Wednesday, 19 December 2012

When Planning Officers Don't Get It Their Way

As I commented only the other day amid local concerns that Westgate Tesco's was already a done deal that you should never say never, tonight's Planning meeting (previewed here) exhibited that perfectly.

Taken first was the proposed car showroom outside Minster. The recommendation was to refuse on grounds that its the countryside and the need for the development did not outweigh this protection. The Committee felt strongly, though not unanimously, that it didn't count as countryside as per the rules and that with the clearing up of the site it would have a positive impact on the area therefore the refusal motion was defeated and replaced with a motion to defer and bring back with appropriate conditions whilst minded to approve at the next meeting.

Next up was the Ellington and Hereson application where Cllr Chris Wells requested that no traffic working on the site would come through Merrivale Heights. The Committee very strongly agreed with this leading to a debate between Members and Officers of how best to do this. Officers didn't seem to be taking on board the point that the Committee really didn't want any traffic going through there and the offer to block only heavy goods vehicles point blank refused. In the end the point got through and the decision was made to approve subject to certain attachments. In short, any traffic going into the site will do so via Ramsgate Road.

Soper's Yard came up next where immediately after the Officer had spoken a motion was made that rather than decide on the recommendation in front of them, they would attend a Site Visit (to be held on 4th January) due to the complexity of this application and to decide it at the next Planning meeting. Fair enough.

With the Solar Park in Minster agreed without debate, the final Planning meeting of 2012 ended.

Monday, 17 December 2012

Planning - Soper's Yard Redevelopment

A short agenda with only four items but with plenty to talk about.

First up a solar park in Minster. Solar Parks are becoming a frequent visitor to Planning Committee with the last one considered only last month. This one is a much smaller one with little nearby residential properties to object to it. Can't see it being refused but I'm sure a few Members will complain about the loss of agricultural land. The saving grace for these developments is that once their time is up they will be considered to retain greenfield status once the equipment is removed.

Second is an application near to Mount Pleasant Roundabout brought by Independent Cllr Bob Grove. There's some history here and some enforcement action attached over misuse of the site. The report proposes refusal on the basis that its the countryside being developed on, this having been backed up in a previous planning appeal by the Inspector. In this case its a car showroom on offer this time and Im not certain on whether the Committee will go with the refusal here. 

Third up is Soper's Yard in Margate, called in by Ward Councillor Iris Johnston for support by the Committee but it has Officer's recommendation to refuse on several grounds. The application is an outline one and therefore this isn't the full job but even on principle, I'm concerned. There's an element of cramming in the 27 apartments and the report comes to the conclusion that this will result in substandard accommodation. There are also no plans for parking on site which when considering the area, could be a real problem.

The last application is about the 150 home development for Ellington and Hereson School, with a proposed amendment to the permission on highways grounds.

Thursday, 29 November 2012

Full Council and Animal Exports

Some more stuff is coming out ahead of the Full Council meeting where we now have two motions coming before Council on Royal Sands. The second motion, proposed by Cllr Bayford and supported by Simon Moores, calls that:
“Council resolves that the proposed amended development agreement between Thanet District Council and the developers of Pleasurama/Royal Sands site be brought to full Council for debate and comment prior to signing.”
Perhaps most important to point out here, is that while the above is a purely Council decision which would force Cabinet's hand in having to bring it to Council, the Driver motion is referred to Cabinet for determination. Either way is likely to lead to a degree of closed doors proceedings, due to the commercial sensitivity of the matter, unless of course Members watch their words. Something Chris Wells mentioned over at Thanet Online was about how difficult it was for Members to debate this matter back in 2009 considering the confidentiality of the documentation.

As far as I can see, no motion is on the agenda for the exclusion of press and public, so the assumption would be that Members are expected to keep away from "pink paper" info. I hope they do, because as much as I'd like to hear debate about Royal Sands, I would rather hear it in the Chamber than outside it sometime after.

Also pointed out is a clarification to the Cabinet responsibilities, where it amends David Green's role as Member for "Housing and Planning Services". Not really sure why the word "Services" had to be added aside from it thereby being equal amongst portfolios but it has, and I've adjusted the earlier blog to account for it. I hope readers will allow me a moment of gloating to be the first to report on the changes to the Cabinet responsibilities, ahead of the Thanet Gazette Online!

Moving onto the animal exports issue where TDC via a poorly spelled Cllr Fenner statement and one of its own is pulling off the fastest retreat in recent history, and what looks like begging to be forgiven for banning animal exports in the first place. I will admit I supported the ban but I concede I don't have the legal resources of this Council and trusted the Council to be right. From what was being said, it seemed like TDC was OK to ban it. Since then that perspective has been demolished by a court injunction. I'm taking no joy in saying this. What legal advice was there and at what point did it change?

Monday, 26 November 2012

TDC Cabinet Job-Swap

Checking out the Full Council agenda for next Thursday and we have a report to Council on changes to Cabinet responsibilities. Its for information only, so Full Council cant do anything about it, but I'm sure we shall have some comment.

Changes include renaming of Portfolios and what looks like a structural change so that Clive Hart acts as a Leader rather than a leading Cabinet Member. With this change and fewer distractions, expectations will grow that he will deliver on his sole responsibility. Given the cost of this structural change was the creation of a new Cabinet position, its important that results are forthcoming.

The dropped workload will fall primarily on Cllr Fenner, whose portfolio now is stonking. Interesting to note the new bits added to her role which existed anyway but weren't publicised, like film locations. Thanet's answer to Spielberg?

Beaches is given a boost in being added to Alan Poole's pile, though that's perhaps more to do with it tying in with Street Cleaning, rather than it actually being of increased prominence.

The new set up is thusly (deletion / addition):

Clive Hart (Corporate Regulatory and Strategic Economic Development Services)

CCTV, Street Scene Enforcement, Land Charges, Licensing, Environmental Health, including integrated Pollution Control, Statutory Nuisance, Food Safety and External Health and Safety Democratic Services including Electoral Management, Member Services and Legal Services Strategic elements of Economic Development & Regeneration.

Iris Johnston (Community Services)

Community Safety, Economic Development & regeneration, Margate Task Force, Culture, Events, Community Development, Cultural Development, Housing Intervention, Private Sector Housing, Housing Needs/ Homelessness, Housing Strategy, Client-side East Kent Housing, Indoor and Outdoor Leisure, Safeguarding Children, Play Areas, Sport, Thanet Coast Project, Youth, Building Control, Strategic Planning, Planning Applications, Planning Enforcement, Conservation, Tourism, Thanet Leisure Force, Water Safety and Beach Services.

David Green (Housing and Planning Services)

Housing Intervention, Private Sector Housing, Housing Needs/Homelessness, Housing Strategy, Client-side East Kent Housing, Building Control, Strategic Planning, Planning Applications, Planning Enforcement, Conservation.

Alan Poole (Commercial Operational Services)

Foreshore, Allotments, Property Management (including asset disposal, acquisition and asset management), Emergency Planning & Business Continuity, Kent Innovation Centre, Media Centre, Port of Ramsgate, Ramsgate Royal Harbour Marina, Broadstairs and Margate Harbours, Cemeteries and Crematorium, Coastal Engineering, Commercial Property, Grounds Maintenance, Parks and Open Spaces Management (including Trees), Playground Maintenance, Public Toilets, Street Cleaning, Waste and Recycling, Street Naming and Numbering, Off Street Parking, On Street Parking including Temporary Road Closure Orders, Thanet Coast Project, Water Safety and Beach Services.

Rick Everitt (Financial Services)

Capital, Treasury Management, HRA and Insurance, Budget Setting, Monitoring and Final Accounts, Income, Payments, Systems Control and Improvement, East Kent Audit Partnership.

Michelle Fenner (Business, Corporate and Regulatory Services)

Business Information and Improvement, Information and Communications (including Public Relations, Marketing, Press Relations, Internal Communications, Film Locations, Records and Data Management), Business Support and Compliance (including Corporate Governance), Policy and Business Planning (including Performance Management), Procurement and Contracts, Business Transformation and Options

East Kent Services Client-Side, East Kent Human Resources Partnership Client- Side, covering: Benefits, Customer Services, Human Resources (including internal Health and Safety), IT, Revenues (including Debt Recovery).

