After several years of sustained pressure from the Liberal Democrat opposition, Kent County Council has finally agreed to accept monthly payments for the Young Persons Travel Pass (YPTP) in the coming year. This will come as some relief for parents faced with an inflation-busting £60 increase in the cost of the pass to £350 in the next school year from September.
Under the new arrangements, parents will be able to pay the total £350 cost in 8 monthly instalments payable from August 2019. There will however be a £10 administration fee for those paying by instalments.
The Lib Dems first proposed payment by instalments some 5 years ago. Although the Conservative Administration acknowledged this need, the costs of the passes have continued to rise each year without any scheme for monthly payments being introduced up to now.
Tunbridge Wells Lib Dems press officer, Dr Alan Bullion, said: “The new £350 charge will be a heavy burden for many local families. We hope the new monthly payment scheme will make budgeting a little bit easier when finances are tight. We also welcome the decision to scrap plans to impose a £400 charge for travel passes for young persons over the age of 16 with special education needs or disabilities (SEND). We recognise that local government finances are tight, but our council tax bills are rising again this year above inflation by almost 5% to help pay for vital services, while Kent is having to find emergency funds in the event of a no-deal Brexit to keep these services running smoothly as possible across the county.”
Local party chairman Andrew Hickey added: “The £350 charge represents a 21% increase year-on-year in a year when the official inflation rate is 1.8%. It is highly likely drive more cars onto the road. The bus services are currently so patchy and unreliable that many kids get off the bus early, or don't get on it at all, due to delays from congestion and frequent road repairs. The winter is a lottery of late school arrival. It also disproportionately taxes lower-income families who have no means of relief, while wealthier families who have their children in local private schools are unaffected.”
It is certainly a shock that after just 11 years that the renewed TN2 centre may be shut to the public for good. This comes on top of the proposed drastic reduction in library opening hours at Sherwood from the current 28 hours per week to 15. There are also negative implications for library services at Showfields, Paddock Wood, Rusthall and Pembury, as well as other branches across the borough.
We lose our local library services at our peril, as they are vital for continuing education and literacy for all age groups, as well as their social aspect in providing a sense of community and combatting loneliness. I write as a journalist and published author, who has lived on Sherwood now for over 30 years, and who valued local library services growing up as a teenager on a council estate in Tonbridge.
Many families can no longer afford books for their children, while we have seen schools asking parents to provide textbooks in a time of education funding cuts. Increasing numbers of people also no longer buy newspapers. And Sherwood is also an area like Showfields where there is a higher than average number dependent on Universal Credit for their daily needs.
Indeed, I find the current crisis as outlined in the Courier with regard to TN2 as something of a mystery. Contrary to what is stated, there are quite a few regular and ongoing bookings at the centre. Also, there are hundreds of new houses and flats both in the surrounding area and on the nearby Knights Wood development. I wonder if sufficient outreach is happening to local people who have recently moved in and might as yet be unaware of the services available and how to use or book them, or whether there is another agenda to gradually run it down and then simply sell off the site altogether for more housing?
It will be at least two years or more before the new arts and cultural centre opens its doors in the Town Centre. So in the meantime it is vital that the housing estates and villages keep their local library services open and that these are all not eventually centralised to somewhere it may be difficult for many to reach except by an long, expensive bus journey.
Tunbridge Wells Borough Council (TWBC) has applied for £5 million in government funding towards the total cost of over £90 million for the proposed Calverley Square development. However, a critical technical assessment of the project bid conducted by Steer consultancy, on behalf of the South East Local Enterprise Partnership (SELEP), concludes that the scheme represents poor value for public money.
The Steer report rejects the current Calverley plan as they don’t think the evaluation process submitted by TWBC is good enough, and also because of potential delivery risks in the completion timeline. It particularly highlights the lack of evidence to support claims that the development would derive additional income from expenditure on food and drink, and also create a significant increase in local jobs.
In response to this damning verdict, Lib Dem Cllr Pete Lidstone commented: “If the business case doesn’t stack up, the Tories justification for wrecking Calverley Park disappears altogether. It’s bad for business, bad for residents, and bad for the environment, so why are they ploughing on regardless? Sounds just like Brexit! You need sensible councillors, who understand business, have independent judgment, and who will stand up for the people of Tunbridge Wells. That’s the Lib Dems.”