Sunday, 23 October 2016

Dont Trust the Dreamland Trust

It might have played an important role in helping  to save Margate’s Dreamland, but that was then and this is now. Last Tuesday’s  poorly advertised and badly  attended (less than 50 people by my estimation) open meeting of the Dreamland Trust at Margate Winter Gardens,  showed just how out of touch,  complacent and irrelevant this once highly regarded organisation has become.
The new chair of the Trust, Bernie Morgan,  tried hard to create the impression of a dynamic leader with new ideas but in truth she appeared to lack vision, had no new ideas and seemed perfectly  content to be overseeing an organisation which, to put it politely,  is a shambolic mess. Its public facing website is hopelessly out of date. Trustees who resigned long ago are still shown as being members of the board. Her predecessor, Nick Laister, who ceased to be the Chair of the Trust three months ago is still listed on the website as occupying that post. Basic  information about the Trust like its aims and objectives, minutes of board meetings, policy documents, activities and performance reports and its accounts have not been published on the Trust website. Worse still an expensive publically funded survey about Dreamland and the work of the Trust was advertised on its Facebook page 2 days before the closing date and not at all on its website. The new Chair has had 3 months to put these important organisational problems right, but has clearly failed to do so.
It’s often said in management circles that an organisation which does not have an up to date public face and which demonstrates  an arrogant disregard of  accountability by failing to publish its governance and performance documents, is an organisation which is dysfunctional and unfit for purpose.  This is a view with which an overwhelming majority at last Tuesday’s meeting appeared to agree with including several  former Trust staff who lead a barrage of criticism of the Trust including calls for the resignation of the directors.
The main focus of the criticism was the Trust’s lilly-livered failure to stand up to, and speak out against,  the massive incompetence of Thanet District Council and Sands Heritage in their management of the £22million publically funded Dreamland amusement park. The Trust was condemned for remaining silent about the premature opening of Dreamland in June 2015, before the iconic scenic railway was operational and for its continuing silence over Sands Heritage inability to get the scenic up and running for almost 16 weeks following its  latest problems.  Concern was also expressed about the Trust’s lack of comment  over the selection of Sands Heritage as the theme park operator despite it privately having serious concerns about the appointment process. Some speakers were surprised that the Trust failed to make any public statement about the collapse of Sands Heritage into administration and for failing to put forward alternative plans to run the theme park. Several speakers suggested that the Trust was no longer for fit purpose and that it needed to fundamentally review its role to include a stronger element of public scrutiny of Dreamland and holding the council and park operator to account.
Personally I thought the audience, whilst clearly angry, let the Trust off the hook lightly. Its new chair and directors were clearly disinterested in the points which were raised, condescendingly batting away questions as being none of their concern or outside  their paygrade. To me this approach signified that the Trust is  out of touch with the community and its ideas and aspirations for Dreamland, especially the need for the management and development of  this publically funded £22million project to be held to account and for the people of Thanet to know that that its money has been well spent.

On a positive note, the new chair said that she will be recruiting  new directors for the Trust. I’d go one step further and say to the chair, that on the basis of their  recent performance she should sack all the existing directors and replace them as well. Either way, every effort should be made to ensure that all  new directors should be passionate about Dreamland , in touch with community thinking, and determined to hold Thanet Council and  Dreamland’s operator to account on behalf of the public.  It was good to see that the anger and frustration of the audience was  sufficiently powerful to force concessions from an otherwise arrogantly dismissive top table, who promised more our fear than good-will,  to hold another Trust open meeting in 5-6 months time. At this meeting they promised they would present  new proposals about how the Trust would operate. I sincerely hope that these proposals will include a powerful element of public scrutiny of the management of Dreamland and its  increased public accountability. Anything less would confirm my view that the Dreamland Trust and its directors are  unfit for purpose  and should be got rid of.

One final observation about the meeting. Only one of Thanet's 56 elected councillors, Mick Tomlinson, was interested enough in the work  of the organisation to make the effort to turn up to the meeting. And Councillor Tomlinson is no friend of the Trust,  having made some strong criticisms of it at briefing meetings when I was also councillor. I guess this lack of political support at Tuesday's meeting underlines how irrelevant the powers that be regard
the Trust and why they were excluded from the decision making for so long without so much a murmur a public protest. The new Chair and new directors have certainly got a big job of work on their hands.

Here's my video of the meeting

Tuesday, 18 October 2016

Brett’s & Ramsgate Port. Something’s Not Right?

I have been studying the documents on Kent County Council’s website about  Brett Aggregates proposals to install an aggregate washing plant at Ramsgate port and presumably expand and intensify their  concrete manufacturing operations there. The documents show that Brett’s established their current concrete batching operation at the port in 2010. But on studying the documents I’m worried that the original permission for Brett to operate from Ramsgate Port might not have been properly granted.

