Council makes plans should leisure trust fold
July 12, 2021
After an independent report found financial and management problems at Sencio, alongside concerns about its recovery planning, the Council has taken the difficult decision to make urgent plans to provide leisure services should the trust become insolvent.
Sencio Community Leisure is a not-for profit organisation that operates Sevenoaks District Council’s three leisure centres and its golf course. They are independent of the Council and have their own board of trustees that are solely responsible for the day-to-day running of the leisure facilities.
In common with other leisure providers, Sencio has been severely affected by the COVID-19 pandemic and the lockdowns and has sought urgent financial support.
To date, the trust has received £792,958 in public funds to support it through the pandemic, with £411,950 of this coming from the Council.
The Council has been in regular dialogue with Sencio over the past year, and there has been an ongoing concern over how it can finance itself moving forward.
Last year, Councillors expressed concerns about Sencio’s recovery plans. In consultation with the trust, Max Associates, a nationally recognised leisure consultant, was appointed to review the business and to draw up plans to move it on to a sustainable financial footing.
The Max Associates report highlighted a number of serious concerns about the trust. Sencio was trading at a loss in the pre-COVID period and now has a budget shortfall of £2 million. The Council had not been told of the serious nature of its financial situation prior to the publication of the report.
In light of the trust’s precarious situation, Max Associates recommended that the Council consider alternative management options to ensure the best value for the community.
At its meeting last Thursday (8 July 2021), the Cabinet agreed to start the process of appointing a contractor to take over the running of the Council’s leisure facilities should Sencio hand back the contract.
The Cabinet also agreed that no additional funding should be made available to Sencio at this time given the significant risk to tax payers.
Cllr Lesley Dyball, the Council’s Cabinet Member for People and Places, says: “This is clearly a very uncertain time for Sencio’s staff and customers.
“We have done everything we can to support Sencio. But we also have a duty to our taxpayers to ensure local services are operated efficiently.
“Sencio has a £2 million budget black hole in its finances and according to Max Associates, it would need to make management reforms at pace to have any chance of operating sustainably in the future.
“We have taken the difficult decision to make arrangements for another company to take over from Sencio should they go into liquidation. It is only right that we should do everything possible to reopen our leisure centres and golf course as soon as is practicable should the Trust go out of business.”
Councillors see new centre takes shape
March 31, 2021
Sevenoaks District Council continues its support and investment in sports and leisure across the District. In Swanley, the Council’s biggest capital project in 30 years continues apace as the new White Oak Leisure Centre takes shape. This investment sits alongside several other significant projects for the town.
District Council Leader, Cllr Peter Fleming, and Cllr Susan Coleman recently stopped off at the new Centre so see how the fitness facility is working out.
All the steelwork in the new £20m centre is now complete with the roof, wall cladding and floor all in place. At the time of the visit on Friday (26 March), the main swimming pool was being tested.
The new, energy-efficient, bright and open facility will take over from the current White Oak Centre in early 2022. The new centre includes a 25-metre, six lane swimming pool with movable floor, a learner pool, a substantial 100+ station fitness suite and a ‘Feel Good Suite’ for people who need help to exercise. It also comes with a multi-purpose recreation and fitness areas and rooms, Tag Active (a game-based indoor obstacle course), a soft play area, studio spaces and a café and viewing area.
At a recent Community Infrastructure Board meeting, Sevenoaks District Councillors also agreed funding for the Orchards Academy sports hall improvements.
The Council’s overall investment in this project now stands at over £200k, with the Academy Trust funding further works to improve the facilities for both school pupils and the wider community.
Cllr Peter Fleming, Leader of the Council, says: “We’re all really excited about the new centre and we cannot wait to offer Swanley residents a top-class, state of the art leisure facility. This is our biggest investment in a generation, when this project is completed, the community will have a leisure centre it can be really truly proud of.”
The current White Oak Leisure Centre is expected to reopen from 12 April 2021 and, subject to further lockdowns, will remain open until shortly before the new centre opens in early 2022.
Sevenoaks District Council have once again teamed up with Coolings Nurseries in Knockholt to run this year’s ‘In Bloom’ competition.
The free competition allows residents to show off their gardening skills and is open to novice and expert gardeners alike.
This year there’s lots of categories to take part in, including front gardens, allotments, environmentally-friendly gardens, ornamental gardens, shop fronts and pub, restaurant, B&B and hotel gardens too.
The Council is also asking residents to nominate beautiful front gardens they’ve seen as part of its Public Realm project.
The deadline for entries is Monday 5 July with judging taking place later that month. Everyone who takes part will be given a free £5 voucher to spend at Coolings, limited to one per household.
The Council’s Public Realm Commissioner, Cllr Roddy Hogarth says: “In Bloom is a fantastic opportunity for residents to get recognition for their beautiful gardens. Whether you have a large or small garden, an allotment, a window box or a hanging basket, there’s a category for you and it’s completely free to enter.”
Cllr Hogarth adds, “We also want you to nominate your favourite gardens! If you’ve seen a front garden, residential or business, that stood out or made you smile, please let us know. We’ll send the owner a postcard thanking them for making a difference and inviting them to enter the In Bloom competition.”
For details of this year’s competition and how to enter, visit www.sevenoaks.gov.uk/inbloom
To nominate a front garden, email firstname.lastname@example.org
Community grants help boost local charities
Sevenoaks District Council will again be supporting local charity and voluntary groups by allocating £154,675 to help them continue their valuable work across the District.
The grants will support organisations that provide services to Sevenoaks District residents, particularly those in greatest need. The funding from this year’s grant scheme will be particularly welcome to the charity sector after an incredibly challenging year.
