Friday, 30 March 2012

Parking Hell

Big turnout for last nights Cabinet meeting with Cllrs King, Watkins, Worrow, Driver, Campbell, M Tomlinson and Edwards along with the motley frontbenches and a bucketload of officials. A few of us commoners turned up too...

The Royal Sands agenda item was deferred till an Extraordinary Cabinet meeting to be held on 5th April owing to discussions over the past days meaning more time is needed. 

Onto the Draft Corporate Plan. Cllr Wise seemed to make the strongest points though I got the impression the Cabinet wasnt really listening to the criticism, however good the argument being put. Wise's point that he "want to see what you are going to do", seemed to go over their heads. Overview made the same point with Jo Gideon being particularly sharp back then. It was pointed out by Iris Johnston that work started back in September but even that ignores the fact that Labour's had this for 3 months now and could have changed it to whatever they wanted, which we can see they have. Passing this off as the fault of the Tories doesn't really work.

East Kent Opportunities up next with a bit of miscommunication. Driver spoke here asking about the TDC liability for EKO should it go under. Iris Johnston was side-stepping Driver's assumption that EKO was going under though she admitted there "has to be a Plan B". The liability incidentally was revealed at Overview a while back to be around £2.5m.

Onto Parking fees. Cabinet voted Option 2 aka Linear Lite. Final Approval will come at Full Council on 19th April. A shouting argument kicked off during this item, with Campbell making a comment that wasnt welcomed by Chris Wells as he was talking about what he saw as a "shoddy" report into the Birchington stuff. Bit of shouting with even Clive Hart seeming to lose his cool a bit. If ever there was a visible sign that this sort of thing is no good, a member of the public left the meeting at that point. 

Other items went with little serious debate. Bit of an argument about Budget projections relating to the reserves but I want to properly digest the report first so it makes sense when I blog about it. 

Thursday, 29 March 2012

Urgent Decision - Ethelbert Crescent

TDC Cabinet considering a lot of items Ive mentioned in past reports tonight so Im not going to go over that again. Simon Moores got in his preview last night and Michael Child has commented on his area of interest (dont knock it. Its good to see someone is paying attention to the issue and asking for answers, however uncomfortable they might be). Ill be coming along so Ill stick something up tonight once Ive put together some congent thoughts. 

Margate Architecture following on from their talk on the Post Office planning application last week with a couple of observations put down on pixels. Food for thought.

An Urgent Decision notice was signed yesterday by Cabinet Member Iris Johnston so that TDC could enter an auction yesterday to go for 26 Ethelbert Crescent in Margate. The guide price was £195k, TDC wanted to bid pre-auction for £198k and it sold for £194k. This is because of its current use (pretty low usage looking at the info at the auction site) as an HMO. In short, this is the same reason why TDC bought Hotel Leslie.

Ive no problem with this one so Im not going to criticise the decision. I doubt there'll be complaints about lack of consultation with Ward Councillors this time round. The Housing Revenue Account is one of the items tonight so I would imagine we will get an update on this seeing as the money for the property comes from there. I do have one question though. Property auctions dont get put together in 24 hours, so when did TDC first become aware of this auction?

On the Full Council webcast situation, I hear the webcast was put up over a week ago and disappeared off the TDC website frontpage because of the number of links being added. They've now made sure the link is on the frontpage. Still costing an eye-watering £250 a pop though... Ill stick up some thoughts soon.

Thursday, 22 March 2012

Planning and Scrutiny March 2012

A couple of meetings to recap (I'm bunging out a pretty haphazard report here readers so dont be too picky about it), starting with last night's Planning Committee

The Hereson/Honeysuckle junction application passed with unanimous support. A bit of debate over the St Peters Court rear extension but the Committee felt that the alternative of the applicant pushing "permitted development rights" was worse than what was proposed. Personally a Site Visit could have been a goer with a couple of Members wanting one and a very good speech by the local resident against the proposal, but approval is fair enough as the Committee was being very realist.

Then we have the Post Office building at Cecil Square. Proposal is to retain the Cecil Square facing chunk and demolish the rear section, replacing it with new housing. The retained part seems to be fine for the Committee but the rear section came under fire by a number of sceptical Members. A Site Visit will take place with the application coming back before Planning on the 18th April.

