Thursday, 31 December 2009

Celebrate with Slim Harpo

I have disovered courtesy of Spotify and its ability to suggest music you might like a new passion. James Moore also known as Slim Harpo. Many of his songs have been covered, I never knew where the Fabulous Thunderbirds had taken their top track Baby Scratch My Back from. This perhaps is his best known song - I'm a King Bee - although you may know it via the early Rolling Stones or the majestic Muddy Waters. Here's the original and best, a song to Shake Your Hips to, as another of Slim's songs goes.

I would like to wish everybody a Happy New Year and to thank everybody who has read, commented and sent me ideas and information through the last year.

I hope you're able to buzz into the New Year...

Thursday, 24 December 2009

The Simple Pleasures of Life

Seasons greetings to one and all, I hope everybody who comes to read from time to time has an enjoyable Christmas. I have been harvesting produce from the garden for tomorrow; potatoes, squashes, swedes and beetroot which are still enduring the weather. Are they sweeter after a frost?
Onions and apples are stored away but will make an appearance, and there are still red peppers and yellow tomatoes ripening in the greenhouse.
I needed 8 ounces of beetroot for a loaf of beetroot bread, a luscious aroma when baking and even better to taste. It gave me pleasure that I was able to select the beetroot you see from the couple of dozen still in the ground, which weighed in at 10oz. Nice that my eye could judge the produce to the need.
The beetroot came with a free added slug which had made a few holes, so once they were cut round and the skin removed there was just over 8 ounces left. A small task that gave me a nice warm feeling inside.
I am off to prepare vegetables and other delights to entertain tomorrow, and I hope you get as much pleasure from the simple things as I do in the coming year.

Monday, 21 December 2009

Ramsgate's maritime heritage 40 years ago

Thank you to reader John for sending me a copy of a magazine called Sea Breezes dated April 1969. He draws my attention to two articles

"The first of Hoverlloyd's two SRN4 Mountbatten class hovercraft was delivered by the British Hovercraft Corporation to Pegwell Bay (pictured) on January 15 1969. A brand new international hoverport is nearing completion there. Trials are being carried out in preparation for the start of the service due on April 2 between Pegwell (Ramsgate) and Calais."

and in a separate article on the last of the square-rigger ships...

"The Alastor was a 850 ton 3-masted iron barque, built at Sunderland in 1875 by Mounsey and Foster for Robert Penney of Shoreham, Sussex. She carried many emigrants to New Zealand, and from 1928 brought timber from Finland to the Kent coast. In 1946 a Thanet company bought her and brought her to Ramsgate. They renamed her Bounty and converted her into a floating restauarant, and she lay in the inner harbour by the fish market (ironically just across the quay from where the Hovercraft terminal now operates) until 1951, when she was taken round to London River in connection with the Festival of Britain. Later she was broken up.

She was a very good-looking vessel, typical of the thousands of undistinguished, hard-working little barquesthat carried so much of the world's ocean-borne commerce in the late 1800s and early 1900s, and it was a great pity that she ould not have been saved like the Cutty Sark."

I wonder if any readers recall dining on the Bounty?

Wednesday, 16 December 2009

Can You Hear me Doctor?

I was a substitute councillor earlier this evening at Thanet District Council's Planning Committee. There was an item on part of the old Ellington School site in Grange Road, Ramsgate. With the new Ellington School having been built as part of the brilliant government programme of building new schools the old site is being sold off.

The old playing area is proposed for another excellent development - a new health centre. The current Dashwood House surgery in Southeastern Road is on a cramped an difficult site and would benefit as so many surgeries have in Thanet from moving to new premises like the pictured Moses Montefiore Medical Centre. The problem is that the new proposed site is cramped and difficult for access and parking. The committee agreed to a site visit on the morning of 8th January to examine the area.
The thing that caught my eye was this paragraph tucked away at the end of the report which is available here:
"Kent International Airport has requested a condition requiring noise attenuation scheme be submitted. However, a Health centre is not considered to be noise sensitive use, and therefore it is not considered necessary to condition such a requirement."
What this means is that everytime anybody applies for planning to do some building in Ramsgate under the flightpath to Manston Airport; Kent International Airport asks the Council to tell the people building that the should have double or triple glazing so that they will not hear the noise of the planes so much. So if you're thinking of going into business in Ramsgate double glazing looks like a good business opportunity to consider. Kent International Airport wrote on this planning application:
"no objection, subject to suitable noise prevention scheme being put in place and maintained."
However, because the proposed new health centre is not a residential use the guidance is that extra glazing is not necessary. This leaves the bizarre situation that Kent International Airport is objecting to, and therefore opposing a desperately needed new health centre because it will not be putting in extra glazing!
My view which I expressed at the meeting is that there should be extra glazing as many people using health centres will have hearing problems and the noise of planes could delay and interrupt consultations. It could even lead to mistakes in communication, something to be avoided when diagnosing medical conditions.
I also think double or triple glazing should be mandatory when any planning permission is granted to help with heating costs, and reduce the use of energy to help the environment with the current Copenhagen talks on global warming. Other Councils take a more proactive view on this than Thanet.
Heathrow Airport helps local councils with the costs of extra glazing for schools. It would be good if Kent International Airport as well as requesting people install double glazing could make a financial contribution to help with the glazing needs of schools under the flightpath. I think they should also review why they are opposing a new health centre for the community, because it does not have sufficient glazing.

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

Waiting for the Great Leap Forward

There’s no doubt the new High Speed 1 service to London is going from strength to strength. Next Monday sees the launch of the full service.
There are many advantages. Occasionally there are signal delays between Ramsgate and Ashford. The guard will apologise, and confidently announce that they expect to be able to make up the time, and time after time that proves to be the case. Most days the trains arrive a few minutes early at St. Pancras.
Just like one of my favourite films “Field of dreams” where a baseball ground is built in the middle of nowhere yet becomes a great success, High Speed 1 could have the slogan “If you build it they will come.” Numbers are steadily rising as the word gets out, and often at Ashford the train will almost fill. One of the great attractions is that the trains are never full, so you know you will always get a seat.
One slight glitch that it would be good to see addressed is having trains ready on time at Ramsgate. One of the bonuses of being a Ramsgate station commuter is that you can choose to catch a train that starts from the station. This means that you can arrive in good time, and know that you will go straight on to a train sitting waiting for you, no standing waiting in the cold on the platform. With winter coming this was always a positive for the older Southeastern trains services. Frequently the High Speed 1 service comes out of the shed or sidings at Ramsgate, only a minute or two before departure time. As there seems to be empty platform space it would be much appreciated if the trains could do as the older train stock and be sitting ready for 5-10 minutes before departure.
Another positive is the guaranteed seat with a table so you can work, that boarding at Ramsgate guarantees. The new trains thankfully have seating 4 abreast. It is always dispiriting when you find yourself on one of the 5 abreast carriages where people are forced to squeeze next to each other. These might be fine for short commutes around London, but for journeys over an hour they are uncomfortable.
As the word spreads more and more people are switching from Victoria, Cannon Street and Charing Cross. There are fewer delays, easier with only a partial service from St. Pancras at present and also the advantage of a dedicated line that does not have to fit in stopping services too. Finishing work near Charing Cross recently, I opted to take the tube to St. Pancras and even with the additional tube journey I was back in Ramsgate before a similarly timed train from Charing Cross.

