Agenda item

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 or call 01795 417330).



Question 1 – Councillor David Simmons


Please can the Cabinet Member for the Environment give me the details of the waste contract working party?


Response – Cabinet Member for Environment, Councillor Tim Valentine


The current waste and street cleansing contract ends in October 2023. Given the complexity of the service and the massive changes proposed to the waste industry under the Government’s Waste and Resources Strategy, we felt it was important to start assessing future options.

The working group, made up of coalition Cabinet and Deputy Cabinet members, is working with officers to look at how we might improve the service, bringing it in-line with current priorities and to inform changes to the specification that will go out to tender late next year. The working group has the benefit of advice from industry consultants, and through officers are liaising with our partners for the current waste contract in the Mid-Kent Partnership.

The working group has recently launched high level discussions with all Council Members through the Area Committees and will undertake public consultation on a range of topics in 2021.


Supplementary Question:


Are there any plans to consider the future waste contract at Policy Development Review Committee (PDRC)?


Response – Cabinet Member for Environment


A report will be considered at Informal Cabinet next week, setting out the management of the tendering process.


Question 2 – Councillor Mike Whiting


Other Councils have ensured virtual meetings are available to view by members of the public in real time via their YouTube Channels. Recordings are also retained on YouTube for viewing on demand. This approach has huge benefits in making the Council accountable to and accessible by members of the public at very little, if any, cost to the Council Taxpayer.


Will the Leader of the Council agree to adopt a similar practice in Swale in time for the next full Council meeting?


Response – Leader, Councillor Roger Truelove


I thank the Member for his question. Yes, this is something that we hope and expect to be able to achieve fairly shortly. The system was due to be trialled at November’s Audit Committee, but in the event this was unable to go ahead. We are now looking to trial it at the General Licensing Committee meeting in a couple of weeks’ time. If the trial is successful, we will then look to roll it out more widely. We will need to review the trial properly to understand any issues it raises, so I cannot guarantee that the wider roll-out will be in place for February’s Council meeting, but I would certainly support that if it turns out to be achievable. Live streaming meetings is likely to require the attendance of an IT officer, in addition to the two Democratic Services officers, at every meeting. This is a significant commitment, and I would just like to reiterate the thanks I have already expressed to officers in both the IT and Democratic Services teams for their hard work and dedication to enabling our democratic processes to continue and to improve, both during the pandemic and beyond.


Supplementary Question:


There was no supplementary question.


Question 3 – Councillor David Simmons


The Area Committees are currently holding the second cycle of meetings, there is concern about the allocation of their funding before the end of this civic year. Given the current Coronavirus situation in Swale, please can you consider allowing unspent funds to be rolled over into 2021-22?


Response – Leader, Councillor Roger Truelove


The Constitution which we agreed as a Council does not allow for rollovers of what are comparatively small amounts of money. There is a good reason for this. The funds allocated to Area Committees were intended to deliver small immediate projects and not to be stored up for larger projects, for which alternative funding should be available.


I recognise the obvious difficulties facing Area Committees, having not been established for a full year and working in the shadow of a World pandemic but, I have also witnessed the hard work of some Chairmen in getting projects moving forward for finalising in the current financial year.

I don’t want us to be trying to change the Constitution for one year and I would be opposed to rollovers in other years, and so I ask that Chairmen do their utmost to allocate funds in this financial year, but that it may be necessary to apply some flexibility in some cases.


Supplementary Question:


Will you make sure that Chairman and Vice-Chairman of the Area Committees give proper, full consideration to the allocation of funding?


Response – Leader


I agree that we do not want to see ‘end of term’ spending and I have stressed the flexibility that can be built in and I trust the four Chairmen of each Committee to ensure that funding is appropriate and of merit.


Question 4 – Councillor Mike Whiting


The Winter 2020 edition of Inside Swale states on page 21 that the Council is "making it easier for those in need of social housing."


The article gives three examples of how this is being done;

1) Tapering income considerations

2) Moving homeless households from Band C to Band B

3) And reducing the necessary period of residency from four to two years

Anything that can be done to assist those in need of housing is welcome. However, with a limited stock of housing available, giving advantage to certain households will naturally disadvantage other households, and for them, the Inside Swale? headline will be nothing more than a false promise.

How many households does the Cabinet Member believe will be advantaged by the three measures mentioned in the article, and how many households will be disadvantaged and pushed further down the waiting list??

Response – Cabinet Member for Housing, Councillor Ben J Martin

Thank you for the question.

