Thursday, 26 February 2015

Labour Betrays Ramsgate Live Exports

Green Party Councillor and Prospective Parliamentary Candidate for South Thanet, Ian Driver,  says he is “extremely surprised and very disappointed” that the Labour Party’s recent policy statement on animal welfare is  silent  on the live export of farm animals for slaughter in Europe. Launched last week by shadow Environment Secretary, Maria Eagle Labour: Protecting Animals commits a future Labour government to maintaining the hunting ban, banning wild animals from circuses, ending the badger cull, regulating dog breeding and protecting endangered species across the world, which are all excellent commitments which must be supported.  But nowhere does it mention live animal exports.
Said Driver “in the 4 years since live exports began at Ramsgate Port over 200,000 sheep and calves have been exported, in some of the most barbaric and cruel conditions imaginable, to Europe for slaughter. The trade from Ramsgate led to the deaths of 47 sheep at the port in 2013 and the prosecution of the transporters in 2014 for animal cruelty. But unbelievably this industrial scale cruelty and abuse has not registered on Labour’s conscience”.

Driver, is a leading campaigner  against live exports from Ramsgate. He faces  prosecution at Margate Magistrates Court later this year for taking direct action against the trade  at a demonstration in 2014.  He says that animal welfare campaigners in Thanet, the RSPCA  and Compassion in World Farming have been lobbying the Labour Party over the past 4 years to work to change European rules to outlaw live farm animal  exports for the UK to the continent. I’m
Green Party South Thanet PPC Ian Driver Speaking At Live Export Rally Ramsgate November 2014
saddened that all this lobbying appears to have fallen on deaf ears  and has been totally ignored by Labour, especially considering that live exports are taking place in a constituency that they recently  held. I'm flabbergasted that Labour has the bare-faced cheek claim it “is the only party to trust on animal welfare” when it turns its back on the appalling and criminal treatment of the farm animals being exported from Ramsgate” and ignores the pleadings of hundreds of local people who have lobbied, signed petitions, turned up to marches and demonstrations demanding an end to this cruel trade. Is it any wonder people are losing faith in Labour.
Driver Protesting at Ramsgate Port Gates

Wednesday, 25 February 2015

Parkway Station: Uneccessary, Expensive, Environmentally Damaging

Green Party Councillor and Prospective Parliamentary Candidate for Thanet South, Ian Driver, has slammed plans for a Thanet Parkway Station as unnecessary, expensive and environmentally damaging.
Kent County Council which is behind the £14million scheme has now launched  a major public consultation on the proposal.  It argues that the station,  located to the west of Cliffsend village is essential to “improve rail access to the Manston Airport site and local business parks; increase job opportunities by widening the employment catchment for East Kent residents and provide additional park & ride opportunities for local residents” (Parkway Station Business Plan, Kent County Council, para 3.1.1)
Said Driver “Manston Airport and the Manston and Euro Kent
business parks are quite some distance from the proposed Parkway station and are already  served by new fast roads which link into the motorway system. Discovery Park is also linked to a modern road system and is much nearer to Sandwich Station than the proposed Parkway site. Virtually all of the people who work at, deliver to, or transport goods from these business parks use the roads. Having a new station won’t alter this a bit. Also advanced communications technology means more and more meetings with clients, investors and company colleagues from other locations  now take place via teleconferencing so there is no need for a Parkway station for business visitors. Even if face to face meetings are necessary what’s wrong with short taxi ride from Sandwich station to Discovery Park or Ramsgate station to the Airport site. The argument that Parkway will improve access to our business parks and create jobs is clearly nonsensical.”  
Driver also criticised KCCs suggestion that Parkway station would provide much needed   “additional park and ride opportunities for local residents”. (Parkway Station Business Plan, Kent County Council, para 3.1.1).  He said “most people using Ramsgate station walk, cycle or take the bus. Even allowing for a major increase in population and more commuting to  work there is no need for an expensive  park and ride  station, you simply develop new  bus routes and lay on more  regular services to and from  the station  and extend and improve walking and cycling routes”.
“The real purpose of Parkway”, said Driver, “is to attract property developers into Thanet to build thousands of houses on greenfield sites within a couple miles radius of Cliffsend village in order to meet the target of 12,000 new homes in Thanet Council’s  Local Plan. Thankfully, many people are now recognising that this target is massively overestimated and in need of urgent independent review.  Such a review will, I believe, demonstrate that far fewer new homes are required and that most of them could be built on previously developed “brownfield” land within the urban boundaries of Thanet. This would do away with the need to dig up valuable agricultural land; cause huge irreversible environmental damage and waste £14million of public money to build homes and a station which are simply not needed”.