CCTV, Street Scene Enforcement, Land Charges, Licensing, Environmental Health, including integrated Pollution Control, Street Nameplates, Statutory Nuisance, Food Safety and External Health and Safety. Democratic Services including Electoral Management and Member Services, Legal Services.

Thursday, 22 November 2012

Committee Credibility

As expected, a much easier Planning Committee meeting, but an awful lot to fit in.

The first brought back item on Church Cottages, Birchington resulted in refusal after an extended debate about what was described as a "fall back position". Its a bit difficult to explain this without posting lots of plans etc (and for more detail its best to check out the meeting agenda on the last post's link), but basically the proposal was an extension that would block the light from a neighbouring property's kitchen diner, and given its the only source of light for that room, its a serious impact on that property.

Next up was the Lymington Road micro-pub application which got approval with the conditions agreed with the applicant and a new one about not allowing amplified music. Not really that much to say about this one, because despite the 200-signatory petition collated by Simon Moores and the no vote from Cllr King on last night and the previous meeting, there was little doubt it would pass.

Maurice House got a bit of a talk but with the experience of Cllr Dark added to debate it seemed to alleviate concerns on this development. The Committee was happy to approve this, seeing the need for such a unit as a strong enough reason to overrule the Green Wedge argument,  but it had a few concerns which needed ironing out. In the end it got its approval fairly smoothly, much like the micro-pub previous.

The consideration of a conservatory in Ryders Avenue, Westgate, saw an interesting spectacle of Cllrs Campbell and King duelling over it's impact and the way in which it has progressed, seeing as this application originally came from an application rejected by Planning but granted on appeal a while back. The biggest sticking point was about a handful of windows under the approved plans which would peek over the boundary into the neighbours property, with the unusual problem of the applicant seeming to be the one who would be negatively affected by it. The new plans would remove this and the argument was that it'd be unsightly with bare brickwork.

Cllr Campbell argued that the windows would be unlikely to change anything and that as the Inspector noted in the appeal, it was a "benefit" to the development but was not key to it. Cllr King disagreed, arguing that Planning Committee should be willing to say no rather than taking the soft option of accepting the amendments and should instead be forcing the applicant to put into effect the already approved plans.

Both Campbell and King argued that the credibility of Planning Committee was at stake by this decision, which only added to the atmosphere. This was a very unusual application to have to decide and both Campbell and King had very valid points. Part of the problem was that they were interpreting a section of the Inspector's judgement which wasn't very clear on this aspect and depending on who was reading was open to this sort of argument. A fascinating debate where ultimately approval was granted.

Out of the remaining items, only the Solar Park application got a real debate, though there wasnt going to be a refusal but it was noted by some Members that this was prime agricultural land and that with the number of such applications coming through attention will have to be paid to how many of these should be allowed given the demand on farming.

Sunday, 18 November 2012

Westgate Micro-pub Decision

Another month, another Planning meeting on Wednesday evening. There were a few brought back items from the last meeting so they will come first with the proposed micro-pub at Lymington Road (the sound proofing issue) decided along with Maurice House and its proposed dementia unit (needed conditions to be attached). Both should be approved. The third in Birchington I have no clue about, Im afraid.

On the main agenda, we have a couple of major applications in a proposed Solar Park in Manston and an amendment to the permission granted for the Ramsgate Sport Centre a while back. We have a conservatory in Ryders Avenue, Westgate which seems to have some history to it and up for approval because, despite it being larger than it should be, its not so much so that the Officer thinks it'll cause significant harm. I mention this only because this is the sort of item which can appear a lot at Planning. There's also an item on flood protection at Cliffsend.

All in all, its an easier evening ahead compared to last months meeting which really did rumble on.

Finishing on a non-Planning issue, it seems that the Kent Waste Management Plan wasn't called in, looking at the TDC website, and the Cabinet decision is now being implemented. I'm unsure as to what's going on because Ian Driver seemed to be very straight about it being called in. Its possible that a Task and Finish Group will be set up to look at the issue regardless, much like the one into the Minnis Bay Day Centre.

Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Mobile Use In Thanet Council

I don't usually follow or attend Standards meetings but I checked out the minutes to the most recent one because of an item about mobile phone use in the Chamber.

I've talked about this one before and this is a real problem that needed solving, the sign on the Council Chamber wall not enough to sort it out. TIG wanted this issue to be considered by Councillors so that use of phones would be allowed along with the public recording and uploading online of meetings which was dealt with a while ago at Full Council.

This issue of mobile phone use came before Standards Committee a week ago where the minutes report that the Committee decided to recommend to Council that all mobile phones in the Chamber be switched off and that any audio-visual recordings be prohibited. I don't have a problem with that given everyone will be in the same boat on it. These recommendations will come before Full Council in a few weeks time.

There might well be grumbles given that the Constitutional Review Working Party recommended looser controls on phone use by Councillors and journalists, allowing them to keep their phones on, but turning them to silent, basically the current rule. The public would have to turn theirs off. It'll be interesting to see if this Councillors aspect of the Standards recommendations is overturned.

Following on from the last blog, I still can't see confirmation that the Kent Waste Management Plan has been called in by Overview yet but with a day or so to go, time is running short. Wouldn't suprise me if it was simply that the website hadn't been updated yet.

Monday, 12 November 2012

Honest Opinions and TDC Cabinet

Before I do the TDC Cabinet report, a brief word on the story of the moment. I’m not going to get too upset about Lisa Richard’s blog, which isn’t that offensive. Margate is a mixed bag, doing well in the Old Town and there is an effort to improve elsewhere but it is a work in progress. If Driver wishes to get upset about it, fair enough, but the better response is to see it for what it is - an honest assessment of Margate - and continue to seek solutions to the deep-rooted problems in Margate.

Deputy Leader Alan Poole was unable to attend the Cabinet meeting held last Thursday. Visiting members were (no particular order) Cllrs Elizabeth Green, Will Scobie, Campbell, Watkins, Driver, King and Edwards. There was supposed to be a report on Arlington House and how the Council handles it but as you might expect with the Public Inquiry underway, the report is put off to the next meeting.

Risk Management up first, where adjustments to the existing one was fairly simple stuff with updating of the terms. An additional section is being added to show that Members should be aware of how risk should be considered during Council business, say with the Budget. Agreed with a few words from Cllr Wise asking about what advice was sought in the preparation of it. Nothing revelatory was said.

The Corporate Plan up next with consideration of the second quarter’s progress. A lot of queried items here such as the Parking Strategy item which readers may recall came out of the mess that is the existing set-up which the Cabinet is quietly trying to distance itself from, despite their having installed it in the first place.

Budget monitoring was a simple nod through, with a bit of dipping into reserves to meet some shortfalls. Not serious but noteworthy all the same.

Council Tax Discounts Scheme up next where we saw the Cabinet enjoy a moment of Tory-bashing. Driver had a moment to speak for the Overview and Scrutiny Panel backing up the Cabinet. These are the sorts of decisions that have to be made. Never nice but these are the times we are in and there’s very little local authorities can do about it apart from taking the hit.

The draft Budget plans up next where we had the first skirmishes of the Budget season. Without doubt this is a far more fluid Budget with much more involved and so it wasn’t like last year where it was a simple debate about how to use the New Homes Bonus (remember the argument over floral grants?), though this one seems to have a bit of change on that front. Cllr Wise led for the Tories on this one arguing that there had been “no attempt to find savings” and that reserves are being used in the wrong way.

It appears the Star Chamber process has come to an end, this being elaborated on a bit by McGonigal who explained that the process had run its course and that “more innovative, more imaginative” processes had to be found. She didn’t say what alternatives were being sought but perhaps this is something to come in the third quarter report.

Labour’s defence was that the earmarked reserves would grow and that savings for next year have already been found (according to my notes Hart claimed £995k). There was, much like the item about Council Tax Discounts, Tory-bashing and Everitt summed things up by saying that constant change isn’t good for an organisation, which is all well and good when all things are equal but if funds are being cut then change will have to come. Isn’t that why the Council spends £90k on a Director for Transformation?

