Manifesto – 2023 Gravesham Borough Council Elections
Gravesham Labour Manifesto 2023-2027
Delivering a Better Future for Gravesham
Manifesto for the 2023 Gravesham Borough Council Election
Introduction by Cllr John Burden – Labour Leader of the Council
I am pleased to present our Gravesham Labour Manifesto for the 2023 Gravesham Borough Council elections. During the last four years your Labour Gravesham Borough Council has achieved many of its previous manifesto commitments despite two years during that period dealing with the Covid pandemic.
We have improved the cleanliness of our town bringing in new equipment and personnel, beyond that we maintained a well-managed council budget enabling us to build new affordable housing, start the redevelopment of our town centre and start the implementation of a new leisure centre at Cascades.
Our commitment and ability to deliver on our previous manifesto is extremely important as it shows that this new manifesto for the next four years is not only a plan but a promise to deliver for you in Gravesham.
This manifesto has been created by listening to local residents be it through the regular engagement with residents via our street-by-street door knocking or through residents contacting us in a variety of ways over the last term. We are a listening party, and these manifesto commitments are your priorities.
Within this manifesto document you will see a commitment to continue to deliver what we have already set out in the last four years but to build on these achievements putting you, the residents of Gravesham at the heart of what we plan.
In delivering the next four years work we commit to working with you to ensure the things that are needed are delivered. If these are things not within Gravesham Borough Council’s direct remit i.e., highways, education, the NHS, or Policing then we commit to use all our contacts to campaign for and get delivered the infrastructure we need including doctors, dentists, jobs, leisure facilities and social and affordable housing for local residents.
I look forward to listening further as we develop our policies and strategies within the council and I look forward to working together, to deliver a better future for all of Gravesham.
Cllr John Burden
Leader of Gravesham Borough Council
Leader of the Labour Group
|In September 2020 we created a new Environmental Enforcement Team to tackle fly-tipping and litter issues. Since the creation of the team we have carried out more than 1,000 investigations, enforcement actions and prosecutions including a prison sentence for one offender compared with the previous Conservative and Independent Administration.
|Build more council and affordable housing
|We have done both by building new council housing in Singlewell, Westcourt, and Painters Ash some of which are suitable for those with additional needs. We have also started building The Charter in the heart of the town which will contain additional affordable housing and homes for local people as well as a public car park.
|Fleet Leisure/Bowaters to be restored and not sold off for housing
|This is now in the process of being built and pitches have been completed which will be for public and community use.
|Renew the leisure centres
|Cascades Leisure Centre has undergone extensive public consultation for the new centre and planning permission has been granted and we expect construction will start later this year on a purpose-built new centre. Cygnets will be looked at during the next council term working with partial site owners – Kent County Council – to see how our desire to update or renew this centre can be achieved. However, it is Gravesham Labour Party policy that Cygnets Leisure Centre will remain open as well.
|Invest in the arts
|We have opened an arts centre in St George’s Centre bringing this into the middle of our community. This has helped to increase footfall in the town centre and supports the local economy.
|Tackle Anti-Social Behaviour
|Working in partnership with the police this has been tackled stronger with our new enforcement team significantly increasing court prosecutions for fly-tipping for example.
|Oppose the Lower Thames Crossing
|We continue to oppose this environmentally damaging proposal blighting our town and rural areas.
|Declare a climate emergency
|Your Labour-led Gravesham Borough Council declared a climate emergency in June 2019 and has since started the process of electrification of our vehicle fleet and introduced energy-saving measures to our council and residential buildings.
|Renew the parks and play equipment
|More than 20 play sites have been upgraded or renewed in the last four years.
We are pleased to have been able to deliver many of these despite ongoing cuts and austerity from the Conservative Government and the Tory economic crisis. Since 2010 Gravesham Borough Council has seen funding from central government decrease to virtually zero. Since 2010 these cuts have resulted in a loss to Gravesham Borough Council’s budget of £9 million and despite the Covid-19 pandemic and the difficult financial environment caused by the Conservative Government we have still delivered the services you and your families deserve and have delivered on our promise to build a Gravesham to be proud of.
