Roger Gough

Wednesday, 2 August 2017

Well Hill: broadband latest

Well Hill has long suffered from severe problems with its broadband and (in some cases) telephone services. The area is served from a cabinet some distance away at Hewitt's roundabout; the copper wire connections from the cabinet to Well Hill properties are long and subject to interference from electrical supply sources (such as the National Grid) - what is known as Repetitive Electrical Impulse Noise (REIN). 

As a result, some telephone services (notably those in Pump Lane and parts of Well Hill) are very poor, and - even though the Hewitt's roundabout cabinet was fibre enabled by a private provider some time ago - broadband services are very variable, ranging from the minimal to the sub-superfast and with poor reliability.

KCC has long been seeking to tackle the problem as part of the overall BDUK project to raise superfast broadband coverage across the County, now in its second phase. In the spring of last year, there appeared to be a solution in sight. A new cabinet would be installed at the bottom of Rock Hill, supplanting that in Hewitt's roundabout, and it was anticipated that this would be installed this autumn. However, the scheme (along, I understand, with other similar schemes across the country) fell foul of an Ofcom objection on competition grounds (since the services installed by the private provider at Hewitt's roundabout would be supplanted by a state aided alternative, even though Well Hill residents do not receive superfast broadband from it and remain subject in many cases to an unacceptably poor telephone service).

This has naturally caused great concern among residents, and George Chandler (KCC's project manager leading the BDUK initiative) and I attended a public meeting in the Mission Church on Monday evening. Happily, however, we were able to tell residents that an alternative approach, relying on Fibre to the Premises technology from the new cabinet, has been agreed in principle. 

The aim is to roll this out as fast as possible, though even this will take many months. The new approach is still subject to risks; extensive tree works needed to accommodate the fibre cables could push up costs to an unacceptable level, and it is possible that there could be further regulatory problems, though the scheme is very different from its predecessor. Nonetheless, this looks to be a major step back on track, and George is taking the project forward vigorously. He and I will make sure that Well Hill residents are kept closely informed as to the next developments.

Sunday, 30 July 2017

Crockenhill: extra rumble strips go in this week

One of the measures intended to reduce speeds and improve safety in the centre of Crockenhill, in particular in the approaches to the Main Road - Cray Road - Broadway junction, was the installation of granite sets. Their purpose was to highlight to drivers that they were coming in to the centre of the village, reinforcing the message of the 20mph zone and additional signage.

The sets were installed in the spring, but residents' reaction was to be distinctly underwhelmed; the sets are relatively small and unobtrusive. I therefore agreed at the time with Kent Highways and the Parish Council that the sets would be reinforced by rumble strips. These are already in place in the Green Court Road (leading in to Broadway) approach to the junction, having been placed as a trial alternative late last year. They are undoubtedly more visible, and the combined effect is a much stronger one; they will now be introduced at the other two approaches.

Kent Highways had promised that the installation would take place in the early part of the summer holidays, and have now announced that there will be a road closure in Eynsford Road/ Main Road tomorrow (Monday 31 July) to carry out the works. Those in Cray Road will be carried out under a partial closure using traffic lights, and should also be in place this week.

Sunday, 16 July 2017

Works moving ahead in Gibsons Place

The works that I described in a February post to tackle the flooding problems around Gibsons Place have taken place in two parts. Proceeding to the second stage was very dependent on Kent Highways reaching agreement with the management company for the development, and those works - as shown in the picture - are now well under way.

The first stage of the works was to put a large containment area into the road, with pipes bringing water from the previous, flood-prone gullies and into this storage space. Even on its own, this first phase has had a significant effect, as can be seen from the significant reduction in flooding even in recent periods of heavy rain.

The current phase involves installing further pipework from the High Street to the existing head wall. This is proving to be tricky work, with a lot of utilities to be navigated, and has had a significant impact on residents' access to parts of the development. This should be eased once the works get to the archway towards the back of the development, which (with two crews working on it) should be achieved within a week, weather permitting.

Two pipes will run from the containment area to a catch pit (to remove much of the silt in the water), at which point a single pipe will take the water to discharge into the river. As previously reported, there will be a flap over the end of the pipe to prevent water flowing back into the system when river levels are high.

The works already carried out have had a significant effect, and hopefully the completion of the second stage of the project should see a lasting resolution to this long-standing problem

Thursday, 13 July 2017

Eynsford: more measures introduced near the school

As I posted back in February, the installation of yellow lines in front of Alton Cottages was to be followed by a number of additional measures to reinforce their effect.

Some of these have now been carried out. Additional bollards have been installed - on both the Alton Cottages side of the road, and at the dropped kerb near the junction with Priory Lane - to prevent vehicles mounting the pavement, presenting a hazard to children and parents, and also blocking a key crossing point. A sign warning approaching drivers of pedestrians crossing at this point has also been installed. Now Kent Highways has issued a Statement of Works notice that the pavements of either side of this same stretch of road will be resurfaced. Hopefully this will make areas such as the footpath in front of Alton Cottages, currently in poor condition, much more usable for parents and children as part of a good route to school.