Funding totalling £51,135 will be made to 19 local groups who support volunteers, run community transport, help older people and people experiencing mental health problems and assist families across the District.
Amongst the organisations that will benefit from the grants are West Kent Mind, Imago and Domestic Abuse Volunteer Support Services.
This year, several new charities and groups have been granted funding including Baby Umbrella, an organisation providing online and face-to-face support to vulnerable families and new parents in Sevenoaks and the surrounding areas. Another new organisation being awarded a grant is The Layberry Foundation, which provides mentoring for young people who have been in care.
A further £103,540 will be given to Citizens’ Advice across the District at Edenbridge and Westerham and North and West Kent (Sevenoaks and Swanley). In addition to this, both the Sevenoaks District Arts Council and the Sevenoaks District Sports Council will receive funding of £2,500 each.
The Council’s Cabinet Member for People and Places, Cllr Dyball says, “After an unprecedented year, I am really pleased we can offer much needed support to the incredibly valued voluntary and community sector across the Sevenoaks District. The last year has hit everyone hard, but charity and volunteer organisations have really struggled to stay afloat.”
Cllr Dyball adds, “Residents’ wellbeing is one of our top priorities and our grants allow these wonderful charities and groups to continue helping our most vulnerable residents.”
Sevenoaks named as Britain’s sixth leading retail destination
Sevenoaks has been ranked sixth best retail centre in a list of the top 1000 retail destinations in the UK by Retail Property Advisors Harper Dennis Hobbs (HDH).
Sevenoaks has jumped up twenty-four places since the last Vitality List, despite restrictions and lockdowns due to the global pandemic. This is in part because of a shift in shopping habits, meaning consumers are more likely to support local shops and businesses.
The list judges the ‘retail health’ of a town by looking at different features, including the change in residents’ movement, vacancy rates, and suitability to local consumers’ demands. HDH then put together a list of the top 1,000 retail centres in the UK.
Cabinet member for People and Places, Cllr Lesley Dyball, says, “The last year has been extremely difficult for town centre businesses, they have had to adapt very quickly to changing circumstances and learn how to operate differently. Sevenoaks’ independent businesses have stepped up to these challenges, providing new products and services, coupled with a safe place to shop. To be named sixth best retail centre in country is testament to how well our businesses have adjusted and how much residents want to support local retail.”
Cllr Dyball adds, “Despite the huge challenges of the last year we have seen new independent businesses open in Sevenoaks, with more to come. This is an exciting time for Sevenoaks and we are looking forward to all the shops and hospitality venues across our District reopening so our towns can continue thrive.”
The HDH Vitality List was published on 8 February 2021.
To find out more visit www.hdh.co.uk
Council Tax rate set to support District’s recovery
Last night Sevenoaks District Council passed the final part of their budget setting process, with unanimous, cross party support.
In November 2020, the Council gave support for a 10 year balanced budget that showed savings, the protection of frontline services and future investment returns. It also made assumptions regarding council tax levels that could not be set at that time. Putting most of the budget in place early reduced the overall pressure on the Council’s finances by almost £100,000.
Cllr Peter Fleming, Leader of the Council, says, “The last year has seen a huge impact on many people’s lives across the District. We have seen increased numbers of households coming to the Council for help alongside supporting our local businesses throughout the pandemic.
“The Council has not been immune to the impacts of Covid-19 and over the last year the pandemic has cost the Council approaching £5m in increased costs and lost income. The government has provided significant funding, however we have had to find in excess of £300,000 of unfunded Covid-19 related costs.
“We are making savings and delivering additional income totalling £1m without impacting the frontline services we provide to the Districts residents. We believe more than ever that we need to be ready to help and support individuals, communities and the local economy as we come out of the pandemic and start to look at the District’s recovery.
“In light of the above we are proposing a very limited Council Tax increase, recognising the impacts of the pandemic, that equates for the average household to a little under £5 a year or 10p a week, this will allow us to continue our work in support of residents, businesses and the communities we serve through hugely uncertain times.”
Sevenoaks District Council set its budget in November 2020 and agreed its share of the Council Tax at yesterday's Council meeting (23 February 2021).
FREE parking to support of our town centres
Sevenoaks District Council has agreed to free parking offers to support the District’s town centres when we come out of the national lockdown in the run up to Christmas.
To encourage visitors to stay longer, shop safely and support our local businesses, the first hour of parking will be free in the majority of the Council’s short-stay car parks in Sevenoaks and all the Council’s car parks in Swanley and Westerham for a month after the current lockdown ends, currently the 2 December.
Visitors will still need to display a parking ticket or register their stay with MiPermit.
Sevenoaks District Council is also making parking free in all its car parks and on street across the two weekends before Christmas - Saturday 12 and Sunday 13, and Saturday 19 and Sunday 20 December.
Visitors will be able to park for up to three hours in the Blighs car park in Sevenoaks, and longer in other car parks, helping to spread the Christmas cheer as widely as possible.
There will be no need for drivers to show a pay and display ticket or log their stay with MiPermit for this offer.
Cllr Peter Fleming, Leader of the Council, says: “As we come to the end of a year no one could have predicted, the importance of December as a trading period for many of our town centre businesses is more important than ever. These offers form part of our overall package of support to reopen our towns safely and support our local economies”
The Council will continue to patrol its car parks as normal during December to ensure they operate as smoothly as possible.
For parking locations, visit www.sevenoaks.gov.uk/carparks
Sevenoaks District Council launches high streets reopening strategy
Sevenoaks District Council has pledged its commitment to the safety and recovery of its high streets with the launch of a series of initiatives, including a business recovery toolkit.