I have also met people who previously took the train from Sandwich, Broadstairs, Margate and Birchington who have made the switch to High Speed 1 from Ramsgate. Some take connecting trains, but others drive. I think parking for Ramsgate station is going to become more and more of a problem. There may be an impact on the pictured Dumpton Park station which serves east Ramsgate which has the lowest passenger numbers in Thanet.
Using mobile internet connections is a slight problem, particularly for the Ashford – St. Pancras part of the journey as half the journey is in tunnels or deep cuttings. I have solved this by not battling for a connection. As there is a reliable free if not ultra quick wifi service throughout St. Pancras station a few minutes there allows any surfing or message sending before travelling onwards. Similarly in the evening and early arrival for departure allows messages to be checked and responded to before the journey home.

For those who do not want to pay the supplement the service is the same cost as current Southeastern trains to Canterbury West and Ashford International. This should be advertised more widely as there are people who are unaware of this.

Saturday, 5 December 2009

Ramsgate joins National Tree Planting Record attempt

Ramsgate residents played their part in the National Tree Planting Record attempt (Tree O'Clock), planting 25 trees in the hedges of the Rose Garden on the Westcliff, next to the boating pool. The trees are mostly acer and thorn and will fill in the gaps in the hedge. At present there are several gaps, particularly on the seaward side. The plan is to fill them in so that the Rose Garden is less exposed and a better place for relaxation and contemplation, also to keep out unleashed dogs.
The group planting the trees are the ‘Westcliff Conservation Community Group’. The trees were supplied by the Kent ‘Free Trees Scheme’. This is an excellent scheme from Kent County Council and credit to Network Rail for sponsoring it.

I spoke to Pegwell and Cliffsend councillor John Kirby who has helped fund replacement roses in the garden with money from the allocation each Thanet District Councillor receives. John is an active councillor and we both share concerns about the future of Albion House. Others present were Dr. David and Sarah Neden, George and Wendy Arnheim, Robin and Pat Hills, Shirley Harris, Julie Ferguson, Vera Taylor, Valerie Sturgeon, John and Terry.
It is great to see local people nurturing their environment and working with Thanet District Council and Kent County Council on a project which will be part of the green tourism regular readers know I am an advocate of. For more on local green tourism issues click here, here, here, here, and here.

Friday, 4 December 2009

Sandra wins big for Labour as Tories slump to third

I predicted Sandra Hart would win in Dane Valley but I never expected almost half the Conservative vote would disappear leaving them slumped in third place. Labour's swing was 8.5% since 2007 but set against current national trends in the polls the swing is 13.5%.

Labour's win is all the more impressive because residents were forced to battle some of the worst weather of the year to get out and vote.

Sandra Hart said

"I'd like to thank everyone who made the effort to vote, especially those who turned out on such an extremely cold, wet and windy December day.

After the events of the past two years the residents of Dane Valley ward now deserve strong representation at TDC and I will certainly do my very best for them. I am fortunate to join a large group of Labour councillors with enormous experience and I know that as a team they will support all my efforts".

Star man Clive Hart the Labour Group Leader and Campaign Organiser said

"My wife Sandy was a first class candidate and I know she'll make an excellent councillor.

This election was my first real test as the Leader of Thanet Labour Group and I was very proud of the way our members campaigned. We fought a very clean fight with no mud-slinging whatsoever on our part and the residents of Dane Valley ward responded positively. I thank them sincerely for their support".

The repeated issues of poor conduct by Thanet Conservative Councillors, and the tolerance for misconduct within Thanet Conservative group were regularlry raised on the doorstep. Many former Conservatives were clear that they could not vote for their party in such circumstances.

Bill Furness' second place was an excellent result from no candidate last time.

The result

Labour 34% previously 37% 318

Liberal Democrat 28% from nowhere 260

Conservative 24% falling from 44% 222

Independent 14% previously stood as Grey Party 19% 130

Regrettably turnout was a very disappointing 17%.

For more on Sandra and her campaign click here, here and here.

For background on the previous Conservative spending most oif his time in Panama click here, here and here.

For Thanet Conservative misconduct read this or any of the non-Conservative local blogs.

Wednesday, 2 December 2009

Predicting the Dane Valley result

The Dane Valley by-election is tomorrow. The circumstances behind it are unfortunate with former Conservative councillor Stephen Broadhurst having spent most of his time since his election in 2007 in Panama. Credit to Tony Flaig for his role in exposing his local councillor. Together with my Labour colleagues we finally managed to force a by-election.
I note that Tony Flaig rejoined the Liberal Democrats recently and think with his frequent comments on the by-election campaign it would be best if readers saw writing or an image or clear writing so that they knew they were reading a yellowtinted opinion. I put my Labour party membership at the top of my page and my fellow Labour councillors Dave Green and Mike Harrison say the same clearly on their front pages as does Conservative councillor Ken Gregory. Simon Moores is different. There is nothing on his homepage to indicate his Conservative affiliations. I think local elected representatives should be transparent about their views and affiliations, and I hope he will review his site so that casual readers are clear as to where he is coming from. With a by-election on all the more reason to be proper.
I was asked by the way whether I would be declaring this blog as an election expense. As this blog is done entirely on a voluntary basis I'm happy for a nil return to be recorded.
Sandra Hart is an impressive candidate and it is good to see her Independent rival acknowledging this. Sandra recently wrote saying:
"Unlike some in this election I don’t have to pretend to be local – I am local. I live in Margate and have done so for forty years, twenty of them in Dane Valley ward. My business premises are in Margate and so is the office that I work from with a strong team of Local Labour councillors.

I don’t have to pretend to work hard for our local community either; through my business I have supported many local community events over the years. I was the membership secretary for a local residents association for several years and in my spare time I currently work within a local fundraising committee supporting elderly people right here in Margate.
The fact is – residents have most certainly received a regular newsletter, several times each year, from our Local Labour team at 44 Northdown Road, and for well over 6 years now. I have been delighted to help deliver many editions myself."

