Saturday, 28 February 2009

THANET TORIES NIGHTMARE

Work takes me to the Progress (Labour Think Tank) Conference Labour 2.0: Campaigning for the net generation. Key speakers are Douglas Alexander and Joe Rospars, Barack Obama's New Media Director.

The striking thing though is the audience. They are all listening attentively, more so than I sometimes see at Thanet Council meetings.

There is the quiet noise of modernity as a backdrop. Almost every other person has a Blackberry or another smartphone, and like myself they are taking notes or blogging. Those using pen and paper are in a minority. Some have laptops open and with free wifi (what I would like next in Thanet's Council Chamber) they are posting blogs or surfing the web.

I can just imagine some of my fellow Tory councillors if they were here. They would be harrumphing that this is bad form. They would be irritated by the minor background noise of keypads being depressed and find it distracting. They would march out deeply offended that a Cabinet Minister has an open shirt and a roll neck jumper on. No respect young man (after all he is 39).

What do these people think of David Cameron when so often he goes without a tie? Probably if only more people had taken Roger GaleMP's advice and voted for David Davis.

What do Thanet Tories want? Shirts, suits and ties. When do they want them? Forever.

Yet everyone here sees what people say as far more important than how they look. It is normal in the 21st century to use technology for best effect, not to try and hold it back with scare stories about the cost. They understand that you invest to make things more efficient. It is good business, good democracy.They embrace the future not fight it.

Oh my, one of the platform speakers is using a laptop for his presentation. How dare he, the sound of the keypad is so distracting, would be the response of some of my Conservative colleagues. They would complain to their neighbour and ignore what is being said or shown.

Modern leaders expect to have wifi available so they can follow up necessary action immediately. Why not at Thanet Town Hall?

There are lots of younger women too and a surprising number of older representatives. My old friend Jimi Adefiranye a former Lewisham councillor who is approaching his eighth decade on this earth is here. He's revelling in learning new things as he always has done.

Perhaps I could persuade him to come down to Thanet and do some training to some of my colleagues? Provisional title, the Future don't be afraid of it.

Friday, 27 February 2009

AIRCRAFT WORKING PARTY MEETS - NO PUBLIC PRESENT

Earlier this evening I was at Thanet Council's Airport Working Party. We discussed recent developments and agreed to meet with representatives from the Airport, Kent International Airport Consultative Committee and to have a public meeting. Tonight's meeting will be reported to Overview and Scrutiny Panel on 10th March.

The meeting was open to the public, but nobody was there, no press, no public, no interest? I don't think so. As my colleague Cllr. John Watkins (pictured) pointed out the only place he was aware the meeting was advertised was tucked away in a remote corner of Thanet Council's website. Click here.
An unfortunate oversight, so next time we will issue a press release and I'll try and remember to mention it here too. All members of the committee want to meet and hear all the different local opinions so please comment, email or turn up at the meeting.

EAST KENT TORIES AGAINST OPENNESS

Following my report on Thanet Tories opposing broadcasting of Council meetings, Canterbury Conservatives are also not keen on opening themselves up to greater scrutiny. Phil from Herne Bay reports here that attempts to broadcast meetings were voted down. He is offering to fund broadcast coverage himself. Good idea. I will put a tenner in for Thanet, anyone else prepared to?

If Thanet Council won't broadcast Council meetings could we get some volunteers to film the meetings?



Wednesday, 25 February 2009

OFFICIAL - THANET COUNCIL TAX INCREASE VERY HIGH

I predicted when I started my series on Thanet Council's Council Tax whopping 3.99% increase that

"I think we’ll find it is one of the biggest increases in the country"

local Tories have argued against this. Now we have the facts.

Today the well respected Local Government Association which Thanet Council is a member of, confirms that Thanet's increase is very high. In a survey of 300 English Councils they report:

"The Local Government Association, has today revised its prediction for council tax rises for this year to 3% as local authorities finalise their budgets - the lowest rise in over a decade."

Yet Thanet Council is increasing by 3.99%!

A massive 33% more than the average.

Whilst the majority of people in England are going to have an increase BELOW inflation at 3.1% to help them in these difficult economic times, Thanet will hit people hard when they are hurting with an ABOVE inflation increase for the fifth year in a row. Why?

Here are the local Tories' arguments:

1. It's all central government's fault?

Hundreds of other Councils in England have lower increases, why can't Thanet do what they can, we're not living in a different country!

2. There are Councils with bigger increases.

Yes, I have found 6 so far all Conservative. This is a complacent attitude, Thanet is in a relegation place in the league tables. Even mediocrity is too hard for local Tories to achieve.

3. Er, let's change the subject please. Can we move on.
Quite.


UPDATE 25.2.09 19.50
Inflation is only 2% so Thanet's increase is double inflation. Click here and see 2 more Councils with lower increases.

Monday, 23 February 2009

BROADSTAIRS - HIGHEST COUNCIL TAX INCREASE IN THE COUNTRY?

Yesterday I said the pictured dredger was being paid for by Thanet Council, but I have been advised it is working in the port on the wind farm project. So here is a picture of the harbour with no dredging taking place, and an unfortunate broken seat that needs repair.
Since starting this blog, I have been grateful for the many tips and emails from people across Thanet. There are Councils with bigger increases than Thanet, but Thanet is up at the high end. The highest I have now found is right next door and it is Conservative run, it is Broadstairs and St. Peters Council at 7%.

Here is a report from a Broadstairs correspondent:

“Thanet District Council’s mismanagement of their budget has thrown up some strategies that those in charge are trying to keep quiet as long as possible, known in business circles as the ‘mushroom strategy –keep ‘em in the dark and shovel manure on them’.

After their clumsy attempts to convince the electorate that they are listening to all sides in the asset sell-off debate. They have come up with the idea to save money, by closing up to five public conveniences, and charging us to use the few that remain. Now I know someone is bound to tell me that Labour when in charge from 1995 to 2003 closed loos, but they were those so neglected by the previous Tory administration that they were in danger of falling down. Others were used by some elements of society for nefarious activities I won’t list here hence they were targeted and shut. Let us not overlook in all this the fact that public conveniences are the responsibility of the District Council.

So, if you are pregnant, have young children who need to go, despite having done so before they left home, or are elderly and in desperate need of a ‘pit stop’ good luck in the future, and make sure you have plenty of change for the admission charge. Personally, I would have thought the cost of installing, maintaining and emptying the charging equipment would have cost more than the £12,000 allegedly to be saved.

To add further insult to those seeking a convenience and who live in Broadstairs, the Town Council is whacking up the precept, the bit on the council tax to pay for services it has responsibility for, by an inflation-busting 7%’ (inflation is 3.1%) to maintain public toilets and other services that MAY receive less funding from a cash strapped TDC,’ to quote Cllr. William Peppiatt. That means we will be paying twice, no make that three times, for our loos. Once via our TDC element of council tax, once via our Broadstairs and St. Peter’s precept and then every time we need to go.

I leave you to draw your own conclusions from this latest development, revealed in a tiny paragraph on Page 2 of the Isle of Thanet Gazette.”
So there is a Council with a greater increase than Thanet, Broadstairs and St. Peters at 7%. Is this the highest increase in the country?

Sunday, 22 February 2009

THANET’S COUNCIL TAX INCREASE – HIGHEST IN COUNTRY 2?

Here's where some of our money goes, the dredging of Ramsgate harbour. (Oops it's the port - see comments)

Thanks to Simon Moores for his comment that:

“Thanet hardly brooks comparison with Wandsworth!”

Spot on Simon for seeing that Wandsworth is run a lot more efficiently than Thanet.

Here are another 3 authorities all with lower increases than Thanet.

Bournemouth 3.9%
North Yorkshire 3.94%
Staffordshire 2.45% Lowest increase for 14 years!

Thanet 3.99% increase (Fifth year in a row above inflation)

THANET TORIES KEEP AVOIDING SCRUTINY

Spring is almost here, I saw this bee pollinating yesterday, hope it will find its way to the flowering peas in my greenhouse.

This letter was published in Kent on Sunday today.

"Dear Editor,

The people of Thanet were again excluded from seeing how their representatives spoke and voted on a critical issue last week. Just as on China Gateway the public galleries were full, and many people who wanted to see what was happening were prevented from doing so. To assist Northwood residents who could not be present I posted a detailed live report to my blog via my blackberry.

