Future of arts and culture dominates question time
THE future of arts and culture in Ashford dominated the council’s State of the Borough public debate.
The borough’s flagship annual debate, which invites residents to take part, was more popular than in past years.
A new format was adopted following last year’s debate after criticism by some councillors that the previous style of debate was ‘boring’.
This year, to kick start questions, the council produced an overview of some of the key services and initiatives the council and its partners had been responsible for over the past year together with the challenges for the future and asked people what they thought.
The discussion reviewed major difficulties from the last year such as the recession and gave an overview on local services such as housing and transport.
But more questions were asked on the subject of arts funding and the development of St Mary’s church than on any other subject.
Councillors were quizzed on the amount of funding available to arts organisations, plans for a new theatre, plans to remove the pews at St Mary’s church to create an arts and community centre, planned cuts to the council’s arts budget and plans for a railway museum.
Cllr Gerry Clarkson (Con), portfolio holder for cultural services, defended the council’s arts and community services. He said: “The council supports many of our excellent arts organisations such as Shiva Nova, Tenterden Folk Festival, Ashford Youth Theatre and Egerton Music Festival.
“We provide some support through our arts budget and also project funding through the Community Grants Fund. I wish that we were able to do more but the economic realities under which local councils are operating cannot simply be ignored.”
Chris Cooper, from Ashford, who is campaigning against plans to turn St Mary’s Church into an arts venue, said: “Why are they still not listening to us? Most of the people in this town think this is a terrible idea.”
But Canon Colin Preece of St Mary’s said: “It is always the way with these things that those who are in opposition make the most noise.
“I’m very much in the belief that St Mary’s should be a church for all the people of the town.”
Council leader Cllr Paul Clokie hailed the evening a success. He said: “We were pleased to see the council chamber filled and a broad age range of people asking questions.” See comment, page 10
Cllr Gerry Clarkson defended the council’s support for the arts