Saturday 16 May 2015

Dreamland Margate Travellers moved on

As readers will know from the Thanet Gazette and Thanet Online, travellers moved into Dreamland car park Sunday afternoon. The Council seemed to be told almost immediately by the staff on site and Monday morning the Council sent a team round as per its protocol.

The good news is that yesterday afternoon they moved on. I'm assuming the Council got its eviction notice or found some other way of persuading them to go. Well done to the Council for getting on top of it quickly

However, the Council didn't contact the properties affected by this. As part of the Dreamland works a tall brick wall has been replaced by a shorter metal fence, reducing the privacy for residents next to the car park. That meant that a series of strip lights attached to the fencing at the Scenic Railway shone directly at the backs of the houses on Belgrave Road.

Moan over.

Thursday 14 May 2015

Fair Play and UKIP

As the local elections came I'm sure many were looking forward to a refreshed Council with less of the back-biting and bickering between Councillors. That good Councillors were stepping down due to the antics of the last Council was a damning indictment of the last four years. Would the polls provide a fresh start that might go some way to meeting the things I had talked about well over two years ago?

UKIP decisively won the Thanet election and will take control at next Thursday's Annual Council meeting. We've already had a taster of their plans with TDC Leader-elect Chris Wells pledging to take immediate action on the Manston CPO, no doubt bolstered by the Conservatives and the Save Manston campaigners, the latter forming part of their group.

I don't much like UKIP. Some of their policies are backwards and some of their supporters unsavoury. A lot of them of course have switched allegiance from the Conservatives, though I also know some who have since returned. Chris Wells is indeed one of those former Tories. No bad blood on that one. He's a grown man and made a choice.

Matthew Brown of Thanet Star has posted an article, querying whether Wells is the right man for Leader. While its to be expected we would see a certain level of bite, I'm disheartened to see an attack via Wells's past financial problems, listing some (rhetorical?) questions related to it, in the absence of any detail of what happened.

People get into problems for all sorts of reasons. Brown simply states the bankruptcy and leaves it hanging in the air without explanation, as if bankruptcy is in itself enough to say someone is not fit for office. Its a low blow and says more about Brown's desire to attack UKIP than tackling the issues.

There will be plenty of opportunities to hold the new leadership to account and when that happens we bloggers will surely do so. But with so few local political bloggers around, this sort of personal attack stains us all. At our best, blogs raise the standard of debate and awareness of issues close to the public. The level of depth and variety of opinion that we provide into key issues can offer something fresh alongside the local press. At our worst, we are just gossip columns. We can do better than this.

Wednesday 8 May 2013

Margate Parkrun - Join In The Fun!

After a long week, many of you will love a Saturday morning lie-in. I sure do. However, I've given up the past couple of Saturday mornings to help out with an event being held in Palm Bay, Margate, called Parkrun. You may have heard of these events being held elsewhere, but its now come to Thanet!

Basically, it’s a free timed 5km (about 3 miles) run along the seafront between the Cliftonville Bandstand and the Pumping Station each Saturday. Run by volunteers, it’s a community-led event giving opportunity for people to get together and have some fun, running at whatever pace suits them. It won’t take long and the event is over by 10am!

Volunteers and runners simply need to register online and print off a barcode that they bring to the event and can be used at any Parkrun event across the country. The jobs involved in running these events are simple and wont keep you too long. Any help would be very welcome. 

For more information, please visit the Margate Parkrun website

Sunday 3 March 2013

A Real Tragedy

This past week we've had a couple of events in which the word "tragedy" has been used to describe it, first during speeches paying tribute to former Cllr Ewen Cameron at Full Council Thursday and then a day later after the conviction of Cllr Sandy Ezekiel for his various offences.

What happened to Ewen Cameron was definitely a tragedy and few would argue with that description. However, to describe the guilty verdict laid at Sandy Ezekiel as a tragedy, even if that is meant personally, is pushing it. For all the sense I've heard him say in the Chamber, he chose to mislead and manipulate and betray the public trust. Forget this notion of highest standards, this breached the most basic of them. If its an active choice then there's no tragedy about it. It's the price you must pay. 

As reported in the Gazette Friday, there are further investigations taking place, which is only to be expected after the verdict. Doesn't prove a thing in itself, so those people getting all excited about the possibility of another prosecution could find themselves disappointed. Its not a coincidence that Cllr Ian Driver has posted a slightly edited version of a near-decade old report into Pleasurama involving Ezekiel. Its curious that he omits a name but after his meeting with Council top dogs last week, it doesn't take a genius to work out why.

Friday 8 February 2013

Breaking Old News

Sorry to disappoint those wanting a review of last night's Council meeting but while I was there for the start and the finish, I seemed to miss all the action, so I am reliant on the Councils own recording. Finger's crossed!

To update on a couple of items which seem to be attracting traffic, work is progressing on the former Focus DIY site on Pysons Road to get it ready for it's re-opening as a childrens soft play area. No idea when it'll be open (Update - Now Open) but I'm sure we'll all hear about it when it does. 

Secondly, the planning application for Soper's Yard, Margate was refused by Planning Committee last month. The reason I didn't blog on that one was because the Gazette published all the results for that Planning meeting on its front page that week so it seemed a bit pointless. Contrary to some reports, it wasn't refused on the Chair's deciding vote, rather it was a straight majority decision.

Onto this week's excitement over gay marriage, with Roger Gales speech being available online via Hansard not long after he made it, the fuss made about it should have been considerably less than it was. He made his view known and voted accordingly. No one expected him to do otherwise and there was no way the vote was going to be won by the Noes, so what's the problem? Is it perhaps because the speech he made was not too many days after Phillip Hammond was attacked for speaking his own mind on a similar note therefore its an easy target? I dont agree with Roger on the issue but that doesnt make him a liar or indeed a "chief bigot".

Above said, in a weeks time all that will be forgotten and itll be something else that will be sucking up all our attention.

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.