The meeting was held remotely using Zoom software.

The Chairman welcomed everyone to the meeting.

PRESENT: Cllr. Fletcher (Chairman), Cllrs. Beck, Bunyan, Fairweather, Fermor, Gilbert, Hartley, Hatcher, Kings, Meewezen, Pethurst and Warne. Borough and County Councillor Seán Holden.

Declaration of Interests, Dispensations and Predetermination:

Members are required to declare any interests, dispensations or predetermination on items on this agenda in accordance with the Council’s Code of Conduct. Members are reminded that changes to the Register of Interests should be notified to the Clerk. He notified those present that the meeting was being recorded as a Clerk’s aid.

APOLOGIES:  Cllrs. Hall, Smith and Waters. Borough Councillor Dawlings.

64/20:  Minutes of the Previous Meeting:

The Chairman, Cllr. Fletcher proposed that the Minutes of the Meeting held on the 13th August be adopted as a true record.  This was seconded by Cllr. Gilbert and agreed.

65/20: Visit from Stephen Baughen – TWBC Head of Planning

Mr Baughen thanked the Council for the invitation to attend and for the opportunity to update Members on the timescales of the Local Plan and on “Changes to the Current Planning System” and “Planning for the Future” (White Paper).

He explained the four main proposals being considered as changes to the Current Planning System and advised the consultation closes on 1st October.

He went on to explain what is being considered in the government’s White Paper on “Planning for the Future”. There are wholescale changes to all aspects of the planning system, which will require primary and secondary legislation. Development Management policies will be set nationally not locally. Local Plans will focus on sites/areas and on design codes. It removes the need for a formal Duty to Co-operate.

Local Plans will cover three broad areas:

Growth, Renewal (suitable for some development) and Protected, where development is restricted such as in the AONB, greenbelt and flood areas. The White Paper sets out that Local Plans must be produced within 30 months although this is extended to 42 months if a Local Plan has been submitted or adopted in the last three years. There is an expectation that all Local Planning Authorities will have a new Local Plan by May 2024 and that engagement will be the key.

At the moment TWBC operates on S106 as the developer levy, however the White Paper abolishes both the S106 and CIL, replacing it with a flat rate Infrastructure Levy which will be collectable on occupation rather than delivery. Local authorities will have to borrow against funding secured to deliver infrastructure earlier. It was not known how this would work with Borough and County Councils. A slice of the Infrastructure Levy will be used to fund planning policy departments. The Paper puts new focus on design and sustainability with a likely increased delegation to officers. Standardised conditions will be set nationally. Refunds on planning fees will be applicable if applications are not determined in time or are allowed at the appeal stage. The five-year Housing Land Supply test will be removed but a delivery test looking at the rate of delivery over a rolling three-year period will be implemented.  It states there will be a strengthening of enforcement but it is not made clear how this will be done.

Mr Baughen explained how a proposed alteration in the method of assessing housing need would affect the figures for the Borough of Tunbridge Wells. He was hopeful they would be able to use the current method with a lesser figure as the Borough are on course to publish the Regulation 19 plan within three months. He concluded by stating there were some positives in the White Paper but there were also huge concerns shared by both members and officers across the County. He invited questions from Members.

Cllr. Bunyan raised concern that the rise in the threshold of affordable housing would mean that much less affordable housing would be provided.

Mr Baughen acknowledged the concern and will be looking back at previous development to inform the government of the severe implications this will have on the Borough.

Cllr. Warne felt that the government’s view that the current planning system gets in the way of applications being passed is simply not true and they are missing an opportunity to take a more positive approach to planning. She was most concerned at the impact this will have on local democracy, as the only chance we will get to have our say will be during the creation of the Local Plan.

Kent County Councillor Holden felt the White Paper facilitated the removal of democratic control over planning at every level. The algorithm the government is using is suspect, as the more you build the more you are allocated, which will put more pressure on the South East. He felt the ‘permission in principle’ was nothing short of a developer’s charter and that land in the North and in the Midlands is much cheaper and more is available, so development should not be crammed into the South Eastern corner of the Country, missing the opportunity to redistribute growth nationally.

