To receive any questions from members of the Council, of which due notice has been given in accordance with Council Procedure Rule 10, to be submitted and answered.
The Mayor advised that there were three questions from members of the Council had been received under Council Procedure Rule 10.
1. Question from Councillor McMillan
Please can an explanation be given that a Local Plan that was four years in the making, agreed and permitted the traffic consultant SWACO to submit approximately 40 documents relating to traffic mitigation at Kipping’s Cross to the Inspector during his review without any opportunity for residents and parish councils to review or comment? Is it because the recommendation of narrowing the B2160 to mitigate all the extra traffic from building large estates in Paddock Wood, Horsmonden and Matfield is so clearly flawed that it would mean the local plan has to and should be properly reviewed?”
Answer from Councillor pound
The Local Plan is a project that has been in production for a number of years and has evolved during this time and was not incomplete at the time of submission to the Secretary of State for Examination.
The Vision of the local plan is to deliver growth in new homes, jobs, and supporting infrastructure that will be achieved over the plan period in a manner that respects the distinctive qualities of the entire borough.
The examination of the local plan is supported with a wide-ranging evidence base some of which is prepared in an iterative way, like transport evidence, which has come forward at different stages of the plan’s preparation.
The indicative mitigation scheme for Kipping’s Cross was brought forward by the council’s consultants Sweco following lengthy discussions and agreement with National Highways and Kent County Council as Highways Authority.
The specific Sweco report you make reference to is supplemental to the most recent Statement of Common Ground between TWBC and National Highways which was submitted at the same time.
It is not uncommon for local authorities to progress their local plans in these ways.
I’ll just quote from the Submission Local Plan’ s supporting Infrastructure Development Plan
2.44 Status of the Infrastructure Development Plan
“As the work progresses on the Local Plan, further discussions will take place with the various infrastructure providers to firm up the requirements, timescales, associated costs, etc. and will be updated if necessary alongside the Examination of the Local Plan during 2021/2022. For the above reasons, this Infrastructure Delivery Plan is termed a ‘Live Document’ as by its nature it requires to be regularly updated to ensure it has the most up to date information and requirements in it to support the growth proposed in the Local Plan.”
At 3.8 the plan states “NH has acknowledged the peak hour congestion issues at the A21/B2160 junction at Kipping’s Cross and also at Flimwell, which impacts back into the borough beyond the junction with the B2079.”
The detail of the Sweco report relating to Kipping’s Cross was put forward to the Inspector and the Council acknowledged that there had not been time to consult on the detail. This is now with the Inspector for review, and he identified at the Hearing on 12th July 2022 that he would consider how and when to consult the public on the content of the report.
However, it is clear from the Kipping Cross report that further detailed work will be required to refine the mitigation scheme as future development comes forward and that options other than the narrowing of the B2160 may well prove more appropriate.
Supplementary question from Councillor McMillan
Given the previous Tory administration responsible for the direction of the Local Plan and the previous head of planning Steve Baughen who’s now with a major developer was responsible and for the production and reporting to the chief executive on that issue. I'm slightly at a loss to
understand how, a £4 million pound plan in four years in development, with traffic and infrastructure, clearly being the key issues for any major developments that we're talking about can have this ongoing issue around traffic now, Councillor Pound you know I have asked your
multiple occasions to meet with you and SWECO and the TWC offices so I and other Councillors, could understand how this submission happened. and why it happens so late.
However, you have refused on multiple occasions for us to meet with SWECO and therefore I sought further advice and help, and I'm going to read back from a letter here from the Greg Clark MP,
(The Mayor interjected and asked Councillor McMillan to keep the supplementary in line with the answer provided by Councillor pound).
Councillor McMillan continued with – This submission contained a proposal to narrow the B2160 at its Junction A21 at Kipping’s Cross to one lane from 2, it was put forward very late to the day at nearly the end of the examination in public in order to mitigate the impact on the A21 or traffic arising from proposed new housing development contained in the plan to be candid, I am astonished that the Borough Council should have submitted such a plan.
(The Mayor stopped the supplementary on the grounds the response has become a speech)
Councillor McMillan continued – The question is when this was submitted can I ask who was the person who authorised the late submission of these documents, was it the cabinet was it Councillor Pound, was it Steve Baughen, or was it Mr William Benson, or was it any,
and all of you?
