Fu­ture of arts and cul­ture dom­i­nates ques­tion time

Kentish Express Ashford & District - - Front Page - by Luke Hol­lands lhol­lands@thek­m­group.co.uk

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

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