|PART 1 - PUBLIC
|The Chairman invited Members to observe a one minute silence in memory of Councillor M Worrall, Leader of the Borough Council and Chairman of the Parish Partnership Panel, who had sadly passed away.
|RESOLVED: That the Minutes of the meeting held on 1 March 2012 be approved as a correct record and signed by the Chairman.
Update on any action identified in the last Minutes.
|There were no actions identified.
Formation of British Red Cross Community Emergency Response Teams
The Senior Services Manager (Mr L Vallins) advised that the British Red Cross in Kent wanted to set up and develop a community emergency response team to support and assist in the local area. It was reported that the organisation was working closely with Kent County Council Emergency Planning Department to develop local teams of volunteers that could support themselves and the local community in the initial period following an incident taking place.
The role of the team was to provide support in times of crisis with first aid, practical help and emotional support. It would also ensure that high standards of training were maintained, with practical 'hands on' experience gained by all team members at events across the area. To achieve this ambition the organisation were looking to establish a base in, or around Tonbridge, and the parish councils were asked to assist in recruiting volunteers to the scheme; provide a place for the team to meet and train locally, such as a village hall; provide storage facilities for a small stock of emergency equipment and to promote the group and Red Cross services locally through local publicity, newsletters and websites. In addition, it was hoped that parish councils would encourage local people to get involved.
Further information was available in the packs circulated at the meeting, or via www.redcross.org.uk or by telephoning: 0800 0280 831
Chief Inspector Kirby, Borough Commander for Tonbridge and Malling, provided an overview of the achievements made in performance and in the neighbourhood policing agenda. Members were advised of a 5.9% reduction in all crime for the borough for the period April 2011 to March 2012. A decrease in the perception by the community of anti-social behaviour as being a local concern to 0.3% was also noted and welcomed.
In response to a question from Members regarding the new model for Kent Police, Chief Inspector Kirby indicated that the revised structure
appeared to be working well. He remained confident that the reduction in crime would continue.
Aylesford Parish Council expressed concern with a perceived reduction of contact with local police constables. Chief Inspector Kirby replied that this was due to their increased role in the investigation of crime, although neighbourhood policing would continue to be delivered by Police Community Support Officers (PCSOs). However, ways of enhancing the ability of police constables to remain involved in the local community were being explored. In addition, following a recent review three inspectors had now been aligned geographically to oversee policing delivery across the District. Finally, Chief Inspector Kirby reassured the Panel that every effort would be made to attend parish council meetings if asked.
The Chairman thanked Chief Inspector Kirby for his contribution to the meeting.
National Planning Policy Framework and related changes to the planning system
When introducing a presentation summarising the Government's recent planning reforms, the Director of Planning, Transport and Leisure indicated the existence of potential tensions between balancing economic growth and protecting the countryside. In addition, the Panel was advised of potential difficulties of delivering issues locally.
The Planning Policy Manager set out the three main strands of the Government's planning reforms, which were the Localism Act, the National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) and the new planning policy for Traveller Sites. The new powers for local communities were highlighted with particular reference being made to neighbourhood planning, the process of which was briefly explained and included establishing a Neighbourhood Forum; designating a Neighbourhood Planning Area and preparing a neighbourhood plan.
It was noted that the estimated costs of preparing a Neighbourhood Plan were in the region of £20k - £80/100k, some of which the Neighbourhood Forum would have to fund, for example, the plan making process, such as public consultations, printing costs and possibly a Strategic Environmental Assessment/Sustainability Appraisal. It would also be necessary to compile an evidence base and other relevant studies to support any policies. The Local Planning Authority had a duty to support in plan making and to carry out and pay for the statutory parts of the process, such as the examination and referendum. However, there was no obligation to provide financial assistance.
The presentation also outlined the key issues of relevance regarding neighbourhood plans and the risk that the local community might not support the plan at the referendum stage was highlighted.
Brief reference was also made to Neighbourhood Development Orders and Community Right to Build Orders. However, further detail was awaited from Government.
Members were advised that the NPPF was now a material consideration in determining planning applications. The adopted policies in the Tonbridge and Malling Local Development Framework (LDF) would continue to carry full weight until at least March 2013. From this date the LDF policies would continue to carry due weight but would begin to diminish as the plan gradually became more out of date pending the emergence of new Local Plan policies.