Having delivered leadlets in Dane Valley outside of election time I can confirm that this is the X Factor that Sandra offers over her rivals. She also would hit the ground running as part of an team.
The national opinion polls would predict an easy Conservative hold. Let's have a look at the mathematics. In May 2007 nationally the Conservatives had a 2% lead over Labour, now they have polls giving them average leads of 12% so a 5% swing from Labour to Conservative.
Last time in Dane Valley the result was
Conservative 44%
Labour 37%
Grey Party 19%
Wendy Allan although standing as an independent this time, has omitted to point out that she was a member of a different political party at the previous election and thought that the Grey Party leader John Worrow would be the answer to all of Thanet's problems.
There is now a Liberal Democrat standing as well. Let's assume he takes 5% of each candidate's vote and polls 15%. Pure guesswork he will not win but I expect he will get into double figures in percentage terms.
This adjusts the figures to
Conservative 39%
Labour 32%
Lib Dem 15%
Ind ( Grey) 14%
If the national swing of 5% applies the Conservatives win 44% and Labour goes down to 27%.
Putting it another way if the Dane Valley turnout is 26% like the last election then the results should be
Conservative 627
Labour 385
Lid Dem 214
Ind 200
Now the assumptions I am making are clear, but they are just assumptions and will not be what happens. These figures though do illustrate how the Conservatives should coast home more than doubling their majority.
My prediction? Labour's Sandra to win of course, but even if she does not, she will demonstrate that when people actually have to vote, not just moan or talk to an opinion poll Labour's vote is a lot stronger than received opinion currently reports.

Sunday, 29 November 2009

Margate's Millions - where are they being spent?

A new guest blogger, my colleague Cllr. Iris Johnston (pictured) who represents Margate Central one of the most deprived wards in the country.
"Roger Gale MP did his best to avoid crediting the Labour Government for all it has tried to do to help Thanet since 1997 in last week's Thanet Extra.
However, he had no choice but to grudgingly mention Labour Minister Margaret Hodge’s announcement of the 3.7 million pounds of Sea Change money for Dreamland.

It was the British Resorts Association working with Government, when I represented Thanet District Council (TDC) at Conferences in 2001, that led to action on helping sea side areas. I had to remind Conservative TDC on several occasions that we needed to get a bid in for Sea Change funds and we even missed the first tranche.

Thanet also received 3.7 million in April 2006 for a Safer Stronger Communities Fund within Margate Central and Cliftonville from the Labour government. Unlike Roger Gale, Thanet District Council acknowledges a further £700,000 for the next 2 years on its website. New play areas in Dane Park and Cliftonville, and significant crime reduction measures along with return to work initiatives and housing renewal funds show real Government commitment to Margate. I have never seen Mr Gale as the local MP at any of the meetings to make these things happen, nor indeed supporting pensioners bus passes, nursery provision or the minimum wage.

The fact that unemployment has dropped from over 23% in 1995 to, a now unfortunately recently rising, 5.7%, shows we cannot be complacent. The Governments 4.9 million Thanet Works funding along with other schemes to help people find work and train for employment must be targeted appropriately. Thanet District Council gets £65 Million of tax payers money annually from Central Government to cover Housing and Council Tax benefits and Labour councillors' regular requests for a breakdown on how exactly this is allocated are still outstanding.

Mr Derek Harding, who deserves great credit for his efforts in getting the 3.7 million pounds for Dreamland, attended TDC's Overview and Scrutiny Panel on 17th November at my request. He mentioned that around £4o million had come into Margate for Regeneration purposes. It is the responsibility of all councillors to ensure it is best and quickly used to regenerate Margate. Mr Gale might like to join us rather than spending so much time defending his allowances system."

Tuesday, 24 November 2009

Ramsgate station is booming, so why cut back on staff?

I recently had a fabulous journey. I was working in the European Parliament in Brussels at 4.30pm and courtesy of Eurostar and Southeastern trains I was 20minutes early at Thanet Council offices for a 7pm meeting. Even with the advantage of an hour coming back that's fantastic.
The last part of my journey was courtesy of Les a taxi driver who may well be the man featured in the Independent. Tracey MacLeod on her way to review Age and Sons restaurant wrote:
“The short taxi ride from station to harbour (courtesy of a driver with 'Love' and 'Hate' tattooed on his knuckles) took us past boarded-up shops and repossessed properties."

She could as a journalist had a chat and asked him a few questions. It would have helped research her piece, instead she relied upon a lazy bit of stereotyping to present an image. Assuming there aren’t two taxi drivers with the same tattoos working in Thanet, she would have found out more about a man who enjoys helping children to school every day as part of his work and takes a pride in his job.
My journey illustrates that with the new super fast High Speed 1 service plus Eurostar, East Kent has a train service that is the best in the country. The pictures are of the new depot for the extra trains at Ramsgate in the Northwood ward I represent.
People know this. They are voting with their wallets. Use of Ramsgate station is booming. Since 2004/5 annual rail passenger usage of Ramsgate station has increased from 800,000 a year in 2004/5 to 1.014 million in 2007/8, that’s a whopping 26% increase, and I predict courtesy of all this investment things are going to get even better.
Margate by the way went from 585,000 to 672,000 a 14% increase, Broadstairs from 449,000 to 537,000 for a 19% increase. Ramsgate is the town that is moving on up fastest! Great more green travel and a massive increase in demand steadily increasing over several years. Surely Southeastern trains would want to provide an even better service and build on this record of growth?

I have seen a letter from Bob Crow, General Secretary of the RMT Union. In it he writes:

“I have received a report from staff at Southeastern Trains advising me that the company intends to cut 31 Station and Booking Office Staff posts and also reallocate despatch duties to Conductors. I have also been advised that the company intend to have a ridiculously short consultation period with the changes coming into effect on the 13th December 2009."

He goes on to say

“I have written to Southeastern trains and informed them of our opposition to the cuts and changes to our members’ duties. Furthermore I have also advised Southeastern that the consultation timetable is totally unacceptable and unless we receive written assurances that these proposals are withdrawn by 24th November 2009 then this union will be in dispute with the company.”

I cannot understand why when more and more people are using a booming service Southeastern trains want to cut staff. The less frequent ticket checks in the evenings now must be losing considerable money. The earlier closure of the ticket office also makes the station a more attractive place to those who may want to be anti-social . Some nights the only people left on duty are the taxi drivers!

I will be interested to hear what response Southeastern Trains have sent to the RMT with their deadline being today. As a regular rail user I want more staff for the safety of all passengers and to ensure fares are collected, not short sighted cutting of services. let's make the services better and more attractive so more people use the trains and more people are needed to work on the trains, it can be a win-win. My post 11 days ago raised my concerns on how this new regime is being applied. I hope Southeastern will invest in their services as they will have a lot more money thanks to the massive increase in passenger usage from Thanet residents.

Friday, 20 November 2009

There is Still Room for Racism in the Conservative Party

From the other end of Kent, to this End of Kent comes news of the latest Conservative councillor to be found expressing racist views. Read all about it here. The Conservative Party are keen to downplay this incident, suspending Bromley Cllr. Peter Hobbins and saying :
"There is no room for racism in the Conservative Party.”
If only this were true. If the Conservative Party wants to be taken seriously on racism it cannot continue its current “Year Zero” approach where every incident is quickly depicted as isolated and fenced off.
here's a list of Conservative councillors with links to their racist incidents

and a little bit of "controversy" on race issues is no barrier to rising in the Conservative Party

Let’s be clear there are more racist political activists in the Conservative Party than the BNP. This is what they get caught saying in public, what they say in private is often worse. I’m not saying all Conservatives are racist but a sizable minority are. When I was a councillor in Lewisham Conservatives like Barrie Anderson and David Britton did not just talk the talk on racism, but they walked the walk, with a proud record ahead of most of their contemporaries.