This has now been read by hundreds of local people and has been overwhelmingly favourably received. I did this because Thanet Council has refused my request for Council meetings to be broadcast live via the internet. Kent County Council for example does this, as do many other modern local authorities. It was embarassing that Councillors Tomlinson, Latchford and Ezekiel objecting during the meeting to this use of new technology.

All credit to Cllr. John Kirby, Chairing his last meeting for allowing me to continue. A number of Conservative councillors have approached me privately and thanked me for widening local knowledge of what was happening.

There are two concerns here. Firstly, by not broadcasting meetings, it gives the impression that Thanet Council is trying to avoid greater public scrutiny. Secondly and more importantly the conduct of the 3 Cabinet members gives a very poor impression. To the many business people in the room it showed that Thanet Council's leaders were frightened of new technology, and did not understand it.

One businessman said that it gave the appearance that making a party political attack was more important to Cllrs Tomlinson, Latchford and Ezekiel than giving as many local people as possible access to what their councillors were doing. In a fast moving world all political parties want greater investment and jobs for Thanet. The Council's leading representatives need to embrace this, not oppose it. I trust the Chief Executive will arrange necessary training for those Councillors who are not up to speed.

All councillors need to be able to advocate for Thanet using 21st century techniques and knowledge. All Labour councillors want to see Council meetings broadcast. I hope the Conservative Group will change the minds of its leaders. Local people want to be able to watch Council meetings on their computers just as easily as they already watch BBC IPlayer programmes."

This was also featured on page 2 of the Isle of Thanet Gazette yesterday. Your Thanet have featured the story here.

Click here for a live blog posted directly by D. Carswell Conservative MP from the House of Commons.

Click here for a Cabinet Minister using a Blackberry on the front bench.

Click here for a debate by Conservative activists with more comment from me.

Canterbury Conservatives join forces with Thanet Tories to try and resist the 21st century here.
Do read the comments on how little this could cost.

My new friend Phil Rose puts it very well here, note Mike Harrison's comment.

I will add one more thought to Phil's analysis. In Thanet most Conservative councillors rarely speak in the Council Chamber. Many are like Trappist monks. I am told by my colleagues there may be more than double figures awaiting their debuts, some of them elected before 2007. One is famously abroad, absent for months at an end.

You can draw your own conclusions as to why Thanet Conservatives oppose greater scrutiny of their performance. One Conservative Home activist in the link above said

"What has the councillor's political party got to do with things? I don't expect this site to be unbiased, far from it. However I'm tiring of politics being played where the issue is non-political."
I agree, but if he met Thanet Tories he would find people who make political dividing lines unnecessarily, just to try and score points. They waste so much energy on this they neglect running the Council. Thanet Council Tax increase is above inflation for the fifth year running, and is the highest that I can find in the country. More on that later.

Saturday, 21 February 2009

MANSTON AIRPORT'S POOR PUBLIC RELATIONS

Thank you to a friend for sending me this story which has also been picked up by SMEG. The published date of the story is 12th February, so the information will have been with Infratil (Manston's owners) some time before. In a way it does not matter whether it is days or weeks. What matters is that Kent International Airport/Infratil’s management/public relations decided not to draw the public and Thanet Council’s attention to it (happy to be advised if I have missed something).

I find it hard to understand the thinking. You know a news piece is going to appear in the industry press, so will be in the public domain. You know BEFORE the Thanet Council meeting on 12th February on extended night flights, that this will be a matter for public concern. You know the story will be published anyway. Surely you go out and brief openly? You avoid speculation and provide clear facts.

The only other interpretation I can think of is that you are uncertain that the expansion plans will go ahead. You are worried that announcements of greater traffic at the airport will influence people, and change how they might vote. You decide to say nothing and let the information come out later.

In my judgment I think prior knowledge of this information would have made no difference to the outcome of the vote. The question though is what kind of neighbour do those who run the airport want to be. I accept commercial sensitivities, but this was a done deal so that does not apply here. Does the airport want to be an open good neighbour or not? I would advise it to explain what it knew when, and why it did not put the information out at the earliest opportunity.

Virtue is its own reward. Of the 3 major controversial planning matters in the last year, Manston Expansion, China Gateway and Thanet Earth; only the last named applicant has been in my view open and welcoming to questions and scrutiny. Thanet Earth is powering on to success, I do not think this is a coincidence.

Having seen the Kent International Airport application go through in 2 weeks flat, I note the contrast at Lydd Airport (London Ashford International), where although the application is different and much more complex. The planning and local consultation process for expansion looks likely to last at least 2 years! Click here for the latest news.

It makes Manston look like the hare and Lydd the tortoise, and we all know how that race turned out.

THANET'S COUNCIL TAX INCREASE - BIGGEST IN THE COUNTRY?

Thanet Council is proud of “only” increasing the budget by 3.99%. In the last 10 years central government funding to town halls has increased by 39%. So there has been plenty of money, where has it gone?

How to explain costs increasing by more than inflation at 3.1%?

Thanet Council is proud that this is the lowest increase in 5 years, and yet it is still a high increase.

Here is a picture today at Ramsgate Harbour of all the wheely bins which I presume are for Thanet as they are in our local colours. Look at the left the fencing is down and there appeared to be no obvious security. Reminds me of the old story of the docker stopped every day with his wheelbarrow to check he was taking nothing out by security. Turned out he was taking wheelbarrows. Anyone wandering around the dock pushing a wheely bin saying they are just taking the rubbish out?

In a new series I’ll be highlighting local authorities with lower increases than Thanet.

Today Thanet 3.99% increase (Fifth year in a row above inflation)

Birmingham 1.9% increase (Fourth year in a row below inflation)
Wandsworth NO INCREASE
Greater London Authority 2%

Do email me/comment other authorities with lower increases than Thanet, I think we’ll find it is one of the biggest increases in the country, with no justification for being above inflation for the fifth year running.

Friday, 20 February 2009

FIRST BNP COUNCILLOR IN KENT

Swanley St Mary's Ward Sevenoaks District Council
BNP gain from Labour

BNP 408 (41.8%, +41.8)
Labour 322 (33.0%, -22.3)
Conservative 247 (25.3%, +0.4)

Swing of 32.1% from Labour to BNP since 2007. This is scary news. 32.1% is a massive swing in what was formerly a safe Labour seat.

For all those who talk about and judge people on whether they look different to them this should come as a warning. I love living in Thanet but there is a small undercurrent of racism.

On several occasions when talking about having moved from London to Thanet, it has been suggested to me that the reason I moved was to get away from more multicultural London. This kind of crass assumption is crude but revealing.

The BNP generally do well where Councillors get out of touch with their residents. The best way to tackle them is to work hard. All Thanet councillors should think very carefully about the language they use. With allowances for Councillors about to be increased there is a sizable minority of Thanet councillors who need to look to their consciences about how little work they do.

For superquick by-election results every Friday morning go to my friend Cllr. Luke Akehurst's blog.
Do not go to Sevenoaks District Council who only have this notice of the by-election on their site, no result. Another Tory Council in Kent then that does not want to make the most of new technology to connect with their community.

Thursday, 19 February 2009

A LITTLE BEYOND THANET

Here are a couple of websites that look at things nearby in Kent.

Save our Downs: open and free forever – A slice of nice, threatened by careless greed.

Blogger Phil Rose has a delightful turn of phrase and is based in Herne Bay. There’s a posting on Roger Gale having a bad attitude, surely not! Click here

The other site I like just a way down the other Kent coast is

http://www.andrewleaning.com/index.php

which could be better subtitled, Romney Marsh how wondrous it is. This is a rare visual treat and an alluring advert for the area.

Andrew describes it as "about the historic, mysterious and internationally important Romney Marshes"

Have a read and especially savour the talent of a man with fantastic photographic flair.

Wednesday, 18 February 2009

NIGHT TIME BLOGGING 106 AGREEMENT

One person seems to be able to bring Ramsgate councillors together across Party lines, Tim Garbutt. One tells me he values Tim's views, on the basis that whatever Tim advises, he knows to do the exact opposite. Both sides of the political fence are bemused at his sheer ignorance of the procedures, the law, Parliament's role and the independence of the police.

