Tonbridge

England, United Kingdom

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After three months of lockdown, hair salons, attractions and pubs are open.
The hospitality and leisure sector has been shut since mid-March, but social distancing measures are still in force.

Dispersal orders issued in seaside resorts

Two dispersal orders will be enforced in Margate and Broadstairs this weekend following concerns over anti-social behaviour on and near local beaches.

Extra police patrols will operate around Margate Main Sands and between Botany Bay and Viking Bay to guard against possible crime and disorder.

Margate beach
PA Media

Kent Police officers authorised the orders to be issued following concerns on previous weekends.

The orders, which run from 1600 BST today to 1600 BST on Sunday, mean any group of two or more people found causing, or likely to cause, harassment, alarm or distress can be dispersed by an officer.

The action is being taken in response to the large number of visitors to the area this summer.

Chief Inspector Ed Ruffle, district commander for Thanet, said there had been a “minority who risk ruining it for others with excessive drinking, anti-social behaviour and, in some cases, violence.".

Police chief: 'Act sensibly' as England's lockdown eased

Inside a pub
Rex Features

Police in Kent are urging people to take a “sensible and responsible approach” when bars, pubs and restaurants reopen.

Claire Nix, the assistant chief constable of Kent Police, warned that people who cause anti-social or criminal behaviour will be “dealt with swiftly”.

She said: “Of course we want people to have fun, but they must remain responsible, sensible and mindful of restrictions still in place.

“Over recent weeks we have been working with local pubs, bars and restaurants to ensure we are all well prepared to maximise safety and cut crime.

“Across the county we will be taking any incidents of anti-social and criminal behaviour very seriously and perpetrators will be dealt with swiftly.”

Wildlife cameraman goes on backyard safari in Deal
Stuck at home during lockdown, Richard Taylor-Jones swapped exotic creatures for garden wildlife.

Council warns about exhausting cash reserves

Ciaran Duggan

Local Democracy Reporter

Concerns have been expressed that a Kent council’s reserves could be “wiped out” by April 2023 without government financial aid.

Tonbridge and Malling Borough Council’s cabinet member for finance, councillor Martin Coffin (Con), described the district authority’s economic outlook as “depressing reading” over the next three years.

A £20 note
Think Stock

Council tax increases, widespread cuts to services and use of reserves are being considered as council officials attempt to balance the authority’s budget.

Sharon Shelton, the finance director at Tonbridge and Malling council, said: “Unless there is a further injection of government funding of some size, between £7m and £10m could be wiped from our reserves.”

The prediction was presented to the administration’s six-person cabinet and opposition party leaders during a two-hour virtual meeting.

So far, the local authority has received £1.3m of Whitehall aid since the start of the coronavirus crisis in mid-March.

However, the authority has forecast a funding shortfall of up to £5m between April 2020 and 2021.

Tonbridge and Malling council’s cabinet agreed to an “essential spend only” policy during an extraordinary meeting on 19 May while budget preparations for the next financial year – April 2021 to 2022 – will likely take place in August.

Cuts to number of councillors 'would save £1m'

Ciaran Duggan

Local Democracy Reporter

Widespread cuts are planned at a Kent council over the next three years, which could see its councillor membership reduced by a third.

A total of 54 councillors were elected to serve Tonbridge and Malling residents in the most recent borough council elections, but plans are now under way to cut the local authority’s membership to 35.

Tonbridge and Malling council’s Conservative administration says around £1m will be saved over a 10-year period. Opposition councillors say the cuts will be “bad for democracy” and they criticised the “cabinet’s stranglehold” on the council.

Councillor Nicolas Heslop (Con), leader of the authority, is expected to suffer a £5m shortfall from the coronavirus crisis this year. He said: “Reducing councillors from 54 to 35 will save residents over £100,000 each year.”

Tonbridge and Malling council has the third highest number of councillors out of the county’s 12 district authorities, just behind Maidstone’s 55 and Thanet, which has 56. Tonbridge would drop to the third lowest with the cuts, ahead of Dover’s 32 and Folkestone’s 30.

In a written statement to the Local Democracy Reporting Service, councillor Heslop added: “At the last local elections, the Conservative Group stood on a manifesto commitment to further lessen the size of the bureaucracy at Tonbridge and Malling by reducing the number of councillors by a third.

“Over a number of years, we have reduced the cost of running the borough council and it is only right that the number of councillors should be addressed too as part of this process.”

£1m emergency fund to support leisure centres

Ciaran Duggan

Local Democracy Reporter

A £1m emergency fund will be created to support the reopening of leisure centres across Tonbridge and Malling over the next 12 months.

