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Rail boss calls for "sustainable solutions" for Eurostar

Ciaran Duggan

Local Democracy Reporter

Eurostar train

Eurostar must receive government “bounce back” support to protect 3,500 jobs in Kent, a railway official says.

HS1’s chief executive, Dyan Crowther, has been pressing the government for financial support for the international train operator which has been forced to shut down its services at Ebbsfleet and Ashford International until at least 2022 due to a huge drop in demand.

Ms Crowther, whose company works closely with the rail firm, said: “Eurostar has seen passenger numbers fall off a cliff almost overnight.”

High-Speed 1 Ltd is an “infrastructure manager” which operates and maintains Ashford, Dartford’s Ebbsfleet, Stratford and London St Pancras international stations and sells train slots to Eurostar.

HS1 would normally be expected to hold up to 17,000 slots a year for Eurostar, but the number is likely to drop sharply to around 2,500 over a 12-month period due to stringent quarantine rules.

Ms Crowther has called for a “tripartite” agreement to be reached by the Government, HS1 and Eurostar.

She said: “We need some real and sustainable solutions for the long term, not just something for the next six months.”

The Department for Transport has been approached for comment and Eurostar has declined to comment.

Brexit: Kent Tory MP welcomes plans for lorry permits

Ashford Conservative MP Damian Green has welcomed proposals for the Kent Access Permit (KAP) for lorries heading to the Port of Dover.

The government announced yesterday that truck drivers will need a permit to enter Kent after the Brexit transition period ends on 1 January.

Queues of lorries in Kent

The government said the system would be enforced by police and ANPR cameras and is intended to ensure drivers have all the paperwork they need.

Mr Green, the former de facto deputy prime minister to Theresa May, told BBC Radio 4's Today programme he supported the plans to "avoid chaos on Kent's roads".

He added: "Occasionally there are problems across the Channel and it is possible, I'll put it politely, this could happen again on 1 January when the transition period ends.

"What we have done in the past is get as many lorries as possible as close to Dover and the Channel Tunnel as possible and then stop them there so you have to close the motorways and you get chaos on Kent's roads.

"If you can say to these lorries there are problems, or in this case you don't have the right paperwork so you are going to cause problems at the border, it is much more sensible to sort them out before thousands of lorries descend on Kent.

"So actually spreading the problem around the country means it is not a problem for everyone."

He continued: "It is not a border - I got all the jokes on social media and things like that but actually it is more sensible for an individual lorry driver who doesn't have the right paperwork to sort it out while he is sitting in a service station in the Midlands somewhere than actually on the side of a motorway in Kent."

Labour's Shadow Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, Rachel Reeves, said: "It is incredible that ministers are only now admitting to their plans to arrest British truckers for entering Kent without new travel passports.

"With just over three months to go, how are businesses meant to prepare amid this Conservative carnival of incompetence?'"

Covid19: virus symptoms can continue for months
A nurse tells how she is still off work with "Long Covid" symptoms five months after contracting the virus.

Residents sent from "pillar to post" in search of Covid-19 tests

Ciaran Duggan

Local Democracy Reporter

“Dreadful” coronavirus testing problems must be addressed as it emerged Kent residents are being sent from "pillar to post" for tests, a county councillor says.

Dan Daley, Lib Dem councillor for Maidstone, told Kent County Council’s (KCC) health and overview scrutiny committee that one resident was sent to three different testing sites.

Kent County Council HQ

Councillor Daley told NHS officials: “We have heard the most dreadful things of people being sent up to Dunfermline or Wales when they live in Kent.

"People who are possibly infected already with Covid already are chasing around the countryside, probably infecting other people before they have got their test,” he said.

Thanet county councillor Karen Constantine questioned whether there were “contingencies” in place to keep health services running in the event of a second lockdown

A regional testing site at Manston Airport in Ramsgate has sat “largely empty” while another drive-through site is available at Ashford’s Victoria Road car park, the committee was told.

In Medway, a new centre opened in Rochester last week and Kent public health officials say this forms part of a drive to improve the accessibility of coronavirus testing for communities as nearly 4,000 Covid-19 cases are being recorded daily across the UK.

Quarry plans approved despite objections

Ciaran Duggan

Local Democracy Reporter

Blaise Farm Quarry, in Blaise Quarry Road, Kings Hill
Blaise Farm Quarry, in Blaise Quarry Road, Kings Hill

Plans for a waste processing plant at Blaise Farm Quarry near West Malling have been given the go-ahead despite concerns from residents over blasting and lorries.

Kent County Council's (KCC) planning committee unanimously approved two expansion proposals which will see the plant developed to increase recycling and composting capacity at the site to 150,000 tonnes a year.

Objections were raised by three parish councils which say the roads will be “overburdened” as an extra 40 lorries visit the Blaise Quarry Road site daily. About 350 HGVs currently go in and out of the quarry each day.

West Malling county councillor Matthew Balfour, who represents the area and is the former cabinet member for waste, said: “I support having this facility in the county, it makes absolutely sense and we are late to the party.”

KCC officers told councillors that while frequency has increased there had been no change to the intensity of the blastings.

The council's planning bosses say they propose to monitor the blast vibration levels through four stations near the site.

Calls for rail link between Gatwick and east Kent

Ciaran Duggan

Local Democracy Reporter

Great Western Railway train

Plans for a rail service linking Gatwick to east Kent are being considered.

Kent County Council (KCC) has drafted a 10-year transport plan to put political pressure on government bosses and train operators to transform the region’s rail system by 2030.

KCC is seeking a cross-county service to run from Canterbury West to Gatwick Airport via Ashford and Tonbridge.

