Agenda item

Members' questions

This report sets out the Members’ questions received for this meeting. 


Question A – Councillor Tranter asked the Portfolio Holder for Planning, Economic Growth and Regulation, Councillor Chitty, the following:


“In October 2021 the Local Plan was withdrawn from the Council agenda because (a) it was not complete and (b) because a majority of members had made it very clear they will not support it. Public consultation would have changed nothing in the plan and so it was pointless until there is agreement. Three months have passed and still Members have not seen a complete plan; also there appears to be no attempt to discuss or resolve Members’ key concerns, such as the proposed mixed use designation of Chatham Docks which will destroy an important local industry.


Are the Cabinet still hoping this current plan will be accepted by this Council, or will they amend it in order to reach agreement?”


Councillor Chitty thanked Councillor Tranter for his question. She said that the Draft Local Plan had been withdrawn from the Full Council meeting in October 2021 as there was work that was still needed to be completed. Considering that, Councillor Chitty felt that it was appropriate to withdraw the draft Plan from the Council agenda and to come back when all the necessary work on the draft Plan, supported by all the required evidence, had been completed.


Officers were continuing to work on the draft Plan and were following national planning policy and guidance, as was required. Once that work had been completed, a decision would be made on the appropriate timing to bring the Plan to Full Council.


Engagement had been taking place with representatives of the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities and the Planning Advisory Service (PAS) and officers had met with an experienced Planning Inspector recommended by the Department.


Feedback provided had stated that the Council should be positive about the position reached with the Plan and that there were no significant weaknesses in the work that had been undertaken. These comments were reiterated by the Inspector, who was encouraged by Medway’s emerging Spatial Strategy, which she advised was consistent with National Planning Policy and guidance. The Inspector advised that to move from that position would carry greater likelihood of the Plan being found to be unsound.


It was important that Council officers and their consultants completed the work being undertaken and that the draft Plan that emerged being led by the evidence base.


The PAS had been very clear in a presentation to Members of the Council that the consequences of the Council not agreeing a Plan that had evolved from the evidence base and that had been developed in accordance with National Planning Policy and guidance and of the implications of moving to a different spatial strategy.

Question B – Councillor Rupert Turpin asked the Leader of the Council, Councillor Jarrett, the following:


“The current target for Medway’s housing need is an eye watering 27,000 homes by 2037. However, this is based on out of date population statistics which go all the way back to 2014. More up to date figures were rejected by a group of Kent MP’s and in January the government acceded to their demands as set out in a letter and scrapped the more up to date calculations based on 2017 population statistics which would have reduced Medway’s target by 8,000 homes.  


This, and other factors, such as the unique ecology and character of the Hoo Peninsula which includes large amounts of marshland liable to flooding, RSPB sites, RAMSARs, NPZs, SPAs, grade 1 agricultural land and SSSIs including the most important breeding site for nightingales in the country, gives Medway a unique natural heritage to protect and along with a supportive MP gives the Council a strong argument to present a case for lowering the housing numbers for Medway, which would benefit Medway as a whole, and Rochester and Strood in particular, since the constituency has 90% of the future pipeline of housing in Medway.


In addition, since 2014 there have been major changes to society, such as our departure from the European Union, the effects of a worldwide pandemic and an election result based on the promise of levelling up the North of England none of which was a factor in the 2014 statistics.


What steps have been taken or will be taken to work with Kelly Tolhurst MP and present to the DHCLG and Michael Gove strong arguments buttressed with scientific evidence from the Sustainability Appraisal and the Habitats Regulation Assessment (assuming they have been completed) amongst other sources, to argue persuasively for a reduction in the housing target by at least the 8,000 calculated with the 2017 figures?”


Councillor Jarrett thanked Councillor Rupert Turpin for his question. He agreed that the Government’s standard methodology was flawed and said that along with officers, he had taken every opportunity to challenge the figures with the Government, be it ministers or civil servants within the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities (DLUHC).


Council Members were aware that at the beginning of 2021, a strongly-worded letter had been received from Chris Pincher, Minister for Housing, essentially saying that the Council needed to get on with its Local Plan as the Government wanted all Local Plans to be adopted by 2023.