Sunday, 22 February 2015

Thanet Council's Chaotic Consultation Cock-Up

Green Party Councillor and General Election Candidate for South Thanet has appealed to Secretary of State for Local Government, Eric Pickles MP, to intervene and sort out what he describes as Thanet Council’s “chaotic consultation cock-up”.
Driver contacted Pickles after discovering that 3 major public consultations were taking in place in Thanet at the same time. They are
  • ·         A 8 week consultation on the Thanet’s Local Plan between 9 January and 6th March
  • ·         A  7 week consultation on building a  Thanet Parkway Rail Station taking place between 2 February and 27 March
  • ·         A 7 week  consultation on the location of National Grid pylons across Thanet’s countryside between 10 February and 27th March

Said Driver “the 3 consultations are running in parallel for a period of  4 weeks. One of those weeks is the half term school holiday when many people, myself included, will be looking after the kids and have no time to read and comment on complex documents. I have calculated that the documentation for the 3 consultations amount to more than   5,000 pages. Each of the consultations are running drop in sessions for the public to find out more and ask questions. Each of the consultations have long complex questionnaires to fill in and return with your views and suggestions. It’s simply inconceivable that anyone would have the  time, energy and brain power to read, understand and comment on the overwhelming  amount of information in the short time available”.
Driver laid the blame for the disorganisation at the door of Thanet District Council. He said “Thanet Council knew about the Parkway Station and Richborough Pylon consultations months ago, but instead of co-ordinating with the National Grid and Kent County Council and spreading the consultations over a longer period of time,  they chose instead to run their own Local Plan consultation at the same time.  Surely they must have known that this would lead to a consultation car-crash which would overwhelm the capacity local people to properly participate in the discussion”.
He added “Thanet’s Council utter incompetence in co-ordinating these  critically important, once in a generation, place changing,  consultations  has destroyed democracy in the district. Information overload and lack of time will mean that hundreds, if not thousands of people will be unable to exercise their rights to express properly informed opinions on major developments in the area where they live. Thanet Council has demonstrated that that as a facilitator of local democracy it is simply not fit for purpose. This is why I have approached Secretary of State, Eric Pickles, to request that he use his influence and power to persuade Thanet Council to extend its own Local Plan consultation to at least 12 weeks so as to take off some the pressure on people”.
Driver says he raised the issue of consultation time frames with Thanet District Council at a meeting of its Scrutiny Panel before Xmas. At this meeting he alerted officers and councillors to the Government’s Cabinet Office 2013 publication Consultation Principles: Guidance which, although aimed at the civil service is recognised as an important model of best practice for local government as well.
The document states that "where the consultation spans all or part of a holiday period (such as half-term school holidays - my insertion) policy makers should consider what if any impact there may be and take appropriate mitigating action". If goes on to say "The amount of time required will depend on the nature and impact of the proposal (for example, the diversity of interested parties or the complexity of the issue, or even external events - (such as several different consultations taking place at the same time - my insertion)) …. For a new and contentious policy, 12 weeks or more may still be appropriate".  However both Labour and Conservative councillors and senior council officers did not, according to Driver, “support my request for a minimum 12 week consultation period. In fact they said that 12 weeks was far too long and appeared focused on pushing the consultation through as quickly as possible”. Look where that’s got us now utter chaos, consultation overkill and democracy trampled underfoot”.

