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.