In addition, a new team of ‘Town Centre Ambassadors’ will provide support and advice to businesses and visitors, complementing the proactive measures that individual businesses are putting in place. Hand sanitiser stations have been positioned in the town centres of Sevenoaks, Edenbridge, Swanley and Westerham, and free parking will be available in the lead up to Christmas.
Sevenoaks District Council’s business recovery toolkit includes:
- Details of the help and information available, including business grants and Council support from its economic development team.
- Downloadable social media assets, unique to each high street’s distinct identity
- Free posters to promote health and safety messages.
- Advice on how to operate safely, including topics such as face coverings, managing queues and NHS Test and Trace.
- Town centre initiatives, including ‘Town Centre Ambassadors’, hand sanitiser stations and free parking offers.
Cllr Peter Fleming, Leader of Sevenoaks District Council, says: “We understand how challenging 2020 has been for local businesses and we want to support them wherever possible. We’ve set out how we are encouraging people to shop safely on our District’s unique high streets in Sevenoaks, Edenbridge, Swanley and Westerham.
“In preparation for shops re-opening after the national lockdown, our business recovery toolkit outlines the support available and the latest health and safety guidelines. It also covers the initiatives Sevenoaks District Council has implemented as part of our work to support our town centre, such as the Town Centre Ambassadors’, hand sanitiser stations and free parking offers.
“We have also created some free posters, which you can download, print and display to clearly promote the health and safety messages. As well as a number of social media assets, which will help to promote businesses and our District’s high streets. We are confident that together, we can keep our high streets safe.”
To find out more about the campaign and to download the assets, visit www.sevenoaks.gov.uk/highstreets
More support for businesses impacted by the latest lockdown
Businesses that have had to close or experienced significant financial loss because of the second lockdown can apply for financial support.
Sevenoaks District Council is inviting businesses to apply for funding worth up to £3,000 if they had to close during the second national lockdown from 5 November 2020. Funding is also available to help those that have remained open but have seen a significant reduction in income.
To be eligible, businesses should have been providing in person services at their business premises before 5 November 2020. Other conditions apply.
Cllr Matthew Dickins, the Council’s Cabinet Member for Finance and Investments, says: “The Sevenoaks District hosts over six thousand businesses, each serving and enriching our community. The latest national restrictions have come just as many were only just getting back on their feet after some of the toughest months they’d ever experienced. But help is at hand with grant funding once again available to help support our District’s businesses through this challenging period.”
Businesses should visit www.sevenoaks.gov.uk/lockdownsupport to view the funding criteria and apply.
Refuse collections to continue as normal
As we enter a second lockdown, Sevenoaks District Council is reassuring residents that rubbish and recycling collections and Garden Waste collections will take place as normal.
Collections may take place at different times than some residents are used to so it is important that black and clear sacks are placed out by 7am and garden waste by 6.30am on the collection day.
Cabinet Member for Cleaner and Greener, Cllr Margot McArthur, says: “We are so proud of our waste collectors in what has been a tough year for everyone. Throughout the last lockdown, they continued to collect residents’ waste and recycling weekly and we do not expect this to change throughout the next lockdown in November and December.”
Visit www.sevenoaks.gov.uk/collectiondays to view waste collection days.
KCC Leader says children will not go hungry during half-term
The Leader of KCC says Kent’s most vulnerable families and children should not suffer hardship or hunger throughout this half term week, or at any time in their lives.
He says that help for anyone struggling to provide for their children is available, and that the need to ensure children from low-income families are fed through the school holidays has never been greater.
The authority supports thousands of children across Kent and further help is available through the Emergency Assistance Grant for those who need extra support.
Through the Kent Together Helpline, set up in response to the Covid-19 pandemic outbreak and working in partnership with District and Borough Councils, thousands of vulnerable people in Kent have already been supported and protected from hardship and isolation during the crisis.
“We and our partners have been working to provide emergency assistance to families most at risk,” said Roger Gough.
“I want to reassure anyone that needs financial assistance that this support is there and has always been there. And now, during this half term break, I want to ensure that those who need help and support are really able to get it.
“Whilst the last few months have presented many challenges, the Covid-19 pandemic has shone a light on the strength of partnerships and community spirit, and this has helped us all in supporting those who are most vulnerable in our communities.
“I strongly encourage anyone who needs help, whether during this half-term or indeed at any time, to contact us for help.”
If your child is eligible for free school meals and you are in need of financial assistance this half term you can get in touch by visiting Kent.gov.uk/Kenttogether
You can also call the helpline on 03000 41 92 92
Parking charges frozen again
During lockdown, Sevenoaks District Council was the first authority in Kent to remove all charges in its car parks and the last in Kent to reintroduce them.
Now, the Council’s Cabinet has agreed that all parking charges will not increase next year. This means the majority of its parking charges will have remained the same for six consecutive years.
Parking changes are reviewed once a year with any changes introduced in early April. But, in light of the impact of Coronavirus on local businesses, the Council has decided to freeze all its parking charges.
As well as keeping charges unchanged, the Council will continue to offer free parking in its Gordon Road car park in Sevenoaks at weekends.
Cllr Margot McArthur, the Council’s Cabinet Member for Cleaner and Greener, says: “I am proud that Sevenoaks District Council is once again setting itself apart from many other local authorities by freezing parking charges.
“Coronavirus continues to put a strain on our local economy, including our high streets. Freezing our parking charges is one of the many ways we can continue to support local businesses during these difficult times.”
Sevenoaks District Council’s Cabinet agreed to the parking charge freeze at its meeting on Thursday 15 October 2020.
