By Councillor Alan Baldock / EnvironmentMiscellaneous / 0 Comments

A few weeks ago Canterbury Labour Party called for a Car Free Day that was rejected by the Council, but the fight to improve our environment goes on. Keep updated on the latest activities by visiting the Green issues campaign page. Councillor Alan Baldock sets out the Canterbury Labour Party’s view on tackling congestion and pollution in an unpublished letter to the Kent Gazette, which follows:

Just a few weeks ago, following Canterbury Labour Partys lead in calling for a car free day, there has been more debate and honest talking about Canterburys rush hour congestion and pollution than for years. The situation we posed – “imagine a weekday in Canterbury with no congestion” – was deliberately controversial but it acted as a catalyst for discussion. It has been, and continues to be, a conversation involving hundreds of local people, between friends and work colleagues, young and old people and those in between, academics, business owners and workers, parents on the school run, The Canterbury Society, green groups and others with a passion for sustainable transport, and those who see the car as something we must accept and accommodate.

The local response has certainly reinforced what was a balanced and sensible request by the city’s councilors, at a Canterbury Area Members Panel, to set up a Working Group whose objective would be to reduce congestion and pollution, with a car free day as part of a longer-term strategy. In line with the council procedure the proposal was put to the Council’s Policy and Resources Committee on 8th February.

Many people saw the Working Group as a great opportunity to face up to the demons of congestion and pollution and work collaboratively towards solutions. Perhaps as importantly they saw it as Canterbury taking the lead in solving its problems, and therefore wanted Canterbury City Council’s commitment and leadership.

Sadly, following the Policy and Resources Committee, a stark truth is out about Canterbury City Council’s ruling Conservative administration. They did not support a Working Group led by Canterbury City Council (as recommended by Canterbury Ward Councillors). They made it clear that they do not wish to be involved, abdicating responsibility for congestion and pollution in Canterbury to Kent County Council. The KCC record on such matters in our city is shameful and of long standing, the most recent examples being the Mountfield Park and Thanington developments.

People across the district who wanted to contribute will feel disappointment and frustration. At the Canterbury Area Members Panel they were encouraged that at last someone was listening. Living amid the daily rush hour grind and choking on rush hour fumes, they looked locally for leadership out of a mess stretching back over generations.

Why did a Conservative majority of members of the Policy and Resources Committee, chaired by the Council Leader, vote en bloc to reject the proposal for the Working Group? It was hinted that they had no appetite for another Westgate Towers fiasco and the risk of unpopularity. They argued that resources to support the Working Group could not be made available.

I doubt that either is the whole story but were presented simply as excuses. I wonder if the rejection of a very modest request was an indication of paralysis in local decision making as council officers and the Conservative group focus on the proposals for a merged Council across East Kent. I hope not, but for now we will all have to hope KCC have a seismic shift in policy, showing even a small interest, along with some radical and imaginative thinking, to reduce our city’s congestion and pollution – because from now on Canterbury City Council wont be involved if they can help it.

We will await the next instalment at the Joint Transportation Board meeting. Dont get too excited!

Cllr Alan Baldock

Northgate Ward

12th February 2017

By Canterbury Labour Group / Miscellaneous / / 0 Comments

It’s key to a con artist’s success to be able to establish their point of view in the mind of the intended victim, to quickly define and limit the boundaries of what is possible. Stopping the “mark” from looking at the fraudster’s credentials or what lies behind the claims being made is absolutely essential for the sting to work, because it stops any questioning the truth of what is being said. This, some might think, is the same method being used in the “Business case” issued last week on the possible merger of Canterbury with three other East Kent councils.

Does that seem a little harsh? Well, perhaps the absence of scepticism is the first sign that the con trick is working, if everyone is accepting the basic proposition – that merger is the only way forward – as correct. I’m not saying this because I’m wedded to the idea of Canterbury unchanging, nor because I think that local government couldn’t possibly be better organised, or that our current structures are unchangeable. In fact I think our local Council is a system rigged for one Party. I take this view simply because the basis of the proposed merger is utterly flawed, and if it was implemented it have consequences which are much more significant than the mere loss of independence of Canterbury and Whitstable. The likely impacts include the virtual destruction of democratic oversight of the Council, the establishment of one political Party as the permanent dominant force in the region, and the imposition of continual cuts to services as the underlying purpose of the Council.

That is really the game that’s being played through this merger: you’re meant to accept the premise that because Councils are under severe financial pressure, the only way to deal with that is to merge four Councils. This is dressed up as a strategic plan, although Ashford Council’s unilateral withdrawal from the scheme suggests it’s more a marriage of convenience than a serious commitment. It’s also a plan in which the potential to include some or all of Swale has never even been considered, which is odd if Faversham is so naturally aligned with Canterbury that we are to form one parliamentary constituency.