Tonbridge and Malling council’s cabinet has unanimously agreed to develop a crisis budget for leisure trust, tmactive, which runs several gyms across the borough, including Larkfield Leisure Centre, on behalf of the local authority.

Green Party councillor Mark Hood, who supported the proposal, said: “It would be awful to see the leisure trust go to the wall and unthinkable for employees to lose their jobs.”

A decision on the trust’s final cash settlement will be made by Tonbridge’s full council on 14 July as elected members review the authority’s worrying financial position, with a £5m shortfall from coronavirus predicted this year.

Air ambulance raises £1m to stay fully operational

More than £1m has so far been raised by Air Ambulance Kent Surrey Sussex (KSS) after it was launched to cover the extra costs during the pandemic.

The charity launched its Coronavirus Emergency Appeal in April and it has now raised just over a third of the total shortfall it was predicting due to cancelled events and a drop in fundraising income.

Helicopter pilots
Air Ambulance Kent Sussex Surrey Air Ambulance

It was the first time in the charity’s 30-year history that it had to launch an emergency appeal.

It costs £14m a year to deliver its emergency services in which doctors and paramedics provide critical treatment to patients.

Money has been donated by members of the public, and the government has provided a £140,000 grant, to enable it to remain fully operational during the pandemic. But the charity still predicts a sharp income shortfall and needs to raise a further £1.9m.

KSS CEO David Welch said: “When we launched our appeal, we aimed to raise £535,000 initially to meet the immediate additional costs of continuing our life-saving service during the pandemic and we have received an amazing response. It is truly humbling how generous people can be.”

Robot fruit pickers could 'ease recruitment shortfall'

Ciaran Duggan

Local Democracy Reporter

Robot fruit pickers could help solve the industry’s skilled recruitment crisis, says a Kent farm manager.

Giles Cannon, who manages Roughway Farm near Tonbridge, says his farm has been “overwhelmed” with job interest in recent weeks as hundreds of people seek to work as fruit pickers.

It comes several weeks after a national call was made by the Environment Secretary, George Eustice, urging students and furloughed workers to apply for seasonal farm work amid feared shortages.

However, hiring experienced staff has proved challenging for the agricultural sector, according to Mr Cannon.

Mr Cannon, who has worked in the farming sector for decades, said: “To call fruit picking an unskilled job is doing the industry a disservice.”

Farmers around the world are increasingly interested in robot technology to address the long-term decline in skilled labour, according to 2019 research carried out by Fieldwork Robotics, a company linked to the University of Plymouth.

In May 2019, the world’s first raspberry-picking robot was trialled in the UK. It significantly outpaced human workers in an eight-hour shift, studies showed.

“There is a real problem with finding skilled staff at the moment. Until full-scale robotic machines arrive and become a reality we are always going to need to find somebody to harvest the crops,” Mr Cannon added.

Police warning over illegal music events

Police in Kent are warning people not to break the law by holding illegal music events this summer.

The warning comes after about 200 people were dispersed after gathering in woodland in Vigo village near Meopham on Saturday night.

Beach gathering
Louis Montgomery
Two men in their 20s from the London area were attacked on Leysdown beach

In a separate incident, two men were stabbed after a large group of people gathered on Leysdown beach, leading to a man aged 24 being arrested.

Assistant Chief Constable Nikki Faulconbridge, of Kent Police, said: “While it is understandable that people should miss being able to visit nightclubs, festivals and concerts at this difficult time, that is no excuse for anyone who might be thinking about organising an unlicensed music event.

“Such events have been illegal for many years but the increased risk of passing Covid-19 from one person to another makes it even more important that people do not hold or attend any mass gatherings of this nature.”

Calls for more affordable housing

Ciaran Duggan

Local Democracy Reporter

Kent County Council (KCC) is seeking to put pressure on the government to make housing more affordable across the county.

A 100-page document published by Maidstone County Hall outlines the major problems faced in Kent around an “acute” shortage of “genuinely” affordable housing, exacerbated by Covid-19.

Canterbury council’s leader Robert Thomas (Con), who chairs KCC’s affordable housing select committee, said: “Housing is one of the basic fundamentals of human existence.”

Speaking at a KCC virtual meeting, he added: “Whilst housing may not be a primary function of KCC, the clear link is through the many services we provide in education, adult social care and as corporate parents.

“These are all fundamental issues within the services we provide and I think badging this into a helpful area for the council and understanding its importance will be really key moving forward.”

KCC’s affordable housing committee has called on County Hall’s economic development cabinet member, councillor Mike Whiting (Con), to write to Local Government Secretary Robert Jenrick to change national housing policy.

