Questions submitted by Members
To consider any questions submitted by Members. (The deadline for questions is 4.30 pm on the Monday the week before the meeting – please contact Democratic Services by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org or call 01795 417330).
The Mayor advised that five questions had been received from Members. Each Member was invited to put their question which was responded to by the relevant Cabinet Member. The questioner was then invited to ask a supplementary question:
Question 1 – Councillor Steve Davey
Could the Cabinet member for Housing report on progress towards getting more affordable housing from the planning system, and especially if there has been an increase in the housing for social rent?
Response – Cabinet Member for Housing
Affordable housing s106 contributions are only applicable on certain sites in Swale that meet the thresholds of the Councils current Local Affordable Housing policy DM8. These homes are delivered by Registered Providers (RP) with nil grant contribution. Additional affordable homes, including social rented housing, has been secured and is being delivered across different sites using Homes England Strategic Partnership Funding (HESP), the Affordable Homes Programme (AHP) and RP recycled grant funding.
Since May 2019 up until the end of September 2021, 493 new affordable dwellings have been provided in the borough, of which 220 have been affordable rent tenure, a further 88 are social rent and 185 are shared ownership. Further delivery of social rented housing is expected to continue across the borough as part of the 581 new affordable homes in the pipeline on sites across Swale including in Faversham, Sittingbourne, Halfway and the villages. In the previous 4 year period to May 2019 there were 412 new affordable dwellings provided and no new social rent homes.
In short, in 2 and half years, the council has delivered more new affordable homes than had been delivered in the previous 4 years with more on the way. Big thanks has to go to the Council’s Affordable Housing Manager, Rebecca Walker for her tireless work securing the right mix and volume of affordable housing from both section 106 planning and from RPs utilising grant funding here in Swale.
Welcomed the Leader’s comments about the Council’s in-house housing company and asked that, given the inevitable difficulties around planning and problems that may arise, could the Cabinet Member provide any information on timescales for that much needed housing?
The Cabinet Member for Housing stated that it was hoped that a planning application would be submitted in the new year with a hope to start building within the next financial year. He added that there may have been social homes delivered but a lot more were needed and those in temporary accommodation were at record levels and approximately 1,200 people were on Swale’s housing register. It was the aim of the Council’s Rainbow Homes board to ensure the housing was provided as quickly as possible, efficiently and to a good quality.
Question 2 – Councillor Tim Gibson
Please could the Cabinet Member for Economy and Property give us a progress report on the "makeover" of town centres?
Response – Cabinet Member for Economy and Property
In Sittingbourne town centre some of the old street name plates have been replaced, changes and improvements have been made to the wayfinding including removal of outdated and unnecessary wayfinding signage, a declutter of unnecessary street furniture including the relocation of a notice board and cycle hoops near the Bargeman monument & removal and relocation of bollards has taken place. The existing chalk artwork in alleyways leading from the lower end of the High Street has been refreshed, and the replacement of all the old artwork in Hanson Alley has taken place, recognising Sittingbourne’s barge history. The painting of street furniture is currently underway, and further artwork and murals, landscaping of Central Avenue, reconstruction of St. Michael’s church flint stone wall and a creation of a footpath to improve flow from the Forum car park to Bourne Place are all being progressed.
In Sheerness town centre work has begun on the restoration of the Clocktower following its removal on 30th September, street furniture painting in the High Street and Broadway has been completed, all town centre benches have been refurbished, 12 sustainable planters introduced, and replacement and realignment of bollards and cycle hoops has taken place. The improvement works around the clocktower including new uplighters are planned to coincide with the reinstallation of the clock tower, and the Capital Projects team are working with KCC to replace remaining defective lamp column doors and the yellow sign at the end of the High Street.
In Faversham town centre a consultant has been procured to undertake a review of the existing wayfinding infrastructure, alongside the design of new signage, a contractor is in place to deliver improvement works to the Forbes Road underpass (the start date has been put back by KCC due to the works being undertaken on the A2 by the school), bench refurbishment works are planned along with landscaping work and street furniture painting works in Cross Lane and the Capital Projects team are working with KCC To introduce additional drop kerbs around the town centre.
Following the informal consultation for the permanent town centre road closures in all three town centres work is currently being progressed with a consultant on the second stage to develop options and proposals specifically for Faversham.
What events were planned in Swale’s town centre areas over the coming months?
Santa’s Post Train Stops Here! A large train would be visiting the three main town centres around the borough stopping at: Sittingbourne High Street on Saturday 20 November 2021; Faversham on Saturday 27 November 2021; and Beachfields Park, Sheerness on Saturday 4 December 2021. Residents and businesses were encouraged to attend the event which had been funded by the Welcome Back funding. A great way of holding an event which would bring footfall to our town centres. Members were encouraged to support the event.
