Monday, 31 March 2014

EKO Cover Up Begins???

Here is a letter I sent to the Council's Monitoring Officer earlier today. The contents speak for  themselves. Suffice it to say I am extremely concerned that the proposal described in my letter
might possibly have an adverse impact upon my complaints about the management of the East Kent Opportunities Planning Application.

Dear Mr Patterson
I have received the report for the General Purposes Committee tomorrow, seeking authority to appoint a temporary Monitoring Officer. I am extremely surprised that   the General Purposes Committee will be making this appointment. It is my understanding that the appointment of statutory posts such as the Chief Executive, the Section 151 Officer and the Monitoring Officer are decisions reserved for meetings of Full Council where all 56 councillors can exercise their choice, rather than a committee compromising of only 10 councillors.

 As the Council’s current Monitoring Officer I seek your advice on the constitutional appropriateness of this appointment process. I would also be interested in knowing if the appointment of statutory officers has been conducted in this unorthodox way before, especially bearing in mind that it was Full Council which recently decided to un-couple the joint appointment of the Chief  Executive and Section 151 Officer, not the General Purposes Committee.

I note that the report proposes  that Madeline Homer the Director of Community Services takes on the role of Temporary Monitoring Officer. I would like to ask the following questions in relation to this proposal.

1.      When did the proposed post holder pass her law degree

2.      When did the proposed post holder qualify as a Barrister

3.      When did the proposed post holder last practise has a qualified legal professional

4.      What areas of the law did the proposed post holder practise in

5.      What previous experience does the proposed post  holder have in local authority/ public administration law and how recently did the proposed post holder have professional experience of working in this field

6.      Is the proposed post holder carrying out Continuing Professional Development to maintain registration as a legal professional

As you are aware, the post of Monitoring Officer is very demanding from an intellectual and time point of view. I am extremely concerned that adding the statutory duties of Monitoring Officer to the already heavy workload of the Director of Community Services is an extremely  high risk proposal. This is something which Councillors were worried about when they recently decided to remove the Section 151 Officer duties from the Chief Executive. I see this situation as no different and believe  that it would  be foolish  to proceed with the appointment of the proposed post holder to this very onerous job because she already has an extremely demanding workload. To proceed with such appointment may well undermine our duty of  care to safeguard the  health and safety and of our staff and may perhaps lead to mistakes and omissions in her work as a result of stress and pressure resulting from this appointment.
I am also extremely concerned about this proposed appointment  because of the existence of major conflicts of interests.

Your are aware that the proposed post holder  has submitted a complaint about me to the Council’s Standards Committee. I wonder how this complaint can be fairly and properly  managed by a Temporary Monitoring Officer who’s role is to advise  and support the Standards Committee in investigating complaint against members. I would be fearful that if the appointment went ahead I may  not have a fair hearing at the Standards Committee.

As you know I have already complained to you about the proposed post holders  role in the submission of the East Kent Opportunities planning application . It is my contention that she may have  behaved in such a way as to contravene Thanet Council’s Constitution. In my opinion it would be entirely inappropriate for the General Purposes Committee to appoint to the post of Temporary Monitoring Officer someone who may have been involved in taking  actions which it might be decided have breached the Council’s Constitution, or other laws and rules which she might  be employed to uphold and advise on.

Finally, I am very concerned that the appointment of the proposed post holder to the Temporary Monitoring Officer post may well have a potentially adverse and unfair impact upon my ongoing complaint to you as the current Monitoring Officer, and to the Police,  about the EKO Planning Application. As you know the proposed post holder has a very close working relationship with the Chief Executive against who I have complained in relation to EKO. I have also complained to you as Monitoring Officer about the proposed post holders actions in this regard. To appoint this person to the Temporary Monitoring Officer post means in effect that she will be overseeing the management of extremely serious allegations against herself and a close work colleague and line manager. This situation seems entirely inappropriate and leads me to speculate that if this appointment proceeds as suggested in the Committee report there will be a significant conflict of interest which could possibly mean that my complaints and allegations about EKO  may not be treated fairly.
I hope that as Monitoring Officer you can look into these matters and advise me what action you may be able to take.