In response to a question posed by Borough Green Parish Council as to whether the new neighbourhood planning powers could be used to allocate land for public open space as a means to prevent developers from assembling land banks, it was explained that neighbourhood plans could cover matters such as the identification of open space but, as noted in the presentation, such plans must be in accordance with NPPF and the strategic policies of the Local Plan. It was reiterated that neighbourhood plans could not promote less development than was already set out in the Local Plan or seek to resist development when it would otherwise normally be permitted.
Burham Parish Council queried how Neighbourhood Plans differed from Parish Plans and was advised that a statutory set of procedures, which were robust and evidence based, had to be met as the former was part of the Local Plan.
Wrotham Parish Council asked whether there were any advantages to parishes co-operating in developing a Neighbourhood Plan. The Director of Planning, Transport and Leisure responded that the Plan would have to meet the test of evidence and pass a referendum. It was also noted that if Neighbourhood Plans had a potential impact on neighbouring wards/parishes that area needed to be included in a referendum. In addition, parishes were not disqualified from working with local landowners but again the appropriate criteria needed to be passed.
The considerable burden on parishes in preparing Neighbourhood Plans, particularly of time and cost, was discussed and the opportunity for partnership working with the Borough Council when developing the Local Plan was noted.
Finally, the Panel discussed the new planning policy for Traveller sites and asked how the national policy would impact on Borough issues. It was explained that provision for Traveller sites for the longer term needed to be identified and the Borough Council was being proactive in looking at this issue, in liaison with neighbouring authorities. It was pointed out that local connection was less important than before and could be significant for the Borough Council, particularly those communities which had experienced problems in the past. The development at Coldharbour was seen as the best opportunity to address previously identified need.
Copies of the presentation would be circulated to all parish/town councils for information and would be available to view on the website in due course.
Parish Partnership Panel - agenda items
Consideration was given to the request by Wrotham Parish Council and the Kent Association for Local Councils for parish and town councils to have greater input into identifying agenda items for future meetings of the Parish Partnership Panel.
It was explained that currently Members of the Panel were always invited to suggest agenda items, or items to be raised with Kent Police or Kent County Council, when the Minutes were circulated.
The view was expressed that many of the Parish Partnership Panel meetings were extremely lengthy and the agendas did not always reflect items of interest, or importance, to parishes.
The Borough Council representatives acknowledged the points made as fair and were supportive of the parishes' desire to have a positive input into agenda planning for future meetings. It was suggested that the Kent Association of Local Councils representative submit ideas in writing for onward circulation to parish councils for their comments and views. The subject would then be revisited at the next meeting of the Parish Partnership Panel scheduled for 6 September 2012.
Finally, Wrotham Parish Council asked whether the Borough Council would reconsider a Locality Board for Tonbridge and Malling. In response, the Chairman explained that the Borough Council preferred to have discussions with parishes and the County Council on specific subjects and meetings of the Joint Transportation Board, the Tonbridge Forum and the Parish Partnership Panel encouraged this.
The Chief Solicitor proposed to take agenda items 8 and 9 together which was agreed by the Panel. He advised that the Localism Act 2011 had introduced changes to the Standards regime which it was anticipated would come into effect in July 2012. Reference was made to a report presented to the Standards Committee on 8 March 2012 which described the changes and recommended actions required for the Borough Council to implement the new regime. A copy of this report had been circulated to all parish councils for information.
Members were advised that the current Code of Conduct would be repealed and the new version would be based on seven principles of public life. Parish councils could adopt the Code of the Borough Council if they wished but there was no obligation for them to do so. It was stressed that there would be no national Code. The Borough Council needed to give consideration to what type of Code to adopt as it was required to have arrangements in place to address complaints and misconduct. The Chief Solicitor advised that there was no power to suspend or disqualify any councillor and that serious breaches would be dealt with under criminal law. In addition, there would no longer be personal and prejudicial interests although Members would be required to disclose disclosable pecuniary interests'. Guidance on this was still awaited from Government. The Chief Solicitor advised that it was unclear whether Members were required to declare their interests once these had been recorded on the Register of Members' Interests. However, it seemed sensible to introduce a procedure rule to ensure that Members declared any interests at the start of a meeting.
Finally, the Chief Solicitor advised that a workshop for Parish Councils addressing Standards issues was provisionally booked for 14 June and views and comments would be welcomed at that time.
