Tuesday, 30 December 2014

Maternal Wisdom & O'Regan's Port Plans

My mum always used to say to me "its not what you know but who you know that counts". My subsequent life experience has  proved her to be right about  this and many other things. However before I digress on to the subject of maternal wisdom, I have  contacted Thanet Council's Monitoring Officer Steven Boyle, to seek assurances that mum's wise words will not apply in any shape or form to the O'Regan Group's plans for the Port of Ramsgate. 
Dear Mr Boyle - Proposed Development at Ramsgate Port
I understand that discussions are  underway between the Council,  the O’Regan Group of Companies and its agents about the development of waste wood processing and concrete block manufacturing operations at the Port of Ramsgate. I understand that there is a public meeting in Ramsgate about this matter on 12th January which will be attended by Council officers and that planning permissions, statutory licences and lease agreements may have to be secured if these proposals are to be implemented.
I have many concerns about these proposals particularly the
environmental implications which I will raise at the appropriate time through the appropriate channels. However my reason for writing to you as the Council’s Monitoring Officer is my concern about the agents working on behalf the O’Regan Group.
It is my understanding that the agents are Mr Brian White former Director of Regeneration at Thanet District Council and Mr Doug Brown formerly a senior planning manager at Thanet District Council. I believe that Mr White may have had director-level responsibility or involvement in  the management of Ramsgate Port and Harbour and was involved in dealing with the  TransEuropa Ferries  debt problem. I believe that Mr Brown was also involved as a Council officer in the work of the Port including managing the development of the Port and Harbour Master Plan.
I am not any way suggesting or implying any inappropriate behaviour, but because Mr White and Mr Brown were both formerly very senior council officers and both had in-depth involvement and knowledge of the workings of Ramsgate Port and Harbour, I believe that Thanet Council should in the interest of transparency and accountability proceed with the greatest of care in its management of this matter.
As you are probably aware the House of Commons Public Administration Select Committee, the Committee  for Standards in Public Life and the highly regarded anti-corruption charity Transparency International have all recently published reports which highlight  the dangers of the so-called “revolving door”  in the public sector. These reports recommend  that where former public employees take up employment with other organisations which requires them  to negotiate  with their previous employers great care must be taken to ensure that old or continuing relationships with former work colleagues are not exploited to gain advantage for the new employer.
As I have previously stated  I am not suggesting for one moment that what is happening  in this case is any way untoward, however  as an elected Councillor who is aware of the controversial nature of the O’Regan Group plans and the involvement of 2 very senior ex-employees in their  execution, I seek your reassurances that the Council will take the utmost care in managing this sensitive matter. In this regard  I would be grateful if you set out in writing what practical steps the Council will be taking to manage this unusual situation.
I look forward to hearing from you.

Sunday, 28 December 2014

Ramsgate Port Slag Heaps & Pallet Mountains

I’m  very worried about  proposals to locate  waste wood processing and concrete block production facilities  at the port of Ramsgate. The proposals have been made by the O’Regan Group.  According to the company check website, DueDil, the group doesn’t appear to be financially robust. Most of the companies within the organisation have negative financial valuations, or are dormant with no recent trading history and no accounts submitted. Although it’s very worrying that an organisation which intends to develop a large industrial processing facility at Ramsgate Port, does not appear to have much money, my foremost concern is the impact that these activities might have upon the town and its residents.  According to documents produced by the O’Regan Group their concrete block manufacturing and waste wood processing operations will take up about one third of the port area. The production of concrete blocks will require the delivery by sea of vast quantities of aggregates which will be stock piled in large slag heaps several metres high. The waste wood processing plant will be supplied by road creating massive mountains of pallets etc. The operations are likely to generate considerable noise and dust, which, considering the close proximity of residential areas of Ramsgate to the Port, could be very

problematic. There will also be a significant increase in lorry movements to and from the port resulting from the O’Regan operation and an elevated risk of fire due the vast quantities of flammable wood which will be stored at the port. Last but not least, what impact will these operations have on the quality of our bathing waters and beaches and on the nearby nature conservancy and scientific interest sites?

I was taken aback to learn that O’Regan’s proposals are being piloted through the council system by 2 former, and very senior TDC planning managers. Not that I am suggesting anything untoward or improper, but I am  mindful of comments made by anti-corruption charity Transparency International, in their 2013 publication, Corruption in UK Local Government, which warn of the possibility that former council officers who are now working for the private sector “might influence his or her former colleagues in a way that favours the company” the former officer is representing. Because this proposals is likely to subject to planning permission and because O’Regan’s agents were formerly very senior planning officers, this an application which must be managed with the fullest transparency and sensitivity.

Finally, I have long argued, that the future of Ramsgate Port is best served by its transformation into a modern marina. Newhaven, Brighton and  Eastbourne marinas have all demonstrated that sustainable and very successful businesses can be developed by investing in leisure based  marine activities. They have created hundreds of local jobs and many opportunities for local business. In my opinion developing Ramsgate Port into a modern marina, rather than a noisy, dusty and potentially polluting industrial facility, is the best solution to regenerating the local economy, creating jobs and attracting more visitors.

I'm  sure I will be saying a lot more about this wrongheaded plan in the next few weeks.

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

Kent Police Impose Conditions on Ramsgate Live Export Protest

Kent Police have today issued warning letters to all "known" anti-live animal export campaigners in Thanet and other parts of Kent .