Yours sincerely

Councillor Ian Driver

Sunday, 30 March 2014

EKO Dodgy Meeting & Information Request

My requests for information about KCC/ TDC property speculation company East Kent Opportunities (EKO) and its planning application and appeal relating to 550 houses at its New Haine Road site are meeting with  resistance. Are there things  which KCC and TDC want to hide?  See below a freedom of  information request I sent to EKO Executive Officer, Matt Hyland.
This is the same Matt Hyland who along with a highway consultant and a planning consultant  held a meeting with Thanet Councillors (including planning committee  councillors) on 9th October 2013  less than a week before the  Planning Committee met to decide the EKO application.  At this meeting, which was chaired by senior Council Officer, Madeline Homer who is responsible for the Council's Planning service , Hyland and his colleagues  reportedly lobbied hard to persuade Councillors to approve an application which was  contrary to Thanet's planning policies. Many people, including myself,  believe that this lobbying meeting was in breach of TDCs Planning Protocol. The Protocol only allows planning applicants the opportunity to give a brief presentation at planning committee meetings.  It makes no provision for an applicant to invite all 56 Thanet Councillors (including members of the Planning Committee) to a cosy chat with tea and biscuits with the intention of trying to persuade them to support an application which breaks TDCs rules. Would you be allowed high level access to decision makers to discuss your application to build a garage or an extension? Of course not!
What happened here is in my opinion an abuse of process. I will be asking questions about who ordered this briefing and why, especially bearing in mind the subject under discussion was against TDC policy!
Some people have said to me that because the EKO planning application was large and strategic in nature, holding a briefing of Councillors was the right thing to do. If this was the case then why does  TDCs Planning Protocol not allow for special exceptions such as this?  Even if a such a meeting was permissible under the Protocol, holding that meeting less than a week before the Planning Committee made a decision on the EKO application is highly inappropriate. Its timing could be seen by many as an unfair and improper effort to influence the thinking of decision makers  immediately before an important meeting. Would you have the chance to do this with your garage or extension planning application. This is nothing short of unfair and improper lobbying access which the overwhelming majority of planning applicants are prevented from doing. In my opinion the lobbying meeting of 9th October brought Thanet Council's planning process into disrepute!
The unfolding saga of the EKO planning application and the planning appeal appears to be all about the Leader of the Council  and senior council officers trying their best to persuade, force and bully democratically elected councillors to accept a planning application which was against Council Policy and which was unanimously rejected by planning committee members. This is an outrage and those responsible for subverting and conspiring against the Council they lead or work for should be brought to book.
Dear My Hyland
Please provide me with

1. Copies of the full audited accounts of EKO from its  establishment to date, including the breakdown of incomes received and all expenditures made on a year by year basis.
2. Copies of the full non-redacted minutes of every EKO board meeting since its establishment
3. Copy of the EKO risk register
4. Copy of the EKO Business Plan
Please tell me how many times Councillor Paul Carter has attended meetings  of the EKO  board and the dates.

Please advise me how much money has been spent by EKO on
1. The preparation of the planning application for building houses on the New Haine Road site, including application fees and the cost of external consultants and the cost of public consultation

2. The preparations made to  date of the planning appeal against Thanet District Council's Planning Committee rejection of the above planning application  including application fees and the cost of external consultants
3. An estimate of the total expenditure to be made by EKO in preparing, submitting and presenting the above  planning appeal against Thanet District Council.

Yours sincerely
Ian Driver

Thursday, 27 March 2014

Thanet Council Trashed My Skatepark

Just up the road from the Lido in Margate was a small skatepark which local youth had set up  on some derelict Council owned land. They had put considerable effort into developing  the park and a lot of their own money as well.  The park was well used and a great success,  attracting youngsters from around the local area.
My understanding is that Thanet Council had said to the young people it was OK to use the land. As far as I am aware there were no plans for the land and there were no complaints from people living near to the park. I have been told that the youngsters planned to establish a proper management committee to run the park and begin to fundraise and develop the park.

But this morning at about 8am a digger arrived and proceeded  to destroy all the months of hard work put into this facility. There was no warning this was going to happen. Apparently there was a problem with the Council's insurance.

What I want to know is  why the Council didn't speak to the youngsters before they trashed the Park? Surely there must have been way round this issue? Perhaps the park could have been closed temporarily until the insurance issues were sorted out, rather than smashing place up.  The fact the Council failed to consult the young people who worked so hard to set up this community facility is a scandal. they are owed an explanation and they are also an apology.

I believe that the least the Council can do is reinstate the skate park at the same location and to the necessary insurance standards as quickly as possible. Would the Council have taken the same action had this been a group of adults who were using derelict land for leisure and recreation. I suspect not.

I will be sending e-mails to the appropriate people tomorrow and insisting that the Council meet with the youngsters and begin to put right the damage they have caused and the restore the trust they have lost

Wednesday, 26 March 2014

Ramsgate's Right Royal Rumpus

Rumour has it the that Thanet’s Labour Cabinet is likely to be handing the keys of the Ramsgate Royal Pavilion over to JD Weatherspoon’s at a meeting on 3 April. This could lead to the creation of one of the country’s largest mega pubs on Ramsgate seafront, adding to Wetherspoons  inventory of more than 900 pubs.