As Members are aware, the Council is obliged to have a Housing Allocations Policy which is legally compliant and that takes into account guidelines set within the sector. One of the key elements of the Housing Allocations Policy is to ensure that homes are allocated in a fair and transparent way. The new policy gives increased priority to homeless households, reduces the residency criteria, in line with other Authorities in Kent and Government guidelines and includes a realistic income taper, ensuring that those who are in housing need qualify for the housing register. 

The new policy took effect on Monday 30 November. A total of 242 households moved up from Band C to Band B when the policy changed.

Increasing the number of households in Band B will ultimately increase the waiting time for households in Band C, if provision of new affordable rent homes is not increased.

As we operate a choice based lettings system, there will be times when someone in a lower band is housed due to those in higher bands not bidding on a property.

On a paper based analysis approximately 10% of applicants who did not qualify under the previous policy would qualify under the new policy. These applicants will have a later priority date to those who had already applied who are in the same Band. Properties are allocated to the household in the highest band who has the oldest priority date that has bid on the property.

If someone who qualifies under the new policy has a greater banding than someone who is already on the register then they would be housed ahead of the applicant with the lower banding, exactly as would have occurred under the previous policy.

This administration remains committed to increasing and accelerating the provision of new affordable housing to meet the need within the Borough and we expect more affordable housing to be delivered this civic year than last.

Supplementary Question:

Please advise on the number of households that would be disadvantaged?

Response – Cabinet Member for Housing

242 is the net figure of those that increased in band.  To my knowledge nobody went down a band as a result of the policy change.

The Housing Register is constantly changing; it is not a fixed entity. As an example, over the Christmas period, there were a number of new properties that were allocated. 37 homes were advertised on the Kent Homes Choice website, of those, 24 went to households in Band B, 8 in Band C and 5 in Band A. Some of the properties that were awarded to those in Band C were awarded to people that have been on the register for less than 6 months. The key for anyone who is on the housing register is to ensure that they bid on as wider variety of properties that meet their needs as possible as this is the quickest way possible to be allocated a new affordable rent property. We operate a choice based lettings system so there is no fixed waiting time for any individual, it is purely based on what they bid on and who else bids on it. Whilst we continue to increase the volume and speed of delivery of new affordable rent homes we can keep the waiting period down.

Question 5 – Councillor Julian Saunders

Would the Leader give us his view of the strategic importance of improvements to Brenley Corner?

Response – Leader, Councillor Roger Truelove

Improvements to Junction 7 of the M2 must be a principal infrastructure priority for this Council, the KCC, and the Government.

This is essential for local, domestic, and international transport and trade at a time of serious transition to new economic norms.

It has been said to be a strategic priority for some time now and is quite as important as the issues around the A249 corridor. Yet progress is glacial.

Planners and politicians have spoken for the last decade about the bifurcation of Kent into two strategic corridors but the delivery of that has clearly been constrained by the inadequacies of the Junction 7 interchange of the M2.

It is currently inadequate because the design mixes strategic and local traffic, causing it to operate below capacity.

It is a major strategic priority, not just for Swale, but to East Kent as a whole, with Dover District Council listing it as one of their key investment priorities.

There needs to be more urgency.

Whilst Brenley Corner was included in the Government’s Roads Investment Strategy (RIS2) for a study in the period 2020-2025, that does not in any way guarantee any funding either soon or in the more distant future.

As a Council, we are pressing for an urgent upgrade to Brenley Corner, principally for economic and infrastructure reasons, but there is also a need for clarity and certainty around our revised Local Plan.

There is a stated expectation from Highways England that development locally should make sufficient contributions to meet capacity generated by any new development to enable it to proceed.

This is not good enough. It would not meet the need to serve the growth of strategic National and International traffic flows, or for any future housing which neighbouring districts will have to deliver in response to Government targets.

It is our view that Government must acknowledge this and provide more certainty about improvements at Junction 7. Without this the strategic route, to and from Dover, will remain substandard and the options available to Swale and East Kent of growth severely limited.

Supplementary Question:

Could you outline KCC’s position in relation to improvements at Brenley Corner?

Response – Leader

This has been discussed for many years. KCC support Highways England and are working on design work with them, but there’s an acceptability of a serious funding delay, because we won’t know until after 2024 and might not even know then. This is not a Swale issue; it is a Kent issue, particularly for East Kent. Politically, we have all been sucked into infrastructure developments elsewhere – such as Junction 5, A249 and the issue needs to be raised up the political agenda.

Question 6 – Councillor Steve Davey

What, if any, are the obstacles preventing a community hub centre being built on the site of Phoenix House?