John Bunnett (Thanet Council's Deputy Chief Executive) must be squirming. Tim has full confidence in his abilities, but when set against his vitriol for almost anybody else in Thanet he has come into contact with; be they councillor, MP or Council Officer, he must wonder what he has done to be associated with such policies and ignorance. From what I observe John works closely as a team with Thanet Chief Exeutive Richard Samuel, but Tim has picked up something that was not apparent to the rest of us. Indeed John was the Chief Officer all the way through the recent Manston Expansion application, as the Chief Executive was away on leave all through this period. No officer did more to facilitate the expansion. There you go John, that might revise Tim's opinion of you as he wants to close the airport.

Credit to James Maskell who in comments is trying to give Tim a quick course in Modern British Constitutional Politics. There is an important role for scrutinising Manston, but if Tim is seen as the local leading Green by the local press, that will poorly represent those outside the Council who want to monitor airport owners Infratil and challenge them.

Tim's passion against night flights may be in part because he works through the night with posts at 3.20 and 3.41 in the morning. My colleague Cllr. Peter Campbell observes:

"Has Tim got a 106 agreement for night time blogging, or as Brian White (Head of Planning) would have us believe "late evening"?

Tuesday, 17 February 2009

AGNOSTIC ABOUT A MAYOR FOR THANET

A number of local people and blogs recently have argued that a Mayor for Thanet will make a difference to local government here. I doubt it. I personally do not think the problem is the model. Elected Mayors were part of the first New Labour government's drive to decentralise power and the legislation was enacted in 2000.

There's a popular myth that the last 10 years has seen increasing centralisation of power. The reality though is that no British government in history has given away so much power. Devolution for Wales and Scotland. Peace and autonomous government in Northern Ireland. A Mayor of London with considerable executive powers - sacking the head of the Metropolitan Police effectively. House of Lords reform. Over a quarter of the UK population have seen far more power and control of how money is spent devolved to them.

When the devolution model was tried regionally in the North East the referendum was lost and the idea of devolving more power has largely died. I have argued previously a South East region would not work.

So what about the rest of us then, and in particular Thanet?

The outriders for the local directly elected Mayors model was the New Local Government Network think tank. Here is a list of places that have directly elected Mayors:

Martin Winter, Doncaster MBC Labour

Stuart Drummond, Hartlepool BC Independent

Jules Pipe, LB Hackney Labour

Steve Bullock, LB Lewisham Labour

Robin Wales, LB Newham Labour

Tony Eggington, Mansfield DC Independent

Ray Mallon, Middlesbrough Council Independent

John Harrison, North Tyneside MBC Labour

Mark Meredith, Stoke-on-Trent CC Labour

Nicholas Bye, Torbay Conservative

Dorothy Thornhill, Watford BC Liberal Democrat

From my own knowledge I would say only one of these has been an unqualified success and lead to an improvement and that is Hackney. Interestingly this is partly because there are a number of talented senior councillors, but Hackney's performance and reputation have improved considerably and Jules Pipe has been an outstanding leader.

Of the others I know Lewisham and Newham have been good councils, but they were before and I do not think the directly elected Mayor model has made any difference to how they perform. They have Mayors who were very able Leaders under the previous model and I am unconvinced the directly elected Mayor model has improved their and their Borough's perormance.

Doncaster has been an example of how not to do it, and has regularly featured in Private Eye's Rotten Boroughs page which Thanet is now appearing in regularly. Click here to see one example of how too much power can be damaging. Even when there was the death of 7 children and failing services it was impossible to remove those responsible.

Hartlepool electors treated the Mayoral election lightly and elected the H'Angus the mascot of Hartlepool United Football Club as Wikipedia says:

"Stuart Drummond won the election narrowly. The result was greeted with widespread hilarity, attracting attention far beyond Hartlepool. Canada's National Post newspaper ran the headline "Monkey wins mayoralty, regains human form".

After his election, Drummond stood down as mascot. A local story suggests that local bookmakers set bets on the outcome of the election, with high odds against H'Angus being elected, and local "Poolies" being what they are, went out, placed their bet and then placed their vote, ultimately to benefit from the odds."

I also understand that Middlesbrough may have improved. I do not have enough knowledge of the others to comment. Locals though have not been delirious about the system being imposed upon them. Campaign groups have at different times been set up in Stoke-on-Trent, Doncaster, Lewisham and Hartlepool to trigger a referendum to abolish the office of mayor and instead create a leader and cabinet system of local government. As far as I know none of these campaigns have been successful.

I think what those advocating this model in Thanet need to demonstrate, is how, and in what ways the Mayoral model has improved the majority of communities that have elected them. I am agnostic on this and will not advocate change for change's sake.

Just proclaiming this as an alterative model is insufficient, there need to be facts based research to demonstrate this is a model that has worked elsewhere, and why it will work in Thanet. Ask yourself the question do you think having the Leader of a Party I oppose having even greater powers, more money, less checks and balances and more staff to implement their personal views would be better for Thanet?

If you are happy to give your opponent potentially far more power than may be good for Thanet then campaign ahead. I sense that some of those advocating the Directly Elect Mayor model want a change of Leader, rather than a change of system.

UPDATE

I am told that Stoke voted to get rid of its Mayor.

Monday, 16 February 2009

TIM GARBUTT - PHAROAH COMES

I see Tim Garbutt is standing to be Thanet's saviour. Reading the content Bernard Hill as Pharoah in the Margate Exodus film kept coming to mind.

Tim is not a modest man:

"I call on Labour and Tory politicians and activists in Thanet to support me as the only option for change."

The only person Tim? Nobody else worth considering? No election?

Can I be the first person to pass Tim, I like a choice not to be told there is only one option.

Sunday, 15 February 2009

INCONSISTENT THANET CONSERVATIVES

Thank you to everybody who voted in my Manston poll. The results are now further down on the right hand side. 57 for freight flights 44 against. I have set up a new poll on the top right about the proposal to sell off the Montefiore Avenue tennis courts in Ramsgate. Full details on this are available on HOOT's website click here which covers the bowling club and the puting green area too. Thanet Council plans to rubber stamp selling off the tennis courts on Friday. Voting in my poll ends on Thursday evening.


I think the attitude of Thanet Conservatives is inconsistent. When there was a proposal to sell off gardens for a housing development in Pegwell, Councillors Simon Moores, Jo Gideon, John Kirby and the lady who does not respond to correspondence, Laura Sandys protested.


Now for an area of green space we have 2 of the same councillors Jo Gideon and John Kirby as Cabinet members proposing the sell off of green space for private housing. Some mistake surely? In one part of Ramsgate Tories want green space protected, but in another part they want to sell off the land and put houses and flats on it? The difference is the gardens are private land and the tennis corts are public land. So a green space we all own can be sold but individuals who own their own land cannot sell it off. Bizarre, Tories can provide green space but want to sell it off, where they do not own it they protest. Can we have some consistency please?


My colleague Dave Green has explained local Conservatives further inconsistencies on "garden grabbing."

I have tried researching the Montefiore Conservation Area but it is the only plan not available for download online. Unfortunate.

I could find the Thanet Local Plan 2006 on Thanet Council's website. A closer look shows the Sports policy. Let's have a look at what it says: (my comments in italics)


9.1 Introduction
The important contribution that sport and recreation, as well as community facilities, can make in improving people’s quality of life is now widely accepted. Participation in sport and recreation can improve the health and well-being of an individual, whilst sports clubs and community facilities can improve social interaction and provide a sense of community pride.

Good stuff, well done Thanet Conservatives.

9.2. The provision of a wide choice of good facilities is also important for the economy. An attractive area with a choice of recreational facilities is appealing for prospective employers and their employees.

Good stuff, well done Thanet Conservatives.

9.3. It is the Council’s vision that, by 2020, Thanet will have a wide selection of facilities for sport and recreation. This would be achieved by working together in partnership with the private sector together with funding from the Lottery Commission.

Puzzled here, why do you want to work with the private sector to build a road, houses and flats in Montefiore Avenue, isn't that contradictory to this? Poor show, Thanet Conservatives.