Although I love pubs and drinking good beer and although I desperately want to see the Pavilion restored to something approaching its former glory, I have my doubts about transforming the Pavilion into a hostelry of gargantuan proportions and worry about its economic impact on the other pubs in town.
Despite all the talk of recovery, the pub industry is still struggling. According to research by real ale campaign group Camara, pubs are closing at the rate of 28 per week. Opening a  behemoth of a boozer selling  cheap beer and food (not that I have a problem with cheap beer and food), is very likely to be last straw for many of  Ramsgate’s  struggling pubs,  some  of which will be forced to  close due to competition from Weatherspoon’s.  The jobs destroyed will very likely outnumber those created by the new seafront super-pub.

But it doesn’t end there. Our local pubs play an important role in keeping Thanet’s  economy moving.  They use their profits to buy supplies from local companies, to hire local entertainers  and   local tradespeople for repairs and refurbishments. Weatherspoons, on the other hand, source their food,  beers and maintenance work  from large companies  outside of Thanet. So opening a massive  Weatherspoon’s on Ramsgate seafront will actually reduce the amount of money circulating in the local economy which could have serious knock-on effects for local business.
I also think the most attractive aspect of Ramsgate’s  pub scene is the sheer variety of places to go. There’s a huge diversity of establishments  offering a broad range of  food,  entertainment and different beers.  Speaking to some visitors in the Belgian Bar the other week, I was told how they had enjoyed  exploring  some of our backstreet bars and how they  added something unique to Ramsgate. A single dominant drinking destination may well squeeze out the diversity of choice we enjoy at the moment and might sanitise our lively and unique nightlife making Ramsgate less attractive to visitors. So for me a mega-pub simply doesn’t work!
 My preferred choice is for the  Pavilion to be used as a location  for shops, restaurants, cafes, SMALL bars, entertainment and  exhibitions. A bustling public building which can be used by everyone.  We could even re-locate Ramsgate Town Council to the Pavilion saving some of the £50,000pa it currently pays in rent for its offices at the Custom House.

A multi-functional building such as this would fit comfortably with alternative plans for the Pleasurama site which, hopefully, the Council will have taken back from failed developers, SFP Ventures, by next year. It would also link into  the opening of the Ramsgate Tunnels, the redevelopment of the former Motor Museum and proposed investment in improving the Royal Harbour.  A revitalised multi-purpose Pavilion would, in my opinion, be a cornerstone in the long-overdue seafront regeneration of Ramsgate.  Not wanting to sound like snob, cos I’m not,  but a  mega pub is too demeaning a role for a grand old lady like the Pavilion to play. This is after all a building of such importance that it has been placed on the Victorian Society’s list of Top-Ten Endangered Buildings in 2013. Surely she deserves more respect than being a mere boozer?

Unfortunately the stumbling block to a bright and sustainable future  for the Pavilion is the small question of the £3million required to restore the building! Excuse me but here’s where my blood begins to f***ing boil! In my opinion the current leaseholder, the Rank Organisation, has vandalised the Pavilion almost to the point of committing a major heritage crime! Over the years they have hacked the guts out of the building leaving a bombsite behind them which will cost more than £3million to put right.
To their shame, Thanet Council,  its senior officers and politicians have colluded with Rank’s  destruction of  one of our  major iconic and historic buildings. In its usual incompetent style TDC totally failed to take prompt and decisive action against Rank as it destroyed the Pavilion bit by bit and broke every rule in its lease.  At a meeting last year,  Mark Seed the director responsible for the Pavilion told me that because the Council had,  over  several  years, consistently failed to apply the repair conditions of the lease  a court would not look kindly on Thanet suddenly getting tough with Rank. This may or may not be true. I personally believe its worth trying to bring these vandals to book and force them to put right the damage they have caused to Ramsgate’s.

However, I am reliably informed that rather than making amends Rank is desperately   trying to get out its lease and its repair responsibilities. Instead of fessing up to its destruction of the Pavilion and paying the price, it is  allegedly putting unfair pressure on Thanet  Council to accept Weatherspoons as the next tenant of the Pavilion. In exchange for lease of more 100 years, Weatherspoons will then reportedly  fund some of the restoration costs of the Pavilion. If the deal is not done then I have been advised by my sources that Rank will hand the keys leaving the Council holding a £3million baby! TDCs response has been to oversee a lease assignation process which has allegedly been  the polar opposite to the “open and transparent” process which had been promised by the Labour  Cabinet last year. I understand that those dealing with the lease may have been forced  to re-run the process over again because it was allegedly flawed and unfair and could have been challenged. Even now there are complaints that the lease assignation process is tainted by improper dodginess. This is hardly surprising when its borne in mind that last year  the Cabinet member with responsibility for the Pavilion, Councillor Rick Everitt, authorised the release of press statement which was seen by many as a personal attack on a member of the public who had the temerity to question probity of the disposal process.
So what’s the answer? Well in in my opinion rather than hand the Pavilion over to Weatherspoons for the next 100 years,  the Council (or a charitable trust) should take the Pavilion back off Rank and try force  a contribution towards the cost of the repairs. In the meantime, applications should be made to the Heritage Lottery Fund and other charitable organisations and sponsors to restore and rehabilitate the Pavilion to its former glory. The Council could then lease spaces within the building to local businesses  to run cafes, restaurants, bars and shops and entertainments.  This would produce a sustainable building which will be a driving force in the regeneration of Ramsgate.

