Wednesday, 29 April 2015

Replace KCC with Unitary 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.

Prospective Parliamentary Candidate for South Thanet, Ian Driver “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?
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”.

Tuesday, 28 April 2015

Thanet Council Moonlighting & Property

Regular readers of my blog will know that I am stickler for probity and honesty in public life. Some would say too much of a stickler.  I have written several pieces about the less than transparent shenanigans of council politicians which have led to resignations, investigations and some red faces. So I was very intrigued to read the blogpost of my Green Party colleague Ed Targett,
Ed who  is standing as PPC for North Thanet and a TDC council candidate in Margate Central, wrote a most interesting post  about the Head of Regeneration and Property Services who is also a Director of a company called Proprisk.

Not that I am suggesting anything improper. To the best of my knowledge the Head of Regeneration and Property Services is a highly professional officer with an expertise in the property field. However, it would be fair comment to say that it is most unusual for a council officer to also be a company Director. Especially when  Thanet Council’s Officer Code of Conduct says that “Employees above Local Grade 6 shall normally be expected to devote their whole time service to the work of the Authority and shall not engage in any other additional employment without the express consent of the Authority”. As an elected councillor representing Ramsgate residents I personally expect senior officers on good salaries to serve only one master - TDC. I don't except them to the follow the example of  many of our Tory and Labour MPs who have  their pockets stuffed with cash from moonlighting as consultants, directors, columnists and after dinner speakers.
Also the fact that the officer concerned is the Director of a company which conducts its business in a similar area to  her paid post with Council raises potential questions of conflict of interest. Not that I am suggesting for a moment that there are such conflicts in this case. However, I believe that in the interests of openness and transparency the Council needs to explain what steps it has taken to ensure that all  possible risks  and conflicts associated with being the Council’s most senior property manager, whilst at the same time being a Director of a property related company , are being properly managed. This is why I have written to the Council’s Monitoring Officer.

Dear Mr Boyle
It has come to my attention that the Head of Regeneration and Property Services is a director of Proprisk Ltd. Company Number 08645044. Website link  I believe that the company was set up roughly at the time that the Head of Regeneration and Property Services became employed by the Council.

The Council’s Officer Code of Conduct requires that

·        Employees' off-duty hours are their personal concern, but they should not subordinate their employment relationship with the Authority to their private interests or put themselves in a position where there is a conflict of interests

·        The Authority will not normally prevent an employee from undertaking additional employment or other commitments, but any such employment must demonstrably not conflict with, or in any way weaken public confidence in, the conduction of the Authority's business.

·        Employees above Local Grade 6 shall normally be expected to devote their whole time service to the work of the Authority and shall not engage in any other additional employment without the express consent of the Authority


·        Employees must give notice in writing of any financial or non-financial interests which are clear and substantial and which could bring about a conflict with the Authority's interests. Any change must be similarly notified

For the sake of clarity, pleased by advised that I am not suggesting that the Head of Regeneration and Property Services has contravened any Council policy nor am I suggesting that the Head of Regeneration and Property Services has in any way acted improperly. Indeed I believe  her to be a professional member of the officer team. However, in accordance with the Council’s policy of openness and transparency I would like to raise the following questions with you:

·        Did the Head of Regeneration and Property Services declare her position as Director of Proprisk to the Council? If so when? If not what action will be taken?

·        Has the Council evaluated the potential risks and conflict arising from the Head of Regeneration and Property Services also being the Director of a property related company? Please provide further details.

·        Has the Head of Regeneration and Property Services ever notified the Council of any conflicts of interest between her employment at TDC and her Directorship at Proprisk?

·        The Head of Regeneration and Property Services is employed on a salary scale above Grade 6. Does her position as Director of Proprisk place her in contravention of the requirement not to engage in other employment,  or has the Council given its express consent to allow the Head of Regeneration and Property Services to have what amounts to 2 jobs?


I look forward to your reply.

Yours sincerely  Cllr Ian Driver

Monday, 27 April 2015

Thanet Stand Up To UKIP Labour Cheerleaders

I have marched against UKIP. I have attended several anti-UKIP demonstrations.  I have spoken out publically against UKIP on many occasions and I vehemently oppose most of UKIPs policy. I will continue to strongly oppose UKIP. But I have not joined and do not support the organisation Stand Up to UKIP, or at least its manifestation here in Thanet. Because Stand Up to UKIP , in my view, is an adjunct of the Thanet Labour Party which, in association with a group of revolutionary socialists, is trying its level best to use the UKIP demon to scare left of centre people into voting only for Labour at the general and council elections. Some of its members are happy to bully, pressure and intimidate those of us political progressives who will not fall into line with the vote Labour mantra. I myself was subject to such treatment at the hands of certain Stand Up to UKIP members in Thanet and several of my colleagues have been treated in the same way. I understand that members of Thanet Reality Party, also vehemently anti-UKIP,  may have had similar treatment meted out because they don’t chose to support Labour.