For more information contact Ian Driver on 07866588766

Driver’s e-mail to Eric Pickles.
Dear Mr Pickles 

I am writing to express my concern and anger about the way in which Thanet District Council is managing  public consultation on its  Local Plan.The  consultation period  is 8 weeks ending on 9th March. The consultation document is 262 pages long  plus at least 200 pages of supporting documents. The consultation is taking place over the school half-term holiday when many parents and grand-parents are spending their time caring for children and will not have the opportunity to study and reply to the  long and complex consultation documents . Although I am committed to E-Government, Thanet District Council is making little provision
for people who do not have access to the internet to be included in the consultation. Only 350 hard copies of the Local Plan have been printed. 56 of these copies are for councillors and 30 for local libraries. That leaves 264 copies for a population of 131,000! The Council have  told me that they are charging £13 per copy of the local plan. 5 of the  Local Plan drop in sessions organised by the Council have  been held during the day on  workdays, which prevents people with jobs from attending the sessions. The villages which form part of the Thanet District  have not had any drop in sessions. 

There is enormous  interest in the Local Plan as witnessed at public meetings organised by the local community which have been packed and the  many letters to the press and comments in the social media. Many people are very concerned about the proposal to build 12,000 new homes with 60% of these homes being built on greenfield sites. Many people are concerned that the the number of new homes proposed in the plan is far in excess of house building  numbers in the local plans of neighbouring councils. However I believe that insufficient time has been allowed for people to study the plans and  articulate their concerns to the Council.

To make matters worse, there  are  two other major public consultation exercises taking place at the same time as the Thanet Local Plan consultation. 

Kent County Council has organised a consultation on the  building of  a Thanet Parkway Station. The National Grid has organised a public consultation on its Richborough electricity pylon project which crosses Thanet. I understand  that Thanet District Council was advised in advance of these  2 major public consultations but took no action to avoid clashes. We now have the extraordinary situation whereby local people who care about their district will have to read and make sense of almost 1000 pages of documentation related to the the 3 consultations; attend 3 drop in sessions to ask questions and find out more about each of the 3  consultation; make 3 lengthy and complex submissions to each of the consultations and of course look after their children and grand children during half term school holidays. To say that this situation has been incompetently  managed is being polite

In my opinion there must be more time allocated to this these  extremely important public consultations, which will shape the future of Thanet for our children and grand-children.  

I raised this issue at a meeting of the Council's Scrutiny Panel before  Xmas. I referred councillors and officers to the Cabinet Office 2013 publication Consultation Principles: guidance which, although aimed at Government departments is an important  model of best practice for local government as well. The document states that "where the consultation spans all or part of a holiday period (such as half-term school holidays - my insertion)  policy makers should consider what if any impact there may be and take appropriate mitigating action". If goes on to say "The amount of time required will depend on the nature and impact of the proposal (for example, the diversity of interested parties or the complexity of the issue, or even external events - (such as other consultations taking place at the same time - my insertion)),... For a new and contentious policy, 12 weeks or more may still be appropriate". Sadly Thanet's Labour and Conservative councillors did not support my request for a minimum 12 week consultation period. Nor does it appear that allowances for school holidays and other consultations have been made. 

It is clear to me that by ignoring best practice, restricting  consultation to a mere 8 weeks and failing to make allowances for school holidays and other consultations,  the management and political leadership of Thanet District Council are denying local people their  right to have well managed and timely democratic consultations which do not clash and are not rushed. This is an insult to local people and a effort to ride roughshod over genuine democratic dialogue with the local community. 

I would be grateful if you could use your powers or influence to persuade Thanet Council to extend its public consultation on the Local Plan to 12-14 weeks in order to overcome the problems I have highlighted in this e-mail. There is no place for incompetent democracy dodgers like Thanet in modern local government.

Yours sincerely 
Councillor Ian Driver
Thanet District Council

Wednesday, 18 February 2015

O'Regans The Truth As I See It.

The proposal to locate a concrete block manufacturing and waste wood processing facility at Ramsgate Port might not, as Labour Councillor Mike Harrison wrote in  a letter to the Thanet Gazette,  conflict with  the Council’s current planning policy.  But  this doesn’t mean  that TDC, the port owner, is obliged to permit this hugely unpopular development taking  place on its land.  On the contrary!  Planning permission or not,  Thanet Council could have given ORegan’s the bums rush months ago and there is not a thing the company could have done about it. So why didn’t this happen.?

