Your Councillors


Agenda item

Question and Answer Session for Members of the Public

Minutes:

Question to the Chairman of the Strategic Planning, Sustainability and Transportation Committee from Councillor Geraldine Brown (Chairman of Maidstone KALC and Chairman of Yalding Parish Council)

 

Do you accept that, if DCLG’s current consultation proposals are subsequently adopted, our Borough will be expected to take about 7,000 more homes than the 17,660 in the Local Plan to be adopted this evening?

 

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

 

In short, yes.  If the Government’s proposed methodology is confirmed, the annual housing requirement would increase from 883 to 1,236 dwellings per year, amounting to an additional 7,060 dwellings over a 20 year period compared with the Local Plan.

 

I think that it is very important to note that if we adopt the Local Plan, the annual requirement will be fixed at 883 dwellings per year until the Plan is reviewed.

 

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

 

Councillor Harper, the Leader of the Labour Group, responded to the question.

 

Councillor Brown asked the following supplementary question of the Chairman of the Strategic Planning, Sustainability and Transportation Committee:

 

Will you do everything possible to minimise further impact on existing residents given the already high level of planned development in the Plan?

 

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

 

I think that I can honestly answer this on behalf of all of us.  Yes, of course, minimising impact will be first and foremost in every Councillor’s mind when we enter the review period.

 

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

 

Councillor Perry, the Leader of the Conservative Group, responded to the question.

 

Question to the Chairman of the Strategic Planning, Sustainability and Transportation Committee from Councillor Peter Coulling (Chairman of Teston Parish Council)

 

Do you commit to ensuring that the number of planned new homes is kept within the capacity of our Borough’s infrastructure?

 

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

 

Yes, but there needs to be a more detailed explanation behind that.  The National Planning Policy Framework sets out that Local Plans should plan positively for the development and infrastructure required to meet identified needs.  In developing a strategy to meet the identified needs for housing, local planning authorities should work with other authorities and infrastructure providers to assess the quality and capacity of infrastructure in the area, and Local Plans should include strategic policies to ensure the delivery of necessary supporting infrastructure.

 

Through the development of the Integrated Transport Strategy and Infrastructure Delivery Plan the Council has evidenced the need to provide a series of measures to ensure that planned growth can be accommodated in infrastructure terms.  This includes the provision of new schools and community infrastructure, highways and sustainable transport improvements, health infrastructure improvements and green infrastructure provision, including new open spaces.  These measures are reflected in strategic policies in the Local Plan so as to provide a robust basis on which to secure developer provision, or financial contributions towards delivery of these things through Section 106 agreements or the new CIL regime.

 

In general terms, the purpose of the measures is to provide the additional infrastructure capacity required to support growth and their suitability, effectiveness and deliverability has been considered as part of the Local Plan’s statutory, independent examination process.  The Local Plan Inspector has found that the Plan, as modified, complies with national policy and is sound.  The Council will therefore continue to work constructively with other authorities and infrastructure providers to ensure that the necessary infrastructure measures are delivered in a timely manner to support planned development.

 

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

 

Councillor Mrs Wilson, the Leader of the Liberal Democrat Group, responded to the question.

 

Councillor Coulling asked the following supplementary question of the Chairman of the Strategic Planning, Sustainability and Transportation Committee:

 

Given your assurance and given the state of traffic congestion, the problem of rat running through our villages and air quality, what has gone wrong in the past and why will it be better in the future?

 

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

 

I think that one of the big problems with this plan making process has been that at the very beginning we thought about the numbers, and the inevitability of the numbers, and so much time, energy and effort was spent on the negative parts of the process when we should have been coming together to actually plan the proper infrastructure at the earliest stage.

 

So, if there is a lesson that I would like to take forward into the future, it is that we take a very calm approach to the evidence at the beginning.  I’m sure that we will not like matters in front of us, but let’s get on with the positive, productive, constructive planning from day one.

 

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

 

There were no further responses to the question.

