Valentine’s day this year falls eleven weeks before residents in Canterbury, Whitstable and Herne Bay go to the polls to elect their new city council. Keen to improve their home towns for the better, prospective Labour Councillors have been posting letters to Simon Cook, the current Leader of the Council, and of the Conservative Group. These heart-felt missives ask Mr Cook why the Council’s recent decisions suggest that they do not love their city as much as they might, or listen to the wishes of its residents.
Writing about his home town of Whitstable, Chris Cornell applauds its “energy, its creativity and most of all its people.” However, he notes, that recent council decisions have led the community to question why they’re only seen as Canterbury’s “second class neighbour.” The Council have taken a step back when it comes to the vibrant seaside town, closing its police station and job centre, allowing residents to be priced out of the housing market and strangling their beloved festivals in red tape. The Conservative Council are ignoring our parking problems and not building any new, affordable homes. “I love my town,” writes Chris, who is standing in Gorrell ward, “and as such, I’m, standing to try and save it.” It simply isn’t enough that the Council have withdrawn to being “at the end of a public phone line in the harbour.”
Paul Todd, posting his letter in the ward of Wincheap and Thanington, where he is standing for election, feels that the Council have failed to listen to the needs of the people in his area. With the city recently named in a Lloyds’ Bank Survey as being in the top twenty least affordable places to buy a home, Canterbury residents have seen a rise of 9% in house prices, equating to 7.8 times the average income. With rents on average £54 pounds higher in the city than the rest of East Kent, Paul is concerned about the knock-on effect for renters in poorly maintained properties, and the resulting rise in homelessness. The Council’s Housing Policy, claims Paul, has not been reviewed since August 2015, but with over 1,700 people on the Housing Needs Register, the emphasis must shift from provision by private firms to greater direction from a caring Council. “I can’t bear to see our young people growing up, unable to afford homes of their own, becoming disaffected, and ending up homeless,” explains Paul, whose work for the charity Catching Lives ensures he sees the problem at first hand, “and there are old people, families with small children and people with chronic health problems, living in substandard accommodation. I’ve lived in Canterbury all my life and I’m standing for Council because its people deserve better.”
Gill Gower, prospective councillor for Westgate, is outraged at the Council’s expensive plans to push ahead with the West Station carpark, scheduled to begin construction this autumn. With negligible support among locals, the Council have borrowed nine million pounds, Gill writes, which will inflict higher levels of pollution on a city already struggling to regain cleaner air. Not only this, the car park contravenes the Council’s own District Green Infrastructure Policy (2018-2031). If the Council is serious about improving the air quality and transport of its residents, says Gill, “they should make bus journeys into the city free and join up its fragmented cycle routes. I have lived in Canterbury for over 30 years and I ask why is the city council mismanaging our money and treating its residents with such contempt.”
It remains to be seen whether the Conservative Council, led by Mr Cook, will heed these Valentines’ Day messages. When it comes to polling day, though, on May 2, voters must remember the inspiration of Labour’s candidates, whose love for their home towns will drive their passion for improvement, rather than the profiteering and mismanagement endemic in the current body.
Pictured left to right: Chris Cornell (Candidate for Gorrell), Gill Gower (Candidate for Westgate), Paul Todd (Candidate for Wincheap), Morag Warren (Candidate for Swalecliffe), Mel Dawkins (Candidate for St Stephens)