We first heard that the Conservatives in charge of Kent County Council were looking to close a number of household recycling centres across Kent in the Summer.
This was in a bid to save £1.5 million. Our local party knew very quickly that this would not only be a very damaging proposal for the residents, who would be asked to drive 20 mins to the next town in an environmental and cost of living crisis, but also it was going to be an incredibly unpopular political decision.
As soon as we got wind of the proposal through out County Councillor Antony Hook, the local party set up an online petition. We shared this petition on our social media pages, added a QR code to our FOCUS and asked people if they wanted to be kept up to date by email. Very quickly upwards of 3,000 people had signed the petition and 1600 of those people had asked to be kept updated via email.
Swale Liberal Democrats have a strong majority of Faversham Town Council. A working group was quickly set up and a public campaign was established quickly. The plan involved public protests at County Hall on full Council days, large campaign banners encouraging residents to join the campaign and to sign the Town Council petition. The Town Council funded a bus to take residents to the protest and printed some corex signs. The protests made the regional news and we were able to feed that back to the residents. The chair of the working group, Cllr Eddie Thomas, put huge pressure on both Swale Borough Council to stand up against the cuts and on Kent County Council to further explain their proposal to residents.
Swale Lib Dems communicated their campaign to residents in a variety of ways – including leaflets, press releases and council motions.
At the Borough Council, where the Lib Dems sit in opposition, our group put forward a motion to full Council asking the Labour Leader to write to the County Council to demand that they drop the plans. This was passed unanimously and we were able to tell all of the people that signed the petition and gave us permission to update them that we had managed to get cross party support for our motion. We also asked Kent County Council to attend the Area Committee to explain their rationale for threatening the tip with closure, they declined to attend.
At Kent County Council, Antony Hook spoke out against the proposals in committee and asked questions which the administration had no answer to. The public consultation that the Conservative Cabinet member had said was to happen in the Autumn was pushed back twice so that the Administration could improve the evidence base for the proposal. We used Focus leaflets again to explain to residents what Antony was doing and how the three levels of Liberal Democrat local Government representation were working together to fight for residents.
On 4th of November we heard that the Cabinet member in charge of the proposal had resigned. Then the following Tuesday, the local paper and the BBC were reporting that the plans to close the tip had been axed. We were able to send out the link to the story, where Antony had been quoted as a main source of opposition, to all those that had wanted to be updated and over 50% of those people opened their email. We also had a focus designed and to the printers the same day.
We are really proud that the campaign was such a success. Not only have we saved a really important piece of community infrastructure, we increased our email numbers, boosted the profile of local councillors and campaigners and worked together as a team across the tiers of local Government to bring about a positive change for the town.