Exercise Programme for Seniors
Sevenoaks District Council in partnership with Age UK Sevenoaks & Tonbridge with funding support from Kent Sport have produced a series of gentle exercise workout videos targeted for older people and those who are with limited mobility to stay active and well at home.
The programme by Sue Larken, Age UK’s Health & Wellbeing Coordinator, has been produced to imitate Sue’s ever popular community Pop Up Pop In session. The collection includes warm-ups and cool-down as well as three exercise routines: the first is a chair workout - an aerobic workout designed to improve mobility; the second is a standing exercise, and the third is a seated exercise to music.
The programme can be found on the YouTube channel to celebrate the Silver Sunday initiative.
HSE and Council team up to ensure businesses are COVID-secure
Sevenoaks District Council is working with the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) to make sure local businesses are taking action to reduce the spread of Coronavirus.
Becoming COVID-secure is now a legal duty for businesses. This means taking reasonable steps to control the risks of spreading the virus to protect workers, customers and visitors.
From this week (12 October 2020) the HSE will call hundreds of businesses throughout the Sevenoaks District asking about the Coronavirus precautions they have in place.
If businesses need help or there are concerns, Environmental Health officers from Sevenoaks District Council will visit them at a later date. Council staff will offer practical advice and guidance, but in the unlikely event there are serious concerns or a business refuses to take action, the Council could stop certain work activities until they are made safe.
Cllr Margot McArthur, the Council’s Cabinet Member for Cleaner and Greener, says: “Being COVID-secure is good for business and good for our community. So throughout the next few weeks, we will be working closely with the HSE to make sure local businesses are doing their bit to reduce the spread of the virus.
“We want to do everything possible to support our local businesses during these challenging times. Making sure they have adequate plans in place to keep everyone safe from Coronavirus is an important part of this work.”
Businesses can view the Government guidance on safe working at www.gov.uk/guidance/working-safely-during-coronavirus-covid-19.
In Shape April 2020
During the Corona virus outbreak the In Shape magazine will be going digital. You can access the latest edition below.
In Shape - April 2020 – colour version
In Shape - April 2020 - black and white printer optimised version
Key workers urge residents to stay at home
Frontline staff from across Kent and Medway are leading this weekend’s stay-at-home appeal to residents during the ongoing lockdown, as part of potentially life-saving measures against the spread of Coronavirus (Covid-19).
A short video of key workers from across the county is aiming to flood social media channels today as emergency services, local councils, health partners and essential service providers from across the Kent Resilience Forum are again uniting to remind everyone to follow the Government’s advice by staying safe at home and only going out for essentials trips.
Those taking part in the #KentTogether campaign include a Kent Police officer, an NHS nurse, a doctor, a KCC community warden, local council workers, search and rescue and coastguard volunteers, water and power company employees, and many staff who are contributing to keeping vital services running during the Covid-19 lockdown.
Sevenoaks District Council Cabinet Member for ‘People and Places’, Cllr Lesley Dyball says “We are so grateful to our key workers for keeping services running throughout this difficult time. The best way we can thank them is by staying at home and keeping them and ourselves safe. Only leave your home to shop for basic essentials, for exercise or to help a vulnerable person. Do not visit friends or family or invite them to your home. If we all obey the guidelines, we can go back to normal sooner.”
Councillors agree £20 million leisure centre for Swanley
Councillors agreed to build a new, modern leisure centre for Swanley and the north of the District at the Council meeting on Tuesday (21 April 2020).
This represents a major investment in the heart of the town with the £20 million scheme being the largest Council project in over 30 years.
The new centre will replace the current White Oak Leisure Centre that was predominately built in the 1960s and extended in the 1970s. It will give visitors an improved experience in a bright and airy, energy efficient building.
It includes a six-lane swimming pool with a movable floor, which can be adjusted for different ages and abilities and a wide range of clubs, a learner pool, a 100 plus station gym and fitness studio and a multi-use hall. Flexible studios for classes and events alongside new activities, including Tag Active, and a soft play area all form part of the exciting plans, which will see the current centre remain open throughout the build.
To support local sporting clubs that require a large hall, the Council is working with Orchards Academy to upgrade its four-court sports hall to accommodate netball, roller hockey and other sports.
Funding for the improvements has been included in the new leisure centre construction costs.
Planning permission for the new Centre was approved in February 2020 and construction could begin in late May. Sports and Leisure Management (SLM), which operates as Everyone Active, will manage the new Centre.
Cllr Peter Fleming, Leader of the Council, says: “By agreeing to build a new, modern leisure centre for Swanley, we have committed to our biggest construction project in more than a generation. The current centre has served residents well for more than 50 years and I know some people will be sad to see it go, but it is coming to the end of its working life. We are now making a massive £20 million investment in the town bringing an exciting new centre that can cater for new and existing leisure activities and provide facilities in Swanley for generations to come.
“We are playing an important leadership role and the new facilities will be available to all, helping people to get active and promoting better physical and mental wellbeing."
David Bibby, Everyone Active’s Managing Director, adds: “We are delighted to be working with Sevenoaks District Council and be a part of a project that will provide a new state-of-the-art facility for the local community.
“We’re passionate about creating a healthier nation – which has never been so important – and it’s great that we’re able to work with another local authority that shares this same desire. The new centre will be a true asset to local people, with its unique design and consideration for a wide range of activity. We’re looking forward to being a part of the delivery and long-term management of a facility that a community can be proud of.”
For latest news on the centre, visit www.sevenoaks.gov.uk/whiteoak
Council mounts Local Plan legal challenge
Sevenoaks District Council has begun Judicial Review proceedings after the Government Planning Inspector refused to endorse its new Local Plan.