Then onto tonight's reconvened Overview and Scrutiny Panel meeting, another 2 and a half hour job. Thing's kicked off with the Canvass Growth Bid - basically boosting the electoral roll. A bit more spending needed for this but its agreed that its worth it. There's talk of "data-matching", that is of comparing data from say housing records to find people but from what we heard there's still some way to go yet. The Electoral Review (shorthand) Working Party is going to continue for a bit longer than its May deadline as its still got work to do. 

"Urgent Decisions" got debated and finally we got formal explanation for the Hotel Leslie argument and the report backs Cllr Wells over that decision on the basis of it's urgency. At least now we have it out in the public domain about the rules in relation to this. 

We then had a big crime section. One of the big criticisms of the Police was that it covered Margate Central and Cliftonville West as a priority which was fair enough but that Ramsgate seemed to be left out even though when looking at deprived wards, Eastcliff wasnt far away. There was also comment about the lack of detail in the Community Safety Plan when looking at budgets or alternatively the lack of executive power behind the Scrutiny Working Party report.

Interesting to hear reports from one Member about PCSOs choosing not to enforce rules on dog fouling and that rubbish dumping is another chronic problem. Anyone who's read this blog before will know the number of times I've moaned about dumped rubbish and it's an ongoing problem in my patch. I've followed the clear up operation behind The Oxford pub (shout-out to Alistair Burgess for reporting this on FixMyStreet) and while its good to see it being sort of cleared up, the neighbouring shell of a building at 5a St Peters Road is in a state that guarantees no chance of that problem going away for good. 

Finally, an item on Food Safety with a revealing debate. Given the number of food businesses in Thanet, its good to see the Council getting a grip on this issue.

Next week is Cabinet, so Ill try and do a preview for it. Michael Child might add to his Royal Sands comments so keep an eye on Thanet Online. Don't expect much comment from me on that one!

Friday, 9 March 2012

A Long 24 Hours In Thanet

First up, Infratil inevitably put Manston up for sale. Its been talked about for a while so its not really much of a suprise. Who is to blame for this? To be fair, Infratil's not been having a good time and Flybe pulling out only made things worse. Politically, no one's come out well. The big boys comment at Thanet Life, Big News Margate and Thanet Online.

Labour gets first hit being at the wheel. They've made a big thing about their rigid adherence to the manifesto for some time and as we know, their "no night flights" policy was a key reason for their strong results in last year's elections. While it's honourable to stick by it, its very off-putting for those whose interests aren't best served by that manifesto, like Infratil. It also looked an unbalanced policy, centred on a small core of residents rather than a policy for Thanet as a whole. Labour had plenty of opportunities to ease off the heavy rhetoric a bit without losing the strength of their argument and to look more balanced, a Governing party rather than an Opposition.

The Conservatives haven't come out of this well either. Labour got good play out of the Manston issue at the doorstep and that proved particularly useful 6 months later, taking power. Labour's problem is of straight jacketing themselves while the Conservatives issue has been looking a bit weak and indecisive by arguing that the full process of evaluation needed to go through. Whether or not either case is true is irrelevant. What it might be matters so much more than what it actually is. 

Its possible there will be a shift in policy at some point. Incidentally I should point out, this blog is me just shooting the breeze. Don't place too much weighting on my views. 

Margate FC's flagship hotel on hold too. While I can understand the reluctance of the Council to grant a lease, I can't expect that they would have wanted to see this fall and chatting to the fans at the first game after the big Cabinet meeting, the view seemed to be that it was a matter of time. There seemed to be slow but steady progress on this looking at the club's website but this is rather strange. Brinksmanship gone wrong perhaps? Whatever's going on, this isn't good news and I really hope an alternative operator and a path through this stalemate is found.

CCTV to go back to 24 hours monitoring looking at a notice from Council Leader Clive Hart and announced at Overview last week. No costings or details other than the headline folks.