Response – Cabinet Member for Community, Councillor Richard Palmer

As Members will be aware Swale Community Centres Trust made the difficult decision to close Phoenix House, which is a KCC owned building.

We have kept in regular touch with Swale Community Centres Trust and KCC who have been providing support to the individual organisations in these transition arrangements.

With the impact of Covid-19 on how charities operate and how people access services, the main requirement will be to look at what the future need is and how this can be best addressed to ensure that any future provision is sustainable and fit for purpose.

That said the main barrier will be to raise funding which could be substantial (in excess of £1m) and an operating model that has a regular income stream to ensure that the building can be operated effectively.

Supplementary Question:

There was no supplementary question.

Question 7 – Councillor Ghlin Whelan

In the current restrictive circumstances is the Cabinet member considering any extension of parking concessions?

Response – Cabinet Member for Community, Councillor Richard Palmer

The current concession offering an additional 30 mins to pay and display tickets, agreed by Full Council, expires on 10th January 2021. I believe this approach is consistent with the Government’s aims and objectives of tackling the pandemic.

Supplementary Question:

There was no supplementary question.

Question 8 – Councillor Steve Davey

Could the Leader explain the predicted expansion of Track and Trace testing and vaccine dispensing facilities over the coming months?

Response – Leader, Councillor Roger Truelove

Before going into the substance of the question, I wish to clarify a few points because any understandable public anxiety, especially around Sittingbourne, about the slow introduction both of an asymptomatic testing centre and a centre for the sensitive Pfizer vaccine.

The provision of the first is a matter for KCC, as the public health authority, to finalise and manage and the latter is a matter for the NHS, through the Kent and Medway CCG and the Primary Care Network.

As a Council, we endeavour to stay involved and informed, especially helping to find suitable local sites. However, an early settling of a site does not lead to immediate operation. These organisations work in very sensitive public services and I understand why they ask us to allow them to decide the timing and substance of public announcements, but extended delays are unreasonable.

KCC made Swale and Thanet priorities for the first asymptomatic testing sites and the one at Sheppey is said be working well. This will reduce the spread of the virus. KCC also made it clear to us that there would be a second testing site in the Sittingbourne area and with our help a site was agreed and is due to open tomorrow in Kemsley. KCC has now made it possible for members of the public to apply to any centre and I hope that helps with access for people living in Faversham.

We also continue to have testing at mobile testing units deployed in Sittingbourne and Sheppey for those showing symptoms.

Pfizer vaccinations are being delivered in Faversham and Sheppey. We expressed our concerns some time ago about the gap in Sittingbourne. When it transpired that delay was due to the fragility of the Pfizer vaccine, the consequent need for a single site and the non-identification of such a site, this Council helped the health authorities to find and agree a site.

Knowing how people in Sittingbourne were both anxious and frustrated, and with justification, about not just the lack of vaccination so far but also any information to re-assure them, we have pressed the NHS to at least give some indication of the plans for Sittingbourne.

The Kent and Medway CCG has confirmed that they plan to open a site in Sittingbourne next week between 11-15 January 2021, in the Age Concern building in Avenue of Remembrance, a careful warning that things can change, and we know very much that things do change. All Members have had the information about that and it should be on their website by now and we are asked to direct our citizens towards the website. I think we have a result unless it’s turned around in the following week.

The Oxford Astra Zeneca vaccine, which can be used at various sites, has now been approved. The delivery of the vaccine will be organised centrally by the NHS and should be available at a range of places in the Borough of Swale.

Supplementary Question:

Why did the NHS wait to allay fears?  Please confirm which website the links are on? Which surgeries in Swale will be giving the Oxford vaccination? 

Response – Leader

The delay would not have been so damaging if the public could have been told. It was a 2-week delay, a lot of care had to go in, it was a major health risk and checks had to be made by the Care Quality Commission so the delay was not so critical, the information vacuum led to great local concern and many rumours. GP’s were unfairly criticised by people. The Local NHS insisted that we should say nothing. After finding sites we were keen for it to become public knowledge but they were insistent that we should not say anything so there was nothing public until today. The problem was not with the Kent and Medway NHS, it goes further up the line in terms of decision-making and they are simply ordered not to say anything until all plans are properly in place. Even today, we were told that the information could not be shared publicly, only with Members, which was nonsense. Kent MP’s agreed it was nonsense and it was only at lunchtime, they agreed it could go on the website.


The public need to go to the NHS website for vaccinations and the KCC website is for testing. The information was circulated to Members this afternoon.