Medway had challenged the housing figures flowing from the standard methodology but had been told clearly that the exception test was an incredibly high one and that it was highly unlikely that Medway could justify a lower housing figure. The exception had only been agreed once and in that case the housing need was absorbed by another local authority. Medway was not in that situation.


Following more work on the Local Plan, consultants and Counsel had advised that Medway would be required to use the standard methodology housing need figure. Further meetings were subsequently held with the DLUHC and Planning Advisory Service (PAS), with PAS having given a presentation. All Council Members had been invited to this meeting. PAS had been very clear regarding the very high bar relating to any exception test argument. Members were advised of examples of other authorities who had tried and failed and were told what the consequences could and would be for Medway.


A representative of PAS had undertaken an initial assessment of work completed on the Local Plan and his initial findings were that officers and the Council should be encouraged by the position reached in the Plan and that there were no signs of significant weakness in the work undertaken so far.


A Planning Inspector, who was very experienced in Local Plan examinations had recently given an overview of the work undertaken and her findings were similarly positive, particularly in relation to the emerging Spatial Strategy.


Councillor Jarrett said that Medway would continue to challenge the use of the standard methodology where possible, but not in a way that would prejudice the Local Plan. The consequences of doing so had been clearly set out by the PAS to all Members attending their presentation. Councillor Jarrett concluded that the problem was the housing targets that had been imposed on Medway by Government and that it was for local MPs to tackle the issue and achieve the result that Medway needed, which was an acceptable housing target. This should be based upon the latest available 2018 figures and not the 2014 figures used by Government.


Question C – Councillor Mrs Elizabeth Turpin asked the Leader of the Council, Councillor Jarrett, the following:


“In January 2021 a disappointing decision (from the Medway perspective) was made by the MHCLG to pay heed to a letter written by a consortium of Kent MPs which did not include Kelly Tolhurst. This letter was in protest at the revision of housing needs assessments released in August 2020, which for many boroughs of Kent had resulted in a rise in required housing, but for Medway had resulted in a lowering of the housing needs assessment by 8,000 homes over the period of the Local Plan. The revision, which was scrapped, was almost certainly more accurate as it was based on more recent population figures.


Medway Council was informed that if they submitted their Local Plan within 6 months of the reversal decision, i.e. by June 2021, then the lower figure (8,000 homes fewer) would have been accepted. Previous to this timeline, in the Full Council meeting of January 2020, the Council was reassured in a written answer to public questions that the draft Local Plan would be released in the summer of 2020.


For the residents and the nationally renowned wildlife of the Hoo Peninsula reeling under the proposed impact of a quadrupling of the population of Hoo, taking its population higher than that of Strood, and for the businesses in Chatham Docks under threat of flatted regeneration, this delay seems, to put it mildly, a missed opportunity of epic proportions.


As this deadline was over a year later than when we were led to expect the draft Local Plan would be ready, why were we unable to take advantage of this situation and submit a far less controversial plan likely to have gained the support of a majority of Members of the Council?”


Councillor Jarrett thanked Councillor Mrs Elizabeth Turpin for her question. He said that she was incorrect as the proposed revision to the standard methodology had been included in a Government Consultation in August 2020. In December 2020, the Government had confirmed that it would not be proceeding with the proposed revisions to the methodology and so there had never been any opportunity to use the proposed figures. Legal advice had been taken at the time to confirm this. On that basis, there had never been any advice at any time that Medway Council or any other Council could use the proposed revised methodology in its calculation of housing need.


Since the standard methodology came into effect, Councillor Jarrett and his officers had taken every opportunity to challenge the figures and the formulae behind the method, both with Ministers and with the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities. Therefore, Councillor Jarrett stated  categorically that there had not been a missed opportunity.


