Your Councillors

Agenda item

Question and Answer Session for Members of the Public

Minutes:

Questions to the Chairman of the Policy and Resources Committee

 

Mr Brian Flinders asked the following question of the Chairman of the Policy and Resources Committee:

 

Is the banning of community access to Oakwood Park as a result of fencing off by St Augustine Academy and Oakwood Park a major loss to the community in west Maidstone?  This is in the context of the Department for Communities and Local Government cross party inquiry report (11 February 2017) identifying the community benefits of access to parks of increased fitness, better mental health and community cohesion. 

 

The Chairman of the Policy and Resources replied that:

 

Looking at the first sentence of your question, clearly, the community does believe this to be the case, and what people believe makes the loss real to them.  To link this to your statement about how this relates to the Department for Communities and Local Government cross party inquiry report, everyone who has fought for open spaces believes the report to be correct in terms of the community benefits of access to parks – increased fitness, better mental health and community cohesion.  The problem here is that the Council does not own the land and has no jurisdiction over it.  Several Councillors, including some County Councillors, have looked in detail at the history to see if weight can be added to the view that there should be open access.  It appears that when Kent County Council acquired the land it was for educational use.  The fact that people have had access to the land for a very long time would have to be tested by the community through the various methods open to them, but again apart from Councillors assisting in the process, there is nothing else the Council can do as it has no jurisdiction over Oakwood Park.

 

I think that our sympathies are with you, but there is nothing else that the Council can do other than what has been done already.  I do agree that the schools have handled this badly because of the lack of consultation, but that is in the past and we have to move forward as best we can.  It is appropriate for the petition objecting to the enclosure of the land to be referred to Kent County Council as the responsible body.

 

The Mayor then asked if any Group Leader/representative present would also like to respond.

 

Councillor Mrs Blackmore, the Leader of the Conservative Group, Councillor Mrs Gooch, the Leader of the Independent Group, Councillor Barned, on behalf of the Leader of the UKIP Group, and Councillor Harper, the Leader of the Labour Group, responded to the question.

 

Mr Flinders asked the following supplementary question of the Chairman of the Policy and Resources Committee:

 

Oakwood Park is midway on the route between Cornwallis Park and Clare Park.  The gates to these parks are locked and unlocked by Borough Council operatives at dusk and dawn.  Without any commitment would the Council be willing to consider in partnership with the residents’ group a proposal that the Council lock and unlock a gate at Oakwood Park if that approach can be negotiated and agreed with the schools?

 

The Chairman of the Policy and Resources replied that:

 

The Council has already looked at this, and whilst we would like to assist the cost is quite prohibitive.  It is not just a question of locking and unlocking the gate, it is the responsibility that goes with it when this has been done.  Insurance cover is required and with this responsibilities are accrued that are not appropriate.

 

The Council does take this very seriously, and has tried to find ways around it.  Whether people use it or not, Oakwood Park is a green lung for the west side of the town.  The fear is that in the future the schools may wish to expand buildings on the site, and that would impinge, but again the Council would be limited in what it can do.  We do sympathise, but it is almost impossible to find a practical way that the Council can assist other than by giving advice on processes that residents can follow themselves.

 

The Mayor then asked if any Group Leader/representative present would also like to respond.

 

Councillor Mrs Blackmore, the Leader of the Conservative Group, Councillor Mrs Gooch, the Leader of the Independent Group, Councillor Barned, on behalf of the Leader of the UKIP Group, and Councillor Harper, the Leader of the Labour Group, responded to the question.

 

Questions to the Chairman of the Strategic Planning, Sustainability and Transportation Committee

 

Mr Stuart Jeffery asked the following question of the Chairman of the Strategic Planning, Sustainability and Transportation Committee:

 

As air pollution is the second largest cause of preventable deaths and as it is responsible for around 130 deaths in this Borough each year, can the Council tell me what steps you are taking or are proposing to take to reduce the pollution?