On 2 March 2020, the Inspector wrote the final report on the examination of the Sevenoaks District Local Plan. This report concluded the Plan was not legally compliant in respect of the Duty to Co-operate. In other words, the Council had not satisfactorily worked with neighbouring councils to accommodate homes that could not be built in the District because of the Green Belt and other protections.
However, the Council strongly rejected this allegation, which surfaced after the first round of the Local Plan hearings in October, seven months after it had submitted the new Plan and supporting evidence to the Inspector.
Within the Local Plan submission there were more than 800 pages of evidence setting out how the Council had worked with its neighbours during the production of the Plan. The neighbouring councils and other organisations involved in the development of the Plan supported the Council’s evidence and approach on this key matter.
Cllr Peter Fleming, Leader of the Council, says: “Taking legal action is not something we would undertake lightly and demonstrates we are serious about standing up for our residents and our cherished environment, against what we believe is a fundamental failure by the Planning Inspectorate to take account of the weight of evidence in front of them.
“Working with landowners, communities and developers, our new Local Plan put forward innovative solutions to deliver almost 10,000 homes and improved infrastructure while protecting nearly all of our Green Belt. It’s a huge frustration that, after so much work, we cannot take our Plan forward at this time.
“In our view, concluding we failed to co-operate with neighbouring councils was the only way to halt the examination. We reject this. We gave the Planning Inspector detailed evidence of our work with our neighbours and, from the start, they said they couldn’t accommodate the homes we could not deliver.”
Cllr Julia Thornton, Cabinet Member for Development & Conservation, adds: “Our Local Plan is the first in the country to be assessed under a new planning framework. We believe, whilst this is not the reason the Inspector has given, failing to meet the Government’s housing figure would potentially impact on subsequent Local Plans across the country."
If the Inspector did have significant concerns over our Duty to Co-operate, these should have been raised soon after we had submitted our Plan, not months later. We fundamentally disagree with the Inspector’s conclusions and firmly believe key parts of the Local Plan requirements have been incorrectly interpreted.
“We feel have no choice but to take this course of action.”
The Secretary of State for the Department for Communities, which is responsible for the Planning Inspectorate, will have an opportunity to respond before a judge decides if the case should proceed. In the light of the Coronavirus outbreak it is not possible to estimate when a hearing may take place.
Statement from the Leader of Sevenoaks District Council
"The last week has seen unprecedented actions being taken by Government, this culminated in the Prime Minister’s address to the nation and the message is clear. We must act now to keep our country safe, to suppress the Coronavirus outbreak and shield the most vulnerable in our society from the virus.
It is without any hesitation that we urge people across our District to follow the advice we are all being given. By staying at home, or working from home, we will help to reduce the spread of Coronavirus. The slower it spreads, the better our incredible NHS staff and public services can cope and the loss of life can be significantly reduced.
Staying at home and self-isolating will be difficult. And some people may worry about how they will get the food and supplies that they need. But, I assure you, if you don’t have family, friends or neighbours to help, we will do everything we can to step in and be there for you.
I have been amazed by the public reaction to this crisis across the District, with people showing the very best of humanity, helping and supporting their neighbours and communities.
A small army of volunteers have come forward offering to help. We have asked them to register with us to give you confidence, should you need their help. You will be able to check who they are and they won’t ask you for any money. Working with our friends and partners in the voluntary sector and alongside community groups, both established and those set up to help during this emergency, we hope to be able to reach everyone who needs help.
If you or someone you know needs help, let us know. We will do all we can to support you.
There will of course be times when we need to leave our homes. Key workers in pharmacies, supermarkets and our public services will continue to provide their services across our District. And we need to help and support them too.
We need to shop responsibly. There is enough food for everyone and buying more than you need has to stop. I am sure that we can lead. We can show the rest of the country that our supermarket shelves can be well stocked as we think of others before ourselves.
The Government has made a number of commitments to businesses, many of these are being delivered by the Council. We have now written to every business in the District setting out the help and support that is available. This includes to our smallest business who will be supported by a grant of £10k. We are working relentlessly to get the business rate discounts and grants promised to the businesses that need them.
Events are moving at a great pace, but our Council staff are dedicated and working hard each day to speak with you and get that money out of the door.
We are aware that some people will be unable to work in the weeks and months ahead and regretfully, some will lose their jobs. We hope the measures put in place by the Government will help you. But we will also do our bit. Our HERO Service can help and advise. We will defer Council Tax payments where we can and we will use our discretionary housing payments to help the most in need to stay in their homes. We will do all we can to make sure you can speak to us if there is any help you need.
We must prepare for what will be difficult weeks and months ahead. We are doing all we can to make sure those vital public services upon which we all rely are remain in place to help and support the communities we serve.
We are determined to do all we can. With the help of town and parish councils, partners, community groups and a small army of volunteers, we will work hard to support the most vulnerable in our community, those that need help if they fall ill, our local key workers and the businesses that make our towns and villages great places to live."
Cllr Peter Fleming
Leader of Sevenoaks District Council
Joint statement – Sevenoaks District Voluntary and Community Sector Forum and Sevenoaks District Council
In response to the ongoing and developing impact of the COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak, we are making this joint statement to inform people in the district of Sevenoaks what your local charities and community and volunteer groups are doing, and how you can help.
As a community, the situation we are facing with regard to coronavirus is unprecedented. This needs an unprecedented response. The Voluntary and Community Sector Forum (Sevenoaks District) and Sevenoaks District Council have come together to lead and support a response across the voluntary and community sector which includes staff and volunteers from charities, community groups, and social enterprises. We are all facing challenges and changes to how we operate. We are working to bring partners together to make a difference.
