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News from Kent Greens

Recent news from Kent Green Party. For older items visit our news blog. For a selection of our recent letters to the press, visit our letters page here.

Pathetic: New data shows KCC has done nothing to increase cycling
Sun, 30 Mar 2014

Pathetic, is how the Kent's Green County Councillor has described cycling to work rates across the country. Figures released last week[1] show that cycling to work has fallen in every area of Kent since 2001.

Martin Whybrow, Green Party Kent County Councillor for Hythe, said : "The proportion of people cycling to work has fallen by a fifth over the past 10 years, from a previously paltry 2.0% to a pathetic 1.6% in Kent. This contrasts with rises in London of up to 7.6%.

"Furthermore, cycling to work has fallen in every area across Kent which simply shows that Kent County Council has done nothing to promote one of the most sustainable forms of transport.

"With air pollution at dangerous levels in the county, including a smog this month which prompted warnings for people to stay indoors, real action is urgently needed to increase cycling across the county."

Far from meeting road casualty targets, the number of pedestrians and cyclists killed or seriously injured on Kent's roads has been increasing of late[2]. 

"This is an extremely car-centric council that gives scant consideration to cycling. There is no concerted effort to improve safety and thereby encourage more cycling," concludes Cllr Whybrow.

Kent Greens Call for Abolition of County Council
Mon, 03 Mar 2014
The Green Party is calling for the abolition of Kent County Council and its replacement by six unitary councils based on the following groupings.

    Thanet and  Dover (population 245,500)
    Canterbury and Swale (population 287,000)
    Shepway and Ashford (population 226,000)
    Maidstone Tonbridge and  Malling (population 289,000)
    Dartford and Gravesham (population 199,000)
    Sevenoaks, and Tunbridge Wells (population 230,000)

Existing Medway unitary council with a population 264,000 will remain unchanged.

 The new unitary authorities  would provide education, social care, highways, planning, housing, refuse collection and many other services to populations of between 200,000 - 300,000 people.

Chair of Kent Green Party and Prospective Parliamentary Candidate for Maidstone and the Weald, Stuart Jeffrey said "the existing county council is too large and unwieldy. It lacks any real connection and accountability to the people it serves. Local government should, by definition, be based as close to its electors as possible, rather than being inaccessible to most of Kent's residents.

Smaller unitary councils will bring together areas  of  Kent which are already closely  connected and share many common issues. They will also bring together residents, staff and politicians with an expert understanding of the areas covered by the new councils. This would place them in a stronger  position to develop  more effective policies and strategies than the current Maidstone based system".

Green Party Thanet District Councillor Ian Driver said, "In  East Kent many of the District Councils are already working closely together. They have  successfully  shared Housing, Human Resources, IT,  Revenues, Benefits and  Audit services for several years, so why not include KCC services as well?

I believe that the new unitary councils should be elected by proportional representation so that smaller parties and independent candidates can  be represented giving a more balanced and inclusive approach to decision making. The new councils should be managed by committee systems to prevent power being concentrated into the hands of a tiny handful of cabinet members and they should be underpinned and supported by a strong system of parish and town councils which will ensure community accountability".

The establishment of unitary authorities will form part of the Kent Green Party's manifesto for the 2015 council elections.

Kent Greens Condem Fracking Bribery
Thu, 16 Jan 2014
Today's Government announcement allowing local councils to retain 100% of business rates paid by fracking site operators, alongside industry proposals to pay local communities 100,000 lump sums and 1% of revenues for each  drilling rig (1), have been condemned by the Kent Green Party as "fracking bribery".

Green Party Councillor and Parliamentary Candidate for Thanet South, Ian Driver, said: "The Government is preparing to hand out cash sweeteners and inducements in advance of the Petroleum Exploration and Development Licensing (PEDL) round, taking place later this year."

In Kent only two sites, one to the west and one to the east of the county, are currently licensed for oil and gas exploration. But Driver warns that maps produced by the Department of Energy and Climate Change (2) show that "every last square inch of Kent's land will be brought under the PEDL licensing scheme",  allowing companies such as Cuadrilla,  notorious for its Balcombe drilling site, to purchase exploration rights anywhere in the county, providing they have the permission of the landowner."

