1. Mr Hill, Cabinet Member for Community and Regulatory Services, gave a verbal update on the following:
(a) The Country Parks Strategy Review was progressing with an informal Members group advising on the strategic direction. A public consultation would be launched in April 2022 with implementation of the strategy planned for September 2022. Mr Hill was pleased to report that eight of KCC’s country parks had been awarded green flags, one more than last year with the inclusion of Grove Ferry; accessibility for disabled visitors at Shorne Wood had been improved and the building of further accessible facilities was underway at Lullingstone; and £400,000 capital funding had been secured through the Covid Recovery Fund to rejuvenate country parks following the COVID-19 pandemic.
(b) The ‘Let’s talk about Kent Libraries’ public engagement was launched on 17 November 2021. On 29 October 2021 Pembury Library reopened after a refurbishment and on 11 November 2021 ‘One Hundred Years of Kent Libraries’ was celebrated. A new fleet of 5 smaller, more agile and greener mobile libraries had been in use for the last two months and on 7 October 2021 Mr Hill attended the opening of the Nepalese Centre at Cheriton Library.
2. Asked whether there would be any further cuts for libraries and the use of libraries for multiple purposes, Mr Hill said libraries would form part of the future assets of the Council and in some individual cases more services and facilities would be offered in library buildings, for example at Southborough Library.
3. Mr Murphy, Cabinet Member for Economic Development, gave a verbal update on the following, about which there were no questions:
(a) Eight Kent business leaders had been recognised by the Department of National Trade Export Champions and would help companies and aspiring directors to increase trade abroad.
(b) Panattoni had signed a multi-million pound deal with Tonbridge and Malling Borough Council and Kent County Council, which finalised planning permission to build high quality warehousing distribution space in Aylesford. Panattoni would also fund the construction of a £7million road link as well as environmental improvements and public rights of way.
(c) The East Kent coast had been named one of the fourth best regions in the world to visit by Lonely Planet and Mr Murphy recognised the work of the Council’s partner, Visit Kent, in achieving this.
(d) The Taste of Kent Awards 2022 was officially launched at Bluewater shopping centre in November, hosted by KCC’s partner Produced in Kent.
(e) Discussions were taking place with Essex County Council regarding the No Use Empty Scheme and how the Council could run the scheme on their behalf for a fee.
(f) The Inland Border Facility lease for Dover District Council had been signed off and the Council was working closely with Dover Harbour Board regarding the Entry/Exit System (EES) to alleviate delays at the docks.
4. Mr Jones, the Corporate Director, Growth Environment and Transport, then gave a verbal update on the following:
(a) Work was taking place with partners at the ports regarding potential disruption caused by fuel shortage and supply issues. The Public Protection Service and Trading Standards Team had been working closely with government to understand the scale of impact of further custom changes.
(b) Mr Jones was pleased to report that 30 bids had been submitted through the Community Renewal Fund and 11 bids had been successful in securing approximately £30million. 8 of the schemes, amounting to approximately £7million, related to employability and skills development. Mr Jones said significant success was in Ashford which would bring a significant economic boost to the area.
(c) Mr Jones said Miss Carey, Cabinet Member for Environment, had been pushing forward a planned tree proposal, addressing both rural and urban areas. Reinvigorating the urban land scape was a key part of work going forward and would be part of the Environmental Strategy and the Biodiversity Strategy.
(d) Finally, Mr Jones advised that during November, the Environment Act 2021 had achieved royal ascent which would help in the pursuit of climate change, biodiversity issues and the green agenda across Kent.
5. It was RESOLVED that the verbal updates be noted, and Members agreed to receive a report at a future meeting on an overview of funding packages (Shared Prosperity Fund, Levelling Up Fund, Green Fund) to include the totality of funds, their objectives and how they could be utilised and monitored by the Council.