Agenda item

Questions from Members of the Council to the Chairmen of Committees


Questions to the Chairman of the Policy and Resources Committee


Councillor Harper asked the following question of the Chairman of the Policy and Resources Committee:


At the 9 December 2015 Council meeting, it was resolved, and subsequently amended, that the Council support the promotion of 20 mph speed limits in residential areas where supported by residents.


Unfortunately, at the recent Strategic Planning, Sustainability and Transportation Committee, the Committee refused to commission a feasibility study the cost of which was about £15/£20,000, and would only make vague commitments to refer to the issue in the draft Local Plan.


Would the Chairman of the Policy and Resources Committee agree that this small amount of money could be found either from within the Council’s overall budget or from reserves on a one-off basis to fund the feasibility study, without which there would not be the local evidence to proceed to the next steps?


The Chairman of the Policy and Resources Committee replied that:


As you know, achieving some 20 mph speed limits in our residential streets whether they are in rural or urban areas is dear to my heart and to the hearts of many other Councillors whatever their party.  However, my memory of the meeting, because I was there, does not quite tally with yours, so we have gone back and checked the webcast. 


As a result of the motion concerning 20 mph zones considered at full Council on 9December 2015 it was resolved to request that the Strategic Planning, Sustainability and Transportation Committee review all the available evidence; consider the implementation of 20 mph speed limits within the Borough of Maidstone; and refer the findings to the Cabinet Member at Kent County Council.


The amendment moved by Councillor Harper and seconded by Councillor McKay, that the substantive motion be amended by the addition of reference to considering 20 mph zones in neighbourhoods where residents support them was lost.


Subsequently, on 8March 2016 the matter of 20 mph zones was considered by the Strategic Planning, Sustainability and Transportation Committee.  The Committee considered whether or not to request Officers to undertake or commission further work on 20 mph schemes with specific consideration of the Maidstone Urban Area, the five Rural Service Centres and five Larger Villages as suitable scheme areas.  The Committee also heard that support from Kent County Council would be required if it was decided to pursue the introduction of 20 mph speed limits in the Borough and that initial indications were that signage alone would cost in the region of £1m and an initial study carried out by a consultant would cost in the region of £20k; significantly different to the smaller amount quoted in the question.


However, it was not a complete loss because the Committee resolved that in the Local Plan period pilot studies should be undertaken of certain sections of highway in Maidstone where there is acknowledged pedestrian and vehicular conflict and where there is residents’ support in order to deliver 20 mph speed limit areas.


The decision made by the Strategic Planning, Sustainability and Transportation Committee enables Maidstone Borough Council to refer the matter to Kent County Council and to promote work by the highway authority.  It does enable us to identify areas where perhaps we could have a pilot or move forward with a 20 mph speed limit.  So, although it might not be to the extent that we would have wished because of the prohibitive cost we have been told it would be, it has not closed the door to us looking at 20 mph speed limits in residential streets.


I would also point out that there was an opportunity to refer the decision of the Strategic Planning, Sustainability and Transportation Committee to the Policy and Resources Committee, but that was not taken up.


Councillor Harper asked the following supplementary question of the Chairman of the Policy and Resources Committee:


How does the resolution of the Strategic Planning, Sustainability and Transportation Committee address what residents want?


The Chairman of the Policy and Resources Committee replied that:


Funding is excruciatingly difficult and we will be talking about the funding gap we have over a wide spectrum.  It is far better to do what we have already said we will do which is to see if we can identify particular schemes somewhere and then find the way that we can fund them rather than say here and now that we will put a substantial sum of money that we do not have to those schemes.  You know very well that I would love to see the entire area of Maidstone that is residential with a 20 mph limit, but there is no way we are going to achieve it just by allocating an amount of money at this point in time.


Councillor Boughton asked the following question of the Chairman of the Policy and Resources Committee:


Could the Chairman of the Policy and Resources Committee detail the discussions she has been having with neighbouring local authorities regarding local government reorganisation or further devolution?


The Chairman of the Policy and Resources Committee replied that:


As far as I am aware there are currently no discussions taking place regarding local government reorganisation, which is different to the devolution discussions, in the strictest sense, but there are some changes in the pipeline for KCC divisional boundaries which will have some administrative consequences for Maidstone Borough Council.  I have not been party to any of those discussions as it is a matter for the County Council.


In terms of devolution, the Kent district Leaders, including Medway, meet regularly and the issue was on the agenda for the meeting earlier today when the County Council brought forward an outline proposal.  Unfortunately, most attendees did not receive the papers until very recently, some only today.  I received my papers yesterday.  Although there was some discussion, it was agreed that the next Kent Leaders’ meeting, the date of which is to be confirmed, should be given over to this, and rather than it being just an afternoon session it will probably be an entire day session.  Rather than trying to explain the proposal it would probably be better if I made it available to Members.  It is not confidential, and it would be as well for everyone to see what the County Council is discussing.


In general terms, the Kent Leaders have fallen into three groups: West Kent, North Kent and East Kent.  West Kent, and there is not yet agreement across the board, is talking to the County Council about what I would call service level agreements rather than devolution.  For example, could they get a better deal from the County Council regarding taking some minor highway issues back?  That has a great deal of value and we would like to do that ourselves, and there is a move to say let’s see how discussions pan out, perhaps something that can be broadened out across all of the districts.


We have joined discussions with the North Kent cluster of Councils.  They were talking to each other even before the issue of devolution came onto the agenda, primarily about how they can link together on economic development, the skills base and growth.  We have been accepted into these discussions due to the general similarities in terms of economic development, development along the northern corridor, the allocation of LEP funding to the northern corridor including the Medical Centre at junction 7 of the M20 motorway, the need for better apprenticeships and the low skills base.  It makes sense to talk to these Councils about what the “asks” would be from Central Government.