Mr Baughen stated that the Chief Planners in Kent would be sharing the draft representations of their response to the White Paper.

The Chairman thanked Mr Baughen for the clarity of his presentation.

66/20: Responses to Government Consultations on Reforming the Planning System:

The Chairman and Cllr. Warne would be attending a KALC presentation the following day on the reforms discussed this evening and advised if anyone had any comments, they should email them to the Clerk so they can be incorporated into the response that will be sent to KALC.

67/20: Community Centre/Medical Centre:

Cllr. Gilbert advised a meeting had been held with the District Valuer and he approved the ‘open book’ principle that we had discussed. The Business Case remains a work in progress. Cllr. Meewezen and Jonathan White are working on it together. Jonathan White had previously written the Business Cases for both the Paddock Wood and Southborough Hubs.

Reports from Chair and Committees:

68/20: Chairman’s Report:

The Chairman advised the new Deputy Clerk was now in position and miraculously had stayed for nearly two weeks now! Lynn will be dropping her hours to twenty a week from the 1st October so it would be appreciated if Members could bear this in mind when making demands on the Clerk’s time.

The latest edition of Parish Cake was out, he congratulated everyone involved on an amazing job.

He has been talking to the Schools and asking how they are dealing post Covid. Cranbrook School teachers are out and about in the Town checking on their students.

69/20: Policy & Resources:

Cllr. Beck referred to the minutes of the meeting held on 8th September and invited questions. As none were raised, he proposed adoption of the minutes, this was seconded by Cllr. Bunyan and agreed.

70/20: Planning & Preservation Management:

In the absence of Cllr. Smith, Cllr. Bunyan referred to the minutes of the meeting held on the 1st September and invited questions. None were raised.

71/20: Properties and Burial Grounds:

Cllr. Gilbert advised the next meeting was scheduled for 27th October. He reported that the Vestry Hall had reopened as a Covid secure venue. Feedback from hirers has been good.

72/20: Environmental Management:

Cllr. Fairweather advised the next meeting was scheduled for the 22nd September. He reported that new dog waste bag dispensers had been installed at two of the Ball Field entrances following approval at the last meeting.

73/20: Neighbourhood Development Plan:

Cllr. Warne gave a precis of the meeting held 24th August. She reported that it had been confirmed by TWBC that a Sustainability Environmental Assessment was not necessary. She invited questions. As none were raised, she proposed adoption of the minutes, this was seconded by Cllr. Pethurst and agreed.

74/20: Delegated Reports:

The Chairman read out the following reports from our representative Graham Holmes:

Cranbrook Tourism Group:

The Group are exploring the possibility of a meeting, subject to any new Government restrictions, to discuss a proposal by Stuart Cleary to produce an information brochure highlighting the Town and wider activities including walking, cycling and places of interest. The Chairman has seen a draft and thought it was extremely impressive. A £1,000 grant had been received from TWBC for the project.

Cranbrook Museum is to remain closed for the remainder of this year.

Hop Pickers Line Heritage Group:

The Group are unaware of any further developments regarding the proposed landfill at Hall Wood Farm road bridge and cutting.

Transport Accessibility Group:

There is still no sign that the Group is ready to restart.

75/20: Clerk’s Report:

The Clerk had no items that required reporting

76/20: PCSO’s Report:

Unfortunately, the PCSO was unable to attend the meeting because the Kent Police IT system was not compatible with Zoom. The Chairman had a meeting with PCSO Simon Humphrey’s who had indicated he was going to try and improve youth provision in the area. The latest Rural Newsletter, had been circulated to all Members.

77/20: Correspondence:

There was no correspondence which required reporting.

78/20: Reports from County and Borough Councillors:

a) In the absence of Cllr. Dawlings, the Chairman read out his report:

A meeting with Cllr. Fletcher and David Candlin had been scheduled to discuss the Carriers Road parking area.

