Roger Gough

Saturday, 16 March 2019

SD 341: delay at the last moment

As I reported in January, Network Rail had committed to installing a new railway bridge section to replace the unsafe bridge crossed by Right of Way SD341 in Crockenhill in March.

Preparations were advanced for this to take place early tomorrow (Sunday 17 March), with notices going out to residents in Green Court Road asking them to avoid parking that would block the very large lorry bringing the bridge section.

Yesterday, however, Network Rail's contractors had to take the decision to postpone the installation because of a forecast continuation of the high winds. This will result in a 13 week delay, from the anticipated Week 51 of the current financial year to Week 12 of the new financial year, which will take us to mid-June (around the time that the current closure of the path is due to end).

The delay is very disappointing, but hopefully the issue will be resolved in the summer; it has certainly been a problem, especially for walkers, for more than long enough.

Thursday, 31 January 2019

Bus service feedback form launched

Linked to its Big Conversation on bus services, KCC committed to launch a service giving scope for feedback on bus services. The bus feedback form can now be accessed via the KCC website.

The form enables anyone to comment either on KCC's own bus-related services (such as the Young Person's Travel Pass, or subsisted bus services) or on specific commercial bus services (ie the overwhelming majority of bus services that are not subsisted by KCC).

Recording feedback on commercial services will not generate a reply; you will still have to go directly to the operator for that. However, it will provide information about issues to form the basis of KCC's regular conversations with the bus companies through Quality Bus Partnerships. This should be a valuable way to ensure that concerns (for example, over experiences of school buses) are heard and expressed.

Sunday, 13 January 2019

SD341: hope for an end to the closure

Public footpath SD341, which runs north-west from Stones Cross Road in Crockenhill, has been closed at the railway bridge since October 2017, as a result of Network Rail concluding that the bridge was unsafe. This has been a cause of mounting concern to residents, not least when the closure has been extended twice, the second ending last week (11 January).

I have taken up these concerns, working with both KCC Rights of Way officers and with Sir Michael Fallon MP, who has raised questions in Parliament with the Transport Secretary.

Just before Christmas (23 December), the bridge itself was removed by Network Rail contractors. This added to the concerns, but on investigation it appears that replacement of the bridge is scheduled for week 51 of the financial year (17 March). Once the works have been completed, the footpath should be able to reopen, probably around the end of March. In that case, the full extent of the new closure (running from 11 January until 21 June) should not be needed.

Thursday, 29 November 2018

More on Anthony Roper funding issue

Following the concerns raised over the funding position at Anthony Roper Primary School, Sevenoaks MP Sir Michael Fallon and I met local parents and governors in Eynsford at the end of last week.

The discussion was a very useful one - with governors, as well as the MP and County Councillor, addressing questions raised by parents. My argument was that there is a strong case both for schools in general within the Comprehensive Spending Review (CSR), and for areas such as Kent to gain a greater share of the national allocation.

Much of this is captured in the 'activity-based' funding model proposed by the f40 group, of which I am an active member, and Michael Fallon has expressed his strong interest in this approach too. It is only by bringing a larger overall funding level to Kent that the lot of schools such as Anthony Roper can be improved.

Through my role as Cabinet Member at KCC, as well as my involvement in f40 and the Local Government Association (LGA - I serve on its Children and Young People Board), I will continue to argue for this approach.

Wednesday, 31 October 2018

The Big Conversation: coming to the Darent Valley

Yesterday evening I attended KCC's Bus Summit at County Hall, which represented the next stage in the 'Big Conversation' on the future of rural public transport.

During the initial consultation, three main options were discussed: feeder services from more remote areas to the main bus network; a 'bookable bus' service; and a taxi-bus service, using smaller vehicles to run services. The first and third options would be timetabled; the bookable bus (which turned out to be the least popular) offered flexibility but potentially long and somewhat unpredictable journeys.