There is a very long way to go with this and I promise to blog much more about this draft Budget in the coming weeks

Onto the Armed Forces Covenant which saw an exchange between Chris Wells and Hart. Wells argued there was a possibility of a political angle being put upon this and warning that the Council must make sure that the Covenant is treated in a bi-partisan fashion. Hart, not impressed about this, claimed that Wells was trying to “turn it into as political fight”. The bit I thought was wrong was how the Council seemed to justify signing the Covenant because it’s a “wonderful PR opportunity for TDC”. I don’t think the Council means for it to come across as taking advantage of it but to me, it does. The Covenant should not be about TDC.

Community Right to Bid next, where as debate wore on it became more clear that this could get a bit sticky with serious complications possible. All sides, including the Officer, agreed on this.

Skipping East Kent Arrangements, Kent Waste Management Strategy saw a number of Cllrs speaking out against the Richborough tip closure. As posted on Thanet Life, Ian Driver has said that a call-in is underway (deadline is 16th Nov) and that Overview and Scrutiny is to set up a Task and Finish Group. A letter is to be sent to Paul Carter to complain about this decision.

Performer of the night was without a doubt Chris Wells, his talk on the Corporate Plan worth the price of admission alone. 

Monday, 22 October 2012

Gambling For The Future

Not much going on Council wise for a while and the only meeting worth commenting on is tomorrows Overview and Scrutiny meeting. I wont be able to attend this meeting so there wont be a report.

First issue to be tackled is the Draft Economic Strategy published by the Thanet Regeneration Board. Part of the problem with this report is that while it does have details, its not particularly new. Increasing Apprenticeships isn't a new idea and similarly increasing the skill levels of workers is something that exists in any case. Parts relating to high streets has already been heard about via the Town Team process. The Destination Management Plan is a new one but will it be anything more than a dressed-up Tourism strategy? Especially when you consider that the people making up the Destination Management group are likely to be the very same people who put this report together in the first place, it begs the question, what's new?

This report collates all these actions and puts them together as a package which is good in terms of seeing what is being done at present but certainly cant be described as setting a new direction for growth. I'm not dismissing this report out of hand because as I say it does pull together the various bits together but there is a real risk of it being a lot of talk and little new added in the action department.

Localisation of Council Tax Discounts Scheme up next with the consultation responses an annex to the OSP documents. This will be debated (according to the Forward Plan) by Cabinet next month and Council in December so this one has a way to run. Interesting to note in the consultation responses is the revelation that three of the respondents state their religion as Jedi! With more information to come out on the impact of this upon Council finances before Christmas I will hold fire for a little while.

Gambling afterwards where the Council policy comes round for OSP review and then onto the the Forward Plan. The draft Budget papers are due to appear next month at Cabinet.

We finish in private session with discussion of the Royal Sands Development Agreement. This relates to the call-in earlier this year where Overview wanted a report back on the various aspects brought up previously. Officially there will be no public information save for the minutes but I'm sure the details will come out at some point.

Thursday, 18 October 2012

Planning Stamina

A super-long Planning meeting was expected last night, and that it definitely turned out, a little short of four hours long.

Getting the Site Visits out of the way, 96 Park Avenue Broadstairs was approved with little trouble. This might sound a little strange given the concern at the last meeting but in fairness the site needed to be looked at to be sure of the impact on the neighbours. East Kent College went better as well, with the Committee happy with the changes proposed since the last meeting. Obviously the Highways issues will continue to be an issue but it looks like real progress was made. Deferred and delegated to Officers with approval.

Onto the main agenda, where the former Chapel Hill Petrol Station came up first. Debate went on for sometime here over negotiating the Traffic Regulation Order (in short double yellows). I know the site well having stood for TDC back in 2007 in that ward and lived there for a number of years, walking past that site regularly. I know all too well the concerns that residents of Nash Lane have.

The decision to defer and delegate subject to negotiations over the TRO was understandable, along with the reaction from a local resident heard through the Chamber door for minutes afterwards. I'm not posting this to embarrass the resident but as I know with other applications in the past, neighbourly relations get put under intense pressure through these applications. Its a sad but unavoidable aspect of this Committee.

Mark Avenue, the Rifle Range at King George VI Park and Ethelbert Square, Westgate applications were approved without much to report on.

Onto 3 Lymington Road, which Simon Moores has already mentioned was deferred to be brought back with conditions. All three Ward Councillors were present. Majority opinion of the Committee seemed to be that so long as suitable sound insulation could be installed, it was suitable. There seemed to be a question mark over whether an offer had already been made on insulation. To be honest, if it had already been offered and the Officer simply forgot, then negotiations in the next few weeks or so should sort that one out without problems.

To talk about this trend of micro-pubs, while its classified the same as any other pub, its not the same thing, something the Committee understands all too well having dealt with similar applications already this year with The Chapel. Its not the same clientele and should be distinguished from a normal pub.

Onto Maurice House where the proposal to build a dementia unit on the site was deferred to be brought back with conditions. The argument on this one was not about the need for it because the need for it be very much beyond question but rather about whether the Green Wedge should be cut back a bit for it. For me its a special case. Its not like this is housing or a commercial unit and when you look at the height of the proposed development, I'm not sure what visibly is going to cause a problem, most of which will be behind the fence. I have no doubt this will be agreed next time round and quite rightly too.

Last item was the Port Control at Ramsgate. Universal disapproval. TDC will have to go back to the drawing board there. The big issue was over the location of this equipment on a grade listed building along with its size which at 10m is large. A number of Members asked that other sites be considered. In terms of policy the question for Members was similar to the Maurice House application of benefit/need versus impact. As welcome as the equipment is, the Committee felt the visual impact was too much.

Next week is Overview and Scrutiny with some meat on Localisation of Council Tax Discounts. As this has Budget implications not to mention the impact it could have the for the vulnerable its a big issue.

Sunday, 30 September 2012

Regeneration and Political Focus

Kicking this blog off on a positive note, the Streets Ahead Margate crew have moved into their new HQ at 60 High Street (the former Boots Opticians). Hearty congratulations to the team.

I’d also like to give thanks to the lady who was working on the Rose Garden in Hawley Square Friday afternoon. Lovely job and Hawley Square looking gorgeous.

Back onto politics where, despite my best efforts, my point seems to have lost in the ether while debate, which started well enough with contributions from Cllrs Moores and Wells, reverted suspiciously back to the issue of Worrow who coincidentally has released another video rambling about the Conservatives. The video justifies my argument that the Conservatives must change their strategy towards him.

Continuing to tackle Worrow on the basis it will make Labour cut ties with TIG will only work for so long. Worrow’s history is well known, particularly the more controversial aspects, such as his previous two blogs and indeed his new YouTube Channel which I suspect will end in the same way as the blogs did but the TIGA site can only do so much before its impact wanes, as it has. Labour accepted they would be attacked for their link to TIG as part of the deal in any case. The TIGA site is not the answer to the Worrow problem and in fact is counter-productive.

There is a wider point to this which is far more important than the maneuvering within the Chamber. Outside the Chamber, it smacks of an immature Opposition, lashing out at Worrow for costing it the Council, rather than moving on, scrutinising the new administration on its policies and actions and challenging it to improve its proposals. Too much comment needlessly revolves around him and thus he attracts the publicity and justification, at least in his own mind, necessary to continue publicly criticising Conservatives for alleged homophobia or harassment. This is a serious flaw in Conservative strategy which opens it up to TIG attacks. This is why in retrospect the Diversity Champion motion was a bad move. It was only ever going to lead to the events we saw a while ago.

For the Conservatives to make the transition from the position it held before December to being an effective Opposition, I firmly believe it must break away from what appears to be a fixation with Worrow. I am not arguing that the Conservatives forgive him or let him off but to be smarter. By showing the patience and discipline not to give him what he wants, Worrow will be deprived the publicity he and the TIG crave and they will be left aside. 

Im not saying this approach would be easy. It would be incredibly tough and would need Conservatives to not issue Standards complaints against Worrow. The pay-off is that such discipline would show that the Conservatives are ready to govern again, seeing past the problems of the past to put the public first.

Going back to Streets Ahead Margate, the regeneration of our High Streets should be something which should motivate and unite Councillors regardless of affiliation into action. A Portas Pilot shouldn’t have been required for this to be important. In light of the treatment of the last Budget, it is evident that both Labour and Conservative Cllrs need to work together in order for the regenerative effort to work.