Wednesday, 7 March 2012

The Numbers Game

Photo by Alex Proimos, 2009

Still problems with the microphone system, leading some Councillors to avoid using them at all during last nights Overview meeting, so I missed some of the speeches (the whirring behind the public gallery didn't help either). It was reported in the preamble that the report into Urgent Decisions wasn't ready so that will come at a later meeting. I completely agree about the frustration here about the lateness of reports. Excuses about cuts aren't good enough. Just get on with it.

Clive Hart spoke about the Forward and Draft Corporate Plans and gave some updates on key things from each. There was quite a debate here about the balance to be struck between detailed actions in the Corporate Plan and its strategic nature. I agree with the Conservatives here that the Plan is too vague and sanitised and has too many priorities. On that last point it was undermined by Harts own argument about the limiting effects of Government cuts. If there is less to go around, and you don't believe in localism, then surely it means fewer priorities? I'd rather the Council aimed for less but delivered all of it than to spread itself thin trying to do more and failing. A motion was passed that the Corporate Plan should be looked at again and brought back to Overview in 6 weeks.

The theme of the meeting was the Conservative lead on the voting as alluded to in the preview. For Labour to win a vote, Tom King would have to vote with them. That didn't happen. The result? A motion was passed asking that Cabinet reconsider the Birchington parking scheme.

Hart asked for input into moving towards a "linear" parking fees system from the current, buying a big block of time, idea. Tagged onto this is the feeling from the Cabinet that this isn't the way they want to go. An indicative vote was held here and I think I might have gotten my notes wrong because I have all but one Member voting against this linear system. Hopefully a reader will confirm or correct me...

The Community Safety stuff came up with a couple of comments about Ramsgate seeming to be lacking with police. Sadly that's about all we got because a motion was put to adjourn the meeting and come back as soon as to complete the remaining items.

Agenda items 8, 9, 11 and 12 have been put off and its unlikely Ill be able to attend the reconvened meeting because the Council's website sucks so much, I probably wont know where and when the new meeting will be. I'm still waiting for the Full Council webcast and Minutes from 2 weeks ago!

All motions mentioned are subject to Cabinet whim. As we've seen with previous motions, Cabinet can just ignore them, and I expect no different here. They will say they note the motions but that's about all.

Sunday, 4 March 2012

Planning On Something

After a quiet month for me in terms of attending Council meetings, I should be able to make 5 meetings this time round, so hopefully the coming few weeks will make up for what has been a bit of a layabout last month.

Overview and Scrutiny this Tuesday with lots of Plans being reviewed. Dont forget readers, there has been a change to the membership numbers with the Conservatives holding 7 seats, Labour 6 and Tom King as Independent Chair. Lots of links on the Council page for this meeting, so try this link and read those two pdfs instead.

Draft Corporate Plan comes up after a speech by Clive Hart on "The Future Cabinet Priorities in relation to Key Decisions in the Forward Plan". As we know from his Braveheart moment in January, he and Labour don't do the "Big Society game". Curious because Priority 3 from the Draft Corporate Plan is about voluntary and community organisations and develops aspects of the Big Society even if it doesnt call it that. This idea also features in the Kent Forum's "Vision for Kent" as Ambition 3.  The Draft Corporate Plan comes before Cabinet on the 29th before going to Full Council.

There's also a report on "Urgent Decisions". You might remember this was opted over a Working Group, much to my relief. As I said back then, there does need to be some thought into this, so its a fair cop. The report is not available at time of blogging. If it appears, Ill stick the link up, though its likely to be too late for the meeting.

We have a crime section in this meeting with the Strategic Assessment (interesting reading) and Safety Plan for the coming year. Attached to this is a report by the Crime Reduction Working Party. 

With the Parking Review, I would really like to hear more about the discussion and possible further changes to the parking scheme for future years in Minnis Bay, Joss Bay, Westgate and Margate Old Town. Readers, got any ideas?

To finish, again I want to make the point, all meetings should be recorded for the public to access. Agendas like the one above are really important with Thanet-wide implications and the public should be hearing about it in full. I know theres a webcast pilot taking place but for me, its not worth the expense, providing a substandard service. Other Councils record  all their meetings through a relatively cheap and user-friendly mp3 system. OK, you lose the video, but given the quality of that at the moment, its not much of a loss...