In my experience they remain the minority in the Conservative Party. The racists in the Conservative Party are also the minority. The problem is the overwhelming majority of Conservatives are prepared to turn a blind eye or a deaf ear to racism. To hope it goes away, but in reality to tolerate it, and to elect to senior positions people who privately act and think in unacceptable ways.

Cllr. Hobbins may be at the other end of Kent, but the Conservative Party remains a place where racism is unchallenged and tolerated.

There is still plenty of space for racism in the Conservative Party.

Wednesday, 18 November 2009

They Shoot Foxes

I am very pleased to see Steve Ladyman South Thanet's MP (pictured with Hilary Benn, DEFRA Secretary of State) signing up to support the ban on fox hunting with dogs. There are many levels on which this is the right thing to do. Firstly, public opinion overwhelmingly supports the ban. No one is saying foxes should not be shot. What the law says is that it should not be a bit of fun to see an animal torn to pieces.

There are two other aspects which are rarely brought out into the open on this debate. First tally-ho foxhunting is utterly inefficient. If a smallholder or a farmer has problem with foxes they want it resolved quickly. The classically cited situation is of a fox in a chicken run. If this happens to you, you do not say “I will look at the hunt diary, and await the hunt meeting in my part of the county in 3/4/5 weeks. In the meantime it is mighty fine for the fox to return as often as it likes and to raid my neighbours." No you get your gun and you go out and shoot the fox or fiund somebody who will do so.

Lamping is a common practice still in many parts of the country, and it responds to the problem. Hunting with hounds is a social ritual. It is about people like David Cameron wanting some recreational activity at the weekend. It is about dressing up. It is about going riding with your friends. It is not about quickly and efficiently killing your pest.

Secondly, as someone whose family comes from a rural area, there is a class issue to hunting. I grew up understanding that many people in villages allowed the hunt over their smallholdings or rented land, in what was still an almost feudal acknowledgment of power. The majority of people who hunt are wealthy and frequently own considerable lands. The rural economy acts in many ways on an informal basis. If you refused permission for local hunts to cross your property the consequences would be subtle but notable. When casual labour is needed on the bigger farms and estates at the busier times of year, you would find yourself at the back of the queue. Borrowing equipment, and exchanging favours, all the little things that make a community would become problematic.

The exercising of hunts of their “right to rampage” (rather than roam) is as Conservatives put it a traditional country activity. The reality was that a favoured few expected to be able to ride where they wanted, when they wanted and how they wanted. Woe betide any kittens out playing when a pack of hounds came by.

So as well as being slow to respond to the need to kill foxes, hunts cause considerable damage to community cohesion. That’s why even in rural areas there is overwhelming public support for the ban. Hunts with hounds are inefficient and their behaviour is anti-social. Real country people know you do not wait for the hunt, you go out and shoot foxes whilst the evidence is fresh. It is far better if people want to dress up and ride out together, for them to follow a scented trail laid out across the land of those who are happy to have hunts, or have been paid for the privilege.

Yet despite this being the democratic wish of the vast majority of people David Cameron, Roger Gale and Laura Sandys are pledged to make the repealing of the hunting ban a priority if elected. They want people to have the right to set dogs on a fox, and pull it limb from limb in a bloody gory ritual. We should be proud of the distinguished record of animal charities like the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA), and we should expose the fact that the Conservative Party wants to reintroduce a barbaric, brutal uncivilised ritual because many of its leading members consider it fun.

Monday, 16 November 2009

Hastings values its Heritage

Regular readers will know how disappointed I am at the neglect of Thanet's local museums by the current Conservative administration of Thanet District Council. Here's a report of how a similar community not far away takes a different approach. Hastings Borough Council was run by Labour until 2004. After a period of the current Conservative administration takes a more enlightened approach to cultural matters than Thanet Leader Sandy Ezekiel and his colleagues. Here's a report from pictured guest blogger Cllr. John Watkins:

"Hastings & St. Leonards has a population of 85,503. Hastings Borough Council (HBC) has fewer rate payers than Thanet population 126,702 (2001), with 32 elected councillors, as opposed to Thanet's 56.

HBC has a cultural policy that has provided an annual budget of £269,000 this year for their museum service staffing. Overall annual revenue cost for the service is £394,000 (this includes internal recharges and capital servicing costs).

This budget funds a Museums Curator, plus an Administrator and other support staff. These HBC employees run the two separate council museums in the town, both of which have free admission to the public and have recorded very high visitor numbers (with the use of an electronic beam counter).

HBC has assisted in the acquisition of a £1.4million grant fund, for the recent refurbishment of the very fine, main Hastings Museum and Art Gallery building.

The capital refurbishment project cost was met by
£977k - Heritage Lottery Fund
£30k - Interreg (for dual language material)
£15k - Friends of the Museum donations
£30k - Magdalen & Lasher Trust
£349k - Hastings Borough Council.

The council at Hastings is also very supportive, in terms of peppercorn rent, rate relief, signage, advertising etc, of the two maritime themed museums on the Rock-a-Nore beach front. The Fishermans Museum and the Shipwreck Heritage Centre are separately run by their own trustees, and also record high visitor numbers with support from the local Council.

These four well run and attractive museums add enormous value to their town's tourism trade. A visit to Hastings should if possible, include Cod and Chips at Maggies Fish and Chip Restaurant, Rock-a-Nore."

It is good to see a Council with less money than Thanet Council able to recognise, support and run museums in a very similar coastal community. No blaming other people and whinging, just getting on with the job. No money wasted on "big events" and burlesque. Instead a real understanding that a community's heritage is priceless, and heritage attracts tourists in the 21st century.

Friday, 13 November 2009

Southeastern Trains Reducing Customer Service

I had an interesting time on the train recently. I work in London and buy a combination of season tickets and day returns. Recently, I arrived at Ramsgate station to buy a cheap day return ticket in good time only to find a considerable queue. I waited in the queue, but it moved slowly. With 2 minutes to go I went, as I frequently have before to board the train. I went to the carriage where the guard was and explained I did not have a ticket, but asked to buy one on the train.

Having been let on, I was surprised when told I could not purchase a cheap day return and wcould have to purchase a full price ticket. The friendly and helpful guard, who I can only call D such is the approach of Southeastern Trains to public comment, explained that there had been a change in policy. Apparently the Strategic Rail Authority had carried out an audit and found that there was too high a level of fare evasion on Southeastern Trains.
Frequently in the evenings, people board with no intention of paying. Guards may ask them to get off at the next station, but if they refuse to pay but the guards cannot take enforcement action. Especially if there is a group, the guard is placed in a very difficult situation. Unless there are fare enforcement officers or transport police on board the miscreants know they can take advantage with almost impunity. There are cameras and CCTV, but it is very hard to follow up. I have on more than one occasion been coming off the train at Ramsgate, and heard fare evaders cry out to their friends that there are security staff checking tickets on the way out. they dash back on to the train to get off at Dumpton Park station where enforcement is very rare. It is a frequent claim by fare evaders that they boarded at Dumpton Park, because there is no ticket office at the station.