I pointed out way back during the Budget debate about the differing approaches to Council spending by the two main Groups and this underlines the point I'm making. The Conservatives were looking from the business side of things, about the opening up for business to grow, with dropping barriers or looking to business to help the Council perhaps by helping with events in place of Council funding. Labour on the other hand was looking for how TDC could by its own efforts and its own monies make it happen. Each approach in itself isn’t a solution to the economic problems facing Thanet but an amalgamation of the two could be forged which would be comprehensive enough to provide such a solution. You can argue the toss about who gets the credit later.

The Conservatives have an opportunity not to be missed where they can show leadership and maturity but they must also consider that their strategy with regard to Worrow has hindered more than helped. The reward to them and the public must surely be worth it.

Sunday, 23 September 2012

Sticks and Stones

Another Full Council meeting in which 3 Councillors dictated the tone of debate for the other 53. It was to be expected that TIG would have their moment over animal exports, though with the trade now moving to Ipswich and a reported 15hr travel time you might wonder what there is to celebrate...

The Leader's Report was published on the Thanet Lab site while Clive Hart was still in the Chamber which is a bit spooky, though I must make it clear, as Clive said at the meeting, that this speech wasn't scripted! There was a bit of an argument between Bayford and Hart over this Locality Board mess and who was really to blame for it. If it mattered that much, then try again to sort out an agreement. 

The item I previewed to some depth earlier this week was the recording of Council meetings motion. Driver said his piece as proposer with some irrelevant stuff thrown in to cause trouble. It eventually and reluctantly got a seconder but Driver alienated what support he had by going off on one about how the public should secretly record meetings. Thankfully Labour and the Conservatives voted against this.

On a side note, reference was made to a Statutory Instrument No.2089. It doesn't relate to public recording of meetings though it does affect access to information. A quick read of it indicates limited impact to TDC as a lot of it is already done as routine.

We then moved onto the "Diversity Champion" section where all hell broke loose. Worrow nervously enjoyed his moment shouting "criminal" and "homophobe" at Ken Gregory and "call Ken Gregory" at another Member. All three TIG Members made speeches slamming the Conservatives, including its supporters, as harassing Worrow and having an underlying homophobia. I must admit, the logic is irrefutable...

A number of Councillors focused on what impact Worrow had made via his role as Diversity Champion, without making reference to the controversies, but those moments of clarity went nowhere towards avoiding the downward spiral, nor did we get any answers to those points. For example what contribution has Worrow actually made to the upcoming Equality Strategy aside from being present at the meetings?

I quite liked Iris Johnston's speech speaking many Members thoughts of how sick she was of all this talk of homophobia. I suspect a lot of Councillors across the Chamber and across party lines agree. This debate should have been cut short as soon as it started getting nasty. Yes, it would have meant a very short debate but there was absolutely nothing to be gained from continuing it. All you end up with is bitterness and resentment which rolls over onto future meetings. An opportunity came when a Labour Member wanted to end the debate but Chair Doug Clark rejected that saying that there hadn't been enough debate. The debate had gone on for some time at that point.

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Site Visit for East Kent College

Star item tonight as expected was the East Kent College application where the only speaker in favour of the application was the Principal Graham Razey. The Officer tried to make the case but wasn't having much luck persuading the sceptical public gallery on the potential impact on nearby properties regarding overlooking and the parking/traffic problems. Councillors weren't impressed either with this one on the traffic issues. The Highways Officer spoke though I got the feeling he was a bit caught off guard. Its gone to Site Visit, to be held on 5th October and should return to Planning for final decision on 17th October.

The Hotel Leslie application was approved after a bit of debate, but the only other option would have been Site Visit and its a pretty well known site. When you consider what's there at present, the plans are an improvement. You can argue about the heritage of the building but I lived in Warwick Road for 3 years and never liked that building. Demolition is much better than trying to convert that. With the Embassy plans approved too, the street scene down there should be much improved.

The Park Avenue, Broadstairs  application for extensions to the property went to Site Visit. Its a bit difficult to judge this one without visiting the site because while the report may say there are big distances between properties on the neighbouring street, there's clearly a serious problem and so the Site Visit seems the sensible thing to do.

We also got a briefing from the Principal Enforcement Officer which is always interesting to hear about. Its quite a good example of how the Council is having to operate under constraints and trying to be flexible in sorting out issues they have to deal with, whether it be a breach of condition, or a giant Gorilla on Margate seafront. I have a lot of respect for Steve Albon, having heard him do this talk before and a similar talk at Manston Parish Council back in June. This item ends up as ever a mixed back of good the bad and the ugly and this was no different.

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

This Week's Planning and Full Council

Planning Committee meeting tomorrow (Wednesday, 7pm) with Thanet/East Kent College and the Hotel Leslie plans up for consideration. Given the scale of the works planned for both, they should get a good going over. During the meeting we might get a mention of the possible effects of government changes to what are known as Permitted Development Rights, this aspect of planning regs appearing more frequently these days in deliberations. Its a short agenda but an interesting one nonetheless.

Full Council comes the next day with a couple of motions, the latter on Animal Welfare Inspections  has just emerged asking for Council to take advice to making inspections compulsory for exporters from the port, such advice setting TDC back a few grand. I'm not understanding this motion so I'm going to wait to hear whats behind this specific request.

The motion on recording Council meetings though is one I'm wondering about. The Council spends money on recording Full Council meetings, producing videos which are widely criticised for being of poor quality. Of course this motion came off the back of the Tony Flaig incident, which was resolved and had nothing to do with this motion and more to do with an overzealous Council staffer. Has any member of the public asked to record a meeting themselves?

Instead of dealing with the Council-produced recordings, the proposal is for the public to record it themselves. While its for the Chairman of the meeting to interpret whatever guidance appears, which may or may not fulfil the requirements of this motion, what will happen if the more twitchy Councillors object to equipment near them recording their private conversations with their neighbours? Yes, I do mean John Worrow...

(One thought to add and maybe a Councillor could help here, what's the public attendance for meetings not held in the Chamber? A lot of OSP sub-Groups, along with Governance and Audit typically hold meetings elsewhere. A member of the public with a camcorder in the Austen Room is likely to be pretty distracting even if it fulfils the motion.)

While its good that the Council is going out and seeking views on the Skate Park plans, surely logic would dictate going to consultation before deciding the sites? I understand the reasons behind that, of the shortness of time and the need to move speedily onto securing funding but its a bit odd to go to consultation on something which to a certain extent has already been decided by TDC.

Saturday, 8 September 2012

A Few Local Matters

Another blog of whatever is going on...

We now have two Margate Town Teams with the creation of Streets Ahead Margate. I wish this new Group the best of luck though it’s going to have to work far harder than the existing Group as the official Town Team has the TDC Cabinet Member, who in effect has the keys to those Portas funds, in their team. Its unfortunate that there has to be two Groups but I hope the Council will treat them fairly given they are both looking to improve the town. The issue of Margate's regeneration needs careful attention and support from the Council which takes me to the next item.

The Parking Review has been kicked off with a questionnaire, criticised for asking questions that shouldn’t matter. I’m not convinced. It’s a routine question to ask and probably has more to do with compliance with legal requirements than any desire to peer into private business. Councils have gotten into trouble for not crossing the ‘t’s and dotting the ‘i’s on policy matters. Also the asking for the postcode thing may seem intrusive but given this policy affects Thanet, they have to pin down whether you are actually a resident or not. Its the same rule for petitions. 

To help with the debate, and to fill in some detail to the readers, I will be transcribing the Full Council debate from April which approved the current set of parking fees and charges. It was controversial but it’s the only video of Council debate on the issue.

Anti-social behaviour has been an issue for a while in Westgate as we see most recently with the brainless actions of a few destroying local assets such as the Westgate Cricket Club pavilion. During the election it was one of the top concerns of local residents and I fully support Simon Moores’s proposal of a dispersal order. Of course it might be difficult to put into effect amongst the ongoing argument about police numbers but I remember the last order between October 2009 and April 2010 had success so it could be worth another go.

And on a final - Planning related - note, you might recall TDC bought a property via auction on Ethelbert Crescent earlier this year. Well, a planning application has appeared to convert the 13 bedsits into three family sized flats. For those who know how to get around the UK Planning site the reference is 12/0638. As TDC is the applicant it’s going to have to come before Planning Committee sometime soon, as the Embassy Hotel one did. 