I was at the founding meeting of Thanet  Stand Up  to UKIP last. The meeting was well attended and included people from across the progressive political spectrum. But even at its first meeting it was evident that Labour was positioning itself to dominate the organisation. Labour’s South Thanet  PPC, Will Scobie,  was there and had a lot to say,  as were other  Labour councillors including Jenny Matteface, John Worrow, Michelle Fenner and serval newly selected  Labour council candidates including Kate Hamlyn and Karen Constantine . During the course of the meeting several  people argued that the Green Party should not be running candidates as it would split the left of centre vote and assist a UKIP victory. This incessant refrain has continued to be developed, reaching a foul mouthed hysterical crescendo at a recent public meeting in Ramsgate.

Now I have no problem with the way people vote.  We live in a democracy and its up to you how to vote. But I will not be bullied or intimidated into silence by a bizarre united front of right-wing austerity-lite Labour and so-called revolutionaries. Labour has an appalling track record in power at Thanet Council. It is utterly incompetent, secretive and in the words of an external peer review– dysfunctional and toxic.

As an elected councillor seeking another term I have a duty to the public to speak out about Labour’s disgraceful record in office and to campaign for change rather than becoming a cheerleader for a party with which I fundamentally disagree. A party which  through its policy of austerity  is making life much more difficult for the poor, the vulnerable, the disabled, the unemployed, the badly housed and who, sad to say, appears to be  trying to out-UKIP UKIP in its anti-immigration stance.

I have the greatest admiration and respect for many supporters of Stand Up to UKIP in Thanet. Some of them are my friends. But from where I am standing Stand Up to UKIP  appears to me to be nothing but a cynical effort to exploit fear of  the UKIP demon  in order to distract attention from Labour’s  appalling record in Thanet; silence its critics and cling on to votes it does not deserve. It could have so different. It could have been a genuine coalition of likeminded people but that potential was strangled at birth by Labour manipulation.

Despite my criticism of Thanet Stand Up to UKIP, it’s not for me to tell you how to use your vote. The only thing I would say is please, please vote on the basis of your conscience and genuine beliefs. Otherwise what’s the point in voting at all?

Sunday, 26 April 2015

Labour's Pleasurama Election Hypocrisy

Labour's false promises
In an election leaflet delivered to thousands of Ramsgate homes Thanet  Labour Party has cynically tried by 'buy' votes. In a headline story it promises that three million pounds will be raised from the sale of the Pleasurama site to developers Cardy, and will be “ploughed straight back into Ramsgate”.  Like many promises made by Thanet Labour this is rather less than the whole truth.
Last Thursday I met with senior council officers and was told that major repairs to the cliff face at the Pleasurama site, which must be carried out before building work begins, will cost up to £600,000. These works are the responsibility of the Council  and are likely to be funded from the money  received by the Council from Cardy. I was also told that the Council’s legal fees for the sale of the site will be around £100,000 and will be also be paid out of the proceeds of the sale.   So the Labour Party’s claimed three million pounds receipt to the Council may actually be reduced to 2.3million immediately. A big difference from the £3million claimed by Labour. And what guarantee is there  that the money would actually be spent in Ramsgate if Labour are returned to power on May 7? On the strength of their past record very little!  

Because Labour in Thanet have never let the truth get in the way of a good story. For example, in the run up to the last election they said they would protect our green fields, only to agree a local plan which allowed massive development on farmland. They also opposed Thanet Parkway station, but in office they have supported the building of a station with a huge car park on farmland just outside rural Cliffsend. So
when they now talk about ploughing £3million into Ramsgate  why should anyone believe them? And on this point it’s rumoured that the £3million sale price reported by the Labour Party is a lot less than an independent valuation of the site estimated  the council should get.

Confidentiality when it suits them
But it’s not just the misleading promises which concern me. It’s that certain Labour  councillors appear  to have abused their power and may have deliberately broken confidentiality in order to produce the leaflet's headline story about the Cardy cash.  Details of the Pleasurama  sale price are included in a legal agreement between the Council and  Cardy which was signed in March. The agreement contains a confidentiality clause which prohibits the revelation of its contents including the sale price. After several weeks of trying I was eventually allowed to inspect the document a few days ago. Before I could see the document I was warned by the Council’s Monitoring Officer that under no circumstances must I reveal its contents. I was also required to sign a confidentiality agreement.I can only conclude that Labour councillor(s) have  also seen the document and decided to  breach the confidentiality agreement themselves in order to produce the headline story in the leaflet.

