Thursday, 21 July 2016

Margate Dreamland to Go Bust?

It appears that the operators of the Margate’s prestigious Dreamland Amusement Park face the possibility of going bust in just over a week’s time. According to a notice published in the London Gazette on 20th July. The administrators of  Sands Heritage, Duff and Phelps Ltd, have called a meeting of the company’s creditors on Monday 4th at 10am at their offices in the  Shard, central London.  

At that meeting Duff and Phelps  will be presenting a Statement of  Proposals to the creditors about how Sands Heritage intends to repay  a massive £2.9 million debt, run up in less than one years trading.  I have been contacted by  well placed  people who have told  me that  the Duff and Phelps Statement of Proposals will make difficult reading for Sands creditors. I understand that  It’s likely that the Proposals  will say that Sands Heritage is extremely unlikely to be able to trade itself out of trouble and that a repayment offer as low as 20p in the pound might be made to the creditors.

I’m led to believe that It’s highly unlikely that the creditors will accept Duff and Phelps proposals and that a petition for the liquidation of Sande Heritage will quickly follow which could result in the sale of many of the Dreamland Amusement Park assets including  some of the fairground  rides and lots  of equipment and hardware.

But my biggest worry is the future of the 100 year  leasehold of the Dreamland Amusement Park. On 27 May 2016 Sands Heritage borrowed £600,000 from offshore , Cayman Islands registered,  Arrowgrass Master Fund Ltd. Security for the loan is the 100 year leasehold agreement  with Thanet Council. If Sands default on loan repayments to Arrowgrass Master Fund, which will happen if they are liquidated, then the 100 leasehold agreement on Dreamland will be become the property of the Arrowgrass.

I previously posted that the Directors  of Sands Heritage have close connections with the  owners of the Arrowgrass Master Fund Ltd, Arrowgrass Capital Partners LLP, with Mr Nick Connington a director having worked with them for 4 years. See my previous  post about this here


Yesterday's Ramsgate Live Animal Exports

About 100 animal welfare  campaigners gathered at the Ramsgate Port approach road yesterday evening to protest against the first scheduled export of live farm animals for ritual slaughter in the EU since 2015. 4 lorries carrying approximately 1,000 sheep tried to enter the port approach road at around 8.30pm. At least 50 campaigners staged a sit down on the approach road, holding up the lorries  whilst the police, who numbered about 20 officers,  struggled to remove them. Other campaigners gathered around the waiting lorries  chanting at the drivers and accusing them of having “blood on their hands”. A sentiment with which I totally agree. The lorries eventually moved towards the port after a 10 minute delay. The 4 lorries were quickly loaded on to the ferry Joline which left Ramsgate Port  at approximately 9.30pm to the shouts and jeers of  group of 30 campaigners who had gathered on the harbour arm.

It made me feel sick to witness the cramped and squalid conditions these animals are forced to endure. To get to Ramsgate these animals had already travelled for many hours, on one of the hottest days of the year, with limited access to food and water in lorries awash with urine and excrement. Once in Calais they then face many  more hours of traveling in these appalling conditions and a grisly end with a ritual throat cutting.  It angers to me think that in the 21st century we  continue to treat animals with medieval barbarity. It angers me even more to think that the taxpayers of Thanet have had to pay the exporters at least  £5.5 million compensation and legal costs  for  banning their trade for 5 weeks in 2012. In my opinion this  compensation was blood money.
If you add on to the £5.5 million all the other taxpayer funded costs including the costs of policing demonstrations; the  costs of intelligence  gathering and surveillance of campaigners; legal costs for the 20 plus court cases which have taken place since the campaign against live exports began; the costs of government inspectors who  make cursory and totally insufficient  checks of each shipment; the administration costs in checking and approving journey plans etc etc, I reckon that this cruel and evil trade has cost tax payers at least £10 million over the past 5 years. Working on the assumption that 300,000 animals have been exported during this 5 year period it works out that the UK taxpayer has subsidised this cruel and barbaric trade at the rate of £33 per sheep.
This is a trade that an overwhelming majority of our country does not approve of. Hopefully Brexit  will eventually mean that the EU regulations which permit this despicable trade will be abolished in the UK and then it can be banned. But why wait for at least 2 years?  Why continue to tolerate the abuse?  I call on the Government to take unilateral action and stop the trade. If the EU threatens to fine the UK tell them to fuck right off. We are at the  EU exit doors already and the threat of a fine is pretty meaningless in these circumstance. But in the meantime I hope that protests and demonstrations continue at Ramsgate and that direct action can make this shameful trade unsustainable. It did in the 1990s! 
There are at least another 10 shipments planned from Ramsgate this summer. I'll keep you informed of dates and please join me in standing up against this cruelty on your doorstep.   