Question D – Councillor Williams asked the Portfolio Holder for Planning, Economic Growth and Regulation, Councillor Chitty, the following:


“With a huge number of homes in the pipeline for the Hoo peninsula it is vital that we as Councillors, and the public, get the most detailed and accurate information needed for consultation purposes. With regard to the latest consultation I, as Councillor for Strood Rural, would like to thank the HIF team for their efforts, and in particular for the removal of the flyover option for Higham Road, which has been welcomed by residents.


I would like the Council to ensure that all efforts are made to co-ordinate and bring forward the Local Plan in synchrony with the HIF bid as far as humanly possible. With this in mind I am disappointed that the Habitats Assessment, the Sustainability Appraisal and the Air quality data for Four Elms Hill roundabout was not available in time for the latest HIF residents’ consultation which closed on 10th January. These documents were promised to us by November 2021 to support the s19 Draft Local Plan as late additions and seem to be even now not available.


Can I request that these are made available to the public at the earliest possible convenience?”


Councillor Chitty said that in relationship to housing numbers on the Hoo Peninsular, it was vital that Councillors and the public got the most detailed and accurate information. All information was freely available and it was vital that Members had confidence to know that information would be forthcoming.


Question E – Councillor Etheridge asked the Deputy Leader and Portfolio Holder for Housing and Community Services, Councillor Doe, the following:


“It has been identified, that Chattenden and the Hoo Peninsula, has a unique Military Heritage, possibly the only one in the world. During World War One, this area was specifically used because of its location for the development of Zeppelins, the testing of new weapons, especially explosives, and the experimentation and design of trench warfare. Various branches of the Military, were based here, including the Royal Naval Air Service. Today, we can still see the remnants of the very first torpedo launch pad, along with the world’s first anti-aircraft gun emplacement. These measures had a major effect on the course and final outcome of World War One, saving countless British and Allied soldiers’ lives. This area was at the centre of military technology.


This, and other factors, such as the unique ecology and character of the Hoo Peninsula, which includes large amounts of marshland liable to flooding, RSPB sites, RAMSARs, SSSIs, gives Medway a unique natural and military heritage to protect.


Can you tell me what measures are being put in place to document this particular piece of history, whilst protecting this unique military heritage, ensuring that it will be in a condition to be viewed by generations yet to come?”


Councillor Doe thanked Councillor Etheridge for his question. He said that he was correct in pointing to the significance of the area. Councillor Doe agreed that Medway was a very special place with a unique natural and historic heritage, and this was specifically referred to in many of the Council’s publications, including the various public consultations that had been undertaken on the Local Plan process.


The Council had worked with a number of bodies as part of the Local Plan work, including Historic England and Kent County Council’s Archaeology service. This work would be reflected in the Local Plan as it emerged and would also be used in the consideration of future planning applications, where relevant.


Question F – Councillor Pendergast asked the Leader of the Council, Councillor Jarrett, the following:


“In recent months areas of the Peninsula have once again suffered power cuts.


On Christmas Day large areas of Hoo were without electricity for several hours ruining what for many is regarded as a very special day.


Can the Leader of the Council please state how much of the much vaunted Housing Infrastructure Fund is allocated for utility infrastructure so the existing homes and all the new dwellings are guaranteed uninterrupted supplies?”


Councillor Jarrett thanked Councillor Pendergast for his question. He said that the HIF funding of £170m had been allocated to provide improvements for roads, transport and the environment to support the delivery of new homes. The bid for the funding focused significantly on improving the Hoo Peninsula’s transport connections and environmental infrastructure and having these in place before homes were built.


The issue of utilities was captured in the Infrastructure Development Plan and power supply was a matter for UK Power Networks (UKPN). Discussions had been held with UKPN, which had suggested that there would be sufficient capacity in the system to meet the needs of planned growth. When planning applications were received, the required infrastructure would be assessed and delivered through the planning process, with the costs being met by the developers.  


Question G - Councillor Curry asked the Leader of the Council, Councillor Jarrett, the following:


“Bearing in mind the strength of feeling from the public and the Members of his own party for the protection of Chatham Docks, will the Leader of the Council now support the majority of elected Members in this chamber for the retention of the Chatham Docks as employment land in the forthcoming Local Plan?”


