Sunday, 30 October 2016

Ramsgate Live Exports We're Making History

On Friday I attended a meeting organised by my friend and longstanding anti-live animal exports protestor, Reg Bell. The meeting had been arranged  to review the 5 year old campaign to ban the  brutal animal export  trade, not just from Ramsgate, but from every port in the country. But this was no ordinary meeting. Reg being an extremely persuasive person, was able to bring together under one roof in Thanet, some of the most influential voices in animal welfare in the country.
The new Chief Executive of the RSPCA, Jeremy Cooper was there along with Daphne Harris Chair of RSPCA Trustees and Chris Wainwright the RSPCAs Director of Communications and External Relations. Emma Slawinski Director of Campaigning from Compassion in World Farming attended as did Thanet South MP Craig MacKinlay and Ian and Yvonne Birchall from Kent Against Live Exports.

The meeting discussed Craig’s 10 Minute Rule Bill which amends the 1847 Harbours, Docks and Piers Clauses Act, to allow local authority owned ports to use their discretion and ban live exports from their ports. Craig’s Bill reaches its second reading stage on Friday 4th November. If successful the Bill will then go on to committee stage, third reading and then hopefully becomes law.  But even if it becomes law, we will still have to wait for Brexit for it to have a practical effect. Nevertheless it’s a big step towards the eventual ending of this nasty and cruel trade. Both RSPCA and Compassion said that they backed Craig’s Bill and that their supporters across the country have been contacting their MPs to ask them to vote for it!
The meeting then discussed the enforcement of existing EU animal transport welfare regulations. Everyone agreed that pitifully few resources have been invested in policing the regulations and that  cuts in central and local government spending are likely to make an unacceptable situation even worse. However, Brexit, or no Brexit, it was still possible for the UK Government to introduce  our own legally enforceable national laws and regulations limiting live animal transport times to 8 hours a day. In fact  Sweden, Denmark, Holland and  Germany have already announced that this is something they are thinking doing themselves.  We all felt that an 8 hour limit would put an end to live exports to the EU, or make it so expensive to comply that the exporters would  simply give up. This is a subject which the RSPCA, Compassion in World Farming, Craig MacKinlay MP and local campaigners felt was worth exploring in much more detail.  It was agreed to establish a regular co-ordination meeting at which all parties would monitor the situation in Ramsgate and explore the development of Parliamentary actions to change our laws and effectively ban live animal exports for slaughter once and for all.

It’s not often I come away from  meeting thinking wow I have been part of  something which will make massive  and profound difference!  But thanks to the efforts of my friend Reg Bell a meeting was arranged  which  brought together all the key players in the UK animal welfare movement and this meeting, I believe, will kick start a co-ordinated drive to restrict live animal transport to 8 hours day ending forever the cruel, barbaric scenes we have witnessed and continue to witness at Ramsgate  Port.

As my one of my heroes LKJ once sang “we’re making history”

Thanet Labour’s Shameful Electioneering at Non-Political Community Meeting

Organised by a group of people from different political parties, or with no political affiliation,  who were worried by Brett Aggregates plans to massively expand their concrete manufacturing operations at the port of Ramsgate; the hugely successful public meeting  last Thursday was understood by virtually everyone to be non-party political. This message was re-enforced at the beginning of the  meeting by the Chair  (see video clip below. But sadly some members of the Thanet Labour Party crudely abused the non-partisan nature of  meeting by distributing Labour Party leaflets in the Oddfellows Hall.
Chief amongst the distributers were Thanet Councillor Karen Constantine and Raushan Rahman, who by a strange co-incidence are both also Labour Party candidates in the 2017 Kent County Council (KCC) elections.  In an ill-disguised  attempt at KCC electioneering the leaflet included many mentions of, and quotes from, the 2 aspiring county councillors,Constantine and Rahman.
Irecognised in the packed 200 plus audience people I know to be members of the Conservative, Green and Lib-Dem parties and members of UKIP also. Not one of them attempted to distribute party literature because they knew and respected the non-party nature of what was a community meeting. Sitting near the front of the meeting was Ramsgate Labour Councillor, Peter Campbell who appeared to me to be distinctly uncomfortable with the antics of his comrades Constantine and Rahman and who noticeably didn’t lend hand in the leaflet distribution.  It was utterly disrespectful and abusive of the meeting for Constantine and Rahman to have circulated their leaflets. Had I been the chair I would have asked them to desist or leave.
As a lifelong socialist who has handed out thousands of leaflets in my time,  I was taught that the proper and respectful way to distribute party literature at public meeting was to stand outside and hand leaflets to people has they entered or left  the hall.  But clearly Thanet Labour’s wannabe KCC councillors Constantine and Rahman don’t give a damn about the sensitivities and etiquette of  public meetings. Nor do they let the clearly expressed wishes of the meeting organisers and chair, hamper their shameless self-promotion. I trust  we don’t get a repeat of this unacceptable behaviour at the next meeting on 1 December and hope that Constantine and Rahman’s political bosses give them a good bollocking!
For the record I am not the only person to have commented about Labour’s disgraceful politicking. Several members of the audience said to me it wasn’t right, including one person who thought I was a Labour Party official!!!