In a letter to Brett dated 28 May 2010 TDCs then Head of Major Developments, Doug Brown, states  that the Ramsgate Port Harbourmaster had prepared a report for English Nature about Brett’s  “batching plant proposal”. For the Harbourmaster to have produced such a report for English Nature seems very odd to me.  Ramsgate Port is located in the middle of an extremely sensitive marine area which is protected by several different specialist designations. The port is adjacent to a site of special scientific interest (SSCI), it’s close to a special area of conservation (SAC) and a special protection area (SPA). The port also falls within a marine conservation area (MCA) and there is also a rare Ramsar designated area of coastline next to the port. Bearing in mind the complex and extremely technical nature of these special environmental protection designations I cannot believe that it was appropriate for Thanet Council to have delegated the task of writing a “report to English Nature with regard to the batching plant” to its Habourmaster.

The Ramsgate Port  Habourmaster is not qualified in marine environmental science. It is my opinion that he is not competent to produce a report on the environmental impact of a concrete batching plant upon the protected marine habitats adjacent and close to the port. I’m astounded that Thanet Council’s then  Head of Major Developments, Doug Brown, seemed happy to accept a report from an  unqualified person as “confirmation of how environmental implications (relating to the Brett concrete batching plant)  were addressed”. However, this is same Doug Brown who,  after leaving TDC, teamed up with his  former boss and ex-Director of TDC Planning, Brian White, to  advise O’Regan’s on their unsuccessful application to set up a concrete block manufactory at Ramsgate  Port.

The right thing to have done in 2010 would have been for Thanet Council and Kent County Council to have insisted that a proper independent environmental impact assessment of Brett’s concrete batching plant be carried out by a suitably qualified marine environment protection expert and that this report would have then been sent to English Nature for them to decide if Ramsgate port was a suitable location for an industrial operation such as this.  KCC and TDC should also have insisted that such a report be produced at Brett’s expense, rather than what appears to have been a highly irregular and  improper freebie from an unqualified council employee.

I will be contacting Thanet Council, KCC  and English Nature to find out exactly what happened in 2010 because from where I’m  standing it looks as though  the existing operation may well be environmentally compromised, which will of course have implications  for Bretts new proposals.



Friday, 14 October 2016

Brett Aggregates. Council Deceit

Thanet Council issued a press release yesterday about Brett Aggregate’s plans for its operation at Ramsgate Port. The press release deliberately downplayed Brett’s status by describing it as “local company”. They are not.  According to their website Brett Aggregates have 3 regional head offices covering London, Southern England and Eastern England plus a specialist head office for their marine aggregates activities. The Brett Aggregate website also lists the addresses, telephone numbers and emails of 29 aggregate depots across London, Southern and Eastern England. Their annual accounts for 2015 state that they made pre-tax profits of £4.5 million.
These are hardly the statistics you would associate with a “local company”. The truth is that Brett Aggregates are one of largest and most powerful aggregate producers and suppliers in the UK. To portray the company in any other way, especially when it relates to an issue of genuine public concern about their commercial operations at Ramsgate Port, is to deceive and mislead  local people. Something you would not expect a public body to do. But hey this is Thanet.

The press release goes on to say that the large aggregate washing plant which Brett hopes to install at Ramsgate Port, is required to “enhance the company’s existing operation”. This wording suggests that Brett’s are not planning any major changes at Ramsgate but simply improving, streamlining and modernising what they are already doing.  Once again the council is being deceptive. The press release deliberately fails to mention the fact that Thanet Council has already permitted Brett to expand the area of land it rents at Ramsgate Port. It also fails to mention the fact that the new washing facility, which also incorporates a noisy aggregate crushing capability, will allow Brett to increase its aggregate processing capacity to over 100,000 tonnes per year which is a huge increase on their current production capacity.
So what we actually have, is not a small local company enhancing its existing operations, as deceitful TDC would have you  believe,  but one of the largest aggregate companies in the UK, significantly increasing the footprint of its operation at Ramsgate Port and seeking to install equipment which will enable it to massively expand its productive capacity. Expansion on this scale is certain to have serious noise, dust and traffic implications, plus an increased threat to Ramsgate’s protected marine conservation areas next to the port.
I strongly suspect that this expansion, is  not be the end of Brett’s ambitions at Ramsgate port, but the beginning of further growth and development of its capacity. Why?  Well a recent report from the highly respected British Geological Survey notes that   land based aggregate extraction from quarries and gravel pits has been is steady decline over the past 20 years. So called “marine dredged aggregates” are now beginning to replace land extracted sources, particularly in south east of  England which apparently has abundant supplies of marine aggregate located  in  shallow water which makes much  easier and cheaper to extract. Already having a specialist marine aggregate division, plus a facility at Ramsgate which offers plenty of room to expand and grow, will give Brett a huge advantage over its competitors and the opportunity to dominate the south east England marine aggregate business.
Second, in 2017/18 work begins on the £150 million expansion and improvement of Dover Harbour.  This huge civil engineering project is estimated to require an astronomic 2.5 million cubic metres of aggregate. Dover Harbour Board plans to extract the aggregate from the nearby Goodwin Sands and is currently awaiting a decision from the Government’s Maritime Management Organisation about the granting of a maritime aggregate dredging licence which will permit this work. With its considerable expertise in marine aggregate dredging; access to a large modern aggregate processing facility at nearby Ramsgate Port, Brett’s would be a front runner to win any contracts for marine aggregate dredging and processing that Dover Harbour Board might be letting in the next year or so.