Councillor Jarrett thanked Councillor Curry for his question. He said that the Local Plan was drafted using an evidence base rather than the power of suggestion and something was not fact because some Council Members had a particular view. Officers were working with Planning Advisory Service inspectors and using evidence to make informed decisions.


Councillor Jarrett said he had not heard one sensible suggestion for an alternate location although he knew that some people were of the opinion that the Historic Dockyard should be demolished as an alternative.


Medway Council had no choice but to build the number of houses the Government had specified, using the standard methodology and their location would be decided based upon evidence.


Councillor Jarrett concluded that he had seen no evidence that there was strength of public feeling on the matter and he invited Councillor Curry to provide evidence.


Question H - Councillor Khan asked the Deputy Leader and Portfolio Holder for Housing and Community Services, Councillor Doe, the following:


“What action is Medway Council taking to support council tenants in light of the sharply rising energy costs that hit record levels last month?”


Councillor Doe thanked Councillor Khan for her question. He said that Medway had a Tenancy Sustainment Team to support Council tenants and assist with any welfare needs. The team had been actively working with tenants affected by the increase in household bills, including the increase in energy prices and had been working with them to maximise their income, assist with budgeting and, where needed, access the Household Support Fund. 


In addition, Medway regularly provided advice and information to residents on matters such as utility switching services, access to support, reminders, and other types of information.


In a further measure to assist, the Council was currently carrying out a significant amount of planned improvement works to replace and upgrade windows, front doors, and roof insulation and was installing ‘A’ rated boilers across its housing stock. 250 Energy Performance surveys had been initiated with a view to getting those properties up to a much higher standard.


Councillor Doe said that whilst the Council could not entirely insulate Council tenants or anyone else from cost-of-living variations, what it did do was to make the upmost effort to do all it could to assist.


Question I – Councillor Edwards asked the Portfolio Holder for Education and Schools, Councillor Potter, the following:


“The government’s announcement regarding 7,000 air purifiers being made available for schools seems woefully inadequate considering there are 300,000 classrooms across the country.


Could the Portfolio Holder give their assessment of the adequacy of ventilation in Medway schools whilst confirming how many air purifiers have been secured from the 7,000 for Medway?”


Councillor Potter thanked Councillor Edwards for her question. He said that the air purifiers were available directly from central Government and only for poorly ventilated teaching spaces. These were for state funded schools, colleges, and early years settings where alternative fixes to improve ventilation were not possible.


The current guidance stated ‘you can use local air cleaning and filtration units to reduce airborne transportation of aerosols where it’s not possible to maintain adequate ventilation. These units are not a substitute for ventilation. You should prioritise any areas identified as poorly ventilated for improvement in other ways before you think about using an air cleaning device.’


Schools could apply for the air purifiers based on the need being identified through their risk assessment, in accordance with the guidance. Therefore, it was not possible to say at this time how many would be approved for Medway schools.


Question J – Councillor Van Dyke asked the Portfolio Holder for Education and Schools, Councillor Potter, the following:


“Does the Portfolio Holder feel that, due to the delay in building the Maritime Academy, transporting the first and, potentially, second, cohort of young people from Strood to Stoke is environmentally and educationally acceptable?”


Councillor Potter advised that this was a Department for Education project and that the delays were due to the wider issues associated with the planning process. The most recent issue was related to delays caused by those opposing the provision of the school at Manor Farm and getting the S106 agreement finalised between parties.


The school would need to operate in temporary accommodation for at least the first academic year from September so that the demand for secondary school places in Strood was met.


In order to mitigate the impact of the additional journeys, transport would be provided to significantly reduce the number of individual journeys. The use of dedicated bus services would be the most appropriate and effective option and this was the approach that would be taken. The alternative to the temporary provision would have been to create bulge classes at other schools across Medway and this would have had a far greater negative impact environmentally.


Councillor Potter said that this was because it would have inevitably resulted in many more journeys throughout Medway, with lots of Strood families having children displaced to schools elsewhere. He said that the temporary provision proposal was established practice and that as a long term Strood resident, Councillor Dyke would know that there was already a precedent in the area, with pupils transported to Bligh Primary School from Ebbsfleet Green School.