9.4. The Council’s commitment to improving facilities in the area has already started with the identification of current deficiencies in sport facilities through the Sports Strategy. This strategy will be assisted by the private sector. With the increase in employment (with more disposable income in the District) the private sector would have the confidence to invest in additional facilities.

The private sector want to build houses not improve sports facilities so why sell?


9.5. The provision of new facilities may also bring a diverse range of sports and recreation into the area, making Thanet even more attractive as a location to live for new residents. This diversity would be complemented by the Coastal Park concept that which would manage the use of Thanet’s coast and successfully accommodate the many opportunities for ‘watersports’ in this District.

Forget grandiose talk of new facilities, why are you selling off existing facilities?


9.6. Other forms of recreation, such as restaurants and cafes, would also become important with the change of emphasis in the use of the town centres.

"Change of emphasis" is Councilese for collapse of Margate High Street shops.


9.7. To achieve this vision it is important to provide and safeguard good facilities for a wide range of activities that will provide opportunity and choice. Some sports and recreational activities require extensive areas of land to meet their needs. Such land, especially in urban areas, is particularly at risk from development pressures. The land-use based planning system therefore has a crucial role to play in securing the following objectives.

"it is important to safeguard good facilities....such land, especially in urban areas, is particularly at risk from development pressures." Couldn't put it better myself, so why is Thanet Council planning to develop something it has pledged to safeguard?

I will be voting in line with current Thanet Council policy to oppose the sell off and to safeguard the tennis courts. I will be writing to Laura Sandys to ask what her views are.

CHRIS WELLS - USING VULNERABLE PEOPLE FOR ELECTORAL GAIN?

Here is my first "guest blog" from Kent County Cllr. Clive Hart who represents Cliftonville and Margate. He is referring to the precociously titled Kent on Sunday which I picked up yesterday from Tesco's Westwood Cross at 5pm. Here's Clive..

"Conservative county councillor Chris Wells' comments in Kent on Sunday (15/2/09)regarding the dangerous mix of looked-after children and vulnerable adults in Cliftonville made through the newspapers 'opinion' column should have come as a surprise to me as the 'fellow' local member for Margate & Cliftonville but for imminent electoral reasons they didn't.

After four long years of making exactly the same argument that Cllr. Wells outlines, at the highest levels and virtually on my own at County Hall, I was however pleased to read that at long last he finally agrees with my repeatedly voiced concerns on these issues.

Long before Cllr. Wells started to represent the area concerned, I was one of the three district ward councillors who originally called for action resulting in the Thanet Inquiry report, and this despite fierce opposition (at that time) from the Conservative leader at Thanet District Council who said we were exaggerating matters. I have also consistently called for Kent County Council (KCC) to widen their enquiry to include vulnerable adults placed in Margate & Cliftonville at every given opportunity over the past four years. It would have been nice to have had some support from Cllr. Wells in this regard during his time as a Cabinet member at KCC.

Now, with his former role as a Cabinet Member terminated and with the county elections on the horizon, he apparently feels free to cynically chastise his Chief Executive Peter Gilroy and leading officers at KCC such as Childcare chief Bill Anderson and furthermore, attempts to jump out of his constrained silence and on to a supposed bandwagon for electoral gain.

The problematic social mix in Margate & Cliftonville is something genuine frontline councillors deal with each and every day, but the issue certainly doesn't need fanning just before each and every election!"




UPDATE 15.11 14.00

I am grateful to Chris Wells for rapidly responding:

"Ah, bless you, Clive, it is genuinely entertaining to be accused of bandwagon approaches by yourself, the world's greatest bandwagonner of all time.

Every time anyone comments about anything around the areas that you represent you are straight into print, claiming prior rights and years and years of campaigning to achieve the same thing. Without realising you open yourself to the obvious irony that clearly then, you achieve very little!

One of the things about being in opposition a long time, as you have been all your electoral life to date, is a failure to realise that public pronouncement is not always the best way to change things. If you had read my piece carefully, you would appreciate that it was a response to the appallingly inaccurate News of the World story, and spoke of considerable quiet efforts to change awareness of the issue.

However, I doubt if any of these essential truths will change your approach, which is always rather more about how important and hard working you are, than actually making the changes needed on behalf of your constituents.

I am sure that with Iris, you will form a regular, media release based, mutual congratulation society, as you have at District level with two colleagues, label it a successful team, and hope to fool all of the people all of the time.

Only time will tell."

The election is on June 4th where the voters of Cliftonville and Margate can choose between their 2 current representatives, Iris Johnston for Labour and others no doubt yet to be announced.

Saturday, 14 February 2009

DAVID ATTENBOROUGH - GREATEST LIVING ENGLISHMAN?

If there was one of those invite your favourite half dozen people to dinner games then David Attenborough would be one of my picks. He has been educating me most of my life. I hope I may be able to contribute so richly to society in my 9th decade as he does. Like him I am a passionate Darwinian. I am very proud of many of Labour's achievements over the last decade. When the history books are written though one thing that I think it will be hard to explain was why it allowed the teaching of Creationism to be propounded in so many state funded Academies. I am pleased this is not the case here in Thanet.

By all means teach your children what you like at the weekends, but at school we should not allow dogma to override knowledge. It was sad to hear recently that David has receieved "hate mail" from Christians for being a passionate preacher of fact based knowledge.

Was Life on Earth his greatest achievement? It is hard to say such is his body of work. As a regular commuter up to London on the train I download lots of podcasts and the BBC World Service is an excellent source. There's a recent interview with (Sir) David (great people don't insist on the title!) HERE. I'll look forward to listening to it on the Monday morning train.

Friday, 13 February 2009

YOUR MOST FANCIABLE PEER?










Iain Dale one of the top national bloggers has a fun competition here. Vote for your most fanciable peer. My top rated Conservative was the ever lovely Lady Virginia Bottomley. This reminded me of when we were canvassing in her husband Peter Bottomley's Eltham seat in I think it was 1992.
The man at the door accepted Labour's policies were best, but was still going to vote Conservative. We asked him why and he came out with the unanswerable line that if someone who looks like that can be married to someone as beautiful as Virginia, he must be able to represent anybody on anything.

Thursday, 12 February 2009

MANSTON AIRPORT EXPANSION GOES AHEAD

Here are my live notes of the meeting that decided to go ahead with expansion of the airport.

Councillors were presented with a 7 page new Section 106 Obligation (Amendment) KIA agreement between Infratil and Thanet Council (TDC). A 5 minute adjournment was agreed to consider it.

Cllr. Sandy Ezekiel proposed the item because of its importance. He proposed the report saying very little.

He then asked Brian White the leading officer to introduce the report. The Company was formed by Infratil on 29th January and they then contacted the Council.

Infratil wanted improved infrastructure and greater "shoulder period" flying hours. He noted how short the time period was since the application.

2 key issues - short timescale available because of the current economic circumstances. He noted £10m of investment by Infratil.

He noted noise issues and referred to the draft masterplan.Mr. White went on to take members through the report

The variation was the key issue with early morning and late night shoulder periods.

Apply to aircraft QC4 and less.

Runways between 2300 and 0700 to be away from Ramsgate wherever possible.

Monthly detailed reports and quarterly reviews.

The draft 106 agreement had been received today and was recommended by Mr. White and the Head of Legal Services.

4 Amendments were then submitted by Dave Green.

Chris Wells asked for greater explanation of shoulder periods.Brian White said this was an aviation industry term meaning the edge of nighttime.

Peter Campbell asked what night time meant. Answer 2300-0700. Peter said this was not then late evening. Applause from public gallery.

Amendment 1 Trial period for 9 months only. Dave Green proposed this. He wanted changes to go ahead tonight to create jobs. He wanted this as a check and a balance allowing for 3 monthly reviews unless both sides agreed a new agreement.

Mike Harrison opposed the amendment saying it did not give a long enough period to establish the new airline.

Chris Wells opposed as he said the new agreement tonight gave an 18 month period which he felt was correct.

Richard Nicholson opposed the agreement on the basis that 18 months was a more appropriate period.

Liz Green seconded the motion complaining about the timing of the meeting, the short notice and the lack of public consultation.

Sandy Ezekiel, Roger Latchford and Shirley Tomlinson objected to my taking notes on my blackberry. The Chair ruled they were wrong.

Sandy Ezekiel and Roger Latchford opposed the amendment.

