Thursday, 29 September 2016

Farmland Sell Off. Thanet Labour's Environmental Hypocrisy

Although I am not a member of his party, as a lifelong socialist, I support Jeremy Corbyn. I was delighted by his resounding re-lection as Labour leader this week and am beginning to warm  to many of his  ideas and policies which, I must admit, make a lot of sense to me.  As someone with a great  interest in environmental matters I was particularly impressed by Corbyn’s  Environment and Energy Plan which was published a couple of weeks ago and which focuses on developing renewable non-polluting  energy sources and protecting our environment from over development and exploitation. But regretfully it looks as though the Thanet Labour Party, especially its elected councillors,  don’t give a fuck about the environment in their own neck of woods.

Last week I published an article on this site about UKIPs proposals to include 86 acres of council owned farmland in its asset disposal programme. I pointed out that the land, if its sale is approved, would  almost certainly be destined for   development as  housing. I pointed out that its sale would be contrary to the council’s longstanding policy on protecting Thanet’s  agricultural land and preserving the historic green wedges which are made up of farmland and which physically  separate the Thanet towns and prevent the district from becoming a  “large amorphous metropolitan spurge”. I also criticised the Conservative and Labour opposition at Thanet Council for not saying a word against what I  described as “UKIP’s environmental vandalism”.
Thankfully my article had an impact. Well at least as far as the  Thanet Conservatives are concerned. Craig MacKinlay MP posted an article on his website about the issue and Thanet Council Conservative leader Cllr Bob Bayford made some very sensible comments, with which I fully agree, about the  plans to sell the land  at an emergency Cabinet meeting on 27 October. But what about Labour?

Well not a single word did they say at the emergency Cabinet meeting which had been specially called to discuss the land sale issue. In fact people who were at the meeting have told me that none of Thanet Labour’s 5  elected councillors turned up to object to the farmland sell off plans. Nor, in their absence,  did any Labour councillor submit written objections to the plans to Cabinet Chair Cllr Chris Wells. These plans were  published on the council’s website  8 days before the emergency Cabinet meeting took place. All councillors, including Labour councillors,  had copies of the plans hand delivered to their homes by special courier service a week before the meeting took place. Presuming that they actually read the documents, about which I have my doubts, they should have said or done something to make their objections to the sale of 86 acres of council owned farmland known. Even if they were attending Labour Party conference, which I understand one councillor was, a quick e-mail to Chris Wells would have been sufficient.  But they didn’t. They did fuck all.

Doing nothing is worrying, not just because Jeremey Corbyn and the Labour Party nationally have robust environmental policies which their councillor colleagues in Thanet are duty bound to promote, but also  because the Thanet Labour Party also has its own very tough  environmental protection policies. In 2011 Thanet Labour’s council election manifesto said they would oppose “encroachment into Thanet’s green spaces”; that  building on green field sites will be resisted wherever possible” and that they would oppose “every move to sell off open spaces for housing”. In  fact so strongly did Thanet councillors feel about saving green spaces from development that they staged a protest/ photo opportunity in opposition to developing  farmland at New Haine Road Ramsgate (see picture above). A development which is now well underway. More recently during the 2015 Thanet council elections,  Labour published a manifesto which continued to promote its  strong environmental commitment saying “We will maintain strict environmental controls on developments across all areas of Thanet, protecting the green wedges”.

Yet when the first major test of their environmental credentials came up what happens? No effort was made to mobilise the hundreds of new Thanet Labour members who, inspired  by Jeremy  Corbyn, had flocked to join the party. Surely they would have been delighted to become involved in a campaign  to help to save the threatened farmland. But no. No mass e-mail campaign was organised; no photo opportunities arranged; no lobby of the Cabinet meeting set up; no press releases issued. Worst of all even the leader of the Thanet Labour group,  Cllr Jenny Matterface,   couldn’t be bothered to  get up of her arse to go to the meeting to oppose the proposed sell off, or to arrange for someone else to attend in her place.  This disgraceful dereliction of civic duty left the field open to the Tories to lead the opposition to UKIPs farmland sell off proposals, which considering their appalling track record on environmental issues is very ironic.

But this is not the first time Thanet Labour has demonstrated its sickeningly hypocritical attitude towards environmental issues. Its support of Manston airport, even when the Ramsgate branch of the Labour Party had called for an environmentally sensitive mixed use on the site, is a case in point. As is Thanet Labour’s unprincipled flip flop from opposing to supporting the massively environmental damaging Ramsgate Parkway station. I publish below links to my previous articles about Thanet Labour’s two-faced dodgy dealings on protecting our environment. I have also published a link to a video of the Cabinet meeting which discussed the farmland disposal which was filmed by Margate campaigner Louise Oldfield.

