New housing target bombshell for Tunbridge Wells

According to analysis of the Government's new algorithm for housing targets by the Local Government Association, new house building in the Borough of Tunbridge Wells compared to the numbers built in recent years will be expected to increase by 184%. In contrast, many areas in the North of England will see their housing targets reduced. This is part of a Government review of the planning system published for consultation in August. The Government proposals will also reduce or remove the right of residents to object to applications near them.

Nationwide the majority of planning applications are given the go ahead by local authority planning committees, with permission granted to around 9 out of 10 applications. Across the country there are existing planning permissions for more than one million homes that have not yet been started.

This increase in the housing target is totally unacceptable” says Cllr Trevor Poile. “With so many existing planning permissions not yet started, the Government should be focusing on the developers not local councils. Tunbridge Wells already has onerous housing targets and does not need another increase."

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Tunbridge Wells needs a new vision for its failing town centre

I would like to build a positive approach to the town's redevelopment based on the principles of creating a unique town lead by independent shop retailers offering something the internet can't provide. It will take hard work delivering a consistent policy over 10 to 15 years, but it does work elsewhere. Tunbridge Wells needs a new vision for its failing town centre.

The Liberal Democrat vision is for a town and borough where people of all ages and backgrounds want to and can live, learn, work and play, something that has not been delivered by the Conservatives.

In the past, our town had a large catchment area where people were prepared to travel for products, services and entertainment they couldn’t find elsewhere, this meant landlords knew higher rents could be charged as the footfall in Tunbridge Wells was good. This changed with the rise of large out of town shopping centres, and then the internet resulting in a far heavier toll on Tunbridge Wells than towns such as Tonbridge, Sevenoaks or Crowborough that offer more compact centres providing quick local convenience.

The loss of large chain stores has resulted in our current retail offering being unsustainable and if this is allowed to continue we could end up seeing the town fragment further. We, therefore, need a strategic vision to attract more businesses and improve the quality of our town.

There is no magic solution that can solve these problems, it will require a lot of work from the council with both private and public investment to revive its fortunes. We can, however, look at examples where this turnaround has been successful and adapt these to the needs of Tunbridge Wells.

20 years ago places like Folkestone was even more run-down than Tunbridge Wells is, thanks to the De Haan’s trust and with some seed investment, out of the ashes, the Creative Quarter was created where derelict shops have been converted into smaller units allowing independent retailers to start and thrive. Today the charity owns 90 properties containing 240 businesses and 60 town centre flats for social rent plus a large creative co-working space. The charity now has a property portfolio worth in excess of £50m creating a vibrant mix of unique independent shops.

We can also look at Tonbridge for another example, with its council’s policy of helping shops in run-down areas with match funding grants to improve shop frontages and insulation which again upgrades the area.

Tunbridge Wells council owns a considerable amount of underutilized space in and around the Town Hall, with a little bit of consistent vision and an attitude of doing the small things well, there is absolutely no reason why we could not use these assets for both conversion and capital to follow similar reconstruction and support paths making our town a better place to live, attracting more people to visit.

Mark Ellis is a Tunbridge Wells Borough Councillor representing St. Johns.

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Cllr James Rands - "We need to talk honestly about the Assembly Hall Theatre"

James Rands was elected Borough Councillor for Culverden ward in 2019. He is current Chair of Tunbridge Wells Liberal Democrats

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Improving Social Care in England - Health or Wellbeing?

We have heard a lot recently about the “fragmented” social care sector along with some rumblings about the National Health Service becoming responsible for the sector. I’ve worked in health and social care in England for almost two decades now and I can tell you this. In my experience, there is just as much good practice in the private social care sector as there is in NHS settings.

The NHS has been seriously run down over the last decade and it’s obvious that there just isn’t enough money to go around. It’s heartening to know that the government has committed £10 billion to health and it would be nice to know that some of that money – or a similar amount – is going into social care, but I very much doubt that.

Social care is anything which people may need support with outside of medical intervention. That is eating, drinking, personal care, social interaction, support with finances, correspondence, shopping, and so forth. It is the stuff that makes life worth living. And, while the NHS is very good at medical interventions, they’re not really so great at the other stuff. The medical model boils everything down to health. Deprivation and poverty are only seen from the point of view of how they affect health. Social interactions are primarily seen as a deterrent to mental health issues. Bathing and creaming are seen as a way to maintain skin integrity and so on. I think you get the picture.