The letter would ask Whitehall to reform its current Right to Buy system to allow local authorities to set discounts for house buyers locally and promote an “infrastructure first” approach to future developments, constructing schools, hospitals and transport hubs prior to new housing.

The KCC committee has suggested creating a county-wide Housing Growth Unit which will be used to bid for government funds to invest in housing projects; offering support to the county’s 12 local planning authorities when needed and “streamlining” low-cost housing delivery in Kent.

Tourism chiefs aim to rebuild visitor economy

Ciaran Duggan

Local Democracy Reporter

Kent’s “excruciatingly important” tourism economy can begin to rebuild as it faces losses of up to £3.2billion from the coronavirus crisis this year.

Visit Kent’s chief executive officer, Deirdre Wells, described Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s decision to reopen pubs, restaurants and hotels as “extremely welcome news” for the county.

Visitors to Dreamland
Dreamland
More than 50 workers were made redundant at Dreamland

Footfall and spend at Kent’s major visitor attractions has dropped by more than 90% since the three-month lockdown was imposed in March.

Margate’s Dreamland was one of the major casualties as 52 workers were made redundant.

Ms Wells said: “It will enable our businesses to reopen in time for the all-important summer season and to begin to rebuild after an extremely challenging few months.”

Kent’s tourism economy is worth nearly £4billion in a single year and supports 70,000 jobs. Hundreds of firms have told Visit Kent that they are “anxious” to reopen their doors to holidaymakers.

Thanet county councillor Rosalind Binks (Con), of Broadstairs, said: “As far as I’m concerned, the visitor economy has to get started again.”

She added: “It’s of excruciating importance to us and an area where KCC does have an influence.”

Plea for funds from Battle of Britain memorial

The charity that looks after the national Battle of Britain memorial in Kent says it has been forced to ask for public donations amid the Covid-19 crisis.

The Battle of Britain Memorial Trust has seen all its usual fundraising activities cancelled and the memorial closed to visitors as a result of the pandemic.

Battle of Britain memorial
PA Media

Now it says it has been forced to ask for the public's help to "weather this particular storm".

The charity looks after the National Memorial to the Few at Capel-le-Ferne, Folkestone, at a cost of about £240,000 a year, but receives no public funding.

Trust chairman Richard Hunting said: "We tell the story in the Wing of how the heroes of the Battle of Britain refused to be defeated as the Luftwaffe attacked through the summer and early autumn of 1940.

"And while we wouldn't put ourselves on a par with the men who fought the Battle of Britain, we are equally determined to weather this particular storm.

"The problem is, it's getting increasingly difficult to see how we can do that without the public's help."

Mr Hunting said the charity needs help to be able to continue its work of keeping the public informed and educated and to preserve the memory of Churchill's Few.

He added: "While we pay our respects at the Memorial to the 'Few' who defended this country from invasion in 1940, we also pay tribute to the many - the ground crew, Waafs, observer corps and thousands of other people whose selfless and unstinting work allowed the aircrew to take the fight to the enemy."

Commemorations for the upcoming 80th anniversary of the Battle of Britain have shifted online this year.

Undergraduate virtual open day to be held

Lizzie Massey

BBC Live reporter

Aerial shot of Canterbury campus
University of Kent
Aerial shot of Canterbury campus

The University of Kent is staging its first undergraduate virtual open day next month.

Students will be able to engage in live chats with current students and academic staff.

Using drone footage, they will be able to explore the campuses, and virtually tour the academic buildings and specialist facilities, including labs and sports centres, lecture theatres and accommodation.

Student accommodation at Pier Quays, Medway
University of Kent
Student accommodation at Pier Quays, Medway

The programme will run from 10:00 BST to 14:00 on Saturday 4 July.

The university said due to current travel and social distancing restrictions the programme will allow people to get all the information they would have done with a visit in person.

They will also be able to hear introductions on each course they are interested in, get information on fees, funding and finance, and find out about the support services available to all students.

Deputy Vice Chancellor, Professor Georgina Randsley de Moura, said: "Despite the global situation, open days remain an important part of the student experience."

To register, visit the university's website.

Plans to delay 11-plus 'disappointing'

Ciaran Duggan

Local Democracy Reporter

Plans to delay Kent’s 11-plus test until October have been described as “disappointing”.

Kent County Council’s Liberal Democrat education spokesman, councillor Trudy Dean, said the proposal would fail to breach the gulf between pupils from disadvantaged backgrounds and those from more affluent areas.