I started this article by saying that I am a great admirer of Jeremy Corbyn and that I support his plans and policies. I very much hope that he has the support necessary to drive though these plans and polices and to transform the Labour Party into a powerful force for social change. In so doing I hope that those  lazy, good for nothing fools who have the cheek to call themselves councillors, yet sit on their arses instead of fighting to protect Thanet’s environment, are deselected from being councillors or expelled for being the useless bastards they are. Getting and replaced by people who genuinely care about Thanet. Getting rid of them might even tempt me to re-join the Labour Party – but there again it might not.

Video of Cabinet meeting to discuss land sales. Where's Labour Leader? Where's Labour's councillors? Why no written submission? Why no lobby? Do they care about Thanet's environment?
My previous posts of Thanet Labour and Thanet's environment

Sunday, 25 September 2016

UKIP's Environmental Vandalism

Former Councillor, Ian Driver, has accused Thanet Council’s  (TDC) ruling UKIP administration  of “environmental vandalism”  for bringing forward plans to this  week’s Cabinet meeting (27 September)  to sell off 86 acres of council owned agricultural land (1).
The seven parcels of land at Dane Valley Road, Millmead Road and  Shottenden Road Margate;   Callis Grange  Road and Crescent Road in Broadstairs and Preston Road Manston are being sold as part of an “accelerated” property disposal programme to raise extra funds to tackle the cash-strapped council’s budget problems.  

The land is currently rented to farmers and generates an income to the council of  £4,500 per year. However it appears from the disposal report that TDC  hopes to sell the land to  property developers so as to maximise income. Each of the plots are situated next to existing housing developments making the land more attractive to developers. The Cabinet report also recommends that any disposal of the land should include a clawback provision so that the Council can share in any future development value   

According to Driver, the sale of the land and its use for development breaches TDCs current planning policy on the protection of agricultural land which states that
Extract from Cabinet report showing one of the proposed land disposals

Agricultural land concerns have been dominant in determining planning policies and decisions in Thanet for many years. Thanet's farmland ranks as some of the best and most versatile productive land in Kent and in the South- East, by virtue of both the high soil quality, and the extensive and continuous nature of the land in production. As a national food resource it therefore merits long term protection from irreversible development (2)

Much of the land earmarked for sale also forms part of the so-called “green wedges” which are areas of open, mainly agricultural,  land which provide “physical separation between the Thanet towns”  and which “adjoin, penetrate or separate the urban areas” in order to prevent them from  morphing into a large urban sprawl.

The green wedges are also protected from development because  the strong planning protection afforded to high-quality farmland in Thanet has helped historically to maintain the undeveloped and open character of the Green Wedges. This positive contribution to Green Wedge purposes has depended in part on a system of intensive arable farming, that is, large open fields (3)

CPRE publication about housing and the countryside
Said Driver “if TDCs UKIP controlled Cabinet agrees to sell off the land it will  underme the council's own longstanding policies of protecting agricultural land and of separating the Thanet towns though the green wedges system. This would be an act  of deliberate environmental vandalism which will set an extremely dangerous precedent and could  easily lead to development on yet more valuable agricultural land,  the destruction of the  green wedges and the concreting over of Thanets countryside which will have a devastating impact on our environment”.

Although, on paper, Thanet’s existing planning polices appear to protect agricultural land and the green wedges system of urban separation, this protection is extremely weak and far from guaranteed. This is because TDC is one of the few remaining councils in the UK (part of a group of 53 out of 375) to have failed to have formally published a Local Plan.  

Without an approved Local Plan decisions about the development of open spaces and agricultural land must be based upon the Government’s National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF).  Published in 2012, the NPPF includes a strong presumption in favour of house building on previously undeveloped green field sites, such as agricultural land, unless there is an approved Local Plan in place which includes strong reasons for prohibiting such development. TDCs lack of a Local Plan therefore makes its agricultural land very vulnerable to development. In 2014, the lack of a Local Plan with protection for agricultural land led to the Panning Inspectorate permitting, after an expensive public enquiry,   the controversial development of  a school and 650 houses on farmland adjacent to the New Haine Road, despites TDCs initial refusal. Having lost the planning enquiry, TDC was more recently forced,  in July of this year, to grant planning permission for the massive 750 house Manston Green development on farmland close to the former airport site.

Driver’s concerns about development on agricultural land are supported by respected countryside charity the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) which has produced extensive research and policy proposals aimed at “saving our countryside from unnecessary and damaging development” (4). The charity’s Kent branch CPRE Protect  Kent has campaigned vigorously and with great success to prevent unnecessary and inappropriate developments on agricultural land and woodland across the county for many years. Driver has contacted the group to alert them to the proposals going before the Cabinet and requesting that they intervene.