This is not a new idea, look at the restoration of Hastings Pier, the De la Warre Pavilion in Bexhill, the Beany in Canterbury and of course the restoration of   Dreamland in Margate. If restoration of assets to their original use is good enough for Canterbury, Hastings, Bexhill and Margate why must Ramsgate be forced yet again for second best by having  its most iconic seafront building turned into a boozer rather than a beacon of civic pride?

Monday, 24 March 2014

Manston Airport

The loss of Manston Airport is tragic and I sympathise with those likely to become redundant following its  closure. I have gone through redundancy  and  know just  how devastating this can be. I hope that  airport staff  find new employment soon and I pay tribute to MPs Laura Sandys and Roger Gale for laying on special surgeries to help the staff. Well done!

 But we can’t avoid the facts. Manston’s future has been  shaky for years. Its sale to Anne Gloag for £1 and the Airport Commission’s exclusion of Manston from its  airport capacity expansion plans should have rang alarm bells. But no. Thanet Council and Kent County Council have buried their hands in the sand and preferred to talk up the airport’s prospects,   despite strong evidence to the contrary. Less than 4 months ago Council Leader Cllr Hart  launched  TDCs Economic Growth and Regeneration Strategy  which claimed “Manston Airport provides a major growth opportunity for Thanet (with) the  potential to develop significant airport-related activities (and) develop our competitive position”
Anyone with a basic understanding of economics, would have realised that betting on the airport as Thanet’s ticket to recovery was an unrealistic gamble. Instead TDC and KCC should have been working with the airport owners, the Government, businesses and the local community to develop a Plan B for the airport  site in preparation for the  possible failure of the business. They should have been discussing the possibility of  leisure, industrial and  service industry options which would  create new sustainable jobs for Thanet. And, instead of  waiting  until after the disaster happened   TDC and KCC  should  have been lobbying a long time ago  for the extension of the Discovery Park Enterprise  Zone to Thanet to  encourage new business  start-ups to locate in our district. But  they sat back and did nothing.

In all likelihood  airport owner, Anne Gloag was simply going through the motions of trying to make Manston a success. She is a very astute business woman who  was fully aware at the time she bought the airport that it did not have a  long-term future. I am sure that she  will now apply for permission to build houses on the site. This will add  to the 2,350 new houses already in the pipeline to be built on sites within a mile of the airport. This will add considerably to the traffic congestion and polluting  emissions which are already an unpleasant feature of this part of Thanet. This is something which I will strongly  oppose and this is something which could probably have been avoided had TDC and KCC  engaged in developing a Manston Plan B.

One saving grace could  be that the ill-conceived plans for the  Manston Parkway Station might now be dropped and the money spent instead on  developing a full high speed rail link between  Ashford and  Thanet. This would reduce journey times to London to  less than a hour and provide a major boost to Thanet's economy. In the meantime I do hope that the huge public outcry and the petition which is now almost at 9,000 signatures might help postpone closure. But at the same time, plans urgently need to be developed for alternative uses for the site which will create jobs for Thanet

Sunday, 23 March 2014

East Kent Opportunties Why the Skullduggery?

Here are the top secret documents which I had to fight to get from Thanet Council and which show how the taxpayers of Thanet will now have to pay up to £100,000 to cover the costs of East Kent Opportunities  (a 50:50 partnership between Thanet Council and Kent County Council) appealing against Thanet Council's Planning decision to reject its plans to build 550 houses on agricultural land on the New Haine Road.

EKOs  planning application was rejected by TDC on 16 October 2013. On 4th November Clive Hart the political leader of Thanet Council and Sue McGonigal the Chief Executive of Thanet Council were involved in an EKO Board telephone conference which agreed to seek advice from a QC about how to invalidate a democratic planning decision of the Council  which they both run and who's policies and decisions  they are both supposed to uphold. Not much loyalty there eh!  Surely this was a massive conflict of interests?  Yet both Hart and McGonigal failed to declare and failed to act on this conflict.

On 14 November Hart and  McGonigal attended an EKO board  meeting in Maidstone. They reviewed the QCs advice and they both supported the decision to launch a planning appeal against TDC. An organisation they both run and who's policies they are both supposed to uphold. Again no declaration from either of them that they have a massive conflict of  interest. The result  of this situation is that the 2 most senior people at Thanet Council have through their actions  caused TDC to be fighting itself at a Planning Public Enquiry which will cost approaching £100,000.

