Tuesday, 30 June 2009
I am grateful to David Foley from Thanet and East Kent Chamber for letting me publish his guide to the new High Speed 1 service launch 10 days ago:
High Speed 1
The new link promises to boost regeneration in East Kent.
1. The public launch train on 18th June
Southeastern had invited members of the media and key stakeholders to this momentous occasion billed as the first major railway project for 100 years. Included in the select guest list was the former British Ambassador to Japan, Sir Stephen Gommersall, who is now Hitachi's Chief Executive for Europe. He was joined by Chiaki Ueda, Managing Director of Hitachi Rail Maintenance (UK) Ltd, as well as Dr Stephen Ladyman MP for South Thanet and Gwyn Prosser MP for Dover. Philip Carter, Chairman of Shepway Economic Regeneration Partnership, ensured that the interests of Folkestone and Lydd Airport were present. The advantages to Kent business were clearly outlined in the welcome pack provided. Just in case anyone did not get the message, Paul Wookey, Chief Executive of Locate In Kent, was on hand to ensure that no potential investment opportunity was lost. Local government across Kent was well represented from one end of Kent to the other with the leader of Dartford Borough Council, Cllr Jeremy Kite, as enthusiastic as the Leader of Dover District Council, Cllr Paul Watkins. Southeastern's Managing Director, Charles Horton, was particularly proud that this inaugural run was taking place nearly six months ahead of schedule.
2. How Long Did It Take?
In his formal speech before departure, Charles Horton promised that the train would leave on time and would take no longer than the scheduled 37 minutes. In fact, from the closing of the carriage doors at London St Pancras to the opening of the same at Ashford International, just 29 minutes elapsed.
3. Technical Specifications
Each train consists of six air-conditioned passenger saloons or what we used to call carriages in the days of British Rail. There will be 338 seats available in all in configurations of 2 + 2. Including any standing passengers, the trains are licensed to carry a maximum of 508 passengers. Two trains can be linked to double the capacity. Top speed is 140 mph on the special track and 100 mph elsewhere. The distance from the Channel Tunnel to St Pancras is 68 miles of which 16 miles will be in a tunnel. Power to the Hitachi Class 395 train comes from overhead cables carrying 25,000 volts on the High Speed section and 750 volts via a conductor rail on the standard lines. Closed circuit television will monitor all passengers who will also be protected from accidents by the TVM 430/KVB train protection system.
5. How Many Trains Will Be Available?
There will be 29 train sets ready before December 2009. The original order was for 28 which would have excluded Dover. Steve Ladyman, then Transport Minister, pressed the case for an extra train in order to service Dover. Much to the delight of his Labour Party colleague, Gwyn Prosser MP for Dover, the Treasury relented. Following extensive works to Shakespeare Cliff tunnel the route to Dover is now secured. There are currently 18 train sets in Ashford. The remaining 11 left the Hitachi factory in Japan on 13 June and should arrive in August 2009.
6. Must We Wait Until December?
The short answer is no. From 29th June 2009, Southeastern will be running a Preview Timetable which will operate from Monday to Friday with departures from Ashford International at 0648 hrs, 0713 hrs and 0748 hrs. Return journeys will leave London St Pancras at 1737 hrs, 1837 hrs and 1926 hrs.
7. What About Other Train Services in East Kent?
Hitachi is contracted to Southeastern to provide Class 465 traction units, what we used to call locomotives, in a replacement programme that will see a full fleet of 97 trains operating before April 2010. Such is the quality of the Japanese engines that Wayne Jenner, Southeastern's Engineering Director, expects reliability to improve by a factor of 10. As he put it, "We expect the modifications to virtually eliminate traction failures", although presumably the new tractor units will not eliminate split infinitives.
8. What Ever Happened To CTRL?
The Channel Tunnel Rail Link designation has been changed to High Speed 1 or HS 1. New lines will presumably become HS 2, HS 3 and so on. I enjoyed a fruitful discussion with Chiaki Ueda which included the importance of finding brand names that are suitable for a British clientele. Japanese companies sometimes find that the product names in their domestic market do not always transfer easily to Europe. One of Japan's best selling soft drinks is Calpis which, bearing in mind the colour of the liquid in the can, is not the most appealing name to a British consumer; especially not to a dairy farmer.