Wrotham Parish Council referred to a template Code of Conduct being developed by the National Association of Local Councils that could be adopted by parishes. The Chief Solicitor responded that various Codes were being drafted but there was no obligation for the Borough or Parish Councils to adopt any of them.
Concern was expressed regarding the representation on Standards Committees, particularly when reviewing conduct cases regarding parishes, with the general consensus that membership should also include parishes. In some cases parish councils felt the system was open to abuse if the Borough Council had the majority representation on a Standards Committee or Hearings Panel. In addition, concern was expressed regarding reputational damage and the inability to appeal under the new regime. It was noted that any appeals hearing panel would have to be independent of the regime.
The Chairman reminded parish councils that no final decision regarding Standards Committee had been made and if an alternative preference could be provided this would be considered.
The Chief Executive understood the strength of feeling surrounding the membership of Standards Committees and reminded parish councils that the changes were due to Government reforms. Cases were dealt with on their own merits and past experience demonstrated no obvious cause for concern.
Parish Councillors breach of Code of Conduct
|This item was discussed and Minuted under agenda item 9.
Kent County Council Services Update
On behalf of Kent County Council, particularly Members representing Tonbridge and Malling, the County Councillor for Malling North (Mrs Hohler) paid tribute to the late Borough Councillor Mark Worrall, expressing admiration of him as a great, honest, committed and hardworking individual whose strong leadership was greatly admired and appreciated and whose loss would be sincerely felt.
The Kent County Council Community Engagement Officer (James Harman) reported that the 2012/13 Member Grant Schemes were available for application and forms could be completed and submitted online from June. Further details were available from local County Councillors or the Community Engagement Officer on email@example.com
Particular reference was made to a Kent County Council project (Make Kent Quicker) to transform Kent and Medway's broadband infrastructure. Current speeds varied across Kent, with some rural areas having poor or limited provision at present. Within the Borough the following areas had exchanges that required upgrading to deliver fast broadband:
Parishes were asked to encourage as many people as possible, particularly local businesses reliant on efficient internet services, to register support for superfast broadband. In Tonbridge and Malling 500 votes of support had been received so far and it was hoped that this number could be increased by May/early June to ensure Kent and local exchanges were prioritised when upgrading to super fast broadband.
Parish councils were also encouraged to publicise and promote the project. Support could be registered at www.makekentquicker.com
Ditton Parish Council offered to publicise the project at an upcoming major event if literature was available. The Community Engagement Officer agreed to discuss this further outside the meeting.
With regard to library services, Members were advised that a Joint Advisory Panel had been established to look at future service options. The first meeting was arranged for 31 May 2012 and would consist of representatives from KCC, Tonbridge and Malling Borough Council and the Parish Councils that currently had a library. This group would invite views and ideas and comment on the emerging plans, which would help develop forward looking and sustainable library services, at the heart of local communities, which met local needs.
Wateringbury Parish Council expressed concern regarding mobile libraries and asked whether there were any changes proposed. In response, the Community Engagement Officer advised that there were no recommendations so far regarding library services or proposals for the closure/loss of any library. However, he warned that realistically savings needed to be found, particularly in the current financial climate. Although the importance and benefit of mobile library provision was recognised there might be better ways of providing and improving the service by discussing requirements with local communities.
Wateringbury Parish Council asked that local communities be involved and expressed a lack of confidence that this would happen. However, the Parish Council stressed their desire to participate if given the opportunity. It was noted that parish councils would appreciate some input
regarding mobile library service provision. The Chairman indicated that he would raise any concerns at the Joint Advisory Panel in his role as a Borough Council representative. In addition, the Director of Planning, Transport and Leisure indicated that the Borough Council was keen for parish involvement regarding the future of library services and Members were assured that the point had been noted.
Finally, brief reference was made to 'Bold Steps for Aviation' which set out for the first time how Kent County Council proposed the UK could meet its aviation needs through the connection of Gatwick and Heathrow with an airside high speed rail link. It was explained that there were no recommendations at the current time but more information was available from:
The proposals would be out for full consultation in the future and it was suggested that this be discussed at a future meeting of the Parish Partnership Panel.
The Kent County Council Services Update presentation and report would be circulated with the Minutes and available to view on the website in due course.