Who will pay the bill?  You of course. And don't forget, after its original planning application was rejected in October 2013, EKO could have submitted a second application at  NO EXTRA COST which could have addressed the all the reasons  for rejection.

So why all this skulduggery (I will be revealing more shortly) to force the planning application through? I can only assume that its because there is a massive black hole in the Council's finances which has been kept hidden from councillors and the public. This hole desperately needs  filling and what better way than granting planning permission for 550 houses on land you own and then selling the land off for a massive profit.

I will be writing more about the black hole later. Suffice to say some people might not be visiting dreamland for  several  nights as the truth emergences. Its time for a change.


Thursday, 20 March 2014

Hart Should Resign for Planning Appeal Fiasco

Green Party Councillor and Prospective Parliamentary Candidate for Thanet South,  Ian Driver, has called for the resignation of Thanet Council’s  Labour Leader Clive Hart for “breaking manifesto commitments, misleading voters and forcing the taxpayers of Thanet to pay  £100,000 to fund the bizarre and sickening spectacle of Thanet Council fighting itself at a Planning appeal”.

Driver’s accusations relate to a planning application to build 550 houses on prime agricultural land next to the  Westwood Cross shopping centre in Thanet  submitted  by property developers  East Kent Opportunities LLP (EKO), a 50:50 partnership between Thanet Council and Kent County Council

 When the application was submitted in 2011 Hart issued a statement   saying  “none of our 26 strong Labour Group of councillors have endorsed the EKO proposal.  We simply cannot understand how council officers were ever directed to make proposals which go so blatantly against TDC's own established policies …. in a time of austerity and cut-backs, officers have been allowed to carry out a substantial and extremely costly amount of work (preparing a planning application) that may well not meet the requirements of the full council”(1).

 In an interview with Kent News in  August 2011 Hart once again criticised the proposal  saying that “drawing up plans for housing (at the EKO New Haine Road site) was incredibly foolhardy and a waste of taxpayers’ money (2)”.

 In late 2011, the Labour Party seized control of  Thanet Council. Hart became Council Leader and was placed on the management board of EKO along with the Council’s Chief Executive, Sue McGonigal.

Records of secret EKO meetings obtained by Driver, via a Freedom of Information request, reveal that following Hart’s appointment to the management board  he threw his weight behind  the planning application despite his previous statements against the development and despite Thanet Labour Party’s 2011 election manifesto promise to protect open spaces and agricultural land, by ensuring “that wherever possible only brownfield sites will be developed”(3).

When EKOs application to develop the site was rejected by Thanet’s  Planning Committee in October 2013, Hart supported a proposal, at an EKO Board telephone conference  on 4th November 2013,  to employ a QC to advise on how to appeal against the rejection.  At an EKO board meeting on 14 November 2013 Hart and his colleague board members, including Thanet  Council’s  Chief Executive, Sue McGonigal , “resolved unanimously to:- Progress an appeal following the refusal by the LPA to grant planning permission”(4)

The appeal is scheduled to take place later this year and will take the form of a week-long public enquiry. Said Driver “total costs for the appeal will be close to £100,000. This bill will have to be picked up by council taxpayers. But this astronomic expense was totally avoidable. EKO could have chosen to submit a second planning application which addressed the rejection reasons and  which would have been free. Instead the Leader of Thanet Council and its Chief Executive voted for an eye-wateringly expensive full-blown planning appeal. In my opinion Hart’s  position as Council Leader is untenable. He tore up his promises to Thanet residents to oppose the application and he placed them in a position where they will be forced  to pay costs for the sickening spectacle of Thanet Council fighting itself. Hart should now do the right thing and resign”.


Sunday, 16 March 2014

Thanet Council Bosses Spend £100,000 to Fight Themselves. You Pay

Thanet Council Leader, Clive Hart, is a member of the management board of East Kent Opportunities (EKO) a limited liability partnership which is 50:50 owned by Thanet Council and Kent County Council. So is Thanet Council Chief Executive, Sue McGonigal.

In May 2013 EKO applied to Thanet Council  for permission to build 550 houses on land adjacent to the New Haine Road at Westwood Cross. Although Hart’s colleague Labour councillors strongly opposed the planning application saying that “We simply cannot understand how council officers were ever directed to make proposals which go so blatantly against TDC's own established policies” and complaining that “in a time of austerity and cut-backs, officers have been allowed to carry out a substantial and extremely costly amount of work (preparing a planning application) that may well not meet the requirements of the full council”, Hart nevertheless threw his weight behind preparing and submitting a massively expensive application which had little chance of success.
In October 2013 Thanet Council’s Planning Committee unanimously rejected EKOs application with several Labour Councillors making devastating attacks on the plans.  Within days of the rejection, the EKO board held a telephone conference at which Hart and McGonigal agreed to seek expensive advice from a Queens Counsel  about how to appeal against the decision of a Council of which one was the political leader and the other the head of paid service. If ever there was a conflict interest this was it. But neither of them chose to declare their conflicts. Even though Thanet Council’s Constitution requires the Leader to “promote the highest standards of probity” and the Chief  Executive to “follow every lawful expressed policy of the Authority”.