Last but not least, the much delayed Local Plan for Thanet will include a target to build at least 12,000 new homes in the district in the next 15 years.  Dover, Canterbury and Shepway districts also have their own Local Plan targets for new house building over the same period of time. Coupled with the infrastructure and services  to support this large increase in housing numbers there will be a significant increase in demand for aggregates and concrete in the east Kent area. Once again Brett with their strategically located base in Ramsgate are ideally positioned to corner what is likely to be an extremely lucrative market.
My belief is that if Brett are given permission, by KCC,  to expand their activities at Ramsgate Port this would open the door to a series of expansions leading to the port and surrounding areas becoming dominated by a massive aggregate processing plant. Such a development would quickly  kill off  Ramsgate’s slowly  reviving visitor economy destroying in the process many more jobs and business opportunities than  the Brett’s aggregate plant could ever create.
Its simply wrong to locate a potentially polluting and environmentally  damaging industrial operation in the middle of town which depends on its visitor economy. There are plenty are other locations, not in tourist areas, which Brett could use – for example Ridham docks, which would provide excellent facilities for their business. Like the O’Regan concrete block debacle which was strongly resisted  by Ramsgate people 18 months ago,  we now need to be begin a new campaign to stop Brett despoiling Ramsgate’s seafront. This continual pressure to locate dirty, polluting  industries at the port and the seeming willingness of Labour and UKIP  council administrations to comply and cooperate also underlines the urgency of developing a “People’s  Plan” for Ramsgate seafront which will be leisure focused and exclude inappropriate industries and off-shore Panamanian property speculators too.  

Thursday, 13 October 2016

Ramsgate Port, Brett Aggregates & Revolving Door.

I’m extremely worried about Brett Aggregates plans to massively expand their operation at Ramsgate Port. I have some serious environmental concerns about their proposals, not least of which is the impact that a large aggregate washing facility might have upon the protected marine conservation area adjacent to the port. I’m also concerned that the growing industrialisation of what is essentially a failed port, will adversely affect Ramsgate’s  growing visitor economy and work against  any discussion of alternative, leisure based uses for the port such as modern 21st century marina. The continuing use of the port for low investment, low job creation businesses such as aggregates, car-importation and live animal exports threatens to blight Ramsgate’s seafront and is not the best answer for the regeneration of the town.

I'll be writing about these issues in more detail over the next couple of weeks and am now doing some background research into Brett’s and their plans. But  within 10 minutes of me kicking off my research and Googling information about  the company blow me down if I didn’t spot something very interesting.  According to a press release on Brett’s website the company has appointed a new Director of Lands and Planning. I assume that this Director will be responsible for acquiring, disposing of and managing all the sites and properties operated by Brett’s and ensuring that they all have the required planning permissions and licenses. I also assume that this Director will by the nature of the job title, be leading the negotiations and discussions with TDC and Kent County Council about the expansion of his employers operations at Ramsgate Port.  But what caught my attention  most was not the duties of the job, but the person who had been appointed to do it – Mr John Bunnett.

John Bunnett was until 2009 Deputy Chief Executive of Thanet District Council. If my recollections are correct Mr Bunnett  was responsible for managing TDCs regeneration and planning operations . I also believe that he may have managed TDC’s current Chief Executive. Mr Bunnett left TDC in 2009 to become the Chief Executive of Ashford Borough Council where he remained until moving to Bretts this year.
I’m not suggesting any impropriety by Mr Bunnett or anyone else, but I have always felt  uncomfortable about the so called “revolving door”  whereby senior public servants move into the private sector and then use their public sector knowledge, expertise and contacts to benefit their new employer. Indeed there was an identical situation 18 months ago when TDCs former Director of Planning and his deputy - Brian White and Doug Brown - were employed by O’Regans to unsuccessfully push through a planning application for a concrete block manufacturing operation at the port. I wrote about this in early 2015 and the posts are still on this blogsite if you are interested.

Although “revolving door” employment  is perfectly legal it doesn’t feel right to me. I believe that  there is something fundamentally unethical and undemocratic  about private companies head hunting senior public servants to capitalise upon their knowledge, experience, contacts and influence in order to secure a unfair business advantage over their competitors. And its not just me who has these concerns. The House of Commons Public Administration Select Committee and the Committee for Standards in Public Life have both said that the “revolving door”  carries with it major risks of unfair influence and advantage which work against competitiveness and value for taxpayers money and can often lead to unfair and improper decision making. The highly regarded anti-corruption charity Transparency International  recently published a report which argued that the revolving door can sometimes give rise to corruption, preferential treatment and unfair advantage.
So as a starting point in considering Brett Aggregates plans for its Ramsgate Port operation,  I think it would fair to ask Thanet Council and Kent County Council   to provide the following information  

·        The number of meetings (formal or informal) which have been held in 2016  between TDC/KCC  (officers and councillors) and Brett’s to discuss their plans for the expanding their  operation at Ramsgate Port including the introduction of aggregate washing and the dates of these meetings.

