riverbourne Court and with the Kent County Council. A lot of people are concerned about the semi derelict state of the building at the bottom of Bell Road. Travelodge was given Planning permission to build a Hotel there. In line with Council policy, they agreed to some higher than average environmental standards in the building construction. They then half demolished the existing building, only to return to the Council with a new application with lower environmental building standards. The Council refused to give planning permission. It can’t obviously stay like it is at present.
The Plans for the Town Centre
At a public meeting to protest about the Phoenix closure plans, an officer of the Kent County Council said it was related to the Swale Borough Council plans for Town Centre regeneration. When we raised this at a Swale Council meeting, it was denied by the administration there. Yet the fact is that the deal Swale has made with the Spirit of Sittingbourne does involve the provision of land by the Council in return for investment by the Spirit of Sittingbourne consortium. Much of the land involved, such as that around and including the Phoenix Centre, does not belong to Swale but the KCC. So, we do find it a little difficult to accept that the Phoenix decision had nothing to do with these plans.
The need for Community facilities in Sittingbourne
There has been a desperate need for an appropriate meeting centre for community groups for very many years, and Peter Morgan has led the calls for investment on many occasions. That is why we backed Peter’s call to, at least, give serious consideration to keeping the magistrates’ court in Park Road as the basis for community involvement. Swale Borough Council went through the motions of considering this but we were told there was no need for such an investment as we had, after all, got the Phoenix Centre! A new Community Hub is part of the Spirit of Sittingbourne vision, but we are unlikely to see that developing in the next four years, if it ever happens at all.
What are the Council’s Regeneration plans now?
Not surprisingly, after such a long period of false dawns, there is some confusion about what precisely is intended. As indicated above, the Council’s main plan is involved with a consortium of three companies, known as the “Spirit of Sittingbourne”. This involves development of the town centre in two phases. Firstly, in the area between the station and the Forum, it is proposed to build a “cultural” area, in which the first investment must be in a new cinema. When that phase is completed, and assuming there is a further funding stream, a community hub will be developed in the library/Phoenix Centre area. This will involve a new civic centre and Council offices, making the existing 1970s Council block available for housing development. All this is separate from the long heralded “Tesco” plans for development down to Milton Creek ,with a walk way and crossing running at right angles to the High Street, over the railway and down towards the Creek. Tesco’s still have a resolution in favour of this from Swale Borough Council but a year after it was granted , full planning permission is still being held up by objections from the Highways Agency. On this there has been no breakthrough. We know development by this Company is not always popular, but after years of public money being spent on nurturing this idea, it seems absurd to claim that the loss of this investment does not matter. Do we want all that area to remain a waste land? By the way, the Morrison’s Development on the old Mill Site lies outside the Sittingbourne “Master Plan”. As you know, the Sittingbourne Labour Party and its Councillors believe that the completion of the Northern Relief Road is essential, or else Town Centre development will just lead to traffic chaos.
In the Labour Party we are pretty free with our criticism of the Conservatives on both Swale and Kent County Councils, when it comes to regeneration and economic development. We believe they have been too slow to take advantage of opportunities to grow the local economy and, more specifically, we think they hang too many hopes on big projects that never really materialise. There have been endless grand schemes for Sheppey whilst in Sittingbourne, far too much hope has been centered on the Kent Science Park. So how would Labour be any different? We hope we might be more forceful but we would also have a different approach. We believe that prosperity in our area will mainly come from small and medium sized businesses, those that we have, and those that we must attract. With growth in local business must also come, a growth in local marketing, with more and more being produced and sold to local people. It is not Kent Science Park that needs to expand but the Industrial Park with its small and medium sized units We also need to foster the growth of small niche high value services from people’s homes.