Now it may seem strange that someone like me who has a reputation for leaking secret documents is complaining when someone else does the same thing. But there is big a difference.  I have only ever revealed confidential information when I thought it was in the public interest to do so. In this case Labour are revealing confidential information  purely out of cynical  political self-interest and in the hope of gaining votes in Ramsgate.
Jaw dropping hypocrisy
But it gets worse. When I tried to reveal confidential information about Pleasurama last year the Council took out a High Court Injunction to prevent me publishing certain documents. I must now pay the Council’s legal costs of £19,600. The decision to obtain the injunction was, I have been reliably informed, approved by members of the Council’s Labour Cabinet. Some of these cabinet members are likely to be  the same people who facilitated the publication of the confidential information about the Pleasurama  sale price in the Labour election  leaflet. Furthermore, several Labour Councillors also complained to the Council’s Standards Board about my efforts to reveal Pleasurama secrets last year. I now face an investigation into my actions. These complainants are likely to be  the same Labour councillors who facilitated the publication of the confidential information about the Pleasurama  sale price in the Labour election  leaflet. Finally since the injunction a number of Labour Councillors have verbally abused me for serving  the public interest by trying to reveal information about Pleasurama which should never have been confidential. Once again some of these councillors are likely to be among those who facilitated the publication of the confidential information about the Pleasurama sale price in the Labour election leaflet.

I have said it once and will say it again, the publication of the election leaflet story about the Pleasurama sale price was misleading and cynical electioneering. But worst of all the breach of confidentiality which was behind this story was an exercise in jaw dropping hypocrisy by The Labour Party. Less than a year ago the Thanet Labour Party was quick to condemn, attack and personally abuse me for trying to release secret documents in the public interest but, with an election in the air, they find it perfectly acceptable to breach confidentiality themselves, not in the  interest of the public they are supposed to serve, but  purely in the interest of the Labour Party .

Thursday, 23 April 2015

Ramsgate "Ghost Port": £3.4Million, Whistleblower, O'Regans

Green Party Councillor and PPC for Thanet South, Ian Driver, has slammed Thanet Council’s  Labour leadership  for spending over £3.4 million of taxpayers’ money propping up  Ramsgate’s “ghost port”  following the 2013 collapse of TransEuropa Ferries. Figures obtained by Driver show that during the financial year 2013-14 the Council spent £1.4 million keeping the port open. Although not yet audited, Driver has been advised port running costs for the 2014-15 financial year will be at least £1million.The Council’s budget for the current financial year (2015-16) does not identify any major cost reductions at the port, suggesting  that running costs will continue to be around the £1million mark.

This means that during the 3 year period 2013-16 TDC will have spent at least £3.4 million keeping  open a port which has seen a massive decline in traffic and fee income. In fact
the only traffic of significance  at the port, since TransEuropa’s demise, has been occasional deliveries of sand and aggregate to the Brett’s concrete site and  berthings of the controversial live animal exports ship, Joline. Surely TDC’s Labour leaders should have been using the time since TransEuropa’s  demise to explore the massive economic and job creation potential of transforming the port into a leisure focused facility. They didn’t. Preferring instead to pump £millions of your money into a port with no customers and no future.

Much of the port’s running cost is made up of staff wages which, including national insurance, pensions and other employment related spending, amounts to almost £400,000 per year.  Despite the catastrophic fall off of trade and income at the port there have been no reductions in staffing levels since the collapse of TransEuropa Ferries in 2013. Said Driver “the Council was right to keep a full complement of staff in the months immediately following TransEuropa’s collapse, just in case a new ferry operator came forward. But when it became clear, six months or so after TransEuropa’s failure,  that ferries would not return to Ramsgate, TDC’s Labour leadership should have ordered the re-deployment of all non-essential  staff to permanent jobs elsewhere at the council instead wasting millions of pounds of public money  propping up what is essentially a ghost port”.

Driver’s views are supported by an ex-Ramsgate Harbour employee who, before he left his job, e-mailed operational services Director  Mark Seed complaining about the Council’s continued financial support for the port when “there is no port in practice only on paper”  and asking why “when you yourself spoke about waste and saving monies …. the council is still paying vast sums of money for a service which is no longer being carried out”.The former employee highlighted the fact that 5 port workers continued to be paid shift allowances (20% of their basic salary) even though they had not worked shifts since the collapse of TransEuropa two years earlier. He went on to say “this is not only morally wrong, but financially wrong and could even be deemed as corrupt”. Despite copying his e-mail to the Director of Corporate Resources Paul Cook and the Chief Executive, the former employee never received a reply to his complaint.