Cllr Lesley Dyball, Cabinet Member, People and Places, Sevenoaks District Council said:
“In the Sevenoaks district we are fortunate to have a vibrant, well-connected group of voluntary and community organisations and we are very grateful to them for their hard work and response to the crisis. We already work well together to keep Sevenoaks district a great place to live, work and raise a family. Over the coming months we can all have a role to play in addressing the challenges we face. I encourage everyone to support these coordinated efforts. District Councillors are playing a prominent role in coordinating volunteer initiatives and residents can always get in touch with them for help and advice. Together we will do all we can to help keep the residents of our district, our local volunteers and colleagues safe and well.”
It is amazing how many community members and businesses, including those businesses in our rural areas, have contacted local charities to offer their support. From all of us, THANK YOU.
To make it easier for the public and businesses to offer help, we’ve developed a way you can offer help easily, and be directed to a local organisation that needs what you can offer:
- The Council is working with Caring for the Community (Sevenoaks District) to take offers of volunteer support, and direct people to a local charity.
- We are posting updates to the Sevenoaks District Council website and social media, where members of the public can receive updates, news and information about how they can help. If you want to volunteer please visit www.sevenoaks.gov.uk/communityvolunteer or if you’re a resident with a request for practical assistance visit www.sevenoaks.gov.uk/requesthelp
- The Voluntary and Community Sector Forum will support local charities and grassroots groups to work effectively together and to develop new ways of working. They will also support businesses that want to help, to find ways to do so.
- Age UK is coordinating and deploying volunteers to support older people who are vulnerable or struggling in self-isolation, and to reduce pressure on the NHS and Social Care.
We are proud to be working closely to coordinate efforts, and to ensure the most vulnerable people in our community are supported and protected. We want our friends across the voluntary and community sector, our colleagues in the NHS and Social Care, and our partners in the wider community to know that we’ve got your back and will keep doing everything we can to support the district’s communities.
Chair of the Voluntary and Community Sector Forum
Cllr Lesley Dyball
Cabinet Member – People and Places, Sevenoaks District Council
Help available for Council Tax payments
Sevenoaks District Council are reassuring residents that help is available if they’re struggling with their Council Tax due to coronavirus.
There are a number of ways residents can be supported, be that as simple as deferring payments for a couple of months or more fundamental financial assistance. Anyone who either needs help now or suspects they might do so in the coming months should contact the Council as soon as possible to discuss their options.
Cabinet member for Finance & Investment, Cllr Matthew Dickins, says: “Council Tax pays not just for your rubbish and recycling collection but for other vital public services too, many of which have come under particular pressure during this national crisis, such as care of the elderly and vulnerable, homelessness prevention, and the Police. Whilst these are testing times for all those out there on the front-line helping others, we know these are also times of particular anxiety at home. Every year we help thousands of people with their Council Tax payments, offering flexibility and even funding so they can meet their share. We know that approach will be needed more than ever in the weeks and months ahead, and we’re here to help. Please do not hesitate to get in touch for free, confidential advice and assistance if you might need a helping hand during this worrying period.”
Residents who would like to apply for help should visit www.sevenoaks.gov.uk/applyforhelp or call 01732 227000 as soon as possible.
Council issues multimillion-pound lifeline to virus hit businesses
Sevenoaks District Council is distributing more than £20 million in the next two weeks to support businesses affected by Coronavirus.
The scheme sees eligible businesses receive a cash grant of either £10,000 or £25,000, with the criteria set nationally by the Government focussing help on those in the retail, hospitality and leisure sectors.
This vital lifeline is benefitting thousands across the District and forms part of a raft of measures, including the awarding of nearly £20 million of business rates relief.
Cllr Matthew Dickins, the Council’s Cabinet Member for Finance and Investment, says: “We are incredibly lucky to enjoy a strong, diverse and enterprising business community in the Sevenoaks District. But this is a time of great challenge and anxiety for them, their staff and families. So we have been working seven days a week getting in touch with all our qualifying traders, axing business rates, and issuing these grants.”
A handful of eligible business have yet to confirm their bank details and the Council is urging them to get in touch as soon as possible to ensure they benefit from the package of help on offer.
Coronavirus and housing
For residents concerned about their housing situation, the Government has announced that private and social landlords will not be able to evict tenants who are finacially disadvantaged due to the coronavirus and are bringing in measures to protect both renters and landlords.
Further information outlining the support available can be found here
Council puts plans in place to keep services running
Sevenoaks District Council recognise that many residents and local businesses rely on it services. As the Coronavirus outbreak continues, the Council is putting its plans into action so it can continue to deliver services to the usual standards for as long as possible.
The Council is taking action to reduce contact amongst staff to limit the transmission of virus. Wherever possible, staff are working from home and whole teams are not working in the same place together.
The means that some Council services are starting a little earlier than usual, including the Garden Waste collection service. Customers are being asked to put their garden waste bins and sacks out half an hour earlier, by 6.30am, on their collection day.
Other services starting earlier include the street sweepers, the fly tipping response crew and the cesspool emptying team.
The Council’s weekly refuse and recycling collection service is continuing as usual, however it may be necessary to change routes so collection times may be earlier or later than residents are used to, therefore it is important that residents put their sacks out by 7am on their collection day.
The Council is also urging residents to follow the Government and NHS advice to avoid unnecessary travel and therefore to only visit its offices if necessary. Residents can find information, apply for services, make payments and do business on its website www.sevenoaks.gov.uk or by calling 01732 227000.