9. Why Is Ashford The Main Beneficiary?
In 2003, Ashford was identified by government as one of four key growth areas in the South East. Current plans allow for 28,000 new jobs and 31,000 new homes. Most East Kent towns will benefit to a greater or lesser extent from HS 1, Although passengers who usually embark at Margate may find that their journey time to the City of London will not improve, the majority of passengers who travel via Ashford should see a clear benefit. The East Kent Chamber has been promised a meeting with the Marketing Director of Southeastern to ensure that the interests of Easy Kent coastal towns are fully represented in the final timetable. We are mindful that a fast train service not only takes our residents to London but can bring London-based consumers to our retailers and service providers.
David produces an excellent digest every week of business news which is one of the best bulletins I receive as a councillor. Any business not a member of the Thanet and East Kent Chamber would be well advised to find out more by contacting him at:
Chief Executive, Thanet & East Kent Chamber Limited
Director, Channel Chamber of Commerce
Tel: +44 (0) 1843 609289
Fax: +44 (0) 1843 609291
Email: davidfoley AT tekc.co.uk
Monday, 29 June 2009
This is a trial service but there are several things that need improving. Firstly, signage. All the electric information screens at St. Pancras station tell you about trains to Paris, Brussels, Derby and Sheffield, but nothing about Ashford. Coming out of the underground station if you follow signs for UK trains you will end up on the wrong level as I did looking for trains to the East Midlands.
The Eurostar staff knew nothing about the Southeastern service and sent me to the East Midlands terminal. The East Midlands staff sent me to the old Thameslink service. This had such a poor reputation it has been rebranded as First Capital Connect for trains to Bedford, Luton, Brighton etc.
Their staff knew where the Southeastern service was. It is tucked away on the other side of the upper level Eurostar platforms. As they have just started, I am confident there will be better signage. Some reciprocal training with the other train companies staff so they can all help each other should be arranged.
From leaving the Kings Cross underground station to getting on the train you need to allow at least 5 minutes. If you had luggage or were with young children, you probably need at least 10 minutes. The platfrom is near to the Kings Cross commuter services. Now I know where it is in future I would come out of the tube station in Kings Cross station, and then walk through from there. This is quicker than going all the way round and up and down various steps and escalators as you do if you exit via the signed St. Pancras station exits.
It is unclear how and where to buy a ticket. I needed to upgrade my day return. Walking up to the turnstiles the 6 staff waiting with nothing to do seemed a little disappointed to be interupted from their conversations by a customer who wanted to buy a ticket. I was pointed to a ticket machine which did not offer an upgrade option. The ticket staff were back to having a chat and were ignoring other customers, but one of them reluctantly came and explained to me that yes it was not obvious how to buy the upgrade ticket, and showed me where it was hidden in the system. If there is a staffed ticket office, it is unclear where it is.
There's an amazing amount of food and shopping facilities at St. Pancras, and it does look very impressive, but I would have liked a bit more thought on how to actually help people use trains, rather than trying to extract as much money as you can from every square foot in retail opportunities.
The train itself felt brand new. It was like being in a car showroom, except here was a brand new train. It flies and feels so smooth and comfortable after the often bumpy ride that Southeastern offers on its main lines. The train manager came and helpfully pointed out that you can plug in your laptop and charge it, a big help for commuters like myself who work on the train and a significant plus over the domestic trains. I bumped into a Labour Party activist who lives in Ashford and he had saved half an hour door to door to his job in the City in the morning and was going to switch permanently. A quick change at Ashford and I was home 30 minutes earlier too.
The verdict? The trains are very impressive although I would like to have seen better space for carrying bicycles. St. Pancras station needs better signs and to integrate the Southeastern trains onto the information screens. The staff all need to get to know each other better, that's something privatisation has damaged, four different companies operating from one station cannot be in customers best interests.
Teething problems that will I trust all be resolved before the official launch later in the year.