Said Driver “I am utterly astounded that when a member of staff raised legitimate concerns about huge amounts of tax-payers money being spent on a  port without traffic and shifts not being worked, senior managers appear to have ignored him”. He went on to say “TDC’s Labour leadership have in my view improperly used £3.4million of taxpayers’ money to keep open a failed service. This is probably why the five separate meetings with O’Regan’s took place last year to discuss the possibility of locating their waste wood and concrete block manufacturing facility at the port. These discussions, which had Labour Cabinet level approval, were a desperate effort to generate a new income source at the failing port, no matter how unsuitable or unpopular with local residents were”.
“The failure of the port, the waste of public money,  and efforts to sneak inappropriate and potentially dangerous uses onto the site underline the urgent need begin a review of the Port and launch a major public consultation about its future. I have been arguing for a long time that the port area should be transformed into a leisure facility and modern marina, which would increase tourism, kick start the local economy and create hundreds of jobs and business opportunities for Ramsgate residents. We desperately need a Plan B”.

Tuesday, 21 April 2015

Green Cllr Driver Says Regenerate Thanet Regeneration Board

Green Party Councillor, Ian Driver, has slammed the Council’s Labour Leadership for “letting down the district’s 3,000 unemployed people by failing to take regeneration and job creation seriously”. The allegation follows revelations that TDC’s Regeneration Board, which changed its name to ‘Invest in Thanet’ in September 2014, has met just four times in 2 years (1).

Set up by the Council as a partnership between the public and private sectors and supported by TDC staff and money, the organisation aims to encourage investment, training and employment in the district.  However, its meetings are held in private and none of its 3 specialist working groups, on the Green Economy, Employment and Skills, and Heritage which were set up more than 2 years ago have produced reports. Despite promises to do so, no community organisations have been appointed to the Board either.

According to Driver “half of the 17 Regeneration Board members do not live in Thanet. Even the KCC representative on the Board, Councillor Mark Dance, is not one of Thanet's eight County Councillors but lives in and represents Whitstable.  How can a Regeneration Board made up of 50% non-residents be qualified to make decisions about what’s best for Thanet’s economy?” Driver also pointed out that Board member, Frank Martin, is the Chief Executive of Hornby which has announced that it will be moving its remaining jobs and operations out of Thanet in May.

Said Driver “Thanet Regeneration Board/ Invest in Thanet has been an unmitigated disaster. Its lack of meetings; its non-local makeup; its secrecy, its failure to include the
Thanet Green Party Council Candidates New Brooms Sweeping Clean
community sector or to deliver on its work plan demonstrate that its creators, TDC’s  Labour Cabinet, aren’t serious about regeneration and don’t appear to be serious about tackling the district’s unacceptably high levels of unemployment”.

In contrast, Driver and the Thanet Green Party place regeneration and job creation at the top of its priority list. Its recently published manifesto for the forthcoming Council elections talks about harnessing Thanet’s massive potential for economic growth and job creation through the development of tourism, the green economy, and collaboration with the owners of Discovery Park and the Manston Airport site.

Driver also says that, if elected, he will argue for the replacement of  the failed Regeneration Board/ Invest in Thanet with a new more dynamic organisation which will be open and transparent and made up of local employers, educators, community groups and cross-party councillors who have strong  knowledge and experience of Thanet’s economy. The group will access expert professional regeneration advice as required, but the emphasis will be to develop ideas and plans for economic growth and job creation from the bottom up, rather than having them  imposed from the top down by out of touch politicians and bureaucrats who don’t know what’s happening on the ground in Thanet.

In the last two weeks alone, research by Thanet Green Party members have identified two new potential sources of large-scale regeneration funding for the district. A properly co-ordinated regeneration plan would help us access such funds to bring much-needed job opportunities to Thanet.

Friday, 17 April 2015

Dreamland Still No Legal Agreement

I am becoming increasingly alarmed about developments at Dreamland. Almost 8 weeks ago I attended a Councillors briefing meeting about the amusement park.  At this meeting we were told by a senior council officer that a legal agreement would be signed with the park operator, Sands Heritage, within 2-3 days.
Almost 2 months later no legal agreement has been signed. We now have the bizarre situation whereby an organisation which has no legal agreement with the council, has been selling tickets for the opening of the amusement park  on 19 June and recruiting staff to work in the park. This doesn't seem quite right to me.
Sands Heritage was chosen  to be the Dreamland Operator in October 2014 after a false start to the selection process earlier in the year. My sources tell me that Sands was selected  from a tiny handful of no more than one or maybe two applicants, which suggests to me that sphincters were beginning to become twitchy  about whether this flagship project would ever be realized.  Not that I am suggesting that this was the case with Dreamland, but when projects go awry there is often the temptation to choose the best of bad bunch to get back on track. But speculation aside, it does genuinely worry me that almost 8 months after selecting Sands Heritage as the Dreamland operator the legal agreement has still not been signed!
I want to know what the hold ups are. Is there a problem with
the due diligence of Sands Heritage? Are there finance problems? Is the Heritage Lottery Fund unhappy with the arrangements? Are there problems in having the Park ready and all the rides and amusements in place on time?  Is Sands playing hard ball with the Council and trying to get a better deal? There are literally hundreds of issues, or combinations of issues,  which might explain why, less than a month before the park opens Sands Heritage has still not signed the operator agreement with Thanet Council.
I have tried my best to find out why but in typical Thanet Council fashion I have been fobbed off with insufficient answers (see below). One thing is for sure if  Thanet Greens have Councillors elected to  TDC on 7th May they will be demanding a full explanation about what’s  been going on  at Dreamland.  Having said that I want to repeat that whatever thee issues might be, I'm 100% behind the Dreamland project. I believe that the restored amusement park could play a powerful role in  regenerating Thanet and creating much needed jobs. But the operation of the park and the legal agreement which covers this must be as open and transparent as possible.  Otherwise we are likely to repeat the mistakes of  Ramsgate Pleasurama or TransEuropa Ferries.