Friday, 24 August 2012

Fear and Loathing in Thanet

More important than the Cabinet meeting last night is the news about the Margate Town Team. Having met a number of the people involved with it, their withdrawal places serious doubt on the ability of the Town Team to deliver. Stockport appears to be having a similar problem with the Portas Pilot. The involvement of Portas and the associated TV crew was always going to lead to issues and as for politics, well, it is Thanet. Bullying is unacceptable. Let’s hope that those not involved in the Town Team will still contribute to the regeneration efforts.

Moving onto the Cabinet agenda, it was striking how Standards complaints still underlay debate. I predict some more may appear now after last night’s misbehaviour, shouting and talk of stuff that really shouldn’t have been said. I think Clive Hart may regret announcing that he was threatened in his office by the official Independent Group. Cabinet was not the place for that nor was his shouting match with Tom King who was understandably angry about what he felt was the blocking of his right to speak to Cabinet.

It all kicked off when King questioned whether Worrow was a “fit and proper person” to be Diversity Champion and mentioned Worrow’s involvement in the Minnis Pig affair. Harts argument that this motion wasn’t for personal criticism of Worrow, which when you consider it’s a no confidence vote is bewildering. King stormed out of the meeting shouting “Shambles” which is pretty much on the money. Hart then made a speech about how he won’t work with those who make threats against him and was the reason he worked with TIG instead, though he denies he’s in coalition with them.

It’s interesting to note that John Worrow’s role of Diversity Champion is now being described in its proper title of “Member Lead”, though I must clarify Fenner’s comment about it being a new role. Cllrs Gideon and Wise have held that position before and I suspect many others have too. Fenner said that outside information had been sought regarding the remit of this role.  Would be useful to see what direction this role is going.

Moving on, Cabinet decided to fix up three skateparks rather than having a single larger one which Fenner described as “elitist”. Johnston claimed funding for this had already been identified. Too soon to be saying it’s definitely on which is risky but something which some readers might take from this. It’s not signed and sealed yet.

Housing Intervention was confirmed though it was never in doubt. Bit of an argument about the split between private and social housing but that’s been a bit of a theme through debate elsewhere on it so not a big surprise. To correct the record though, when OSP asked for the project to look for a greater proportion of social housing, it was an ambition, not a commitment. The Displacement Strategy will include Westgate.

The Budget update shows a bit of overspending due to Beach Cleaning but this is only the first quarter and included the sewage leak so it’s understandable.

Thanet Life is the place to go for comment on the “pink” motions on Coach House and Royal Sands though again Standards came into the Coach House issue when Johnston waved her morality wand about declaring interests. She’s put in a complaint about apparent non declarations in past years. That’s nice but not really the sort of thing to air in Cabinet. We got the hint though…subtle…

Monday, 13 August 2012

Better Late Than Never

Late report on last weeks Overview and Scrutiny meeting I’m afraid, but a lot went on.

In the preamble Cllr Driver explained his resignation from Welfare Reform Group. As I said before, why he was on the Group to begin with is strange when he clearly had a conflict of interest. Another TIG Member will replace him.

A petition on the Lymington Rd micropub was rejected as it’s a Planning matter. I’m assuming this is the one Simon Moores took on. 

Driver also announced that mobile phones will be allowed to be used in OSP meetings, obviously because of the mess involving Tony Flaig. An Officer surprisingly said that their only issue is of the “relaying and recording of proceedings” and that Twittering is OK, even in the public gallery. There really needs to be a clear statement from the Council on what the rules are because there’s a very serious risk of having more than one set of rules on mobile use in the Chamber, depending on what the meeting is, which can lead to confusion. 

On Scrutiny Arrangements, curiously Driver started by promoting the Option I was talking about in the preview, but was quickly turned back onto the Labour hymn-sheet of Option A, the OSP Max option. A report will come before OSP on 23rd October, setting out different models of this for consideration. The aim seems to be having 6 sub-Groups under each Cabinet Portfolio and retaining the existing Working Parties I would imagine to the end of the year when they would be absorbed into these new Cabinet Groups.  These Cabinet Groups would not be able to form new sub-Groups. The aim appears to be that with it mirroring Portfolios, it can do more policy development. Apparently…

While the direction selected was Option A, it wasn’t by a vote but by a general assumption that it was the way to go. No decision as such was made. There was significant disagreement with selecting Option A from the Conservatives who seemed to lean more towards Option B. It was confirmed that next year there will be an increase in OSP support of 0.5 FTE. This is the first I’ve heard of it but it fits into my expectation that any increase to OSP support will be small. 

Moving onto Housing Intervention where Members were unimpressed by the lack of information provided, particularly in relation to the effect on the housing market and possible displacement of people through this.  This led to two adjournments, both stepping over the expected timescale. I was impressed by the diplomatic ability of TDC’s Legal Eagle, Harvey Pattinson, in sorting out a deal on a motion to be passed by OSP. He went back and forth from the presenting Officer to Driver and Harrison negotiating a path through and after a lot of deliberation they managed to sort out a motion which was perhaps a little weaker than Driver wanted as main proposer but it’s something for Cabinet to consider at its next meeting.

The Panel agreed to set up another sub-Group on fees at Minnis Bay Day Centre.

To finish on the East Kent NHS Hospital Trust etc sub-Group, the Chairmanship was deadlocked (both Cllrs Wells and Harrison were unable to get a majority), so the decision reverted to the Panel itself. With an Alliance majority, Harrison was carried easily. Talk is the consultation has been pushed right back now to December, if not the New Year, so this forcing of a vote via OSP was unnecessary. It’s possible that this Group will not have enough time to report back with meaningful recommendations before the end of the Council year. More you think about it, the more absurd this situation looks.

Tuesday, 7 August 2012

How Far Should OSP Go?

If you haven’t already read it, I posted last night a look at the various TDC Overview sub-Groups which will be approved at tonight’s Overview meeting kicking off at 7pm in the Council Chamber tonight. 

After much waiting, Scrutiny Arrangements will be debated tonight at Overview. Four options on the table and yet for all the reports attached to the item it’s a fairly simple judgement to be made. How far do Overview want to go with the programme they’ve set out and how far is Cabinet going to help in making that a reality?

OSP will want to bid for as much as they want, naturally, but asking for numbers of specially employed staff to help with research is likely to find it getting in Cabinet's way, especially with the Budget in the forefront of their minds and isn’t going to happen. My feeling is that ultimately there will be some kind of compromise along the manner of Option B, but OSP might feel bolder. Certainly at the last OSP meeting Driver seemed to be quietly confident about this one so perhaps I'm missing something. Problem here is that as much as its about money, its also about the Panel considering how much it can take on, this being a point made by a number of Members.

Challenging Cabinet for pots of money wont be easy, should they go for it. With the Food Safety Plan the hope was for extra staff 3.5 FTEs and Cabinet went with less, I believe 1.5. I really can’t see OSP being placed as a higher priority than food safety in Thanet.  Given the Labour talk of an increased Council Tax a couple of weeks back in the local papers, OSP's going to have to put together a pretty smart argument to persuade serious spending. Perhaps we can fund some staff from the apprenticeships scheme?

A petition on Manston is up next, where out of way over 2500 signatories less than a third count! A moot point months late. Night flights are not gonna happen any time soon.

Housing Intervention will have its moment too, where we get to see a bit more flesh. Still a fair way to go here before giving judgement but the explanation on the collaboration is reassuring. Loose but as commented before, they wont want to go too deep here with legal agreements and contracts.

Monday, 6 August 2012

TDC Overview - Breaking It Down

Overview & Scrutiny meeting tomorrow and one of the items is about the various sub-Groups of the Panel. Bit of a mixed bunch. Here’s my thoughts in this first part of the preview…

One for the Manston readers is the Airport Working Party, chaired by Cllr Gideon (Con). Ive mentioned her before in OSP reports and she’s a good pick. Other Members are Alexandrou, Gibson, Harrison (all Labour), Bruce, Marson (Con) , Grove (Ind) and Worrow (TIG). On their Work programme is going to be a review of the 106 agreement, a look at the regional airport situation and considering any future night flight proposals, though that last one isn’t likely to go very far since I doubt a proposal will come this year. The key for this Party is to establish how Manston can be successful despite the Council’s decision to block any form of night flights. Looking at the membership, this might prove tricky.

