In May, local voters emphatically chose a change of administration at Folkestone and Hythe District Council. Many of the political parties’ manifesto statements referred explicitly to the need for community voice to play a far more significant part in the leadership of Folkestone – demonstrating real change in approach and democratic commitment.
However, we also – all of us – expected and need a clear signal of practical actions: not just a series of photo opportunities, where elected representatives turn up to the opening of an envelope, as they say. Good to be seen out and about. Even better to be seen making a difference. So what do we need to happen, three months in? Here are three suggestions for the new leadership:
In preparing for office, months if not years before the election, all political candidates and groups will have considered strategic priorities for our community: economic; social; planning; regeneration; addressing disadvantage and so on.
It is time to publish a broad Statement of Council Intent….. “these are the issues and priorities we are working on, dealing with.” We were promised a stronger community voice: now it’s time for the Council ‘to put our money where our mouth is…’
2. Revisit The Place Plan
The Council should revisit and revise the Place Plan, in the context of three significant new factors affecting Folkestone:
National economic outlook – reports emerging of a five year downturn
KCC budget and service cutbacks
The Seafront development
The plan should be updated, to priorities the show community assets and other key features and opportunities within our town which were unforgivably overlooked – it should be revised to reflect the new context and to become more appropriately A People Plan
3. Publish an interim local economic strategy
The Council should develop and publish short to medium term economic planning linked to the revised longer term strategy for our community, supporting the Town Centre and addressing inequalities across the town. The outline should be prepared in discussion with community leaders. Soon.
Scribblings on yet another injustice, by prose poet Jane Monson.
As we nest, your book-spined walls soak up the rain we’ve made and bring the library to its knees. We watch from our vantage points, the practised turn of your mild, apologetic faces to the public and announce: ‘The Seagulls Have Closed the Library: we have tried to reason with the birds, at great expense, but like the local badgers, they keep on returning. Downpipes are blocked with eggs and feathers, and your building, your reading sanctuary, your warm bank and hub, is theirs now.’
Look up and this is what we might say, if you’d care to listen: we birds need to nest, you need to read, to have somewhere of value to sit and think; where quiet is encouraged, where silence gathers power. Birds and books have more in common than this painful, local, but widespread story might suggest. We breed flight; nurture in order to set the next generation free, see things from another viewpoint. Feathers and pages are not so estranged or at odds. So why tell the story this way? That one has killed the other. That nature is at fault; that the Birds Need Stopping; Seagulls Are Closing Our Libraries; Feathers Are Stealing Our Words.
Where on earth, we should be asking at this point, do we go from here? Why not start at the library and work your way slowly up?
On Saturday December 3rd, the AFRA working group hosted a meeting supported by local police, Councillors, residents associations and the community safety team from Folkestone and Hythe District Council.
The meeting provided an opportunity to review current concerns and issues, to discuss initiatives aimed at reducing the negative impact on quality of life for residents and to renew a commitment to partnership working in the community.
The event was well attended and provided a positive discussion leading to agreed points for further action and development. In simple terms, this is what AFRA is all about: a forum to provide the opportunity to address shared issues through collaboration.
Residents living close to the Leas Pavilion have been in touch – putting it mildly.
Many are seething at broken promises about good communication and in particular forewarning of the start of works. Clear assurances were given at a meeting on 25th June 2021 – a year ago. This was attended by local resident association representatives and no less than three local Councillors: Cllr Danny Brook; Cllr Dylan Jeffries and Cllr Ann Berry. Categoric assurances were given:
To arrange for FHDC to provide information on the development for local residents (as per 2015 Council commitment to consultation)
To provide key points of contact for any concerns for residents going forward – which would logically include:
Council officers responsible for planning issues
KCC Highways point of contact for road and pedestrian management issues
Constructor or site manager
To arrange for discussion and a joint or coordinated approach involving all local Ward Councillors and appropriate Council officers.
Last week, site workforce personnel arrived unannounced to undertake preliminary works. Digging machinery and other equipment was put on site and within hours, water appeared to be escaping down the roadway from a leak. Residents asked why not notification had been given as required – and the first telephone complainant found a letter stuffed hastily through their letterbox (but not others in the same block) a few hours later. Others have referred to their concerns around well-being – with disabled residents being particularly badly affected – and the sheer lack of consideration shown by Council officers and Councillors.
One of our partner organisations has highlighted the obvious and significant impact upon health – physical and mental health – which planning and other aspects of local policy can have on individuals and groups. This has become more obvious to all of us over the last two years, with exceptional restrictions and guidance being put in place for everyone. The government guidance on the need to undertake HIA as a key element in public policy is clear. It is good practice.
In our local context, the absence of good communication between the local authorities and local residents is a potential contributory factor to stress, ill-health and a sense of powerlessness. For those with existing conditions or those who are more vulnerable due to poverty or disabilities, the impact is all the greater.
We invite comment – particularly in the context which has raised the profile of this issue – which relates to the significant amount of major new developments supported by Folkestone and Hythe District Council. The extent to which planning policy and major decisions are underpinned by HIA is of particular public interest.
Update: a series of well-reasoned and well-informed comments have been added on this topic – see below. A summary document containing some of the key arguments in favour of a Health Impact Assessment has been compiled by a member of the Leas Residents Action Group – which has been pressing for better communication. The document can be downloaded by clicking here
Nobody will have failed to notice that a number of major developments are underway in the District. Some argue that this shows progress and investment, which is crucial to regeneration of our town – but at what hidden cost? Local residents living near the historic Leas Pavilion, which was a beautiful heritage venue supported by many outstanding performers, have become increasingly frustrated by poor communication over legitimate concerns relating to the planning, public safety and construction management aspects of this project. We’ve invited them to contribute to a ‘Diary’ of events and progress with this significant building site. Watch this space.
A new report by Levitt Bernstein, a distinguished practice of architects, landscape designers and urban designers, suggests it may be timely to rethink the proposals for permitted development proposals, with signs that the government may already be getting cold feet.
The issue is in some ways complex, but in general amounts to the obvious question – Is a free-for-all system which allows buildings designed, specified and built for one purpose to be changed to a very different usage really desirable or practicable?
Read this interesting and cogent professional opinion – and make your own mind up!
Today sees the publication of the AFRA analysis and report on the draft Place Plan published on Monday.
This can be found using the link here – or via the Menu – INFO & LINKS page…. we hope you find it interesting and that it gives some insight into the key content of this lengthy and significant document.
Consultation on this final stage edition closes on August 20th – so do consider getting your response in as soon as practicable.