Peter Campbell, myself, Liz Green and Dave Green supported the amendment. All others opposed it. Amendment lost.

2nd amendment to not leave the agreement open ended to allow other aircraft to come in.

Cllr. Jarvis asked whether the agreement was for 3 years or for a different period. Has the extension been agreed verbally or in writng?

In 2000 Mr. White said a voluntary agreement was reached so it was not formally a planning agreement. He noted there was no formal 106 agreement, rather an informal one that continued to run.

Mike Harrison said it was wrong to impose only one company to a planning cause as it may be illegal.

Simon Day said it should not be a monopoly agreement.

Chris Wells opposed the amendment.

Richard Nicholson said there should be restrictions around capacity. Only so many planes could take off from runway 10 and runway 28. He wanted less quiet and dirty planes to not be allowed and to stop 100s of flights.

Sandy Ezekiel opposed a monopoly. Martin Wise wanted to give as many operators as wanted to come in. He wanted to have a regional airport backed by SEEDA and KCC. He said this should like other regional airports.

Peter Campbell noted Mr. Wise was drifting from the subject and he stopped speaking.

Liz Green seconded the amendment saying it should be a trial period and wanted to avoid the thin end of the wedge to night time flights flooding in.

Sandy Ezekiel said about 6 planes an hour could be flying in. Mike Harrison asked for legal advice. The advice was the amendment would be retrictive.

P Campbell asked why deal was tied to only 1 operator? Mr. White said because only 1 applicant/operator so far.

Roger Latchford said an operator had approached. He was legally concerned. Concerned Manston could be at a disadvantage.

Amendment lost only Dave Green, Liz Green and Peter Campbell supporting.

Amendment 3 welcomed flying away from Ramsgate and QC4 or less flights.He wanted tighter monitoring of flights coming in over Ramsgate. Peter Campbell seconded to keep traffic away from Ramsgate. Mike Harrison opposed but had concerns about current monitoring.

Richard Nicholson as a KIACC member was aware of concerns and felt reporting was sufficient currently.

Simon Moores said with west winds meaning landing on runway 28 when there were strong wind speeds. This meant flights coming over Ramsgate. Liz Green noted many times planes came in on quiet balmy days.

Sandy Ezekiel said when there were light winds at the ground at 500 feet it was often very windy indeed.

Lost only myself, Liz and Dave Green and Peter Campbell supporting.

Dave Green supported doubling of penalties in amendment 4 where there were night time breaches. Liz Green seconded.

Mike Harrison said this would drive business away. Thanet's fines were already the highest in the UK. Each time there was a breach the sum doubled. KIACC has distributed money to many good causes. He wanted meaningful but not punitive fines.

Simon Moores said this could put pressure on crews to fly to avoid fines. This could mean rushing and affect flight safety.

Richard Nicholson said there was a strict regime already. This was sufficient.

Bob Bayford and Harry Scobie left the meeting.

Sandy Ezekiel wanted fines referred to the Working Party.

Liz Green supported amendment speaking of a plane going over Ramsgate at 5.30 in Ramsgate this morning.

Peter Campbell said Simon Moores comments were ill informed.

Lost only Dave and Liz Green supporting.

At 1835 R Nicholson started debate by accepting proposals subject to an agreed night time flying policy in the next 18 months. He had received several emails and letters. Overwhelmingly his constituents supported this proposal. He wanted clear legal limits.

Martin Wise said 28 years ago when he arrived in Thanet he knew there was an airport. He had always supported it. He was delighted at the rumoured calibre of the company coming and was desperste for Infratil to succeed wishing them every good luck.

Bill Hayton said he had lived in Ramsgate under the flight path. He had counted the noise of the time it takes a plane to fly over it is 9 seconds near the airport, but 45 seconds on the Eastcliff. Sometimes noise was necessary to gain employment.

Mike Harrison declared an interest in that he was looking for a job. However he said at 64 he may not have enough time to be trained. He described many jobs that could come. Local jobs for local people. He asked that recruitment should be through local job centres and recruitment agencies.

He understood it to be 4 flights between 6 and 7 in the morning, the rest in normal daytime hours. He wanted better monitoring. He hoped for other carriers too.

Peter Campbell said we were being bounced because we did not have a current policy. He was concerned that people would still suffer noise problems. He said monitoring was lamentable.

John Watkins said as a Margate councillor he noted the deprivation and unemployment in his ward. He said we had to secure current jobs as well as gaining more. He wanted environmental impacts to be thoroughly undertaken. He noted Infratil needed to share information via the internet on alive basis to prevent rumour mongering.

Jill Kirby said he her ward was nearest and most people had supported airport expansion. She said the 50 people at a meeting last week were insufficient to change her and Brenda Rogers' minds. She had conducted a consultation of over 300 residents and 80% were in favour of the proposal.

Zita Wiltshire wanted Thanet's Airport asset to work for Thanet. She noted the local brain drain.
Liz Green opposed the motion as she felt bounced into a decision and this would affect tourism and weekenders. She was concerned at quality of life and had no faith in the monitoring. Applause from the gallery.

Dave Green opposed and concerned that Roger Latchford had not arranged a night time flight policy. He felt rushed and was concerned at the current situation where the current Cabinet had not addressed their responsibilities.

Clive Hart said there were few views of residents. There had been little consideration of their views.

I spoke to say although I had concerns most of my constituents backed the proposal. We were all representatives and we should reflect the views of those who voted for us. I was therefore supporting the substantive proposal.

Jo Gideon had been consulting her residents. She said that health threats were greater from unemployment than plane noise.

Ken Gregory said a speedy response was essential to gain investment.

Tom King said as a born cynic he was sceptical of promises from TDC. He wanted the jobs for Thanet people because of high local unemployment.

Mr. Bunnett (Acting Chief Executive) said jobs could not be guaranteed locally.

Mike Taylor lived under the flight path and his straw poll was in favour.

John Kirby spoke personally of his experience paying benefits to unemployed people. He was sceptical of lower house prices. He supported the proposal.

Liz Green said about health there were problems and she opposed night flights and the effects of night flights. Concerned at affect on schools where lessons stopped when planes went overhead.

Kay Dark opposed early morning and late nights flights.

Roger Latchford wanted economic regeneration.

Sandy Ezekiel said the majority of members and the public were supportive. He wanted Thanet to be open for business.

The motion was voted in favour with only 4 against Liz Green, Tom King, Dave Green and Kay Dark.

UPDATE

This was done as an almost "live" blog. Sadly the Council Leader Sandy Ezekiel, his Deputy and Shirley Tomlinson objected. Thanks to the outgoing Chair John Kirby for letting me continue to take notes to relay after the end of the meeting. If I had been writing notes on paper there would have been no problem. As I said at the meeting the Council's leadership needs to get into the 21st Century and remove the ban on live reporting of Council meetings unless confidential matters are being discussed.

I will be happy to amend any entry for any person if I have not quite captured the essence of what they were trying to say.

Thanks to all those who voted in the poll, final result For 57 Against 44.

MANSTON COUNCIL MEETING

There are about 30 Councillors present. I will pop a post up at the end of the meeting.

MANSTON - A LATE SUBMISSION

Having a late lunch, I have picked up this email sent to all Councillors at 1.46pm

"Members,

Please find attached a report from Paul Twyman, KIACC, which I have been asked to circulate.Hard copies will be distributed before the meeting starts.

Best regards,

A Council Officer"

Why could this have not been sent out yesterday with any amendments added to today if absolutely necessary?