Some guards have jokingly called it Dumpton Park International so frequently do they encounter people claiming to have boarded there. Whereas regular Thanet train users know that the footfall at Dumpton Park is very low.

Southeastern Trains solution to this problem is to ban people from buying reduced price tickets on board the train. There are two “peak periods” for this. Cheap day returns are available on trains departing Thanet around 8am which must arrive in London after 10am, and the excellent value Price buster fares are available on the first train leaving any Thanet station after 10am. Canny people know this so there are often queues at the ticket offices before 8am for the first category, and just before 10am for the second category. I was told by D that the decision to only have one ticket office open at each station now, has made for lengthening queues. The idea is to encourage people to use the machines. The problem with this, is that the machines will not issue tickets before the times specified. So again it is easy for a queue to build up at the ticket machines. The machines also do not allow you to buy these discounted tickets before the day of travel. In the past I often used to buy a ticket on my way home. However, I often arrive back in Thanet after 8pm by which time the ticket offices are now closed.

D told me that Southeastern were reallocating security and fare enforcement staff on to the new High Speed 1 trains. I have noticed that ticket checks in the evening at Ramsgate as you exit the station are now less frequent. As D said fare evasion on the High Speed 1 trains is low level, partly because they are early, and also because the fares are higher, so the penalties are higher. Peak evasion is in the evenings especially where stations are fairly close together. I have observed this is a particular problem from Faversham onwards to Thanet.

So to improve fare collection as D advised me, Southeastern have decided to target ordinary commuters and charge them full fare when boarding without a ticket even if they declare this as soon as they board so there is no possible question of any attempt at fare evasion. The idea being that this will increase revenue. It does not matter that the ticket machines cannot issue discounted tickets in advance. It does not matter that the number of staff selling tickets, and the hours they work has been cut. It does not matter if you search out the guard when boarding to declare that you need a ticket. You will be charged a full fare.
Affable D negotiated with me that there must have been a queue out the doors of Ramsgate station Booking hall, so he therefore was able to issue me a discounted ticket to me. Many thanks to D for his common sense. The reality was that there was a queue of about 8 people. The queue might have taken 3 minutes or 13 minutes. You never can tell. I might have made my intended train or I might have missed it. For me it is not a great issue, as it is fine for me to arrive at Victoria, Cannon Street, Charing Cross or St. Pancras as I have an onward journey.
What about somebody going on the hourly daytime service to Dover? Why shouldn’t they be able to expect to arrive 5 minutes early to buy their ticket rather than 15 minutes? If they are stuck in the queue for tickets, and miss their train then they have to wait for another hour. Or do they dash for the train, and find that instead of being able to buy a cheap day return they are paying twice the price for a full return through no fault of their own?
There’s another problem from Southeastern trains reluctance to tackle the problem of the real fare evaders. I know of many people who will not use the trains later in the evening. The less they do, the higher the proportion of fare evaders, and the less safe people feel. It becomes a vicious circle where the balance swings to the extent that later at night some guards just hide away and make no effort to check tickets and to patrol their trains.

The vast majority of guards I find helpful and diligent in their duties but they acknowledge some of their colleagues do let standards slip. I have raised this with Southeastern Trains and D tells me that the rail unions are raising this change of ticket issuing policy, as they think Southeastern have got this wrong. So if you are someone who uses the cheaper fares, allow plenty of time, buy your ticket in advance if you can but do also complain. The old policy where so long as when you boarded and you immediately found the guard to tell them you did not have a ticket surely made sense, and it should be brought back.
Ramsgate and other Thanet stations should have increased traffic with the superb High Speed 1 service, hopefully Southeastern will find a way to provide customer service to match the quality of the new trains.

Wednesday, 11 November 2009

Cat Got Your Tongue?

A regular reader has sent me this picture which is to be found in the window of the Labour Party's office in Northdown Road, Cliftonville. An old poster which marks a significant achievement of the Labour government. The Conservatives have pledged to bring back animal cruelty, by repealing the legislation banning fox hunting, despite massive public support for the ban.

It looks like Mayor and Dane Valley Councillor Ted Watt-Ruffell may be keeping to the

"Conservative Party's 18 years of government when animal cruelty came bottom of the Tory list"

in view of his recent appearances in the local papers and courts.

When asked about this, Ted said the cat had got his tongue and he was unavailable for comment.

Monday, 9 November 2009

Albion House to be sold off Ramsgate Town Council to be homeless

The Asset Management Working Party agenda reports:

An acceptable offer to purchase the property has been received and the matter is in Lawyers’ hands.

This is not what I understood to be Council policy concerning this building. My understanding was that Ramsgate Town Council would retain freehold, at least of the ground floor and basement for public use in Ramsgate. Where is the Town Council supposed to go?

Ramsgate Mayor Dave Green and Thanet Councillor has been negotiating on behalf of the Town Council, on the above basis for the Town Council to lease this space. I understand from him that Thanet District Council have not advised Ramsgate Town Council of this development. He has clarified with the relevant officers who confirm that sale is proceeding of the total freehold.

I do not believe a private owner of Albion House will gain or will want to retain public use of the building. They will want to maximise their returns whether that means flats or commercial premises. The Conservative Council are being consistent in vandalising our heritage by seeking to sell off this part of Ramsgate history. Museums, public toilets, town halls everything is for sale. Nothing is valued.

Sunday, 8 November 2009

How Roger Gale can Stimulate the Economy

Paul Carter (pictured), Conservative Leader of Kent County Council recently gave evidence at the House of Commons. He was providing his "expertise" to the committee considering the Child Poverty Bill.

It is not that long ago when introducing free bus travel for schoolchildren, that Paul Carter ignored child poverty indices, and provided free travel first to Tunbridge Wells, and other leafy parts of West Kent. Thanet needless to say was one of the last parts of Kent to receive this assistance, despite being one of the most deprived areas.

One comment that did strike me was this:

"The east of Kent has social deprivation indices that are off the Richter scale and in the top 20, something we are not proud of. Roger Gale said to me the other day that when he first became an MP (in 1983) he was going to change the dynamic of Thanet in five years. If anything it has gone backwards, not forwards."

Good to see Paul Carter accepting that the independent records show that his selective introduction of free bus travel was not based on need. More interesting though is this coded chiding of Roger Gale's performance as a MP. Nobody can suggest Roger Gale has changed the dynamic of Thanet in the last 26 years.

Contrast his record to Steve Ladyman's work as South Thanet MP in only 12 years to secure the High Speed trains, the rail depot, and possibly a new ferry service. Take party politics out of it. Since 1983 there have been 14 years of Conservative government and 13 years of Labour. As Paul Carter notes Roger Gale has failed to achieve the target he set himself, whichever party was in power nationally.

One of my earliest posts on this blog pointed out that many Conservatives (including I am sure David Cameron) would like to see Roger Gale stand down as a MP. In the current controversy on Roger employing his wife Suzy Gale, it has been notable that no local Conservatives have come forward to support him, no councillors, no Laura Sandys. Here's a prime example of an opportunity to support Roger which was missed.