Ten days later the EKO Board, including Hart and McGonigal,  met in Maidstone  to consider the advice from their QC. The minutes of the meeting, which I managed to obtain via a Freedom of Information request say that the board  resolved unanimously to:- Progress an appeal following the refusal by the LPA to grant planning permission”. Once again although Hart and McGongigal were in effect agreeing to appeal against their own Council they failed to declare or act on their blatant conflcts of interest.

The preparation of the appeal took many weeks work and comprises of several large cardboard boxes full of documents. I understand that planning consultants and the QC were paid to put together the appeal and that it cost a fortune. I received a copy of the official notification of appeal from the Planning Inspectorate 2 weeks ago. The appeal will take the form of a public enquiry held over a week and the enquiry will report its findings  to the Secretary of State Eric Pickles who will make a decision about whether permission to bulid the 550 houses is granted or not.
The total cost of the planning appeal, including the costs of Thanet Council’s defence of its position, will, by my  estimation,  be close to £100,000. The major source of TDCs and EKOs income is council tax. So that means  you will be forced to pay the costs of  a company owned by Thanet Council, to go to war with Thanet Council. And who decided that it was sensible for Thanet Council to fight Thanet Council at massive public expense? Why of course the Leader and Chief Executive of Thanet Council Clive Hart and Sue McGonigal. Are they sorry. I don’t think so. Are they angry? Massively. It has been reported to me that a Labour Party worker, who may have connections with Thanet,  was allegedly   spreading malicious, totally unfounded, rumours about me in the tea rooms of the EU Strasborg Parliament building. A Council officer has been instructed, at public expense,  to contact the Green Party to complain about me.  I am reliably informed that the Chief Executive may have  held a meeting at which she allegedly sought  advice about how legal action can be taken against me  to prevent me from commenting on the jaw-dropping incompetence and maladministration  which all too often features in the activities of Thanet Council and its  political and officer leadership – no doubt this advice will be secured at public expense.

Co-incidentally I attended a meeting yesterday to talk about the legalisation of cannabis and opening a cannabis cafĂ© in Thanet. Well no matter how much cannabis you might choose to smoke, it would be impossible to alter your mind to such a degree that you could make this nonsense up. It really is time for a change. Roll on 2015.
 FOOTNOTE. In the course of looking into the EKO fiasco  I uncovered what I believe might  be extremely serious abuses of the planning process. I have formally reported these abuses to the Council's Monitoring Officer and the Police. I will not comment on these issues until any investigations are completed

Friday, 14 March 2014

I Complain to the Police

Today I have submitted a complaint to the Serious Economic Crime Unit of the Kent and Essex Police regarding possible misconduct in public office by a senior Thanet Council officer in relation to a planning application submitted by East Kent Opportunities LLP for development of 550 houses on land adjacent to the New Haine Road.

Thursday, 13 March 2014

EKO Planning Application - Shenanigans Likely to Cost Taxpayers £100,000.

I can't say too much at the moment, but I have been looking into the story of  a planning application for 550 houses on agricultural land next to the New Haine Road at Westwood Cross. The application was made by East Kent Opportunities LLP a company which is 50-50 owned by TDC  and KCC . The planning application was rejected last October and now there is going to be an appeal and public enquiry. You will be paying the bill for this. My investigations have turned up some alarming and extremely serious  issues. I have now made a formal complaint to the Council and await developments. I hope to be able to publish a full account of these top-level shenanigans including the naming of names in the next few days. I get the distinct impression  that the good ship Thanet Council is about to sail through a major storm - its  every man and woman for themselves!!! 

Sunday, 9 March 2014

Green Party Condemns Resumption of Live Exports from Ramsgate

Green Party Councillor and Prospective Parliamentary Candidate  for Thanet South, Ian Driver,  will be joining Thanet  animal welfare campaigners at a demonstration tomorrow (Monday 10 March)  to oppose the resumption of live animal exports from the Port of Ramsgate. Demonstrators will be gathering at the port from 8.15 am. The export ferry is expected to berth at the port at 9am.

The resumption of the exports follows a 2 week  trial at Dover Magistrates Court a month ago at which export company Channel Livestock Ltd and its owner Thomas Lomas were fined £9,000 and forced to pay  costs of £10,000. for  breaches of animal welfare law. Lomas was also sentenced to 6 months imprisonment suspended for 2 years for breaches of animal welfare rules (1).
The convictions resulted from a prosecution by Kent County Council trading Standards following the   destruction of 47 sheep at Ramsgate in 2012. It was decided by the court that many of the destroyed  animals had sustained injuries during the course of their transportation to Ramsgate.