·        The number of telephone calls  (formal or informal) which have taken place  in 2016  between TDC/KCC (officers and councillors) and Brett’s to discuss their plans for the expanding their  operation at Ramsgate Port including the introduction of aggregate washing and the dates of these meetings

·        The number of e-mails  (formal or informal) which have been exchanges   in 2016  between TDC/KCC (officers and councillors) and Brett’s to discuss their plans for the expanding their  operation at Ramsgate Port including the introduction of aggregate washing and the dates of these meetings

·        Whether any of these meetings, telephone calls and e-mail exchanges involved Mr John Bunnett of Brett's and if so please specify which.

Wednesday, 12 October 2016

Cardy Construction. £18million debt. Liquidation & Pleasurama

The publication of insolvency practitioners, RSM Restructuring LLP’s, report into the collapse of building contractors Cardy Construction in July of this year, with a loss of approximately 200 jobs and debts estimated to be £18million is, according to ex- Thanet councillor Ian Driver, “devastating news for former Cardy staff and Kent  based businesses and also raises  extremely serious questions about  Thanet Council’s (TDC)  dealings with this failed company over the Ramsgate seafront Pleasurama development”.
The report, published on the Companies House website, blames a series of unspecified arbitration claims against Cardy, totalling  £3million, for reducing  the company’s liquidity to a level at which “it could no longer meet its ongoing cash requirements and pay its debts as they fell due”. The administrators will be recommending, at a creditors meeting to be held in London today (Wednesday 12 October),  that all available funds recovered from the non-trading  company are distributed to creditors and that the company is then dissolved via a Creditors Voluntary Liquidation process.
Documents published on the Companies House website record almost a thousand creditor claims against the company, with more likely to be in the pipeline. Many of the claims are from small/ medium sized Kent-based businesses ranging from several £100s to £10s of thousands. The administrators have identified NatWest Bank, which is owed £347,953, as a secured creditor and former employees, who are owed £165,274 in unpaid wages, as preferential creditors. This leaves an estimated £556,000 to be shared out amongst the remaining creditors including HM Revenue and Customs who alone are owed £304,000 in unpaid taxes and national insurance.

Said Driver “the collapse of Cardy Construction will have a devastating impact upon the 200 people who worked loyally for the company and the hundreds of businesses in Kent and elsewhere who will now have to  absorb  losses which could easily destroy some of them. This is appalling news for Kent’s economy which is ill-placed to deal with a multi-£million hit like this”.
He added “I’m extremely concerned about these revelations and the implications that they have for the controversial Ramsgate seafront Pleasurama development. In March 2015 Thanet Council's then Leader Cllr Iris Johnston and Cabinet Finance boss Cllr Rick Everitt signed on behalf of TDC a contract with Cardy Construction to become the builder of this large  £30million development which includes 107 luxury flats and 60 bed hotel. The question must now be asked what due diligence did TDC and  Cllrs Johnston and Everitt conduct  into Cardy Construction before the contract was signed? Was TDC aware of the arbitration cases pending against Cardy and their impact on the company’s financial  stability? If not why not?”
He went to say “Debts of £18million don’t accumulate suddenly  overnight. It took many months for this terrible situation to develop and the warning signs must have been clear during  2014/15 when TDC was negotiating with Cardy. Did TDC spot these signs? If they did  what action was taken to protect TDCs interests? If they didn’t why not?
“I’m also extremely concerned by the actions of Cardy Construction’s managing director, Mike Stannard. According to the administrators report Stannard, and I presume his fellow directors, were aware of  Cardy Construction’s financial troubles  long before it entered administration. So why, just a week before the company was taken over by administrators RSM Restructuring LLP, did  Stannard buy the freehold of the Pleaurama site, as previously agreed by the Labour controlled council in 2015, using  £3million loaned to him by the  financial backer of the discredited former Pleasurama developers SFP Ventures, Mr Colin Hill. It seems very strange to me that at the very time that the company which was going to build the Pleasurama development was going out of business, its managing director buys  land which it would have been unable to develop.  It simply doesn’t make business sense to me. I think Mr Stannard and Mr Hill need to provide the people of Ramsgate with an explanation about this mysterious transaction.

“Furthermore  why did TDC and its new political bosses UKIP who had seized control of the council from Labour in the   May 2015 elections, allow the previously agreed sale of the Pleasurama freehold to go ahead? Surely the council and its political leadership must have known just before the land sale happened in July 2016  that Cardy was in serious financial difficulties. Surely the right thing to have done, if they did know, would have been to put a hold on the sale of the land until the situation had been properly investigated by TDC and its legal advisers. Sadly nothing was done. The land is now under the control of a company which is managed by a long-standing colleague of SFP’s Shaun Keegan and Colin Hill and there is a loan charge on the land for £3million  from offshore Panamanian registered Mintal Services Inc. which is linked  to Colin Hill”.
Labour Councillors Everitt & Johnston celebrate in March 2015  doing the deal with Cardy's Stannard . If only due diligence had been more robust
“Had the council and its Labour and UKIP political bosses, managed a much more robust and comprehensive due diligence of Cardy then I believe that it would have been  highly unlikely that the Pleasurama development contract with this  company would ever have been signed and highly unlikely that the freehold of the land would have been sold to Stannard.  We now have the appalling situation where,  because of what appears to me to have been  gross incompetence and mismanagement  by TDC and its political bosses, a large chunk of expensive, and  previously publically owned, seafront land has been lost forever to an offshore Panamanian company.  These disturbing revelations add yet further backing to Thanet South MP Craig MacKinlay’s call for a an independent inquiry into the shameful Pleasurama debacle”.