According to the information I have received from the Council, O’Regan’s first met the Council to talk about their plans on 25 June 2014. The O’Regan’s proposals are very significant in terms of their scale and implications,  so it’s inconceivable that the  Cabinet Portfolio Holder for the Port of Ramsgate,  Labour Councillor Mike Harrison and possibly the Cabinet Portfolio Holder for Planning, Labour Councillor Richard Nicholson, were not briefed about  this meeting. Because this meeting involved  discussions about plans which would generate  a significant rental income from O’Regan and the possibility of  increased shipping at the Port,  I would also have expected the Leader of  the Council, Iris Johnston,  to have been briefed as well.

But erring on the side of caution, perhaps council officers needed to get more information from O’Regan and its agents about its plans before they put Cabinet members in the picture. The second meeting where this would have happened was, according to the Council, held on 10th July. Just 2 weeks after the first meeting. So shortly after 10th July 2014 I  believe that key Labour Party politicians responsible for running Thanet Council would have been fully conversant with the O’Regan plans.

At this point in time I would have expected the Council’s Labour bosses to have realised just how risky  and potentially polluting the O’Regan plans were. I would have expected them to have  instructed  officers to tell  O’Regan’s “sorry we don’t want your business here. Do yourself a favour, save time and a lot of money and move on”.

The fact that this didn’t happen at the second meeting in July 2014 meeting makes me suspicious.  But to be totally fair and scrupulous I will concede that only 2 meetings had taken place with O’Regans and that the Council and its Labour bosses didn’t wish  to be too hasty in making a decision. They simply wanted  more time to conduct  robust due diligence on O’Regans. If this was true then there was a 2 month period between the meeting on 10th July and the next reported meeting on 12 September in which the Council could have conducted research into their wannabe tenant O’Regan. In this time it would have been possible to  have quickly established, through company check websites,  that the O’Regan Group and its associated companies do not appear to have been  financially active, or to  have established a significant  business track record, in the UK.

It would also have become clear that claims made on the O’Regan Group’s website that it was developing a concrete block manufacturing facility at Ridham Dock, Sittingbourne were not true. According to my checks with the Environment Agency  and  Swale Borough Council  and Kent County Council, operating permits and planning permission do  not appear to exist for such a plant. Nor could I find any pending applications in the system for such a plant. The rest of the website is incomplete with links which do not work which would  again suggest to anyone evaluating the O’Regan Group that it is not as successful and active a company in the UK, as its agents tried to portray at the recent public meeting in Ramsgate.

Further, I assume that if the Council and its  Labour bosses would also have discovered, as I did by a few hours googling:

  • A report in the Irish Times dated 11 June 2008 that Louis O’Regan was embroiled in a dispute with the Bank of Scotland (Ireland) concerning an unpaid debt of 196,000 Euros.
  • A report in the Experian Irish Gazette dated 28th October 2009 which stated that judgments against Louis O’Regan to the value of 138,686 Euros were made by Cork County Court
  • A tax debtors report published by the Irish Government in September 2011 which states that the Louis O’Regan Limited owed the Irish Tax Authorities 93,456 Euros in undeclared VAT and PAYE 

Also if research was conducted into the sustainability of the O’Regan  business plan, particularly its  proposal to process waste wood at the port, it would have soon become clear that this activity  is not viable.  The imminent commissioning of the large, state of the art,  MV Energie Biomass power plant, co-incidentally located at Ridham Dock, will “hoover up” virtually all the available waste wood in Kent to feed its gargantuan 172,000 tonnes annual capacity. This means that it will be virtually impossible for the  O’Regan group to get its hands on any waste  wood at all because most of will be heading toward the MV Energie Biomass plant.

But the most important issue when evaluating and assessing O’Regan and the suitability of its proposals,  would have been its record in its native Ireland. Checks on this record would have quickly revealed a report in the Irish Times of May 2005 about   Louis J O’Regan, being fined 100,000 Euros for illegally dumping 100,000 tonnes of builders rubble in a quarry in Cork. The judge said “this was no small enterprise to bring 100,000 tonnes of waste on to the site. The defendant had a total disregard for the requirements of waste management legislation." A report in the Irish Examiner of 26 June 2008 that Louis J O’Regan Ltd was responsible for the unauthorised removal of hazardous waste from a former steel works site in Cork Harbour. So serious was the risk of pollution from this action that the Irish Chief Sate Solicitors Office wrote  to the company ordering it to cease work immediately and leave the site.