But anyway, the underlying justification for the change is cost cutting. It seems our Council accepts without question that Government cuts to their funding are impossible to challenge, mitigate, avoid or discuss. The plan therefore assumes a need to cut (they say “save”, but you can be sure that they mean “cut”) an astonishing £59.9 million over six years. The so-called “business case” produced to support the merger looks at absolutely no other means of achieving savings other than merger, or at any means by which Councils might try raising more funds – it’s a “one solution” review intended to cheerlead for merger rather than look at it objectively.

And here’s the key to the con: the root cause of all this is the Government’s imposition of austerity. You remember austerity, right? Imposed by George Osborne in 2010, against all proven economic rationale and experience, it was going to sort out the deficit caused by having to bail-out the banks, and it was going to do that before 2015. Of course it failed. So of course the Government’s prescription is that it should continue – because that’s how ideologists work: the reason this hasn’t succeeded is because we haven’t done enough of it, not because it was a stupid idea in the first place.

Now, having created the crisis in local government funding in the first place, the Conservatives want to use that to change forever the nature of the relationship between voters and their Councils. Conservatives, you’ll have noticed, love the private sector. So they want Councils to do nothing more than issue contracts to commercial businesses to do their work. Of course, as you’ll have noticed if your bins haven’t been collected or your council house repairs not carried out, there seems to be nothing Councillors can do even in the current structures to actually get contractors to do their job properly. So how will that work when there are going to be only 4 Councillors covering the whole of Canterbury City?

If you still doubt that there is a hidden agenda then think about this. The business case produced in support of the merger plan includes an economic case, a business case, a financial case and a commercial case. It does not include a democratic case, or even a discussion of democratic impact. And that’s because they don’t want you, or anyone else, bothering to think about whether a larger Council with fewer Councillors and an almost certain permanent Tory majority will deliver the services that you need or expect from a Council, and they don’t want you thinking about whether an end to meaningful democratic scrutiny might lead to incompetence, the imposition of unpopular planning decisions, or a lack of oversight and accountability of the sort that very often leads to large-scale corruption. And if you’re not thinking about all that, it really would suit the Government.

By Canterbury Labour Group / Miscellaneous / / 0 Comments

Sir, Much has been said and written about the appalling decision on Tuesday April 26th by CCC’s planning committee to approve the developer’s plans for the Oval. In particular, it was suggested that there were ‘no planning grounds’ to object to the building of ‘Manhattan-on-sea’.  This could not be further from the truth.  Every point made by objectors, including my fellow Gorrell Ward Councillor Clark, was based on the Local Plan, the Conservation Area Appraisal, listed building status, guidance on street enclosure, national planning rules and previous CCC planning decisions such as the rejection of proposals for the neighbouring Leggetts Lane development. Committee members are told repeatedly in Local Plan documentation that ‘care must be taken’.  There was little evidence of this on Tuesday as the Chair repeatedly interrupted or spoke-over objectors but listened in silence to speakers in favour. When it came to their deliberations, issues of overlooking which had been ignored in the officer Report, were glibly dismissed by Councillors with suggestions of screening and opaque glass, none of which were properly described or justified as resolving the shocking invasion of privacy that these proposals represent for comparatively tiny neighbouring properties. I don’t know what they think they have approved.  Only time will clarify this.  But where does this leave our planning authority?  Knowingly enclosing and making ‘less visible’ its important nationally listed buildings like The Sail Lofts?  Pushing through plans which by-pass its own Local Plan provisions for 30% social housing?  Agreeing a mixed-use development which changes the mix from that in its own Local Plan including by failing to guarantee the employment it had hitherto insisted on?  Ignoring rules on the ratio of building height to road width (in Sea St) to create a canyon of a road and Manhattan-on-sea?  Forgetting its own responsibility to avoid the creation of future blots-on-the-landscape like Windsor House and the Courts building?  Refusing to take any notice of our wonderful Conservation Area Appraisal.  Creating a public open space which will be almost permanently in the shade of the solid, over-scale mass of the block? Unforgivably, the debate failed to acknowledge the carefully argued proposals to improve the plans from the official consultee the Whitstable Society, preferring to hide behind the apologists’ allegation that all objectors were NIMBYs opposed to any development.  What a great vision for the Oval the WS describes with a usable public open space, a kiosk in a far-less intrusive location, housing of varying sizes that would produce sunlight and shade all around, retaining the view through to our listed buildings, and even some extra parking!  By incorporating these, amongst other suggestions from our community, we could create a proud legacy for ourselves, the Council and the developer.  That’s why the struggle against Manhattanon-Sea is far from over.  Watch this space!