One year ago the leaders of Ashford Borough Council and Kent County Council formally signed a document that set out how the two authorities would work more closely together on a number of specific projects.
The District Deal, as it is known, is the only agreement of its kind in Kent. Its ambition is to place innovation, creativity and quality at the heart of the shared goals of both councils. This is not only for the benefit of the Ashford borough, but for the wider economy across Kent and the south east of England.
Examples of progress made to date include:
- Securing the full funding required to provide a signalling solution at Ashford International station. This is important as it will see the next generation of Eurostar trains – and any future European rail operators – able to stop at Ashford International
- Securing funding for J10a, a nationally significant infrastructure project, to be brought forward. A recommendation will be made by the examination authority to the Secretary of State within three months, and he will then make a decision within a further three-month period
- The innovative work on enforcing overnight lorry parking. This is a stubborn problem being faced in many other boroughs in the county but the District Deal has seen Ashford try to lead the way and it has shaped the response elsewhere
Of course, being the first agreement of its kind, progress has not always been smooth. However, the experience of working really closely together for the last 12 months mean that lessons have been learned in key areas, such as negotiations over land that mutually interests both councils.
Identifying the challenges, and resolving them, mean that the councils are now working together in a more streamlined way, taking action and making decisions more quickly and with more authority. This can only be of benefit to the Ashford borough as it presses forward on its journey towards a more commercially-minded way of operating.
At last night’s Cabinet meeting, Ashford’s cabinet members re-committed to the principles of the District Deal, underlining their intent to:
- Deliver key regeneration projects
- Realise Ashford’s potential
- Synchronise the way it works with KCC to deliver the strong economy needed by its businesses in the borough
Ashford’s Cabinet also agreed to look at delivering a protocol to ensure joined-up working by officers at all levels in both organisations who are working on the Chilmington Green project and the creation of its Community Management Trust. Additionally, members committed to prioritising the delivery of broadband across the borough and the need to work with town centre investors and developers to integrate infrastructure requirements and create pleasing public spaces around the many new developments coming forward.
Commenting on the positive impact of the District Deal, Ashford Borough Council Leader, Cllr Gerry Clarkson, said: “I am pleased that progress is clearly being made as a result of the greater collaboration between councillors and officers here at Ashford and at KCC. The District Deal was always a statement of intent to seek fresh ways of achieving project delivery. The matters it has sought to resolve simply cannot be done by one organisation alone and we have managed to unpick the lock on several projects vital to the future success of the borough.
“The landscape for local government is ever-changing. Demands on our services are increasing and it is incumbent on the council to be the catalyst to bring inward investment into the borough. Therefore, it is pleasing to me that we have been the joint architect of the first Delivery Deal in Kent, which is building on the strength between Ashford and Kent County Councils and seeking to deliver better results for our communities in the future.”
Mark Dance, KCC’s Cabinet Member for Economic Development, said: “We are very pleased with the work of the Ashford Strategic Board, the gathering of key people to discuss ambition and overcome any hurdles in delivering projects in the borough.
“All the officers and politicians involved have a positive attitude and it is good to see Damian Green, the Member of Parliament in attendance whilst being a Cabinet Minister.
“We go from strength to strength building trust and an effective working relationship with Ashford Borough Council.”