To consider and decide on the recommendations as set out in the associated report.
REASON FOR DECISION: To approve a West Kent wide REPF approach would enable the Council to submit the REPF in time for Central Government to consider and approve within the prescribed timescale, that would enable the Borough to benefit from funding and allow the Council to invest in the Borough over the next two years.
Councillor Nancy Warne, Deputy Leader and Cabinet Member for Rural Communities introduced David Candlin, Head of Economic Development and Property who presented the report set out in the agenda.
Discussion and questions from Members included the following:
- Concern was raised at the Cabinet Advisory Board that the intended use of the money for infrastructure investment for the Weald Leisure Centre was contrary to the rules that only new projects/schemes were eligible. There was also concern that it might look like the Council was ‘feathering its own nest’. Because of the concerns raised, the Cabinet Advisory Board had asked Cabinet to review the recommendations.
- The Rural England Prosperity Fund (REPF) Plan had to be submitted to Central Government by 30 November 2022. It was then expected that announcements of approvals would be made in January 2023.
- The guidance did not include a requirement that the projects/schemes had to be new. It allowed for infrastructure investment for facilities that were used by the community.
- It was acknowledged that the Weald Leisure Centre was a very important facility in the Cranbrook area. By reducing its carbon emissions and fuel costs, it would go a long way to ensure the longer term sustainability of the building.
- The funding was entirely appropriate for use at the Weald Leisure Centre and would help ensure the Centre continued to be a sustainable and viable resource and a valuable asset to the community.
- Over the last 20-30 years, there had been a steady erosion of social infrastructure in the Cranbrook area.
- The Weald Leisure Centre had been build in 2000 and was a valuable community asset offering a range of activities.
- This year had seen the close of the only non-selective secondary school in the area, leaving the area with even less social infrastructure.
- A new community centre was in the process of being developed but it was not expected to be delivered until July 2026.
- Paragraph 1.7 of the report made clear that funding could be used to ‘improve’ rural infrastructure and it was therefore a very appropriate use of funding.
- Housebuilding in the Cranbrook area would see an increase of over 200 houses in the near future making it essential that existing infrastructure was maintained and continued to be fit for purpose.
- It was noted that Helen Grant MP was fully supportive of the fund and for its use on this facility.
- The Borough Partnership’s Focus on Five included helping communities to develop, grow and prosper, to have vibrant towns and villages and to encourage and deliver carbon reduction measures. This project therefore hit 3 of the 5 actions that the Partnership set out to achieve.
- The Council provided facilities and resources that benefited the community and it was not ‘feathering its own nest’ by ensuring one of those resources continued to be fit for purpose.
- This was a good news story and would secure the future of this facility whilst ... view the full minutes text for item 80
David Candlin, Director of Economic Development and Property presented the report as set out in the report.
Discussion and questions from Members and Officer clarification included:
i. In terms of the funding, Members were advised that it was a use it or lose it situation, with an expectation that you would spend the money in that financial year and a potential review at the end of the year.
ii. The carbon reduction at the Weald had a budget, however there were additional funds that were required but that had not been budgeted for.
iii. It was confirmed that the funds were for projects that benefited the rural community and those did not necessarily have to be new.
iv. It was meant to build on the leader program however it was not the same priorities or interventions under that program and did not replicate the money available under leader.
v. It was confirmed that the post at West Kent was an additional post and the budget for that was funded through funds retained by the West Kent Partnership budget retained for rural intervention.
vi. Members understood the need for the Weald project to go ahead however they were concerned about the funds being used to assist in a shortfall in the decarbonisation of the Weald Leisure Centre rather than used for new projects levelling up in rural Communities.
vii. Members were advised that although the Council owned the Leisure Centre, it provided a service to the Community.
viii. It was suggested that a note went to Cabinet that Members were not convinced about the allocation of funds to the Weald project.
1. That the recommendations to Cabinet would be supported subject to a particular issue being addressed, that Members agreed with the Kent wide approach but not the allocation of funds outlined in the report for year 1 and year 2.