I do not necessarily object to spouses being employed by representatives. How do we define when a fling has become a relationship? Is it fine to sleep with somebody and employ them? Is it only when married, rather than living together that things change? The proposals are arbitrary and ill thought out. What is needed is accounatbility. Records of the hours people work, when they send emails, attend meetings, answer telephones and actually do work. Roger Gale disagrees and compalins about public scrutiny.

I still have concern that he defended the fraudulent practices of Derek Conway. Any comment on him about the "integrity" of his own financial arrangements needs to be judged by the low standards you can find here. Derek Conway could easily have published dates and times of emails, metings, or telephone records but was unable to do so.

I have a suggestion for Roger Gale on how he can belatedly address social deprivation. Aged 66 he is eligible for the state pension. With 26 years in Parliament he is eligible for a leaving payment of £64,000. He would also receive a pension of 26/40 x £64,000 = £41,600. He may well have other personal pensions, plus the state pension of £4,900/year. He has a property portfolio as well.

So he could be a man of leisure able to find his worth in the job market if he wants extra money, whilst receving £46,500 at least a year. A cut in salary I accept, but more than enough for most people in their twilight years, plus he will not have any work to do, his time will be all his. He could as many retired people do, play an active role in his community and volunteer, there are plenty of local groups who would welcome his involvement. Plus having failed to change the dynamic of Thanet for 26 years, Roger Gale could actually help stimulate the economy by creating a job vacancy.

Wednesday, 4 November 2009

Sir Keith Park's Statue Unveiled

There has been much talk of who will be on the 4th plinth in Trafalgar Square. This afternoon the statue to Sir Keith Park will be unveiled in Trafalgar Square. Here’s a brief biography of the hero you may never have heard of:

First World War
Fought at Gallipoli

Park's battery took part in the Battle of the Somme

Park blown off his horse by a German shell. Wounded, he was evacuated to England and graded "unfit for active service" from the army when recovered he joined the Air Corps.

Awarded the Military Cross for shooting down one, two "out of control" and damaging a fourth enemy aircraft during one sortie. Promoted to Temporary Captain and then Major, commanding 28 Squadron November 1918. Park’s aircraft claims were five destroyed and 14 (& 1 shared) "out of control". He was also shot down twice during this period.

Second World War

Appointed Air Vice Marshal, Park given command of No. 11 Group RAF, responsible for the fighter defence of London and southeast England. Organised fighter patrols over France during the Dunkirk evacuation and in the Battle of Britain his command took the brunt of the Luftwaffe's air attacks.

Commanded air defence of Malta, and squadrons participated in the North African and Sicilian campaigns.

Appointed Allied Air Commander, South-East Asia, where he served until and after the end of the war.

I hope there will be suitable coverage of this commemoration in the media. However I suspect this will not be the case. The campaign to have an appropriate memorial has been superbly run. I was kindly invited to the unveiling today, but frustratingly a work commitment prevents me attending so this my way of marking this event. You can read more about Sir Keith Park in my earlier posts here and here.

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

Conservatives Clueless on Economy

Continuing a financial theme this headline article "Tory plans for austerity cuts could be a disaster warns survey" caught my eye in the Daily Telegraph's Business Section:
Erik Britton, a director of Fathom Financial Consulting said: "While we agree that the UK's fiscal position is dreadful, Opposition plans to begin fiscal tightening next year could spell disaster. We are calling for an overhaul of the Bank of England's Quantative Easing programme to make it start delivering for the real economy: for all firms, not just the biggest; and to provide a cushion for cash-strapped households."

The consultancy said that the Government should hold off from raising taxes or cutting spending until 2012.
Or to summarise George Osborne hasn't got a clue what to do.
You can read the whole article here.

Monday, 2 November 2009

UK Plc doing better than in past slumps

This morning I picked up a copy of City AM the freesheet rival to the Financial Times. It had an interesting editorial from Allister Heath. I have highlighted the parts in bold which are a consequence of the last 12 years of Labour government:
THERE are many reasons why the stock market has bounced back, despite the severity of the recession. The fact that corporate earnings didn’t collapse as much as originally feared is one such explanation, as highlighted this weekend by Lombard Street Research. The operating profits of UK companies have fallen 8.4 per cent from their peak, compared with 10.6 per cent peak-to-trough in the 1990s recession, and 22.8 per cent in the early 1980s. The fact that the drop in profits has been contained to single digits is a considerable achievement; it can be attributed in part to very speedy cost-cutting and drastic reductions in inventories (helped by modern just-in-time stock-control). The other big driver has been labour market flexibility, which has helped avoid redundancy and early retirement schemes where possible by freezing wages and cutting hours.
It is often thought that one of the big lessons from the present collapse is that nothing ever changes in economics. It is certainly true that each time pundits start to claim that we have entered a new order – in the late 1990s, justifying the bubble, or in the mid-noughties, rationalising the property bubble – the economy has a habit of imploding. But something does seem to have changed: some parts of the economy have become more flexible, companies employ more efficient IT systems and employees have started to cooperate with employers better.
It is easy to become gloomy, especially when one looks at Britain’s future prospects; but what this shows is that not all the trends are bad.

Friday, 30 October 2009

The Excellent La Magnolia

I have had family staying this week and they kindly took me for a meal at La Magnolia. The Italian restaurant and pizzeria is situated under the Yacht Club at the Westcliffe Arcade, Ramsgate.

What a superb experience it was. Friendly, attentive and understanding service. Award winning wine from Brindisi, the best any of us had drunk in a very long time.

To cap it all the pizza oven has been imported from Naples and constructed especially to order. The pizzas had such a light flavoursome texture. The restaurant was full and talking to other diners, booking is becoming advisable. I have voted for it in the Italian restaurant section of the Kent Restaurant Awards. It is great to see Thanet restaurants in 3 of the top 4 positions.

If you have not been and you like Italian food, give yourself a treat and go to La Magnolia.

Thursday, 29 October 2009

The New Conservatism - Tax Lawyers for All!

Hopi Sen (pictured) the extremely well written "Blog From the Backroom" I feature on my blogroll, today takes to pieces the Dover and Deal Conservative candidate Charlie Elphicke's attempt at explaining Conservative economic policy. It prompted me to have a look at Charlie's website.

It has a wonderful juxtaposition to welcome you. The second paragraph says:

"As the Conservative Parliamentary candidate for Dover & Deal, Charlie works hard for us to get our fair share so we can all be better off."

the third paragraph starts by telling us that

"Charlie is a tax lawyer"

Now there is a contradiction here. Do you know any of your friends who use a tax lawyer? No? Me neither. I know some local small businesspeople who use accountants, but a tax lawyer that's for serious shedloads of money. We're talking city bonus types amongst others.

The aim of people like Charlie is to ensure that rich people and large organisations pay less tax, so that the vast majority of us pay more. So what he really should say if he is being honest with his electorate is

"As the Conservative Parliamentary candidate for Dover & Deal, Charlie has worked hard for the better off to get them a bigger share, so the rest of us are worse off."

