Off the Record
Behind the scenes at County Hall with political editor Paul Francis, Regional Press Awards UK’s weekly newspaper journalist of the year
• If you can hear the sound of car gears crashing around County Hall, it is probably connected to the latest policy U-turn. After a reversal on plans to axe the number of community wardens comes the news that the great streetlight switch-off is to be scrapped. When it was first introduced, Kent County Council (KCC) said a pilot scheme would run for a year and then be reviewed. But the Conservative administration has clearly got the jitters and decided to abandon it without bothering with a full review. Instead, we are told the council will phase out the switch-off as it replaces all its streetlights with LED lights — which according to KCC cabinet member for roads, David Brazier, will cost £40 million but ultimately save cash. The odd thing about this decision is that when KCC first announced it intended to replace the bulbs In its 120,000 streetlights, there was no mention that it could be an alternative to the night-time switch off. But plunging roads and estates into darkness has gone down badly in many communities and there have been claims it has led to increased crime rates. When opposition parties at KCC called for an end to the scheme last September, they were told by the Conservative Mr Brazier that “most rational people know there is nothing to tear”. The only fear that seems to matter at KCC is the fear it will cost them votes at the forthcoming election.
• Meanwhile, there is news of another U-turn. Or at least a partial U-turn on another U-turn. This relates to the decision of the county council to reconsider whether there should be a ‘super-sized’ lorry park to deal with Operation Stack. The county council had scrapped its original idea for one off the M20 at Aldington, near Ashford, for 3,000 HGVs, on cost and environmental grounds. Instead, it said it would focus on developing a series of smaller parks which would be open round-the-clock. But it was bounced into confirming it was revisiting the idea of a larger park after Shepway council helpfully revealed its latest plan on KCC’s behalf. And not because it considered the scheme for a site at Westenhanger, Folkestone, a good idea. Council leader David Monk hurriedly issued a press release which labelled it bonkers and an insult to the people of Shepway. KCC had hoped to make the announcement itself to coincide with the news it was to get £3m from the government to examine options to deal with Operation Stack.
Oh well, the best laid plans in politics often go awry.
• It is not always easy being a politician. KCC leader Paul Carter has come in for a lot of grief over his support for the redevelopment of Manston Airport in Thanet as a business park. Supporters of the airport have cast him as the pantomime villain. When he turned up at Westminster this week to appear before MPs on the Transport Select Committee, he was greeted by protesters with a lengthy round of boos. A little harsh, perhaps. At least they didn’t resort to shouting “he’s behind you”.
Herne Bay Gazette, February 5th 2015