Question 3 – Councillor Tony Winckless
Can the Leader of the Council tell me how the councils application for the governments levelling up funding is progressing.
Response – Leader
Thank you Cllr Winckless,
You will be aware that the Community, Economic Growth and Property Cabinet Advisory Committee were asked to consider proposals for the focus of Swale Borough Council’s Levelling-Up Fund bid. These have been assessed for fit with government’s fund criteria, and a member and officer scoping group has been established. This group first met in early October, with a focus on the Isle of Sheppey, and I am fully committed to this being the priority area for our bid given the relative levels of deprivation experienced on the Island. It is these which make it right to focus our bid on an area that has for too long been overlooked, and which will therefore secure our bid’s strong position in the eyes of government.
You may recall that each Member of Parliament is able to formally support one bid, and I pleased to note that we are in contact with Gordon Henderson with regard to Swale’s application. The member and officer group will continue to meet to steer the bid’s development.
We are taking a partnership approach to the Levelling-Up Fund, looking to develop a project that will benefit multiple residents in multiple ways. Once initial conversations have progressed, we will share emerging plans and priorities, and embark upon a period of public consultation. I am pleased to let you know today that our plans centre around the regeneration of the Beachfields area, and will bring new cultural, tourist, outdoor leisure and civic facilities, boosting pride in this much-loved part of Sheerness, meeting the Council’s priorities of health, wellbeing, good quality homes and skills. We will be consulting with local businesses, community groups and residents as part of the bid process.
We have recently received a capacity funding grant of £125k to develop our bid, and we will spend this in developing our plans to maximise chances of success. I am pleased to remind members that Swale is a high priority area for Levelling-Up Fund investment, and I understand from round 1 outcomes that this indicates roughly between a 1 in 2 and 1 in 3 chance of success. Even if the bid is not successful on this occasion, we will have prepared a robust case for investment which we know will appeal to a range of funders.
We know from the recent budget that the Levelling-Up Fund round 2 will open in Spring 2022, which is when Swale’s bid will be submitted. Levelling-Up Funds available across all rounds total £4.8bn, and with approximately £1.7bn allocated in round 1, there is still much to play for. Individual bids can be up to £20m per place, and we intend be very close to this ceiling with our application.
With regard to the Isle of Sheppey how did the Leader think that the follow-up plan fitted in with the Sheerness Plan with the overall money that was on the table?
The Cabinet Member for Economy and Property had already outlined some of the things the Council were doing with the clocktower, Master’s House and supporting education. There were a whole range of things that the Council were trying to do to help the Isle of Sheppey and had requested that the Government’s Town Centre Task Force visit Sheerness town centre. A lot of advice had come back from their visit including their emphasis on involving local people which the Council were carrying forward with the Levelling-up process and also encouraging local identity and local pride. There was a real passion to revive that seashore area that the Council was going to work on and return Sheerness to being a place that people really wanted to visit. With the increase in staycations and people making more visits domestically that was a real objective of the Council.
Question 4 – Councillor Ann Hampshire
Can the Cabinet Member for Planning confirm that his revised Local Plan will include a commitment to creating access for my residents in Great East Hall to the A2 via Stones Farm?
Response – Cabinet Member for Planning
I thank the Councillor for her question.
However, as the question refers to ‘my revised local plan’ and as I don’t personally have a revised Local Plan, only the Council has one, the question is unanswerable.
There was no supplementary question.
Question 5 – Councillor Oliver Eakin
Abandoned vehicles are a large problem on Sheppey, particularly Sheerness. What action is Swale taking against vehicles abandoned and what actions are being taken to prevent vehicles being abandoned on council property such as car parks.
Response – Cabinet Member for Environment
We aim that all reports of suspected Abandoned Vehicles are investigated within 24hrs. Officers will door knock in the vicinity to make enquiries. If the door knock is unsuccessful, a card is left on the windscreen to inform the registered owner (RO) that it has been reported as abandoned. If no one comes forward, a DVLA check is done on the vehicle, if the RO lives in the vicinity an officer would then call at the address. If the RO lives elsewhere, a letter is sent to inform them of suspected abandonment. On the expiry of the notice, if no one has come forward, a removal request is sent to our contractor. Where it is contested by the RO, we do have other enforcement powers, but these often take time to go through the relevant court processes.
We are aware of a number of vehicles in Sheerness but cannot comment publicly on open investigations.
There was no supplementary question.