Weald Sports Centre – This re-opened in a Covid-secure limited way on 2nd September and the pool on the 4th. This had followed several weeks of negotiation with Fusion. TWBC had now agreed to make a financial contribution to them as operators.  Closed centres generate no income for the centre management companies, some local authorities have provided financial assistance to their Leisure Centre providers (TWBC have not) because these companies do not have significant reserves and there was no Government assistance for this sector.  Negotiations have been over the level of support that Fusion needed, to be in a position to re-open.  TWBC is in contract with Fusion until April 2022 and we have effectively agreed to underwrite the monthly performance of all 3 centres in the Borough until the end of March.  There are lots of different views on this matter. His view is very simple, if we had not eventually agreed a financial settlement with Fusion, the Weald Sports Centre would have remained closed for many more months, in which time no doubt the facility would deteriorate and the 13,000 users each month would have been deprived of an important facility.  The next eighteen months until the end of the Fusion contract will be used to look at all options for managing the Leisure Centres, including setting up an in-house management operation.

Planning – There is growing concern about the White Paper ‘Planning for the Future’ and Kent MPs have met this to consider how to oppose the plans.  The plan includes an increase in the Objectively Assessed Housing Need for TWBC, to about nine hundred from about seven hundred dwellings a year.  This can be avoided by ensuring that the emerging Local Plan is prepared to the timetable TWBC is working to.  So, as well arguing against the proposals, TWBC will ensure there is no slippage in the production of the Local Plan.

The Assembly Hall Theatre is due to reopen on 17th September

b) Cllr. Holden clarified that the grant to Fusion for the Sports Centres would be paid on a monthly basis.

In reference to Kent County Council, a Full Council meeting had been held that day and a revised budget had been presented. This was because the net revenue budget requirement for this year had been amended from £1.63b to £1.99b. This amendment will help the move towards a balanced budget this year. There has been extra pressure on the finances because of the increased number of underage asylum seekers the Council has had to take on and the length of time they are responsible for them. They are now unable to take any more, which is a breach in their legal obligation. Roger Gough, the Leader of the Council had to appear before the Home Affairs Select Committee yesterday to explain why they were in this position. Cllr. Holden felt it should be made mandatory for other Councils to take on some of the burden.

He also felt that all councils in Kent including parish councils should join together with all councils in Southern England to object to the White Paper on ‘Planning for the Future’.

c) Cllr. Fairweather reported that two changing cubicles had now opened at the Sports Centre. Previously swimmers had been expected to come changed or get changed pool side.

Borough Councillors were given a report from the new Detective Chief Inspector covering the Tunbridge Wells area stating that a task force of six PCSO’s would target problem areas in the Borough and it was hoped they would be based at Cranbrook Police Station.

He was pleased to report that a spate of fly-tipping in Sissinghurst was removed within three days of being reported, which was testament to the good service from the refuse team at the Borough.

He also reported that two weeks ago he had spoken at the Planning Committee to support officer’s recommendation to refuse the development at Mill Lane, on grounds of highway safety.

d) Cllr. Warne reported that she had attending a planning meeting yesterday, there were two local applications being considered. One a hybrid application, which included thirteen market houses and twelve almshouses in Benenden, which was approved unanimously. The second was for two chicken sheds at Knoxbridge, which she had voted against, for reasons of animal welfare and also because the site is close to an Anglo-Saxon monument.

She also reported that the Planning Policy Working Group were working through the revisions of the Local Plan and she was keeping a close eye on this area.

79/20: Items for Information:

a) Cllr. Fermor thanked everyone that had provided copy for the latest edition of Parish Cake.

b) Cllr. Bunyan enquired if there had been any update on the accident at Waterloo Road j/w Angley Road. Cllr. Holden advised the highways safety team were looking at the incident.

c) Cllr. Kings enquired if there was any update on the Bedgebury Forest/Park Lane parking issue as several concrete bollards appear to have been installed. Cllr. Fletcher offered to look into it.

d) Cllr. Hatcher asked about the feature in Parish Cake regarding the appointment of a new Mayor. The Chairman confirmed it was an honorary position, the appointee being chosen by the Tourism Group, the Parish Council had not had any involvement.

e) Cllr. Hatcher also asked the reason the grant application to the Farmer’s Market had been refused and was advised the Committee had decided that as the applicant was a commercial business, not to award the grant.

The meeting was closed.

A member of the public asked if any further consideration had been given to the provision of public toilets in Cranbrook. The Chairman advised toilets would be included in the design of the new Community Centre.

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