17/04/2015 Dear Cllr Driver,
We are continuing to work with our legal team to finalise the lease for Dreamland.  We will update you when this has been completed.
21/03/15Dear Cllr Driver, Further to your email, I confirm this is a complex project and our Solicitors need to ensure that they get the best terms possible for the council and this has involved lengthy negotiations. With a site of this size it does take time and unfortunately, although we are all working hard to get it completed as soon as possible, it is more important that the lease is right and ensures the very best  outcome for the Council. It is taking longer than we hoped, but both Sands Heritage and Thanet District Council are committed to completing negotiations and delivering an exciting project for Margate.
14/03/15 Dear Cllr Driver, Thank you for this, the agreement have not been signed, as the legal agreements are not finished.  Unfortunately it will take a bit longer than we had planned.

Thursday, 16 April 2015

Thanet Greens Demand Democratic "Shake-Up" at TDC

Thanet Green Party, which is running 13 candidates in the forthcoming council elections, has called for radical changes in the management of TDC. The Greens claim that the current system of decision making is undemocratic, unaccountable and secretive. Green Councillor, Ian Driver, said “what’s needed is a major shake-up  to end years of bad practice, incompetence and maladministration. A more democratic and open system of doing business will help to restore trust in TDC and rehabilitate its disreputable and tarnished image”.

THE PRESENT SYSTEM Thanet Council operates what is called a Leader and Cabinet system of decision making. Councillors elect a Leader, who then appoints  4 or 5 Cabinet members, from the same political party, to help the Leader run the Council. This small team of Councillors make 95% of TDCs l decisions about spending, asset disposal, policy making etc. Often a single Cabinet member makes decisions on his/her own.

WHAT’S WRONG WITH THIS SYSTEM? Having decisions made by a small group of people, or even by one person, is supposed to mean that the Council can act quickly and decisively. But in practice it produces the opposite effect. Decisions made without sufficient thought, by people from the same political party, without proper consultation and without proper debate, arouse resentment from local people. Instead of swift action we then get a long drawn-out battles which could have been avoided. We've seen how this works in practice in Thanet with –

• The Pleasurama Project in Ramsgate 
• The TransEuropa Ferries secret £3.4 million debt scandal 
• The demolition of the Little Oasis Skatepark in Margate 
• The East Kent Opportunities Planning Application
• The Dreamland amusement park project 
• The Compulsory Purchase of Manston Airport
· The refusal to allow filming of council meetings, despite Government advice to do so and many, many more

Many political experts have warned about the dangers of concentrating too much power into the hands of a small group of people from the same party. Some of the pitfalls include the Leader using the power of patronage to surround him/herself with yes men and women. Officers being fearful of disagreeing with powerful politicians because they might lose their jobs. Lack of challenge means that a culture of fear can quickly be established leading to bad decision making, poor behaviour and even corruption. We have seen how this works in practice in Thanet with –

• The jailing of ex-Council Leader Sandy Ezekiel for misconduct in public office
• Reports of the Local Government Association Peer Review and the Independent Standards Committee Members about the dysfunctional, poisonous and toxic culture at Thanet Council
• Ex- TDC Cabinet members  nobbling investigations into serious misconduct by themselves
• The development of a culture of secrecy where decisions are made behind closed doors

WHAT'S THE ALTERNATIVE? The Localism Act 2011, gives Councils the option to change their decision making system from a Leader/ Cabinet system to a Committee system. Under this system, the Council forms several committees each dealing with a particular area of council work such as housing, refuse collection, environment health, street sweeping etc. All councillors serve on one or more of these committees, and the committees make recommendations about spending and polices to the full Council for its approval.

WOULD IT BE BETTER? No system is perfect but the committee system has a number of advantages over the current Leader/Cabinet system such as -
• Decisions would be more thoroughly debated. More councillors from all the political parties would be involved in these debates leading to a more balanced decision.
• Decisions would be informed by a greater range of knowledge and experience
• Councillors would all build up their expertise and knowledge by serving on committees. 
• Members of the public with specialist knowledge and experience can be invited to serve on Council committees to advise councillors.
• There would be less secrecy and greater transparency - key information and the real reasons for decisions could no longer hidden by a small group of powerful politicians or a single person.