Friday, 28 October 2016

Packed Ramsgate Port Meeting- Secret Plans Will Kill Tourism

It was standing room only as more than 200  people  attended a public meeting last night at Ramsgate’s Oddfellows Hall to discuss Brett Aggregates  expansion of  their concrete batching operation  at the town’s port, including the installation of large noisy aggregate crushing and washing facility.
The meeting was addressed by South Thanet MP Craig Mackinlay, John Walker of the Ramsgate Society, Janet Fielding of Project Motor House and former Thanet Councillor, turned local blogger and campaigner, Ian Driver.

Speaker after speaker highlighted the damage which the expansion of Brett’s concrete manufacturing activities may cause to Ramsgate’s atmosphere and the increased risk of pollution to Ramsgate’s designated marine and coastal protection areas. The speakers all agreed that excessive industrialisation of the port area would have an adverse impact upon Ramsgate’s reviving tourist industry and was likely to deter visitors.
Craig MacKinlay told the meeting that he was opposed to Brett’s plans and called for a review of the Ramsgate port’s  future uses, with a focus on non-polluting light industry, the traditional fishing fleet and  non-polluting leisure use such as a modern marina to complement the Royal Harbour. He said that he had written to the Secretary of State for  Local Government, the Leader of Kent County Council and the Chief Executive of English Nature opposing the plans and demanding a full public hearing. John Walker read to the meeting a letter of opposition from the Ramsgate Society which had been sent to Kent County Council who are reviewing Brett’s proposals  and Janet Fielding explained some of the technical planning matters which people could include in their letters of objection.
 Ian Driver pointed out that Kent County Council’s Minerals and Waste Plan offered Brett’s operation at Ramsgate port strong protection from any challenge and objection. He also said that Thanet Council’s 2014 Maritime Plan stated that the council was in favour of expanding aggregate processing at the port. He criticised council officers and elected councillors, from all parties, for failing to ensure that there was proper and extensive public consultation about the Mineral and Maritime plans in 2014 when they were being decided on. He denounced Thanet and Kent County councils’ culture of secrecy and behind closed door decision making. And condemned has undemocratic “the deliberate exclusion of the people of Ramsgate from having a say about policies which will have a major impact on their lives”.

Ian Driver speaking photo Keith Ross
To audible gasps of surprise Driver announced that in response to a Freedom of Information request he had submitted to the South East Local Economic Partnership, he had received documents which revealed that Thanet Council had submitted a £4.17 million bid for Government funding,  plus a £2million contribution from Thanet taxpayers, to massively expand industrial activities at the port.
The funding would help to pay for an “alongside” berth at the port which would improve the unloading of bulky cargo such as aggregates for Bretts concrete making operation. It would also be used to help to fund the development of a large freight hub to service  the port on, or close to,  the former Manston Airport site. Finally the bid would help to pay for a massive expansion of Ramsgate Port’s capacity to accommodate heavy goods vehicles (HGVs) from the current annual capacity of 500,000 HGVs to a staggering 1millon HGVs a year.

Said Driver “these plans were developed in secret by Thanet Council officers and a tiny cabal of senior politicians without anyone knowing. Yet again there has no public consultation with the people of Ramsgate about whether they want a massively industrialised and polluting port with 100 of HGVs traveling to and from the port every day and night, or whether they would prefer instead a non-polluting leisure focused port which will create hundreds of jobs for local people and increased business and investment in the local economy”. Although Thanet’s plans were not put forward to the Government for approval this year, Driver says that reliable sources have informed him that the plans remain a top priority and will  be submitted as a funding bid at the earliest opportunity.
All of the audience speakers condemned Thanet and Kent County council’s secrecy in drawing up plans, policies and funding bids in secrecy and for deliberately failing to consult the people of Ramsgate about the intensive over-industrialisation of the port. All of the audience speakers insisted that Ramsgate’s port and seafront should be used for leisure, rather than heavy industrial purposes, which would develop and promote a sustainable and vibrant visitor economy in the town.  It was agreed to hold another public meeting on 1 December and to set up a fighting fund to secure legal advice on stopping Brett’s expansion at the port.

