Kingston Council defends £80,000 spend on consultation

Kingston council spent a total of £80,207 on a consultation on the “new local plan,” a freedom of information request (FOI) has revealed.

The new plan will cover wide-ranging issues from housing and congestion to rejuvenating Kingston High Street, and will replace the current plan which was created in 2012.

The consultation took place between May and July this year and was aimed at gauging local views using drop-in-sessions, workshops, distributing copies of the plan and an online portal.

Some local residents were shocked to find that the council had spent so much. Local hairdresser Laura Mann 55, said that she would be “interested to know where the money had been spent”.

The council told the Kingston Courier: “We want as many residents as possible to give their views on the future of Kingston borough and will continue to make every effort to help them do so as it progresses through the future engagement on the plan.”

According to another FOI request made by a leading UK newspaper, Kingston council was also far from being the worst offender.

In 2015 local councils spent an estimated £1.3 billion in consultation fees, while St Albans spent a reported £1.2 million on consultations and Cornwall spent an estimated £750,000 on a consultation into tourism in the area in 2017.

Therefore, while the £80,000 was certainly a significant amount, it represents just a small percentage of the council’s £134.5m budget for 2019/20 and is not without precedent.

Chamber of Commerce chief executive Forbes Low also defended the spend, stating: “Like many town centres locally and nationally, [Kingston] is facing a number of challenging retail issues. There are no easy, linear answers.” He added that there would be no improvement without change.

Despite Low’s confidence though, that “Kingston is resilient and performing well”, he also said that congestion in the area is harming the High Street, and that 70 per cent of traffic passing through Kingston is actually going somewhere else.

Figures released by the council seem to support this view, with traffic into the town centre falling 8.6 per cent over a ten year period, creating a challenging environment for local retailers.

Residents will still be looking for answers about the amount spent though, given that council tax was raised by 2.99 per cent in February this year, just three months before the consultation began.

It is also not the first time that the Council has been criticised over spending. In October last year the Courier reported that the Conservative councillor Kevin Davis criticised the council for spending £45,000 on a set of curtains.

The council defended the spend again on the basis that “the commercial hire of these two function rooms is expected to offset this capital investment”.

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