Said Driver “I appalled that convicted criminals, with a record of animal cruelty offences, are able to continue to ply their vile and barbaric trade from Ramsgate. In view of court findings about injuries sustained by  sheep during  transport to Ramsgate I will be writing to George Eustice MP, the Parliamentary Under Secretary for Farming, to ask that on arrival at the port of departure, all farm animals destined for export are individually checked to ensure that they have not sustained injuries during transport  and that they are fit to continue their journey. I will also be asking that such inspections are supervised by a qualified Vet. Currently portside  checks are made by unqualified staff employed by DEFRA Animal Health. Only 30% of animal transport vehicles are subject to the most rudimentary of insepctions”.
The owners of Ramsgate Port,  Thanet District Council,  were recently judged in the High Court  to have breached European Law (2) by banning the live animal exporters from using its facilities following the destruction of the 47 sheep in 2012. It is likely that the Council will have to pay compensation and costs approaching £1million for its ethically-motivated actions.

Said Driver “there is clearly a massive legal conflict between animal welfare law and EU trade regulations which mean that organisations such as Thanet Council are prevented from using discretion to halt animal cruelty  by the threat of  massive compensation claims from the exporters. I will be asking  Green MEP Keith Taylor to raise this issue in the European Parliament in order to develop a protocol will enable port owners to ban or suspend live animal exports from their facilities  when animal welfare breaches are found to have happened, or at ports which do not have the proper facilities to manage animal welfare emergencies . I am sickened by the spectacle of convicted animal welfare criminals  being  able to profit from this legal loophole”

Friday, 7 March 2014

Green Party - Abolish Kent County Council

The Green Party is calling for the abolition of Kent County Council and its replacement by  six unitary councils based on the following groupings
Thanet and  Dover (population 245,500)
Canterbury and Swale (population 287,000)
Shepway and Ashford (population 226,000)
Maidstone Tonbridge and  Malling (population 289,000)
Dartford and Gravesham (population 199,000)
Sevenoaks, and Tunbridge Wells (population 230,000)
Existing Medway unitary council with a population 264,000 will remain unchanged.
The new unitary authorities  would provide education, social care, highways, planning, housing, refuse collection and many other services to populations of between 200,000 – 300,000 people.
Thanet Green Party Councillor and Prospective Parliamentary Candidate for Thanet South, Ian Driver said “the existing county council is too large and unwieldy. It lacks any real connection and accountability to the people it serves. Local government should, by definition, be based as close to its electors as possible, rather than being inaccessible to most of Kent’s residents.
Smaller unitary councils will bring together areas  of  Kent which are already closely  connected and share many common issues. They will also bring together residents, staff and politicians with an expert understanding of the areas covered by the new councils. This would place them in a stronger  position to develop  more effective policies and strategies than the current Maidstone based system”.
In  East Kent many of the District Councils are already working closely together. They have  successfully  shared Housing, Human Resources, IT,  Revenues, Benefits and  Audit services for several years, so why not include KCC services as well?
I believe that the new unitary councils should be elected by proportional representation so that smaller parties and independent candidates can  be represented giving a more balanced and inclusive approach to decision making. The new councils should be managed by committee systems to prevent power being concentrated into the hands of a tiny handful of cabinet members and they should be underpinned and supported by a strong system of parish and town councils which will ensure community accountability”.

Thursday, 6 March 2014

Thanet Council's New (Not So) Indpendent?? Standards Members

Last year the 4 Independent Members of Thanet Council Standards Committee resigned en-masse after being  mercilessly bullied and intimidated by Council Leader Clive Hart and his cabinet cronies, for having the audacity to produce a report which rightly and properly alerted councillors to the appallingly low regard the people of Thanet have for their town hall politicians. The public perception was, and probably still is, that many Councillors are secretive, out of touch and in some cases possibly corrupt and that some are serving themselves rather than the public who elected them.

To cut a long story short,  the Council advertised for new Independent members of the Standards Committee to replace the 4 who were hounded into resignation by the cabinet bullies. Following a rigorous interview process 3 people were appointed. There appointments were announced at the Council meeting last week.  In the process of announcing the appointments Councillor Iris Johnston  who interviewed the candidates said that she had known one of the appointees, Mr Allan Hibbs  for many years (see the film). I wonder if she declared during the interview process that she had known Mr Hibbs for many years and whether or not  she absented herself from Mr Hibbs interview sessions because she has known him for many years. In the human resources world it is generally accepted best practice to  step down from an interview panel if you know one of the candidates outside of the workplace.