Here it is

Extraordinary Meeting of the Thanet District Council: 12th February 2009

KENT INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT, NIGHT-TIME NOISE POLICY

A Paper prepared by the Chairman of the Kent International Airport Consultative Committee, Mr Paul Twyman

Key Points:

1. KIACC (Kent International Airport Consultative Committee) has formally agreed that it is in favour of the development of KIA subject to satisfactory arrangements for dealing with the various environmental impacts.
2. In principle, therefore, the interest of British Airways World Cargo (BAWC) - if this is, indeed, the operator in question - is welcome. Indeed, as a reputable world wide operator and British "flag carrier" this company could well develop, in a socially responsible way, into a key "big business" element in the economy of East Kent.
3. However, it is unacceptable and bad government (probably amounting to maladministration) that the Council should have to take a decision on the basis of an unduly rushed timescale, without the benefit of adequate information, and with no proper public consultation. It is believed that if a final substantive decision is taken at the Council's meeting on 12th February it would be subject to legal challenge or a reference to the local government ombudsman, or conceivably both (despite the laudable, best endeavours of your officers and legal advisers to make the process and decision"lawyer proof").
4. "The devil is in the detail" - always - but certainly where planning matters are concerned. There is much more detailed information required before the Council - let alone the wider community - can begin to take a view on the balance between business development and environmental matters.
5 Rather than rushing to a decision with a gun held to the Council's head it is considered that modification of the S106 Agreement should be remitted to an "expert group" comprising Councillors and "outsiders" to report to Full Council within a short period of time - recognising that BAWC have commercial imperatives.
6. If BAWC walk away from KIA in these circumstances then the personal view of the Chairman of KIACC (there has been no time for proper consultation on this and other aspects) is that we would be well shot of them - they will have shown by their attitude to the Council and the local community that they are not as socially responsible as we would have hoped. We could well be avoiding a "cuckoo in the nest" in these circumstances.
7. But we do not believe that it will come to this. The Chairman of KIACC stands ready to work with the Council, KIA, BWAC, and other parties to facilitate the development of the airport in an environmentally acceptable manner.
8. Finally, on behalf of KIACC, we respectfully request that we should be given the opportunity to address Full Council at your Extraordinary meeting.

DETAIL

9. It has been extraordinarily difficult to consult the membership of KIACC in a meaningful way within the timescale required. A number of members have commented on the difficulty in consulting their own members (eg other parish councillors). Virtually every respondent has complained about the timescale.

10. We are grateful to your officers and to the KIA management for the briefing they have provided the Chairman of KIACC but, despite their best endeavours, none of us has anything like enough information to take a view on the overall balance between business and environmental factors. Still less has there been ample time to reflect on information, consult further, and reach a view.

11. Only on "Planet Thanet" could anyone think that it is reasonable to take a decision on such sensitive, highly charged matters within the week's timescale allowed. Only on Planet Thanet could anyone think of taking a decision without actually being told formally who the operator is! It is unacceptable, and a travesty of local democracy, for decisions to be taken in these circumstances.

12. We would respectfully remind the Council that your Corporate Plan - Theme 5, Healthy Communities - states: "The Council is committed to ensuring that residents continue to have every opportunity to be involved in the decision making processes". If these words mean anything at all they mean that the Council should not take a decision on probably the most important and wide-ranging planning matter of the decade (arguably even more important than "China Gateway" but certainly on a level with it, at least).

13. We are told that BAWC (if it is them!) have insisted that there must be confidentiality and that their deadline must be met. This is unreasonable. We know - thanks to the diligent research of one of the KIACC members - that BAWC have been looking at alternatives to their Stansted location for at least four years (we refer to BAWC's evidence to the Competition Commission given at a Hearing on 18th June 2008). So why the rush now? And why the secrecy over the identity? This way of behaving does not bode well for future relationships between the airline, the airport and the community.

14. This is particularly disappointing because in other contexts we would have considerable confidence in a British Airways subsidiary. They are a highly reputable, major international airline and the British "flag carrier" with all that this implies. They have shown themselves to be aware of their "corporate social responsibilities". The view has been expressed that they would be a great asset to Thanet. The area needs a major company to add to our economic base of predominantly small and medium enterprises. BAWC could turn out to be almost as important an element in the economic and social fabric of East Kent as Pfizers, who are well aware of their responsibilities to the local community.

15. We understand why BAWC "has a requirement for certainty that during the next ten years they will be able to operate their business in a stable regulatory environment". We would all like such certainty but it is unreasonable - given, for example, changing European legislation on the environmental which will have to be applied in the UK. We would all like to help BAWC in this regard but if we are to do so we need time to consider carefully what could turn out to be a "thin end of the wedge" or a "cuckoo in the nest" (to quote two comments made about the proposal).

16. We note that in the Director of Regeneration's paper one of the recommendations is for an "independent appraisal of the environmental issues associated with the new flights...received and accepted by the Chief Executive in consultation with the Leader, Deputy Leader and Leader of the Opposition". The Director of Regeneration has done a good job in difficult circumstances, drawing the threads together at very short notice, but, frankly, we do not feel that such an arrangement will provide much comfort to the local community or provide an adequate mechanism to consider the environmental issues. All these individuals are to some extent "parti pris".

17. Our suggestion is that an acceptable alternative would be to set up a working group (or use the existing working group) to look into all the detailed aspects of the application. However, we believe that it would be important to co-opt a couple of "outside" members on to such a group. And in the timescale there will need to be urgent consultation with the community in parallel with the work of such a group.

18. The timescale would need to be tight since we can understand why British Airways, with a number of financial and other challenges to address, would like an urgent response - and one that would "stick" and not be subject to significant revision.

19. KIACC is prepared to help with the process of further analysis of the proposals and with discussions with BAWC (and if necessary BA management centrally) to work out how to make the company a welcome partner and a "good neighbour".

20. Amongst the matters requiring further consideration in the view of KIACC members are:
the pros and cons of routing away from Ramsgate; the benefits of a new Instrument Landing System (which should help with noise amelioration and monitoring); the figures for employment (with most people casting doubt on the numbers suggested); the legality or otherwise of tying the agreement to a specific operator and if this is not possible, how one deals with this potential difficulty; the long term intentions of the operator (research having identified that BAWC have business links with Global Supply Systems and DHL - the worry with the later being that KIA might turn out to be a 24 hour hub for them).

21. There are also wider issues such as how any proposal would impact on other Corporate Plan themes like "Beautiful Thanet" - beaches are fine but can they be enjoyed with lots of noise? And what constitutes "lots" of noise? There is also the "Healthy Communities" theme and questions arise as to the effect of night noise on health. These may sound like unduly wide issues to take into account but it is clear that the current proposals will result in decisions which will have considerable "longevity", affecting the area for a long time.


21. There are a great many other matters which require detailed examination - which only illustrates the complexity of the decisions the Council has to take and the unsatisfactory nature of the process currently under way. KIACC stand ready to help the Council in your endeavour to balance business and the environment in this case.


FOOTNOTES
1. KIACC was set up under legislation which provides for the Government to designate airports which should have a consultative committee to deal with community concerns and other matters relating to the operation of the airport. KIA has been designated and KIACC is the statutory committee, independent but funded (very modestly) by Infratil.

2. Paul Twyman took over as Chairman from Sir Alistair Hunter in 2007. He is a resident of Minnis Bay (and is sometimes disturbed by aircraft noise there) and has a house in London, under one of the flight paths to Heathrow and close to one of the flight paths into London City Airport. The Heathrow flights often wake him up at 4.30 in the morning. The City Airport flights tend to be quieter and cause little if any disturbance to him. His career history has included being a senior administrator on the Secretariat of the Commission on the Third London Airport (the Roskill Commission); at the Department of Trade and then the Department of Transport he was the Assistant Secretary, Civil Aviation, responsible for oversight of all civil aviation matters, legislation thereon, sponsorship and supervision of the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) and National Air Traffic Control Services (NATS) and, inter alia, all private sector air operators (this was pre- and post-BA privatisation); he was Director of the Enterprise and Deregulation Unit at the Cabinet Office and then Department of Employment before resigning to set up his own management consultancy. He has acted in the (distant) past for Sir Michael Bishop and British Midland Airways. He has been a Thanet District Councillor (Conservative) though he has not been involved in party politics for more than a decade.


Wednesday, 11 February 2009

MY VOTE ON MANSTON EXPANSION

Firstly, the application has been unnecessarily rushed. A major airline will have contingency plans for when the runways they use are ever out of action. Manston Airport (kent international Airport) is used when there is fog elsewhere so the sense of rush is wrong. Then the Conservative leadership failed to share information for a week with opposition councillors giving only a week for public debate and consultation.

My observation is that when Thanet Council has to deal with any big development it is so desperate to do a deal that it negotiates poorly on the terms offered. Residents of Margate Road, in my Northwood ward and surrounding streets are still suffering years after Westwood Cross was opened because of hasty decisions, poor planning and an inability to negotiate hardball with the private sector.

