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From Brexit to grammar schools here is what is in store for Kent politics in 2020

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After a tumultuous year in politics, ending with an election that saw Boris Johnson cruise to victory, what is in store for Kent on the political front in 2020?

Our political editor Paul Francis looks ahead at some of the key issues.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson
Prime Minister Boris Johnson

Brexit: At last but only the beginning —

It is tempting to think that after all the uncertainty in 2019, delivering Brexit in 2020 will be plain sailing for the government.

It may be so far as getting enough MPs to back the legislation taking the UK out of the EU.

But meeting the deadline of the end of this month signifies the start of the all-important phase of negotiating new trade agreements.

A summit in June will be able to assess the progress of the trade talks. It is also the deadline for the UK to request an extension of the transition period beyond December 2020.

The European Parliament in session
The European Parliament in session

But away from the politics of Brexit, Kent has already benefited practically in one way after the government announced that the much-loathed M20 contra-flow - part of the Operation Brock contingency plans - will be decommissioned over the next two weeks, returning the stretch of the M20 between Ashford and Maidstone on the London-bound side to three lanes.

Key date: January 31 - the deadline for the government to formally leave the EU.

Election of a Police and Crime Commissioner —

The profile of police and crime commissioners may have risen in recent years but they remain a mystery to many.

Current holder of the post Matthew Scott (Con) is aiming for a second term after a convincing win back in 2016 and the odds are probably in his favour.

Kent's Police and Crime Commissioner Matthew Scott
Kent's Police and Crime Commissioner Matthew Scott

Candidates from other parties and independents can be expected to stand but both the Lib Dems and Labour are preoccupied searching for new leaders and may struggle to mount a significant challenge. Whether we will see the controversial landlord Fergus Wilson try to stand remains to be seen. He was ruled out of the ballot because he had not properly filed his nomination papers back in 2016.

Key date: Elections take place on May 7

Manston Airport: Taking flight again?

After a protracted saga that has had more twists and turns than an Agatha Christie novel, the fate of the former Manston airfield could finally be determined - five years after it closed.

An independent inquiry will rule on whether the former airport should be considered as a nationally important infrastructure project and its status as an airfield be protected.

Manston Airport could well get a new lease of life this year
Manston Airport could well get a new lease of life this year

The inquiry by the planning inspectorate (PINS) will not, however, rule on whether - if it is safeguarded under what is known as a Development Consent Order - it should be acquired under Compulsory Purchase Order.

That is because the former owners of Manston unexpectedly sold the site for £16.5m to RiverOak Strategic Partners, the consortium aiming to re-open it as a cargo freight “hub,” days before the inquiry was due to end.

Key date: A decision is set to be made this month.

A shake-up of NHS services in Kent —

Two important decisions loom for the NHS in the county. One relates to a reshuffle of services at hospitals the Kent & Canterbury, William Harvey in Ashford, and QEQM in Margate.

The reconfiguration of services - known as the Kent and Medway Sustainability Transformation Plan - was first published in 2016, but a consultation on the proposals has faced a number of delays.

Two options are on the table. One involves having specialist services and a major trauma unit in Ashford, and the other to centralise east Kent hospital care with a sole A&E centre in Canterbury.

Meanwhile, an equally contentious review of stroke services is in limbo because of legal challenges being made by campaigners. Emergency stroke treatment at QEQM is due to end when the new acute unit (HASU) opens at the William Harvey, with two others opening at Darent Valley in Dartford and at Maidstone General Hospital.

As a result, the timetable has been put back: the Ashford facility was scheduled to open in spring 2021 and the others in spring 2020, but this has been pushed back to autumn 2022 and April 2021 respectively.

All change: Jeremy Corbyn heads for the exit door —

We will have to wait until early April to find out who is to succeed Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader but the early frontrunners appear to be Keir Starmer and Rebecca Long Bailey.

But favourites don’t necessarily win: very few forecast that Jeremy Corbyn would emerge victorious; neither did many expect Ed Miliband to beat his brother David.

Jeremy Corbyn in Medway to launch the Labour manifesto ahead of the European elections Picture: Chris Davey
Jeremy Corbyn in Medway to launch the Labour manifesto ahead of the European elections Picture: Chris Davey

Kent activists and members will want to hear what candidates will do to restore the party’s prospects in the county after the drubbing voters delivered in the election.

What has been described as the party’s Southern Discomfort in the south east remains a nut that needs to be cracked.

Key date: The new leader will be announced at a special conference on April 4.

Grammar schools: More selective places for Kent?

Boris Johnson may have blanked calls to scrap the legislation banning new grammars but Kent will be the focus of a renewed debate on the issue with plans by another of its 32 schools to open a "satellite" school.

Tunbridge Wells Boys Grammar School is to follow in the footsteps of the Weald of Kent Girls Grammar School with a plan for an annexe in Sevenoaks that will allow it increase its annual intake of pupils from 210 to 300. Critics of selection say the expansion in numbers is more selection-by-stealth and point to the fact that the new annexe site is 15 miles away from the school.

But Kent County Council, which is behind the scheme, argues that it is simply responding to demographic pressures and dealing with a long-standing issue of a shortage of grammar places for boys in the area.

Head to our politics page for expert analysis and all the latest news from your politicians and councils.

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