HOW CAN WE MAKE THE CHANGE?  If Green Party Councillors are elected to Thanet Council  on May 7th we will put forward a motion to the first available Council meeting to abolish the Leader/ Cabinet and replace it with Committee system. If we are unable to win support for this motion we will work with others to set up a non-party political campaign to force a local referendum  so that  local people can vote to change from the Cabinet system to the Committee system. To trigger the referendum we would need a petition signed by 5% of the electorate - at present that's 4,997.

ARE OTHER COUNCIL’S CHANGING THEIR SYSTEMS? About 50  Council’s in England have already changed from a Cabinet to a Committee system including Nottinghamshire County Council, Norfolk County Council, Brighton and Hove City Council, Newark and Sherwood District Council, Kingston and Sutton Council, Fylde District Council and Maidstone Borough Council.  A campaign to change Canterbury City Council from a Cabinet to a Committee system is already underway which is getting close to the required number of signatures to force a referendum.

Tuesday, 14 April 2015

Pleasurama Deal: Seen But Not Heard

Since its signing over a month ago I have been trying my best to see the Pleasurama agreement between Thanet District Council and Cardy. I wanted to know how much money the Council was going to get from Cardy for the site; when the freehold would be transferred from the Council to Cardy; how much money Cardy was going to pay towards the repair and the maintenance the cliff face, what action the Council could take if Cardy  did not complete the project and many other things as well. As a local councillor I wanted to be able to report back to Ramsgate residents about these matters because it’s in the public interest for them to know if the Council has secured best value for the disposal of the land, especially bearing in mind the decade long  shenanigans with SFP Ventures, which effectively blighted Ramsgate’s seafront for over a decade.   When I first asked to see the agreement I was told it was confidential and that even though I was  a democratically elected councillor for the Ramsgate area who had been campaigning about Pleasurama for 3 years, I could not inspect the document. I persisted with request, because more and more people were asking me what was included in the agreement and how much money had the Council made from the deal. I threatened to take the Council to the Information Commissioner to get a ruling on making the document public, but this will take at least 6 months if not longer. But my persistence has paid off; at least partially.  Last week I received an e-mail from the Council which repeated that the agreement was confidential. Here is the confidentiality clause in the agreement
Requests for Information
Where a valid request for information under any of the Rules
has been received by the Council, the Council will adhere to the requirements of, and consider the availability of the exemptions under the Rules in disclosing information relating to this Agreement and the other parties and will not disclose any commercially sensitive information… This approach requires the Council to consider all of the grounds and to look at the public interest test. Appropriate redacting could be undertaken but this would need to be checked with Cardy’s first.
The e-mail went on to say

“as a Councillor we may be able to allow access for you to view the document but not to disclose any of the contents to the public. If you are prepared to agree to abide by the code of conduct in that regard and sign such an undertaking then the agreement may be viewed and if you would wish to agree to this I will happily meet with you to agree a date and time for this”.

So what was strictly confidential a couple of weeks ago is now available to be seen but its content not heard about by others. I have spent some time thinking about this offer. As many of you know I detest secrecy in public life and believe that residents  have a right to know what decisions are made in their in name. So perhaps I should not take up the offer.  But at the same time I am desperate to know what’s in the agreement so that I might be able to work out if the deal with Cardy is good value for the Council. I can then be ready to  tell people what is the agreement when and  if the document is ever made public. On balance having knowledge of the deal will be helpful, particularly if Green Councillors are elected to Thanet District and Ramsgate Town councils in three weeks time. One thing is for certain though if Green councillors are elected to the council we will be pushing for a  root and branch review of TDCs secrecy rules and will arguing for  a lot more information to be made available to the public. Thanet Council has a long-standing culture of secrecy in order to cover up the  mismanagement and  skulduggery of its Labour and Conservative  political bosses. Just look at the secret £3.4million TransEuropa Debt hidden from the people by the Conservative and then the Labour leadership of the Council.  Thanet Greens are committed to openness, transparency and accountability in public life. We want to open the filing cabinets and put an end to anymore dirty little secrets.