It’s my belief that had the Council and its  Labour Leaders done its homework  it would have decided before the 12 September meeting with the O’Regan Group that this organisation was totally unsuitable to be  a tenant of the port. There are question about its business record in the UK, there are questions about its payments of debts, there are questions about its business plan and questions about it pollution record. In short more than enough evidence for a reasonable local authority to decide that granting a tenancy to this company to this company would be high risk.   At this point the company and it agents should have firmly but politely been shown the door. But amazingly that didn’t happen!!  There have been 2 further meetings with the O’Regan Group. The Council’s Corporate Management Team and the Labour Cabinet have also discussed the O’Regan plans and pre-planning advice is still being proffered to them. Why??

Well there are 2 possible explanations. First the Council and its political leaders have been totally incompetent and failed to carry out proper  investigations into  O’Regan’s. Second the Council’s Labour leadership was more interested in the income they could secure from the O’Regan operation than any consideration about the track record of this company and the environmental implications of what it proposes to do at the port.

Personally I tend toward the second explanation. Bearing in mind how TDCs  Labour councillors  are already tearing up their 2011 election manifesto promises  to protect Thanet’s environment by overdeveloping the district with 12,000 new houses  more than half of which will  built on greenfield sites. Bearing in mind how Thanet Labour Councillors are now support building a Parkway Station despite having opposed it in their 2011 manifesto on environmental grounds. It’s hardly a surprise  that the  Labour Leadership of Thanet Council are also quite happy to have O’Regan ply it’s dirty, risky, and potentially polluting  trade at Ramsgate Port.

There is not a shred of  evidence to suggest that Labour Councillors were worried  about the noise and atmospheric pollution the proposals might involve. Nor the problems associated with the storage and  transportation of large volumes of polluted water generated by O’Regan’s industrial processes.  There  appears to have been no thought about the threat to Ramsgate’s tourist industry; the site of special scientific interest and the European special area of conservation which border right on O’Regan’s proposed area of operation. It is my belief that the possibility of earning a little bit of extra money in rental income from O’Regan’s port operations caused Thanet’s Labour bosses to abandon any pretence  they had to defend the  environment in and around the port and town of Ramsgate.

It was only on 12  January 2015  at the public meeting at  Chatham House  Grammar School that Labour came unstuck. I very much doubt they expected the anger and universal opposition to the plans which were so evident that night.  Hot on the heels of that  meeting, an emergency Ramsgate Labour Party conclave took place on 19th January where it decided that it would be electorally expedient to fall in behind the public anger and say, after more than 6 months silence on the matter, they didn't like the idea. But worse than that some people standing to be Labour Councillors in 2015 are now doing the rounds saying we never supported the O’Regan plan. Labour councillors were always opposed to it. But we had go through due process. To be frank this utter bollox. The only process to be gone through was to have identified  that O'Regans were chancers trying to find a cheap port from which to ply their cheap and dirty trade and to have told them to get lost!!

Any other explanation is is nothing but nonsensical clap-trap aimed at distorting the truth and getting Labour  out of a tricky fix.  Sorry but this misguided loyalty, muddying of  waters and covering up the truth is hardly likely to endear the Labour Party  to voters heartily sickened by Labour's  TransEuropa Ferries and Pleasurama shenanigans

The truth as I see it  is that if Thanet Labour councillors were genuinely opposed to the O’Regan plans they could have sent them packing in September 2014 if not before. The fact that this was not done suggest to me that Thanet Labour Councillors wanted to do a hypocritical dirty deal with an organisation with a questionable record, at the expense of the people of Ramsgate.

But of course this is just supposition and guess work on my part. But we will find out the truth soon enough when the Information Commissioner orders Thanet Council to release to me the documents and e-mails related to these meetings with O’Regans. The documents which the Council and its Labour Leaders are desperately trying to resist letting me have.