Kent County Council HQ
BBC

The Tonbridge and Malling councillor has asked KCC’s scrutiny committee to review the plans amid concerns the proposal does not fall in line with County Hall’s pledges to reduce the student deprivation gap.

Questioning the move, she said: “I am very disappointed with the decision, which I do not think helps to bridge the gap for those children who have been receiving very little tutoring throughout the lockdown period.”

She added: “I aim to call the proposal in for scrutiny.”

The Kent Test, a grammar school entry exam which usually takes place over two days in September, is likely to be pushed back until 15 October for Kent students.

Those outside of the county would be tested from Saturday, 17 October. Under the plans, parents would be allowed to name six schools, rising from the current four, on the Kent secondary school application form for 2020 prospective students.

KCC’s corporate director for children, young people and education, Matt Dunkley, described the proposal as County Hall’s “preferred plans” when the idea was publicly announced three days ago.

Speaking last Friday, he said: “We are mindful of how much classroom time students have missed and want to give all those taking part the opportunity to settle back into school life before the Kent Test.”

But Mr Dunkley warned that KCC could be forced to make drastic changes should there be an increased infection rate or amendments to Government guidance.

Leisure trust issues 'dire' financial warning

A leisure trust in Kent has said its financial position is “dire” and unsustainable without adequate support.

Sencio Community Leisure manages facilities on behalf of Sevenoaks District Council, including Sevenoaks Leisure Centre, Edenbridge Leisure Centre, Lullingstone Park Golf Course and Swanley’s White Oak Leisure Centre.

Swimming pool
Sencio Community Leisure

But it has been hit hard by restrictions imposed following the coronavirus pandemic. It has built up utility costs of £140,000 and has had no income since lockdown.

A spokesman said that Sevenoaks District Council last week refused a £120,000 loan application to help it pay its utility costs.

Alan Peal, chairman of Sencio Community Leisure, said: “The situation for leisure trusts such as Sencio is now deeply worrying and simply not sustainable.

"The costs of maintaining the buildings we manage to a standard required for when we are able to reopen - together with utility costs of around £140,000 since lockdown and no income - have reduced our financial position to one that can only be called ‘dire’.

“Sencio was set-up as a not-for-profit organization and exists for the benefit of the communities we serve. For many customers we’re a lifeline when recovering from accident, illness or injury, or for the increasing number of people experiencing loneliness and isolation."

Mr Peal added: “We’re already hearing of leisure trusts elsewhere in the country who, without support, are having to make sad and irrevocable decisions.

"We will do everything within our power to avoid going down that route, but the reality is the situation is now one that may well be taken out of our hands.”

Explosion at Erith oil factory injures three
Three people have been injured in an explosion at an oilseed processing plant in London.

John Lewis to open more stores

John Lewis has announced plans to open nine more shops next Thursday, including one in the South East, as retailers begin welcoming shoppers back to stores.

John Lewis window
Getty Images

The John Lewis department stores which will reopen to customers on June 25 are; Cribbs Causeway, Leeds, Liverpool, Milton Keynes, Newcastle, Peter Jones, Southampton, Tunbridge Wells and York, the retail added.

Further announcements on reopenings will be made in the coming weeks, the employee-owned retailer said, and more customers will be allowed in stores following lessons learned from the stores already open.

Council reveals 179 children disappeared during lockdown

Dozens of children under the care of Kent County Council (KCC) went missing amid the coronavirus lockdown.

A total of 69 Kent youngsters have been involved in 179 missing episodes since April 24. Three have yet to return to their foster placements, the Local Democracy Reporting Service said.

Kent County Council HQ
BBC

KCC’s cabinet member for children’s services, councillor Sue Chandler (Con), said the number of cases represented a 33% decrease compared to the six-week period prior to the start of the UK-wide lockdown on March 23.

Speaking at KCC’s virtual full council meeting yesterday, the Dover councillor said: “We are committed to maintain different ways of working and staying in contact with children and young people in the future.”

Her comments came after concerns were raised by a KCC member over recent changes to UK government laws which allows local authorities to “relax” their duty of care towards vulnerable children during the pandemic.

More than 300 children under KCC’s care went missing in 2019, including 72 unaccompanied asylum-seekng children aged under 18. Many sought contact with their friends, family and partners.

Amid the pandemic, a substantial drop in the number of missing episodes has occurred, decreasing from 238 to 179 over the last three months.

The main reasons behind the drop include home schooling while children have found more activities to do in the house.

They have also been unable to meet up with friends in public spaces, such as parks, but still receive virtual social support.

Concluding, councillor Chandler added: “As a result of the need to reduce face to face visits, social care staff have been creative in the ways they have found to engage with young people via social media.”