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.