The 'Big Conversation' consultation ran through the summer, including opportunities to respond both on paper and online; a series of public and parish meetings; and deliberative meetings involving some 110 people at three venues across the County. The Sevenoaks public meeting in July, in which I took part, appears to have been one of the best-attended and effective meetings.

The next stage was the development of a series of pilot projects, and these - along with the feedback from the consultation - were reported at last nigth's meeting. Drawing on feedback received in the consultation, along with statistical information, assessments of operator capacity and the like, Kent Highways officers have come forward with five projects, three using the feeder service model and two the taxi-bus model. They are:

  • Dover villages feeder bus service
  • Villages South and East of Maidstone: feeder bus 
  • Sevenaoks villages taxi-bus service
  • Tenterden taxi-bus service
  • West Malling and other villages: feeder bus service
The Sevenoaks pilot has direct implications for Sevenoaks North and Darent Valley. Starting in Fairseat and Stansted - very much outside the Division, and indeed the District - it is then proposed to run through West Kingsdown (bordering the Division), East Hill in the outer parts of Shoreham Parish, then through Otford to Sevenoaks.

The pilots should be formally approved in January 2019, to be followed by a period of mobilisation. It might have been possible to launch them in April, but with the possibility of pressures on Kent roads in the aftermath of Brexit, the launch will instead take place in June. The pilots will run for a year, after which conclusions can be drawn, and - if they prove successful - the models applied more widely.   

Thursday, 25 October 2018

Tudor Drive and secondary routes

During last winter's severe weather, concerns were raised by residents over the designation of some local roads and the consequent level of gritting that they would (or would not) receive.

In one case (Row Dow) we managed to secure a change of designation to being considered a primary route; it is most unusual for this to be agreed when winter has already started, so this was a significant achievement. There were nonetheless some major problems on Row Dow at points when the weather was at its most severe, but this did not reflect the road's designation.

Concerns were also expressed about Tudor Drive in Otford, on the reasonable grounds that there are a significant number of homes in the Drive and surrounding area, and that the road out onto Pilgrims Way East is very steep. In spite of this, the road was categorised neither as a primary route nor (more surprisingly) as a secondary route. In this case, I was not able to secure a change in designation mid-season but local Highways teams did seek to help residents through deployment of hand salting crews.

As winter approaches, the question of the designation arises again. Kent Highways has already indicated that it will not be changing any designations of roads for this coming winter. This is less troubling than it sounds; the fact is that, during the severe winter weather earlier this year, secondary routes were not treated, since the pressure was on Kent Highways to keep the primary routes open. And further steps will be taken to support Tudor Drive, through deployment of hand salting crews and the installation of a second salt bin.

Meanwhile, the scope and purpose of secondary routes are subject to a wide-ranging review. This was reported to a recent meeting of KCC's Environment and Highways Cabinet Committee, and is under way.

Wednesday, 24 October 2018

KCC budget consultation

Kent County Council launched recently its annual budget consultation.

We are currently putting together our budget for 2019-20. The pressures on the council - seen in still more dramatic form at many other County Councils and other parts of local government - remain intense, as government grant reduces and demand for services remains strong.

The Council is consulting on a further 5% increase in council tax, made up of the 3% 'referendum cap' (the level of increase above which a referendum would have to be called) and 2% for a 'precept' for adult social care. This remains something that the Council is very reluctant to do, but has little room for manoeuvre (it is striking that, at national level, government projections that local government will have a 'flat cash' budgetary position over the period of the Comprehensive Spending Review is predicated on local government raising the maximum amounts of council tax that it can).

With growing pressures in areas such as social care, KCC has had to realise savings of some £640 million over the last eight years. For 2019-20, the Council needs to realise a further £57 million in savings (all this on a net budget projected to be £967 million). So far some £41 million has been confirmed, leaving a gap to be filled of £16 million. There are a number of major uncertainties still to be resolved, such as the full take from council tax, the treatment of business rates and various government grants. But if other things remain equal, the Council (and those of us who serve in the Cabinet) will face some very difficult decisions.

The consultation runs until 21 November and can be found here.