Julia Batt

Liberal Democrat Councillor for Heath Ward Learn more

I’ve made front page news!

by Julia on 13 November, 2007

Big excitement in the Batt household this morning, as I’ve made it to the front page of the Downs Mail town edition under the headline “The city of Maidstone”.

The story reads:

Tentative moves are being made to revisit city status for Maidstone.
Cllr Julia Batt raised the question at a borough council scrutiny committee meeting and inital enquiries will be pursued by officers.
Cllr Batt said she felt the issue had been dropped too readily after Maidstone’s bid for city status at the Millennium ended in failure.
Vice-chairman of the committee, Cllr Stephen Beerling, said any renewed effort had to carry more clout than the previous attempt.
He recalled: “When Maidstone went into it before, it seemed to be with the approach that we wouldn’t get it anyway – so it proved.”

I thought I’d take the time to explain this story in more depth, as in all honesty, prior to election, I wouldn’t have understood much of it myself!

Firstly, what is a scrutiny meeting?

Every aspect of the work done by the council is covered by an ‘Overview & Scrutiny (O&S) committee. There are currently four of these groups; Regeneration, Environment and Leisure, External and Corporate Services. The scrutiny group that I sit on this year is Regeneration – as the name implies this scrutinises all decisions to do with the regeneration of Maidstone. Topics that have been investigated so far this year include ‘Maidstone Market’, Maidstone’s Housing Strategy, closure of the Coombe Quarry Park & ride closure, and we’ve also touched upon Concessionary bus fares (more to come on this topic!).

Members of the public are welcome to attend these meetings and are invited to suggest topics for overview. They can also be viewed online. However, the truth is, for whatever reason, that no-one ever comes to meetings (unless the Tories rile them up!) and it’s very rare for people to offer suggestions for review.

As well as scrutinising decisions that have been made, topics can be reviewed by these committees. ANYTHING can be covered (providing it’s under the right group). As an example, the Borough Council could research the possibility of organising trips to the moon from the High Street. The committee would investigate this topic from all angles with interviews from relevant experts in their fields…

  • would it bring in additional revenue via tourism streams?
  • would there be a Health & Safety risk with people singeing their hair (from rocket fumes)?!
  • how big would the launch pad exclusion zone need to be?
  • could we advertise Maidstone on the sides of the rockets?
  • would the rockets be reuseable?
  • etc etc…

At the end of the investigation, a recommendation or policy suggestion would be made to either the borough or county council, or indeed to national government.

So that’s the O&S committee explained, the next part to explain is the city status application:

Occasionally, oppurtunities are given for Council’s to apply to be granted city status. Maidstone did apply at the last chance (for the millenium) but the bid was rejected – allegedly due to ‘lack of history’.

I honestly don’t know what (if any) the benefits of city status are – this would all be for the scrutiny group to investigate. However, should the chance present itself again, I wouldn’t want to think that we’d miss out on something that may be excellent for us, purely because we hadn’t fully prepared for it.

To see this meeting in progress, click here.

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