Saturday, 27 June 2009
Last night his namesake Cllr. Paul Carter Leader of Kent County Council (KCC) let down a good crowd who had turned out at the Kent International Airport Consultative Committee (KIACC) meeting at Manston to hear him speak.
The audience as well as the committee were extremely angry that despite Paul Twyman, the Chair of KIACC having spent months negotiating with Cllr. Paul Carter's office to ensure a convenient date for Paul. Carter could be found, he had reneged on the commitment to attend.
Apparently, Paul Carter pulled out at the last minute due to a 're-arranged family event'. However, a message from his personal assistant seemed a less than courteous way to do this. Many considered he should have telephoned Paul Twyman as Chair of the meeting to apologise personally, and start rescheduling a future appearance.
In politics timing can be everything. Perhaps Cllr. Carter was concerned the public might object to his recent 8% allowance rise voted through at County Hall. Certainly that coming straight AFTER the elections breeds cynicism, and with politicians currently having very low public regard with the ongoing expenses stories, Paul Carter may have failed to recognise this.
As Chair, Paul Twyman, proposed a motion that Cllr. Carter be reported to KCC's Standards Committee for his failure to attend the statutory committee's meeting.
The motion was carried by a majority of the committee although Cllr. Latchford and Birchington Parish Councillor John Worrow didn't support the motion. Parish Councillor Worrow who seems to be shadowing Cllr. Latchford at all public events, watched carefully to see his Thanet District Council representative's reaction before voting. Dressed in a very similar fashion to Roger Latchford, he appeared to some to be a "mini-me" of his mentor.
Ros McIntyre from Broomfield gave an excellent presentation on why her research showed that aircraft flying into Manston didn't need to fly over Herne Bay, Hampton and Broomfield.
Is the public aware that KIA only has seven scheduled flights per week, six freight, one a holiday flight to Jersey? The freight flights bring in mainly produce from Kenya and other areas of Africa. Matt Clarke of Infratil may talk up the airport endlessly but it is clear that the parent company in these difficult times can't carry the loss Manston makes for ever.
Speakers from the floor included Steve Higgins from Stop Manston Expansion Group, Cllrs. Dave and Liz Green, Cllr. Gerry O'Donnell and many local residents not all of whom have concerns about noise or night flights. Several supported night flights and airport expansion for the jobs it might create. It was noted that the slide of the number of jobs actually in existence seemed to change to the next one before they could be totalled. Perhaps the presentation could be put into the public domain for those like myself who were not present?
One Birchington resident wanted lorries off the road but supported the airport and China Gateway for job-creation, perhaps unaware of the HGV traffic China Gateway could produce.
I was not present but am grateful to a number of those present for helping me compile this report. I will be happy to publish comments from anybody who was present who wishes to add further information.
Friday, 26 June 2009
our local Armed Forces veterans. Dave Green looked very impressive in full Mayoral regalia. My fellow ward councillor Liz Green as a County and District Councillor, and now also Ramsgate Mayoress will surely be the busiest representative in Kent in the coming year. Liz may not have stood for the Town Council, but she has been effecively "co-opted!" Liz works very hard already so I expect Dave will be "solo" at some events when her other commitments clash. There were a number of other Ramsgate and Thanet councilors present.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning, We will remember them.
Thursday, 25 June 2009
do have a look at the photos. There's a separate section on the rebuilding Ramsgate Library. I attach my own pictures of the Library and the plaque which acknowledges the work of the Friends of Ramsgate Library.
Tuesday, 23 June 2009
"In Cliftonville long established flower beds are facing the threat of being grassed over. My colleagues who are ward councillors Linda Aldred, Doug Clark and Clive Hart are angry at Thanet Council's plans to grass over flower beds on the roadside verge in Eastern Esplanade Cliftonville at the entrance to the popular bowling greens and indoor bowls centre. Clive Hart is pictured by a flowerbed threatened with grassing over in front of the renowned Walpole Bay Hotel."
As the saying goes, there is more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents. I am pleased to report that Cllr. Clive Hart's formidable powers of persuasion and campaigning skills have enabled Cllr. Martin Wise to see the light, and to acknowledge he got things wrong in relation to the grassing over of the flower beds in Eastern Esplanade, Cliftonville.