Tuesday, 17 February 2015

Lobby Against O'Regan Port Pollutiion Plans 19th Feb 6pm Stand Up and Be Counted

Angry Ramsgate residents will be lobbying a meeting of Thanet Council’s  Labour Cabinet at 6pm on Thursday 19th February
The lobby is in opposition to proposals put forward by the O’Regan Group to locate a waste wood processing and concrete block production facility at the port of Ramsgate.
On 12 January almost 300 Ramsgate residents attended a public meeting to discuss the O’Regan plans. Many people were worried by the  noise and dust  pollution which would be produced  by the plant. Others were concerned by the additional HGV traffic which will be generated and the impact that an unsightly industrial facility on the towns seafront would have upon Ramsgate’s reviving tourist industry. Concern was also expressed by the amount of water which would be used in the processes planned on being carried out and how the resulting contaminated water would be disposed of.  There are also very serious worries that  the nearby marine site of special scientific interest and the European special area of conservation might be polluted by O’Regan’s activities.
Green Party Councillor and  PPC for South Thanet, Ian Driver is supporting the lobby. He has discovered that the Council has held 5 secret meetings with  the O’Regan Group in the past 8 months. The Council’s Corporate Management Team and Cabinet have both discussed the proposals and planning advice is being provided to the company. Driver’s request to see documents relating these meetings as been refused. He will be appealing to the Information Commissioner.
Driver has also discovered that the O’Regan group have  a track record of pollution related incidents in their native Ireland resulting in heavy fines and a High Court appearances. They also have a chequered financial history.
Said Driver “the O’Regan  Group plans are far too risky to be allowed to take place in an area as environmentally sensitive at Ramsgate Port. O’Regan’s financial track record and their involvement in serious pollution incidents also means that they are entirely unsuitable to be operating at the Port. I am 100% opposed to this company’s proposals and will be joining the lobby on Thursday.

For more information contact Ian Driver on 07866588766

I Support Anti-Drone Rooftop Protest in Broadstairs

I fully support the anti-drone protestors who have staged a rooftop protest at a factory at the Pysons Road Industrial Estate today. Drones have been responsible for killing 1000s of innocent men, women and children in Palestine, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq etc. They are implicated in war crimes and illegal state sponsored assassinations. I would like to thank the protestors for taking a stand against this immoral trade and for alerting the people of Thanet to the fact that a seemingly ordinary factory is engaged in the manufacture of high tech killing machines. Surely the skills and knowledge in this factory could be put to peaceful use which helps humanity rather than blowing men, women and children to smithereens.  

Monday, 16 February 2015

Thanet Labour's Environmental Hypocrisy

Here's my letter to the Gazette of 13 February. 

Thanet Labour Councillors demonstrating against housing at the EKO site
New Haine 2011. In less than 2 years they were supporting it!
Environmental hypocrites or What? Would you trust them again?

Sunday, 15 February 2015

Ramsgate's O'Regangate

In November 2013, the independent (non-elected) members of Thanet Council’s Standard Committee produced  a report which denounced TDC for its culture of  secrecy. In April 2014 the Local Government Association carried out  an independent  Peer Review  of TDC which was also very concerned about its lack of openness and transparency and its reputation for secrecy. In November last year I was served with a High Court Injunction which, at the Council’s behest, gags me from telling the truth about the  Ramsgate Pleausurama scandal on pain of imprisonment.
In the long running saga of North Korean style state secrecy we now have the O’Regan Group putting forward proposals to locate a waste wood recycling and concrete block manufacturing facility at the  Port of Ramsgate. Ramsgate residents are quite rightly concerned about the impact of these plans on our environment, especially the noise and  atmospheric pollution they might cause. Residents are also worried  about how these plans might impact upon Ramsgate’s reviving tourist industry and on the site of special scientific interest and the European special area of conservation adjacent to the port.

I wrote to the Council 4 weeks ago to find out how advanced discussions with the O’Regan Group had become. I was shocked to find that there had 5 separate meetings and that the Council’s Corporate Management Team and the Labour Cabinet had discussed this issue and that pre-application planning advice was also  being given to the O’Regan group. As a Ramsgate Councillor and Prospective Parliamentary Candidate, I asked for copies of any documents and e-mails relating to the discussions between O’Regan’s and the Council. Unbelievably my request was rejected on the grounds that the information was commercially confidential. This is utter nonsense! Since when has renting land from the Council been a state secret? Especially when O’Regan’s have made 2 public, and very detailed  presentations,  about what they plan  to do at the Port. Also the Council has legal duty to the residents of the district to be open and transparent about its affairs and to promote debate and provide information about issues of concerns to the public; which this most surely is!