As my heroes the Sex Pistols Said Do you ever get the feeling you've been cheated? 

Wednesday, 5 October 2016

Pleasurama Labour’s Excuse Factory Begins Work

Everitt & Pals  Wiping Pleasurama Slate Clean - Or Did They?
Writing in this week’s Gazette former Thanet councillor Rick Everitt, the man responsible for overseeing the 2015 deal whereby building company Cardy replaced SFP Ventures Ltd, as the new Pleasurama developers said that this deal had “wiped the slate clean”. I assume he meant  by this that getting rid of the people associated with former developers SFP Ventures, Shaun Keegan and financier Colin Hill, who were responsible for 14 years  of inaction and the blight Ramsgate’s seafront, a new start could be made and the development could finally get underway.  Indeed in his letter Everitt actually says “when the Council signed the deal with Cardy Construction for them to take over the contract in the spring of 2015 I was confident work (on the Pleasurama site) would recommence that summer”.
But was Everitt’s confidence a confidence of convenience? And just how clean had  the deal with Cardy wiped the filthy  Pleasurama slate?  Because despite Cardy’s takeover of SFP Ventures in 2015 those previously associated with the company continued to lurk in the shadows from where, I believe, they exercised a powerful influence and control over the new Pleasurama developers Cardy and its  managing director Mike Stannard.
And on what do I base this assertion?  Well in 2014 Cardy Construction was granted outline planning permission by Waveney District Council in Suffolk to build a £150million,  850 house development at the  Brooke Marina site  Lowestoft. As developments go this is quite substantial and possibly one of the biggest projects Cardy had ever been involved in. The profit to be made from a development of this size would, I image, be quite substantial and very, very tempting. But here’s the rub, the owner of the Brooke Marina site is according to Land Registry, Swiss based company Flight Services SA. A quick check on the internet reveals that Flight Services is owned by a Mr Colin Hill. This is the same Colin Hill who was the financier behind SFP Ventures Ltd. Hill’s father in law is Shaun Keegan who was, until Cardy and Mike Stannard took over control of SFP , its sole director. Between them they were responsible for 14 years of inaction at the Pleasurama site and the long-term blighting of Ramsgate’s seafront which continues to this day.  

So for former Councillor, Rick Everitt to state in a letter to the Thanet Gazette that the agreement with Cardy “wiped the slate clean” was not quite true. Cardy through their Lowestoft link with Colin Hill continued to have a close working relationship  with the very people who Everett and the Council claimed to have  eliminated from the Pleasurama equation.  I would suggest that this relationship, from Thanet council’s point of view,  was highly risky because the leverage and influence which could be exercised by the promise of a contract to build  the £150million Brooke Marina project would have made Cardy very malleable and highly likely to do the bidding of the former-SFP people.
The Cardy-Hill  Lowestoft link was never a secret.  During the course of the 2014-15 negotiations between Cardy and Thanet Council, it was well know that Cardy had secured planning permission for the Brooke Marina development and that Colin Hill was the site owner. In fact a former member of the Friends of Ramsgate Seafront management committee, Barry James, wrote a blog about this relationship and he has told me that he spoke to several senior Labour Party councillors about this matter on more than one occasion. So when Thanet Council and Rick Everitt where negotiating in 2014/15  with Cardy about taking over  the Pleasurama development contract from SFP Ventures it is extremely likely that they knew all about the Cardy/ Colin Hill Lowestoft  link. Knowing of this link The Council and Everett must have recognised that Hill was in a position to exercise significant  influence over Cardy and Mike Stannard. Surely knowing these facts Everitt and the Council should have exercised much greater caution in their dealings with Cardy and negotiated a much tougher deal with them, and certainly they should never have agreed to sell off the freehold of the Pleasurama site to Cardy. But they appear to have ignored the warning signs and failed to take action to properly protect the Council’s interests.
Moving forward 12 months, whatever the reasons for Cardy going bust we might never know. But it seems more than a co-incidence that Hill, through an offshore Panamanian registered company, Mintal Inc., lent Stannard and Cardy Ramsgate the money  needed to purchase the Pleasurama site, just days before Cardy Construction entered administration. There is a charge for this loan registered against the freehold of the Pleasurama site.  The question must be asked why this transaction ever took place when Stannard must have already known that  Cardy Construction was going to the wall. It also seems strange that shortly after the Pleasurama site had been bought off the Council  and Cardy had gone  under,  Stannard resigned as Director of Cardy Ramsgate to be replaced  by long-time associate of Shaun Keegan and Colin Hill,  77 year old accountant Anthony Hollis. 
You don’t need to be the sharpest knife in the box to have realised that Cardy and Stannard’s continuing association with Colin Hill made the Pleasurama development extremely vulnerable to an aggressive re-acquisition. And so it turned out, with the land and the development company now back firmly under the control of Colin Hill. With a little a bit of forethought and some focused research from Thanet Council  this  possibility  would have been clear and with half decent planning it could been avoided.
This is why I believe Rick Everitt wrote his letter to the Thanet Gazette. He realised his deal with Cardy  had collapsed and recognised that those previously associated with SFP,  who had supposedly been “wiped clean”,   had returned and seized control of the Pleasurama freehold. But instead of fessing up for overseeing and agreeing the  shitty deal which made this possible  and taking some of the responsibility he used his letter to quite shamefully pass the buck and heap the blame for this entirely  foreseeable fuck up on council officers. Like a coward scared of facing the music Everritt  claims in his letter that he began to have doubts early in 2015 about how council officers were managing the Pleasurama situation. Surely, if his concerns were genuine, he should have spoken out at the time, rather than waiting more than 16 months before expressing his worries. His long silence undermines his credibility and the timing of his letter is strongly suggestive of watching his backside.
So  now that the Pleasurama deal appears to have collapsed;  now that the freehold of this  prime seafront site has been sold off; now that the people of Ramsgate are likely to have to face the appalling possibility of having their seafront blighted  by this eyesore for many years to come; the Labour Party excuses factory gears up into action. I wonder who else from the previous Thanet Council Labour Cabinet will write weasel worded letters to the Thanet Gazette blaming someone else for their fuck up