A piece of work has been commissioned from consultants and when the final draft is available it can be shared.


The East Kent cluster was looking at becoming a unitary authority, but is now looking at, and taking advice on, becoming a “super district” – coming together and operating as one district in general terms.


The five Group Leaders at Maidstone have been kept up to date as the discussions move forward, but I think that there is a perception that more progress has been made than is actually the case.  There has been a lot of discussion, and I hope that at the next meeting of the Kent Leaders we can start to get some ideas as to where all of Kent can come together with some degree of agreement about what we can talk to Central Government about.


We talk about double devolution, but the issue is that we have got to get the County Council to understand that a service level agreement is not double devolution – if the districts take control of something the money needs to be available directly to them.  If I am still Leader next year, I will keep you informed, but decisions on devolution do not rest with the Leader; the Council (or the relevant Committees) will be asked to make decisions at the appropriate time.


Councillor Boughton asked the following supplementary question of the Chairman of the Policy and Resources Committee:


With Government housing targets likely to increase all the time in the long term and local government budgets ever decreasing, would it not be wise for this Council to join with another cluster whereby there is a better urban/rural split, but not with North Kent based on what has happened before?


The Chairman of the Policy and Resources Committee replied that:


I think that there is a degree of cynicism on the part of everyone involved with this about what the Government’s purpose really is; is it a genuine devolution or a way of trying to resolve some of its own problems.  However, notwithstanding that, I personally think that we should do all we can to grasp this with open arms.


To answer your question, I will give you a personal opinion.  Having looked at the three clusters, clearly we are not a match for East Kent.  You could say that West Kent is a possibility, particularly in terms of health because of the way that the health districts are put together, but if you look at the problems facing Maidstone as a whole, the issues that we have around a low skills base chime with the North Kent cluster.  Economically, I agree with you that we have to think about the rural economy; that is a given.  However, currently, the money coming to us is primarily through the LEP and it is primarily to do with the northern corridor.


I think that of the three clusters that have been set up, it makes sense to look primarily to North Kent.  It does not mean to say that we are locked into anything, we are not.  It also does not mean to say that we are not having any discussions/negotiations with West Kent.  Councillor Dukes at Tunbridge Wells and I have regular discussions as do all of the Chief Executives.  We should not forget that we have still got Mid-Kent Services, and nobody wants to see that disappear overnight.  It is all very complicated when you think about it.


A very simple answer to your question is that I cannot see where we could go that would be a better match at this point in time than the northern grouping.


Questions to the Chairman of the Heritage, Culture and Leisure Committee


Councillor Harper asked the following question of the Chairman of the Heritage, Culture and Leisure Committee:


As you know the Maidstone Mela was set up by former well respected Labour Mayor Morel D'Souza after the 11 September 2001 atrocities to provide an event where all the various ethnic communities of Maidstone could meet and get to know each other in the relaxed environment of Mote Park.


There is great concern around Maidstone, but especially in the founder members of the Maidstone Mela and people wishing to promote the celebration of our multi-cultural society, that the Mela is going to cease to centre its activities on the annual event in Mote Park.


Would the Chairman of the Heritage, Culture and Leisure Committee agree that the loss of the focus of the Mela in the annual Mote Park event will reduce the wider communities’ access to learning about other cultures which is now more important than ever?


The Chairman of the Heritage, Culture and Leisure Committee replied that:


I do not think that it will dilute it.  The Mela was set up after 9/11 to bring together cultural activities.  It was the vision of Morel D’Souza, and I think that he is credited with it.


The Mela has evolved over the years, and talking to quite a few people around the town they feel that it needs refreshing.  I hope that you will agree with that.  There are now more nationalities represented in the town that are not involved in the Mela.  I produce major events in Kent, Sussex and Lincolnshire, and one of the things that we have always tried to do is involve people that have come to live here from overseas.


Cultural diversity is very important to this Borough, and the fact is that the programming last year on stage was extremely difficult because of the way it was set up.  The budget overran considerably both financially and in staff time.  In consultation with other parties involved it was decided that perhaps a smaller town centre based event should take place in 2016 aimed at bringing a taste of the Mela to a wider audience. 


My experience of street festivals and events is that they engender a feeling of wellbeing for all involved, but the infrastructure required to support the Mela as it was is not capable of being created in Mote Park.  So the idea is to look at a street Mela, bring in other people that have never been involved before and use the town as a showcase, and that, hopefully, will generate more interest.  The event will take place on Sunday 11 September, and a consultation exercise will be undertaken on the future of a multi-cultural festival for the Borough, including whether people would prefer it in the town or in Mote Park.  It is not written in stone that it will go either way, but it is good to try some change and then review it.  My weight is behind this, and I shall do my best to make sure that it works for Maidstone.


Councillor Harper asked the following supplementary question of the Chairman of the Heritage, Culture and Leisure Committee:


I note that the Chairman is going to arrange a review during the course of the year.  Could the Chairman ensure that as part of that review all of the groups involved in the Mela in the past plus representatives of all our ethnic communities in the Borough are brought together in a holistic consultation to ensure that we do not make any mistakes going forward?


The Chairman of the Heritage, Culture and Leisure Committee replied that:


You are quite right.  That is what we are intending to do; to bring everyone that has been involved into the discussions and listen to what they have to say, and hopefully they will listen to us too.  Change can be achieved and maybe the event will be back in Mote Park.


To listen to the responses to these questions, please follow this link:


Note:  Councillor Naghi entered the meeting during this question and answer session (7.30 p.m.).