 

Question to the Chairman of the Strategic Planning, Sustainability and Transportation Committee from Mr Roger Vidler (Vice-Chairman of the Bearsted and Thurnham Society)

 

Mr Roger Vidler had given notice of his wish to ask a question of the

Chairman of the Strategic Planning, Sustainability and Transportation Committee, but was unable to attend the meeting due to an injury.  The Mayor indicated that a written response would be provided for Mr Vidler.

 

Question to the Chairman of the Planning Committee from Councillor John Horne of Thurnham Parish Council

 

How will you ensure that residents’ concerns about Air Quality feed through to the workings and decisions of your Committee?

 

The Chairman of the Planning Committee replied that:

 

Planning Committee Members of all parties have been attempting to take the serious issue of air quality into account in determining planning applications already.  However, it has to be noted that the policy template that we are using based upon the current Local Plan and the policies from it has become rather outdated so we have been limited in what we can achieve.  We have been updating our policy palette both on our own initiative and because the Inspector in the examination of the new Local Plan made it very clear that we needed to do so; to bring in a whole raft of new policy approaches.  The new Local Plan, assuming that it is adopted, contains a specific policy on air quality.

 

In recognition of the increasing national and local importance of this issue, the Council is also proposing to prepare a specific Air Quality Development Plan Document which will enable us to get to grips with the planning aspects of dealing with the air quality control agenda.  In the meantime whilst the DPD is being prepared, the Kent and Medway Air Quality Technical Guidance provides additional guidance on the assessment and mitigation of air quality impacts.  The Strategic Planning, Sustainability and Transportation Committee will consider approving this guidance for development management purposes at its meeting in November.

 

Elsewhere within the Council, we have been working cross-party within the Low Emissions Working Group to bring forward a number of planning and non-planning control policies which will have an impact in improving the air quality in the town and across the Borough as a whole.  We will be seeing the published results of the consultation, which has seen a strong response from the public, in a few days’ time.

 

So, to conclude, I hope that in the next year or so we will be getting a very firm grip on these issues.  We have to as we owe it to the public of this Borough to actually do something about this hidden killer.

 

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

 

Councillor Perry, the Leader of the Conservative Group, responded to the question.

 

Councillor Horne asked the following supplementary question of the Chairman of the Planning Committee:

 

The Kent and Medway Air Quality Planning Guidance will soon be reported to the Strategic Planning, Sustainability and Transportation Committee, and to reassure residents, once it is amended to Maidstone’s specification, will your Committee immediately apply that guidance whether or not the development site is in the Local Plan?

 

The Chairman of the Planning Committee replied that:

 

Yes, of course.  The very purpose of bringing this forward as everyone who has been associated with it knows, whether an Officer or a Member, is to enable us to apply some form of control as quickly as possible in the interim period when we are developing our own document.  It is unfair to the Officers and Members cross-party who have been working very hard on this strategy and these approaches in general for the last year or so to say that there has been nothing happening.  It is perhaps true to say that a lot of this activity has been below the surface or in Committee rooms, but there has in fact been a lot happening.  Councillors D and M Burton, for example, have contributed very significantly as have I and Councillors D Mortimer and C Robertson – a real cross-party effort.

 

It is absolutely essential that we do what we can with the guidance that is available to adopt as soon as possible.  Obviously there is still a Committee vote to be taken, but I would be very, very surprised if we do not go forward with that given the work that has been put in, and I really want to see it applied as widely and as deeply as possible.

 

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

 

There were no further responses to the question.

 

Question to the Chairman of the Policy and Resources Committee from Mr Arthur Thomas

 

Are the Council allowed to charge for external services that they could provide in-house and already receive funding for from central government.  How do you ensure that there is no conflict of interest?