Tuesday, 4 October 2016

Manston Airport Not Viable Says Avia Report

Former Thanet councillor Ian Driver has welcomed the findings of aviation experts AVIA who in a comprehensive 87 page report published today, concluded that “airport operations at Manston are very unlikely to be financially viable”.  Said Driver, “Whilst I pay tribute to the hundreds of people who campaigned so hard to save Manston airport over the past few years, there is now overwhelming evidence to demonstrate that an airport on the Manston site would not be viable. It’s now time to move on and support alternative uses for the Manston site”.

Driver, who previously supported the retention of the airport, but then changed his mind in favour of  a mixed use commercial and housing development on the former airport site said “I believe that the plans submitted by Stone Hill Park provide the best option for the site. The proposals will create hundreds of desperately needed jobs and training opportunities for local people and will promote more inward investment and regeneration opportunities which is just what Thanet needs right now”
“This is a very large brownfield site and the location of housing on the site, including urgently needed social rented housing, will reduce the growing pressure to sell off prime agricultural land for development. I have met with Stone Hill Park on several occasions and have stressed the importance of ensuring that their development is environmentally friendly making use of solar, water re-use, and insulation technologies  and properly integrating their development into Thanet’s  public transport  network and providing safe walking and cycling routes. They gave me the impression that they were very serious about the environmental impact and sustainability of their development and I for one, will be keeping a close a watch on their plans and pulling them up if they try to sell Thanet short”.

“Although I understand that many people will be saddened and frustrated by the AVIA report we all have to accept that we live in a rapidly changing world and we need to adapt. But one thing is for sure, just as Manston played a massively important role in the history of Thanet, so it will play an equally important role in shaping for the future of Thanet for our children and grand-children”
Link to the full  AVIA report here

Thursday, 29 September 2016

Farmland Sell Off. Thanet Labour's Environmental Hypocrisy

Although I am not a member of his party, as a lifelong socialist, I support Jeremy Corbyn. I was delighted by his resounding re-lection as Labour leader this week and am beginning to warm  to many of his  ideas and policies which, I must admit, make a lot of sense to me.  As someone with a great  interest in environmental matters I was particularly impressed by Corbyn’s  Environment and Energy Plan which was published a couple of weeks ago and which focuses on developing renewable non-polluting  energy sources and protecting our environment from over development and exploitation. But regretfully it looks as though the Thanet Labour Party, especially its elected councillors,  don’t give a fuck about the environment in their own neck of woods.

Last week I published an article on this site about UKIPs proposals to include 86 acres of council owned farmland in its asset disposal programme. I pointed out that the land, if its sale is approved, would  almost certainly be destined for   development as  housing. I pointed out that its sale would be contrary to the council’s longstanding policy on protecting Thanet’s  agricultural land and preserving the historic green wedges which are made up of farmland and which physically  separate the Thanet towns and prevent the district from becoming a  “large amorphous metropolitan spurge”. I also criticised the Conservative and Labour opposition at Thanet Council for not saying a word against what I  described as “UKIP’s environmental vandalism”.
Thankfully my article had an impact. Well at least as far as the  Thanet Conservatives are concerned. Craig MacKinlay MP posted an article on his website about the issue and Thanet Council Conservative leader Cllr Bob Bayford made some very sensible comments, with which I fully agree, about the  plans to sell the land  at an emergency Cabinet meeting on 27 October. But what about Labour?