A copy of Driver’s FOI response is attached to this press release.
Dear Mr Driver
Thank you for your request for information made under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) 2000.
The Port of Ramsgate bid is a request for £4.17m of LGF3 funding to match with £2m from Thanet District Council for the construction of a new double-deck ro-ro berth at the Port of Ramsgate.  The Port is a municipal port owned and operated by Thanet District Council, and this investment represents the first phase of a three phase expansion strategy to increase the Port’s capacity and resilience.  This will enable the Port of Ramsgate to add to the South-East’s strategic capacity to service increases in projected cross-Channel ro-ro traffic of 45% expected through the South East’s Channel ports over the next 20 years (in Road Goods Vehicles terms an increase from 3.17m vehicles in 2015 to 4.6m by 2035, i.e. an additional 1.43m vehicles). (what about £200million expansion of Port of Dover won’t this deal with the growth in  vehicle numbers. No mention of London Gateway Port ability to absorb increased vehicle number – surely there is no need for Ramsgate Port expansion it will be a massive waste off taxpayers money? – comments Ian Driver) 
Ramsgate Port currently has the capacity to accommodate up to 500,000 HGV’s per annum. This investment will increase that capacity to 1 million HGV’s per annum.  At 58 miles, Ramsgate is the same distance via the M2 from the QE2 Bridge as Dover and offers an opportunity to meet future freight demand by linking with the continental road and rail network via the Port of Calais.  The port also offers cost effective routes to Northern Europe via Dunkirk, Ostend, Zeebrugge and Vlissingen.
This first phase of infrastructure investment will improve the Port’s handling capacity, particularly for unaccompanied freight vehicles. The proposed works for the first phase will develop a new modern double deck ro-ro berth which will increase capacity, and by offering an alternative to the existing double deck ro-ro berth will also build in resilience which cross-Channel operators often look for.
This on-port investment will be key enabling infrastructure capable of leveraging second phase public and private sector investment in the development firstly of an on-port new alongside quay for the Port’s existing aggregates cargo and bulk cargo expansion and secondly an off-site freight logistics hub at Manston Business Park; and if services and traffics develop to the level that is possible, then a third phase seaward port expansion.

Sunday, 23 October 2016

Dont Trust the Dreamland Trust

It might have played an important role in helping  to save Margate’s Dreamland, but that was then and this is now. Last Tuesday’s  poorly advertised and badly  attended (less than 50 people by my estimation) open meeting of the Dreamland Trust at Margate Winter Gardens,  showed just how out of touch,  complacent and irrelevant this once highly regarded organisation has become.
The new chair of the Trust, Bernie Morgan,  tried hard to create the impression of a dynamic leader with new ideas but in truth she appeared to lack vision, had no new ideas and seemed perfectly  content to be overseeing an organisation which, to put it politely,  is a shambolic mess. Its public facing website is hopelessly out of date. Trustees who resigned long ago are still shown as being members of the board. Her predecessor, Nick Laister, who ceased to be the Chair of the Trust three months ago is still listed on the website as occupying that post. Basic  information about the Trust like its aims and objectives, minutes of board meetings, policy documents, activities and performance reports and its accounts have not been published on the Trust website. Worse still an expensive publically funded survey about Dreamland and the work of the Trust was advertised on its Facebook page 2 days before the closing date and not at all on its website. The new Chair has had 3 months to put these important organisational problems right, but has clearly failed to do so.
It’s often said in management circles that an organisation which does not have an up to date public face and which demonstrates  an arrogant disregard of  accountability by failing to publish its governance and performance documents, is an organisation which is dysfunctional and unfit for purpose.  This is a view with which an overwhelming majority at last Tuesday’s meeting appeared to agree with including several  former Trust staff who lead a barrage of criticism of the Trust including calls for the resignation of the directors.
The main focus of the criticism was the Trust’s lilly-livered failure to stand up to, and speak out against,  the massive incompetence of Thanet District Council and Sands Heritage in their management of the £22million publically funded Dreamland amusement park. The Trust was condemned for remaining silent about the premature opening of Dreamland in June 2015, before the iconic scenic railway was operational and for its continuing silence over Sands Heritage inability to get the scenic up and running for almost 16 weeks following its  latest problems.  Concern was also expressed about the Trust’s lack of comment  over the selection of Sands Heritage as the theme park operator despite it privately having serious concerns about the appointment process. Some speakers were surprised that the Trust failed to make any public statement about the collapse of Sands Heritage into administration and for failing to put forward alternative plans to run the theme park. Several speakers suggested that the Trust was no longer for fit purpose and that it needed to fundamentally review its role to include a stronger element of public scrutiny of Dreamland and holding the council and park operator to account.
Personally I thought the audience, whilst clearly angry, let the Trust off the hook lightly. Its new chair and directors were clearly disinterested in the points which were raised, condescendingly batting away questions as being none of their concern or outside  their paygrade. To me this approach signified that the Trust is  out of touch with the community and its ideas and aspirations for Dreamland, especially the need for the management and development of  this publically funded £22million project to be held to account and for the people of Thanet to know that that its money has been well spent.