Said Driver “I have always argued that the unacceptable delay in producing a robust Local Plan, which provides strong protection for  Thanet’s unique and beautiful environment, was a deliberate decision by the previous Labour administration. This was because Labour politicians had calculated that by dragging their feet on producing a Local Plan a window of opportunity would be created  for speculative developers to stake their claims on prime agricultural land for profitable  housing schemes. These schemes would also generate massive additional council tax income for TDC. But the need for new homes in Thanet could have been managed in a different and better ways without the need to sacrifice and concrete over our open green spaces and irreversibly damaging our  environment and food production capacity”.

He went to say “the silence of the Labour and Conservative opposition on the Council about  these extremely damaging proposals, demonstrates their appalling and shameful  lack of commitment to safeguarding our environment. But, I am especially disappointed that the Thanet Council Labour Group has failed to say a word about this terrible  situation and failed to publically challenge council leader Chris Wells and his UKIP Cabinet about their unacceptable  disposal proposals. I thought that under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership the Labour Party was now staunchly pro-environment in its outlook. But bearing in mind that the council Labour Group is dominated by  old-school councillors from the previous administration -   Iris Johnston, Peter Campbell, Michelle Fenner, and Jenny Matterface, it doesn’t surprise me. These were the people who were directly responsible for delaying the production of the Local Plan and failing to put in place policies to protect our environment. Is it any wonder that they are now keeping their mouths tightly shut and  turning a blind eye to the desecration of our environment and the destruction of a legacy for future generations”.   

“But” added Driver “TDCs UKIP leadership does not have to follow the previous Labour administration’s environmentally destructive policies. I call on them to reject the sale of the land, which will only generate an estimated £300,000 over the next 2 years  and focus instead, on bringing forward previously developed brownfield land in the council’s ownership for disposal. I also believe that TDCs precarious financial situation, resulting from Labour’s toxic £14.5million money-wasting legacy, will inevitably result in TDC having to increase council tax next year. A small rise in council tax is much preferable to losing altogether some of our valuable agricultural land and the seeing the destruction of the green wedges, which have so effectively prevented  Thanet  from becoming a large amorphous metropolitan splurge”.

The report to Cabinet also includes proposals to dispose of the council owned historic Westgate and Westbrook pavilions.

2.     See current local plan polices relating to agricultural land and green wedges here

3.     See 2 above

Thursday, 22 September 2016

Say No To Ramsgate Parkway Station

Former Thanet Councillor Ian Driver has called on Kent County Council (KCC) to abandon its plans to build Thanet Parkway station, following revelations that anticipated construction costs have soared. The Thanet Parkway Business Case, published in March 2014, estimated building costs at £11.2 million (1). But documents uncovered by Driver which were discussed by the Kent & Medway Economic Partnership (KMEP) in August (2) show that estimated costs  have now risen by a massive 83% to almost £21 million (2) in just over 2 years.
In 2014 the Government agreed to pay £10 million of the estimated £11million cost of building the station through its Local  Growth Fund, leaving KCC and Thanet Council to cover the predicted £1million funding gap. With building costs now estimated at £20.5 million, KCC and Thanet Council would need to find £9.3 million to plug the funding gap - a highly unlikely prospect given the huge budget reductions which have been forced upon the two councils.
In June 2016 a KCC spokesperson downplayed Driver’s warnings about escalating Parkway building  costs, saying that the “current cost estimate for construction is £16 million” (3). The latest documents reveal that Driver was right all along. The proposed station will require new control mechanisms and improvements will have to be made to the Cliffsend level crossing, bringing the total costs to astronomic £20.5 million (4).

Driver  has condemned  Thanet’s  politicians for failing to alert local people to the dramatic cost escalation. He said “This is one of KCC’s most important and prestigious transport projects.  Information on the growing construction  costs for the station has been available since January, yet not a single one of Thanet’s 8 KCC councillors has made a public statement about it. They are clearly not doing their job and failing to keep residents informed”.
He added “Thanet Council’s Joint Transportation Board is supposed to consider public transport work programmes such as Parkway station  and be a forum for consultation between KCC and TDC on policies, plans and strategies for public transport – yet the Board and its 14 elected councillor members has also failed to discuss Thanet Parkway station at any of its meetings during  the past year. This lack of debate about an important Thanet transport issue is shameful. I wonder what these councillors, who have special responsibility for transport in Thanet, have be doing whilst the construction costs of the Parkway station have been skyrocketing?”
“Given that all 3 parties (UKIP, Tory & Labour)  and senior KCC and TDC officers are all committed to supporting Parkway station, my suspicion is that  debate on the controversial station and its rapidly growing construction costs is being deliberately and undemocratically  stifled  because the powers that be are afraid of the resulting  public  outcry, which might put an end to their plans. In fact an overwhelming majority of the comments submitted by local people about Parkway station during the 2014 public consultation  exercise, were opposed to the construction of the station. No wonders senior officers and politicians want to keep this quite!”

“I’ve always argued that Thanet Parkway Station is a massive white elephant which is not needed. It will actually increase journey times from existing Thanet stations to Canterbury, Ashford and London, and it could ultimately lead to the closure of some of Thanet’s town stations. Building the station will also cause substantial environmental damage. A huge area of farmland will be concreted over to accommodate the platforms, a 350 space car park and approach roads. Extra traffic to and from the station will cause congestion and air pollution in an area which is already very congested. If the station gets planning permission, property developers will be queuing up to submit planning applications  to build houses on all  the open farmland around the site, and if this happens, Cliffsend village will quickly be  swallowed up by Ramsgate”.
“I have talked to many local people about Thanet Parkway station, and most believe that it would be better to spend money providing more parking spaces near Ramsgate station, especially on the site of the old swimming pool,  and improving public transport links to it. If TDC and KCC plan to continue with this hare-brained scheme, they will be wasting £21 million of taxpayers’ money on a huge polluting white elephant that isn’t needed and that nobody wants”.

1.     See  and then click on Draft Business Case Report. 2014 estimated construction price is on page 1.

2.     Click on Related Documents link here

and see item 9 page 44.


3.     See Kent Online Kent County Council insists Thanet Parkway station won’t be derailed despite rising costs

4.     See note 2 above.

Friday, 16 September 2016

A Week of Live Exports

Last week saw an unprecedented 6 live export shipments in 7 days from Ramsgate Port. At least 15,000 sheep were forced to endure many hours   travelling across the country to Ramsgate in massively cramped conditions, standing in their own excrement, with limited access to food and water on some of the hottest days of the year. The onward 4 hours journey across the English Channel to Calais is followed by further hours travelling across Europe to meet a grisly end by cruel ritual slaughter. What’s happening at Ramsgate is animal cruelty on an industrial scale which, in a modern world, is morally, ethically and scientifically indefensible. Yet here in the UK this cruel and barbaric trade is state sponsored and supported by the use of physical force by government employees.

The export of live farm animals for slaughter in the EU has been taking place from Ramsgate, and occasionally Dover, since 2011. To the best of my knowledge these are the only ports in the UK which are hosting this cruel trade. In that time there have been more than 120 shipments which have transported over  a quarter of a million animals to Europe for ritual slaughter.

The business is permitted by European free trade regulations  which treat animals like goods and do not allow for any discretionary opt-out on the grounds of their welfare or preventing cruelty.  In 2012 Thanet District Council, the owner of Ramsgate  Port, imposed a temporary ban on live exports  following the tragic destruction  of 47 sheep at the port-side because they had been injured during the journey to Ramsgate or where otherwise unfit to continue their journey.

The exporters challenged Thanet Council’s ban in the  High Court. The judge ruled that by banning live exports from its port the council had breached EU free trade agreements and that the trade should be allowed to recommence from the port.  This judgment opened the doors to the live animal exporters to seek  compensation for loss of business during the 5 week period in which the trade was banned. To date Thanet Council has paid out a staggering £5 million in compensation to those associated with this cruel trade –  payments which many people, myself included, describe as blood money.  According to Auditors, Grant Thornton LLP, who have just completed the annual audit of Thanet Council’s accounts for 2015-16, there is a significant risk that further compensation will have to be paid to those involved in  the Ramsgate live exports business and that the council should realistically asses and  “provide for this possibility in their forward financial planning”.  

One  of those exporters who received a share of the EU blood money  was  Thomas Edward Lomas. Along with Channel Livestock Ltd, Lomas was convicted by Dover Magistrates in 2014  of  breaching the Welfare of  Animals in Transport Order 2006 and being responsible for the deaths of some of the 47 sheep which had to be destroyed  at Ramsgate Port in 2012. The court handed down costs and fines of over £20,000 to Lomas and Channel Exports and Lomas was sentenced to  a suspended 6 month jail sentence.  Incredible  as it  seems,  Lomas and Channel Livestock although convicted of animal welfare offences, were able to share some of  the  generous compensation being paid by Thanet Council  because the cruel trade they ply had, according to the High Court,   been unlawfully stopped by Thanet Council. In, what can only be described as a travesty of justice, Lomas and Channel Livestock were being handsomely rewarded for  their cruelty!

But it gets worse! Not only were tax-payers forced to pay the £5million blood money (compensation)  to the exporters, but they have had to pay for lots of other things which allow this cruel trade to function. By my estimate at least  £2.5 million has been spend on policing the demonstrations which have taken place at each of the 120  shipments from Ramsgate and Dover since 2011. Another £1.5  million, probably more,  has been spent on the 20 plus prosecutions of anti-live exporter campaigners (most of whom were found not guilty)  and the prosecution of the exporters. I reckon that another £1 million has also been spent processing the travel documentation of the exporters over the past 5 years and sending Government inspectors to check, albeit small samples and then not thoroughly, the animals being loaded on to the ferry Joline at Ramsgate. This means that the taxpayer has paid at the very least £10 million over the past 5 years to permit the export, in appalling conditions,  of 250,000 sheep for ritual slaughter in the EU. That works out to be a stare sponsored “sadism subsidy”  of £40 for each animal. Is it right that when survey after survey demonstrates that most people oppose this cruel trade, out Government is happy to subsidise sadism against animals? Had the Government used taxpayers money and the police force to facilitate the live export for slaughter of  dogs, cats or horses, then I suspect there would be revolution on our streets. Yet just like cats, dogs and horses the 250,000 sheep are sentient beings who experience fear and feel pain.  

Despite feeling overwhelmed by the power and money which has been brought to bear by the British state to  protect  and support  a trade which is so obviously cruel and barbarous,  I remain hopeful that it will be stopped. My faith lies in the fact that support for our campaign in Ramsgate is growing and spreading. This year, especially  during the last couple of  weeks, more and more people have begun to join our  demonstrations, with almost 200 people coming together for a rally and protest against the shipment last Sunday. Many of those joining us are young people who are passionate about animal welfare and I for one am happy to hand over the baton to a new generation who will stand up for what they believe to be right.

My spirits are also  lifted by the fact that internationally a movement against the long distance transportation of live animals is now beginning to take shape. In Europe there is the Stop the Trucks campaign which is supported by dozens of animal welfare groups. Here is  the link to their website  . Internationally there is the Animals Are Not Freight campaign (here is a link to their website ) which on the 29th August organised over 100 events in 33 different countries across the world.  I was honoured to be invited to speak at their rally in London, which was organised by Compassion in World Farming. Cleary a powerful global movement against the cruel and barbaric long distance transportation of animals is now beginning to emerge across the world and Ramsgate is at the forefront of that movement.
I am confident that those people standing up the for the welfare of animals in Ramsgate, like those who stood up against slavery, those who fought for votes for women, and those who campaign against racism and discrimination, are on the right side history and that soon this awful and cruel  trade will banned across the world.

Thursday, 15 September 2016

Margate Dreamland: Auditor Questions Long Term Viability.

Auditors, Grant Thornton UK LLP, have warned  Thanet  District Council (TDC) that the “long term viability of the (Dreamland) theme park may be open to question” and that TDC should ensure that that it bears in mind the sustainability of the Dreamland project “when reaching decision regarding the application of any further public funds to the scheme”.

This ominous warning forms part of Grant Thornton’s, soon to be published,   annual audit of TDCs  accounts for  2015-16. The annual audit also notes that the council has overspent the Dreamland budget by £1.2 million and highlights the risk posed to the council by the “site operator (Sands Heritage Ltd) having gone into administration” earlier this summer.
Grant Thornton took the unusual step of identifying Dreamland as presenting a significant financial risk to TDC and recommending that an Action Plan is developed by TDC to oversee and closely monitor the troubled theme park.

Former Thanet Councillor, Ian Driver, who has published many articles about Dreamland on his internet blogsite Ian Driver’s Thanet said “allowing for diplomatic language, Grant Thornton’s comments about Dreamland amount to an extremely stark warning about the sustainability of the theme park. This is not the first time such warnings have been issued. In February 2015 GVA Grimely, one of the country’s largest commercial property consultants warned TDC that “there is considerable risk associated with the viability in a scheme of this nature” but this report was withheld from most councillors”.
He added “according to the Council’s annual accounts £8.961 million of council tax payers money has already been invested by TDC into the compulsory purchase, restoration and opening of the Dreamland Amusement Park. This does not include the £900k compensation paid by TDC to Sands Heritage in a settlement to avoid a breach of contract court case in November 2015. Nor does it include the outstanding compulsory purchase compensation payment to the former owners of the Dreamland site which I reckon will be at least £2million. This brings TDCs total investment into Dreamland to at least £11.861 million or £86 for every man, woman and child living in Thanet. I have argued for a long time that the problems faced by the Dreamland Amusement Park are a direct result of managerial incompetence and poor political leadership by the Labour Party which was running the council when all the key decisions were taken. I have said it before and say it again; there needs to be an independent inquiry into the management of this troubled project”.

Saturday, 10 September 2016

I Grass Myself Up!

My shed
Someone has quite rightly reminded me that  I might be guilty of hypocrisy and double  standards by posting about  2 former Labour councilors and their self-contained flat, when I too had a planning problem 7 years ago. To be honest  I had forgotten about this and I would like the thank the person who reminded me. You did the right thing.  As they say people in glass houses shouldn't throw stones.  I publish below the full article which was in the Thanet Gazette in  June 2009.
Whilst I agree that I was ignorant of the planning rules  and had made a mistake with my shed I did not try to deceive people or cover up the work I had done. I was up front and open about it and on discovering I had done something wrong I immediately put it right to the satisfaction  of the council. If my memory serves me well, I didn’t even need planning permission  for the shed it was a permitted development and the only issue was the height of the roof which I sorted out.
The 2 former Labour councilors, on the other hand, appear  to have acted in a different way to me. Evidence from reputable and official sources shows that they converted their basement into a self contained flat without planning permission or building regulation  approval which is normally required for such work. This is particularly surprising when it is borne in mind that one of the 2 Labour councillors concerned was in charge of Thanet Council's planning services for several years.  Evidence also shows that there has been failure to notify Thanet Council and the Government Valuation Office of the existence of the flat so that it can be entered on to the  Council Tax register and any consequent tax liabilities paid up to date.
The Green's self contained basement flat
The 2 former Labour Councillors have also instructed their estate agent to change the description of what's in their basement. For 19 weeks the Ward & Partners website described their house as having a self-contained basement flat which was “perfect for an additional income”. It also included a statement from the 2 former councilors that they had “most recently converted the lower ground floor area into a self contained flat”.
Within 24 hours of me publishing an article about the lack of planning and building control approval for the conversion and raising issues about Council tax liability the wording on the Ward and Partners web site was mysteriously changed to read that the basement  “has the potential to be used as used as a one bedroom self contained flat”, a phrase which is also repeated in the  revised property owners statement on the Ward and Partners website as well. These amendments appear to be, what many people might think is, an effort by the 2 former Labour councillors to back-track on the original description  and muddy the waters about what is in their basement.
I would strongly  advise the 2 former Labour councillors to follow my example and  be up front and honest about their basement as I was about my  shed. They should contact Thanet Council’s planning team and seek advice on the need for retrospective planning and building regulation approval and they should also seek to  establish the Council Tax position of their basement  through discussion with the Valuation Office and Thanet Council. These are actions which most people will agree are right and proper in a case uncertainty, especially if those concerned are prominent citizen who have occupied senior political positions for many years.
Anything less, is likely to lead to allegations and suspicions of deceit and dishonesty  within the community, which for 2 former and very senior Labour Councillors  who set the rules for the others, would be very damaging to their reputation.

One final thought on this matter. I have been attacked on Facebook by several Labour Party members for publishing my articles about the 2 former Labour councillors. I have been accused of victimisation, on line bullying and egotistical self promotion. This is utter nonsense. My articles were based entirely on up to date information from reputable and official sources freely available on the internet. Also public figures such as myself and the 2 former Labour Councillors should expect to be the subject of comment and often criticism about their views and behaviour - they call this democracy and its an important way of ensuring accountability. It just seems very odd to me that those attacking me were only too keen to criticise the UKIP Leader of Thanet when he failed to pay his council tax, but when it comes to a member of their own political tribe they circle the waggons and refuse to admit that their might be a problem. 
Surely the right and honest thing for Thanet Labour to do is  to investigate the serious issues I have raised rather than shooting the messenger with false  claims of bullying and harassment. To brush this issue under the table will be seen by  many as a dishonest political cover up that  will damage further the reputation and credibility of a party which has already cost the taxpayers of Thanet £14.5 million due to the incompetence and maladministration when it ran the council.
As a lifelong socialist I really hoped that under Jeremy Corbyn labour would be more open and honest in its dealings with the public. Cleary here in Thanet this is not happening.
Thanet Gazette  June 2009
The Head of Thanet’s Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) has admitted he should have got more guidance before building a huge shed in his garden. Ian Driver was given the green light to build a small tool shed behind his home in Seaview Road, Broadstairs, earlier this year.

But after seeing how the building had outgrown the original designs, the town’s planning committee recommended the building be refused retrospective planning permission at a meeting last week. Looking at photos of the site, mayor Mave Saunders said: “It’s clearly too tall and not at all like your common garden shed. It’s three and a half metres wide and so tall it must be a problem for the next-door neighbours.”
Mr Driver’s retrospective planning application will go before Thanet council planning officers, but he says he has already accepted he will have to change the building.The CAB chief said: “I admit that I got it totally wrong and I misread the planning restrictions. They are quite complicated, but I should have got more advice about it.

“I’ve now got to take the roof off and replace it with a flat one, which is costing me a couple of grand to put right.“I just wanted a place to keep my tools and have somewhere nice to sit out in the summer, but I can see why the town council have got upset about it. I would advise anyone who’s unsure about what planning permission allows them to do to see the experts. I wish I had now.”

Thursday, 8 September 2016

Driver, Green, Ward & Partners Who Speaks The Truth?

Greengate who is telling the truth?
Yesterday I published an article which claimed that former Labour councillors, David and Elizabeth Green, had converted the basement of their house at 27 La Belle Alliance Square into a self-contained flat. I also claimed that the Greens had not sought planning permission for this work, nor had they applied for building regulations approval for the works, and nor had they paid any council tax which might be liable to be paid for  the self-contained flat.
I stand by what I wrote and believe it to be true. My article was based on reputable public domain sources which I used in good faith believing them to be truthful and accurate. The sources were  

·       A property description, photographs and floor plans for 27 La Belle Alliance Square which are/were published on estate agents, Ward & Partners website, the Zoopla and Right Move websites, and in a downloadable pdf brochure. I have copies of these documents.

·       A “what the owner says” statement about 27 La Belle Alliance Square based upon what Ward and Partners   describe an “insightful interview with the owner”. I have a copy of the this statement

·       Thanet council’s record of planning applications and building regulation applications for 27 La Belle Alliance Square

·       The Valuation Office council tax register entry for 27 La Belle Alliance Square

·       The Valuation Office guidance booklet “Council Tax and annexes”

·       Planning portal

David Green has contacted me and said that
“the basement of 27 La Belle Alliance is current an office associated with the main building it does not have separate utilities and so is not a separate dwelling. The estate agents blurb should say potential for conversion to a separate self-contained flat. We are in the process of changing agents and re-advertising. I will make sure the new blurb is clear about that. Please remove these ridiculous and malicious accusations”.

Flat  or Office? Who is Telling the Truth?
My first response is to ask why The Greens need 2 offices?  According to the floor plans of their house published on line by Ward and Partners there is already a good sized office/ study on the first floor of their house. Why would the Greens wish to also use their very sizeable basement space as an office. Perhaps they are operating a commercial business which requires office space over and above their first floor office/ study. However if this was the case then the Greens would require planning permission to allow commercial activities from their home and may also have to pay business rates.  
But much more seriously David Green’s comments appear to suggest that his estate agent, Ward and Partners have made a serious mistake in their description of his house. Instead of saying that his basement was an office space with potential for conversion to a separate self-contained flat they incorrectly stated that it was a self contained flat.  If David Green’s statement to me is true  then he  has got a lot explaining to do – so lets begin.

As far as I can establish the Green’s house has been marketed by  Ward and Partners since 25 April 2016 that’s a period of 19 weeks. If the estate agent’s description and floor plans of their property were wrong, or misleading, as David Green has suggested,  then surely the Greens would have spotted these  mistakes and inaccuracies a long time ago and asked Ward and Partners to change the published property description and floor plans. It seems strange that it took my article of yesterday  to cause the Greens to discover that their estate agent had published misleading and inaccurate information about their house. Perhaps David Green can throw some light on this matter  and explain why he and Elizabeth Green didn’t spot  these serious  mistakes much sooner?
Ward and Partners are a long established estate agency who have a very high professional standards and who have served the people of Thanet well over the many years. The company is a member of the Property Ombudsman service. The Property Ombudsman has published a Code of Practice for Residential Estate Agents which is freely avaible on the internet.

According to Ward and Partners this statement was based on an "insightful interview" with the Greens
Paragraph 7i of the Code states that residential agents must “take all reasonable steps to ensure that all statements you make about a property, whether oral, pictoral or written are accurate and not misleading”. Ward and Partners written description of the Greens house says that “the basement is currently arranged as a one bedroom self-contained flat which has been recently converted and never used! It is accessed from its own entrance to the front and small courtyard to the rear; perfect for an additional income, or for a dependant relative”.

Are they telling the truth?
If the basement flat is, as David Green claims, an office then Ward Partners have published a massively misleading description of his house. This would  be a very  serious breach of paragraph 7i of the Code of Practice for Residential Estate Agents and David Green would have very strong grounds for a complaint to the Property Ombudsman. David Green could also complain to the Ombudsman that not only was the description of his property misleading, but that this misleading description  had caused someone (me) to publish a wildly  inaccurate and malicious  article about him and his wife on the internet, which as prominent Ramsgate citizens has caused them serious reputational damage.

Office or Flat Kitchen Who's Telling the Truth?
Being a former councillor myself I understand how upset and hurt the Greens must feel when unfounded and malicious information is published about them which damages their otherwise nonedescript reputation. Being unwittingly the cause of  their upset and hurt  I genuinely want to help them.  So  I am making  this offer to David and Elizabeth   Green – if they  submit a complaint to the Property Ombudsman about Ward and Partners misrepresentation of his property, I will provide him with a supporting statement explaining that my online article was based upon Ward and Partners description of the Green’s house and that my  article may have damaged their well-deserved reputations in Ramsgate . If David Green’s complaint is successful and Ward and Partners are found to have breached the Code of Practice I will immediately remove my article as it will clearly be untrue. You can’t get the fairer than that can you?

Office or Flat Shower Room? Who's Telling the Truth?
Continuing with the Code of Practice for Residential Estate Agents I now want to look at paragraph 7j which says that “the written details of a property must be agreed with the seller to confirm that the details are correct”. Being a reputable estate agent I am certain that Ward and Partners rigorously adhere to having their clients approve and sign off “all written details of a property”. This being the case then the Greens have  two important questions to answer.

First did the Greens agree and approve the written details of their property, including the references to the self-contained basement flat,  which were published on the internet and in a pdf brochure  by Ward and Partners?  Second did the Greens agree and approve the “What the owner says” statement about 27 La Belle Alliance Square which was published on the internet and in a pdf brochure by Ward and Partners?  This statement, which, according to Ward and Partners, is based on “insightful interviews with the owners”   attributes one or both of the Greens as saying that they “have most recently converted the lower ground floor into a self-contained flat”.  

Lots of Questions to Answer. Who's Telling the Truth?
I am sure that David and Elizabeth Green will have records, such as e-mails etc, of any agreements and approvals  they made with Ward and Partners about these important statements . Perhaps the Greens could post  copies of any such  documents online so the public can know what was actually agreed and who is telling the truth about the status of their basement. If the Green’s have lost these documents then I am sure that Ward and Partners will be happy to provide them with copies.

If Ward and Partners failed to ask  the Greens to “confirm that the details (of their property) are correct”, then the company would be in serious breach of the Code of Conduct for Residential Estate Agents and the Greens would have very strong grounds for  a complaint to the Property Ombudsman. Perhaps the Greens could clarify  whether they have, or are intending to,  complain to the Property Ombudsman about a breach of  paragraph 7i of the Code by Ward and Partners. If they do complain and if the Ombudsman upholds their complaint then I will course delete my article as it would be likely that it was untrue. You can’t get fairer than that can you?

Next, David Green in his complaint to me about my article, sates that  because his basement flat conversion, or as he now describes it – his  office – does not have separate utility supplies (gas, water and electricity) it cannot be classified as a separate dwelling. This is not true. According to the Valuation Office guidance booklet Council Tax Band and annexes a separate area of living within a dwelling house e.g. a flat or annexe, is defined not by having separate utilities but by having “independent access, or access from a hallway or landing; its own facilities for sleeping and preparing food; washing facilities and a toilet”.  
According to the Ward and Partners  property description  and a floor plan of the basement of 27 La Belle Alliance Square published on the  internet and a pdf brochure  the basement consists of 2 separate entrance to the front and rear of the basement, a bedroom,  a shower room, a kitchen and a toilet. The Rightmove, Zoopla and Ward and Partners website all include several photographs of the basement of 27  La Belle Alliance Square including a photograph of the basement kitchen a photograph of the basement shower room and photographs of rooms which could be used as bedrooms. Interestingly the photographs do not show any evidence of office usage of the basement area. They do not include images of computers, printers, filing  cabinets, desks etc. which I would have expected to see in a space which is described by David Green as “currently an office”. Perhaps  David Green could explain the absence of office related stuff in a space he describes as currently an office.

Clearly there is a major discrepancy between David Green’s account of what the status of his basement is and how his estate agent describes it. David Green also appears to have misunderstood  what criteria are used to decide what is and is not a self-contained flat or annexe. There is one way to decide this.

I publically challenge David and Elizabeth Green to invite a Valuation Office inspector to visit their home. The inspector can then decide whether  a basement which allegedly has had the stairs connecting it to the rest of the house removed, but which has 2 of its own separate entrances; a kitchen; a  toilet; a shower and  rooms suitable to be bedrooms;  is an office or a self-contained flat. If the latter, the Inspector can also calculate how much council tax the Greens must pay and from when they must pay it. If, on the other hand,  the Inspector decides that the Greens basement  is not a self-contained flat then I will of course delete my article of yesterday. You can’t get fairer than that can you?

Being the helpful type of person I am I have already written to the Valuation Office to inform them that the Greens are having difficulties  is determining the status of their basement and that they would welcome a visit from an inspector who could then advise them. I have also written similar helpful letters to Thanet Council’s  planning and building control teams who I am sure will be keen to support the Greens in determine what permissions and approvals they might need for their basement. You can’t get fairer than that can you?