The letter from  Chief Constable Alan Pughsley suggests that
the campaigners are likely to cause "serious public disorder, serious damage to property or serious disruption to the life of the community". It also says that the Chief Constable is "believes the organizers will intimidate or compel other to unlawful acts" . Pughsley  then advises campaigners that he will be using section 14 of the Public Order Act to impose  restrictions on the regular demonstrations at the port of Ramsgate and that they will only be allowed to demonstrate at the "car park exit on the Ramsgate  port side of Military Road"

Green Party Councillor and Parliamentary Candidate for Thanet South, Ian Driver, who is supporter of of the anti-live animal exports campaign said "I have been attending demonstrations against live exports at Ramsgate Port for over  3 years. In that time i have  witnessed no serious disorder, no damage to property or intimidation. The only thing i have seen is horrendous cruelty to innocent animals and dangerous driving by the exporters".
"This is clearly a move to  restrict the right of lawful protest in order to reduce policing costs. Its a massive over-reaction. In 3 years there have been only a handful of arrests and most of those arrested and taken to court have been found no guilty. We will certainly be taking advice and thinking about launching challenge against Pughsley's misguided and disproportionate decision"

Monday, 3 November 2014

Building On Our Greenfields Labour's Broken Promises

In its  2011 election manifesto Thanet Labour Party promised that “House building will be focused on brownfield sites” and that “building on greenfield sites will be resisted”. One of the key greenfield sites singled out by Labour for protection against house building encroachment  was the 50  acre EuroKent site, comprising a small industrial estate and extensive  high quality agricultural land, on both  sides of the New Haine Road, just  behind the Westwood Cross shopping centre. The land belongs to East Kent Opportunities (EKO)  a limited liability partnership set up in 2008 and  jointly owned by Thanet District Council and Kent County Council.EKO joined forces with private developers Rose Farm Estates, who own adjoining land and in  2010 plans were put forward to build 550 houses on this land. The then Labour leader Clive Hart, told the press that the plans were “incredibly foolhardy and a waste of taxpayers money”. So concerned was Thanet Labour Party that they staged a mini protest at the EKO site. Steven Ladyman then Thanet South’s  Labour MP and past and current labour councillors including  party leaders Clive Hart and Iris Johnston were pictured demonstrating at the site.  Fast forward to 2012. Labour are now running Thanet Council and Clive Hart is Leader. As Leader Hart was appointed to represent TDC  on the management board of EKO. But instead of opposing EKOs plans to build houses on the EuroKent site  as Labour’s election manifesto had promised, Hart amazingly begins to support the plans. When the plans were unanimously rejected by Thanet Council’s planning committee in November 2013 Hart, at an EKO management board meeting,  astonishingly votes in favour of a costly planning appeal creating the farcical situation whereby  the  Leader of Thanet Council votes to support an appeal against the Council he is in charge of!

I have tried to find out how much this ridiculous situation has cost the taxpayer but EKO refuse to answer my Freedom of Information requests. I have now appealed to the Information Commissioner. But whatever the cost might be, it’s the taxpayer who will be footing the bill.

Shortly after I exposed Hart’s role in the EKO planning debacle and following some skatepark and airport related shenanigans Hart resigned as Council Leader. He was replaced by Iris Johnston. David Green was quickly appointed as Hart’s successor to the EKO management board. The EKO planning appeal was heard in August 2014. Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, Eric Pickles,  considered the matter and in a letter to Thanet Council in late  October declared that EKOs planning appeal should be granted. Within days work commenced on site.

Pickles’ decision was based on the fact that, unlike most other councils in Kent, TDC did not have an up to date and properly approved  local development plan including a strategic housing assessment and evidence of available house building land to cover the next 5 years. On this basis it was not possible for Thanet Council to resist building houses on the greenfield site and EKOs application could not be blocked.

Notwithstanding Pickles’ decision there is no legal reason to build houses on EKO  land. Thanet as a 50:50 owner of the site could have dug its heels in and demanded that the EKO board consider alternative uses for the site. Councillor Leader Iris Johnston, who on many occasions has proudly told people about her unbending commitment  to Labour’s manifesto promises, could have been true to her words and told the EKO board that TDCs ruling Labour group would not allow the house building to go ahead. But surprisingly for someone so self-professedly principled  as Johnston, she didn’t!

So Labour’s refusal to stick to its manifesto promise and Pickle’s decision on the EKO appeal have now opened  the floodgates for developers to submit planning applications to build houses on other green field sites in Thanet.  The so-called Manston Green development, comprising of  850 houses on agricultural land  less than one mile away from the EKO site, will shortly be put before TDCs planning committee and is almost certain to be approved. Applications to build  housing on or around the former  Manston Airport site are likely to appear quite quickly and  £10 million Government finance is already in place to rip up hundreds of acres of prime agricultural land to build the new Thanet Parkway station in 2015-17  which will  serve the thousands of “executive style”  homes which are likely to be built on Thanet’s agricultural hinterland in the next 5 years. 

Interestingly, Thanet Labour Party’s 2011 Election Manifesto said of Parkway  that they would not support the station “at the expense of the environmental damage” it was likely to cause. I wonder if this promise to the people is likely to go the way of Labour’s promise to protect our green fields and open spaces and to oppose the EKO development?

