Friday, 18 November 2011

Balancing Boundaries (updated)

Reading through the Gazette I came across a letter by Cllrs Fenner and Poole relating to the Boundary Commission’s review of Parliamentary seats. I could have sworn I’d heard it before and yep, I had. It was published on Thanet Press Release’s website on the 6th November. Todays letter is the same statement, therefore Im assuming that their view has not changed and they are sticking to what they said before. Their proposal is:

the inclusion of the Margate Wards of Westbrook and Garlinge and keeping Salmestone in the proposed new constituency of Margate & Ramsgate

OK. Lets look at the proposed boundaries for Herne Bay and Margate & Ramsgate. What doesn’t ring true with the quote? Yep, Salmestone is ALREADY part of the proposed Margate & Ramsgate seat.

The letter makes mention of the “whole Margate community” and that it "must" be included in the Margate/Ramsgate seat. Given the old Margate boundaries included Westgate as well this proposal falls because the seat would be too large to meet the Boundary Commission's criteria, even if Sandwich was moved to the Herne Bay seat. Labour makes criticisms that Margate "must not be split" and yet Labour knows that they have to accept the splitting of Margate. One Labour Councillor in Margate has publicly accepted this as being the case.

Of course if Labour is serious about the “whole Margate community” being part of Margate/Ramsgate, would they please suggest which Ramsgate ward they would drop, so that the residents can make their own feelings known.

The reason why they made this press release? They were attacking Laura Sandys for making public her view that she would prefer to keep Little Stour and Ashstone in the Margate/Ramsgate seat at maybe the expense of Salmestone. Odd, since this is a public consultation. Just because she has said this does not mean the proposed seats are automatically changed. It’s based on ALL the information that gets sent to the Review not just the resident MP’s. Everyone is entitled to their opinion, whether the Labour leadership agrees with it or not.  

The Maths (update 18:20):

The proposed Herne Bay seat contains 78,999 voters compared to Margate/Ramsgate with 74,173. According to last years District elections the key wards have the following electorates:

Westbrook          3059
Garlinge              3453
Sandwich            5600
Westgate On Sea 5079

If Westbrook and Garlinge are exchanged for Sandwich, Herne Bay will have 78,087 voters and Margate/Ramsgate will have 75,085 voters. If Westgate moves from Herne Bay to Margate/Ramsgate, Herne Bay will have 73,008 voters compared to Margate/Ramsgate's 80,164.

Looking at the "rules", a constituency needs to have between 72,810 and 80,473 voters (5% either side of 76,641-the electoral quota). While the final figures fit with this, there are two reasons why I wouldn't advocate the Westgate switch. Firstly each constituency needs to have similar numbers of electors and with such a large difference in voters it defeats the purpose of the review. Secondly Cllr Will Scobie posted analysis on the apparent loss of 1,400 voters from Margate Central and Cliftonville West wards in the last four years therefore there should be a reluctance to push towards the upper limit. With this being the case its best that Westgate stay with Herne Bay seat, even if that means splitting Margate.

I hope the above might shed some light onto the maths involved. While I would be delighted to fit Westgate in the proposed Margate/Ramsgate seat, the above doesn't justify the move.

Thursday, 17 November 2011

Reasonably Unreasonable

Firstly, a big thanks to everyone who reads this blog. While my total blog views may be half what other blogs get each month, I’m grateful to all of you who spend a little of your time reading whatever I churn out. Now onto the business…
Planning Committee meetings sometimes throw up controversial moments where the advice given disagrees with what the Members feel. A recent example of this is the debate over “negative conditions”. Earlier this year we had the Arlington Tesco’s application before the Committee and a proposed amendment was made that deliveries couldn’t happen late at night. While it wasn’t suprising that we were told that Tesco’s couldn’t accept such an amendment, it was suprising that the amendment couldn’t even be voted on. Some Members were clearly not happy with the lack of information about this and it was noted in the minutes for that meeting that Cllr Poole did not agree with this.

Well, it happened again last night during consideration of the China Gateway application, and the Member proposing the amendment, Cllr Poole! The proposal was that HGVs would not be allowed on Sundays and Bank Holidays. Again, we were told that it was a negativing amendment and therefore couldn’t be accepted. This time round the Officers quoted from the legal guidance which commented on this very issue.

Looking at the guidance, the issue here isn’t that the Committee is making a condition. It can argue quite rightly that a condition like that is legal for them to make. However, the developer couldn’t accept it because it would be seen as unreasonable.  In this case its described as “unduly restrictive” and would make the Committee ultra vires. To quote the full passage (Circular 11/95):

“A condition may be unreasonable because it is unduly restrictive. Although a condition may in principle impose a continuing restriction on the use of land (provided that there are good planning reasons for that restriction), such a condition should not be imposed if the restriction effectively nullifies the benefit of the permission. For example, it would normally be reasonable to restrict the hours during which an industrial use may be carried on if the use of the premises outside these hours would affect the amenities of the neighbourhood, but it would be unreasonable to do so to such an extent as to make it impossible for the occupier to run the business properly. If it appears that a permission could be given only subject to conditions that would be likely to be held unreasonable by the courts then it will be necessary to refuse permission altogether.”

Cllr Everitt made a comment that this legal advice should have been made available to Members before. I would say in reply that given this happened before with Arlington that Members should have had the sense to Google it months ago if only for their own information were this to appear again...

Ultimately the amendment went no further and the discussion continued. An amendment was made allowing the Committee to oversee aspects of the Legal Agreement.

I should tag onto the end here that the Localism Act received Royal Assent earlier this week. That means that hopefully soon we can say goodbye to the predetermination rules which have caused the Labour Group so many issues over Manston Night Flights. The DCLG says we should know by next month(ish) when the major steps come into force.

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Sensitive Much?

"The right sort of people do not want apologies, and the wrong sort take a mean advantage of them."  G.K. Chesterton
The world of politics is a strange one, ever-changing. It makes people do funny things, which in the clear light of day shouldn’t happen. Perhaps it’s the excitement of it that gets to their heads. Some of the behaviour in the Council Chamber is definitely down to that.

As everyone and his/her dog knows, Cllrs Hart, Aldred and Clark brought up what was to them a rising problem of crime and their fears of vigilantism with the press and written a letter to the Police. OK, it’s not a new problem (I moved out of the area about 2 ½ years ago after being assaulted at my last home in Warwick Road) but they mean well and it is a genuine issue. They want the credit and it’s understandable they want the hat-tip for bringing it up, especially as Cllr Simon Moores has been discussing the problems in Westgate on his own blog recently. In the Gazette it’s made clear that there’s a planned increase in police provision in the area.

Thanet South MP Laura Sandys posts an article about going out with the local police and made comment on said problem which is a little firmer than it should have been. It’s an unfortunate error but not critical. Now if the Group of Councillors were new to the world of politics they would be really hurt and immediately write a further statement making it clear that the comment was wrong. They would make sure they got as much attention by demanding a retraction of the comment and an apology. Throwing in comments about their own high standing and how this has been brought up by a local resident who has suggested vigilantism as a possible action would bolster this statement.

Of course as we know, they are not new to the world of politics. Cllr Hart is the Leader of the Labour Group, Cllr Clark is Chairman of the Council and Cllr Aldred is now into her third term as Ward Councillor. In the grand scheme of things, this is not a slur on their reputations which are firmly established and a short statement making it clear that the comment wasn’t correct would be enough. To demand a retraction and an apology is absurd and desperate.