Go to Charlie's article on the Centre Right blog and he wants people to forget about his past saying:

"In the Financial Times world, they allow the richest to fill their boots with massive, unjustified bonuses."

Well Charlie, what about the role of tax lawyers in maximising those bonuses?

He goes on

"The doorsteps of places like Dover and Deal people are incoherent with rage. Unlike the FT, they are patriots with a powerful sense of nation. They feel the excess of the bankers and the Labour Government have seriously harmed Britain."

Well Charlie, I did a quick survey of people I know in Dover and Deal. I know this is unrepresentative and biased, but I could find nobody incoherent with rage, they all managed to talk. Maybe people get incoherent with rage in Dover and Deal when they are visited by a tax lawyer who claims he wants to give them more money, when he has spent a career of doing the opposite - just a thought? Charlie is right though that they feel bankers have harmed Britain. The people of Dover and Deal also think tax lawyers have harmed Britain too, none of them could think of any ways in which tax lawyers had helped them, they knew though that tax lawyers meant more money for the few and less for hard working families. Perhaps Charlie could explain how in the excesses of the bankers, tax lawyers helped ordinary people?

He will not be able to, because tax lawyers like Charlie Elphicke have been working hand in glove with hedge funds, city bankers and the like to minimise their tax and as a consequence to maximise it for the rest of us.

Charlie's taking the mickey in his article though because he claims:

"And George Osborne is absolutely right to point out that rewards should be linked to longer term performance."

Except of course tax lawyers like Charlie Elphicke get annual bonuses. They get them because they use whatever short term wheeze they can come up with which helps their clients pay less tax. That's what their job is all about. No long term performance assessment for tax lawyers.

Indeed one of the features of the last two decades has been that tax lawyers have done very well as the economy has done well, so I would imagine Charlie Elphicke is a rather wealthy man.

Then Charlie jokes with us that

"Most of all, Charlie cares about our community, serving our people and the nation."

When Charlie had the chance of serving people and the community by choosing a career as a police officer, a shopkeeper, a teacher, a soldier, a nurse or a cleaner, Charlie said no, I am going to look after a few very wealthy people and ensure they get even wealthier, there can be no finer way to serve the community than to be lawyer!

Charlie Elphicke the tax lawyer to the wealthy, who makes ordinary people in Deal and Dover go incoherent with rage and doesn't understand why.

Wednesday, 28 October 2009

Slow Conservative Resignation, Quick Labour Application

Guest post from my fellow councillor John Watkins:

"It may have taken the Conservatives many months to get a single resignation letter from their Dane Valley councillor in Panama but it took less than a day for the Labour candidate to turn around her complex pile of nomination papers when the by-election was finally called on Tuesday.

Sandra Hart presented papers on Wednesday, all signed, sealed and endorsed by residents of Dane Valley Ward.

Sandra Hart said:

"The people of Dane Valley ward have had to put up with a very distant and disorganised councillor for far too long. It's time they were represented properly, by a genuinely local person who is keen and organised and who has the backing of a very efficient team.

I'd like to thank John as my agent for the superb way he is managing the formal and legal matters, our support team at Labour headquarters and especially the lovely local residents who have endorsed my papers".

Election day will be Thursday 3rd December and the polls will be open from 7am to 10pm. It will be interesting to see who the other candidates are.

Tuesday, 27 October 2009

Why do these Newspapers endorse the Conservative Party?

Once in a while you read a stupendous blogpost. Something that captures the format and makes the point sharply. A post that could not be in a newspaper, nor on another medium to the same effect. You start by showing that a newspaper claims that "The BBC put Muslims before You" Who are you? Christians? Hindus? Athiests? Jews? In the mad world that is the Daily Star mindset all of these are more important.

You then as the middle photo shows fake outrage that the BBC get it wrong when featuring the BNP's Nick Griffin on Question Time. Add a dash of total and utter paranoia. Have you noticed that everybody in your workplace, every newly elected MP, every X factor winner, they're all migrants aren't they? So who are you going to go to when you are being incited to hold political views like these, not based on facts but just fear and prejudice?
Well the answer is not the BNP, it is the Conservative Party.
Do click here and see this magisterial post by Anton Vowl on The Enemies of Reason dissecting the Daily Express and the Daily Mail as well. My comment, all this fomenting misinformation is by newspapers who next year will advise people to vote Conservative to fulfil their prejudices.

Monday, 26 October 2009

How to Fight Anti-Social Behaviour

Last week I attended the regular Northwood Police and Communities Together (PACT) meeting. Thanks to Rev. Chris Skingley at St. Mark's Church who facilitates this and many other coommunity activities. Pictured are Steve Ladyman MP who also attends regularly, with PCSO Dan Mimran. Dan lead the meeting covering a whole range of matters.

I am interested that some other councillors think the way to tackle anti-social behaviour in their areas, is to broadcast problems as widely as possible. The problem with this approach is that it can mean that an area is talked down, whether it be for shoppers or people thinking of moving into a street.

Publicity is such that it can be 5 minutes to win a bad reputation, and 5 years to lose it. So if there are one or two roads with a small scale problem does it benefit people living there to seek the maximum media coverage? I do not think it does generally. What is important is that those affected are advised by knocking on their doors, and delivering leaflets. Indeed the best form of policing is when a community shares information and sets standards amongst itself, knowing that it can work closely with the police.

Those engaging in anti-social behaviour thrive on creating a climate of fear, and I would suggest sometimes media coverage can exacerbate this, so that certain areas are avoided even when problems have been resolved. I am reminded of a survey which showed that it took almost a decade for all M1 users who were frequently stuck in traffic to learn that the M40 was another parallel option for many of the journies from London to Birmingham. People are creatures of habit, and it can take quite a while to change patterns of behaviour once habits are established.

I am also disappointed when I hear lazy and untrue statements by Council officers saying that a crime problem has been resolved, when I know that is not the case as do many others. So what I am trying to say is that Northwood like everywhere else has problems from time to time, but sensationalising them is not the way to address them. Local people working together with the authorities is.

Saturday, 24 October 2009

Glum Councillors

Here's a relatively new blog to take the mickey out of those councillors including myself (surely not!?) who take themselves a little too seriously at times. It is called Glum Councillors and...

".....will doggedly collate images of councillors looking glum whilst pointing at holes in the road, wearing hard hats or presenting oversized cheques. Lets celebrate the work of our local elected representatives!"

Looking around Thanet District Council, Deputy Leader Cllr. Roger Latchford has to be a strong contender for regular entries. Here he is pictured at Thanet's Credit Union Wantsum Savers

"supporting the new Thanet Gateway Plus initiative"

Look at that beaming welcome he is giving Thanet Credit Union President, Dr. John Pritchard. I wonder what facial expression he would use if he had some bad news? Thanet Council's Donna Reed, Head of Thanet Council’s Customer Services looks on.