It’s been said to me by a number of concerned Labour Councillors, and more than one council officer, that the failure of the Council to prepare a robust local plan; to  identify a lot more  brownfield land for housing development and to protect more proactively rural open and green field land,   might be a deliberate ploy by TDCs political leadership and senior managers. This is because for a council with limited resources, like Thanet, house building can be very lucrative. 5-6000 new houses could generate at least £5million a year in additional council tax. Additionally, the Government’s so-called New Homes Bonus pays the equivalent of one years council tax per new house built  for up to 6 years meaning that on the basis of 5-6,000 properties TDC stands to gain a staggering £30million in additional funding. So this might well be the real reason why, unlike most other councils in Kent,  Labour controlled Thanet has  delayed the development and implementation of a local plan and created a situation whereby developers have free rein  to destroy, disfigure and despoil our open spaces and green fields.  

But conspiracy theories aside,  the development of 550 houses at the EKO site, 850 houses at Manston Green, the 1,000 houses already under construction at the Persimmons development at the back of Marks and Spencers and goodness knows how many houses on or around the former airport site, will create a garden city by stealth within a square mile of Westwood Cross.

Westwood Cross is already a traffic congestion nightmare with some of the  worst airborne pollution in Kent. How will it cope with the  massive increase in traffic and pollution resulting from building 5-6,000 new houses  close by?  Furthermore, we need to think about the implications of building so many houses on our water supply. Thanet is already an area designated by the Environment Agency as suffering “water stress”. Southern Water has already said that it is being forced to dump raw sewage on our beaches because its sewers are being overwhelmed by a growing population, increased incidents of climate-change related  heavy rain and  massively increased water run off from hard surfaces created by building over open land. Then we have the question of the additional health, social care and education services required to support the people living in the new homes.

The Green Party does not have its head in the sand. There’s no doubting that Thanet does need more housing, especially decent social rented housing for the growing number of people who can’t afford to buy or who are struggling to pay spiralling private sector rents. But just how much is needed? The Council estimates approximately 12,000 new homes by 2021. Is this a realistic figure? Where will it be built? How will it impact upon our environment and public services?  These are all questions which are being avoided by the current Labour leadership of the council, the Tories and UKIP alike.

Only the Thanet Green Party is willing and able to discuss these issues and develop practical solutions such as building the vast majority of new housing on previously developed brownfield sites within our urban boundaries. Taking a tougher line on forcing the refurbishment, sale or rent of  the 1,000 plus long-term empty residential properties in Thanet. Insisting on the incorporation of water re-use, micro generation and insulation  technologies in all new developments. Opposing the concreting over of gardens and opens spaces. Encouraging cycling and walking and supporting better public transport  to cut down on vehicle use. If Thanet Greens are elected to the Council in 2015 we will begin  a major public consultation and debate on these issues and  how we can develop a sustainable future for Thanet for our children and grandchildren.

More and more people are beginning to realise that the Green Party is the only political organisation in Thanet engaging in serious debate about Thanet’s future and the only political organisation putting forward sensible solutions to the environmental, social and economic challenges that we face. That’s why our membership is growing fast and why some of our members and supporters are disaffected ex-members of the Labour, Lib-Dem and  even the Tory parties.


Friday, 10 October 2014

Dreamland Nightmare

Green Party Councillor and Thanet South Parliamentary Candidate Ian Driver has blasted Thanet Council for its maladministration of the  prestigious Dreamland Heritage Amusement Park project. According to a leaked e-mail obtained by Driver (see below),  Thanet Council has decided to offer a long lease (rumoured to be about  100 years) to a commercial operator to run the amusement park on behalf of TDC. The shock move follows last week’s decision to terminate the unsuccessful   procurement process to attract a management operator on a 35 year lease, which is believed to have attracted only one applicant.

Said Driver, the Council secured the Dreamland  Compulsory Purchase Order in  2013  on the basis that it would manage the park in  association with the not-for-profit Dreamland Trust. The Council then argued (without much supporting evidence)  that its deal with the Trust was probably in breach of EU competition rules and began a process to  competitively procure a partner to operate the park on a 35 year lease.  The Dreamland  Trust, for reasons unknown, (reportedly relationship difficulties with senior TDC managers)   decided not to engage in the procurement process, which in any event  appears to have been a total failure with only one interested party submitting an application.

The Council is now in the process of re-advertising for a  park operator with a lease close to 100 years. Granting such a long lease is, as Cabinet member David Greens says in his e-mail to Deputy Council Leader Richard Nicholson “effectively a disposal”.  “I must agree with David Green on this point” said Driver, “the granting of lease close to 100 years is indeed like giving the park  away  to a commercial operator for what I am led to believe will be a very modest annual rental. And all this after having invested what will probably be more than  £5  million in taxpayers money into the project. I very much doubt that the Council will ever be able recover this investment”.

He went to say   “I am very concerned that the legal basis upon which the Council secured  the Dreamland CPO -  a partnership with the not-for-profit Dreamland Trust,  might  now be invalidated and that the previous Dreamland owners may have a significant claim against TDC”.

Driver, who is a firm supporter of the Dreamland Heritage Park, said that the flagship project, is a brilliant idea which will help to regenerate Thanet , attract tourists and  create many jobs,  but sadly its success is being  marred by "third rate management". The project budget is unrealistic with the cost  of the scenic railway restoration coming in at more than  £400,000  than estimated. The final cost of the CPO is likely to overrun  by at least  £1million and the cost of emergency works to the cinema are unlikely to be reclaimed from the owner. Driver has been prevented by senior council bosses from seeing the income and expenditure figures for the Dreamland project. He is now appealing to the information commissioner to order the Council to release the figures and “make public to the people of Thanet what they have been hiding”.   Said Driver "with all the budget difficulties,  the late start to the restoration of the scenic railway and the major problems with securing an operator for the park I simply can't believe that Dreamland will be opened in by the April 2015 deadline regularly touted by Council Leader Iris Johnston and Acting Chief Executive Madeline Homer”.

