ModernGov

Agenda item

Questions from Councillors

The session for Councillor questions will be limited to 45 minutes.

Minutes:

Councillor questions

 

1.     From Councillor Meyers to Councillor Monk, Leader of the Council

 

       Will this council support the calls for a statue to be erected in the honour & memory of Dame Vera Lynn, preferably on the white cliffs of Dover and hopefully on or close to the Battle of Britain memorial?

 

       ANSWER:

 

       Thank you for your question.

 

       The council would support the principle of the Dame Vera Lynn statue being erected but it is a matter for Dover District Council to decide as her association is more strongly aligned with Dover and the locations mentioned above sit within Dover district ownership.

 

       SUPPLEMENTARY QUESTION:

 

Would the council be prepared to support the cost of such a call with an appropriately budgeted sum?

 

       ANSWER:

      

I cannot answer directly for the Council, it would be a council decision, but I hope they would.

 

2.     From Councillor Treloar to Councillor Mrs Hollingsbee, Deputy Leader and Cabinet Member for Communities

 

       In a month where the Folkestone Pride march would have otherwise taken place, will you as leader, on behalf of the district council, please provide a statement of support for our LGBTQIA+ community, including a broad condemnation of any act that undermines the fairness, equality and compassion that the community deserves?

 

       ANSWER:

 

The Leader handed over to Councillor Mrs Hollingsbee to answer the question.

 

Thank you for your question. The Leader has asked that I respond, as this falls within my portfolio. All council policies undergo Equality Impact Assessments and we support members of all minority communities equally.

 

The council is involved in IPAG (Independent Police Advisory Group) where members from the LGBTQIA community are representatives and can raise any matters of concern.

 

Details of IPAG can be found below.

https://www.kent.police.uk/police-forces/kent-police/areas/kent-police/about-us/about-us/ipag/who-we-are/

 

In addition we work closely across communities through the community safety unit (CSU) and any act causing concern around alarm or harassment can be addressed through the CSU.

 

All Pride events nationally have been impacted by Covid-19, however the LGBTQIA+ community have been able to access national online support in lieu of celebrations.

 

The Leader then added that the council had supported Pride by changing their logo to pride colours, and had provided support at events previously.

 

SUPPLEMENTARY QUESTION:

 

None.

 

3.     From Councillor Prater to Councillor Monk, Leader of the Council

 

A number of other councils are looking at merging district and county councils into large unitary authorities. For example, in Surrey there is a proposal to scrap the county council and all the district/borough councils and replace them with a single 'unitary authority' for all of Surrey covering over 1.2 million voters, starting in 2022.

 

Although there are hugely increased financial pressures on councils due to Covid, it should be for Government to help support councils through that shortfall, not use it as a way of forcing through council mergers.

 

Many feel that a Unitary authority covering Kent would be massively too big and remote from local people.

 

What is the Leader's view on a single Kent Unitary authority?

 

ANSWER:

 

Thank you Councillor Prater for your question.

 

Even excluding the Medway unitary authority, I am aware that many consider a single unitary council for the whole of Kent to be too large and unworkable, covering as it would do some 1,370 square miles and almost 1,582,000 people, the largest population of all the English counties.   I concur with that view.  There is an expected White Paper on local recovery and devolution coming from Government in the autumn of this year and we will see what requirements are laid out in that document.

 

I have long advocated that Kent be split into three unitarys with an overarching authority. I think this would satisfy all the government rules and be workable sizes.

 

SUPPLEMENTARY QUESTION:

 

Have you, the Chief Executive and other officers have had any discussions, formal or informal, with counterparts at other Kent Councils this year relating to any possible Council mergers in the County, either as one single county unitary or smaller unitary areas?

 

ANSWER:

 

Thank you Councillor Prater for your supplementary question.  You will not be surprised to learn that informal conversations have started with Kent Leaders and senior council officials with their counter-parts across Kent and as part of the District Council Network (DCN), but until such time that the White Paper is published such discussions are by their nature very limited in scope.