The Government predicts a strong interest in the licence sales, especially in the South East. In a recent interview with the Telegraph, Sevenoaks MP and Minister of State for Energy, Michael Fallon, said that significant reserves of shale gas are likely to be found "right across the South. We're talking about Wiltshire, Hampshire, Surrey, Sussex, into Kent" and that "households right across the South should prepare for gas fracking to begin in their areas (3)".

Government reassurances that, if properly regulated, controversial fracking techniques can be carried out without danger are hotly disputed by Driver, who said: "There is strong and compelling evidence emerging from countries such as the USA and Australia, where fracking has been taking place for some time, that such procedures can never be carried out safely.

"Even the Government's own Environmental Assessment highlights the dangers of  fracking, including the astronomical demand for billions of cubic metres of water, much of which will become polluted by the extraction process, the danger to underground drinking water supplies (especially in Kent where 70% of drinking water comes from underground sources),  the huge number of  additional vehicle movements and congestion in the countryside, where many drilling rigs will be located, and the noise and atmospheric pollution associated with this process (4)."

Despite the large financial incentives, Driver predicts strong opposition to the expansion of gas exploration and extraction in Kent. "In East Kent, exploration company Coastal Oil and Gas Ltd was recently forced, by overwhelming public opposition, to withdraw three planning applications for exploratory drilling at Guston, Shepherdswell and Tilmanstone (5). Planning authority Kent County Council was inundated by hundreds of objections from local residents and all four Parish Councils covering the proposed drilling sites voted to oppose the plans.

"I expect to see many more examples of people power and community opposition developing across Kent and the rest of south-east England as the new licences are sold and planning applications to drill are submitted. Whatever the Government might say, and no matter how much they try to bribe local communities, most people don't want their villages and towns disrupted and devastated by fracking, or the security of their water supplies put at risk. It's too high a price to pay.

"The Green Party is the only national political party to oppose the extraction of shale and coal bed methane gas and the use of fracking processes. We will work with local communities across Kent to fight plans for drilling for gas."

Kent Greens Councillors for Sale at 99.99
Thu, 16 Jan 2014
During a week in which a poll revealed 46% of voters believe MPs are "on the take" (1), the Kent Green Party has accused the county's councillors of "pimping out their services and influence for 99.99 a go".

This hard-hitting allegation follows the adoption, by KCC, the 12 District and many of the county's 315 Town and Parish Councils, of the so-called Kent Code of Conduct for Members (2).

The Code, which replaces rules set by the now defunct Standards Board for England, regulates the ethical behaviour of most of Kent's 2,500(3) plus councillors. Amongst other things, it allows them to accept gifts and hospitality up to the value of 100 without any need to make a declaration (4). This is a 400% increase on the Standards Board for England previous declaration limit of 25 for gifts and hospitality.

Green Party Councillor, Ian Driver, who voted against Thanet Council's decision to adopt the controversial gifts and hospitality rules said: "It's morally wrong for County, District, Town or Parish Councillors to accept any form of payment or gift from constituents, businesses, lobbyists, or any other organisation. Permitting councillors to accept treats of up to 99.99 without any declaration sends out all the wrong messages. It's like saying that Kent's Councillors are free to pimp out their services and influence for 99.99 a go without anyone finding out. This ill-conceived Code is a charter for corruption which reinforces the impression that politicians have their snouts in the trough. It brings local government into serious disrepute."

Driver's views  are supported by the world's leading anti-corruption organisation, Transparency International, which in a recent report entitled "Corruption in UK Local Government: The Mounting Risks" said that ". . . without transparency about gifts and hospitality, there can be no serious scrutiny of an important channel through which individuals or interest groups might seek to corruptly influence members (5)."

Said Driver "I call on the County, District, Town and Parish Councils to review their Codes of Conduct and introduce changes which prohibit councillors from receiving any gifts or hospitality from constituents, lobbyists or any other organisations. I encourage the people of Kent to lobby their Councillors to put an end to this charter for corruption."