I have been calling on the Council, for quite some time,  to conduct a thorough review of the Dreamland project and budget and come up with a more realistic plan and timescale for the opening of  phase 1. This project is too important to the people of Thanet and the local economy to be crisis managed as is so clearly the case now".

Wednesday, October 8, 2014 3:47 PM
To: cllr-Richard Nicholson
Cc: cllr-Iris Johnston; Madeline Homer; Steven Boyle; cllr-Richard Everitt; cllr-David Green; cllr-Elizabeth Green; cllr-Mike Harrison
Subject: Re: Fw:

Dear Richard
You may have gathered from the previous informal cabinet when officers came forward with the news that we would be asked to extend the lease in order to facilitate our only potential managing agent obtaining the required capital, that I was very uneasy about what was proposed. We have incrementally move from a Not for Profit partner (Dreamland Trust)  to a lease to a commercial partner, to what is effectively a disposal. I have subsequently had chance to discuss with Madeline. I asked her whether we had done sufficiently robust due diligence on our potential partner, and whether there could be any comeback from the previous owners. Madeline said she would get answers to these questions.

Thursday, 9 October 2014

Green Party Driver Pleads Not Guilty to Live Exports Charges

Green Party Councillor and Thanet South Election Candidate, Ian Driver, appeared in Margate Magistrates Court today charged with assault and entry into a restricted port facility contrary to section 11a of the ship and port and facility (security) regulations Act 2004. He  pleaded not guilty and was unconditionally bailed until 25th February when there will be a 2 day hearing into the allegations.
The charges against Driver relate to an anti-live animal exports demonstration he attended at the Port of Ramsgate   in May 2014.  Driver  has been campaigning against the cruel and brutal shipment of live of farm animals for slaughter in Europe for over 3 years.  He said “I will vigorously contest the charges against and will continue to campaign against the barbarous treatment of animals by the exporters. This awful trade must be stopped”. 

Two other protestors, Rob Bridger and Christine Smith were conditionally charged for obstructing the road during  anti-live animal exports demonstrations at Ramsgate in September.

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

Pleasurama TDC P*ss Take

Senior Officers of Thanet District Council  are  trying to restrict Councillors’ freedom to research, understand and comment on the Pleasurama issue. During a telephone conversation with  a TDC Manager yesterday Cllr Ian Driver was advised that the legal advice and valuation documents relating to the Pleasurama development, which were requested by the Scrutiny Panel last week, will not be sent out to councillors in advance of an emergency meeting on 15 October. Instead they will be made available at the meeting itself and councillors can have a recess to read them.

In an e-mail to TDCs Monitoring Officer, Steven Boyle,  Driver claims that restricting access to the papers. Is undemocratic and possibly illegal. He also points out that by restricting the time of Councillors to read  and make decisions on what are complex documents, could lead to poor decision making. Driver’s e-mail is copied below. Said Driver “this is yet another example of the bullying, manipulative un-democratic culture which prevails at TDCs and which has brought it into disrepute. Its time for change. 

Dear Mr Boyle
I understand that the legal papers and valuation report regarding the Pleasaurama site will not be made available before the meeting of the extraordinary meeting of  OSP on 15th October. I was told that members of the OSP will be able to have a recess to read the papers on the 15th October.

I am writing to let you know that this  not acceptable to me. First I am dyslexic. It takes me longer than most people to read and understand documents, especially complex and technical documents. If I am placed under pressure of deadlines to read  documents, such as a time limited recess, then it becomes much harder for me to read and understand them. I therefore request that I be provided with copies of the documents several days in advance of the meeting so that I can read and understand them at my leisure and be properly prepared to play a full role in the in the meeting like other non-disabled Councillors.

Second, the  decision to withhold the OSP papers until the day of the meeting is most unusual. In all other cases  reports and papers, including confidential reports, are sent to members one week before the meeting.  I can see no reason to have suddenly changed procedure without any explanation  or justification.

 Furthermore, it is my opinion that the Local Government Act 1972 and the Council's Constitution does not afford officers the right to withhold, until the last moment, documents which members of OSP have a legal right to see. The limited and restricted access of key documents,especially when decisions need to be  based upon these documents, is my my opinion highly improper and entirely undemocratic. By following the proposed course of action the Council is improperly restricting the ability of  its elected  members from properly understanding  the issues.

Third I am not available to come into the Council offices before the meeting on 15th October to read the documents and I will not be able to come into the council offices early on the day of the meeting itself.

I therefore request that you e-mail me the papers to me today so that I have time to read them and properly prepare for the meeting.
I would appreciate hearing from you today as refusal to provide me the OSP papers in advance will result in a complaint to the Equalities and Human Rights Commission for breach of the Equality Ac t 2010.

Finally I undertake to  respect the confidentiality of the the papers you may provide today in relation to the OSP meeting
Yours sincerely
Councillor Ian Driver 

Thursday, 25 September 2014

Labour Tries to “Shaft” People of Ramsgate. Green Party Driver Stops Them!

Thanet Council’s Overview and Scrutiny Panel met tonight to discuss the latest developments concerning the troubled Pleasurama development which has blighted Ramsgate’s seafront for over a decade.