 

4.         From Councillor Keen to Councillor Monk, Leader of the Council

 

I have been asked by a number of residents when will the business plan of Otterpool Park be in the public domain. They are aware that the council are planning the development and that the district now owns a racecourse and a castle but as rate payers of the district they feel that they are being kept in the dark and would like to be informed as to what benefits this development will have for residents and how the loan of 100 million that has been borrowed by F&HDC will be paid back.

 

ANSWER:

 

Thank you for the question.  I regret that the constituents of the member feel they are being kept in the dark.  I do not consider that residents have been kept in the dark.  The dedicated website for Otterpool Park, www.otterpoolpark.org has extensive information on the project, the planning documents are available on the planning portal on the Council’s web-site which similarly contain large amounts of information and there have been and will continue to be public exhibitions and presentations and regular meetings are held with representatives of parish councils. 

 

Specifically the business plan is currently being drawn up.  The intention is that Cabinet will consider the final proposals for the business plan in December.  The Overview and Scrutiny Committee will have the opportunity to consider the draft before it is placed before Cabinet.  There will be certain elements of the business plan that will be, of necessity, commercially confidential and consequentially consideration of the business plan will, subject to member decision, be held in private.

 

Once the business plan has been approved the non – confidential elements will be in the public domain.  In general terms this will show the returns on the Council’s investment.

 

SUPPLEMENTARY QUESTION:

 

On page 16 of the FHDC draft accounts, the accounts seem to indicate that FHDC have borrowed £50.4 million to finance their capital programme in 19/20, but page 67 of the document shows that the total borrowing is over £90 million, and that was at 31 March 2020, and mainly from the PWLB?

 

ANSWER:

 

Had you given me advance notice of this question, I would have been able to give you a specific answer. As it is, I will have to provide a written answer at a later date.

 

After the meeting, Councillor Monk provided the following further response:

 

The information shown in the table on page 67 of the Statement of Accounts states the Council already held £56.355m in external loans at 31 March 2019, with the majority of this borrowed from the PWLB (£55.855m).

 

At 31 March 2020 the Council’s external borrowing has risen to £90.255m, an increase of £33.9m. Of this borrowing, £54.755m is from the PWLB and £35.5m from other loans, all from other UK local authorities. This increase in loans has been used to help meet the cost of the Council’s capital expenditure in 2019/20 being met from borrowing of £50.4m, the remainder being met from internal borrowing by utilising the Council’s cash balances in the short term.

 

 

5.         From Councillor Keutenius to Councillor Whybrow, Cabinet Member for the Environment

 

Black Bull Rd has the worst air quality in the district according to a report from July 2019. What actions have been taken over the past 12 months to reduce the amount of NO2 affecting the residents of Black Bull Rd and the pupils of Mundella Primary School?

 

ANSWER:

 

Thank you for your question which is a very important one.

 

The Councils 2020 air quality annual status report has recently been accepted by DEFRA last week and it has confirmed that the Council are continuing to meet its air quality objectives, as set out by the government. The report should be on our website within a matter of days.

 

Therefore no air quality management areas are required to be declared within the district and we will continue to monitor the air quality within the area to ensure we continue to meet the objectives.

 

The 2020 report shows a reading for DT5 Blackbull Road of 27.9 microgrammes per cubic metre compared to 29.7 in the previous year so there has been some reduction. Both readings are below the objective of 40 microgrammes per cubic metre.

 

We are currently working on our Carbon Action Plan with the aim of reducing our greenhouse gas emissions. Measures to be included in this Plan should also lead to an improvement in air quality. The Environment is also a key theme in our Covid Recovery Plan.

 

The main source of air pollution in the district is from transport. KCC is the highway authority and they are just about to publish their Energy and Low Emissions Strategy which includes strategies for tackling air pollution. I will ensure your concerns are passed on to county colleagues.

 

SUPPLEMENTARY QUESTION:

 

None.