At the last Council meeting I mentioned an old post on this blog about the East Kent Sustainable Community Strategy. Responding Cllr. Latchford said that he did not read this blog, quick as a flash one of my colleagues said, no he has a little man who does it for him. I wonder if this is who they meant?

Thursday, 22 October 2009

Apple Time

It is time for the finest Kent vintage to start being savoured. I have delighted in my first litre bottle of Kent apple juice freshly made in 2009. Pure Discovery apple juice from Broomfield Orchard, CT6 7BA (01227 362279). Do get some if you can, and they have more apple varieties as the season progresses.

When we moved into our house the garden had old fruit trees. We tried to nurse them through, but they struggled to produce much fruit, and after a couple of years we removed them and have replaced them with 3 small apple trees. Modern rootstock allows several small trees to be fitted into small gaps. By choosing 3 different types, which in theory fruit sequentially, we have a succession of apples. Our chosen trees in theory all keep, so from about September to about Christmas we live off our own apples. At present each tree only produces 20-30 apples, but little by little the crop increases year by year. Also small trees means there will never be a need to have long ladders to go picking, or to wait for windfalls. If I ever won the lottery one of the things I would love to do would be to buy an orchard.

The fruit garden at Yalding Organics, near Maidstone is one of the most beautiful sights I have ever seen. It is well worth a visit if you get the chance.
I have been reading The Apple Book by Peter Blackburne-Maze. I recommend it especially for its insightful history of apples. Thanet is blessed with several good historical blogs,

to name but two. I do not aspire to imitate them but thought this information on page 56 of the Apple Book might be of interest.
Mr. Tucker was gardener to a Mr. J Slater in Margate where grape growers faced mildew problems in the 1840s. He mixed flower of sulphur with lye and water and applied it to vines affected by mildew. It worked like a charm and was the original and rather crude form of lime sulphur, a fungicide that was manufactured until the 1980s.
A footnote in history for a Thanet man inventing chemicals for food production. Thankfully this is no longer produced and organic production goes from strenght to strength.

Tuesday, 20 October 2009

Fowlmead, a Model for Pegwell?

I have wondered for some time why here in Thanet the powers-that-be seem to think 'regeneration' means more houses crammed into smaller and smaller sites.

Can there be another way? This thought often strkes me where I visit a fine example of 'regeneration' without a single extra house being constructed.

The Betteshanger Colliery coal tip is a relic of our Kentish industrial past or rather it was until SEEDA (South East England development Agency) took over the derelict site in 2000 after it had been lying neglected and unused after the pit closed in 1989. For anyone interested in Kent's industrial heritage the pit opened in 1927, the year after the General Strike and was manned by those blacklisted by pit owners in the Midlands and Lanarkshire. Many in Thanet are the descendants of those 1500 miners, since the original miners were refused lodgings in Deal and had to travel to the area until the Mill Hill mining community was built. In 1946 the Betteshanger Training Centre for the newly-nationalised industry was opened by Manny Shinwell MP from the North East, the well-known trade unionist who was Minister of Fuel and Power.

SEEDA in 2000 asked local people what they wanted done with the site on the Sandwich to Deal road, and overwhelmingly the answer was not housing,nor a golf course, nor a heritage site but a facility for everyone from walkers, horseriders, cyclists, birdwatchers, and all able and less able. 'The past is the past, we want to look to the future' was their message.

This community-led scheme now known as Fowlmead Country Park, funded by the government opened in 2007 following the creation of ponds, the building of an observation platform for birdwatchers, the planting of 130,000 trees and shrubs, the creation of footpaths, bridleways and the piece de resistance - the European Championship cycle track that is so popular it gets booked up for competitions years in advance.

Walking round the site in beautiful early Autumn sunshine I saw bushes festooned with berries including from the top sloes for gin, rose hips for syrup, and sea buckthorn for vitmains. I spotted dragonflies swooping low over the ponds and could hear birds in the distance. I haven't managed to spot a kingfisher yet but remain hopeful.

It's possible to see some relics of the tip's past -the odd bit of rail; left from the railway that took the coal from the coveyor belt under the road to the junction near Sandwich. I think it should be left like this so children will acknowledge their industrial heritage. Shale forms some of the paths and it is possible to spot large lumps of coal at the sides of the paths.

Enjoying the views towards Ramsgate, Sandwich and then Deal it is hard to imagine the site in its heyday, but it is heartening to see how the trees and shrubs have prospered despite the generally poor soil. Planting on top of a coal heap can't be easy, but the vegetation has thrived.

A small group from a Thanet special school was able to complete a certificate-awarding scheme at the country park. Their teacher said what an achievement this was for this group with severe learning difficulties.

Wouldn't it be good to see the old hoverport site in Pegwell Bay developed in such a sympathetic and sustainable way?

Saturday, 17 October 2009

Piffling Pounds in Panama

Pictured is Cllr. Brian "4 jobs" Coleman. He earns £104,000 a year as Mayor of Barnet, a Barnet councillor, a member of the Greater London Authority, and Chair of the London Fire and EmergencyPlanning Authority. With so many hats, he is unable to perform his Mayoral duties to the same standards as his colleagues.
Talking of Standards, Brian Coleman was recently censured by Barnet Standards Committee for being abusive and offensive. Not before £10,000 was spent by Barnet Council on top lawyers to help him defend his reputation, even though the evidence was clear from the start, and Barnet Council had free lawyers available on insurance. An early apology to resolve matters does not seem to be part of the Conservative Party Code of Conduct.
You will see from the picture at his office at City Hall, London, that Brian Coleman has to sleep when at work, to keep the four jobs going. Click and enlarge it, and you will see that caffeine from a coffee, and a diet coke haven't been able to help stop the eyelids closing.
With all these similar shennanigans it could be that Thanet District Council's Conservative Group could twin with Barnet's Conservative Group. And yet, Barnet does have certain standards that Thanet cannot reach. Barnet Conservative councillor Christopher Harris has been in Australia for 4 months. He is collecting £800/month from Barnet Council, and is claiming he can do his job by email. Last Thursday night at Full Council, Thanet Council Leader Sandy Ezekiel said Stephen Broadhurst, resident in Panama for 2 years was doing his duties as a Dane Valley councillor by email.
Barnet's Council Leader makes a different judgment, and has stripped Councillor Christopher Harris of the Conservative Party Whip. Councillor Harris responded by wondering what the fuss was about, and claiming £800/month was a "piffling" sum of money. Councillor Stephen Broadhurst is "only" receiving £300/month. Yet some of this money will be going to the Conservative Party, he will pay subscriptions and may make other contributions. A Conservative councillor, who understandably wished to remain anonymous estimated that every councillor would contribute at least £50/year to the Conservative Party, and many contributed considerably more than that.
So local people pay Council Tax to receive a negligible service from Cllr. Broadhust, who pays the Conservative Party money. After so long abroad is Stephen Broadhurst still paying tax in the United Kingdom? Or is he like another Conservative funder Lord Ashcroft refusing to confirm that he pays UK tax?
It is time for Thanet Conservative Group to remove the Whip from Stephen Broadhurst, and for the Conservative Party to stop taking money from him.