Policy Objectives and Manifesto Commitments
Since the last election we have spent time on the doorsteps listening to residents about the issues that affect you. These conversations have led to the creation of this Manifesto and the policy objectives and Manifesto commitments below. Some of the issues about which residents have spoken with us on the doorstep or through other methods are not in the gift of Gravesham Borough Council and remain with Parish Councils, Kent County Council, or HM Government. Therefore, this Manifesto deals in the main with those issues that Gravesham Labour and Gravesham Borough Council can affect. Council Tax in Gravesham remains one of the lowest in Kent with Conservative Controlled Kent County Council taking 73% of your Council Tax bill. Gravesham Borough Council retains just 11% of your total Council Tax bill. 58% of all properties in Gravesham are Bands A-C and therefore pay less than the Band D tax rate.
Our hope is that with a future Labour Government, our poorly-funded public services will see the change they need to ensure that a Labour council in Gravesham can deliver on the needs of the residents of the Borough.
Jobs, Businesses, and the Local Economy
While many of the levers that help jobs, businesses, and the local economy, such as rents and businesses rates, are in Government, or private sector hands, a Gravesham Labour Administration at Gravesham Borough Council would seek to:
• Create local jobs for local residents.
• Develop opportunities for local people to learn new skills and encouraging companies to locate and invest in Gravesham with new and high-paid jobs.
• Support the setup of new businesses and support new and emerging industries.
• Continue to work with all government and private agencies to bring regeneration to the Borough, to bring new homes and jobs for local people.
• Look for opportunities to promote our Borough, creating the environment to help existing employers to grow and develop and attract to the area new employers.
• Continue towards Gravesham being a Real Living Wage Town (Fair Pay, for a Fair Day’s Work) we will achieve this by working closely with our suppliers, employers, and unions.
• Campaign on a reform to Business Rates (which are decided by central Government) so that our high streets can compete with online retailers.
• Maintain and build on our successful Business Network supporting businesses in our communities.
• Develop further our own companies bringing new job opportunities and affordable housing to our residents as well as creating income that goes back into protecting our services for the residents of Gravesham.
Listening to local people on the doorstep Gravesham Labour knows that the cost-of-living crisis is at the heart of people’s concerns at the moment. That is why Gravesham Labour is looking to help with the following:
• Helping people with their bills.
• Target funding and support to those most in need.
• Seek additional Government funding for current and additional services to help those who need it.
A Financially Sound and Secure Council
We have had nearly 13 years of Conservative austerity and still your Labour-led Gravesham Borough Council has been able to not only take difficult decisions but maintain many of the most important services on which residents rely. To ensure we maintain a financially sound and secure council we will look to:
• Continuing, as a council, to be members of and promote the National Joint Council for Local Government Services National Agreement on Pay and Conditions of Service, (commonly known as the ‘Green Book’ amongst existing and new employees of the council), or any of the council owned, operational companies which it establishes to provide services.
• Building on current successes since Gravesham Labour were elected in 2019, we shall look at further ways the council can lead in providing more apprenticeships in council departments and the suppliers working with the council who provide services to it.
• Meeting the challenges that continuing Government austerity presents and seek to maintain services while ensuring that the council is financially secure, with a balanced budget, so it can continue to deliver public services.
• Continuing to lobby and challenge Government directly and through the Local Government Association and other bodies and networks for the full funding of local government services and duties as well as seeking any additional powers and resources to help deliver our services i.e. Environmental Enforcement.
• Seek and implement ways of increasing income to the council, such as through commercial or property means as a way of preserving services.
Environment and Climate
At the first full council meeting of the last term your Gravesham Labour-led Council declared a climate emergency. Since then, we have led on a range of initiatives such as electric vans, electric charging points in many of our car parks, energy efficiency measures to many of our council properties and reduced waste in the borough to ensure that we are carbon neutral by 2030. In addition to this we shall look to:
• Seek government funding to ensure that all our council homes are retrofitted to meet the requirement for carbon neutrality.