Council officers and Labour Cabinet member Rick Everitt tried their best  to bamboozle and scare  councillors into accepting a deal whereby Canterbury  building contractors, Cardy, would buy out the controversial development company SFP Ventures (UK) Ltd and complete the project within a three year period. Everitt said that the stalled legal action against SFP Ventures for breach of agreement would cost a fortune and that a deal with Cardy might be the best option. Chief Executive Madeline Homer said that she though legal action would “take years” and that it would be preferable to make a deal with Cardy.
Conservative leader Bob Bayford and his colleague Councillor Chris Wells challenged much of what Everitt had to say. Green Party Councillor Ian Driver pointed out that everything Everitt and Homer had said was based on legal and valuation advice which members of the Overview and Scrutiny Panel had not seen. He expressed his concern that the Panel was being asked to make recommendations on an incredibly complex issue without having seen the key information. This was an highly improper abuse of process. Driver then moved a motion calling for the members of the Panel to be provided with copies of the legal and valuation advice and the officers report about progress on the Cardy takeover of SFP.

Driver’s motion was passed  by 7 votes to 5 with 2 abstentions. It was notable that the 5  votes against and 2 abstentions  were Labour Councillors, Campbell, Huxley, Moore,  Matterface and Poole voted against Driver’s motion. Worrow and Fenner abstained.
Said Driver “Labour showed their true colours tonight. They voted to prevent the Panel from having sight of key documents about Pleasurama before they make a decision. This is undemocratic and appallingly irresponsible. Quite clearly Cabinet member Everitt and his labour colleagues, supported by senior council officers,  are determined to drive through this deal with Cardy and foist   on the people of  Ramsgate a development which is extremely unpopular and which many people oppose. 

What makes this this worse is that Everitt and 6  of the Councillors who voted against or abstained on  my motion  (Campbell, Fenner, Huxley, Moore, Poole and Worrow), represent, or have been selected to represent,  Ramsgate wards. These people have shown by their actions tonight that they don’t give a damn  about their constituents concerns over Pleasurama. They have demonstrated that they cannot be trusted by the voters, preferring to stab  local people in fthe back in  a cynical pusuit  of party politics.
A source close to senior council officers  reported that Chief Executive Homer was incandescent with rage as her plans to have the Cardy/ SFP takeover rubber stamped were scuppered by Driver and Conservative councillors. Apparently the air turned blue at a hastily convened officer pow-wow called by Homer immediately after the Scrutiny meeting had ended. Said Driver the Chief Executive must  realise that if councillors are being asked to make important decisions, such as the future of the of the Pleasurama site, we must be provided with all the relevant background documentation instead of second hand explanations and vacuous summaries We are not a rubber stamping factory we are supposed to be scrutinising and evauating  decisions on behalf  of the public. We can't do this without the relevant information.

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Green Party's Ian Driver, Calls for TDC Leader Johnston to Resign Over Alleged Polically Motivated CPO Spending

Thanet South Green Party PPC, Ian Drivers Calls on  TDC Leader to Resign Over Alleged “Politically Motivated” Spending on CPO

Following today’s announcement of  the sale of Manston Airport to the owners of Discovery Park Sandwich, Thanet South  Green Party Parliamentary Candidate, Ian Driver,  has alleged that Thanet Council has improperly spent  £thousands in taxpayers money on a “deceitful, disingenuous, politically motivated charade  of securing  a compulsory purchase order on the airport, in order to secure votes”.  
He has also called on the Labour Leader of Thanet District Council, Iris Johnston to “do the right thing and resign for overseeing on her watch  what appears to be an extraordinary and significant abuse of public funds for political purposes”.

In an article on his blog site Driver previously revealed that strategic economic planning agencies the  Kent and Medway Economic Partnership (KMEP)  and the South East England  Local Economic Partnership (SEELEP) of which Thanet District Council is a member,  had agreed,  before Anne Gloag had bought Manston Airport and before she closed it down, to designate the airport land as a major  site for commercial, industrial and residential development and growth.
KMEP/ SEELEP’s successful application for  £10 million Government funding  towards  building the Thanet Parkway station near to the airport site, even after it had been closed, demonstrated, according to Driver,  “that a clear agreement and commitment existed  between  Kent political  and business leaders  to support the  transformation of the  former airport site  into  an area of major economic and residential development”.

Earlier today in a response to a Freedom of Information Request made by Driver,  Thanet District Council, whilst acknowledging that they held the information, refused  to divulge to him documents, notes list of attendees and the dates of  internal and external meetings where senior politicians, council officers and others discussed  the post-closure future of Manston Airport.
Said Driver “it is simply inconceivable that senior politicians  at Thanet District Council were unaware of KMEP and SEELEP  plans for the  Manston Airport site once it had closed. In fact these politicians had discussed and agreed the plans in the 2 years prior to the closure. Furthermore, it is clear from the response to my FOI that extensive internal and external discussions about the future development  of Manston Airport involving senior Thanet politicians and council officers took place in the months following the closure. I will be appealing to the Information Commissioner to force Thanet Council to reveal all the information they hold on these meetings and  am confident that we will shortly know what was discussed with who and when”.