Question K - Councillor Maple asked the Leader of the Council, Councillor Jarrett, the following:


“Whose decision was it to:


1.   Publish the local plan draft on the agenda for the 7th October

2.   Withdraw the local plan draft from the agenda for the 7th October?”


Councillor Jarrett thanked Councillor Maple for his question. He said that Council officers had included the matter on the agenda in the normal way and that he had taken the decision to withdraw the Local Plan from the agenda.


Question L – Councillor Murray submitted the following to the Leader of the Council, Councillor Jarrett:


“There are currently 10,207 households in Medway identified as experiencing fuel poverty. These families will now be forced to choose between eating and heating as the cost of household fuel is rising and set to possibly double by April 2022. Labour have proposed removing VAT on household fuel in order to mitigate the impact of rising costs.


Does the Leader of the Council agree with me that Medway Council should be doing all we can to help the families we represent and in doing so will he sign a joint letter urging the government to act quickly and remove VAT for household fuel?”


Question M – Councillor Osborne submitted the following to the Portfolio Holder for Front Line Services, Councillor Filmer:


“Despite opposition from nearly 2,000 local residents, Medway Council introduced car parking charges at the Strand Leisure Park on 9th July 2018.


Can the Portfolio Holder advise how much income the Council has received since the charges were introduced, with a breakdown for each of the financial years 2018-19, 2019-20, 2020-21 and 2021-22?”


Question N - Councillor Johnson submitted the following to the Portfolio Holder for Business Management, Councillor Hackwell:


“In view of the fuel shortages during September, I would have expected the Portfolio Holder to have ensured the following:


·       To review business continuity plans to identify workforce, key workers and how they travel to work

·       To review requirements or consider requiring certain key workers maintain half a tank of fuel at all times to mitigate the impact of disruption

·       To establish the potential for some forecourts to prioritise certain groups or to hold fuel back for designated workers or services, such as SEND transport

·       To facilitate access to electric bikes or the use of pool cars

·       To establish mutual aid agreements with other agencies to share and/or bunker fuel


What actions did the Portfolio Holder take to ensure that essential council services were protected?”


Question O - Councillor Chrissy Stamp submitted the following to the Portfolio Holder for Children’s Services – Lead Member, Councillor Mrs Josie Iles:


“According to the Cooperative Party, in Medway there are 1856 pregnant women and children entitled to Healthy Start vouchers, but the take-up rate is only 57%. That means at least £5,843.75 worth of vouchers for fresh fruit, vegetables and milk go unclaimed every week. Given the appalling levels of family poverty and child hunger in Medway, what is the Portfolio Holder doing to ensure that the take-up of Healthy Start vouchers is 100%?”


Question P - Councillor Prenter submitted the following to the Deputy Leader and Portfolio Holder for Housing and Community Services, Councillor Doe, the following:


“Can the Portfolio Holder please let us know when the work on the redevelopment of Splashes will begin, outlining what consultation has been undertaken with the local community?”


Question Q – Councillor Adeoye submitted the following to the Portfolio Holder for Front Line Services, Councillor Filmer:


“Families and communities across Medway will want to come together, safely, to celebrate the platinum jubilee of Her Majesty The Queen.


Can you confirm there will be no charge by the Council for any community wanting to hold a street party in Medway for road closures etc?”


Question R - Councillor Price submitted the following to the Deputy Leader and Portfolio Holder for Housing and Community Services, Councillor Doe:


“What measures are in place to ensure that the new housing developments and infrastructure on the Hoo peninsula are carbon neutral and pollution free?”


Question S - Councillor McDonald submitted the following to the Portfolio Holder for Resources, Councillor Gulvin:


“Following the closure of Splashes as result of serious structural problems with the building, can the Portfolio Holder reassure us that the other leisure facilities under the control of the Council are safe and fit for purpose, confirming when was the last structural survey done on Council leisure facilities?”


