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.