Stephen Gasche, KCC’s rail project manager, wants to see an extension the Great Western Railway line, which runs from Reading to Gatwick via Redhill.

During an environment and transport committee meeting on Tuesday, he said it would be "an extraordinary benefit for the whole of south east England" and would "knit the counties together".

KCC previously lobbied the government for a similar train service but were met with strong resistance from the Department for Transport due to a business case that “did not stand up”.

A public consultation runs until 17 November.

'Tough' decisions ahead for KCC to fill £200m budget gap

Ciaran Duggan

Local Democracy Reporter

County Hall

County councillors have warned that “tough” decisions lie ahead to fill a budget gap of up to £200million next year.

Kent County Council’s (KCC) elected members met as more than 60 Conservatives overwhelmingly voted in favour of an emergency budget for the remainder of this financial year during a virtual meeting.

It means £12.8m of “savings” will be delivered over the next six months, including reductions to councillor grants and allowances.

This will be used to help cover a reduced financial hole of £23m from Covid costs and revenue losses.

Opposition parties raised objections as County Hall’s Liberal Democrats voted against the revised budget while Labour’s five members abstained.

KCC chiefs forecast that between £150m and £200m of “spending reductions” and “savings” will be required.

This would amount to around 15% of County Hall’s £1bn spending budget.

KCC leader Roger Gough said: “The challenge is big but we have some form in rising to it.”

Flytippers dump pile of waste by road-side

Flytipped material

Flytippers left a large amount of waste strewn by the side of a rural road in Offham, Kent.

The pile of rubbish included discarded bits of wood and building materials.

Large-scale fly-tipping - defined as tipper lorry load or more in size - has more than doubled in six years.

Last year, councils faced a £12.8m bill to clear more than 36,200 large tips. The Countryside Alliance has said tougher sentences were needed to address the crisis.

'Social gatherings rules will make parenting easier'

BBC Radio 5 Live

Nina and her family

This morning, BBC Radio 5 Live’s Your Call programme heard people’s reactions to the news that social gatherings of more than six people will be illegal in England from Monday - with some exemptions.

Nina in Kent has three children, including two teenagers. They all live with Nina's mum who is over 75.

Nina said she hopes the new guidance will make parenting a bit easier.

“I’ve had some very difficult conversations with my eldest teenager about her friends and how they socialise,” she said. “We have been very strict."

“This will make parenting a bit easier, a bit clearer. You just have to hope that people will take notice, [and] will discourage their kids from having large parties.”

Michelle and her son

Michelle, in Chepstow, is worried the new rules on gatherings will affect her son’s ability to play sport.

“He’s skipping into school each morning," she said,"he’s gone in his sports kit today – he’s so happy. He’s dancing at the bus stop".

“Sport is a major part of his life – he plays football, he plays cricket. I can’t bear the thought of having to potentially tell him that might be off again,” she added.

Kirsti and her family

Kirsti and her family in Hertfordshire have been badly affected by coronavirus.

She thinks the government’s strategy in dealing with the pandemic is “unclear”.

“Me and my daughter have had it – we sadly know three people who’ve died from it and I’ve lost my job from it,” she said.

“This is all about protecting the vulnerable and the most at risk. Is there a different way of doing bubbles?”

Click here to listen again on BBC Sounds.

Call for more powers for police commissioners

Ciaran Duggan

Local Democracy Reporter

Police on patrol
Getty Images

More powers should be given to police and crime commissioners (PCC), says Kent PCC Matthew Scott as he presses the Government for major reform.

Matthew Scott has lobbied Boris Johnson’s administration for greater authority within the criminal justice system.

This comes alongside a review being undertaken by the Home Office on what the role of police commissioners should look like after Covid-19.

Mr Scott, who has served as Kent’s police and crime commissioner for the last four years, said: “Much to the disappointment of many, rumours of our demise are greatly exaggerated.

“We will be carrying on and the Home Office wants to give us more responsibilities.”

However, the county’s police chief said any new powers would not impact on the “independence” and “integrity” of the judiciary, which includes the crown prosecution service (CPS) and courts.

A police and crime commissioner is an elected official whose role largely is to be the voice of the people and hold the police to account. There are more than 40 in the UK.

Police chief: Lessons to learn from beach party trouble

Ciaran Duggan

Local Democracy Reporter

A police official says lessons must be learned from a summer beach party which saw hundreds of people descend on a stretch of Kent coast.

Kent Police and Crime Commissioner Matthew Scott said the large event at Greatstone near New Romney was “very challenging” for the county force to deal with four weeks ago.

Four police officers were injured, including one being hit by a car, while rubbish was strewn across the beach and nearby streets.

Crowds gather at beach party

New coronavirus laws introduced last month mean anyone found to have organised or facilitated a gathering of more than 30 people could be liable to a £10,000 fine.

Earlier today, Mr Scott told a panel of councillors: “There is learning for both Kent Police and other organisations.”

Councillor Jenny Hollingsbee (Con), who is the deputy leader of Folkestone and Hythe District Council, said it took “some time” for the county force to disperse the party despite early warnings.

She told the Kent and Medway Police Crime Panel: “It appears that sometimes the police officers, if they come from out of the area, do not understand if there is a public space protection order in place that can be used.

“It’s quite a powerful piece of legislation that can be used.”

Since then, patrols have been taking place in the area more regularly and a helicopter was deployed to deal with another incident in New Romney over the August bank holiday.

Several coaches were spotted pulling up outside The Jolly Fisherman in Coach Drive and offloading passengers on 30 August. Witnesses estimated there to be around 100 visitors.

Members of the public who attend future events risk a £100 fine, which can double for each incident up to a total of £3,200.