As a Cliftonville West ward councillor Clive Hart told me:
Monday, 22 June 2009
The article covers many resorts but says this about Thanet:
"Thanet district council has been promoting the benefits of holidaying in its resorts of Margate and Ramsgate by delivering 35,000 ‘Our beaches are beautiful’ leaflets across Kent, Essex, and London, and publicising the coast and its numerous activities and events at www.visitthanet.co.uk which has seen traffic increase from just over 36,000 in April to nearly 45,000 in May."
What about our local environment though? Unkempt streets here. Eastcliff Richard catalogues the failure to keep Ramsgate up to standard here, here, and here. So I think the no doubt carefully targeted 35,000 leaflets fail to understand how to grow tourism. When looking at 10 million people in London, Kent and Essex, 35,000 is mighty small. The problem though is that people need to come through our towns to access Thanet's beautiful beaches. At the last Council meeting the Council leadership acknowledged there is a problem with cleaning the streets, but said there was little they could do and almost blamed the people. Then we find out from the front page of last week's Isle of Thanet Gazette that Thanet Council have run out of money for wheelie bins.
This is nonsense, there's plenty of money, it is not just being spent very well. On tourism the most important recommendation is word of mouth. That generates more repeat business than any leaflet drop. Indeed at present, friends who visit see what we have to offer, but are disappointed there is so little to do (closing museums - doh!) and notice the mess.
I know Scarborough Council recognised this some time ago and prioritised cleaning their beaches and streets as their market research showed how important this was to visitors. For Thanet Council it is a lack of joined up thinking to close toilets, not make cleaning a priority and then still try and advertise for tourists.
I am pleased that the Visit Thanet website is getting more hits, but I am concerned that when the current mood in the country means we have a chance to make a big impression on "staycation" visitors, that Thanet will be let down by a Cabinet that is unable to think strategically on tourism and just flits from issue to issue.
Sunday, 21 June 2009
"Second Open letter re Tourism in Thanet - 17 June 2009
In the three months since my first open letter of 16 March 2009 I have received many supportive e-mails and phone calls. I have also consulted with business contacts from a variety of disciplines and I have been able to formulate a view on how tourism is supported in Thanet:
1. Our councillors don't seem to have the passion to push for a more structured strategy for tourism or to embrace the vital tactics needed to improve the yield from tourism in terms of cash flowing into the local economy. Or perhaps they still do not realise the economic importance of tourism.
2. In the absence of significant informed input from elected members, officers at both district and county levels cannot and do not give of their best. The consultation draft of Thanetvision 2030 sported some vain hopes, the achievement of which must build from a secure baseline, needing action now to encourage the right sort of input.
3. I have counted 18 relevant separate organisations promoting tourism, each of which has a small marketing budget at its disposal. There may be more.
I have not counted individual commercial interests, which wield further budgets. Only three or four of them seem to have any liaison. The Isle of Thanet Tourist Association is ineffective and introverted. Some larger organisations are de facto not focused on Thanet.
4. No apparent effort is made to capitalise in the ultra-short term on the wide variety of press coverage the area has enjoyed over the past three months. Things have just happened, blank minds have looked on, opportunities have elapsed.
5. A few weeks ago Plain Jane in the IOTG pointed up the dire neglect of the provision of facilities for our visitors. Is anyone listening, even to her?
I doubt it. The first open letter from me elicited more than a hundred responses. Only one of them was from an elected member, and that was an MP, not a councillor... In my last letter I supported TDC as the vehicle for action. Not any more.
6. A business colleague provided the most telling remark of the exercise: '
No matter what you do, the great apathy will win. In trying to book a group for July I came up against such ignorance and lack of interest that I could only assume poor training to be the cause - there was clearly plenty of availability, which there shouldn't be at that time of year. '
7. Summer is here and nothing much has happened. It's too late to do much now for 2009 but it's vital that, somehow, a greater concerted effort is achieved for the future promotion of tourism to Thanet.