I am beginning to wonder what is needed to end, once and for all, the deeply embedded and totally rotten culture of secrecy which hangs around the council and its politicians like a sickening corporate body odour. The Green Party will be  putting forward candidates in the May 2015 elections  who will make it a priority to review and change all the petty regulations and rules which make Thanet Council so secretive. It’s your Council and it should be open and accountable to you. The best government is honest government.

Here is a letter I have sent to the Acting Chief Executive requesting that the decision to withhold the O’Regan documents be released  

Dear Ms Homer
I understand that Mr Boyle is on leave for 3 weeks so I am writing to you instead to raise a Freedom of Information issue.I wrote to Mr Boyle on 15 January requesting information related to discussions between the Council and the O’Regan Group concerning the renting of space at the Port of Ramsgate process waste wood and manufacture concrete blocks. Mr Boyle replied to my information request on 10 February (see below) advising of the dates of meetings between the O’Regan Group and/ or its agents  and the Council, (25 June, 10thJuly, 12 September, 18th October and 12 December 2014)  but  he declined to provide me with the notes, minutes, emails or any other documents relating to these meetings  on the grounds of commercial confidentiality.
Under  FOI/ EIR  regulations, I  seek  an internal review of the decision made by Mr Steven Boyle as I do not believe that his reason for refusal is legitimate or justified.
Guidance issued  by the information Commissioner states that exemption from release on the grounds of  commercial confidentiality only applies when “to release the information would damage someone’s commercial interests (1)”.
The discussions taking place with the O’Regan Group are about the renting of Council land at the Port of Ramsgate for the purposes of operating a waste wood processing and concrete block manufacturing facility. This is a not a competitive tendering exercise where the release of information could undermine the commercial position of one of the bidders or of the Council.

Further O’Regans and its agents have made 2 public and very detailed presentations about their plans which indicates that they do not wish their proposals to be confidential and  have a desire for local residents to be fully informed about what they plans to do. On this basis, I can see no justification for the Council in treating the documents I have requested as being exempted on the grounds of commercial confidentiality.
Furthermore, the Information Commissioner requires that  before exemption is granted on the grounds of commercial confidentiality, the Council should have  conducted  a public interest test (2). Mr Boyle’s email to me makes no mention of the Council having conducted a public interest test. I firmly believe that there is an overwhelming public interest in having the documents I requested released as evidenced by

  • the public meeting attended by approximately 300 people on 9 January at which there was a presentation and discussion about the O’Regan plans
  • the extensive coverage in the local press and on social media about the O’Regan plans.
The public interest is focused on  potential pollution issues related to the O’Regan proposals; the impact of their  proposals  upon tourism in Ramsagate  and the impact of their proposals upon a site special scientific interest; a European special area of conservation, and an internationally designated Ramsar site. Because of the extensive public interest in these issues I believe that the Council has no option but to releases to the documents in order to meet the criteria set out by the information Commissioner to
·         further the understanding of, and participation in the debate of issues of the day;
·         facilitate the accountability and transparency of public authorities for decisions taken by them;
·         facilitate accountability and transparency in the spending of public money;
·         allow individuals to understand decisions made by public authorities affecting their lives and, in some cases, assist individuals in challenging those decisions;
·         bring to light information affecting public safety (3).
I would be grateful if you could arrange for a review to be conducted as quickly as possible.Yours sincerely 
Councillor Ian Driver 

Tuesday, 10 February 2015

Ramsgate Port O'Regan Concrete Block Plans Talks in Advanced Stage

Green Party Councillor and Parliamentary Candidate for Thanet South, Ian Driver, has warned that talks between Thanet Council and the O’Regan Group about the location of a concrete block manufacturing and waste wood processing plant at the Port of Ramsgate are “in advanced stages”. Driver’s comment follows a response to an enquiry he lodged with the council three weeks ago which stated that there have been  5 meetings between TDC, the O’Regan Group and its agents  on 25 June, 10 July, 12 September, 18 October and 12 December 2014.  The response also confirms that TDCs Corporate Management Team and the Labour controlled Cabinet have also discussed  the O’Regan Group   plans and that the Council has received a planning pre-application document from the O’Regan Group. Driver's request to see notes of the meetings with the O’Regan Group  and any other related documents were rejected on the grounds of commercial confidentiality. Said Driver “I am very disappointed that discussions with the O’Regan Group have reached this advanced stage. There are some extremely serious questions about their suitability to operate at Ramsgate Port, especially their involvement in pollution related court cases in Ireland. I find it hard to believe that senior Labour Councillors such as Mike Harrison, who is responsible for the Port, write letters to the press implicitly supporting the O’Regan Group plan after  a public meeting  attended by almost 300 Ramsgate residents was unanimously opposed to it. I will be joining local people in a campaign to oppose any move to permit the O’Regan Group  to
operate from the port. Their plans are simply too risky and  their track record inspires no confidence in me”. Driver said that a Green Party controlled Thanet Council would immediately launch a root and branch review into the future of Ramsgate Port with a focus on leisure use. 

