Community Governance Review – Whitstable: your questions answered

Second set of questions and answers published 8 February 2024 following the three public information sessions held in Whitstable.

You can also watch a presentation on the Community Governance Review.

Taken together, the presentation and these questions and answers present a full picture of what was said during these sessions.

Why are you proposing a town council for Whitstable?

This is not the city council’s proposal. We have received a petition with enough signatures from local residents to trigger a community governance review (CGR). A CGR is a formal process which has to include a public consultation exercise to see what residents think. 

Who decides whether we have a town council?

The decision will be made at a meeting of the full Canterbury City Council comprising all 39 councillors. They will be informed by a councillor advisory group, whose role is to look at the consultation results and make recommendations to the General Purposes Committee, which is the committee responsible for overseeing such reviews.

Is it optional to pay for the town council?

No, if a town council is formed then you will pay for it as part of your council tax.

Can you hold a referendum to decide if the town council should be created?

There is no ability for the council to hold a referendum on the matter. The electoral register can only be used for specific purposes and this isn’t one of them. The requirement is to conduct a consultation exercise, which is what we are doing.

How do we know if the town council will be good value for money?

That is a subjective question. The priorities will be determined by the elected town councillors, working closely with the Town Clerk and their staff. It is not possible to prepare ‘cost/benefit’ analysis on a proposal such as this because the potential scope of what it might deliver is broad and one person’s opinion of what represents good value for money differs from another’s.

Do residents directly decide how town council funds are spent?

Decisions about how town council funds are spent would be decided by the town councillors and the officers. How a town council decides to consult and reflect the needs of local residents will be a matter for those elected to office.

Do businesses have to pay the precept? 

No, businesses are subject to business rates, which are calculated separately from council tax.

How much is the consultation costing?

It’s difficult to estimate precisely because of the staff time involved. Actual costs include the printing and delivery of a leaflet to every household (over 16,000 in total), the hall hire for the three public events and print costs for additional leaflets, paper surveys and posters. All together that has cost close to £3,000 to date. We are obliged to conduct a review with public consultation but it is up to us how we conduct it. 

How do we abolish the town council if we don’t like it?

The processes to create and abolish a town council are the same – a petition calling for a review.

What will the assessment criteria look like?

We will look at the numbers for, against and not sure and, equally as importantly, the reasons why. The guidance says the council is required to ensure community governance within the area under review will be ‘reflective of the identities and interests of the community in that area’, and should be ‘effective and convenient’. In doing so the review is required to take into account ‘the impact of community governance arrangements on community cohesion’ and the size, population and boundaries of a local community or parish. 

What is an acceptable response rate? 

There isn’t an ‘acceptable’ measure. The consultation will report the numbers expressing certain views and the councillors must draw their own conclusions from the responses we receive. 

Would this be a top up or replace city council funding?

This precept – the amount you would pay for a town council – is additional to the council tax you pay for Canterbury City Council services. 

Would the city council cut services if this were introduced? 

The city council will continue to deliver its services within the budget it has available. The town council would be its own independent body and will set its own budget. The town council is not a replacement for the city council or the county council. It works alongside others and can collaborate to use its money to improve the area.

How do we know what the new town council will do?

Each town council operates differently. They have very few statutory duties (things they are required by law to provide) but wide ranging discretionary powers (things they can choose to do) to deliver services within their locality. The petitioners (CT5 People’s Forum) provided some examples on their website in support of the petition. You can also visit the KALC website for links to town council websites.

Who are the petitioners, the CT5 People’s Forum?

They are a voluntary group of local residents. Further details can be found on their website.

What will you come back with in Phase 2? Does Phase 2 need to happen if there is overwhelming support for/against?

The consultation plan is suggesting a two stage process but we will have to await the results of the first phase before deciding what to include in the second phase. We’ve been asked if there is a scenario where the second phase might not proceed if the results are overwhelmingly clear one way or the other. If that were to be the case then Council has the ability to review and vary the timetable when it reports back on the results of phase one. 

Will the new town council listen to people and will the councillors be politically affiliated? 

The new town council will have elected councillors in the same way as a parish council or the city council. They are accountable to their electorate. Anyone can stand to be a town councillor and they can decide whether to stand as an independent or as a party candidate. 

Would having a town council affect how Community Infrastructure Levy (CIL) money is spent locally?