Well not a single word did they say at the emergency Cabinet meeting which had been specially called to discuss the land sale issue. In fact people who were at the meeting have told me that none of Thanet Labour’s 5  elected councillors turned up to object to the farmland sell off plans. Nor, in their absence,  did any Labour councillor submit written objections to the plans to Cabinet Chair Cllr Chris Wells. These plans were  published on the council’s website  8 days before the emergency Cabinet meeting took place. All councillors, including Labour councillors,  had copies of the plans hand delivered to their homes by special courier service a week before the meeting took place. Presuming that they actually read the documents, about which I have my doubts, they should have said or done something to make their objections to the sale of 86 acres of council owned farmland known. Even if they were attending Labour Party conference, which I understand one councillor was, a quick e-mail to Chris Wells would have been sufficient.  But they didn’t. They did fuck all.

Doing nothing is worrying, not just because Jeremey Corbyn and the Labour Party nationally have robust environmental policies which their councillor colleagues in Thanet are duty bound to promote, but also  because the Thanet Labour Party also has its own very tough  environmental protection policies. In 2011 Thanet Labour’s council election manifesto said they would oppose “encroachment into Thanet’s green spaces”; that  building on green field sites will be resisted wherever possible” and that they would oppose “every move to sell off open spaces for housing”. In  fact so strongly did Thanet councillors feel about saving green spaces from development that they staged a protest/ photo opportunity in opposition to developing  farmland at New Haine Road Ramsgate (see picture above). A development which is now well underway. More recently during the 2015 Thanet council elections,  Labour published a manifesto which continued to promote its  strong environmental commitment saying “We will maintain strict environmental controls on developments across all areas of Thanet, protecting the green wedges”.

Yet when the first major test of their environmental credentials came up what happens? No effort was made to mobilise the hundreds of new Thanet Labour members who, inspired  by Jeremy  Corbyn, had flocked to join the party. Surely they would have been delighted to become involved in a campaign  to help to save the threatened farmland. But no. No mass e-mail campaign was organised; no photo opportunities arranged; no lobby of the Cabinet meeting set up; no press releases issued. Worst of all even the leader of the Thanet Labour group,  Cllr Jenny Matterface,   couldn’t be bothered to  get up of her arse to go to the meeting to oppose the proposed sell off, or to arrange for someone else to attend in her place.  This disgraceful dereliction of civic duty left the field open to the Tories to lead the opposition to UKIPs farmland sell off proposals, which considering their appalling track record on environmental issues is very ironic.

But this is not the first time Thanet Labour has demonstrated its sickeningly hypocritical attitude towards environmental issues. Its support of Manston airport, even when the Ramsgate branch of the Labour Party had called for an environmentally sensitive mixed use on the site, is a case in point. As is Thanet Labour’s unprincipled flip flop from opposing to supporting the massively environmental damaging Ramsgate Parkway station. I publish below links to my previous articles about Thanet Labour’s two-faced dodgy dealings on protecting our environment. I have also published a link to a video of the Cabinet meeting which discussed the farmland disposal which was filmed by Margate campaigner Louise Oldfield.

I started this article by saying that I am a great admirer of Jeremy Corbyn and that I support his plans and policies. I very much hope that he has the support necessary to drive though these plans and polices and to transform the Labour Party into a powerful force for social change. In so doing I hope that those  lazy, good for nothing fools who have the cheek to call themselves councillors, yet sit on their arses instead of fighting to protect Thanet’s environment, are deselected from being councillors or expelled for being the useless bastards they are. Getting and replaced by people who genuinely care about Thanet. Getting rid of them might even tempt me to re-join the Labour Party – but there again it might not.

Video of Cabinet meeting to discuss land sales. Where's Labour Leader? Where's Labour's councillors? Why no written submission? Why no lobby? Do they care about Thanet's environment?
My previous posts of Thanet Labour and Thanet's environment

Sunday, 25 September 2016

UKIP's Environmental Vandalism

Former Councillor, Ian Driver, has accused Thanet Council’s  (TDC) ruling UKIP administration  of “environmental vandalism”  for bringing forward plans to this  week’s Cabinet meeting (27 September)  to sell off 86 acres of council owned agricultural land (1).
The seven parcels of land at Dane Valley Road, Millmead Road and  Shottenden Road Margate;   Callis Grange  Road and Crescent Road in Broadstairs and Preston Road Manston are being sold as part of an “accelerated” property disposal programme to raise extra funds to tackle the cash-strapped council’s budget problems.  

The land is currently rented to farmers and generates an income to the council of  £4,500 per year. However it appears from the disposal report that TDC  hopes to sell the land to  property developers so as to maximise income. Each of the plots are situated next to existing housing developments making the land more attractive to developers. The Cabinet report also recommends that any disposal of the land should include a clawback provision so that the Council can share in any future development value   

According to Driver, the sale of the land and its use for development breaches TDCs current planning policy on the protection of agricultural land which states that
Extract from Cabinet report showing one of the proposed land disposals

Agricultural land concerns have been dominant in determining planning policies and decisions in Thanet for many years. Thanet's farmland ranks as some of the best and most versatile productive land in Kent and in the South- East, by virtue of both the high soil quality, and the extensive and continuous nature of the land in production. As a national food resource it therefore merits long term protection from irreversible development (2)

Much of the land earmarked for sale also forms part of the so-called “green wedges” which are areas of open, mainly agricultural,  land which provide “physical separation between the Thanet towns”  and which “adjoin, penetrate or separate the urban areas” in order to prevent them from  morphing into a large urban sprawl.