Question T - Councillor Hubbard submitted the following to the Portfolio Holder for Planning, Economic Growth and Regulation, Councillor Chitty:


“The £1.6million that Medway Council taxpayers are having to stump up to fund the DfE and the Thinking Schools Academy to transport pupils to the former Stoke Primary School site is outrageous. The three-part nature of Manor Farm hybrid planning application delayed Frindsbury’s Maritime Academy by many months. An application for just the school would have come to Committee much earlier and would have probably not resulted in others referring the granted planning permission to the Secretary of State.


Do you agree that the Council accepting the nonsense hybrid Manor Farm/Barn planning application that developer had embarked on, linking the school to a housing development and the conservation of Grade 1 listed Manor Barn, was pure folly?”


Question U – Councillor Browne submitted the following to the Deputy Leader and Portfolio Holder for Housing and Community Services, Councillor Doe:


“What new events are planned as a direct result of making the City of Culture bid?”


Question V - Councillor Paterson submitted the following to the Leader of the Council, Councillor Jarrett:


“Just like his boss in Downing Street, the Leader was forced to account for his own movements during the first lockdown, a month before the infamous No10 party, when he bragged on Instagram about having shot some “fresh wood pigeon ready for the oven later”.


After being challenged about whether he was continuing his wildfowling hobby while the rest of us were still limited to half an hour’s outdoor exercise per day, Medway Tories then released a comical clarification that the “fresh wood pigeon” was in fact, and I quote, “fresh out of the freezer”.


A new Defra definition of “livestock” includes game birds and will allow gamekeepers to kill wild birds such as crows, jackdaws, magpies and rooks – lest they interfere with the business of shooting game. Does the Leader welcome this new definition as, if so, I would expect his followers to look forward to future Instagram posts of “fresh magpie (from the freezer)" ready for the oven.”


Question W – Councillor Howcroft-Scott submitted the following to the Deputy Leader and Portfolio Holder for Housing and Community Services, Councillor Doe:


“The number of people sleeping rough in the UK has multiplied since 2010. Shelter revealed 274,000 people were homeless in England alone in December 2021.


But in Finland's capital Helsinki, rough sleeping has been almost eradicated thanks to a groundbreaking scheme. There is a principle that Finnish local authorities must stick to – at least a quarter of homes within each housing project must be genuinely affordable. Medway Council must be brave enough to follow this example - inroads are being made to tackle homelessness in many Labour controlled councils such as Manchester.


What is Medway Council currently doing to eradicate homelessness in Medway and in doing so explaining the plans they are making to get families out of bed and breakfast and temporary accommodation?”


Question X – Councillor Andy Stamp submitted the following to the Portfolio Holder for Adults’ Services, Councillor Brake:


“There are reports in the national media that the free supply of lateral flow tests to residents may be stopping.


Can you confirm that Medway will continue to supply free lateral flow tests as long as local decision makers feel it is required, not when central government tells us to stop?”


Question Y – Councillor Mahil submitted the following to the Portfolio Holder for Business Management, Councillor Hackwell:


“Residents have raised concerns in the last couple of weeks regarding the disgraceful act of fly tipping taking place in the Chatham Cemetery.


What actions will the Portfolio Holder put in place to both deter future activity of this nature and take action against those individuals who have committed this highly antisocial activity?”


Question Z – Councillor Lloyd submitted the following to the Portfolio Holder for Children’s Services – Lead Member, Councillor Mrs Josie Iles:


“In view of the recent Cabinet decision to agree to fund future transport to the temporary site in Stoke for the delayed Maritime Academy, does the Portfolio Holder agree that this is unacceptable pressure from the Conservative government, showing Medway council tax payers and Medway’s young people are paying the price for issues relating to the building of school places that result from government and council delay?”


Question AA – Councillor Cooper submitted the following to the Leader of the Council, Councillor Jarrett:


The return of the Medway Queen after its recent restoration is undoubtedly a positive development for Medway.


Will it be playing any role in the upcoming Platinum Jubilee celebrations?


Note: The Mayor stated that since the time allocation for Member questions had been exhausted, written responses would be provided to questions 10L – 10AA.

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