“I believe that it will quickly become apparent to the voters of Thanet that senior Labour politicians, perhaps with the support of officers, may have wilfully and recklessly agreed to spend taxpayers money on securing a CPO in order  to protect their political positions, when all along their intention was to implement the plans they had previously agreed with KMEP and SEELEP to allow the development of  the former airport site into an  industrial commercial and residential growth area. The possibility of political deception on such a huge scale and the associated possibility that large amounts of public money may have been spent to  fund this deception is an extremely serious matter. Once I have collected the necessary evidence I will be submitting a formal  complaint to the District Auditor”.

In a further astonishing twist, Driver revealed that, Paul Barber, the Managing Director of  Discovery Park, the purchasers of Manston Airport, was appointed in June of this as the Chairman of the Thanet Regeneration Board. Said Driver “The Thanet Regeneration Board, its  Chairman, members,  senior council officers and politicians will have been discussing formally and informally the future of Manston Airport since it closure was announced. I want to know what Paul Barber might have said about his company’s plans to buy the airport. I simply can’t ’ believe that Barber , as Chairman of the Thanet Regeneration Board, kept these plans secret from, Regeneration Board members. Surely he must have declared his company’s interest to the Leader of Thanet Council or the Acting Chief Executive? If so then the most senior people at the Thanet Council must have known  about the purchase before it was completed, yet continued using public money to fund the CPO.  The public deserve a full and frank explanation of what has happened here.


Response to Ian Drivers FOI

23 September 2014

Ref No: 65916 / 2729600
Subject:Manston Airport
 Dear Cllr Driver

Thank you for your communication received on 08/07/2014 where you
requested the following information:

Please tell me if Thanet District  Council has conducted any internal
discussions involving officers and/ or Cabinet/ shadow cabinet members
about the future of the Manston Airport site post its  closure by owner
Anne Gloag. If so please tell me the dates of any  such meetings and who
was in attendance. Please provide me with copies of any documents which
have been produced related to such discussions including notes of
meetings, reports or e-mails.

Please tell me if Thanet District Council including members of its  staff
or councillors have engaged in discussions with other  organisations e.g.
other local authorities, Thanet Regeneration Board, East Kent Regeneration
Board, Kent and Medway Economic Partnership, South East Local Economic
Partnership, Government Departments, Ministers, Civil Servants etc, about
the future of the Manston Airport site post its closure by owner Anne
Gloag. If so please tell me the dates of any such meetings and who was in
attendance. Please provide me with copies of any documents which have been
produced related to such discussions including notes of meetings, reports
or e-mails.

I can confirm that Thanet District Council holds this information. This
information is exempt under Section 36 of the Freedom of Information Act
and is, therefore, being withheld.

The requested information falls into the terms of a qualified exemption.
In the opinion of the qualified person (the Council's Monitoring Officer),
disclosure would or would be likely to inhibit the free and frank
provision of advice or exchange of views for the purposes of the ongoing
deliberations in this matter and prejudice the effective conduct of public
affairs.  The balance of the public interest test determines that the
information is exempt from release.

Having considered the public interest, the Department’s decision is to
withhold the information.

If you are dissatisfied with the handling of your request, you have the
right to ask for an internal review. Internal review requests should be
submitted within two months of the date of receipt of the response to your
original letter and should be addressed to: Information Request Assessor,
Thanet District Council, P O Box 9 Cecil Street, Margate Kent CT9 1XZ, or
send an email to [email address].

Please remember to quote the reference number above in any future

If you are not content with the outcome of the internal review, you have
the right to apply directly to the Information Commissioner for a
decision. The Information Commissioner can be contacted at: Information
Commissioner’s Office, Wycliffe House, Water Lane, Wilmslow, Cheshire, SK9

Yours sincerely,

Colin Fitt
Interim Head of Built Environment


Email to Ian Driver Re appointment of  Paul Barber to Thanet Regeneration Board


Forwarded Message -----

From: Madeline Homer

To: Cllr-Ian Driver

Sent: Tuesday, 12 August 2014, 16:40

Subject: Appointment of New Chair of Thanet Regeneration Board

 Dear Cllr Driver,

Thank you for your e-mail concerning the Thanet Regeneration Board and the minutes of the Board meeting on 21st March 2014.

The position for clarity sake is that the Board is not a body which is subject to the Council procedures and it is not a formally constituted entity or a part of TDC's formal organisation structure. That said the minute you refer to does not accurately reflect the full and open discussion and conversations with and commitment from the Board about attracting a Chair from the Private Sector.

I made enquiries into the amount of hits the Boards website receives and it is actually quite low. As a result of this  the approach adopted was to receive direct nominations with the support of a role description for the chair. The Panel consisted of 2 members of the Board and myself. All nominations were shortlisted and interviews were then arranged but regrettably this process did not provide a successful  candidate.

In discussion with the Panel given the position we were in I then directly approached Paul Barber and asked him whether he would be interested in talking to us about the role to which he agreed. He then met with myself and one member of the Panel (the other member being unavailable at the time) following which we offered him the role as Chair of TRB on a voluntary basis.

I trust this helps to clarify matters for you.

Yours sincerely

Madeline Homer

Acting Chief Executive

Ian Driver Green Party PPC Thanet South Statement on Sale of Manston Airport

Thanet South  Green Party Parliamentary Candidate Ian Driver said that  “ any industrial, commercial and residential  development on or around the Manston Airport  site must comply with the highest environmental standards. The new owners of the site must ensure that micro generation,  water re-use and insulation technologies are deployed in any  developments and that any jobs created are long term sustainable and pay living wages. The new owners should also return  some of  their land to agricultural use and set aside land for  nature areas and community allotments for residents. If properly managed the development of the Manston/ Thanet Central Island area could be good for the environment and good for the economy and jobs. Thanet Green Party and I will not spare our efforts in ensuring that planning applications from the owner are  throughly scrutinised, of the highest standard  and that our environment is protected"

Monday, 22 September 2014

Grant Who a CPO for Manston Airport?