Supplementary answer from Councillor Pound
I try and untangle one or two bits, first of all, just to be clear, the direction of the local plan was not solely the responsibility of the previous administration. The planning policy working group has been working as a cross-party group for many more years and I have been a member and the Local Plan, and its adoption has been, or the proposed adoption has been supported
by members of all parties, so it is not right to assume that all of the direction of the local plan has resided elsewhere in relation to the previous head of planning and to whom he reported and that relationship that is not for me to comment on if you wish to discuss that you can talk to the Head of Paid Service. In relation to the fundamental question about who authorised the submission of the SWECO report, I return to the point which is very clearly stated in the infrastructure development plan, which is that it is a live document and I recognise that there is frustration that as yet that document has not yet been consulted on but the Inspector has recognised that it needs to be so and as a live document it is not unreasonable as part of the development of the Local Plan that documents are regularly updated to ensure that the most up-to-date information is available to the inspector, and on that basis I think I've tried to answer the question, thank you.
2 Question from Councillor Wormington
Much of this year's budget is targeted towards addressing the inherited deficit. Can you please explain the deficit it’s origin and why it's important to tackle it?"
Answer from Councillor Hall.
Thank you for your question, Councillor Wormington..
I'm sure members have drawn their own conclusions from Lee Colyer budget briefings, but this is my own take on it. I believe the budget deficit has risen because of several factors.
Firstly, the impact of the coronavirus pandemic, the closure of whole sectors of our economy,
and employees being moved to working from home has so cruelly exposed the council's
reliance on parking income and an office worker commuting into Tunbridge Wells to work and shop in the town centre. That in itself created a new structural problem. As a world returned to more hybrid ways of working offices and businesses, business units remained underutilised and unlet and parking income recovered steadily and slowly.
Second, this country is over-centralised and at a local level, under-resourced, so that,
unlike many other countries in Europe, the government does not delegate the necessary financial means for local authorities to properly plan and forecast income and expenditure, the revenue support grant was reduced to zero in 2018 and councils have continued to be denied, either the resources or the scope for raising their spending power to keep up revenue handouts from central government. that are kept under wraps until they're announced in December are no way to support the financial position of local authorities like ours. add double-digit inflation to the mix and you have a multi layered problem that we're now needing to confront
failure to tackle this issue could lead to grave consequences for this Council.
Running our reserves down to lower and lower levels means more severe cuts to services further down the road, our capital assets beginning to fall, apart with insufficient funds to maintain them. and pushing the council into a stall quashing our capacity for growth and development, failure to meet a clean bill of health with our auditors would be bad enough, but the worst case scenario would mean spending on all, but essential services would have to cease, that is, of course the very worst case scenario which I'm sure every Member of the Council would be keen to avoid at any cost.
3.Question from Councillor McMillan
Greg Clark MP, Paddock Wood Town Council, Brenchley and Matfield PC, Horsmonden PC, The Pembury Rat Run Group and many others have all commented that SWACO ‘s recommendation is unworkable. KCC Highways have no solution and National Highways have stated it is not their problem. Can the Council now commit to reviewing ALL planning applications taking clear note that there is no plan for traffic mitigation!
Answer from Councillor Pound
Thank you Councillor McMillan, for your question, as has been made public, I think
we all are now aware the Council is undertaking a review of evidence supporting the local plan to respond to the Inspector's initial findings letter.
This review will look at the matters raised by him, including, amongst
other things, highway mitigation delivery across the road network associated with these strategic housing sites. The Local Plan is supported by a high-level evidence base and then, as development comes forward, more refined work on mitigations is undertaken in a much more detailed way at the application stage.
Transport assessments are necessary, which look at impact or more precise mitigation planning law requires that applications for planning permission be determined in accordance with the development plan, unless material considerations indicate otherwise, planning applications are considered having regard to relevant material planning considerations, including the highways impact from a scheme.
This is how officers make recommendations to the Planning Committee of which I have over, which I have no influence, and they will continue to do so.
Supplementary Question from Councillor McMillan
As we've seen with the recently from the Local Plan that the Right Now developers are seeing that the local plan is in some sort of. trouble, I believe, trouble, and they're starting to independently put through their new applications without waiting for the local plan. Given that Greg Clark has asked national highways to undertake no
further work, to implement the this proposal and has written to the Planning Inspector asking him to
disregard this risk but does risk up this regard, the proposed from Tunbridge Wells Borough Council, which
has avoided democratic scrutiny, he's also written to the secretary of state to ask him to disregard any
recommendation from the inspector if it continues to rely on this proposal from Tunbridge Wells Borough
Council. I struggle to understand how we as a council cannot restart to review in a more dynamic, more dynamic way the local plan, taking into account these issues around traffic
Supplementary answer from Councillor Pound
I'm unsure that there was a question, and I certainly am not in a position to respond on behalf of all local MP, Greg Clark. thank you.