If such a declaration has not been made and if Councillor Johnston did not absent herself from the interview with Mr Hibbs then I would have serious concerns about integrity and legitimacy of the appointment. I will of course be writing to the Council’s Monitoring Officer to seek his advice on this matter. Hypothetically speaking what would happen if a member of the public or another Councillor complained to the Standards Committee about Councillor Johnston’s behaviour? Would it be right and proper for Mr Hibbs to be involved in any investigation or sanctioning of Councillor Johnston if they have known each other for many years?

Coincidentally, a member of the public asked me the same
question and sent me a copy of a picture of Councillor Johnston and Mr Hibbs having chat after the Council meeting finished. Dare I say it, but this issue has got me thinking about whether or not the new  Independent Standards members might be a lot less Independent than their predecessors who were hounded out of office.  I think a famous actress who’s  name was Patsy might possibly describe what could have happened here.

Tuesday, 4 March 2014

Low Down, Dirty Thanet Politics

Last year I posted several articles about how nasty, dirty and abusive the world of Thanet politics was becoming. I wasn’t the only person to be sickened by these schoolyard shenanigans.

The 4 Independent Members of the Council’s Standards Committee were also disgusted by the personal attacks, bullying and petty vendettas taking place between councillors,  and the sometimes abusive and hostile  behaviour of councillors towards members of the public.

So concerned were the 4 Independent Members of the Standards  Committee that they produced a report highlighting this unacceptable behaviour and calling for action to be taken to tackle  what members of the public perceived to be a “dysfunctional” council and councillors.

As you may recall the Leader of the Council, Clive Hart, and several of his Labour colleagues, spent more than an hour verbally attacking and bullying the Independent Members of the Standards Committee for doing what they were appointed to do – giving independent advice about the standards of behaviour of councillors. Following this nasty incident the 4 Independent Members resigned. They subsequently rejected Council Leader Hart’s invitation to withdraw their resignations.

About this time I was handed a copy of  an e-mail which exemplified just how nasty,  viscous and personal Thanet politics could become. I published that e-mail. It alleged that a  prominent local UKIP politician had spoken to someone in the public gallery at a Thanet Council meeting saying that he was “out to get” Councillor John  Worrow and intended to  “break him”. At the time I did not know who the author of the e-mail was, nor who had   had transmitted a copy to Thanet Council.

I have just seen a Facebook posting from Councillor John Worrow which I reproduce below

Here is a copy of the e-mail.

Having political disagreements is one thing but turning these disagreements into vendettas,  hate campaigns, personal attacks in the newspapers and spurious complaints is entirely another ball game.

Its time for some grown up sensible politics in Thanet. Its time for a change.  

Monday, 3 March 2014

Manston (Not-So) Green Mega-Development Slammed by Greens

Green Party Councillor and Prospective Parliamentary Candidate for Thanet South, Ian Driver, has slammed plans submitted by Cogent Land LLP to build 800 homes on agricultural land next to the district’s Westwood Cross shopping centre.
“Growing pressure to build on Thanet’s farmland must be resisted before it’s too late ” said Driver. “Within a mile of the Manston Green site an application from Thanet Council owned company East Kent Opportunities (EKO), to build 550 houses on prime agricultural land is likely to be approved on appeal. At nearby Haine Road 1,000 houses are already being built on farmland. That’s a total of 2,350 houses concentrated within a  mile radius and all built on prime agricultural land. If this carries on much longer Thanet’s much loved open spaces and sweeping panoramic sea views will soon be a thing of the past”.
According to statistics released by the Department of Communities and Local Government, Thanet Council has one of the worst records in Kent for building houses on previously undeveloped land. Between 2008 – 2011 38% of new homes in Thanet were built on undeveloped land, compared with Tonbridge and Malling where only 10% of new houses were built on previously underdeveloped land and Sevenoaks where it was just 11% (1).
“I’m also very worried about the traffic congestion and vehicle emission implications for the Westwood Cross area” said Driver. “Westwood is already a traffic congestion hot-spot and even allowing for road improvements, concentrating up to 2,350 new homes in less than a square mile would be a recipe for a congestion and a pollution nightmare.
But there is no reason to concentrate new house building at Westwood Cross. There are many previously developed, brownfield, sites in Thanet which could easily be used instead. Thanet also has more than 1,200 long term empty residential properties, the highest number in Kent, which could be refurbished and brought back into use(2).
I sincerely hope that Cogent’s proposal is rejected by the Planning Committee and that the Council strongly resists EKOs appeal for 550 houses to be built on agricultural land next to the New Haine Road.
If planning is granted, I am concerned that Cogent Land have not given an undertaking to

include desperately needed social housing in their development plans . Thanet has the longest social housing waiting list in Kent with thousands of families trying to secure decent affordable homes. I believe that at least 250 of the 800 homes should be social housing and that all the homes should have solar panels and water recycling systems included as standard”