Monday, 13 April 2015

Ramsgate Greens Call for Seafront MasterPlan

Thanet Green Party, which is running 7 candidates for District and Town Council in Ramsgate,  has announced that if elected its councillors will be arguing for the development of a Ramsgate Seafront Masterplan. The Masterplan would replace the existing  Ramsgate Maritime Plan which was published by the Council’s Labour Cabinet last year. It would set out proposals for transforming the seafront, harbour and port into a modern leisure focused area which would attract more visitors; generate more spending;  attract increased  investment and create more jobs in Ramsgate.
Some of the ideas being discussed by the Green Party include transforming the port into  a modern marina; pedestrianizing Harbour Parade and turning it into Ramsgate’s CafĂ© quarter; building a seafront skate park and family friendly area with fun activities; developing exhibition space  and walks to celebrate Ramsgate’s rich maritime and natural history; working with the Ramsgate Tunnels and Project Motor House to raise more funds to fully develop their plans; preventing  inappropriate developments on the  seafront such as proposals to locate a concrete block making and waste wood processing plant at Ramsgate Port.The Masterplan will continue to protect and support Ramsgate’s historic fishing and boat building industry and the wind farm support fleet.
Commenting on the proposals Green Party election candidate for Sir Moses Montefoire Ward, Tricia Hartley said “Ramsgate has one of the best stretches of seafront in the country. With a strong  Masterplan and lots of new ideas the town could quickly become, once again,  a  major visitor destination generating hundreds of  jobs and business opportunities.
Green Party councillor Ian Driver, who is standing in the EastCliff ward said “Labour’s Ramsgate Maritime Plan was developed in secret behind closed doors. Three private consultation meetings were held to which handpicked groups were invited including just one member of the public (1). It’s totally unfair and undemocratic that the people of Ramsgate were excluded from having any involvement in developing plans for the future of their own seafront. No wonder  the Maritime Plan is dull, unimaginative and not fit for purpose. Green Party councillors will insist that in developing the Seafront Masterplan there will be the fullest public consultation. After all it’s the people’s seafront and they should play the most important role in deciding its future”