Like many people who've spoken to me in the last three months I'm not prepared to let apathy win. It has been shown that pressure can achieve results. Ramsgate Maritime Museum will re-open. Crampton Tower has been saved. Northdown House hasn't been dumped."
I call upon all of you to think about this carefully and e-mail to me some comment to show whether or not you feel you could join and take part in a co-operative for the promotion of Thanet tourism. Twenty years ago the East Kent Tourism Development Action Programme united many interests into a strong organisation which did what it said on the tin. Maybe now it's time to resurrect the concept, but only for Thanet. As one of the founder members of the TDAP I would happily give my time to coordinate such an endeavour. I hope that I'm not the last voice prepared to be raised and to be heard.
The only elected member to respond previously was Steve Ladyman. I'll be happy to pass on Paul's contact details if you get in touch with me.
Whilst I totally understand that you need to make political points, I do stand as an independent mind and have eschewed politics for the past 15 years. My party is the "Let's Make Thanet Hum" party, if you would like to categorise it!
Friday, 19 June 2009
Today's Daily Mail has a bizarre story and "campaign" complaining about wheelie bins. This is the worst sort of cheap populism. Look at this absurd quote:
Conservative Shadow Local Government Minister Bob Neill said:
"Households up and down the country are being hit by the curse of wheelie bins - an obsession of bin bureaucrats. This is all being driven by meddling Labour Ministers who seem intent on dictating how people dispose of their rubbish. This campaign will send Gordon Brown a message that enough is enough."
The Mail in true fashion spreads a little fear into our lives with this in the headline..
stop monstrous wheelie bins engulfing our streets
The killers of Baby P yes they're monstrous, but no the Mail says you're not even safe to leave your own home, there's monstrous wheelie bins out there don't you know!
Bob Neill is being disingenuous. As Shadow Local Government Minister he knows that the largest political party running Councils and providing wheelie bins is the .......Conservatives!
As to Labour introducing them he knows this is false too, I was a Labour councillor in Lewisham in the 1990s, when as a Labour administration we introduced wheelie bins with the full support of the then Conservative government.
Wheelie bins aren't perfect, they have problems, but it is hard to see what better alternative there is. Councillors of all political persuasions have implemented them and I'm not going to take a pop at the Thanet Conservative administration for using wheelie bins.
I'll leave that to Tory MP Bob Neill.
Here's a mark of the man. Bob Neill's Bromley constituency has trains that take 15 minutes to Westminster, yet uses his (I should say "our") expenses to fund a million pound home in Southend an hour away.
If you like wheelie bins there's more here than you could ever wish to see.
Thursday, 18 June 2009
As you go through Ashford there always seem to be several of the new Hitachi trains coming in or out of the sheds, and the trains are seen around the network out being tested more and more often.
All local politicans should be promoting this new service. It will be a great advert for Thanet where we have relatively low house and commercial premises prices for the South East. We also now have great links to East Anglia and Stansted Airport through the connection at Stratford station in east London (do allow 10 minutes for the walk though as the High Speed station is a little removed from the mainline station). You also have an excellent view of the Olympic stadium which is heading towards completion.
Sunday, 14 June 2009
Saturday, 13 June 2009
Friday, 5 June 2009
From results declared the Greens are not doing that great and will not get a second MEP in the South East region. Labour will hold its only MEP I predict on what is going to be Labour's worst set of results in modern times.
Local results will underestimate minor parties votes so I expect UKIP, Green and BNP to out-poll their local results overall in the European results. This is difficult to call because all the small parties do not stand that many local candidates. I have heard many anecdotal stories from all of the 3 main parties of people voting for them locally, but for other parties in the Europeans. Nonetheless I predict the 10 South East MEPs to split like this for the first 9 of the 10 seats
the last seat to go to Conservative/UKIP or even and I very much hope not the BNP.
In Lincolnshire although not standing in many divisions the BNP got 8-10% of the vote. Not quite enough to get an East Midlands MEP but worryingly close. It looks clear that one of the main consequence of expenses will be to see a racist party get national representation for the first time.
Shame on every single MP whose abuse brought this about.