Cllr Peter Fleming, Leader of the Council says: “These are very challenging times for many in our community, and over the next few days we will be setting out the extra help and support we can offer as a council.
We have been putting in place plans so we can continue to provide the services our communities need, these plans mean we can continue to clean the streets and collect the rubbish at a time when it’s crucial to keep our environment clean for the safety of everybody”
“Although our offices currently remain open, and we’ve taken extra precautions to improve safety, we would urge residents to only come to our offices if absolutely necessary. Residents can still speak to us over the phone or use our website, where they will also find the most up to date information.”
Community grants continuing to support local groups
Sevenoaks District Council will again be supporting local charity and voluntary groups by allocating £153,340 to help them continue their valuable work across the District.
The grants will support organisations which provide services to Sevenoaks District residents, particularly those in greatest need.
Funding totalling £54,800 will be made to 22 local groups who support volunteers, run community transport, help older people and people experiencing mental health problems, assist families and provide support for sport and arts across the District.
Amongst the organisations that will benefit from the grants are North West Kent Volunteer Centre, Age UK Sevenoaks & Tonbridge and Domestic Abuse Volunteer Support Services.
This year, several new charities and groups have been granted funding including PSB Breastfeeding, Fegans and The Hygiene Bank who will use their grant to fund volunteer toolkits.
A further £98,540 will be given to Citizens’ Advice across the District at Edenbridge and Westerham and North and West Kent (Sevenoaks and Swanley).
The Council’s Cabinet Member for People and Places, Cllr Dyball says: “The community grants scheme is a fantastic way to show our support to the incredibly valued voluntary sector across the Sevenoaks District. Residents’ wellbeing is one of our top priorities and our grants allow these wonderful charities and groups to continue helping our most vulnerable residents.”
Council considers next steps for the Local Plan
The Council has expressed extreme disappointment that, in her final report, the Inspector appointed to examine its Local Plan has cited a failure to work with its neighbouring councils to find sites for housing.
Despite having the Plan since April 2019, the Government appointed Inspector, Karen Baker, informed the Council of her final conclusions this week. She claimed the Council failed in its ‘Duty to Co-operate’, in other words working with neighbouring councils to accommodate homes that could not be located in the Sevenoaks District because of constraints, including the Green Belt.
The report itself offered nothing new from previous correspondence and did not respond to the Council’s challenges throughout the process.
Whilst the Council submitted over 800 pages of evidence setting out how it had clearly worked together with its neighbours during the production of the Plan, the Inspector stated she believed this engagement had not been constructive, meaningful or happened at the correct time in the process.
Neighbouring authorities and other organisations involved in this part of the examination have supported both the Council’s evidence and approach on this key matter.
The ‘Duty to Co-operate’ was covered on the first day of the public hearings last year. The Inspector chose to continue with these sessions for two-weeks and the Council has asked for detailed comments on all the other matters that were discussed, including the approach to protecting the Green Belt. Aside from a brief covering letter, these comments have not been forthcoming.
The Council is now taking advice on its next steps.
The report setting out the Inspector’s conclusions is available at www.sevenoaks.gov.uk/localplannews
Cllr Peter Fleming, Leader of the Council, says:
“The Government has told us we should deliver 11,312 new homes. Over the past four years, we have worked with our communities to produce a new Local Plan that will protect the environment, nearly all of our Green Belt, whilst providing much-needed homes and improved infrastructure.”
“We are not an anti-development Council and we put forward innovative solutions to deliver almost 10,000 homes in an area that is 93% Green Belt.
“The inspector has hinted that she agrees that the council has delivered significant numbers within our Plan when put up against the District’s constraints.
“In our opinion, concluding we failed to co-operate with neighbouring councils was the only way to halt the examination. We reject any notion that we did not fully co-operate with our neighbours. We gave the Planning Inspector detailed evidence of our work with neighbours. But, from the outset, they said they couldn’t accommodate the homes we could not deliver.
“Our Local Plan is the first to be assessed under a new planning framework and, we believe, failing to meet the Government’s housing figure would impact on subsequent Local Plans across the country.
“If the Inspector did have concerns over our duty to co-operate, these should have been raised soon after we had submitted our Plan, not months later, and certainly well before any public hearings took place.
“We also want to hear the Inspector’s views on the other aspects of the Plan. Considerable time, effort and expense has been spent by this Council on producing the Plan and it’s only right that the Inspector, who spent time considering it, should share her thoughts.”
“It’s a huge frustration that after so much work, we cannot take our Plan forward.
“We fundamentally disagree with the inspectors conclusions and while we consider our options one thing is certain, we will continue to stand up for our residents and the districts environment.”
Sevenoaks Warm Homes Programme
Full details of the programme can be found here
Budget protects services while investing in local communities
Sevenoaks District Council has set a budget for the coming year that will continue to protect its services and invest in local communities.
The Council has agreed an annual budget of £15.6 million. Residents who live in a Band D property will now pay £219.96 per year in Council Tax for the Sevenoaks District Council element of their bill, an increase equal to less than one-and-a-half pence a day.
Sevenoaks District Council’s share of residents’ overall Council Tax bill will be 11p for every pound in Council Tax paid.
Cllr Peter Fleming, Leader of Sevenoaks District Council, says:
“These are incredibly challenging times for local government. In the last 10 years, our revenue support grant has fallen by over six million pounds. In simple terms that means the direct funding for every man, women and child within the District has reduced from £55.95 in 2010 to zero two years ago, and there it remains.
