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Big shake up for Swale, as new coalition sets out key objectives

Home / Blog / Big shake up for Swale, as new coalition sets out key objectives
21
May


Representatives from the Green Party, Independent Group, Labour, Liberal Democrats and Swale Independents met last week to sign an historic agreement to form a five-way coalition to collectively run Swale Borough Council.

Cllr Roger Truelove (Labour) said “We are called the Cooperative Alliance, although I regard us as a pentagon, a five-sided fortress, although not with the military connotations. We have got a long way forward in agreeing a policy framework that will change Swale's Corporate Plan.”

In addition to signing their agreement, the group has set out 5 key objectives for the first year in office.

A radical new approach to planning


Cllr Mike Baldock (Swale Independents)

Cllr Mike Baldock (Swale Independents) explained “We want to cater more to existing local need, we will be trying to get the sort of housing that is not being provided like bungalows, housing for disabled people and more starter homes than is currently being talked about.”

“I think there are significant constraints in Swale that have not been argued strongly enough in the past. I think there should be more cross-council work in pointing out the constraints in Kent.”

“The message we’ve got to send to developers is that Swale is no longer an easy touch.”

Asked whether this was up to the market and developers, Cllr Baldock said “Any plan that is put forward is always going to be subject to developers whims, that’s why it is ludicrous that we are put in a position by national policy that leaves us at the mercy of developers, but we will be trying to deal with that in a more robust way.”

On the subject of housing targets, Cllr Baldock said “The previous administrating were looking at between 14-15,000 new homes, when the government may only ask for an additional 9,000 and it hasn’t even set these targets yet.”

Cllr Truelove added “We do intend to work much more closely with housing associations.”

Cllr Monique Bonney (Independent Group) said “It’s fair to say that we are going to a good crawl over our property portfolio, our property holdings. We are going to look at what opportunities there may be within those.”


A plan to tackle homelessness and the need for affordable housing


Cllr Ben Martin (Liberal Democrats)

Cllr Ben Martin (Liberal Democrats) said “Let’s face it the Local Development Framework is not going to be all and end all of the housing policy. We have assets, we need to be looking at how we can best use those. We need to be looking at we can best work with the social housing providers that already exist and encouraging communities to go down the community land trust route.”

“We have also got a lot of empty dwellings and we have to look very carefully at how we balance what we’re doing. Make sure that it actually makes financial sense, but also that it meets the social conscious element. We have got a very long waiting list, of people waiting for social housing and that needs to be sorted pretty pronto.”


Commitment to tough action on environmental concerns, health issues and promoting safe and inclusive communities


Cllr Tim Valentine (Green Party)

Cllr Tim Valentine (Green Party) explained “As soon as we can we will put a motion to full council to declare a climate and ecological emergency and an action plan to back that up, to meet targets to get the whole of the borough down to net zero”

“We would want the council itself to be a beacon of good practice and achieve net zero. This would involve generating and buying electricity from renewal sources, an investment in electric vehicle infrastructure so we can encourage the transition from the internal combustion engine to zero emission vehicles.”

“Swale at the moment is a complete desert for rapid charging and we need to make up ground on that.”

“In Faversham there is the 20’s Plenty campaign which we support which will help with emissions, although there are lots of other benefits to it as well.”

“There is the possibility of low emission zones where we could prohibit the most polluting vehicles, but we are also interested in exploring more imaginative ways of reducing traffic, trying to get people out of their cars.”


Changing the way Swale makes decisions to give elected Councillors and the public a better say


Cllr Roger Truelove (Labour)

Cllr Baldock “We want to move back to the committee system so that councillors have a greater input into the decision making. Everybody should feel that their councillor has a role to play in policy making, that their voice will be heard on the council.”

“We want to include more localised decision making, so we are looking at the possibility of setting up area committees, so that people can see their councillors discussing issues that directly affect them.”

“The hope is that people will get more involved, see that their voice is heard, then hopefully more people will vote next time.”

Cllr Monique commented “It’s also about transparency, those of us that have been in opposition for many years, certainly feel that previously is wasn’t very transparent. Nobody really knew what was going on because of the cabinet regime, and I think the onus is really on the council to make it transparent.”

 Cllr Truelove added “There will be a lot more decision making coming up, rather than as everybody knows, its just come down in the last few years.”

“You have a cabinet and a scrutiny system for the opposition to scrutinise and be led by the opposition. That was taken away from the opposition under the previous council and now that we are in administration we are giving it back to the opposition, so the chairman of scrutiny will be a Conservative.”


Create a dynamic economy across the whole Borough based on better jobs through training and further education



Cllr Monique Bonney (Independent Group)

Cllr Monique explained “We are going to drive the economy from using our natural resources. We’ve got amazing countryside, beaches, huge marine capacity and fantastic history, and we can bring all those strands together.”

“There is definitely going to be a push on tourism which seem obvious, but completely ignored previously apart from a very preliminary framework. That will be a key focus as are our town centres.”

“Each town has a key role, as local service centres, places of business, education and we would like to focus on possible higher education opportunities to benefit the wider community. Things that we think have been neglected over the last 17 years.”

“We want to see employment that is created is not the lowest paid, working in a warehouse unit that takes up loads of employment land space. Whilst we can’t dictate higher pay scales, we can encourage it through networking of employment sites.”

“Some of our objectives will require us working very hard with our neighbours and also KCC, things like bus services are difficult for us to influence but we will try and drive that forward.”

Cllr Truelove said “We can’t talk about skills when young people have nowhere to locally to acquire those skills, there have been loads of ad hoc attempts to cut that circle, but they don’t work. We want a proper college and Sittingbourne is probably the place for it.”

Asked whether the new group intended to employ more staff, Cllr Truelove said “Are we going to be employing lots of staff all over the place, the answer is no, we are going to be redeploying people.”

“We know we have the money to improve the housing department, and we’ll do that fairly quickly, and we know we have the money to employ somebody to support us on health.”

“We are not going to break away from the medium-term financial plan that is already in place, we are not going to put council tax up more than would have been put up in any case. There is room for redeploying people within”



Asked what it felt like to finally be in charge, Cllr Truelove said “It’s definitely honeymoon time, its euphoric and it’s unexpected, but for us to have got this far in two weeks, we’re had to work hard”

Cllr Monique added “It was great when we sat down to decide what our priorities were going to be and there was very little that we disagreed on. Because we have collectively been in opposition for so long, we can see the gaping holes that need to be filled.”

Andy Hudson
Sittingbourne.Me

 





Comments

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This is the freshest breath of air that has been blown into the proposed Swale council administration in many a long year.  I sincerely hope it turns into a hefty draught in all the corridors of Swale House too.  Hooray for the proposal to return to the more realistic committee system.

My fervent hope and wish is that the new coalition has the greatest success.  We will now have a body truly working in the best interests of the people of Swale, a factor that has been absent for so long and at great cost and waste of money.

Best of luck to the coalition and hearty thanks to them all for the work and stance that have taken already and long may it continue.

Comment by John Greenhill on 21 May 2019
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