Crime & Disorder Reduction Partnership Working Party came out with a good report in the last Council year and this one looks to build on that work. Chaired by Cllr Wiltshire (Con) and supported by Edwards, Green, Hibbert (all Lab), M Tomlinson, Coleman-Cooke (Con), King (Ind) and Cohen (TIG) their job is to follow up on the Community Safety Action Plan agreed earlier this year and its priorities (anti-social behaviour, domestic violence, substance misuse and violent crime). This also includes considering housing management. The relevant Cabinet Member is expected to speak before this Party and this one could bear some fruit.

This next one needs some explanation…

Welfare Reform Task & Finish Group on the basis of 4 of the 6 members attending was to be chaired by Cllr Driver and he was elected as Chair but when he informed the Working Party of his employment at Citizen’s Advice Bureau (which is public knowledge, having been quoted in the Gazette more than once) he agreed to step down at tomorrow’s OSP meeting. He was, however, allowed to stay for the meeting to help steer the agreement of terms of reference because the Monitoring Officer said so. This doesn’t smell right at all. He was clearly biased and shouldn’t have been there, even to steer the terms of reference which were extended to discuss the impact on Council finances. Basically everything is put off till late October, so good luck getting anything useful for TDC. Other Members are Cllrs Campbell, Gibson (Lab), Moores, Sullivan (Con) and King (Ind).

Corporate Improvement & Budget Working Party to be Chaired by Cllr Binks and supported by Campbell, Will Scobie (Lab), Wise (Con), Grove (Ind) and Worrow (TIG). A wide remit here looking at the Budget and Corporate Plan. Might get results but I’m not sure. The Corporate Plan is flimsy and the Budget debate is going to be far sharper than last years, so agreement might prove harder to achieve.

On Shared Services Working Party, Cllr Hornus became Chair but if attendance is anything to judge by, this could be a tough one to follow.  Two Members absent and one substituted out of a membership of six. Wait and see…

The Trauma Review one has has already had a presentation from East Kent Hospitals NHS Trust Chief Stuart Bain. It hasn't elected a Chair yet.

Electoral Registration Task & Finish Party carries on from last year which got some good work done. You might recall Will Scobie was the face of this though Cllr Cohen was the Chair. It will have to get its skates on and this is something the membership is aware of given elections aren't far away.

There is potentially another one to add here on Minnis Bay Day Centre, looking into the fees being charged for it but that’s on the agenda for this OSP meeting. 

Thursday, 26 July 2012

Going Through The Motions

As predicted in the preview post, there wasn’t very much to be said about most items and so it proved. A couple of small changes but nothing that will matter too much. Recommendations all accepted.

This is in marked contrast to the January Cabinet meeting and perhaps is explained by the length of time this Labour administration has had to bed in. They seemed to have nailed down a distinct process at Cabinet now where the Cabinet Member will do a spiel cribbed from the prepared report, the Shadow asks a few questions, the Officer responds, and they move on. No real challenge to it.

Chris Wells had a college try at challenging but as above, the Officer replied and there wasn’t much more to be said. A bit flat tonight. Perhaps the energy was being saved for the last item on Royal Sands, which did go ahead!

Thanet Lab has already reported on the Pierremont Park item timed at 7.15pm, which only serves to underline my point about the lack of challenge in Cabinet. It’s already a done deal with the press release ready to roll. TDC similarly has already published a press release.

Tonight also marked the second time fellow blogger Tony Flaig left early after being challenged over the use of his phone in the public gallery. Given this, perhaps he might pick up pen and paper instead? Tony was using his phone to take notes on a WordPad type program, something that was shown in his defence. He was doing the same last time. He was not Twittering.

Sadly this all started with the Gay marriage debate and the Twitter comments about Councillors and has been a sticking point for a while. Some thought really needs to be put towards solving this because at the moment, Council staff are coming on rather a bit strong, however understandably. The claim that you aren’t allowed your phone on in the Chamber is absurd, not to mention not true.

Simple solution as I’ve said time and time again. Audio recordings…I bet it would have cross party support.

Monday, 23 July 2012

Standards and Cabinet

The Gazette reported last week that the TDC Standards Chair Robin Hill is calling for a truce in the problems between the groups in Thanet Council. I applaud his attempt to get this resolved, if only to cut down his Committee’s workload. There’s no need to remind you of all the recrimination between the various Groups in Thanet but unfortunately I have to say, I don’t expect Mr Hills appeal to work.

For all the possibility of Cllrs settling down to business, TIG can’t let this happen, because that removes their power. As we’ve seen with gay marriage and with the discipline issues in the Council, TIG thrives on having this to use against the main parties. This is why the protest at the last Full Council meeting went ahead despite TIG withdrawing their Standards motion. It would also explain another complaint against Simon Moores. Come on now, its just sad. You'd think with all those Council meetings and the ward work to which they were elected to do, they'd have very little time to be launching complaint after complaint like this...

Onto the Cabinet agenda, where most of these items will go through with little to say for them. Pierremont Park comes back with an indicative set of plans and some financial details including the £600k offered TDC contribution along with an expected 25yr lease. Strange how Labour is talking about how the problem was because of the trees. I recall it was because of the "financial burden", according to my notes from the January Cabinet meeting.

As far as the Budget outturn is concerned, while its clear that there was indeed a £1.2m underspend last year, its difficult to see where that has come from. We have our categories of which departments and the general term of “efficiencies”, but what does it mean in practice? Have they gone too far in cutting back – it’s not easy to tell.  There’s also a bit of a concern about the capital programme and the delays in asset sales. That said, it could be a whole lot worse.

One thing I’d like to hear more about is the Parking Fees Debate Part II. All Ive seen is an appeal to use the free parking in the various car parks, rather an than admittance that perhaps they got it wrong. It was brought up very early on in the process that it was leading to big rises in some parts.  The argument that its all to do with Government cuts will not make things better, or provide reassurance to those having to pay more. Part of the problem here came from the political splits Ive talked about before, making any sort of coherent and sensible package impossible. Perhaps a second bite at this one, with the added incentive of actually doing it right and avoiding public frustration, might focus minds. My fingers are crossed...

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

Broadstairs HMOs Mixed Result

One of the things I've mentioned in previous reports about Planning applications is that because of the way Planning works, although two applications might seem the same, it doesn't necessarily follow that they should have the same conclusion. They have to consider each one separately and on its merits.

Tonight we saw this in practice with the consideration of the two HMO applications in Broadstairs, where the first application, being in a smaller, more cramped part of the area was refused planning consent, while the other, being in a bigger property with easier access and a "better" area was granted consent. A bit of a mixed decision for the concerned residents to receive but this only underlines that point above. The differing locations were pencilled as a key factor in why both applications weren't considered together in the last Planning meeting, thus why there were two votes. This is a bit of a precedent in that this is the first time an Article 4 direction has been used to pull an HMO application before Planning.

The proposed bar at Albion Street, "The Chapel" was granted consent with conditions after extended debate. The applicant owns "The Lifeboat" so you can imagine the sort of place that'll appear. Good luck to the owner in making it a reality.

There was a lot of debate on Focus Do it All on the principle of it being industrial versus the fact that its been disused for such a time that surely it can be put to better use as a soft play area. Eventually the Committee decided to overturn the refusal recommendation and grant consent.

On the remaining applications, the security fence proposed for Ramsgate Harbour was passed but with significant grievance about the fact it was required at all. The St Peters Road Garages application was refused on the basis that one of the units pushed what was an acceptable development into refusal territory. This one might come back with amendments.

Cabinet meeting tomorrow evening next Thursday. With the Budget Outturn report, Fort Hill Road Hotel and Pierremont Park on the agenda there will definitely be something more meaty in tomorrow evening's next week's review. Ill have a read of the papers and give a few thoughts this weekend.

(Yes, I noticed that Royal Sands is on the agenda too, but its been withdrawn so many times previously I daren't believe it might actually happen...)

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Partying in Sewage

Overview and Scrutiny met this evening to discuss whether to set up a Task & Finish Group into the sewage release at Foreness Point.

