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downsmail.co.uk Postal votes could be decider


WITH May’s crunch borough council elections less than four months away, the authority is making arrangements to ensure democracy is COVID-19 safe. Should they go ahead, and that is not a


given, a large chunk of the ballots cast will be through the post.


It is likely to be the first major test of Maidstone Borough Council (MBC) since it emerged as a “master developer” of the controversial 4,000-home Lenham Heath scheme and in the wake of its plans to shut The Hazlitt Theatre, which caused such a furore late last year. When the Liberal Democrats returned to power in 2019 with the help of the Labour Party and a few independents, the Tories were numerically superior but short of forming an administration. Since then, the dynamic has shifted in favour of the Liberal Democrats, their leader Cllr Martin Cox, and his independent deputy Cllr Fay Gooch. The Tories have suffered the untimely death of Cllr Wendy Hinder and the resignation of Cllr Steve McLoughlin, as well as the defection to the Lib Dems of Nick de Wiggondene-Sheppard. The latter will not stand again (the Tories are unlikely to lose Detling and Thurnham) and Mrs Hinder’s fellow councillor husband, Bob, has also indicated he is moving away.


Cllr Jonathan Purle has decided to step down because of work commitments, making the Tories two candidates light in the Bridge ward they have to take. However, Cllrs Tom and Janetta Sams, the fiercely independent members covering under-threat Lenham Heath, will almost certainly sit on their hands come May, depriving the Lib Dems of two votes they will probably need to gain another term. Conversely, to form an administration, the Tories will have to secure the seats


More affordable housing


THE article in your December issue by Richard Knox-Johnston was a succinct exposé of the inadequate thought that had gone into the formulation of the current housing policies, and the failure of our local politicians to oppose the shortcomings at an early stage. In 2018, there was a small development on the edge of Sutton Valence where the house prices started at £975,000. Hardly any affordable houses here, then. In response to my disquiet regarding the


waste of scarce development land, I wrote to my MP to complain. She forwarded this to the Minister of State for Housing and then came back with the reply (penned by MP Jake Berry). This stated that developments with fewer than 10 houses (or less than 0.5 hectares in area) did not have a requirement to include affordable homes. The inference here is that


SimonSays SIMON FINLAY Editor simon.finlay@downsmail.co.uk Twitter @Simonfinlay6500


they have and take their targets. In normal circumstances, they would be favourites to get in.


chasing you... “ ”


But if there is a long, disruptive post- Brexit period bringing chaos to local roads or if the Government messes up again over COVID-19, the national picture might impinge on the Conservatives’ chances closer to the polls.


It’s hard to chase trouble when it’s


National polling has tightened significantly against the Tories after the election of Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer although, at the time of writing, the Tories are ahead (but not by much), which may comfort the associations. But the local Lib Dems fear they will be blamed for implementing the Government-imposed housing targets. This would indeed be unfair, but for their inextricable link to Lenham Heath. The plot for (initially 5,000) houses started out as a grand concept with the borough council’s leadership at its head, but has been dogged by controversy, not least the lack of agreement (so far) from principal landowners and a scaling back of original plans. Seductive promises of a high-speed rail-link station, school and the rest evaporated like summer mist


developments in areas greater than 0.5 hectares but for fewer than 10 houses might not have to include affordable homes, although my interpretation may be incorrect.


I remain extremely disappointed that the MPs did not seem willing to pursue a change to ensure that there was a legal requirement for small packets of development land to be used solely for affordable housing . However, Berry’s letter did contain the following saccharine paragraph: “We have also amended national policy to set out a new approach to viability. This will mean that developers know the contributions that they are expected to make and local communities are clear about the infrastructure and affordable housing they will get in future.” Alas, the housing programme in Kent, remains ill-managed. Ray Town, via email


while, lately, the council’s unelected officers have been suggesting seriously stepping back to allow social housing partner Homes England to take the lead, thus minimising MBC’s financial risk. At least £300,000 of tax-payers’ money has been spent so far.


The council, sensibly perhaps, no longer wants that commitment set against a background of cuts caused by COVID-19, which has decimated its easy- picking revenues, such as parking charges. What is harder to square with tax-payers is their money being spent on capital projects – Lockmeadow leisure centre (£19.1m), commercially-rented flats (£5m), 16 industrial units at Park Wood (£1.9m) and Lenham Heath’s budget (£1.5m).


Instead, the MBC’s leadership now faces the looming reality of finding £2m in projected lost revenues through cuts (such as The Hazlitt Theatre’s controversial closure) and a 2% rise in council tax. With another lengthy lockdown, things will only get worse. Like many others, there is trouble up ahead for this council and it’s hard to chase trouble when it’s chasing you. It will be up to the Tories to figure out


a way to best pin the blame on the leadership without it appearing like naked party politicking or brinkmanship. All the parties are likely to be hamstrung by restrictions regarding campaigning. For now, leafleting, canvassing, street stalls, hustings and debates are out of the question. No one can moan about anything if we, the voters, don’t vote for the people we believe will do the best job for our communities and the wider borough. And it is a fair bet that, should the election go ahead, it will be won in the postal ballot. So, while you’ve got a bit of time on your hands…


Care partnership vital


WE MUST be concerned about the lack of Maidstone and Malling NHS input in to the new budget-holding Kent and Medway Clinical Commissioning Group (Downs Mail, December). You report concerns of civic leaders around the county that they consider the CCG is not sufficiently in touch with the problems of Kent towns and populations. This has resulted from the demise of the budget-holding West Kent CCG, led by local GPs, and the merging of eight area CCGs in to the Kent body to serve all our very large county. This was agreed in October 2019, but NHS England required formation of localised integrated care partnerships (ICPs) representing GPs and primary care, the hospital(s), all local authorities and KCC, social care, mental health, community health and more.


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