But with more innovative and efficient ways of providing our services, including the weekly collection of rubbish and recycling, and income from our property portfolio, we will continue to invest in services and the most significant and ambitious capital programme in living memory, delivering investment in and for our communities.
Over the past year, we completed the much-needed Sevenoaks Town Car Park and planning permission was approved for the Swanley White Oak Leisure Centre. We are currently applying for planning permission to bring a new business hub and housing to the important Swanley gateway site.
The work of our two wholly owned companies has brought forward an exciting mixed tenure housing scheme in Westerham, which saw us deliver the councils first affordable homes in over 30 years
As we look forward to the next financial year, we will work to develop an exciting Masterplan to bring education, arts, retail, transport, housing and other uses together to two Sevenoaks town centre sites.
In Edenbridge, we will see how best to move forward a refurbishment of the Leisure Centre so it can continue to play an important part in that community for many years to come.
At the same time, we have protected our universal services that matter most to our residents, such as our weekly waste and recycling collections, while enhancing services to those within our community who most need help and support.”
For every pound of Council Tax collected, Kent County Council’s share is 70p, the Kent Police & Crime Commissioner’s share is 10p, the average town or parish council’s share is 5p and the Kent Fire & Rescue Service’s share is 4p. Sevenoaks District Council collects the Council Tax on behalf of all these authorities.
Leader's Local Plan letter to Secretary of State
Sevenoaks District Council’s Leader has written to the Minister for Local Government with his concerns about the Local Plan examination.
Cllr Peter Fleming wrote to the Rt Hon Robert Jenrick MP, the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, last week (21 January 2020). In the letter, Cllr Fleming challenged the Planning Inspector's conclusion that the Council had failed to work with its neighbours to find sites for new homes that, due to constraints such as the Green Belt, could not be delivered in the Sevenoaks District.
In October the Planning Inspector, Karen Baker, cancelled the Council's Local Plan hearings after two weeks due to a perceived lack of constructive engagement with neighbouring authorities to resolve the unmet housing need in its draft Local Plan.
However, before and during the examination, the Council provided the Planning Inspector with evidence it had worked closely with neighbouring councils since starting work on the new plan in 2015.
Despite pressure from Planning Inspector, the Council has vowed not to withdraw the draft Local Plan.
Cllr Peter Fleming says: "We are not an anti-development Council. In our draft Local Plan we have brought forward innovative solutions to deliver new homes in the District, which will stall if the Inspector’s misguided conclusions are implemented. This cannot be right.
Cllr Fleming adds: "Bringing this issue to the attention of the Minister now is the right thing to do. We have asked to meet with him at his earliest convenience to discuss the points raised in our letter."
Sevenoaks District Council is waiting to hear from the Planning Inspector about her next steps for the Local Plan examination.
You can view the Council’s latest letter at www.sevenoaks.gov.uk/localplannews.
Kebab Shop Operator's Court Grilling
The operator of a Sevenoaks kebab shop was fined £607 at Sevenoaks Magistrates’ court on Friday, 17 January 2020, for fly-tipping food and other waste associated with a fast food business.
Thirty-nine year old Hazim Saglam of 10 Crown Hill, Borough Green pleaded guilty to illegally dumping several large sacks full of old food and takeaway waste in Mill Pond Close in Sevenoaks.
The fly tipping came to light when an eagle-eyed resident spotted the waste being dumped in the residential side street around midnight on 8 May 2019. The community-minded local made a note of the car registration and took photos of the dumped waste on his mobile phone.
After the resident reported the incident, the Council’s fly-tipping investigation team traced the vehicle to Saglam.
Saglam was interviewed by the team on 13 June 2019. During the interview, he confirmed he was the owner of the vehicle.
At the time of the offence, Saglam was the operator of the Seal Kebab shop but he was looking after the 7Oaks Grill kebab shop in St John’s Hill on behalf of his brother when the rubbish was dumped. The 7Oaks Grill did not have a commercial waste agreement in place at the time of the offence.
At court, Saglam was handed a £325 fine and ordered to pay the Council’s costs of £250 and a Victim Surcharge of £32.
Cllr Margot McArthur, the Council’s Cabinet Member for Cleaner and Greener, says: “Dumping waste, including food, is unpleasant and potentially dangerous. Business owners have a legal duty to dispose of their waste responsibly.
“We want to thank the local resident who witnessed this incident and provided us with crucial evidence so we could take action against Mr Saglam.
We have promised our residents we will do our best to protect our environment and, where we have evidence, we will bring fly-tippers to justice.”
Hit the right note at the Big Community Sing 2020
Choirs, quartets, schools and signing groups of every description are invited to showcase their musical talents for the ‘Big Community Sing’ later in the year.
The extremely popular event takes place at the Stag Theatre in Sevenoaks on Monday 4 May 2020 from 7pm and money raised from the night goes to support local mental health services. All ages, genres and abilities are welcomed at this inclusive, community event.
The deadline for applying to take part is Friday 28 February and groups can apply in three ways. Visit www.sevenoaks.gov.uk/thebigsing to apply online, email email@example.com call 01732 227000. Successful applicants will be notified by Monday 9 March.
Sevenoaks District Council Chairman, Cllr John Edwards-Winser says: “We’re delighted to be holding the Big Community Sing at the Stag Theatre again. It’s a great opportunity for a diverse range of singing groups to perform in front of hundreds of people whilst raising money for mental health charities.
Cllr Edwards-Winser adds “Singing as part of a group is a great way to get involved in the local community and improve health and wellbeing.”
Tickets to watch the Big Community Sing cost £5 and go on sale from 9 March from the Stag Box Office. Visit www.stagsevenoaks.co.uk or call 01732 450175.