The city council adopted a CIL Charging Schedule in 2019 which is, in effect, a tax applied to certain new developments based on the amount of new floorspace being developed. The CIL money collected is then used by the council to provide funding towards some of the infrastructure projects which are needed to support development, such as schools or open spaces.

The amount of CIL money raised in the Whitstable area, or across the wider district, would not be affected if a town council was established. 

In line with national rules, 15 per cent of CIL money raised must be spent in the area local to where the development takes place, and on projects which have been subject to engagement with local communities. This is known as the ‘neighbourhood portion’ of the CIL and would rise to 25 per cent where a neighbourhood plan has been adopted for an area.

In areas of the district without a parish or town council, the city council collects the neighbourhood portion money and, through engagement with local communities, decides how this is spent. 

If a town council is established for the Whitstable area, the neighbourhood portion money raised from development within the boundary of the town council area would be passed to the town council. The town council would then be responsible for spending and reporting on this, in line with national requirements. 

Can a neighbourhood plan be prepared for Whitstable if a town council is not established?

Yes. In an area that does not have a town or parish council, a neighbourhood plan can still be produced, provided a neighbourhood forum is established.. The neighbourhood forum once established would be the legal qualifying body for plan production.

Who can have a say?

Everyone is welcome to reply to the consultation.

Is this the only area we can consider?

No, it is the starting point for the consultation as it is the area submitted with the petition. It is a requirement of the process that the petitioners define the area they are petitioning for.

It will be possible to consider alternative boundary lines if the consultation results indicate that support differs between one area and another.  

I’ve completed the petition, do I need to reply again?

Yes, the petition was a separate exercise from the consultation. The signatories were calling for the review to be conducted. If you wish to contribute to the consultation exercise you will need to respond to the survey. 

The letter arrived after some or all of the public events took place. Doesn’t this undermine the process? 

We relied on our usual methods of publicity to promote the public events. The decision to drop letters through every letterbox provided an extra opportunity to notify people about the events. Over 200 people attended so word got out by the various means used. There is a recording of the presentation available on our website and there is still plenty of time to complete the survey and let us know your views.

Will the town council have more influence over planning applications than other local groups that already exist?

A town council would be a statutory consultee for planning applications submitted within its boundary. Decisions on planning applications would still be made by Canterbury City Council. 

Can you give some concrete examples of what town councils have done?

The work of town councils varies widely. For a general statement we have referred to the description provided by the National Association of Local Councils. If you wish, you can refer to KALC or the petitioners at the CT5 People’s Forum for further examples. 

Will a town council be economically sustainable given the financial pressure that public authorities are under? Isn’t there a high risk that town councils will get into a lot of debt?

The town council will be required to produce a balanced budget each year. The fact that they do not have a large number of statutory responsibilities means that they will have greater discretion about how their money is spent. 

Is there an example of a town council influencing a planning application?

Answered above.

Is a town council the only way to get a Neighbourhood Plan?

Answered above.

How will you handle the risk that people in support of town councils may be overrepresented in the feedback?

The consultation is open to anyone to respond. It is not a referendum. Our approach has been to ensure people have enough information to listen to the arguments, think about them and ask more questions if they arise before making their contribution to the consultation. 

How did you decide on the proposed boundary area?

It was selected by the petitioners. One of the requirements of a petition for a CGR is that it must specify a proposed boundary area. Other boundary lines can be considered as part of the review.  

Will the town council obtain funding from agricultural bodies?

It will be a matter for the new town council to decide whether to seek external funding for different projects and services. 

Does the town council precept pay for the wages of the town council councillors?

A town council can employ officers who will be paid staff. Some recruit volunteers to support their work. A town council has the ability to set allowances for councillors but most choose not to. As far as we know all parish councillors in the Canterbury district are performing their role on a voluntary basis. 

Can we see the distribution of responses?

We will be collecting address information as part of the survey which will enable us to do some analysis according to the area people live. 

Do we know if residents are generally in support of town councils after they create them? Are town councils often abolished?

Town councillors are elected officials so the councillors are ultimately accountable to their electorate. Town councils are not often abolished but there is a way to do so, using the same process as is in place for creating them.

Will people who might struggle to pay the town council charges get a discount on the charges if they don’t qualify for benefits?

The town council precept is collected as part of the council tax. If you are eligible for a council tax discount then this will also be reflected in what you pay in your town council precept. 