 

6.         From Councillor Meade to Councillor Monk, Leader of the Council

 

As it has been reported on the news that land has been procured near Ashford to be use as a clearance area for 4000 lorries, (which would appear to be 2000 spaces short which means again Operation Stack or Brock as it is now called will have to be implemented), for use once the Brexit negotiations have concluded on December 31st 2020 and the proposed re-opening of Manston Airport as an airfreight hub. Does the leader have any information about our District and East Kent becoming a Free Port area and if so what does he believe the pros and cons to our residents could be?

 

ANSWER:

 

Thank you for your question.  Quite simply, this would undoubtably give employment for the area, but we are not there yet.

 

A consultation seeking views on the Government’s proposal to establish 10 Freeports across the UK closed on 13th July 2020. The Leaders of East Kent authorities were very much part of the discussion ahead of the consultation deadline, and a virtual Freeport Consultation Focus Group Meeting was hosted by the Port of Dover on 2 July 2020 that was attended by the East Kent Leaders. There is shared endorsement amongst East Kent Leaders of the consultation response prepared by the Port of Dover, which proposes that the Port of Dover is to provide the basis for a Multi-site Freeport model to deliver transformative benefits for the wider UK economy (noting that the port is central for the supply chains for major manufacturers across the UK), as well as Kent.

 

A Multi-site Freeport model would not be geographically limited, ensuring benefits can be spread across regions, and to deliver immediate benefits for existing businesses, supporting post-COVID economic recovery as well as driving regeneration.

 

If selected by Government, the Multi-site Freeport proposal, led by the Port of Dover, would bring new investment in infrastructure, economic growth opportunities and environmental benefits for the whole of Kent.

 

As the allocation of Freeports is to be carried out through a competitive bidding process, there is no certainty at this time that Port of Dover is to be one of the 10 selected Freeport locations.

 

The Government’s original aim was to have selected the Freeports by the end of 2020, with a view to their being operational by 2021. This timeframe now looks likely to be somewhat delayed, but a revised timeline has not yet been communicated. An update to members can be circulated once a further Government announcement has been made in due course.

 

SUPPLEMENTARY QUESTION:

 

None.

 

7.            From Councillor Davison to Councillor Mrs Hollingsbee, Deputy Leader and Cabinet Member for Communities

 

The council has, in the past, supported local events as part of Black History Month. Given current events surrounding the Black Lives Matter movement, are there any plans to support similar projects this October?

 

ANSWER:

 

Thank you for your question Councillor Davison.

 

As the Folkestone & Hythe Community Safety Partnership we actively support and promote any local projects in our district, whilst reaching out to our partners and contacts through the Community Safety Unit to do the same.

 

Our communications team also helps to promote local not-for-profit events which bring all of our communities together.

 

SUPPLEMENTARY QUESTION:

 

In the spirit of an earlier question, would you support a lasting tribute to Folkestone born Black officer and footballer Walter Tull?

 

ANSWER:

 

This is a matter for officer/Cabinet discussion.  That isn’t to say we wouldn’t consider this, and we are happy to discuss this with you.

 

8.    FromCouncillor McConville to Councillor Prater, Cabinet Member for Revenues, Benefits, Anti-Fraud and Corruption

 

Can you please tell me how many people have approached the council since the start of lockdown on March 23rd who are struggling to pay their council tax and require support?

 

ANSWER:

 

Thanks Connor for the question.

From 23rd March to the end of June 2020 the Council processed 2,266 new claims for Council Tax Reduction, an increase of 1,301 from the same period last year.

From 23rd March to the end of June 2020 the Council also received 257 applications for further support through the Council’s Financial Support Payment scheme. This is an increase of 74 over the same period last year. Of these applications 189 received support.

A considerable number of residents also made contact and have had instalments deferred.

The council’s Welfare Team have also been proactive in directly contacting vulnerable customers to discuss available support.

The Council also put out repeated messages on our website, in the press, on Facebook and Twitter asking residents with concerns about their Council Tax to check the website at https://www.folkestone-hythe.gov.uk/financial-support or call the Council, plus a letter to every household in arrears of over £100. We want to help.

