The demise of democracy

Somehow the Government have decided, contrary to the evidence, that  the planning system is holding up the building of new homes so, in the Queens speech, it was unveiled that the biggest shake up to the planning system since 1947 is on the cards.

The proposed reforms will make it more difficult for existing homeowners to block development. Planning designations will be given to wide swathes of the countryside giving “planning permission in principle”. This would be done at “plan stage” perhaps years before the houses are actually built and certainly in many cases against the wishes of local people.

It is the death of Localism, the birthplace of Neighbour Plans that put planning decision making into the hands of local people. Who better to guide the growth of communities whilst protecting the delicate balance of progress over nature?

Yet the promise was empty, the policies created at grass roots simply overthrown by the folks in Westminster.

To put it simply – whereas you currently have two opportunities to comment on planning proposals, once during the making of the Local Plan and then again as each application included in the Plan, and any that aren’t, come forward for consideration.  If this legislation goes through, you will only have one!

It started with a manifesto promise. “We will build 300,000 new homes a year” they said.

The problem is, “they” can’t actually force landowners and developers to build. The Guardian  reports a study by the Local Government Association (LGA)  that shows that there are over 1.1 million planning permissions for homes in the UK that have yet to be built. It’s not that difficult to guess why. Supply and demand; simple economic principles.

Most (if not all) developers have one aim – to make a profit. If they build all at once, they will flood the market and, with more homes available than buyers, yes you guessed it, the price will fall. So, a vicious circle of development is created.

Government says “There is a shortage of housing”, it then sets targets for councils to allocate more land for homes and grant planning permission. But developers hold back supply of new houses to keep the price high (land banking). The result: Not enough homes are built and we still have a shortage of housing.

We see the problem clearly. We have spoken to our MP about it and our concerns about the impact of the proposed changes to the planning system on democracy.  We hope that many of you will do the same.

Local elections 6th May 2021 – what they mean for Ashford

 As the leaflets start to flow through your letter boxes you will have noticed that it’s election time          ( again)….

In our area you will be voting to elect our representatives on Kent County Council.  Ashford Borough has 7 KCC Wards. You can see which one your home is in, in the map below.  

Candidates for each of the Ashford KCC Wards are now published on the Kent County Council website

From time to time Ashford Independents field candidates for KCC. This time though, we have decided that we need to concentrate our efforts  on our work in Ashford Borough Council. There is much to do as society slowly returns to ‘normal’ ( whatever that is now).  We will continue to voice your issues and concerns, to work to address the problems you bring to us and to help shape a community of which we can all be proud.  

When you talk to us about the areas that are covered by Kent County Council; the state of the roads    (we know!), schools and health service, we will work with whoever you elect.  We wish all  Ashford KCC candidates well.

Calling for fair play!

Yet another example of national parties stacking the odds against independent candidates is brewing…

The Government has confirmed that the Local Elections, postponed from 2020 will run on 6th May 2021. All good for democracy so far..

BUT the proposal is to run the elections without any door-to-dooor presence and even to fine any candidate or councillor who hand delivers leaflets! Independents ALWAYS hand deliver their leaflets and pride themselves on being active and visible in their communities. We have to because we do not have a slick donor-funded marketing machine behind us. What you see is what you get with an independent. We are not set up as a business,  do not have wealthy people queuing up to fund our campaigns; we are a group of volunteer individuals who are so committed to our communities that we cover our own costs! We pay for our own leaflet printing and deliver them by hand. We are on social media but will not be buying lists that contain your phone numbers. Clearly the odds are being stacked against us.

Obviously, safety is a prime concern at present. The Ashford Independents do not want to undermine current progress against COVID-19. Far from it. But the current pandemic should not be an excuse to undermine democracy either.  What we would like to see is the Government giving an equal and even opportunity to independent candidates in the upcoming Local Elections. In Ashford Borough this will include the Beaver Ward By-election, election of representatives for Kent County Council and the Police & Crime Commissioner.

If the elections go ahead with out leaflet hand delivery or door-knocking, then independents must be given consideration. The ‘Road-Map to Recovery’ that we await needs to include COVID-secure democracy! How can it be ok for a donor-sponsored leaflet to go through your door on behalf of a national party but an independent candidate hand delivering leaflet through the same door could be fined?