Where does the initial money come from for a town council? 

Canterbury City Council would set the first precept as part of the budget setting process for the next financial year. The money is paid by the city council to the town council at the start of the financial year and then recovered throughout the year from council tax payments. 

As someone who doesn’t live in the area, can I still respond to the consultation? 

Yes you can. 

Is the CIL money only from developments that happen within the town council boundary? 

Answered above.

Can someone from Chestfield Parish Council stand as a councillor for Whitstable Town Council? 

Yes, you can stand for election in different parish or town/community councils, provided you are qualified to stand in all those parish or town/community councils.

First set of questions and answers published 4 January 2024

Why undertake a review now?

Canterbury City Council has received a petition stating that it believes Whitstable would benefit from having its own town council to represent local residents. The petition has been signed by over 7.5% of the local electorate.

The Local Government and Public Involvement in Health Act 2007 places a duty on principal councils to respond to such a petition. Sections 39-43 of the Act set out prescriptive criteria, which the petition must meet in order to be legally valid.

Principal councils are also required to have regard to the guidance on undertaking community governance reviews published jointly by the Department for Communities and Local Government and the Local Government Boundary Commission.

What has the decision making process been up to now?

General Purposes Committee considered the terms of reference, timetable and consultation plan for the review at its meeting on 13 December 2023. These were then approved by Full Council on 4 January 2024.

You can read the full General Purposes Committee report and supporting appendices (minute 422).

When would any changes come into force?

This would have to be determined as part of the review. The earliest date would be on the same day as the county council elections in May 2025.

Why do some areas have a parish or town council, but others do not?

The answer is largely historical.

When local government reorganisation took place in 1974, many towns were subsumed into broader district/city councils. While some of the local town councils in urban areas remained, others did not.

Canterbury district currently has 27 parish councils but no town councils.

How many town or parish councillors would there be?

If it is agreed to establish a town council, one of the issues that will need to be decided is how many councillors will be elected. Town or parish councillors can be elected to represent the whole of the parish area or smaller neighbourhoods within the area, called wards.

Any councillors elected to the town council would be in addition to the existing local ward councillors who are members of Canterbury City Council.

It is possible for the same people to be elected to the city council and a town or parish council.

Is the creation of new parish/town councils the only option in areas which don’t currently have one?

No. A review can also explore whether alternative forms of local governance would be more suitable for an area including:

  • area committees
  • neighbourhood management programmes
  • tenant management organisations
  • area or community forums
  • residents and tenants associations
  • community associations

What must Canterbury City Council take into account when undertaking a Community Governance Review?

Canterbury City Council is required to take into account:

  • the impact of existing community governance arrangements on community cohesion
  • the size, population and boundaries of any local community or proposed parish or town council

In carrying out a Community Governance Review, Canterbury City Council must also consider the wider picture of community governance.

This includes taking account of well-established forms of community governance such as local residents associations and community forums.

These can be considered as either alternatives to or stages towards establishing parish or town councils.

Guidance does, however, indicate that parish and town councils are set apart from these other kinds of governance by the fact that they are a democratically elected tier of local government and can set a budget and possess specific powers.

What are the criteria by which options for the future will be judged?

Government guidance indicates that characteristics of good community governance to be considered in assessing the options when undertaking such a review include:

  • a sense of civic pride and civic values
  • a strong, inclusive community and voluntary sector
  • a sense of place – with a positive feeling for people and local distinctiveness
  • effective engagement with the local community at neighbourhood level
  • strong leadership
  • the ability of local authorities to deliver quality services economically and efficiently
  • an area that is of a size that is viable as an administrative unit of local government

Local people might consider these characteristics when submitting their views.

Who will Canterbury City Council consult with?

Before making any recommendations or publishing final proposals, the council will take full account of the views of local people. The council will comply with the statutory consultative requirements by:

  • consulting with local residents within the area under review
  • consulting any other person or body (including a local authority) which appears to the council to have an interest in the Community Governance Review (e.g. Kent County Council)
  • taking into account any representations received in connection with the Community Governance Review

Is there a difference between a town and parish council?

No, they both have the same statutory powers and can provide the same services. The only differences are that a town council has decided that it should be known as a town council instead of a parish council, and a town council usually has a Mayor.

Published: 4 January 2024

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