So the best Iris Johnston and Roger Gale could do to save Manston Airport was to invite Grant Shapps MP to Thanet for a couple of hours. Not a  “proper”  Government minister with an aviation or regeneration portfolio; nor an influential  heavyweight in  the corridors of power at Westminster; Shapps is the  Tory Party Chairman. A  post generally occupied by failed Tory wannabes who  didn’t have the talent to make it to the top table,  or for those politicians who have seen better days and who are being gently eased out of their senior responsibilities and retired from the A team.

Ever Get the Feeling You've Been Cheated?
But its not the fact that a political nobody turned up at Manston Airport last week, but that
this nobody said nothing, which should be of concern. His 2 minute speech was full of   gushing hyperbole, yet Shapps failed to give a commitment that his Government would support  Thanet Council’s moves to compulsorily  purchase the airport site. In fact he didn’t  mention the CPO once. And sadly the short film of Shapps meaningless rhetorical flannel illustrates, through the applause he received, that it is indeed possible for politicians to fool most the people most of the time.

Because  just like Thanet Labour who are cynically manipulating the Manston CPO to gain votes in 2015, here  was the Chairman of the Tory Party,  whose job it is to manage the Tory general election campaign,  doing exactly the same thing  in order to shore up  support against the UKIP onslaught in Thanet in 2015.  The spectacle of Johnston and Shapps shoulder to shoulder at Manston was nothing less than a shameful circus sideshow of  rank political opportunism by politicians from the 2 old fashioned  parties who are underwear soilingly fearful of the future.

Should You
 Trust Her??
The real truth is that both Labour and the Tories know damn well  that securing a CPO on the airport will be an incredibly expensive and high risk long shot with no guarantee of success. They know that there  is nothing they could do to prevent would be investor RiverOak, or any other investment partner, from acting in precisely the same way as Anne Gloag if they got their hands on the airport lands. They know that the  best brains in the aviation business; the cleverest airport consultants; the most well-informed aeronautical strategists have,  through expensive  hands-on experience and rigorous market evaluation, all  concluded that Manston Airport does not have a long-term sustainable future.  Shapps and Jonhnston know this too but have chosen instead to opt for political expediency and deceit instead of being honest and open with the people.

To mislead and to give publically funded false hope  in order to protect your political party's arse  is manipulation and cynicism of the first order, which in my opinion verges  on the immoral, if not possibly the downright criminal. Yet  this is precisely what the  Labour and Tory parties,  through the personages of Shapps and Johnston, appear to be doing.  I make this allegation  because whilst espousing the Save Manston mantra and leading the  CPO battle cry the Labour and Tory parties  have been formulating policies based upon having no airport at Manston for at least a year  before Anne Gloag owned the site and long before she announced it was going to close!  Here’s the evidence of the deceitful game played by old fashioned  Labour and Tory politicians.    

First, in December 2013, 4 months before the airport closure was announced by Anne Gloag, the Kent and Medway Economic Partnership (KMEP), a secretive organisation made up of Kent’s Council Leaders (including Clive Hart and more recently Iris Johnston)  and senior Kent  businessmen, including several developers builders and financiers, published a document called “Unlocking the Potential; Going the Growth - Kent and Medway’s Growth Plan: Opportunities, challenges and solutions”. This 71 page document contains lots of interesting ideas for  improving the economic fortunes of Kent, many of which I agree with. But most intriguingly it includes  a list of 32 locations in Kent where plans for economic and population growth will be located.

This list of 32 includes “Manston/ Thanet Central Island” where, according to the document, there is a large supply of commercial and residential land available. However  the viability of this land, so the report argues,  needs to be improved by public sector intervention including the speeding up of the HS1 rail-link to London, the development of Thanet Parkway Station and support by the Council of large housing projects such the East Kent Opportunities development at New Haine Road which was recently subject to a planning appeal,  and the forthcoming Manston Green development which comes before TDC Planning Committee shortly, and which is  situated extremely close to the airport runway. It may well be that discussions, earlier this year,  about building 1000 houses on the airport’s northern grassland are not unrelated to the KMEEPs document as well. But quite clearly the direction of travel of this document is for a major commercial, industrial and residential development in the Manston/ Thanet Central Island area which could  not realistically be accomplished with a  commercial airport operating in the middle of the same location.

KMEEP’s  large, well-researched, comprehensive document  must have taken many months to prepare. There would have been extensive discussions between senior politicians and council officers such as Thanet‘s then Labour leader Clive Hart and, currently indisposed  Chief Executive, Sue McGongigal. There must have been detailed discussions with the developers, financiers and builders from  KMEP who’s ears must have been become embarassingly erect in anticipation of the exciting  and increbily  profitable opportunities likely to be coming their way on the insider track. There must also have been plenty of unofficial discussions with the owners of the rolling acres of real estate in Manston / Thanet Central Island area, including Infratil, the largest landowner of them all,  to help formulate, facilitate and shape the KMEP policy document. This process most have taken at least year or longer before the December 2013 document was finally published.

So as early as 2012 senior politicians, council officers and businessmen were already actively discussing and planning for the  Manston/ Thanet Central Island area to become  a major  centre for residential, commercial and industrial growth  without the need for an airport.

