Question to the Chairman of the Strategic Planning, Sustainability and Transportation Committee from Councillor Paul Harper
As Maidstone Council has adopted the Integrated Transport Plan a considerable time ago, what measures is Maidstone Borough Council doing to get it adopted or endorsed by Kent County Council? The Kent Cabinet Member for Environment and Transport recently stated that he saw no obstacle to adopting the Walking and Cycling Strategy of the Integrated Transport Plan separately, will the Council do all it can to ensure that that is carried out?
The Chairman of the Strategic Planning, Sustainability and Transportation Committee replied that:
We are already working very collaboratively at this time with Kent County Council to deliver the schemes identified in the Integrated Transport Strategy and the Walking and Cycling Strategy.
It is my understanding that Kent County Council actually endorses and does not formally adopt these policies as it considers them to be local policies. The comments of the County Member with regard to his willingness to endorse it are very much welcomed and I believe that it currently sits with him to do so. We can certainly send him a letter and jog his memory.
Councillor Harper did not ask a supplementary question of the Chairman of the Strategic Planning, Sustainability and Transportation Committee.
Question to the Chairman of the Policy and Resources Committee from Councillor Paul Harper
Can the Chairman of Policy and Resources Committee please update the Council on measures to protect the Hart Street’s approximately 650 Flats from suffering flooding in the future? In the last major floods in Maidstone there was serious flooding to the undercrofts and access stair cases to a considerable number of these flats. The Local Plan identifies this as an area where further development is likely to take place, only potentially making the situation worse.
The Chairman of the Policy and Resources Committee replied that:
We have a lot of flooding issues throughout the Borough and they are being dealt with as robustly as this Council can manage to do so in conjunction with the Environment Agency and Kent County Council.
The area you are talking about is slightly different to some of the other areas in that the land these properties have been built on was formerly industrial and the flooding issues in that area were very well known. In relation to an application for 307 flats at Wallis Place in May 2004, the Environment Agency commented that “the Agency considers the site is likely to be Flood Zone 3, category a, that is High Risk”. The Environment Agency and the Council were well aware of the issues when the development was proposed which is why the development is as it is with the undercroft; it was built to withstand flooding. The flats were designed to ensure that the residents’ living quarters would not be affected.
I am not trying to diminish the way that people feel about a serious flood. I think that the issue here is it is not a reason in itself because an area floods not to build there if mitigation measures can be found. Indeed in this area the developments did cover that. There is an issue I believe if an evacuation is required that we have robust plans in place to get people out, and that is where we work with the Kent Resilience Forum which includes the Coast Guard as it has particular expertise in that sort of evacuation.
It does not mean to say that we will not look to see if there are other measures that can be taken, but we are taking the most serious first which brings us back to the Marden/Yalding area. As you know, as a High Street Ward Member myself, neighbouring you but on the other side of the River, we did work very hard to say although we absolutely understand what has happened in Marden and Yalding, there is a flooding issue downstream as well that needs to be tackled and tackled very seriously.
I take your question with the utmost seriousness, but it is slightly different in that the buildings were designed for flood conditions.
Councillor Harper asked the following supplementary question of the Chairman of the Policy and Resources Committee:
Whilst the buildings might originally have had some resilience built in so that the residential accommodation is elevated, the access to it is from ground level through a series of staircases and it was these staircases that got flooded as well as vehicles. Whilst I accept that the flats were not flooded and people’s homes were not ruined, it did create massive problems for the residents there when the area was flooded at Christmas 2013. If the Environment Agency back in 2004 recognised that there was an issue, it is very unfortunate that given all the information that has been reported to the Policy and Resources Committee to date, it has not been referenced once and it affects a lot of people.
The Chairman of the Policy and Resources Committee replied that:
I did pick up on the access and egress from the buildings being a problem and we need to be sure that we can adequately cover that in the event of flooding. Where I agree with you is that I do believe that it is a pity that the whole issue of flooding throughout the Borough was not picked up immediately after those major floods, and it was local Ward Councillors everywhere who actually said, yes, but what about us? Indeed in the case of Marden and Yalding, they said you know about us, but what are you doing about it and how long are you taking?
The only robust answer that I can give you is that as Leader of the Council and as Chairman of the Policy and Resources Committee, I am doing all I can to try and expedite resolutions to all of this. Things are moving in Marden and Yalding, perhaps not as quickly as we would like, but at least the work is being done to look at the individual properties and test whether they can have individual protection or not. It is quite a small number overall so it needs to go onto the second stage which says can we have a collective approach round a number of properties.
We have looked at the town centre in relation to the High Street Ward side because when we get flooding it is that side which affects commercial properties first before it affects any residences in the town centre. So, things are moving forward.
I personally take it very, very seriously indeed. I have never forgotten when I was at one of my first meetings as a Councillor, and I sat next to Councillor Harwood who is an Emergency Planning Officer. We were considering a planning application for a house in the flood plain, and he said I am not going to vote for this because you can actually drown in six inches of water. I have never forgotten that. It means that you have to take flooding, no matter how small or how great, with the utmost seriousness, and this Council does exactly that.