On a positive note, the new chair said that she will be recruiting  new directors for the Trust. I’d go one step further and say to the chair, that on the basis of their  recent performance she should sack all the existing directors and replace them as well. Either way, every effort should be made to ensure that all  new directors should be passionate about Dreamland , in touch with community thinking, and determined to hold Thanet Council and  Dreamland’s operator to account on behalf of the public.  It was good to see that the anger and frustration of the audience was  sufficiently powerful to force concessions from an otherwise arrogantly dismissive top table, who promised more our fear than good-will,  to hold another Trust open meeting in 5-6 months time. At this meeting they promised they would present  new proposals about how the Trust would operate. I sincerely hope that these proposals will include a powerful element of public scrutiny of the management of Dreamland and its  increased public accountability. Anything less would confirm my view that the Dreamland Trust and its directors are  unfit for purpose  and should be got rid of.

One final observation about the meeting. Only one of Thanet's 56 elected councillors, Mick Tomlinson, was interested enough in the work  of the organisation to make the effort to turn up to the meeting. And Councillor Tomlinson is no friend of the Trust,  having made some strong criticisms of it at briefing meetings when I was also councillor. I guess this lack of political support at Tuesday's meeting underlines how irrelevant the powers that be regard
the Trust and why they were excluded from the decision making for so long without so much a murmur a public protest. The new Chair and new directors have certainly got a big job of work on their hands.

Here's my video of the meeting

Tuesday, 18 October 2016

Brett’s & Ramsgate Port. Something’s Not Right?

I have been studying the documents on Kent County Council’s website about  Brett Aggregates proposals to install an aggregate washing plant at Ramsgate port and presumably expand and intensify their  concrete manufacturing operations there. The documents show that Brett’s established their current concrete batching operation at the port in 2010. But on studying the documents I’m worried that the original permission for Brett to operate from Ramsgate Port might not have been properly granted.

In a letter to Brett dated 28 May 2010 TDCs then Head of Major Developments, Doug Brown, states  that the Ramsgate Port Harbourmaster had prepared a report for English Nature about Brett’s  “batching plant proposal”. For the Harbourmaster to have produced such a report for English Nature seems very odd to me.  Ramsgate Port is located in the middle of an extremely sensitive marine area which is protected by several different specialist designations. The port is adjacent to a site of special scientific interest (SSCI), it’s close to a special area of conservation (SAC) and a special protection area (SPA). The port also falls within a marine conservation area (MCA) and there is also a rare Ramsar designated area of coastline next to the port. Bearing in mind the complex and extremely technical nature of these special environmental protection designations I cannot believe that it was appropriate for Thanet Council to have delegated the task of writing a “report to English Nature with regard to the batching plant” to its Habourmaster.

The Ramsgate Port  Habourmaster is not qualified in marine environmental science. It is my opinion that he is not competent to produce a report on the environmental impact of a concrete batching plant upon the protected marine habitats adjacent and close to the port. I’m astounded that Thanet Council’s then  Head of Major Developments, Doug Brown, seemed happy to accept a report from an  unqualified person as “confirmation of how environmental implications (relating to the Brett concrete batching plant)  were addressed”. However, this is same Doug Brown who,  after leaving TDC, teamed up with his  former boss and ex-Director of TDC Planning, Brian White, to  advise O’Regan’s on their unsuccessful application to set up a concrete block manufactory at Ramsgate  Port.

The right thing to have done in 2010 would have been for Thanet Council and Kent County Council to have insisted that a proper independent environmental impact assessment of Brett’s concrete batching plant be carried out by a suitably qualified marine environment protection expert and that this report would have then been sent to English Nature for them to decide if Ramsgate port was a suitable location for an industrial operation such as this.  KCC and TDC should also have insisted that such a report be produced at Brett’s expense, rather than what appears to have been a highly irregular and  improper freebie from an unqualified council employee.

I will be contacting Thanet Council, KCC  and English Nature to find out exactly what happened in 2010 because from where I’m  standing it looks as though  the existing operation may well be environmentally compromised, which will of course have implications  for Bretts new proposals.