Monday, 18 July 2016

Ramsgate Live Animal Exports: Shipments Resume Wednesday 20 July 7pm

A live animal export shipment will be leaving Ramsgate Port on Wednesday 20th July. Animal transport lorries are expected to arrive at the port at 8pm. Campaigners will be gathering at the Harbour Approach roundabout (Canterbury Road East) and outside the entrance to the port from 7pm. Please try to be there.
This cruel and barbaric trade has been operating from Ramsgate Port since May 2011. In that time hundreds of thousands of sheep and calves have passed through the port in horrendously cramped conditions, with limited access to food and water, in lorries awash with faeces and urine. The animals are transported on long journeys lasting many hours across the UK and the EU and on arrival at their destinations face a cruel and brutal ritual slaughter.
Some of those involved in this cruel trade from Ramsgate have criminal records for breaches of animal welfare laws. Yet despite being found guilty of animal welfare offences they have been rewarded for their cruelty  by sharing in a £4.6million compensation payment which was ordered by the High Court following action against Thanet Council for suspended this trade in 2012.
If you care about animal welfare please try to join us on Wednesday at the port.  
There is a public meeting on Tuesday 19th July 7pm at the Oak, Harbour Parade, Ramsgate at which will be discussing our campaign to stop this brutal trade. Everyone welcome – young or old.
I hope to see you there Ian Driver

Sunday, 17 July 2016

East Kent Super Council: More Consultation Say Greens

The proposal made by  the leaders of Ashford, Dover, Canterbury , Shepway and Thanet councils to merge together to form an  East Kent-wide council is very worrying say Thanet Greens.
The new super-council which will result from this merger covers an area of 642 square miles with a population of 642,000 people. Just like Kent County Council, which we presume the super-council will ultimately replace, the proposed new council will be big, remote from the people it serves, and consequently out of touch with the diverse range of social and economic issues an area of this size will encompass – so it is difficult to seewhat purpose this expensive and time-consuming change will serve. 
We have seen a report about the super-council which will be discussed by Thanet Council on 14 July - and were astounded to discover that it doesn’t include a single reference to plans for consulting with the people of East Kent about  how they wish to be governed. It appears from this document that this fundamental change to democratic processes in East Kent is expected to be planned and managed in  secret meetings between senior Conservative & UKIP councillors and council bosses, with little or no engagement with the residents of East Kent, their community groups, or other  political organisations which represent the views of many people in this area. Top- down approaches to democratic reform, such as this appears to be, have a habit of becoming expensive recipes for disaster, and we would urge Council leaders to think hard how they plan to consult the public on these proposals, and to publish their plans as soon as possible.
Thanet Greens have long argued for democratic reform in Kent, including the abolition of  KCC and the devolution of its powers to smaller unitary authorities . However, we have always  argued that these new authorities should be based on mergers of 2 or 3   existing councils, which would prevent the new organisations from becoming too large, cumbersome and out of touch with the people. We have also argued for extensive public consultation in drawing up the plans for new councils, and proposed that when the plans are completed  there should also be a local referendum process on whether  they should be accepted. Finally we would argue that members for every new council must be elected  on the basis of proportional representation, and that the voting age for these councils should be reduced to 16.
Thanet Greens and our colleagues in Ashford, Dover, Canterbury and Shepway will be campaigning hard for modern, inclusive, 21st century democratic reform in East Kent. We will certainly not be supporting plans cobbled together in secret meetings of  certain groups of councillors, which appear to offer no improvement to the people of East Kent, and seem only to serve party political, rather than community, interests.

Tuesday, 12 July 2016

Ramsgate Live Animal Exports Return

After almost a year of inactivity, the export of live farm animals for slaughter in Europe is set to return to Ramsgate at the end of this of July.  Aware that the recent Brexit vote is likely to mean  the end of their the lucrative trade in cruelty, the exporters will I’m  sure be trying to make as much as money as possible in the  2-3 years left to them, so I’m expecting  there will be 2-3 shipments per week passing through the port of Ramsgate until late September.

I would urge anyone who has  even the slightest  degree of compassion for other living beings on our planet to become involved in the campaign to stop this barbaric trade from passing through Ramsgate Port. Come down to the Port when a shipments are  taking place and see for yourself the conditions the animals are transported in. Forced to spend hours and often days travelling tightly packed  into  trailers awash with urine and faeces and with limited access to food and water and then to face a grisly end to their lives through ritual slaughter.  Stand and up and be counted and  join the 100s of Thanet people – women and men, young and old who have been fighting this cruel spectacle since it came to Ramsgate in 2011.
ship of death Joline arrives at Ramsgate to pick up its cargo of sheep

A public meeting to discuss the return of the trade to Ramsgate and the campaign against it is being held upstairs at the Oak, Harbour Parade, Ramsgate on Tuesday 19th July. Please come along and find out more. I will also be posting dates and times of shipments on my blogsite and Facebook, but the shipments generally take place at short notice.


199 Reasons for General Election

Former Thanet Councillor and 2015 Green Party Parliamentary candidate for South Thanet, Ian Driver, has called for a general election to be held as quickly as possible this year.
Speaking after the announcement that Theresa May will become the UK’s next Prime Minster on Wednesday of this week Driver, said “Following the recent referendum vote to leave the EU we are now living in uncertain and unstable political times, it’s therefore totally unacceptable and lacking democratic legitimacy for our next Prime Minster to have been selected by the votes of just 199 Tory MPs. The very sensitive and unusual circumstances facing our country make it absolutely essential that the voters of the UK should have the right to chose their next Prime Minister at the ballot box as quickly as possible”.

Monday, 11 July 2016

Thanet Greens Support Manston Airport Planning Application.

Below is a letter Thanet Greens  sent to the local press about the Stone Hill Park planning application for the former Manston Airport site.
Thanet Green Party is supporting, in principle, Stone Hill Park’s planning application for a mixed use development at the former Manston Airport site.
We believe the development will help to create much-needed jobs and training opportunities for residents, and also attract more investment into Thanet, which for a district with higher than average unemployment is welcome news. The site will also provide much-needed housing to accommodate a growing population and a range of leisure facilities.
But, as with any development, there is always an environmental cost, and we have met with Stone Hill Park representatives on two occasions to discuss this with them.
We have suggested that housing and other buildings on the site are insulated to the highest standards and fitted with solar panels in order to reduce energy use, and that water re-use technologies are incorporated into the design and constructions of all buildings. We have further proposed that the development should be fully integrated into the Thanet bus network and includes safe walking and cycling routes. We have also suggested to Stone Hill Park that their plans should include more trees, and that community allotments should be provided for future residents at the site. Last but not least, we have asked that 30% of the 2,500 units of housing proposed to be built at the site should be desperately- needed social rented properties. Our proposals have been received in an encouragingly positive spirit.
Thanet Green Party believes that the proposed Stone Hill Park development will, if carefully and sensitively implemented, have a critical role to play in the regeneration of Thanet. Our only regret is that many of Stone Hill Park’s proposals could have been completed and be producing benefits for the people of Thanet already, had it not been for UKIP, the Conservative and Labour Parties wasting two years pushing for a CPO of the former airport site when it was clear to most  that this would be unachievable. We believe is it important that this development now proceeds with all speed, subject to all the usual approvals and checks, in order to ensure additional jobs and housing for the people of Thanet.
Yours sincerely
Tricia Hartley, Secretary
Ian Driver, Co-ordinator

Tuesday, 5 July 2016

Corbyn: Gone By Weekend??

As much as I hope not, I reckon Jeremy Corbyn will be gone by the weekend.
Why? Well tomorrow sees the publication of the Chilcot Report on the 2003 Iraq War.

Corbyn has dedicated his entire political life to opposing unjust wars and oppression around the globe. Perhaps the biggest of these unjust wars was the West’s invasion of Iraq in 2003. Corbyn campaigned tirelessly to keep  our country out of the conflict. He  spoke out frequently and passionately against the   abuse  of power and the subversion of democracy that led to the UK entering the war. He spoke out about  the appalling death, destruction and misery which followed and which continues.  Not that I defend for one moment the murderous regime of Sadam Hussien, but Corbyn was right to argue that  there were many other ways Hussien could have been deposed which would have avoided  the disastrous  consequences of the western invasion. Consequences  with which the world is still having to deal with 13 years later
If, as many people predict, the Chilcot Report lays some, probably a lot,  of the blame for the invasion of Iraq at the door of Tony Blair and other senior  Labour figures who were running the country at the time,  then Corbyn will  have been vindicated  for his courageous stance. Those who mocked, abused and taunted him will be exposed as the reckless and deceitful warmongers they were.
To be proved to have been right  in such a high profile way doesn’t happen very often in public affairs. Then to have  the ability, as the current Labour Party Leader,  to apologise on behalf of the UK to those on all sides of the conflict, living or dead, who were killed, tortured, raped and abused during and as a consequence of the Iraq war,  is also a unique and special thing. As will be the opportunity for Corbyn to publically name and shame, and perhaps even call for the prosecution, of any Labour politicians who misled parliament  and in so doing  facilitated  and encouraged war crimes.
 The  psychological and physical release brought about by the opportunities presented by  the  Chilcot Report will be so powerful that  Corbyn is likely to feel that his job has been done.  Having been a trade union negotiator myself, I strongly suspect that union boss, Len McCluskey, who is trying to broker some sort of peace deal between Corbyn and the right wing of the Parliamentary Labour  Party, will  instinctively know how important  the Chilcot Report will be in achieving his task. I don’t know how,  but I’m sure that one way or another McCluskey will use  the power of  Chilcot as means to develop  an “honourable” exit strategy  for Corbyn and I think Corbyn  is very likely to take it.
Although the vindication of Corbyn will be a major political triumph; although it will massively strengthen the left and discredit the Blairites I  sincerely  hope my analysis  is wrong  and that Corbyn stays in post. Because being proved to be right about the Iraq war is one, albeit important,  thing, but  securing, from today’s political turmoil, a  genuine socialist party that will fight for  a better future is another.

Monday, 4 July 2016

Charles Dickens School: +10 Days Absence =£10 Fine

On Saturday I received a letter from the new headteacher of my daughter’s school,  Charles Dickens. He was quite properly raising the issue of school  attendance stressing the importance of students being at school 95% of the time. However he then went on to say that any student whose attendance falls below 95% will be required to produce medical evidence for the absence – by which I presume he means GP letter/ certificate covering each day of absence. This is totally over the top and unnecessary. The school already has systems and staff in place to deal with attendance  matters. Also GPs do not issue certificates until a sickness absence is longer than 7 days. For shorter periods the GPO can charge – often between £10-15 per certificate. So what we have here is a school absence policy which amounts to parents being fined by having to produce certificates for which they might have to pay.

There are many legitimate reasons why a student might be absent from school for more than 10 days per year like long term illness, disability, caring for family members, family issues. To impose a blanket policy like this, without the courtesy of consulting parents is both arrogant and plain stupid and I hope the headteacher thinks again. Here’s a copy of an e-mail I have sent to him. Wonder what he might say.

Dear Mr Morgan
I am in receipt of your letter to parents about school attendance. Whilst I agree with you about the need for pupils to attend school on a regular basis I do not agree with your new blanket policy  that “any student whose attendance falls below the minimum national standard of 95% will not  have absences routinely  authorised and medical evidence will need to be provided”.
I take it that medical evidence means the provision of a  doctor’s  “fit note” for each day’s absence after a student falls below  95% attendance rate. In case you have failed to check Government guidance on the issuing of fit notes states they can only be issued after 7 days of sickness. If a fit note is required to cover a shorter period of absence, as you policy appears to suggest,  then the GP is entitled to charge a fee, usually between £10-15.
 A significant number of your students live in families with extremely limited income. To force them to pay out £10-15 per day for fit notes is grossly unfair and totally unnecessary. The school already has in place pastoral care services which are there to deal with absence issues. There is no need, therefore, to impose what amounts to a fining system for the families of children whose attendance falls below 95%.
Furthermore, your school includes many students who suffer long term illness, have disabilities, who are carers  for others, or who are living in very difficult family circumstances. These students are very likely to have higher than average absence rates from school  but  now faced  being  penalised and discriminated against by your blanket policy on medical evidence. Indeed it is likely that your ill-considered policy may well be in breach of the Equality Act 2010 and that it may be unlawful.

I would be grateful if you could reconsider your decision to impose this policy. Indeed it would have been much better if you had consulted with parents before deciding the policy and perhaps a much more sensible approach could have be developed.
In the meantime I would be grateful if you could tell me if and when this new policy was discussed by the school governors. Could you also provide me with copies of any documents, reports etc provided to the governors on this matter and copies of  minutes  of these meetings. Please also tell me what evaluation/ research the school carried out to ensure that this new policy on absence is compliant with law, especially the Equality Act 2010 and is fair and proportionate.

I look forward to hearing from you.
Yours sincerely
Ian Driver

Sunday, 3 July 2016

Ramsgate Port Loses £13million. Time for Rethink.

Former Green Party councillor, Ian Driver, has called for Thanet Council (TDC)  to launch a major public consultation on the future of the port of Ramsgate which will  explore and develop  options for a long term, sustainable and profitable,  plan for its future.
Driver’s proposals follow revelations on his blogsite that Ramsgate Port has made losses of  £13.4 million over the past 3 years. 
In the financial year 2013-14 the  port ran up a deficit of £6.056 million  following the bankruptcy  of Trans Europa Ferries which, as a result of  a secret fees and charges  deferral deal agreed by TDCs  Labour and Conservative administrations, collapsed owing the council £3.4million in unpaid bills.
In the financial year 2014-15 the port ran up a deficit of £3.9 million and, according to the  latest draft accounts for 2015-16  which were published on Thanet Council’s website on 1 July,  the port has, despite its  car importation contract with GEFCO,  run up a deficit of £3.4 million, bringing   the total deficit for the past 3 years to a staggering £13.4 million – the equivalent of  £96 for every man, woman child in Thanet.

Said Driver “I have been arguing for a long time that the Port of Ramsgate is finished. It is economically unsustainable and has no long term future. There is no way that the port can compete against nearby Dover Harbour which is currently undergoing a £150million re-development programme to massively increase its ferry, freight and cruise liner capacity. 75 miles away from Ramsgate the newly opened, state of the art,  London Gateway Freight Terminal at Thurrock will also take freight  trade from Ramsgate.

We now need to look at alternative uses for the port such as a modern 21st century marina for pleasure craft and sea sports which could supplement and increase the capacity of the  Royal Harbour and still allow for the fishing and wind farm vessels. There are many examples of successful marinas on the south coast such as Brighton, Eastbourne, Littlehampton and Lymington. Even Ramsgate’s own Royal Harbour made a profit of £75,000 in 2015-16!
Although it would it be very expensive to transform the port  into a marina, TDC could borrow money, secure Government development loans and grants,   and enter into partnership deals with the private sector to secure the £20-30million which a project on this scale is likely to require. The benefits for Ramsgate and Thanet as a whole would be enormous. The thousands of extra tourists attracted by a Ramsgate marina  would be spending their money in the local economy creating  hundreds of new jobs and business opportunities for locals and inward investors alike.
Exploring and developing ideas such as a modern marina through a major public consultation could well transform for the future for what it a silted-up, derelict excuse for a port which is a massive drain on the resources of a council with a very tight budget. Its time for new thinking about Ramsgate's port and who better to do it than local people”.  

Here's a short film I made about the Port in April 2015 which  is a bit out of date but the message is still good.


Friday, 1 July 2016

Margate Dreamland Tax Payers £14million Bill Exposed.

After hiding the truth for ages, Thanet Council (TDC)  has finally been  forced to fess-up  how much cash  taxpayers have had to shell out  for the purchase and restoration of  Margate’s failing Dreamland Amusement Park.

According to TDC draft accounts which were published on line yesterday – here’s the link -

TDC has, up until 31 March 2016,  spent £8.961 million on the acquisition and restoration of Dreamland. But that’s not the total figure. In December 2015 Thanet Council reached an out-of-court settlement for alleged breaches of its leasehold agreement with park operators, Sands Heritage, of £913,000, which was not  included in the  £8.961 million figure. Adding the 2 together brings the total to a staggering £9,874 million.

But it doesn’t end there.  TDC’s draft accounts also confirm  that there “is an on-going legal process  with the former land owners”  which has forced the council to set aside  money to pay further compensation for the compulsory purchase of the Dreamland site.  TDC has refused to tell me how much cash  has been set aside because the matter is  commercially sensitive,  but my sources at the council  tell me that its somewhere in the region of £3million.

Personally I think this is an underestimate. TDCs  disastrous and utterly incompetent supervision of the Dreamland project and the collapse into administration of park operator, Sands Heritage  provide the former park owners with  strong legal arguments  that TDCs  CPO application was flawed and misleading. This could easily increase any final compensation settlement to £4million, bringing  the total cost to   council tax payers for the acquisition and restoration of Dreamland to £14 million. Or put another way  £100 for every  man woman and child living in Thanet.

In addition to the £14million paid by council tax payers, don’t forget the fact that the Heritage Lottery Fund, and the  Government’s Sea Change and Coastal Communities grant funds have also contributed an estimated £8million towards the Dreamland project. This means that the grand total for the purchase and restoration of Dreamland is £22million! And this is only the first phase. The cinema, the ballroom and the cafĂ© are yet to be restored which will require tens-of-millions more of council taxpayers money and grant funding. It wouldn’t surprise me, by the time everything is finished well over £30 million in public funding had been invested in Margate Dreamland.

But don’t get me wrong I still support Dreamland! I still believe that when completed the project will be a key driving force in  Thanet’s economic regeneration. But having the said that the history of the project to date has been an unmitigated disaster. I and others, especially the brave and tenacious  Louise Oldfield,  have uncovered evidence and written extensively about how Thanet Council totally fucked up the management of the Dreamland project. Many people, including myself,  have also  expressed  concerns about  TDCs appointment of Sands Heritage as the park operator. Our concerns appear to have been justified by its recent collapse into administration owing its creditors £2.9million,  and its mysterious loan of £600,000 from an offshore company, with which some of the Sands Heritage directors have links, and the possibility that the offshore company may get its hands on the Dreamland 100 year lease!

So serious are my concerns that I  believe that there should be an independent public inquiry into the management of the Dreamland Project that those responsible for the fuck ups are named and shamed and that lessons are learned  for the future.
Here are links to some of my previous Dreamland writings.