Although of course no-one was stupid enough to say this out loud, it’s not inconceivable that Infratil, a company with close associations with Anne Gloag’s Stagecoach, or perhaps a politician or  a council officer,  may  possibly hvae briefed Gloag about KMEPs  emerging plans for the Manston/ Thanet Central Island area. Gloag would have immediately realised just how massively  lucrative buying the airport and closing it down it could be for her, as the land she owned was central to  KMEPs plans for the area. Its entirley possible that Labour and Conservative polticians, or senior council officers  closely associated with KMEP prvately encouraged Gloag to  buy and then close the aiprort  with promsies of a touble free planning application process nas astronomic profits.  But of course this is purely conjecture on my part.

Speculation aside, KMEPs  plans for major, commercial, industrial and residential growth in the Manston/ Thanet Central Island area were eventually  fed into the South East England Local Economic Partnership’s (SEELEP), bid for  Government Growth Fund money in early 2014. The SEELEP  bid document “Growth Deal and Strategic Economic Plan”,  was submitted shortly after Ann Gloag began the  consultation on the future  of Manston Airport , yet even  though the airport was  not formally closed,  the  document appeared to describe  a future without it.

The document pointed out that “the area around Manston and Discovery Park contains extensive land suitable for residential and  employment use, and is well connected by new infrastructure”. In order to open-up this land, and make it more attractive for developers, the document  requested the Government to

·       provide “£3.5 million Local Growth Fund finance to support commercial development at Manston and Discovery Park

·       invest “in Thanet Parkway station as a priority to reinforce the success of Discovery Park and support investment at Manston”

·       invest  in the Westwood Relief Strategy, eliminating a major bottleneck impacting on residential, employment and commercial growth in Thanet Central Island.

So, well over a year before  there was  any mention of the airport closing  and shortly after Gloag opened the closure consultation, senior  Conservative and Labour  politicians of the 12 Kent District Councils; Medway Council;  Kent County Council Leader Paul Carter;   and the developers, builders and financiers who together make up the secretive KMEP and SEELEP network (about which I will write separately in the near future) had already decided that the future of the so-called  Manston/ Thanet Central Island area would be  a large commercial, industrial and residential area with no room for an airport.  Indeed the closure of Manston was  manna for the planners, allowing them to develop grander more extensive strategies for the rural open spaces of Thanet than the inconvenient  presence of an airport would otherwise have allowed for.

And therein  lies the jaw-dropping hypocrisy and deceit of Thanet’s Labour and Tory Parties. Because the political bosses of these parties and senior council officers, knew damn well that significant and extremely serious plans were  emerging within the KMEP and SEELEP network to transform Manston and Thanet Central Island into a major commercial, industrial and residential centre with no airport. But instead of telling the truth and being honest with residents they gambled on no-one knowing about the secret machinations of these shadowy bodies and instead chose a path of deceit, dishonesty and political corruption over the fate of the airport.

So where does this take us? Well I think the big question is how will this game play out. My guess is that that the last thing the local Tory  and Labour parties want is to be caught with their knickers down and be exposed for their deceit before the 2015 election. What they have probably done is use their influence with Ann Gloag to ask that she holds back her planning applications for the airport until after  the election has taken place, with the promise that her plans will be  fast tracked and expedited for being patient. The “nobody saying nothing”,  Grant Shapps, may also be persuaded to use what little influence he wields with Government grandees to hold back the announcement extending the Discovery Park Enterprise Zone to Thanet. That way nobody will sniff out the  rat-like stench associated with the double game being played by our politicians. In the meantime RiverOak or whoever becomes TDC CPO partner, will be played for a fool, at great public expense, by Thanet Council who will delay and drag out the legal process until after the election, when of course support for this solution will collapse in face of Gloags plans and Thanet’s  new Enterprise Zone status.

Alternatively  it may be possible that  I have credited Thanet Council and its  politicians with too much intelligence and cunning to have planned such a Machiavellian course of action. In which case Gloags plans for the airport, the intentions of KMEEP and SEELEP for Manston, the announcement of the Enterprise Zone extension and the collapse of the CPO may, bit by bit, become known before the election takes place. Indeed this appears to be happening already. The Government announced in July  £10 million in principle funding for the Parkway station even though they knew that Manston  airport had been  closed. The controversial East Kent Opportunities planning application for 550 houses at New Haine Road is in Secretary States, Eric Pickles, in tray for decision shortly. The 850 house planning application for the Manston Green development will be discussed by  TDC planning committee in October or November. And any day now I am expecting to hear about plans for  the development of a major logistic centre, depot  and vehicle repair hub for  east-Kent  monopoly transport outfit Stagecoach buses in one of the hangars at Manston. Which of course will create hundreds of new jobs, and enjoy the benefit of zero business rates when the Discovery Park Enterprise Zone is  expanded north-eastwards into Thanet. And perhaps 1000 houses on the northern grassland might be thrown in for good measure.
Either way there is no doubt in my mind that the 2 old fashioned parties, Labour and Tory, have cynically manipulated and deceived the people of Thanet about saving the airport and securing a CPO for political gain. When this stinking , politically corrupt game became evident to me is when I stopped arguing for the CPO and began calling for a public discussion on Plan B for Manston. Because whether you agree with my politics or not I believe above all else that public affairs should managed in an open and transparent way.

As one my heroes Johnny Rotten once said “ever get the feeling you’ve been cheated”.