Cllr Heather Hayward Shortlisted for 2020 LGIU & CCLA Cllr Award

The LGIU and CCLA have just announced the shortlists for this 2020 Councillor Awards.

We are delighted to tell you that our colleague, Cllr Heather Hayward of Ashford Borough Council is among them! Heather has been shortlisted for the 2020 Cllr Awards for Community Champion

Cllr Heather Hayward, Roman Ward, Ashford

The Cllr Awards are the only national ceremony to celebrate the vital contributions of local councillors.  2020 marks the 11th year of showcasing the achievements of councillors across England, whose hard work often goes unrecognised. These Awards highlight what local councillors do for their communities.   Competition was extremely tight again this year with over 200 nominations received across the nine categories that celebrate the varied work of councillors. Some of the awards up for grabs include Covid-19 Hero and Collaborative Working (new for 2020) alongside the coveted Community Champion, Leader of the Year and Young Councillor of the Year awards. The full shortlist is included below. The winners will be decided by a panel of judges composed of senior councillors and officers as well as leading stakeholders from across the sector. Due to the ongoing health crisis, this year’s ceremony will take place virtually on Thursday 26th November with special speakers and guests.  This year’s awards are made possible thanks to the generous support of founding partners CCLAJonathan Carr-West, Chief Executive, LGIU said: “The Covid-19 pandemic has presented this country with a set of challenges that few could have predicted. However, councillors up and down the country have risen to these challenges and stepped up to plate for their communities. From delivering food parcels to vulnerable residents and sourcing PPE for frontline workers to finding temporary accommodation for the homeless, local government has kept the country safe and moving.  It is for this reason that we are particularly proud to unveil the shortlist for this year’s Cllr Awards. Their achievements showcase the best of local government at a time when the country faces one of the greatest hardships of our lifetime. We would like to congratulate all of those councillors shortlisted and look forward to revealing the winners on the 26th of November.”  ENDS

About LGIUThe Local Government Information Unit (LGIU) is a think tank and membership body with over 200 councils and other organisations subscribing to our networks. We work to strengthen local democracy and put citizens in control of their own lives, communities and local services. For more information, visit 

About CCLACCLA is a leading specialist fund manager for local authorities and charities. When they began sponsoring the Cllr Awards they had 22 local authority accounts. Today they have over 700 and this number is growing every month. They are owned by their clients – their mission is to serve the whole sector, regardless of size. 

About the Nominee An independent Ashford Borough Councillor since May 2019, Heather is a mum of four children and works full time as a Quality Director in a local manufacturing company.  She is passionate about making a difference to her local community and putting local people first. On seeing a fly tipped vacant piece of land in her ward last year, she approached the council and asked if she could turn it into a community garden. The Limes Community Garden charity was then formed and in just 9 months since clearing and securing the land, it’s become a thriving hub of community activity for all ages and backgrounds. 

About the Awards Category

Community Champion
Community involvement is essential to ensuring that the council takes the right decisions for its citizens. Effective councils will have many mechanisms to inform, consult and involve local people in the business of the council, and elected members are at the heart of this dialogue. The community champion of the year will have worked tirelessly to use their position within the council to bring residents’ voices into council decision-making, support their projects and ideas, and bridge diverse opinions within the community.

Deliver, Deliver, Deliver!

We visited Ashford MP, Rt. Hon Damian Green today to discuss our thoughts on the government planning White Paper ‘Planning for the Future’ and the more immediate changes proposed to the planning system.

Our message was simple;

  • Target the developers and management companies to meet the government housing targets. They land bank planning approvals but do not build . Do not blame local people. The Local Government Association ( LGA) estimates that there are one million unbuilt houses in the planning system that have been approved by councils but not delivered. We have many examples locally. If these were built, the housing targets could easily be met without the need to sacrifice more fields for housing.
The lack of delivery cycle….
  • The proposal to limit local input to the making of the Local Plan is undemocratic and unworkable; people care about development when it is imminent, next door and about to impact their lives. Local Plans are made many years in advance and people do not relate to them. Democracy is about freedom to express a view – not processes that limit local input to drive desired outcomes for developers.

Our message to Boris is therefore; the planning system is far from perfect but please put the pressure where it is needed; reform delivery, don’t punish local people. Legislate to ensure that once planning approval is given, developers have to commit to building out sites within a defined timescale.

The slogan should be Deliver, Deliver, Deliver! not Build, Build Build!

