Meetings within the chamber during September verged from the detailed to the fractious. The primary planned business for the month was the continuing discussions concerning the Medium Term Financial Strategy and Budget Proposals. With inflation running at levels that exceed the feasible revenue generation capabilities of the council through taxation and services there are large challenges that lay ahead. The beginning of the month saw an excellent all councillors briefing setting out the cost saving proposals which we are glad to report will have a negligible impact on the services provided by MBC but should see MBC come in on budget.
The livelier part of discussions in September involved Maidstone Borough Council’s response to the proposed extension of the Hermitage Lane Quarry into the ancient woodland of Oaken Wood. Liberal Democrat councillors would like to extend their thanks to campaigners for their continued efforts to save Oaken Wood and whilst the outcomes from September are far from perfect we will continue to support your cause.
Planning, Infrastructure and Economic Development PAC 6th and 18th
PIED PAC (the short name for this committee), has a rather hefty workload this month with two very important meetings. The first on the 6th was joined by many members of the public concerned with the proposed quarry extension into Oaken Wood.
The meeting was a little more raucous than usual due to the passion felt about saving Oaken Wood. After several excellent speeches from the members of the Save Oaken Wood campaign and considered and well researched representations from visiting members Cllr. Tony Harwood (Lib Dem, North Ward), and Cllr. Stuart Jeffery (Green, Bridge Ward), arguing against expansion of the quarry the committee proceeded with lengthy discussions.
Most opposition members spoke against the expansion and supporting the views of the 25,000 plus people who had signed the Woodland Trust petition, including Lib Dem councillors Clive English and Richard Conyard. Before Vanessa Jones (Independent, Boxley Ward), brought forward the motion that the weak response be retracted and replaced with text in alignment with the response made by the Woodland Trust which succeeded by a vote of 7 to 2.
Unfortunately, the proposal from the committee was not followed by the cabinet member, which resulted in this decision being challenged later in the month in the Overview and Scrutiny Committee.
The second meeting on the 18th was primarily concerned with the governments inspectors modifications to the proposed local plan. Whilst the first meeting was weighted with passion, this was weighed by the report which came in at 560 pages. The committee moved for the modifications to go to public consultation, not because all parts are warmly accepted, but because they are the factual recommended modifications. Lib Dem councillors will likely be focusing on areas within their wards of interest to residents and inviting further comment.
Housing, Health, and Environment Policy Advisory Committee 7th September
The HHE PAC was sought for approval on increases in Fixed Penalty Notices (FPNs), pertaining to:
These followed government changes in allowing an increase in penalties for those found to have committed these offences. The committee recommended that the maximum penalty allowed be put in place with a slight reduction for early payment.
Corporate Services Policy Advisory Committee 11th September
The fieriest parts of this committee meeting did not involve an agenda item with most items going through smoothly and the primary business being the Medium Term Financial Strategy and Budget Proposals which having been expertly explained in a councillor briefing at the beginning of the month only raised a few clarifications.
What did set the cat amongst the pigeons was the feeling that not all appropriate points has been captured in regards to the previous meeting and MBCs Biodiversity and Climate Change plan. The plan was the primary business in July for most advisory committees and it was felt by members that whilst proposed activities were plentiful, there was no coherent plan, activities were not prioritised effectively, and most importantly no proper deadline to achieve many of the activities set out.
Whilst exchanges were forthright in putting across views and disappointments consensus was reached, and a clearly structured plan will be presented in a future meeting (subsequently set for November). To underline the necessity of having a clearly structured plan proposals to employ two further officers to administer the plan were recommended to be put on hold until a clear, well structured, and goal driven plan is presented.
Overview and Scrutiny Committee 19th September
The O&S committee also saw many members of the public in attendance. Earlier in the month saw the PIED PAC recommend that MBC produce a strongly worded response to KCC in relation to the extension of the Hermitage Lane Quarry, whilst this was voted for 7 to 2 the cabinet member responsible chose not to follow the advice (more can be read here), and actively response with an opposite view, the decision was “called in” for review by the O&S committee.
Going against the recommendation of the advisory committee, as could be expected, not only incensed some members of the committee, but also those campaigning hard to save Oaken Wood; and this meeting was proceeded by a demonstration outside the town hall.
By nature of the “call in” a ratified response had yet to be submitted to KCC and after a lively debate a vote for no further action was successful. The results of this are that no strongly worded letter of objection was sent to KCC from MBC and the original unratified letter proposing mild mitigation that the original committee felt was unsuitable remains the official response.
Those voting to no further action where the Conservative councillors: Blackmore, Hastie, Webb, Hinder, Round and Cannon; they were joined by Independent Cllr. Gooch.
Full Council 27th September
The month of meeting was ended with a full council meeting. The primary points of interest for the public being:
Both of which were voted through.