While there has been a lot of press around care homes, not much attention has been paid to care in the home, although around double the number of people – about 1 million - receive care and support in their home as opposed to a care home.

There is a place for all forms of care and support in our society. Some people are best cared for in the home they have lived in for years, others may be better off in an extra care facility or a care home. A very small minority need to be cared for in a hospital setting.

Let’s think in a broader way as we tackle the social care crisis. Let’s think about health and wellbeing.

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Bins, Bins, Bins

Everything lately has been covid19 related but I would like to see our council in the borough of Tunbridge Wells get back to basics. The town is just looking a little shabby and, while it’s nice to see the new paving in the centre of Tunbridge Wells and the flower boxes which have become a regular feature, it would be nice to see the council fulfil their basic services. That includes pavements, bins and streetlights.

I returned to Tunbridge Wells in 2004 and one of my regular gripes is the bins. It’s brilliant that we now have recycling of a variety of materials, including textiles, food and batteries, but I regularly have to put in a complaint to the council to say that the bins of one description or another have not been picked up. Last week it was the orange and black food recycling bins and, looking up our street, there were at least a dozen such bins which had not been collected, nor were they in the list published by the council of the streets which had been forgotten. After a long day working with clients with care and support needs, as well as their families and our CAREGivers, the last thing I want to spend my time on is reporting bins and yet, that is what I have to do on a regular basis if I want my bins collected.

Tired of the situation, I put a Freedom of Information request into the council to provide me with the information of bins missed by street for the last decade. The council were unable to provide me with anything but the year 2019 because, they said, that’s when they changed contracts.

A quick viewing of the information tells me that some areas are worse hit than others. Obviously, one would expect to see more misses on long streets – one area being missed on one occasion and another on the next, etc. but there are areas which are particularly badly hit, mine included. I can only think that, in their enthusiasm to gain the contract, the contractors decided to reduce the number of person hours needed to collect the bins, forgot to include holiday or sick time or some other anomaly which means that they don’t have the staff or the trucks or the means to collect ALL the bins ALL the time.

I wondered how this would work in social care and pondered my situation. If I don’t have a CAREGiver to complete a call, I do it myself. How would this work with the bins? Would the office staff turn out to collect the bins which needed collecting? Would they be trained to do so?

Thursday the bins were collected. Hurrah! PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE Tunbridge Wells Borough Council, don’t keep asking our residents to report missed bins, potholes, streetlights that don’t go on or off at the correct times, etc. etc. Find a way to ensure that they are dealt with in a timely fashion. Hire inspectors if you need to but, after somebody has reported something once or twice, don’t just keep flipping them an email which states that the contractor has 4 days or 21 days to do something about it. Above all, don’t tell the public to email somebody else to report something. Take responsibility. PLEASE. Save our sanity!

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Politics in UK Not Fit for Purpose

The Liberal Democrats will today lead a debate in the House of Commons calling for a “radical overhaul” of Westminster politics, warning it is “not for purpose” to tackle the coronavirus pandemic.
The debate - the first in the House of Commons chamber on electoral reform since 2016 – will be led by Liberal Democrat Constitutional Affairs spokesperson Wendy Chamberlain.
The North East Fife MP is expected to declare that Westminster’s broken political system is shutting out people who “need their voices heard now more than ever” during the coronavirus pandemic.
The Liberal Democrats will use the debate to call on other political parties to join them in getting behind change and reforming the way people elect MPs with a proportional voting system.
Speaking ahead of the debate, Liberal Democrat MP Wendy Chamberlain said:
“If the last three years have shown politics isn’t working for people then the coronavirus crisis has made it clearer than ever that reform is needed.
“Covid-19 has exposed the political culture in Westminster as not fit for purpose. Our democracy doesn't need piecemeal change, it needs a radical overhaul.
“Over the coming months and years we’re going to face numerous issues as we seek to overcome and recover from the coronavirus crisis. We need to work together – yet our Westminster politics is adversarial and divisive.
“Simply put, that means the true variety of the electorate’s voices are not heard. Many of those people are the same people who need their voices heard now more than ever. It’s time all parties got behind change.”

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