Roger Gough

Sunday, 18 February 2018

A new Church Room for All Souls Crockenhill

Yesterday I was delighted to attend the opening of the new Church Room - actually, a stand alone small building - serving All Souls Church in Crockenhill. The Room was opened, after s short service of dedication, by the Venerable James Logstaff, Bishop of Rochester.

The project has been long in its development and - like many a building project - has brought a fair amount of anxiety and heartache along the way. That it has been delivered is a big tribute to the church and wider community of Crockenhill. The Room will serve both for church functions, including hopefully Sunday School, and the Crockenhill community as a whole - as a result of the latter, I was able to give some support (£2,000 from my Combined Member Fund, which contributed towards the floor). The building (and the floor) look wonderful and hopefully will be a valued resource for years to come.

Sunday, 11 February 2018

The 2017-18 pothole blitz

With the end of the financial year approaching, the Find and Fix Programme (aka the 'pothole blitz') is also almost concluded.

This year saw some £5.2 million spent on the Find and Fix programme; £2.2 million from the Deaprtment for Transport's Captial Pothole Grant, and the remainder from KCC capital and revenue contributions. The whole budget has been committed and most of the works completed; a few await the completion of other works (for example, by utilities) in the relevant area.

All told, some 117,000 square metres have been repaired; the equivalent of 18 Wembley football pitches, or 18 kilometres of typical road. Overall, the quality of the work delivered by locally commissioned contractors (SCG in the case of Sevenoaks) has been good.

We await full clarity on what funding will be available for the new financial year. However, the pressures are on (which will not come as any surprise to anyone observing recent weather); January saw just under 4,000 pothole enquiries from the public, a multiple of the levels seen in recent years and comparable to the level seen at the start of 2014, which was a time of major flooding. So there will be plenty to be done once Spring is upon us.

Monday, 22 January 2018

Eynsford Road: getting under way

In my earlier report on action to tackle flooding at Eynsford Road, I expressed the hope that work could be carried out to  replace the manhole cover in South Hall Road before Christmas. In practice this was delayed because Kent Highways' contractors had to focus their work pre-Christmas on gritting as temperatures fell.

In the last few days, however, I have been told that the works in South Hall Close have been carried out - as a result, the CCTV survey should be carried out in the near future.

Wednesday, 17 January 2018

New budget plans and bus subsidies

KCC has set out its latest plans for the 2018-19 budget, reflecting some important developments in the Local Government Financial Settlement announced just before Christmas.

In many respects, the financial challenge facing the Council remains massive.  The budget gap that KCC has to plug is some £113m, reflecting a £45 million reduction in government grant, the impact of price increases and growing demand for services, especially in children's and adults social services. Much of this will be met by spending reductions driven by greater efficiency, effective commissioning and the like.

There was also one major disappointment in the pre-Christmas announcement, that an earlier government Transitional Grant, worth some £5.3 million to the Council, is not being continued.

However, the Local Govenrment Financial Settlement also included - more positively - the news that Kent, working with the County's 12 District Councils, Kent Fire and Rescue Authority and Medway Council, will be one of the national pilot areas for Business Rate Retention. This will bring in £5.6 million in the coming financial year.

Secondly, government has raised the 'referendum cap' - the amount by which Councils can raise Council Tax without having to call a local referendum - from 2% to 3%. This is in addition to the 2% precept that the Council is able to raise for social care. In line with most other County Councils, KCC will propose in its budget to increase the coming year's council tax by just under 5%. This will not be welcome to residents, but our pre-budget consultations have suggested a willingness to see some increase to protect services.

In its budget proposals, the County Council will no longer be proposing a £2.25 million reduction in subsidies for bus travel, but instead will propose a reduction of only £0.45 million. The Council nonetheless believes that there is a need to review existing bus subsidies and look for other and better ways to support transport for elderly and isolated residents, and will be investing £0.5 million in developing this approach. This will be carried out through a 'big conversation' with Parish Councils and local communities in the coming months.

Thursday, 21 December 2017

Bus subsidy review - still early days

There has been a lot of concern and debate following a meeting of Kent County Council's Environment and Transport Cabinet Committee on 30 November, at which a paper on possible reductions in bus subsidies was discussed. This was followed by the release of a list of services that might be affected.

It is certainly the case that, in its budget for 2018/19 the County Council is considering reducing bus subsidies by £2 million, with a further potential reduction of £2 million in 2019/20. This is part of the savings package of around £65 million that the Council indicated in its earlier consultations would be needed to balance its finances for the coming years.

However, the list of services potentially affected gave an exaggerated picture of the possible impacts of the subsidy reductions. 97% of bus journeys in Kent are commercial, whereas just 3% are subsidised. In many cases, it may be only journeys at the extremes of the day that are subsidised, not the entire service. Furthermore, discontinuation of the subsidy will not always mean that the operator will find it necessary to cease the service.

With all those caveats, the services listed that have some presence in the Sevenoaks North and Darent Valley Division are:

404/405 - (Go Coach) - Stone Street, Bichet Green, Fawke Common, Godden Green, Seal
435 - (Go Coach) - Otford
204 -  (Autocar) - Underriver
421 - (Go Coach) - Farningham, Eynsford, Shoreham, Otford

I will be examining carefully what impact, if any, comes from proposed changes to services in the Division. Formal consultation, it is worth remembering, does not start until January.

In addition, the County Council leader, Paul Carter, has made clear that he is meeting bus company leaders to examine what impact any subsidy reductions might have, while also focusing strongly on alternative ways of tackling the undoubted issues of rural and elderly isolation, such as taxi share schemes and community minibuses. In at least some circumstances, there may well be more efficient ways in which the County Council can support transport and reduce isolation than some of the more expensive and under-used bus routes.

The debate will continue in the New Year, and very little is settled yet.

Monday, 11 December 2017

The 531 bus

Throughout the autumn and into winter, there have been persistent problems with the 531 Arriva bus serving many school children travelling between Tonbridge and parts of the Sevenoaks North and Darent Valley Division such as Seal and Kemsing. There have been a variety of difficulties, but the most common has been afternoon buses filling up at the very early stages of the journey, with many children and young people then left stranded and having to make much more difficult journeys home - or ultimately be picked up by a parent at considerable inconvenience.

I have raised these concerns with Kent Highways officers, who have in turn taken them up with Arriva. The service is a commercial bus, not one commissioned by KCC (though of\ course many of the users have the KCC-supported Young Person's Travel Pass), so this has been a process of representation and discussion rather than contracting. However, Arriva has agreed to run the afternoon 531 service some ten minutes later, with the aim of encouraging those taking short journeys to take another bus and so relieve pressure on the 531. This change was registered quickly with the Traffic Commissioner and so came into effect today. I will watch carefully to see if this proves effective in easing the problems experienced by children and parents.

Thursday, 7 December 2017

Drainage works in Eynsford Road

Residents in Eynsford Road, Farningham, experienced serious flooding in the autumn, and I have since been in frequent contact with Kent Highways officers who have been looking into the problem.

The latest update from the officers is that they are focusing on the main line that runs down the grass verge and then into South Hall Close. Officers will arrange for this to be cleansed and surveyed by a CCTV crew, improving the efficiency of the system as well as identifying any defects within it. There is a manhole cover in South Hall Close which is currently jammed shut and will need to be broken out and replaced before the CCTV crew can access the chamber. There have been  some delays because South Hall Close is a private road, but the works are now set to go ahead, hopefully before Christmas (though the demands of winter gritting might get in the way). Once the manhole is released, the CCTV survey and mainline cleansing can be carried out in the New Year.

Hopefully this will offer resolution of the issue for Eynsford Road residents.