• We shall continue to oppose the Lower Thames Crossing as Gravesham Labour has consistently done. Unlike the Conservative Government and the Conservative Kent County Council who support this. If it cannot be stopped then Gravesham Labour will work to ensure the residents of Gravesham are protected from its negative effects, with the local environment being protected.
• Seek to replace our outdated carbon emitting buildings such as the Civic Centre and the leisure centre with new buildings that deliver new and enhanced services, such as a new theatre and cinema, meeting environmental requirements, and which can provide a range of co-located services to the community.
• Continue our tree and planting programme and seek to enhance and add to our green spaces in the borough particularly in the urban areas.
• Work towards ensuring our vehicle stock becomes electric or hydrogen powered by 2030.
• Increase the stock of vehicle charging points on council land and car parks.
• Work with partners including the government and Kent County Council who manage Highways to look at improving the highway charging point infrastructure.
Litter and Street Cleaning
Gravesham Labour takes pride in our borough and since forming the Administration in 2019 we have invested in our street cleansing services and enforcement initiatives to deal with those who show no respect for the place where we all live. We know that littering and street cleaning are huge issues for the vast majority of residents who abide by the law with regard to our streets. We will seek to further build on the improved measures we have introduced by:
• Continuing to support our street cleaning and improvement offer.
• Introducing a commercial private land clearing service including private alleyways.
• Introducing glass recycling to the borough, subject to Government policy and funding.
• Continuing to promote our successful Street Champions initiative.
• Maintaining our extensive network of street bins and collections.
• Continuing our long-standing commitment to keeping the staff in-house where possible including the staff at our Brookvale Depot, as this is more cost-effective and efficient. Our staff are important to us as they deliver key services to the residents of Gravesham.
Sports, Leisure and Health
Your Labour-led Council is on an exciting journey in meeting the last Manifesto commitment to enhance our Borough sports and leisure offer and has done so by starting the replacement of Cascades Leisure Centre. In addition to this we will:
• Start the process of investigating how we can further renew our Sports and Leisure Centre Offer and support, not just in Northfleet and the west of the Borough, but across all sections of both the Borough and the wider sports and leisure offer, once the new Cascades Leisure Centre is complete.
• Ensure that the leisure operator we commission delivers value for money and ensures facilities are accessible.
• Ensure that with phase one of the renewal of the former Fleet Leisure/Bowaters near completion (pitches and sports facilities) we will support the development of phase two (clubhouse), ensuring community use of both phases, while retaining the freehold of the land in Council hands.
• Continue and enhance our long-term Sports, Leisure and Active Recreation Strategy where we shall support local voluntary community sports and leisure clubs to access the support they need including promoting their work and applying for funding either through internal grants or external sources.
• Ensure there is clarity and communication that Gravesham Labour policy is to keep the current facility at Cascades open whilst the new leisure is being built. It is also Gravesham Labour policy that Cygnets Leisure Centre will remain open even once the new facility has been built.
• Gravesham Labour policy is that there should be two municipal leisure centres within the Borough.
• Play our full part in the local and wider NHS boards including the new NHS Integrated Care Partnership and local Health and Care Partnership including holding services to account for local health provision and ensuring that there is the relevant health infrastructure. This should be funded by the NHS, for residents and should include services such as GPs, pharmacy, and hospital provision. We note despite the Council having no direct legal or statutory responsibility for the National Health Service or Social Care, we do have a role in helping solve in the wider determinants of health.
• Enhance our public health provision through partners such as the Grand.
• Promote the use of existing public transport, including bikes, buses, trains and ferry services (including services to and from London) as positive transport options for both business and leisure.