Some other plans, such as possible bollards installation further south in the village, need more work, but these measures represent a modest but useful further step forward.

Wednesday, 14 June 2017

Kent's Children's Services Rated Good by Ofsted

Yesterday saw the publication of Ofsted's inspection report on Kent County Council's Children's Services. The outcome was very encouraging, rating the Council's services as 'Good'. This puts Kent in the top third or better of authorities in the country.

The result is all the better, given that Kent's services were rated 'Inadequate' in 2010, an outcome described by KCC Leader Paul Carter as the darkest day of his leadership of the County. An extensive improvement programme has been in place since then, yielding an 'Adequate' rating in 2013 and now the move up to 'Good'. And this for a big and complex county, in which the Council  not only has responsibility for around 1,400 local children in care, but has also had to deal with significant inflows of Unaccompanied Asylum Seeking Children (UASC), especially during a big surge in numbers in 2015. There are also roughly as many looked after children placed in the County by other local authorities.

The report gave high praise to services supporting adoption, fostering, children in care and those leaving care, asylum seeking children, those on 'the edge of care' and others, including the Virtual School Kent; it also praised the commitment and high quality practice of Kent's social workers. Some areas still have room for improvement, notably those for 'children who need help and protection'; in some cases, referrals were closed down prematurely and practice was not consistently good. Overall, the report provides some ten recommendations for improvement.

This strong outcome is a tribute to the dedication of front-line staff; to a senior management team that has given clear and committed leadership; and to political leaders, above all my predecessors in this job, Jenny Whittle and Peter Oakford, who backed the process of improvement unswervingly and were willing to put the necessary resources behind it. As the new portfolio holder for Children's Services, I can (and do) claim no credit for this result; however, I now have a job to do in overseeing the Council's practice development plan, which will seek both to implement the report's recommendations and to drive still further overall improvement.

You can find the full report here.

Tuesday, 23 May 2017

KCC response to South Eastern Rail franchise consultation

Kent County Council has put in a very thorough response to the Department for Transport (DfT)'s consultation on the new South Eastern rail franchise, which closes today. The new franchise to run services in the County will come into effect in December next year.

The response is very wide-ranging, covering some matters that are very remote from Sevenoaks North and Darent Valley, such as a Thanet Parkway Station, but also some that are very close to home. Overall, KCC emphasises the need for enhanced services, including more space on trains, to meet the needs of the County's rapidly rising population. There is support for a DfT proposal for stock to be transferred from Thameslink (which is itself taking on new stock) to the South Eastern services to enhance capacity.

Otford Station is among those picked out as requiring enhanced connectivity, in particular to Sevenoaks and to Maidstone East. Otford is also highlighted as one of the stations in need of enhanced parking capacity.

KCC has also worked with and promotes the proposals from the Sevenoaks Rail Travellers Association, for Sevenoaks to have a special status (similar to that of Watford junction) in relation to the London zonal fares, integrated with them but set by the Train Operating Company rather than by Transport for London. It also urges consideration of including the Darent Valley stations between Sevenoaks and Swanley in the scheme.

You can find a press release summarising KCC's response here, and the full document here.

Tuesday, 16 May 2017

New Cabinet role: some change, and some même chose

Following the County Council elections, KCC Leader Paul Carter has appointed a new Cabinet. I have taken on the role of Cabinet Member for Children, Young People and Education.

Previously I was the Cabinet Member for Education and Health Reform. The new post means some continuity - I retain the responsibility for Education that I have had for the last four years - but also change. In particular, and reflecting recent changes to KCC's Directorate structure, I will also take on responsibility for Specialist Children's Services (such as child protection, fostering and adoption), as well as youth services and KCC's role in youth justice. Almost everything that the Council delivers to children and young people will come within the portfolio; its list of responsibilities is very long indeed.

A corollary of this is that I step aside from my work on KCC's relationship with the NHS, including chairing Kent's Health and Wellbeing Board. This is something of a wrench - I have worked at this for much of the last seven years, and have developed knowledge, relationships and engagement with the fascinating and important issues of the health and care system. However, it is perhaps time to move on, and the new portfolio is a much better and more coherent fit. And it is a chance to serve the young people of Kent, including the most vulnerable - a big but exciting responsibility.

The new Cabinet in full is:

Leader of the Council - Paul Carter
Deputy Leader and Cabinet Member for Strategic Commissioning & Public Health - Peter Oakford
Cabinet Member for Finance - John Simmonds
Cabinet Member for Adult Social Care - Graham Gibbens
Cabinet Member for Children, Young People and Education - Roger Gough
Cabinet Member for Customers, Communications and Performance - Susan Carey
Cabinet Member for Planning, Highways, Transport & Waste - Matthew Balfour
Cabinet Member for Corporate and Democratic Services - Eric Hotson
Cabinet Member for Economic Development - Mark Dance
Cabinet Member for Community and Regulatory Services - Mike Hill