THE EARLY DAYS OF DEMOCRACY
Dartford's new Urban and Rural Council members spent many hours discussing local issues and planning future strategy for the development and management of the town and its environs. Many issues that had not been properly resolved by the Local Board in Victorian times were debated and solutions sought. Topics for debate in the first year of the council's existence included the impact of the railway on Dartford and the state of the trains and stations, the levels of policing in the town centre, vandalism, unemployment, the effects of strikes, the provision of leisure and recreationl facilities in the town, the introduction of electricity, and the construction of proper sewers. Many of these issues were to be raised time and time again as the century progressed.
By 1902, the council sought more extensive powers. The 1902 Dartford Improvement Bill was presented to the House of Commons for consideration. When this Bill became an Act of Parliament the newly elected Dartford Council was given the right to establish markets and fairs, to purchase the existing market and market rights on behalf of the town, to initiate street improvements, to install electric lighting, and to take any measures deemed necessary for the improvement, health, local government and finance of the district.
Specific powers granted by the 1902 Act included the charging of tolls for weighing sheep, cattle and pigs, the charging of fees for slaughtering cattle in any slaughter house run by the Council, the power to restrict the area and times relating to cattle being driven through the streets of Dartford on market days, powers to widen roads (including the main road from Dartford to Bexley), the control of planning issues, building developments, compulsory land purchase, the construction of generating plant, and the working of the proposed Dartford Light Railways. The approving of this Bill was a major step forward for the local Council members and for the town.
Dartford's campaign to be recognised as a Borough with a Royal Charter of Incorporation commenced in 1902. It was thought that Dartford would gain a considerable amount of prestige by having a Mayor, Aldermen and Councillors operating under Borough status. A statement issued by the Councillors declared
"As the government of the town has been much more efficient by the Urban Council than by the old Local Board, so the Incorporation of the town and its government by a Mayor, Aldermen and Councillors would be far more efficient than by the present Urban Council...We venture to think that under a Corporation, a policy of centralisation and concentration, both administrative and financial would follow and tend to more efficiency and economy than under the present system."
There were significant objections to the idea of incorporation because of the way it could increase the local rates. In 1908 the Urban District Council purchased Bank House in Dartford High Street for £4000 to be used as Council Offices. A purpose-built Council Chamber was constructed at the rear of the building in 1911.
Dartford's Rural District Council was concerned with the administration
and governance of the outlying parts of Dartford and surrounding villages.
Rural District Council meetings were almost exclusively concerned with
the repair and maintenance of roads, water supply, drainage, the emptying
of cesspools, the abatement of nuisances, and reports by the Medical Officer
of Health regarding outbreaks of infectious diseases.