Report Back from Richard Streatfeild
Annual Report by Richard Streatfield - County Councillor for Sevenoaks Town
Progress in 2021 - 22
It is a year since I was elected. It is of course the electorate who make the judgement on work so far.
I welcome Libby Ancrum's election to the Town Council on May 5th and was particularly pleased 38 % of the electorate turned out to vote and of those 82% voted for her.
In 2021 I promised a plan. That plan included:
- having an office in Sevenoaks
- supporting Sevenoaks' children, parents and teachers with SEND provision in Sevenoaks
- supporting a 20mph scheme for Sevenoaks
- supporting a Local Cycling and Walking infrastructure plan
- trying to fix the potholes
- supporting environmental policies to improve air quality in Sevenoaks, especially round Bat and Ball
- improved communication with the community and particularly the town council.
In the first year there has been progress on all fronts. Some of it better than expected and some slower than I would have liked.
Sustrans are now undertaking the Sevenoaks walking and cycling plan with KCC money that I had to gently encourage the leader of the District Council to bid for - and succeeded
KCC have a team working on a town wide 20mph scheme. Stakeholder meetings have started. The scheme is due in first quarter of 2023. I will use my members grant to be able to support implementation
Fixing the potholes is proving more tricky. KCC has a significant money problem and when the choices are between potholes and adult social care statutory services there is only one winner. That said parts of Weald road and St Johns Hill have had significant work completed. I am working to put one area into the programme - Wickenden and Swaffield Roads which are the worst in Sevenoaks. If part of Wickenden is to be a safe cycle route which has cross party support, then resurfacing must happen.
County Councillors had £6,000 grant to help covid recovery. Mine was used in the following ways.
- a town centre audit and refurbishment works
- painting lampposts and removing unnecessary signs; Mike Read of the Town Council has done a good job undertaking the work so we know what needs to be done
- I supported the Town Takeover by the Stag last summer.
- most importantly I gave each primary school funds for 2 days educational psychology support to assist teachers with interventions for children who had difficulty returning to the classroom after covid. I have had three meetings with all the primary schools' SENCOs including going to a specialist provision at Grange Park to see how differently children with Autism are taught outside of mainstream. The bulk of my casework has been helping parents of children with a special educational need getting the right provision and placement for their children.
We are now out of the worst of the pandemic but its effects are still with us. It is felt in schools, in adult social care and in the NHS. Those who were well supported during the pandemic ended up doing better than they might otherwise have done. But those who were not are now in a far worse position than they would have been. Because it only takes one child to disrupt a classroom it does effect everyone. Likewise some with more complex medical needs are now occupying beds for longer and aggravating a waiting list already too long. On the adult social care committee at KCC I see the risks that the care system is carrying in terms of safeguarding, waiting list and workforce - truly eyewatering.
There were problems in each area before the pandemic but it has made them significantly worse.
On the environment I think there is broad agreement that the situation at the Bat and Ball junction is not acceptable. I want to continue to work with all parties to encourage the developers to put in the round about as soon as possible.
Main Issues for 2022 - 23
County Council budget cuts will dominate through the coming year, impacting:
- Council tax levelling up, focus on coastal towns.
- Education - especially Special Educational Needs
- ASC risks - integration of Health and social care
- Transport - covering the Bus Consultation, Potholes and RoW works, SEND transport inquiry.
- Environment - progress to net zero. Solar farm acquisition and flood defence.
The last year has shown that we can work cross party on areas of mutual interest. Even where there is disagreement we can compromise to make progress for residents. On a personal note after a long induction process at KCC I have very much enjoyed the work. One can always find in Sevenoaks a local resident who is extremely well qualified on any subject. The trick is bringing that talent to bear on the issues we face.
There is plenty of casework which keeps me occupied day to day. But raising my sights to the next three years there are two key issues that will require compromise for success. I can see them affecting everything we do in the next three years.
The first is housing development. The work Sevenoaks Town Council does in relation to housing and development is first rate. Councillors produce detailed responses to difficult problems to help the planning authority. The NDP is a very good guide for the future. For it work we need to rethink our approach to housing. Houses now cost 8 times a graduates starting salary. They were 2x in 1960 and 4 times in 1990. The brownfield only development policy will condemn our communities to cramped overdevelopment while the next generation will be locked in debt. I have spent a great deal of time since December talking to people in a variety of areas. It is clear we are asking our children to pay a great deal for the privilege we took for granted. We need to find a way of working together to develop a housing policy for Sevenoaks Town and District that is sufficient and sustainable.
The second is global warming and the need to get to net zero as soon as possible. There are policies we can use to help get to that position. Somehow we have to get to a position where having a large carbon footprint as an individual, a family a community or a town is seen as unacceptable. I think we can frame it positively. Community power generation, community transport, an electric bike scheme, shopping local, active travel. But it will come with some negative choices, especially limiting air travel and choices in diet. Sevenoaks can lead the way if it so chooses. Both the main political parties in Sevenoaks have developed thinking in the last year. It needs to be put into action and I very much hope I can help make it happen.
Richard Streatfeild May 2022