Other thoughts from constituents are why are the charity flights always the late night ones? Are they genuinely so? Is there a register to demonstrate this? Why are details not provided as to why these flights have to travel at this time? Would it not be cheaper than airfreight for road freight for these charity flights? I do not know but some residents are suspicious that the word “charity” is used to avoid closer scrutiny.

There are a lot of people with maritime experience in Ramsgate. They tell me that frequently when planes could fly in/out away from Ramsgate they fly over the town. They know this because they are pretty clued up on wind speeds. I have started checking this as I live under the flight path. It seems pretty clear to me that the Airport has flights that unnecessarily take off or come in over Ramsgate. The reason for this is money. Most of the flights are heading out across Europe, so it costs extra money for fuel, and extra time, increasing staff costs for flights to take off away from Ramsgate; and to then have to effectively do a U turn to head back towards Europe. I think this is unacceptable and I would like to see this banned on Thursday night.

The late night and early morning flights are again about money. The longer an airplane is on the ground overnight the less money it makes, it’s a simple equation. Late night/early morning noise versus company profits. This is where with more time and a more rigorous, robust and realistic approach Thanet Council should be pinning down the applicant so that all our lives are made more bearable. Instead like some eager naive car buyer Thanet Council has gone for the first car it liked the colour of, and is now being sold all those extras it does not really need. This will cost the community in the long term.

A friend who knows more about aviation than me says that one of the key things we need to know is which airports will the planes be flying into Ramsgate from. If it is from low volume airports like Manston we can expect regular on time flights. Although it will be a pain we will know that once the 11pm flight has come over we can settle down for a night’s sleep. If the planes are coming in from busy airports like Frankfurt we could frequently have problems as freight will generally get lesser priority to take off than passenger flights. So when there are delays or bad weather, flights will back up one after another meaning we could have freight flights coming in at midnight, 1am or later. Running late will they take the long way in or will they come in over Ramsgate? It is not hard to see where the commercial pressures will drive decision making. All the more reason in my view to find out this information, and negotiate hard now, when Thanet Council is in a position to do so. Another option would be to grant the application but only for say a year, or to require regular reviews to continue the granting of permission to fly at night. Some monitoring and some checks and balances please.

Instead Councillors are hastily being asked to just trust. I do not think this is the right way forward.

However, depending on debate, fresh late information on the night, and amendments I will still be inclined to support the proposal. I have a number of concerns as listed above, but I am also a representative. I am quite clear from discussions with Northwood constituents since I was elected that the majority of my constituents support airport expansion even though know the effects of noise. I have been surprised at how few emails or letters I have had as a Councillor opposing the application, not even double figures yet.

The jobs argument resonates even more in the current economic circumstances. It also is an advert for the airport and what Thanet has to offer. Ideally we would tax airline fuel so that it was not as economic to have air freight, and would educate people away from wanting flowers and beans from Kenya in winter. That though is not the world we live in for the moment.

I am writing all these thoughts now because I would hope they can be considered at Thursday’s meeting. My work commitments mean that I may well not make the meeting, or will be late and I will not know until on the day whether I can attend because of the early 5.30 start. I have seen no reasonable explanation for this timing. My best guess is that with the Cabinet meeting scheduled at 7pm the same evening it has been timed for the convenience of Cabinet members.

Whilst I understand it is more convenient for them to spend one long evening at the Town Hall it does not serve local democracy well. I have written complaining and have had no explanation.
I know a number of councillors will be absent due to the short notice and the early start. Too often there seems to be an assumption that councillors are either not economically active, or have businesses allowing them to come and go as they please. See my previous blog on how unrepresentative this makes the Council.

In my view if the Airport decision could not wait until 26th February when there is a Council meeting already scheduled (and I have seen no evidence yet to see why this decision needs to be taken so urgently) then there should have been a Full Council at the normal time of 7pm, and not limited to 90 minutes for what may be a long debate.

The Cabinet could have met the previous or the following evening. The decision to meet with barely a week’s public notice at 5.30pm for only 90 minutes will weaken local faith in the democratic process.

Tuesday, 10 February 2009

PUBLIC INQUIRY FOR RAMSGATE TENNIS COURTS

Alan Poole and Michelle Fenner the Labour councillors for Moses Montefiore ward have been campaigning with Steve Ladyman MP since 2007 to secure the future of vital leisure facilities in their ward. The Hands Off Our Tennis (HOOT) campaign they worked closely with was a big success. However, the Conservative administration at Thanet Council, having been beaten off once are again looking at trying to sell off the tennis courts for housing.

The slogan at the 2007 Council election of local Conservatives was Vote Blue, Go Green. Shamefully they are reneging on this manifesto commitment and Selling the Green to get their mismanagement out of the Red.


Thanks to innovative legislation brought in by the Labour Government in October 2008, local residents plus Michelle and Alan made an application to Kent County Council for the ‘putting green’ and tennis courts at Montefiore Avenue, Ramsgate to be registered as Common Land.

The Kent County Council Regulation Committee met on 6th February to consider the application. Thanks to Michelle, Alan and Steve's campaigning, plus the commitment of Ramsgate residents the committee decided to refer the decision to a public enquiry. This could secure the land as a green space forever for the people of Ramsgate.

Thanet Council are organising an Asset Disposal Consultation meeting on Friday 20th February at 2pm at their Cecil Square offices to persevere with their attempt to sell off this land. I hope all those who can will attend this meeting.

Hands Off Our Tennis Courts!

Monday, 9 February 2009

CLLR EZEKIEL FAILING TO LEAD THANET

I was very disappointed that Cllr. Ezekiel failed to write in last week's Gazette about his views on Manston Airport expansion. I would have liked to have responed in the local press but cannot because of the short timescale for which he is ultimately responsible. So I have written this.

Dear Cllr. Ezekiel,


I write with reference to your column in the Isle of Thanet Gazette. I would like to have responded to you in the newspapers but sadly with the rush to hold a Council meeting next Thursday 12th February it will be impossible to do so. You are given a column by the biggest selling local newspaper as Leader of Thanet Council, not as an ordinary member of the Conservative Party.

Your column says nothing new this week that you have not written previously. There is nothing in it, that could not have been written next week. Why have you written a national party political piece that could have been dictated by Conservative Party HQ? The community we both serve is asking us questions about the proposals for Manston.

At the risk of coming over all over Royston Veysey, the Gazette is a local paper for local people. Here was your duty as Leader of our community to explain why you were rushing things through. You could have addressed concerns.

You could have explained why everything is being rushed through, you could have balanced the pros and cons and then indicated what you thought were the most significant factors.

It is not just my view that you have made a serious error of judgment. Our MPs Roger Gale and Steve Ladyman have both written widely on the subject since the public announcement. They have listened to local people and understood what they want to hear. Quite rightly they have served their constituents by writing about the proposals at Manston.

You may not comprehend the distrust your actions will cause. I have often heard you condemn some parts of the local community for being cynical. Here you have decided to put the national Conservative Party’s interests before those of the local people of Thanet. People will draw the conclusion that Thanet people's interests are secondary to your antagonism to those who hold different political views to yourself.

You owe local people an explanation. I would suggest you can rebuild some trust by apologising for your error of judgment in your next column in the Gazette.

Yours sincerely,

Cllr. Mark Nottingham

Sunday, 8 February 2009

STILL WAITING FOR CONSULTATION ON COLEMAN REC

Last month I highlighted my campaign with Cllr. Liz Green and Steve Ladyman MP to improve Coleman Crescent Recreation Area. I am pleased that the police have acted and provided extra resources for Northwood.

After publicity in Your Thanet, Thanet Council promised on 22nd January:

“It has been decided the consultation will begin later this month and run throughout February."

It is now 8th February and people in Northwood near the park have heard further promises that consultation will start soon, but no action. I have written to ask Thanet Council to keep its promise and to stop talking and start taking action.

I first went to a meeting on consulting residents on 13th March 2008, history here. Hopefully things will finally start before the first anniversary comes up.

For links to pictures and videos of the park click here.



Saturday, 7 February 2009

MANSTON FLIGHTS - YOUR CHANCE TO VOTE

I have put up a poll to the right of here on the proposals for more flights at Manston. If you need more information before casting your vote the Thanet Council agenda can be found if you click here. Although I think it is disappointing that background papers like the Section 106 agreement do not seem to be there. I note the Council's website schedule does not yet list the meeting.