Community and Community Engagement
The backbone of Gravesham is its diverse and thriving community, which we will continue to engage with and support including through the range of civic and community organisations and events that we all enjoy as a borough. This will also be supported through internal and external methods such as formal and informal partnerships and funding both internally and externally. In addition to this we will:
• Continue to be a listening Council and through the Council’s Community Engagement Strategy we will continue to use consultation and public engagement methods such as online, in person and paper to listen to the communities’ views on Council matters, ensuring we hear from as many residents as possible.
• Continuing to offer a small Community Grant Scheme for local (usually one-off or significant) activities and events for community groups.
• Give feedback to residents as we know as a listening Labour Council that such feedback is important to you. We will report back to you better the success we have achieved as a council but if we get it wrong, we will tell you and explain why. We understand you want better information from us, and we will provide that.
• Maintain a council-owned and run community centre at Shears Green and seek to renew or rebuild this.
Arts and Culture
Through the Council’s long-term Arts and Culture Strategy and with partners such as the Arts Council, we have invested in arts and culture in Gravesham since 2019 including creating a new arts and culture centre, the St George’s Arts Centre. Gravesham Labour will continue to support our creative sector by continuing to:
• Support our arts and culture offer and creative communities, including our new St George’s Arts Centre.
• Support The Woodville and other venues, organisations, and partners to build on our creative arts, culture and entertainment offer across the borough.
• Offer a small Arts Grants Scheme for local artists and creatives and maintain our local arts and culture network.
Tourism and Heritage
We have a proud history with rich heritage both physically and historically through the stories of our people over time. Gravesham Labour is committed to preserving our history and heritage and finding innovative ways to showcase it. In continuing to support the long-term Tourism and Heritage Strategy we will:
• Explore opportunities to maintain, preserve and showcase our rich heritage offer further including through external funding.
• Seek to increase the amount of overnight accommodation offer in the borough.
• Utilise the Blake Gallery or other space in the Civic Centre or the borough to showcase some of our historical artifacts and materials.
• Create a new digital database of historical items and artefacts we hold and look to support a digital museum.
• Seek to maintain and enhance our public access to the river.
• Continue to support our thriving Town Twinning relationships including through education and promoting inclusivity of Town Twinning through the work with young people.
• Continue to listen to local people and build on the Council’s Borough Market Strategy in transforming this offer into a primary food and drink market and venue with specialist markets and seek to expand the market/street stall offer in the town.
Housing including Council Housing
As a Labour Council we are proud to still be an authority that has council housing rather than Housing Association. However, we know that there is frustration that the Council Housing register is too long, and this is due to the fact we have seen our housing stock deplete thanks to Right to Buy from approximately 12,000 homes to approximately 5,600 homes today. As residents will know the discounted money from all the sales of council housing stock since the 1980s went to the Government and not the Council. We will:
• Accelerate our council housing building policy.
• Increase our local stock of properly affordable homes based on the local average salary.
• Build further on the work we have already done with private landlords, particularly development of the Social Lettings Agency and ensuring, under the law, private properties for rental meet housing standards and, if not, give warnings to landlords and, if necessary, fine them.
• Strengthen our Empty Homes Strategy.
• Work with local residents to bring in the new housing provision this borough requires, ensuring where land is released for housing, this is done in sympathy with providing funding for the public services that need to go with this new housing provision.
• Campaign for changes and reform of the law regarding the leaseholder system of ownership of properties, communal charges and ground rents to end the misery that residents have spoken to us about regarding private sector management companies’ charges and ongoing issues with public adoption of land and highways which should be fully funded by government, developers or landowners for the additional burden to the taxpayer.
• Work with partners to tackle the increase in homelessness and seek full funding from government to deal with this crisis.
• Seek more temporary accommodation that is of improved quality and move away, as much as possible, from overnight accommodation.
• Build on the work we have done so far for Gravesham rough sleepers and continue to work closely with partner organisations, such as Gravesham Sanctuary and the Hub at the Methodist Church in Gravesend.
• Enhance our Independent Living Units: our older people deserve the best.