Councils are not the planning problem

The pressure on local councils to ‘Build, build, build…’ comes directly from government, is justified on the grounds of the ‘housing crisis’ and ‘driving the economy’ but is in direct conflict with most residents feelings as well as messages about the vital role of green spaces to human health and the environment.

Like many of our friends and neighbours, we are concerned that government strategy is misguided; far from delivering the ‘affordable’ homes that are needed, it is rapidly leaving whole sectors of society behind and turning the UK’s housing market into investment stock for the lucky few.

Corona virus has taken all planning committee meetings online leading many people to feel that their right to participate is being denied through their discomfort with technology. It has also dramatically changed the economy – so are those housing targets and definitions of housing need even relevant post-COVID? We recently wrote to our MP, Damian Green to ask this question:

Ashford cannot be accused of failing to build; the Council is delivering on the Local Plan 2030 that was published in February 2019 and is the template for the next ten years. Much of the development is on green fields, creating resident out-cry and building-site-chaos across almost every entrance to the Borough.

Writing in Saturday’s Telegraph, the Minister for Housing, Robert Jenrick, said the country’s “outdated and cumbersome planning system has contributed to a generational divide between those who own property and those who don’t”, stating that the slow planning system “has been a barrier to building homes which are affordable.”  But it is Government planning policy that defines the planning system. It gives councils the responsibility for ‘delivering’ houses by making a local plan that allocates land for building and by approving planning applications but fails to give councils any means of ensuring that developers actually BUILD once planning permission is granted.  And the planned planning reform focusses on how to allocate more sites not how to deliver more houses….

Government needs to be creative – delivery targets need to be included in planning permissions granted.  Any planning permission  expires and developers are required to demonstrate that they have STARTED to build – usually within 3 years.   Let’s change that!  Let’s mandate that, to retain planning permission on an allocated piece of land, the developer must have COMPLETED within 3 years. That would bring forward building and stop developers sitting on approved sites for years at a time, even selling them off at a profit because they have planning permission, without ever putting a spade in the ground.

Current planning process...

We need to make DELIVERY part of the planning process!

At present most developers do not start to build until they have sold a set number of properties off-plan; it is a commercial decision because they have 3 years to start building. But those construction jobs are needed NOW.  If we can deliver more houses, faster on the allocated sites with planning permission it will not be necessary to grant more and more approvals to keep the delivery trickle moving.  Conversely to how it sounds, it will protect our greenfield sites by making sure those allocated for building deliver the most value. This is allegedly what our government is looking for; houses that will drive the economy and increase the number of homes available.  They need to be built now not ‘start within 3 years’. Give us the tools we need Mr Jenrick!

Building a community through a garden…

On a scrap of land next to Belgic Court in The Limes development in Roman Ward, Cllr Heather Hayward is leading a transformation.

The land, at the corner of The Limes, Ashford, was a playground area. Five years ago, planning permission was granted to build 8 self-contained flats, with a condition that half of the site should become  allotment plots for local residents. The matter was passed to Stanhope Parish Council who advertised  to parishioners to apply for an allotment. Ten applicants were needed to make the site viable – their subscriptions were needed to cover the Parish Council’s maintenance costs. Just two people enquired….so for five years the plot has been left unattended; overgrown and increasingly a site for  fly-tipping, it was a local eye-sore.

The subject of this plot of land was raised by residents several times during the May Local Election campaign; people felt ‘cheated’ out of their promised community space and irritated by the scruffy site that remained as the allotments plan did not happen.

Cllr Heather Hayward suggested to  Stanhope Parish Council that, if individuals didn’t want the responsibility of an allotment, perhaps the community could come together to create and maintain a garden that could benefit young and old….

There are many examples of the benefits that community gardens can bring; a place to learn from others how to ‘Grow your Own’, a place to do things together, a pleasant place to sit but, most importantly, with a group fo volunteers the community can take ownership of a place and create something that they are proud to call ‘The Limes Community Garden’.

Heather has now set up a  charity to manage the project and the five trustees are busy working to create a garden from a wilderness. You can follow their progress at:

Kent Challenger Games 2019 – a sunny success for everyone.

The Kent Challenger Games on Friday 12 July brought together about 700 children from a wide range of schools to do something out of the ordinary.