The green wedges are also protected from development because  the strong planning protection afforded to high-quality farmland in Thanet has helped historically to maintain the undeveloped and open character of the Green Wedges. This positive contribution to Green Wedge purposes has depended in part on a system of intensive arable farming, that is, large open fields (3)

CPRE publication about housing and the countryside
Said Driver “if TDCs UKIP controlled Cabinet agrees to sell off the land it will  underme the council's own longstanding policies of protecting agricultural land and of separating the Thanet towns though the green wedges system. This would be an act  of deliberate environmental vandalism which will set an extremely dangerous precedent and could  easily lead to development on yet more valuable agricultural land,  the destruction of the  green wedges and the concreting over of Thanets countryside which will have a devastating impact on our environment”.

Although, on paper, Thanet’s existing planning polices appear to protect agricultural land and the green wedges system of urban separation, this protection is extremely weak and far from guaranteed. This is because TDC is one of the few remaining councils in the UK (part of a group of 53 out of 375) to have failed to have formally published a Local Plan.  

Without an approved Local Plan decisions about the development of open spaces and agricultural land must be based upon the Government’s National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF).  Published in 2012, the NPPF includes a strong presumption in favour of house building on previously undeveloped green field sites, such as agricultural land, unless there is an approved Local Plan in place which includes strong reasons for prohibiting such development. TDCs lack of a Local Plan therefore makes its agricultural land very vulnerable to development. In 2014, the lack of a Local Plan with protection for agricultural land led to the Panning Inspectorate permitting, after an expensive public enquiry,   the controversial development of  a school and 650 houses on farmland adjacent to the New Haine Road, despites TDCs initial refusal. Having lost the planning enquiry, TDC was more recently forced,  in July of this year, to grant planning permission for the massive 750 house Manston Green development on farmland close to the former airport site.

Driver’s concerns about development on agricultural land are supported by respected countryside charity the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) which has produced extensive research and policy proposals aimed at “saving our countryside from unnecessary and damaging development” (4). The charity’s Kent branch CPRE Protect  Kent has campaigned vigorously and with great success to prevent unnecessary and inappropriate developments on agricultural land and woodland across the county for many years. Driver has contacted the group to alert them to the proposals going before the Cabinet and requesting that they intervene.

Said Driver “I have always argued that the unacceptable delay in producing a robust Local Plan, which provides strong protection for  Thanet’s unique and beautiful environment, was a deliberate decision by the previous Labour administration. This was because Labour politicians had calculated that by dragging their feet on producing a Local Plan a window of opportunity would be created  for speculative developers to stake their claims on prime agricultural land for profitable  housing schemes. These schemes would also generate massive additional council tax income for TDC. But the need for new homes in Thanet could have been managed in a different and better ways without the need to sacrifice and concrete over our open green spaces and irreversibly damaging our  environment and food production capacity”.

He went to say “the silence of the Labour and Conservative opposition on the Council about  these extremely damaging proposals, demonstrates their appalling and shameful  lack of commitment to safeguarding our environment. But, I am especially disappointed that the Thanet Council Labour Group has failed to say a word about this terrible  situation and failed to publically challenge council leader Chris Wells and his UKIP Cabinet about their unacceptable  disposal proposals. I thought that under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership the Labour Party was now staunchly pro-environment in its outlook. But bearing in mind that the council Labour Group is dominated by  old-school councillors from the previous administration -   Iris Johnston, Peter Campbell, Michelle Fenner, and Jenny Matterface, it doesn’t surprise me. These were the people who were directly responsible for delaying the production of the Local Plan and failing to put in place policies to protect our environment. Is it any wonder that they are now keeping their mouths tightly shut and  turning a blind eye to the desecration of our environment and the destruction of a legacy for future generations”.   

“But” added Driver “TDCs UKIP leadership does not have to follow the previous Labour administration’s environmentally destructive policies. I call on them to reject the sale of the land, which will only generate an estimated £300,000 over the next 2 years  and focus instead, on bringing forward previously developed brownfield land in the council’s ownership for disposal. I also believe that TDCs precarious financial situation, resulting from Labour’s toxic £14.5million money-wasting legacy, will inevitably result in TDC having to increase council tax next year. A small rise in council tax is much preferable to losing altogether some of our valuable agricultural land and the seeing the destruction of the green wedges, which have so effectively prevented  Thanet  from becoming a large amorphous metropolitan splurge”.

The report to Cabinet also includes proposals to dispose of the council owned historic Westgate and Westbrook pavilions.

2.     See current local plan polices relating to agricultural land and green wedges here

3.     See 2 above