Assurances were given that it wouldn’t be duplicating any work being done by the Environment Agency into this but Im not so sure this will be the case. The EA is looking into the technical cause of this, while the aim of this new Panel is to look into the communication/"human interaction" side of things but during the debate there seemed to be moments where it was hitting on EA’s remit, discussing the actual reasons for the leak itself. It will be a tricky balance to hold by whoever becomes the Chair at this new Group's first meeting.

Political proportionality was waived though it was in effect put into place anyway. By proposal by Cllr Harrison, it was voted to be 3 Tories 3 Labour and 1 TIG, but an addendum was put a little bit later to add Tom King as Independent Group Member. I understand the Conservatives have picked Cllrs M Tomlinson, D Saunders and Marson. Labour selected Cllrs Harrison, Hibbert and Campbell. Cllr Driver will represent TIG and Cllr King the Independent Group. I completely agree with this addition in Cllr King. If TIG is on a Scrutiny Party, then so should the Independent Group, thereby forcing all political Groups to work together.

An amendment was also made to the Terms of Reference so that rather than be confined to considering the leaks of the 30th May and 4th June specifically, it will consider “recent incidents”. Good call. When I get the dates of the meetings, I’ll share them with you.

I am a bit concerned though at a potential new investigation into the fees at Minnis Bay Day Centre. I have no problem with discussing the issue but when you look at the TDC Calendar, there are a raft of meetings being held and there’s a very real danger of over-reaching, a point raised by a Panel Member. A report on Scrutiny Arrangements will be appearing at the 7th August OSP meeting apparently and Driver seemed to be giving an indication that there’s been real movement on this.

Tomorrow evening Planning Committee with the second part of consideration of the applications for HMOs on the Wimpey Estate. Could be some revealing information on this one and certainly any application for an HMO is looked upon with some reluctance. Also there are the Broadstairs Albion Bookshop applications (Recommendation to approve), along with the Focus DIY application which I mentioned a few months back. Ill post a report ASAP after the meeting.

Last item, I was a little bit late to the game on the auction of 49-50 Hawley Square. Hadn’t noticed the Extra was reporting last week that TDC was putting in for a Compulsory Purchase Order for what is the remains of the property! I had heard the Council already bought the property about two weeks ago.

Friday, 13 July 2012

TDC Full Council July

After the Westgate by-election things come back to normal with TDC meetings. Full Council last night. It was announced at the start of the meeting there will be no recording of the meeting, so no webcast. Not too long after that the microphone system failed, so Councillors resorted to doing what they do best, shouting at each other…  

Before moving onto the agenda, I want to pay tribute to Margaret Sheldrick, former Council Chair and Birchington Cllr. I first met her about the same time as Brian Goodwin and she was Deputy Chair of NTCA at the time I was an Officer way back in about 2005. Fierce intellect and definitely didn’t put up with any messing about but with a warm humour, she was respected across the Chamber and a lovely woman. Even with the illness coming back again and again, she never let it show. A true example of what a Councillor should be.

The Hartsdown Skatepark petition was put forward first. Cross-Party support and all Councillors, Worrow’s abstention aside, voting in favour, Debate on this one revolved around whether it was possible to get this before the Cabinet meeting later this month or to put it to August's meeting. There seemed to be agreement to push hard to get it on the agenda for a couple weeks time. I don’t see why it should be a problem. Funding and Planning other issues but there was real unity on this one.

This is where the problems began. Members of the public (unless Im mistaken, Claire Mendelsohn) holding up print outs of “With Any Luck, You’ll Resign” while shouting “homophobes”. Eventually they were thrown out after refusing the Chair request not to interrupt the meeting. This was during the notice of motion (vote of no confidence in Worrow as Diversity Champion) which Labour and TIG voted against debating.  

On a debate about the Steam Trust it blew up again when Mick Tomlinson pointed out that Worrow had been using his phone in the Chamber during the meeting. Worrow claimed he was “reading the latest smears from the homophobes” and when understandably and rightly Tory Councillors complained about this he shouted “practice what you preach” and “plural, it was a plural”. However in a moment of true insight, he said that Labour was doing everything to “burden the ease” during the Leaders Report.

On Members Allowances, Council decided not to backdate it, but still to take the increase. It was revealed by Clive Hart during this debate that the underspend for last year was around £1.2m, something I will return to once Ive seen some figures for this, probably around Cabinet meeting time. Labour, TIG and the Independent Group voted yes while the Conservatives voted no. The point was made again that this increase in Allowances might encourage Councillors from different backgrounds to stand. I don’t think I need to labour the point too much but not once during the by-election did Allowances come into my thinking to stand and I doubt very much it mattered to any of the other 5 candidates. I don’t believe it matters half as much as Labour thinks it does.

So, another meeting filled with unedifying moments and the usual complaints about lack of scrutiny and due diligence. Goodee…

Sunday, 8 July 2012

What Really Happened?

The dust has settled and the result has had time to bed in. So what happened?

While majority opinion seems to be that UKIP cost the Conservatives the by-election, I disagree. UKIP polled about the same as they did last year. UKIP campaigned fully pushing for greater numbers and simply got out the vote from last year. That argument doesn’t really make sense when you look at what happened during the election. For all their electoral threat, they treaded water.

The real reason for the Conservatives performing so badly is far more simple and striking than the UKIP argument. The Tory vote simply didn’t come out and vote, and halved. 

With the cuts over the past two years cutting in deep and more to come, there’s little justification to vote for it. The argument that it was Labour’s fault we have a national debt this big to pay doesn’t work when Labour’s own narrative of dodgy bankers and unfair cuts eating into the NHS and social security sticks far better in the public mind. National news in the run up to the ballot talking about welfare changes and Defence cuts along with the LIBOR-fixing scandal and continuing problems with banks making life unbearable for the public destroys any support a local Party might normally have called upon.

This is not to pass the buck to the Government and ignore responsibility for the result. I didn’t give the Tory voters a good enough reason to come out and vote and the only person to blame for that is me. Fact is, I let the Party down.

Adding Independents Ken Gregory and Sandy Ezekiel to the Conservatives and Harrison to Labour, Labour now have 26 Cllrs to Conservatives 25. TIG hold 3 seats and the Independent Group 2. With 28 needed to break even, Labour still relies on TIG support to get its way. Given Worrow brags about having Clive Hart in his pocket, don’t expect this Alliance to end any time soon. 

Friday, 6 July 2012

Hibbert Wins Westgate By-Election

I should probably put this off till tomorrow and get some sleep but I really want to be the first of the bloggers to report the confirmed results:

Jodie Hibbert [LAB] - 482
James Maskell [CON] - 377
Ash Ashbee [IND] - 316
Jeffrey Elenor [UKIP] - 298
Bill Furness [LIB] - 64
Claire Mendelsohn [TIG] - 22

Turnout 30.56%

Well done to Labour's Jodie Hibbert on getting elected. I didn't see her much about on the campaign trail but I know Labour worked very hard to secure the win.

Thank you to everyone who came out to vote today. Definitely a bigger turnout than expected by many of us and certainly food for thought about the state of local politics in those results. But such talk is for another time. 

Sunday, 3 June 2012

More Money, More Young People?

The issue of allowances is a tricky one for Councillors to tackle. While on the one hand it's supposed to be a reflection of the commitment in performing their role, on the other, being a Councillor is a matter of public duty and, particularly since the MP expenses mess, the public have looked down on discussion of increases on public expenditure to politicians, whatever their level and whatever their party.

Looking at Will Scobie's speech at Annual Council, he argues that part of the reason why there are fewer young people in the Council is because of the Allowances system. I firmly disagree. There are few young people on the Council because they weren’t elected. There were a number of young candidates in last year’s elections, Labour and Conservative, but only Scobie was elected. Was that the fault of the Allowances system? Of course not. But then again, saying its the public's fault probably wont go down too well on the streets of Westgate.

If we consider the wider point of whether higher Allowances would encourage more people to stand, I don’t agree that Allowances would be that big an incentive. Such is the status of politics in general and the staggering ability of those in it to put the public off that those who choose to come into politics do it not for the motivation of money but because, normally at least, they want to do it for their communities. Money doesn’t come into it.  

One idea proposed would double the Basic Allowance to £9000 and cut 20-25 Councillors to fund it. Assuming the 3.5% increase to allowances via EKJIRP is accepted, then the pool available will be £252,728. If you cut 20 Members, it will provide each remaining Member with £7020.22. If 25 are cut, then £8152.52. To reach the magic number of £9000, you have to cut 28 Members, or half the Council.