Inspired by the Invictus Games, Councillor Winston Michael initiated the Kent Challenger Games in 2017 and intends to hold the next one in 2021. The idea is to use sport as both a healer and an enabler. Just like the returning military veterans, many of our young people can be damaged by the pressures of modern day life. The purpose of the Games is to bring about self-belief through fun activity that draws out inner strengths and illustrates the power of teamwork to show what is possible.

With the Ashford Sea and Royal Marines Cadets band and a combined schools choir of 140 children helping to create the occasion, and the Towers School Cheerleaders adding to the spectacle, teams of primary and secondary school children competed in the sunshine at the Julie Rose Stadium. The event was opened by Team GB runner Jack Green and Invictus Games gold medalist Kushal Limbu. British Olympic Association Chairman Sir Hugh Robertson was also in attendance and delighted to see schools encouraging children that may not normally participate in outdoor activities or get to represent their school, having a go and being encouraged by their peers.

Everyone enjoyed exploring the display tents of the Challenger Troop and Princess of Wales’s Royal Regiment the Tiger, who, as part of the project team, helped to plan and put on the Games together with the support of 50 volunteers.

  • Cllr Winston Michael with Team GB runner Jack Green & Invictus Games gold medallist Kushal Limbu
  • Towers School Cheerleaders

Cllr. Winston Michael said,”I thank everyone who helped make this a very special day, but, most importantly, I thank the children for giving us a day that leaves us all with a treasure trove of memories. Everyone is looking forward to the next Games in 2021. I am passionate about helping all our young people, regardless of their personal circumstances. I think that it can be tough growing up in this modern world. In the past life was a lot simpler and it was easier to realise your dreams. The Games anthem is One in Million, the children’s version, and that says it all – this event is my way of letting young people know that there are people around who care and are prepared to help.”

Downs North chooses Conservative…

After a short but intense campaign, the villages that comprise Downs North Ward, last week elected Charles Dehnel, Conservative, to be their Ashford Borough Councillor.

For the Ashford Independent team, and their candidate Rachael Carley, it was an extremely disappointing result  that perfectly illustrated the challenges of resource and person-power faced by independents. When a by-election is called every political group runs to fight for the seat; the difference between these opportunities and a local election being that there is the luxury of being able to focus on just the one Ward, rather than needing to be present across the Borough. Independents are exactly ‘what it says on the tin’; independent – so no national party back up for us, no Member of Parliament to wheel out to impress… Just us, wearing out our own shoes, printing our own leaflets and walking the talk around the Ward.

After the May Local elections, several media articles noted the rise in independent Councillors that were elected. Some questioned whether the independent trend could change anything in local politics. The answer is a resounding YES WE CAN! Since May 3rd, with a reduced Conservative majority, Ashford Borough Council must debate more openly and fairly because residents have elected a more even spread of differing thinking into the Council. Difference drives debate – and that is good for democracy. Whilst we may not win the argument – a point well made will drive the final resulting compromise. Our focus is always on what our residents would think. We experience the issues and we hear and see how people in our Wards feel about them – speaking up in Council when the opportunity arises and working on the various decision making Committees. We are a big enough group now that we are present in them all.

So it was frustrating to be unsuccessful in the recent by-election – but we have plenty to keep us busy – until the next opportunity!

Vote Ashford Independent for Downs North on Thursday 18th July

Our candidate for the Downs North by-election on 18th July, is Rachael Carley. The Downs North ward is made up of the villages of Chilham, Godmersham, Old Wives Lees, Molash, Bilting and Crundale. If voted in, Rachael will join the Ashford Independent team of 11 Councillors, strengthening the main opposition group in Ashford Borough Council.

Being an active volunteer for Sustrans – the charity that created and maintains the National Cycle Network – and a keen cyclist , Rachael knows the area around the whole of the Downs North very well. She is also the founder of ‘Wye Active’ – an organisation that aims to improve facilities for walking and cycling within a five mile radius of Wye – including a proposed traffic free route between Conningbrook Lakes and Godmersham. A dynamic mother of two teenagers, who firmly believes in community and the need for a more open, honest approach to local politics, Rachael will bring a wide experience and much energy and drive to benefit the people of Downs North.

Photo: Rachael Carley ( left) together with Kathryn Ovenden, who ran in the Chilham Chase last Saturday, 6th July – the oldest recorded charity fundraising fun run that takes place in the grounds of Chilham Castle.