For more information my Labour colleague Cllr Dave Green has summarised key points here and here.

Bertie Biggles gives his sceptical opinions here and here.

Steve Ladyman MP has given his views here.

The Stop Manston Expansion Group are here, and report on KCC not facing public scrutiny here.

The Thanet Extra has stories here and here.

Michael Child has collated several airport posts on his blog here starting with Roger Gale.

If anybody else wants me to add their published views, let me know.

A Cliftonville resident has sent me links to Manston Administartive Data, Approach Charts, Charts, Map of the Airport, and Instrument Aprroach Chart, thank you.

The comments on most of these posts are well worth a perusal too.

You can vote right up until the Full Council Meeting, it will not be scientific of course!

UPDATES

Eastcliff Richard has nicked my idea here so if you feel strongly, vote early, vote often, and if you're a little bit sad vote from every computer you have access to!

Vote on nude flights here!





Thursday, 5 February 2009

MANSTON – ARE DECLARATIONS OF INTEREST ACCURATE?

I have received a note asking if I need to fill in my Civic Gifts form to declare any gifts or hospitality I have received over £25 as a Councillor. That’s easy zilch, since I have been elected.

I can download the form from the members (Councillors) portal but I cannot place it on the Council’s website so everybody can see. Why shouldn’t the same apply to my full declaration of interests? You can go to the Town Hall and have a look, but it’s not up in cyberspace.

The form though is out of date with the modern world. It only asks for significant shareholdings. So I do not need to declare my miniscule portfolio of shares in Hereford United FC, and Millwall FC. If Thanet Council ever sponsors a Millwall v Hereford game you’ll know who thought it was a good idea. Less carbon emissions than the air show though, so maybe not such a bad idea after all….

So a cunning councillor could have quite a significant shareholding in a large company and it would not have to be declared. Turn to property and the situation is worse. You could be a councillor lobbying vigorously for developments in say Cliffsend that would have a positive effect on business or commercial premises you owned in Richborough, and no one would need to know.

So long as it is not in Thanet and just over the border in Dover District Council, people would not know. That’s right we really are an island. Councillors can own property anywhere else in the UK or abroad and nobody needs to know in your declaration. I know a councillor who does own a property elsewhere in the UK. They are very open about it and I am sure they would happily declare it if required.

Traditionalists may say that you are supposed to declare an interest, but we have seen that system of voluntarism does not work, just look at the recent cases in the House of Lords.

If you wanted to be more cunning buy a boat, it’s not a property even if you could live on it as people do on the Thames, and you are in the clear. Again I know a councillor who is very open about their boat, although from what I understand you would struggle to live on it as it so small. Again I know they would be happy to declare this.

The problem here though is I know this because I am a fellow councillor. I did not know about either situation when I was a member of the public. There is at times casual abuse, accusations and innuendo about councillors in the blogosphere. From what I have observed I have seen no evidence of financial corruption. With regard to corruption in the sense of abusing power then when I am aware of this, I tackle it as an opposition councillor through the proper channels.

The thing is we live in a global world. If an airline sets up at Manston and flies somewhere where I owned a property, or had shares in a property company, or any other significant asset, I would not have to declare this. I could vote for flights that would help me get to my holiday home, or facilitate tourism to the hotel I owned shares in and nobody needs know unless they can trace my foreign assets.

So I propose
1. We put the list of gifts Thanet councillors receive on the internet.
2. We put Councillors declarations of interest on the internet.
3. We expand Councillors declarations of interest to cover all assets over say £10,000 (or equivalent foreign currency) to be declared wherever they are in the world.

This would mean idle malicious gossip on the internet could be rebutted by people referring to this open accountable register.

It would also see Thanet leading the country in a culture of openness and accountability, instead of following an out of date model that does not reflect the modern world. The current system allows cynicism to thrive; let’s kill it off.

Wouldn’t it be good to have this information before the debate on Manston expansion at Full Council?

Wednesday, 4 February 2009

QUIZ, JAZZ, POTATOES, SEEDS & VALENTINE'S DAY

I admire how many other Thanet bloggers provide ongoing details of things to do locally. I am not going to try and imitate them but here are a few things I hope to do.

This week the locally produced musical show 2027 which has had great local press coverage is on at the Granville Theatre , Ramsgate until Saturday.

At the weekend 7/8 February will see me heading to Wyevale to buy some seed potatoes as they are having a Potato Weekend. I’m contemplating growing some in the greenhouse to get extra earlies, I did it a couple of years ago and they were ready in April. I stick to earlier varieties to avoid any possibility of blight. With Ramsgate having the best climate in the country, it allows me to get in a second crop later in the season on the same ground of beetroot, parsley, sorrel and borage.

Monday 9th February I will be at the Ramsgate Labour Party meeting filling the remaining vacancies for Town Council candidates. I am not standing.

Tuesday 10th February Christ Church Ramsgate are having a pub meal and question time at the Foy Boat on the sea front.

Wednesday 11th February I will be celebrating the end of the 15 days celebrating Chinese New Year of 4707 with the Lantern Festival. My best Xmas present this year was a set of Chinese lanterns, they are great fun to light and release into the sky, especially at night. It’s the Year of the Ox.

Friday 13th February Christ Church, Vale Square has a Jazz evening featuring Norman Setchell and his band . Ticket price £5 - bring your own food - atmosphere, coffee and mints provided! People could order for a takeaway to be delivered (providing they pay for it when it arrives!)
Valentine’s Day 14th February No romantic lie in it’s up early to go to the seed swap at Whitstable Farmer’s Market. I was very sad when Garden Organic closed their Yalding gardens, near Maidstone as the seed swap there was a brilliant day out. I am always looking for different types of beans to grow. Will have to sort out which seeds the mice didn’t get to this winter.

In the evening Dr. Trevor Clarke’s fiendish quiz night is at Christ Church, Vale Square, Ramsgate 7pm for 7.30. Ploughman's and the best selection of desserts in Kent. Show someone you love them by indulging them with masses of the most mouth watering naughty but nice things, it is Valentine’s after all! Tickets adults £5, under 18's £2.50

Tickets for all Christ Church events and the Foy Boat meal from Peter Tizzard 01843 853732.

Tuesday, 3 February 2009

TORY PUTS SELF BEFORE ROAD SAFETY

With icy conditions and heavy snow forecast on the roads you don't need any distractions when driving, but that's not something Laura Sandys seems to have thought of. She has put up 2 large roadside advertising boards in farmer's fields. One is on the left hand side of Canterbury Road East just before the Lord of the Manor roundabout. Turn right and go up the hill on Haine Road and there is another one on your left.

Every week I look at the planning application list we get as councillors, and I have seen nothing about this. Has planning permission been sought, or is it a case of try it on and see if I can get away with it?

Laura's not replied to my previous contact so I'll drop her a line again. These are the questions I would hope to have answered.

Do you think road safety is improved during severe weather conditions by distracting roadside adverts?
Have you applied for Planning Permission, if so when?
Has planning permission been granted for these adverts?

Who has paid for these adverts?
What is the cost of these adverts?
Whose land are the adverts on?
Have you paid the landowner, or have they donated the land?

The last 4 questions will have to be declared in due course under electoral law so in the spirit of transparency I would ask that Ms. Sandys is open about them at the earliest opportunity.

The other questions are of interest to local people and I hope Ms. Sandys will answer them as she seeks to represent the area.

As someone who has not been in the area long Ms. Sandys may be unaware of Thanet Council's hard line on these matters. I recall estate agents not being allowed to have "for sale" boards up which were charity donations advertising for a school summer fair (I think it was St. Joseph's Convent - can anybody remind me please?). I also recall a man who was using an advertising board selling plants for charity and he was ordered to stop.

The matter has been reported to Thanet Council and the relevant officers are looking into this potential breach of the law.

I hope Ms. Sandys will demonstrate rapidly that she has complied with all aspects of the law.

UPDATE 4.2.09 The Council is investigating, Laura Sandys is unavailable for comment.

UPDATE 2 5.2.09 Laura Sandys apologises unequivocally, but still leaves the signs up even though she knows this is wrong.