• Continue with building affordable homes – working with contractors who understand our target of reduction in carbon emissions.
• Work to ensure our tenants have information to get the support they need to help them through the cost-of-living crisis to help them claim any benefits due to them and work with them on payment plans and how important it is not to avoid debts but seek help and how to seek that help. Engaging and communicating with our tenants is crucial.
• As a Labour Council, with Right to Buy reform, seek to have a net increase to our Council Housing Stock.
• Continue with further development of the new computer software for housing as this is going to free up more time for Housing Officers to spend working out on estates with our tenants – again improving communication and working practices.
Crime, Enforcement and Community Safety
We shall continue to play our part in the wider criminal and civil justice system to keep its residents, visitors, businesses, and the whole Borough safe. Working with our partners along with our statutory duties we will:
• Continue to invest and support our new Environmental Enforcement Team and continue to prosecute people for fly-tipping where evidence is found and publicise the results of any convictions to deter fly-tipping and highlight this will not be tolerated in Gravesham.
• Prosecute Anti-Social Behaviour (ASB) – with zero tolerance approach from Gravesham Borough Council using full legal powers recognising that the Kent Police, Crown Prosecuting Service and the Courts have the decision-making powers to prosecute and convict. Action should be swift and public where possible.
• Continue to support the Gravesham Community Safety Partnership and work with partners that have powers and resources to tackle crime and ASB outside of GBC including Kent Police, Kent County Council, the Kent Police and Crime Commissioner, GSAFE and Kent Community Safety Partnership.
Children and Young People
While many of the powers and duties for children and young people services remain with Kent County Council and the Government we shall continue to:
• Support the Gravesham Youth Council and involve them to ensure that the voice of young people is heard at the heart of decision making.
• Support a universal youth offer in the Borough that meets the needs of local young people taking into account their views and issues.
Planning and Regeneration
Our residents will be at the heart of our planning policy, through co-production of the design guide to creating, designing, and implementing a local plan that meets residents’ needs. Gravesham Labour will seek to maintain the unique identity of all our communities – urban and rural – but also together as one proud borough ensuring that we meet the needs of our residents across all generations.
• Enhance our Planning Enforcement ensuring unauthorised works carried out in the Borough are enforced against and where unauthorised use, or occupation of land occurs, seek the removal or remedy of the work, buildings, or mobile caravans. A Labour-led Gravesham Borough Council will use our full powers in this regard to ensure that there is accountability for unauthorised or illegal works or actions.
• Apart from our people, the river is our greatest asset and all areas that associate with the river including the new wards of Northfleet and Springhead, Town (Gravesend), Denton, Chalk to Higham and Shorne will be a key focus on a new Labour Administration seeking internal and external investment into the communities whilst recognising and working with its historic identity. We will work with the communities of all wards that bound the river generally to ensure that they are restored as key hubs of employment enterprise and industry providing opportunities for all in the within the borough.
• Ensuring that planning obligations under Section 106 of the Town and Country Planning Act 1990 (as amended), commonly known as S106 agreements are invested in the Borough and ensure, where development work occurs and is permitted, that the maximum benefit from developer contributions can be achieved, to provide the infrastructure the area currently needs, as well as that which will be required by the development itself. That all funding obtained is only to be spent in Gravesham to benefit the residents. This is to secure community infrastructure improvements from any developments for things such as affordable housing, schools, GP Surgeries, open spaces, outdoor play areas and other community facilities.
• Deliver a local plan that meets the needs of the borough as a whole.
• Working with planning legislation and guidance to ensure that our planning policies and strategies including the local plan are fit for purpose and meet the needs of the residents of Gravesham.
• Provide a lead to other landowners, by developing or bringing back into use council-owned redundant buildings, land, or accommodation. Where other landowners have redundant buildings, land, or accommodation, work with them to get them brought back into use to help in the fight against unwarranted release of green space, or greenbelt areas in the borough.
© Gravesham Labour Party 2023