 

The Chairman of the Policy and Resources Committee replied that:

 

I can assure you that Maidstone Borough Council only charges for services that we are permitted to make a charge for.  Where the Council has a statutory duty to provide a service a charge is only levied where there is a specific power for the Council to do so, and I think that is where you are targeting your question.  The majority of charges levied are usually for non-discretionary services provided by the Council.  The position is the same whether the service is provided in-house or whether it has been outsourced to a contractor to provide the service for us.

 

There is a lot of legislation covering this.  Perhaps the most interesting is the 2011 Localism Act which introduced the General Power of Competence which explicitly gives Councils the power to do anything that an individual can do which is not expressly prohibited by other legislation.  This includes the power to charge for services unless expressly prohibited from doing so.

 

With regard to conflicts of interest, each Committee that has charges within its remit looks at them once a year, but both Councillors and Officers have to work to Codes of Conduct (the Code of Conduct for Councillors and the Code of Conduct for Officers) contained within the Council’s Constitution, which make it very clear what is permitted and what is not.

 

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

 

There were no further responses to the question.

 

Mr Thomas asked a supplementary question of the Chairman of the Policy and Resources Committee.  The Mayor ruled that the supplementary question did not relate to the original question.

 

Question to the Chairman of the Heritage, Culture and Leisure Committee from Mr Gary Butler

 

Do the Council have a policy of following the UN Agenda 21 (aka local agenda 21) which basically destroys our indigenous culture in favour of a very different agenda?  Such as funds being made available for the Mela festival but no longer for our River festival or Green fair etc.

 

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

 

Local Agenda 21 was a commitment to local sustainable development, which included making improvements to economic, social and environmental conditions at a local level.  That being the case, I struggle to see what the connection is between Agenda 21 and the festivals and events in the Borough.

 

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

 

Councillor Harper, the Leader of the Labour Group, responded to the question.

 

Mr Butler asked a supplementary question of the Chairman of the Heritage, Culture and Leisure Committee.  The Mayor ruled that the supplementary question did not relate to the original question.

 

Question to the Chairman of the Policy and Resources Committee from Mr Ben Frankham

 

Who owes the Council Tax debt and which Officer is ultimately responsible for its collection and payment?

 

The Chairman of the Policy and Resources Committee replied that:

 

If a Council Tax debt is outstanding, it is the person or company named on the Council Tax bill that is liable.

 

Responsibility for the administration and recovery of Council Tax is delegated within the Council’s Constitution to the Head of Revenues and Benefits Shared Service.

 

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

 

There were no further responses to the question.

 

Mr Frankham asked a supplementary question of the Chairman of the Policy and Resources Committee.  The Mayor ruled that the supplementary question did not relate to the original question.

 

Question to the Chairman of the Strategic Planning, Sustainability and Transportation Committee from Mr Robert Sinclair

 

Can you ensure that consideration of the new application for Woodcut Farm is deferred until the result of the Planning Inquiry is known?

 

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

 

The answer to this question is no.  We have a statutory duty to determine planning applications within statutory timeframes unless an extension of time is agreed with the applicant.  The Council has no control over whether such an agreement can be made.  If the Council does not determine a planning application within the statutory timescales without an agreement for an extension of time it would be at risk of the application being appealed on the grounds on non-determination.

 

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

 

Councillor Harper, the Leader of the Labour Group, responded to the question.

 

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

 

Does this not conflict with the Borough’s public stance to strongly defend the Members’ decision against the current appeal or don’t you intend to do so now?  The Officers said that they would defend the appeal, the Council has said that it has the money to do it so they should be doing that, or is it part of a deal whereby get the applicant to get his application through and then they withdraw the appeal?

 

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

 

It is the policy of this Council to defend the decisions made by the Planning Committee at appeals, and I believe that work is in hand, and we will be defending the decisions made.  However, should there be another decision, it is not necessary that the same reasons for refusal may occur so it has to be treated as a separate and different application; but yes, this Council does defend the decisions made by the Planning Committee.

 

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

 

There were no further responses to the question.

 

Note:  Councillor Willis entered the meeting during the question and answer session for members of the public.

 

 

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