 

Finally, I'd like to thank every member of the Revenues and Benefits team for their work to support all residents that need it, even from home and with a greatly increased workload.

 

SUPPLEMENTARY QUESTION:

 

I was expecting high numbers, but that is a lot. Good to see the team is working well with this. At the start of lockdown, the council received a funding package of just over £1 million. Has that allocation been spent, or is there any funding left?

 

ANSWER:

 

The huge majority has been spent, most of it has been allocated for the remainder of the year, but I will provide you with those numbers.

 

Following on from the meeting, Councillor Prater provided the following response:

 

The Council was allocated £1,132,732 to be used by 31 March 2021. As at the end of July 2020 £962,897 of this had been allocated. £169,835 is currently left which is to be used for new Council Tax Reduction received for the rest of the year. The Council will ensure that the full funding is utilised by the end of the financial year.

 

 

9.            From Councillor Keen to Councillor Monk, Leader of the Council

 

What are the tangible measurements that the council use to determine that The Coastal Park is being managed in line with the charitable aims and objectives, these specify the park is for the use of residents of the district?

 

ANSWER:

 

Thank you for your question.

 

As part of the council’s Management Plan for the Coastal Park, the following objectives were set;

 

·                Serve as a very high quality attractive open space with a wide and inclusive appeal.

·               Be a major venue for events and art.

·                Actively compliment other regeneration in projects in the town and district and not be seen as an isolated site.

·                Successfully integrate its coastal defence role with its main role as a public park.

·               Respond to changing demands of users where practicable.

·               Be managed in an environmentally sustainable way.

·               Maintain environmental quality and heritage value.

 

One of the key metrics for gauging successful adherence to these objectives is through the retention of the Green Flag Award, but also through valued feedback of local residents.

 

SUPPLEMENTARY QUESTION:

 

None.

 

 

10.         From Councillor McConville to Councillor Wimble, Cabinet Member for the District Economy

 

Given the changes announced to local planning law, which will come into effect in September, has the council submitted any formal correspondence with Robert Jenrick MP Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, either directly or through the LGA?

 

ANSWER:

 

Thanks for your question Councillor McConville.

 

The council has not engaged directly with the Secretary of State but I am sure that the Local Government Association, along with other bodies such as the Royal Town Planning Institute, will have.  The council will apply the new regulations as required and that will include planning and licensing. I would hope that the Bill will encourage investment and appropriate levels of development across the district to stimulate economic growth as we move into the COVID recovery phase.

 

SUPPLEMENTARY QUESTION:

 

The regulations make it easier for people to obtain planning, and the length of time that these requests are turned around in is reducing too. I’m concerned about the additional workload on the planning team.

 

ANSWER:

 

The planning department will continue to be ‘up to scratch’. 

 

11.         From Councillor Meade to Councillor Wimble, Cabinet Member for the District Economy

 

The old Debenhams store was bought quite some time ago by District Council and any news of public consultation as to its proposed future use seems to have gone quiet. Could the leader please give us an update and timings regarding this going forward?

 

ANSWER:

 

Thank you for your question.

 

The council is working with a range of organisations on plans to redevelop the building and ensure it plays a role in the future of the town centre. I trust you will appreciate that COVID has had an impact in the timing for this but the town centre will be a key part of our recovery plans.

 

We will come forward with the propositions as fast as we can.

 

As part of continuing to engage with residents we will be launching a competition to rename the building. I believe this will be an important and positive step forward for this key site. 

 

SUPPLEMENTARY QUESTION:

 

Obviously we are looking at the larger redevelopment. Is there some sort of consultation we can go forward with relating to its temporary use, while it’s sitting there empty?

 

ANSWER:

 

I am looking to see if we can bring something forward for interim use, and will go to consultation on that. I will stress ‘interim use’ as it is important that the purchase brings a return. As soon as I can come out with some information, I will.

 

 

 

Supporting documents: