Monday, 10 January 2011

Bring Housing Back into Use Ashford!

It's time to stop crying out about council housing lists and start lobbying Ashford Borough Council to bring empty homes up to standard.

In recent weeks, I have been contacted by a number of residents in Ashford complaining of overcrowding in Council Accommodation. One woman, a widow of a Gurkha Veteran, resides with her two children in a house with 8 other people.This is a four bedroom house.

I know a couple in a neighbouring ward who live in a one bed flat with their child who is over a year old.

Yet opposite me, there is a two bedroom house which stands empty and has done for the three years I have resided here.

Ashford Borough Council consider that housing is overcrowded if there are children present over the age of 1 year without a bedroom.

Yet these people are living in overcrowded conditions due to insufficient housing resources in Ashford. This is in spite of Ashford having a large portfolio of 5000 homes. Unfortunately, the large borough indicates they also have around 2 years of waiting lists for accommodations.

Yet figures from government's Communities and Local Government Department show Ashford has 1160 properties which are empty because of disrepair.

This is unbelievable when we have a huge population of 112,000. In light of job cuts and austerity measures, it is now more important than ever to get these 1160 properties up to scratch for those in dire housing.

I welcome Communities Minister Andrew Stunell's news showing more money is now available for bringing these properties into use again.

Ashford Borough Council can no longer claim financial hardship as an excuse for poor housing maintenance and to justify empty properties around the borough.

Wednesday, 5 January 2011

Lorry Park Protest Success for LPA

The Lorry Park Alliance must be delighted with the response to funding a potential Lorry Park at junctiom 10 of the M20 at Aldington.

Kent Online reports that Ministers rejected a bid to fund the project from the Sustainable Community Fund, due to the likely rising costs of the project.

The Campaign Group formed specifically to protest against the building of a 70 acre site to house lorries during increasingly frequent bouts of Operation Stack. The campaign attracted many high profile supporters, including Campaign to Protect Rural England and Ashford Liberal Democrats Parliamentary Spokesperson Chris Took.

Inspite of the negative response to the proposals, Kent County Council have been determined to push the development of the park through, still inviting signatures on their website now.

However, KCC have lost their battle to have the Government foot the bill for their proposal, unless they fund it themselves.

However, with the implementation of the Localism Bill, a new form of public consultation could significantly marr KCC's plans to build the park themselves, if they could afford to undertake the project.

But there is still the necessity to reduce the misery that Operation Stack causes on Kent's Motorways. As residents of Ashford are well aware, every time the Police cordon off the M20, the surrounding A roads become stodged with traffic, having a significantly negative effect on the roads and the county as a whole.

The M2, not designed to bear the weight of traffic with only two lanes, usually comes to a grinding halt and the usual gridlock of rush hour is extended at every turn.

Any suggestions that would not impact on the environment, but allow the county to be relatively unscathed, would be greatly appreciated!

Monday, 3 January 2011

Open Letter: Political Quote of the Year

Dear Sirs,

The Kentish Express (30th December 2010) provides a political review of the year, but they appear to leave out a significant quote from Ashford Borough Council. Paul Carter had the temerity to call Ashford's rating as the worst council in the country for recycling “a good thing”.

We are in an age where our carbon foot prints are growing, the damage to the environment is striking, and every school child is educated on fuel conservation, yet Ashford's current administration consider recycling to be a non-essential part of borough services, and that, when rated the most abysmal council in the country, respond with smirks and a lack of seriousness.

I would like to see a stronger commitment to recycling services in the future, especially as this is the second time Ashford Borough Council have let us down; first by opting out of the free recycling service that Shepway and Canterbury use, and now through failing to reassure residents recycling and rubbish collection is a priority.

Kind regards,

Kelly-Marie Blundell

The Cost of Church Protest

Campaigning Campanologist Chris Cooper, I do adore that alliteration, is back in the press this Christmas with the results from a Freedom of Information Request on the cost of Church Protest.

The figure, an alarming £52,000 does make one wonder where our council tax goes in Ashford.

The majority of public bodies have their own legal department, as Ashford Borough Council do. Therefore the justification of an additional solicitor's annual salary is nothing short of bizarre.

The revelations of figures on the redevelopment alone are concerning. Working Lunches have been denounced by the central government as wastes of money in the face of austerity. However, those involved in the redevelopment need not show such parsimony, with £161 for a sandwich lunch. How many people did this feed, one asks?

The cost of cutting down a tree is an unfortunate addition to the figures at £1200 is a shocking introduction into the allegedly cost effective commissioning of outside agencies to conduct the work.

Of course, the bonus for councils in the commissioning of outside bodies, is those bodies are not covered by the Freedom of Information Act and such contracts cannot be scrutinised by the Public to ascertain cost effective and legitimate spending.

Let us hope that with a move towards Mutualism with the current national government, we will not see such squandering of resources in the future.

Ashford Borough Council Accountancy Errors 2010

Ashford Borough Council seems unable to clarify what they spent in 2010.

The Kentish Express reports that figures provided by Ashford Borough Council are extraordinarily inaccurate as to account for their spending.

Not only did they list £5,000 spent on Homoeopathy, but they miscalculated train fare expenses by a staggering £945,179.

I have to admit, it gives me little faith in accounting for where my council tax is going.

Considering the Council is looking to inherit some of the public health schemes from the dissolution of the Primary Care Trust, £5,000 on homoeopathy could be seen as a sweetener and forward thinking. Of course, if Homoeopathy was real health care and not just a placebo. But to discover that the Council's record keeping is so inaccurate as to misrepresent a landlord for a private health business is nothing short of shocking.

One has to wonder what else they may have misrepresented when listing incomings and outgoings.

The misrepresentation of travel expenses is far more concerning. By making such an error, Ashford Borough Council is insinuating that £960,000 is an acceptable amount to spend on trains for their staff.

That this money is, in fact, going towards the station forecourt is an interesting revelation. At Council Meetings in 2010, the Conservative Party refuted claims they would be able to have any input in the design and renovation of the station forecourt. Even when faced with breaches of Hackney Carriage Licence Law, breaches of the Equality Act and accessibility regulations, the leading party asserted they had no say in the matter.

So we can deduce they either (a) have willingly given £945,179 to South Eastern as a gift and not a contract, thereby the council have no say, (b) they do not consider that the equivalent council tax for three wards in the borough is enough money to have a say in such a project they are co-funding, or, (c) they denied responsibility when it did in fact exist.

None of which are particularly positive reflection of the current administration.

Sunday, 2 January 2011

Is Ashford Truly the Definition of Middle Class?

Much fun has been had over the definition of "middle class" in recent politics and news.

Ed Milliband provided us with seven different definitions in one recent BBC Radio 4 interview.

But whether you see "middle class" as "the social class between the upper and lower classes" or whether you prefer to enter debate about blue collar versus white collar, The Telegraph has decided that Ashford is the pinnacle of middle class.

Naturally, this is in a negative context.

In Ashford we are being subjected to higher rail fares for 2011, at a shocking 12.8%, which accounts for much of the rise in outgoings for this fictional middle class family.

Therefore, the article cannot be used to generalise the affect on every family of four in the UK living on £50,000 per year.

But, as ever, The Telegraph doesn't let that get in the way of a good headline, as this article demonstrates.

Further to this, the article quite abhorrently mixes theories to scaremonger, citing that the fictional family would see an increase of £562.

Given that house price averages in Kent in 2010 were £226,778 for a semi detached, it is hard to imagine where our fictional middle class family of four would reside for £150,000.

However you look at it, Ashford residents will suffer as the cuts bite next year.

Sunday, 21 November 2010

Police Warnings for Ashford in The Herald

The Ashford Herald, 18th November 2010, contains many warnings to the public this Christmas.

Bizarre Thefts

A nurse seemingly suffered a strange theft attempt in Willesborough, where two women approached her in tears, claiming their mother had died. They then put costume jewellery around her neck and by sleight of hand removed her own 22ct gold necklace. When she pushed them away,and went to call the police, the women threw her necklace at her.

This is clearly an odd case of attempted theft, but it would be advisable to be on your guard when comforting unknown women in the street?

Christmas Crimes

We should all raise our awareness at christmas, when expensive items are generally purchased and carried around.

Kent Police are drawing attention to the risks of putting shopping bags on view in the rears of your cars, in case it leads to theft.

Also, be aware of what boxes you put outside your house for the bin men to collect. There is no point in needlessly advertising your new telly, camera and stereo to the whole neighbourhood.

Please also ensure your sheds and garages are locked, as the spate of thefts accross Ashford show no sign of stopping.

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