An interesting side point here is that with so few Councillors resulting from this, a Mayoral system might be more appealing. I daren't wander into that discussion today so will leave that to you to mull over.

Considering the above, the Council would still have to find between £26,000 for a cut of 25 and £71,000 for a cut of 20. In light of the concerns about funding of public services, where would this come from?

If you consider the needs of young people compared to older people, you can understand why there are fewer young Councillors. A young person trying to establish a career or looking for a first job isnt likely to look at politics as anything more serious than a hobby, whilst an older person will be more settled down and will be able to make that commitment easier. Particularly looking at the retired, they will have the experience of life that the public tend to consider above the energy and freshness of a younger person. I'm sure Scobie heard as I did on the campaign trail the comment "You're a bit young, aren't you?". This point obviously came up with the Mayor of Margate job on the blogs. 

Yes, there are fewer young Councillors than Scobie and I might want, but this argument of more money for Councillors wont solve it.

Wednesday, 30 May 2012

Hit And Miss

Living within your means is one of the things the Labour-TIG Alliance is going to have to learn and from the looks of things its going to be learnt the hard way looking at tonight’s two-hour long Overview & Scrutiny Panel.

First off, I said in the preview, I couldn’t find the Scrutiny Arrangements report which would have the financial consequences of the OSP decisions attached to it. Well its not ready and so has been deferred. That is worrying in light of the remainder of this report.

We started off with a statement from Driver in his role as Chair asking Harrison to remove himself as Vice-Chair. I don’t know the procedural rules but Im a little surprised that Driver has so much influence in the process as to make such a demand given he is indeed the complainant and cannot possibly be impartial. I missed the last section of the statement so will wait for the Minutes to come round next week. Cllr Marson read a statement on behalf of Bob Bayford.

To lay out the facts, there will be sub-Groups looking into the NHS Clinical Review, Universal Credit and the East Kent Spatial Development Company on top of the Shared Services, Electoral Registration, Corporate Improvement & Budget and Airport Working Party. Don’t forget the Cabinet and Officer Presentations which always take a good chunk out of any agenda time, however informative it might be.

Driver didn’t get it all his way. He wanted Shared Services to be taken under Governance & Audit rather than OSP but was persuaded otherwise. Most Councillors wanted it to remain in OSP and Cllr Scobie at first wanted it to be put under Corporate Improvement & Budget Working Party. Given its importance in Council strategy and provision of services, the idea of it going anywhere but OSP didn’t appeal, certainly not to me. Also dropped was an idea to make Crime and Disorder Review part of Main Panel business rather than a Working Party but it was believed that the detailed evidence was best dealt with in its current process.

The “public call for scrutiny” idea was also rejected after Members including Harrison and King argued there were other ways of achieving this without it, for example residents talking to Ward Councillors.  He also dropped the Social Housing Group idea in light of the coming Housing Strategy.

As you can see, even with the dropped ideas, there’s a very full programme and put into place without any Options report and thus no idea of what resources are available.

To take one example, the NHS Clinical Review Group will try and follow the process of the consultation due in September and try to inform the Councils view on it. This has a big risk of going political, whatever Driver’s protestations, and this is already being done at County level so the question needs asking what the value of this Group will be, above that at KCC. The terms of reference to this Group will have to be very carefully weighted. Will this happen? Wouldn’t bet on it. I would imagine this one could be tough resources wize as well given the amount of work being done on this Review outside TDC.

So, there we have it. Driver got most of what he wanted, but it's all conditional on there being resources. Welcome to the new Council year. Let the fun begin… 

Sunday, 27 May 2012

What Are The Options?

Overview & Scrutiny Panel meeting Tuesday evening and all but one report available. Unfortunately that one report is the one Ive been most keen to see: the Scrutiny Arrangements report. A quick recap of OSP on the issue which led to this.

Labour's majority on the Airport Working Party last year got some recommendations through to OSP (along with Council as a separate motion) where basically the recommendations would block Manston Night Flights. There was a big argument at the time whether such a motion would be pre-determination on Labour's side, having pledged in their manifesto to say no to Night Flights.

When it appeared before Council the motion was refused due to legal advice, causing outrage from Labour. OSP put the recommendations through but when they appeared before the Conservative Cabinet, they were rejected outright.

OSP minutes from October made a point while considering this about the lack of resources available to OSP in order for it to do its work. A meeting took place in January and the Options paper was supposed to have appeared by now. This report is the one that Ive talked about in previous blogs with regards to its new Chair, Ian Driver. This has potential implications for the relationship between Cabinet and OSP and will likely have financial costs too, seeing as Thanet has little outlay on Scrutiny, compared to other authorities. Any spending on this will be un-budgeted.

So what's likely to happen? Well, the Panel is now majority Alliance, so basically whatever Driver wants, as the Conservatives even with Tom Kings support, cannot block the Alliance at present. In terms of issues to appear before the Panel, we can see from one of the other agenda items Driver wants to see "Review of the Universal Credit Scheme/Welfare Benefits Reform", "Social Housing in Thanet" and "Development of a 'public call for scrutiny'" along with a lot of work on the next Budget process. Add to that the inevitable item of the Major Trauma Review and we already have a pretty heavy going Work Programme. I understand the OSP wants to be broad in its outlook but this is over-extending its reach. 

Friday, 18 May 2012

Thoughts On The Alliance

Dont forget the Broadstairs event for tomorrow evening.
Thinking to the future under this Alliance administration, what might be the result?

I can safely predict Council Tax will go up next year. By how much I don’t know and I wouldn’t want to guess either, but with the Alliance spending money very quickly, we are going to find a hole that needs to be filled at years end and that will have to come from the public. As you’ll know, I followed this debate previously. As the Gazette is reporting, a new Officer is being looked for and that’s a high five-figure sum position. Where’s the money coming from and more importantly, is it sustainable?

EKO is finished. There’s no way EKO will survive with the Alliance so dead set against it. As for the downgraded Housing Intervention project in Margate, a tight rein is required in handling the portfolio of properties there and I would imagine Driver would be chomping at the bit to buy up every bit of land they could get their hands on and perhaps will use his OSP Chair to push for that with the new Housing & Planning Cabinet Member.

I am very worried about Overview and Scrutiny Panel. There are problems with OSP that are as much to do with the political winds as they are to do with the issues appearing before the panel. 

Firstly the time was sucked up by Cllr Driver when he was on the Panel and while it is funny at first, when it becomes a recurring problem it restricts the Panel in its scrutiny role. With Driver as Chair, this is not likely to improve and with an Alliance majority on that Panel (the Alliance voted for the Conservatives to lose a Member there last night) this Panel is unlikely to bite the hand that feeds it and therefore Cabinet will be freer in its own hand. Driver did a long and winding speech at the last OSP meeting about what he would do and one of those included increased resources for the Panel. What form that takes is something to be considered at the next OSP meeting, Tuesday 29th May. Cllr Harrison supported him on that speech so there’s definitely going to be a bid.

For those wondering what reaction was when Cllr Worrow was nominated by Cllr Hart for Governance Chair, Cllr Tom King stood up and shouted at him repeatedly “Shame on you”.

Strange how TIG reports how Cllr Shirley Tomlinson was put aside for Shadow Cabinet. I thought the Alliance rejected her nomination for Council Chair last night in favour of Cllr Clark?

When I really think back on all this and consider all the change over the past 6 months along with a comment made elsewhere by Tom Clarke, it becomes clear that John Worrow is not the real Leader. Worrow has campaigned and been elected on centre right platforms (Council Tax for pensioners for example). The argument of Cohen’s disagreement with Groves possible Council Chairmanship was convenience. There is no way a Worrow-led TIG Group could form the Alliance. Driver on the other hand could. Ideologically it fits, not to mention sustaining Labour politically till the elections. Worrow is a paper leader, a lightning rod to the Conservatives frustration.

The downside, their fates are now linked. A left wing administration anchored by a Socialist, wanting to spend money as they like and hoping to mop it up the deficit with a Council Tax increase. An unbudgeted increase to Basic Councillor Allowances in the first minutes of this Alliance administration (EKJIRP will not refuse this). Who knows what the damage will be at the end of this.