New Worthing council leader outlines challenges and priorities for borough

Worthing Borough Council’s new leader has outlined the challenges ahead and how he intends to steer the council through them.

New Worthing Borough Council leader Kevin Jenkins
New Worthing Borough Council leader Kevin Jenkins

Gaisford ward councillor Kevin Jenkins (Con) was selected as the  Conservative group’s leader on Monday (November 8) and was subsequently voted in as council leader at a special meeting on Wednesday (November 10).

He is taking over the reins from Dan Humphreys (Con, Offington) who stepped down as leader of the council after six and a half years in the role.

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Work to accelerate community cohesion committee

Speaking to the Local Democracy Reporting Service, Mr Jenkins said that one of his very first actions as leader has been to ‘accelerate the establishment

of a community cohesion committee’.

The idea was put forward by a member of the public during WBC’s full council meeting in October and Mr Jenkins indicated that plans are already in motion.

“The views of the public are paramount to any council,” he said, “But the important factor is not that we ‘listen’, but that we ‘hear’ what is being said.

Worthing has a wealth of cultures and communities making up our diverse town and I am keen that they all have the opportunity to contribute their views.

“That is why, on my appointment, one of my first actions was to accelerate the establishment of a community cohesion committee, a cross-party group, which councillor Hazel Thorpe has been asked to lead.”

Mr Jenkins says to ‘watch this space’ as details are set to be given about the committee and how the public can get involved.

‘We must be the guardians of the past as well as of the future’

Mr Jenkins has served as executive member for regeneration at the council for around four years, and this influence is clear in his goals for the borough.

He says that Worthing ‘has been going through a steep period of change’ and that, since he took up the regeneration portfolio, it has been his ‘priority to enable delivery on those areas of change’.

Mr Jenkins specifically mentioned ‘five important interventions by the council’: an integrated care centre; an affordable modular housing scheme; progressing Union Place; providing a new 3G football pitch at Palatine Park; and purchasing Teville Gate.

On the Worthing Integrated Care Centre, the new council leader said it would: ‘provide high quality health care to residents in our town’.

“This has only come about by the council stepping in and using its skills, resources and land to provide support to these local medical services,” he said.

Mr Jenkins also mentioned ongoing work by developer BoKlok to provide ‘circa 150 modern, modular build homes with occupation in early 2023′.

“These homes will be priced on BoKlok’s ‘left to live’ principle and is an example of the council working with the private sector to try to disrupt the traditional housing market model and provide much needed affordable homes for people,” he said.

Regarding the ‘long vacant’ Union Place and delayed Teville Gate, Mr Jenkins says that work is actively taking place with developers.

The council chose to purchase the Teville Gate site earlier this year.

“There is a lot to do to turn this around,” he said.

“In the immediacy, it is to open up this site and get wide ranging community and leisure use into that area, whilst at the same time working with key agencies to unblock the development challenges, secure government funding and bring this site back into meaningful use.”

But Mr Jenkins was keen to manage expectations, saying ‘nothing can be built overnight’.

“People have to recognise that in some cases, even with a good wind behind you, it can take a few years to bring a redevelopment project forward through the planning stages and into construction,” he said.

“Nothing, if we are to get it right for future generations, can be built overnight.

“We must be the guardians of the past as well as of the future.”

Supporting residents and businesses through the pandemic

Mr Jenkins said the council must ‘respond to and support residents’ through the pandemic.

“At this time, as we come out of the core period of the Covid pandemic, it is about ensuring that as a council we are in a position to respond to and support residents from across all of our communities with the challenges of the months ahead,” he said.

Challenges could include ‘a continued rise in the number of Covid cases and hospital admissions’ and ‘families facing difficult personal and financial challenges’.

Mr Jenkins said the council ‘showed itself to be a strong leader throughout the pandemic’ and is prepared to help in the coming months. 

“This year as we came out of the pandemic we heard people tell us that they wanted our town centre to look smarter and welcoming,” he said.

“You will have seen an investment with a dedicated town centre team, improved cleaning, flower displays – not only in our town centre but on our neighbourhood parades as well – with more to follow next spring.”

Protecting the environment during a climate emergency

WBC declared a climate emergency in 2019 and Mr Jenkins recognises that ‘there is a lot to do’ to meet environmental targets.

“There is a lot to do, but great strides have already been taken,” he said.

“We have held an Adur and Worthing climate assembly and are building on the outcomes from that as we work towards being carbon neutral by 2030.”

The council leader said that it was important to ‘use resources wisely’ and protect green and blue (coastal) spaces.