 

The Chairman of the Strategic Planning, Sustainability and Transportation Committee replied that:

 

The Council is committed to reducing the impact of poor air quality on residents of the Borough and has been implementing its adopted Air Quality Action Plan produced in 2008 in order to achieve this aim.  This has involved working with partners, for example, Kent County Council, bus operators and others.

 

Before saying anything further, I would just like to dwell on the figure of 130 deaths that you are quoting.  I have been unable to trace the exact source of the figure of 130, but, to give context, if you take the study that found that air pollution might contribute to about 40,000 early deaths each year in the UK, of which 29,000 deaths might be related to particulates and 11,000 might be related to NOx, and look into the background, you will find that it emanates from a piece of work undertaken in North America which made the distinction that air pollution might have an impact on length of life rather than being the actual cause of deaths.

 

To put that into another context, a number of months of additional life expectancy in the context of air quality should be compared to a seven year reduction in life in areas of deprivation, which can mainly be attributed to housing quality.

 

However, putting all of these numbers to one side, I do not think any Member of this Council wants to breathe bad air or stand in the way of measures to improve things.

 

The Council currently has a working group looking at measures to revise our Air Quality Action Plan.  Over the last few years this is a subject that I have taken a particular interest in, and I have attended many workshops, and one of the things I have discovered everywhere I go is that there is a significant concern about diesel vehicles, and there are many who forecast that the solution might be around electric vehicles.

 

The Modern Transport Bill announced in the Queen’s Speech last year sets us on course to be a world leading country when considering alternatives to tackle congestion and the consequential air pollution.

 

One of the things I will be pushing for is that we might consider as a Council in the short term bringing in a Kent Air Quality Planning Guide.  This document would set out very clearly the intention and direction of this Council and it would have measures, for example, to require developers to put in electric vehicle charging points in every new property with allocated parking and also in shared parking areas.  This sounds like a small measure, but it is predicted that by 2040/47 almost all vehicles will be electric.  What I would like us to look at is where we are now and where we want to be, and every year that we can make a 5% improvement in the uptake of zero emission vehicles we will potentially be making a 5% improvement in air quality.  However, we need to recognise that vehicle emissions are not the only causative agent for air pollution, and we have to look at other factors such as emissions from home boilers etc.  In future, Planning Guidance might assist on this.

 

The point is that this Council is fully committed and actively working to see what measures we can put in place to improve air quality for Maidstone.

 

The Mayor then asked if any Group Leader/representative present would also like to respond.

 

Councillor Mrs Blackmore, the Leader of the Conservative Group, Councillor English, on behalf of the Leader of the Liberal Democrat Group, Councillor Mrs Gooch, the Leader of the Independent Group, Councillor Powell, the Leader of the UKIP Group, and Councillor Harper, the Leader of the Labour Group, responded to the question.

 

Mr Jeffery asked the following supplementary question of the Chairman of the Strategic Planning, Sustainability and Transportation Committee:

 

How much worse will the air pollution get with the almost 20,000 houses that are being built on the periphery of Maidstone which at the moment require cars to be there, and can you tell me what the annual death toll is likely to increase to?

 

The Chairman of the Strategic Planning, Sustainability and Transportation Committee replied that:

 

The very direct answer is no, but we are taking positive steps so that when we bring in the essential new development to provide the homes that the residents of our Borough need, we will take every measure possible to mitigate air pollution and congestion consequences.  We will make sure that the correct educational facilities are provided.  We will do everything we can to plan positively.

 

My vision between now and 2040/47, when we have got essentially an electrified vehicle fleet, is that air pollution will improve, improve and improve again.  My vision is that the roads we drive down at the moment with dirty hedgerows etc. will become the nature reserves of the future when the pollution ends.  I would like to see a steady progression of improvements between now and 2040.

 

The Mayor then asked if any Group Leader/representative present would also like to respond.

 

Councillor Mrs Blackmore, the Leader of the Conservative Group, Councillor English, on behalf of the Leader of the Liberal Democrat Group, Councillor Mrs Gooch, the Leader of the Independent Group, Councillor Powell, the Leader of the UKIP Group, and Councillor Harper, the Leader of the Labour Group, responded to the question.