Friday, 10 April 2015

O'Regan, Labour Incompetence & Ramsgate Maritime Plan

I was invited, with Craig McInlay, Ralph Hoult, Grahame Birchall and Jocelyn McCarthy of the Ramsgate Society, to speak at a public meeting on Wednesday which had been called to discuss proposals from the O’Regan Group of companies to locate a concrete block manufacturing and waste wood processing plant at the Port of Ramsgate. This was the second meeting about the proposals and was attended by about 40 people. It was a very lively meeting. All of the panellist spoke passionately against the O’Regan proposals and there was lots of discussion about how the plans could be opposed. There was broad agreement that, in the face of competition from Dover, concentrating on the revival of ferry and freight services was no longer a sustainable option for the port of Ramsgate.  Instead, the port should become a host to leisure and tourist focused activities such as a modern marina, whilst at the same time protecting and supporting Ramsgate’s traditional maritime industries of fishing, boat building and repairs and continuing to host the wind farm support fleet. The location of the concrete block manufacturing and waste wood processing operation would conflict with such a development. And even though it would create jobs, O’Regan’s development would not create anywhere approaching the number of jobs and business opportunities that a modern marina based at the port would do.  A petition opposing the O’Regan proposals has now been set up which already has almost 1,000 signatures and several people have volunteered to collect more names. Jocelyn McCarthy said that he would seek the Ramsgate Society’s endorsement and support for the petition.
In preparing for the meeting I asked the Council to see the
O’Regan file. A request which, to my surprise, was granted. The file reveals that, despite the claim on O’Regan’s website, the company has not submitted a planning application to the Council. The last official communication between the Council and O’Regan’s was 17th December 2014. Whilst not wishing to delve into planning technicalities, the papers I looked at suggested to me that O’Regan has a fair chance of being able to secure permission for its proposed operations at the port. There is already an existing aggregate/ concrete mixing (Brett Aggregates) operation at the port. Existing use will undoubtedly strengthen O’Regan’s case to locate its activities at the site. I also believe that O’Regan’s and Brett might be collaborating on the concrete block proposal. Why else would Bretts have been invited to attend private business discussions between O’Regans and the Council if some form of partnership between the 2 companies was not being considered?  A joint enterprise between the 2 companies, perhaps protecting or increasing employment or generating more aggregate shipping at the port, would almost certainly improve the chances of securing permission. But the most compelling reasons why I believe  O’Regan’s  might have a chance of  being allowed to operate from  Ramsgate  Port are to be in found in Kent County Councils (KCCs) Minerals and Waste Plan and Thanet Council’s Ramsgate Maritime Plan.
KCCs Mineral and Waste Plan regulates the location of mineral wharves and railheads across the county. It also protects associated concrete, mortar and aggregate recycling facilities located near to the designated mineral wharfs or railheads.  The Port of Ramsgate is listed in the plan as a designated mineral wharf. This means O’Regan’s proposals for concrete processing at the Port fit in nicely with Kent County Council’s planning policy and therefore have a greater chance of success. I have written previously about how our so-called politicians missed major opportunities to revise the Mineral Plan to allow the public to have stronger rights to object to unsuitable developments at the port. I explained how Ramsgate Kent County Councillors Martyn Heale and Trevor Shonk and Prospective Ramsgate Labour MP Will Scobie attended a KCC meeting where consultation on a new Minerals Plan was being discussed and that all three of them failed to submit any comments or revisions which would have aided local people in their objections to O’Regans. I  also highlighted the fact that  Labour-led  Ramsgate Town Council  was invited to submit comments on the KCC revised Mineral Plan but disgracefully failed to do so even though some of the councillors were  aware of  O’Regan’s proposals for the port. Clearly the irresponsible failure of KCC and Ramsgate Town Labour Councillors to do their job properly has greatly increased the chances of O’Regan’s proposals becoming a reality. Which brings me nicely to the Ramsgate Maritime Plan.
The Ramsgate Maritime Plan was approved by TDCs Cabinet on 31 July 2014. It is a key planning document which sets out a long term, strategic vision for the port and harbour. Amongst other things it says that the aggregate trade at the port should be grown and expanded, which provides yet more support for O’Regan’s proposal to locate their concrete block manufacturing operations at Ramsgate Port.  Amazingly this extremely important document was drawn up without any proper public consultation! According to a Freedom of Information request I submitted three consultation events were held. These events were restricted to hand-picked invitees and held behind closed doors, were held. Only one local resident was asked to attend any of these events!  I find it hard to believe that in drawing up plans for the future of Ramsgate Port and developing polices for the  use of this massively important strategic infrastructure, the people of Ramsgate were totally excluded from any consultation and discussion. This is typical of Labour controlled Thanet Council who prefer to make decisions secretly behind closed door, rather than engaging with the local people they are supposed to represent.  This undemocratic exclusion of the public has led to situation where the future of the port is now tied into an industrial/ aggregate based framework which directly conflicts with the revival of tourism and leisure on Ramsgate seafront. Had TDCs ruling Labour Group allowed a public consultation on the Maritime Plan then it would have been likely that future uses of the port would have included the promotion and development of tourism and leisure, rather than a fetish for a 1970s business model of ferries, freight and aggregate which is clearly failing.
But all is not entirely lost. The shambolic incompetence and
mismanagement of KCC, TDC and Ramsgate Town councillors and their appalling lack of vision and aspiration may not have totally scuppered opportunities for stopping O’Regans. One of the documents I spotted in the file was a letter from English Nature which helpfully pointed out that Ramsgate Port lies close to protected areas including; a site of special scientific interest; a marine conservation area; a European special protect area (SPA); a European Special Area of Conservation (SAC) and an area of wetlands protected under the international Ramsar Convention. Because of the environmentally sensitive nature of these very rare sites, the Council, is considering requiring O’Regan’s to produce an Environment Impact Assessment (EIA). The EIA must set out  how O’Regan’s will manage the impact of noise and dust upon these fragile areas and how it will manage the huge quantities of polluted water produced by their concrete block and waste wood processing operations without contamination of the protected sites. O’Regan’s will also have to apply to the Environment Agency for a permit to carry out its proposed operations at the port.  When  submitted, the permit  application will be advertised locally and residents will have the chance to object. A campaign of objection based upon the danger to the protected sites presented by O’Regan’s plans would, in my opinion have a good a chance of chance of success. Coupled with the fact that O’Regan’s  previous record as a polluter in the Republic of Ireland (see my other posts on O’Regans) might be enough to ensure that any application for planning permission or an environment permit are rejected.
However we don’t yet have any applications to campaign against.  Planning applications, an EIA and Environment Agency permits take time to prepare and will cost O’Regans  £1000s. My guess is that O’Regan’s are holding back because they don’t want to spend large amounts of money on this work until after the forthcoming council elections. Once the elections are over O’Regan’s can then decide if the new ruling group is sympathetic towards their plans and whether it is worth spending a lot of money on  taking their plans forward.
Should any of the Green Party’s  13 council candidates be elected to in May we will take a motion to the first available Council meeting arguing for a comprehensive Ramsgate Seafront plan to be developed, based on  full and proper consultation with local residents, businesses and community groups. The plan will include a detailed examination of future options for the port including its transformation into a leisure focused facility. Whilst the development of the seafront plan is underway we will insist that no new aggregate related, or waste processing operations are permitted at the port.
At the meeting on Wednesday, many speakers identified tourism and leisure as one of the most important driving forces behind the regeneration of Ramsgate – a theme eloquently summed up by Craig McInlay who said Ramsgate should become the Monaco of Kent. Although I may disagree with Craig on many things, on this issue he is spot on. For Ramsgate to become, once again, a successful town, tourism and leisure must be promoted, supported, developed and invested in. This means having a strong seafront plan which will ensure that developments which blights the seafront and holds back leisure and tourism, such as the O’Regan proposals will not be permitted.