Archive for Council Report

Think Again!

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Labour Activists were out in force on Saturday to ask for signatures on the ‘Think Again’ petition. This is asking Tory-Led Swale Borough Council to think again about their decision to borrow £28 Million ( now increased to £60 Million) to fund the building of a Cinema, shops, restaurants and a Multi-Story Car Park (didn’t we used to have one of those?) that they are calling ‘regeneration’.

Now you can sign the petition online at http://services.swale.gov.uk/meetings/mgEPetitionListDisplay.aspx?bcr=1 . Please do and help us reach the target which will trigger a Council debate on this subject.

Will Council Scrutiny Meeting Throw Fresh Light on Regeneration?

 

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Or is it?

The relatively brief report going to the Scrutiny Panel next Wednesday ( 31 Aug ) gives Councillors a much more frank and realistic assessment of where we are with town centre regeneration than we have been used to. It shows us that progress has been made, though very slowly, but that there are continuing question marks about the ultimate viability of the project. The developers will have to go to the markets in the autumn to secure funding for the leisure and retail elements of the scheme and if that is not secured the scheme will begin to unfold. Without the leisure funding, the residential development on the car parks must not proceed and if that occurs, there is some doubt about the need for the multi storey car park. Elsewhere, it is clear how important it is to get a legal understanding with Network Rail over the road realignment and the station forecourt, and the former is running up against serious time constraints with the government grant running out at the end of this financial year.

Things may very well fall into place but it is refreshing now to get a more honest appraisal of where we are. It looks like a 50/50 chance of success. The central business rational for this project, that residential development would fund leisure investment, has always been open to question in the local housing market. This is a very long drawn out process and the phase 2 element seems a long way ahead. The Council also needs to give urgent thought to the many other land holdings in the town that need regenerating but are not part of the Spirit of Sittingbourne project.

Roger Truelove, Leader of Labour Group on Swale Borough Council

brexitAt the meeting of the Kent County Council on Thursday 14 July, the Cabinet member for Economic Growth, Mark Dance, confirmed that Brexit posed a threat to KCC’s aim of securing £100 million for the Kent economy by 2020 from European Growth funds.

Mr Dance was answering a question from Labour’s Roger Truelove about the danger of Kent not reaching its target.

Mr Dance said the situation was full of uncertainty. It was not certain that current contracts would be fulfilled. It was possible that funding might be maintained during the period of Brexit negotiations, probably over the next two years, or beyond that if the negotiations took even longer. Much would depend on the UK’s approach during the negotiation period.

The European Regional funds help businesses in Kent, both large and small, the rural economy, creative industries and the skills economy. They help to increase trade between Kent and NW Europe.

For Labour, Roger Truelove says,

” We heard quite a lot during the referendum campaign about how the UK’s contribution might be recycled back into our economy. There was the promise to pay it all into the NHS. Farmers who voted Brexit apparently think they are going to receive the same subsidies from our Government. I only hope there will be some funding left to support the local economy and I hope Kent will try to expand its export trade to other parts of the World.”

Swale Budget Meeting – What Labour proposed

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  • Play Areas and Recreation

It may not be a total surprise that I am proposing this amendment.

We have been here before and I have deluded myself into believing that something was going to happen.

But it hasn’t.

While I am aware that the Council is currently thinking of undertaking an assessment of play facilities, I do not consider that to be a case for yet further delay.

The tired and unacceptable state of the play areas are obvious and require no assessment. They demand urgent action, not more delays.

What people see around them carries a message.

Does our Council really care?

The state of these play areas suggests it does not.

The Corporate Plan talks of “a Borough to be proud of”

Is that what members feel when they look at some of the sites listed by us.

This has a lot to do with what we mean by regeneration.

In our view, regeneration is not just big projects. It is also about open space enhancement and decent play areas for our children.

That is why we have no qualms about using the regeneration fund to benefit our local communities. In the budget report that is a £600K gap between the anticipated New Homes Bonus fund and the amount going into the base budget. £100 K is allocated to the Communities Fund and Swale Community Leisure. That leaves £500K plus the £300 already in the fund.

I appreciate the caution that the Council has about future finances but total reserves of £15 million on a budget requirement of £15 million is a little bit too robust.

We proposed 500K for refurbishment of Children’s Play Areas

It is not OUR MONEY. It belongs to the Swale Community and we are asking for our local people to see some benefit from it.

Members will see where we wish to allocate resources and will judge whether they wish to deny their residents this much needed intervention.

Let’s get on with this. If necessary, we could put up a few “It’s Here” signs too.

 

  • Homelessness

A couple of weeks ago the Policy Review Panel looked at the Corporate Plan.

I could not believe it had no reference to tackling homelessness and I hope this will be rectified. But it conveyed a message.

We believe that there is both an ethical case for our proposal but also a fiscal one.

The number of households in various forms of temporary accommodation has now risen to 93. Some are families, others are single people, often very vulnerable and prone to serious mental health problems.

For families it is a traumatic experience to be consigned to out of borough bed and breakfast accommodation. It is hard to understand exactly how much damage this does.

It really is time to act more urgently and with greater compassion.

Just over a year ago the then Cabinet received a report on emergency homeless accommodation. It indicated that for a capital investment of £180K the Council will realise a saving of £18,500 a year, something in the region of a 10% return on capital.

This is based on our Housing Department making the best use of those properties.

We would also expect the properties to hold their equity, or much more likely achieve a capital growth.

I am sorry, but we regard this as a no brainer. What is holding us back?

Councillor Roger Truelove

The Swale Local Plan Examination in Public has now finished.

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The Swale Local Plan Examination in Public has now finished. The Council will wait on the Inspector’s report and then there will be further challenging decisions to make.
On the last day, Wednesday 16th December, consideration was given to the transport infrastructure.It is now clear that the Southern Relief Road, which would have connected the A2 and M2 east of Sittingbourne, will not be in the plan. There was also a very strong lobby to remove from the plan any commitment to completing the Northern Relief Road from East Hall to Bapchild. The Council wishes to include an aspiration for the road but without any indication of the route and with only a vague justification for it. Neither the Borough Council, nor the Kent County Council, seem to be able to harness an argument around the Industrial growth to the North East of Sittingbourne, nor the desirability of a link from Sheppey and North Sittingbourne, to the east of Sittingbourne and avoiding the town centre. The pressure to reject the NRR altogether came frpm the CPRE, the Bapchild and Tonge Parish Council, the Five Parishes and from interested developers. They are in a favourable position because of the vagueness of the Council approach.
This is not at all the kind of approach that Labour wants to see, or which a Labour led Council would ever have fostered. In time, it will add to congestion in the Sittingbourne Town centre and it pitiably lets down the people who live in East Hall.
The strategic focus is much more on the A249 corridor, and that is understandable if the Council manages to get 1500 houses built north of Quinton, or if developer opportunities open up in Iwade or around Cryalls Lane. Improvements to the Grovehurst roundabout are a must, along with improvements at Key Street and at Junction 5 on the M2. It is clear that this focus is closely linked to Swale’s intention to see so much of its housing development around this area.
The session was attended by Sittingbourne Labour Councillors Ghlin Whelan and Roger Truelove. The Conservative Councillor for the Meads has been a regular observer but other Councillors in the most affected areas have shown no interest.