Dear Cllr Driver
Thank you for this request and I apologise for the delay in replying.
I had to seek instructions before responding and I am told the answers to you request are as follows:I would be grateful if you could tell me how many meetings  Council has had with the O'Regan Group over the past 18 months.  I believe there were fiveCould you let me have the dates of these meetings and the names of those who attended including agents acting on behalf of the O'Regan Group.

25 June 2014- Ian Faupel (O’Regan Group’s consultant) Robert Brown10 July 2014 - Brett Aggregates, Ian Faupel, Louis O’Regan, Robert Brown, John Davison. 12 September 2014 – site visit; Ian Faupel, Lois O’Regan, Colin Browne. 18 October 2014 – Ian Faupel, Louis O’Regan; Chris O’Brien, Nikki Morris, Robert Brown. 12 December 2014 – JWDB Planning, Robert Brown, John Davison, Mike Humber. Could you also provide me with copies of minutes/ notes of these meetings and copies of any documents discussed at these meetings.These are not being released as they are presently commercially sensitive.I would be grateful if you could tell me if the Cabinet and/ or the senior management team have discussed the O'Regan proposals.Discussed as part of a wider update at CMT.The Action Points on the agenda for the following CMT on 18th November make no reference to O’Regan or their proposals as the discussion did not lead to any specifically identified action.Proposal discussed at Cabinet agenda meeting 5th January. This was in relation to a pre-application sent in by O’Regan’s agent.If so when and could you please let me have copies of any reports, notes, emails etc pertaining to such discussions. Copies will be released in the future subject to commercial issues. I would also be grateful if you could tell me whether there have been any discussions about rentals and costs which might have to be  paid by the O'Regan Group for use of council land at the Port or elsewhere.I don’t have any details of these

Could you also let me know if  the council has  adopted a view as to whether planning permission will be required for the O'Regan group to implement its proposals. As far as I am aware Iain Livingstone is still awaiting further information on the proposal before this can be determined.

Finally as the Green Party PPC for Thanet South and as a Ramsgate Councillor I would be grateful if you could keep me up to date with any ongoing discussions with the O'Regan Group or its agents about their plans for the port. I would also like to be notified as soon as the Council receives any planning application from the O'Regan Group regarding its proposals for the Port.
Cllrs get updated about applications received I understand
I trust this is of assistance. Many thanks.Steven Boyle

Tuesday, 3 February 2015

Green Party Driver Calls Public Meeting on Thanet Local Plan 9 February

Green Party Councillor and Parliamentary Candidate for South Thanet, Ian Driver, has called a public meeting on Monday 9th February to discuss Thanet Council’s Draft Local Plan. The plan, which is subject to public consultation until 9th March, is proving to be extremely controversial with proposals to build 12,000 houses, many of which will be on greenfield sites and 3,000 of which will be located in and around Ramsgate. There are also growing concerns about  proposals  to build a Thanet Parkway Station close to rural Cliffsend which some people believe may be a prelude to the urbanization of the village. Many people are angry about  a consultation on a complex 262 page document being limited to just  8 weeks. A public meeting in Westgate 2 weeks ago to talk about the plan was attended by over 300 people and many others had to be turned away. Said Driver, "Feelings are running very  high about the plan so  I  have organised  a meeting to  allow residents an opportunity to have their say. I am expecting a good turn out and a frank exchange of views. I have  some strong opinions of my own, especially about the very short consultation period which I believe to be  undemocratic and insulting. The meeting begins at 7pm at the Chatham House Grammar School , Ramsgate. A speaker from the Westgate,  has been invited to speak.