It seems that we have been a little ahead of the game…
The political climate nationally is changing rapidly! Being Independent is the new trend!
Whilst there are different drivers locally from nationally, the root cause is the same; dissatisfaction with the party machine and wishing to have a voice that is not constantly over ruled by those with the power to drive conversations. It is a theme that we in Ashford share with the MPs in Westminster.
Ashford has had a Conservative dominated Council for many years now. It means that discussions within the Council are driven by Conservative Party Policy, and Conservative Councillors who might wish to challenge are able to be pushed into line by the Party Whip. The whip’s role has several responsibilities, including making sure that all party members attend and vote as a team when there is a division of views, as well as counting and recording the votes in a division to be sure of the result. If a Party Member defies the Whip – they can be disciplined by the Party, which can mean anything from being removed from Committees to being expelled from the Party.
The Independent Group in London have yet to declare whether they will install a traditional Party Constitution or have a Whip. The Ashford Independents do not have a Whip. It is the single factor that makes them very different from all other Ashford Borough Councillors. When the Ashford Independents formed we took the view that the most important thing for an elected Councillor to do was to use their vote in Council Chamber to reflect the views of our electorate. This freedom to speak has been graphically illustrated throughout the development of the Ashford Local Plan.
Planning is a particularly sensitive area. Everyone who lives in or around Ashford can see the scale and pace of change that our Borough is going through. Government Housing Policy has put building targets in place for every Local Council; each set to support the Government aim of building 300,000 new houses each year. Coupled with the Help to Buy Scheme, which only applies to new builds, house building is supporting our national economy.
Here in Ashford, we benefit from very good road and rail links as well as being located in The Garden of England, we have reasonable levels of employment and the Grammar School system – all factors that make us a very desirable location to live. Naturally developers want to build here – leading to Ashford accepting more than our fair share of the building burden as our Council plans to absorb large numbers of new residents into the Borough. Redevelopment of brownfield sites can not accommodate the scale of growth, so there has been a scramble to secure land. All of the large developments in the Local Plan are on green field, agricultural land. At exhibitions of the intended applications to build, locals gather with saddened faces and raise concerns about increasing traffic on unimproved roads and lack of doctors’ and dental surgery spaces. But in a Conservative led Council that is working to support Government Policy, meet building targets and avoid developer pressure – having the right Plan in place is the priority, not listening to the frustration of current residents.
The growth of a national movement of Independents is good news. There are sincere people in politics and they are standing up now. It is a brave choice because being part of the National Party machine brings much greater opportunities and support for a career politician so there will be very personal implications for each individual.
Bravo we say and hope that you will agree with your votes in our Local Borough Election here in Ashford on 2nd May.