Friday, 14 October 2016

Brett Aggregates. Council Deceit

Thanet Council issued a press release yesterday about Brett Aggregate’s plans for its operation at Ramsgate Port. The press release deliberately downplayed Brett’s status by describing it as “local company”. They are not.  According to their website Brett Aggregates have 3 regional head offices covering London, Southern England and Eastern England plus a specialist head office for their marine aggregates activities. The Brett Aggregate website also lists the addresses, telephone numbers and emails of 29 aggregate depots across London, Southern and Eastern England. Their annual accounts for 2015 state that they made pre-tax profits of £4.5 million.
These are hardly the statistics you would associate with a “local company”. The truth is that Brett Aggregates are one of largest and most powerful aggregate producers and suppliers in the UK. To portray the company in any other way, especially when it relates to an issue of genuine public concern about their commercial operations at Ramsgate Port, is to deceive and mislead  local people. Something you would not expect a public body to do. But hey this is Thanet.

The press release goes on to say that the large aggregate washing plant which Brett hopes to install at Ramsgate Port, is required to “enhance the company’s existing operation”. This wording suggests that Brett’s are not planning any major changes at Ramsgate but simply improving, streamlining and modernising what they are already doing.  Once again the council is being deceptive. The press release deliberately fails to mention the fact that Thanet Council has already permitted Brett to expand the area of land it rents at Ramsgate Port. It also fails to mention the fact that the new washing facility, which also incorporates a noisy aggregate crushing capability, will allow Brett to increase its aggregate processing capacity to over 100,000 tonnes per year which is a huge increase on their current production capacity.
So what we actually have, is not a small local company enhancing its existing operations, as deceitful TDC would have you  believe,  but one of the largest aggregate companies in the UK, significantly increasing the footprint of its operation at Ramsgate Port and seeking to install equipment which will enable it to massively expand its productive capacity. Expansion on this scale is certain to have serious noise, dust and traffic implications, plus an increased threat to Ramsgate’s protected marine conservation areas next to the port.
I strongly suspect that this expansion, is  not be the end of Brett’s ambitions at Ramsgate port, but the beginning of further growth and development of its capacity. Why?  Well a recent report from the highly respected British Geological Survey notes that   land based aggregate extraction from quarries and gravel pits has been is steady decline over the past 20 years. So called “marine dredged aggregates” are now beginning to replace land extracted sources, particularly in south east of  England which apparently has abundant supplies of marine aggregate located  in  shallow water which makes much  easier and cheaper to extract. Already having a specialist marine aggregate division, plus a facility at Ramsgate which offers plenty of room to expand and grow, will give Brett a huge advantage over its competitors and the opportunity to dominate the south east England marine aggregate business.
Second, in 2017/18 work begins on the £150 million expansion and improvement of Dover Harbour.  This huge civil engineering project is estimated to require an astronomic 2.5 million cubic metres of aggregate. Dover Harbour Board plans to extract the aggregate from the nearby Goodwin Sands and is currently awaiting a decision from the Government’s Maritime Management Organisation about the granting of a maritime aggregate dredging licence which will permit this work. With its considerable expertise in marine aggregate dredging; access to a large modern aggregate processing facility at nearby Ramsgate Port, Brett’s would be a front runner to win any contracts for marine aggregate dredging and processing that Dover Harbour Board might be letting in the next year or so.

Last but not least, the much delayed Local Plan for Thanet will include a target to build at least 12,000 new homes in the district in the next 15 years.  Dover, Canterbury and Shepway districts also have their own Local Plan targets for new house building over the same period of time. Coupled with the infrastructure and services  to support this large increase in housing numbers there will be a significant increase in demand for aggregates and concrete in the east Kent area. Once again Brett with their strategically located base in Ramsgate are ideally positioned to corner what is likely to be an extremely lucrative market.
My belief is that if Brett are given permission, by KCC,  to expand their activities at Ramsgate Port this would open the door to a series of expansions leading to the port and surrounding areas becoming dominated by a massive aggregate processing plant. Such a development would quickly  kill off  Ramsgate’s slowly  reviving visitor economy destroying in the process many more jobs and business opportunities than  the Brett’s aggregate plant could ever create.
Its simply wrong to locate a potentially polluting and environmentally  damaging industrial operation in the middle of town which depends on its visitor economy. There are plenty are other locations, not in tourist areas, which Brett could use – for example Ridham docks, which would provide excellent facilities for their business. Like the O’Regan concrete block debacle which was strongly resisted  by Ramsgate people 18 months ago,  we now need to be begin a new campaign to stop Brett despoiling Ramsgate’s seafront. This continual pressure to locate dirty, polluting  industries at the port and the seeming willingness of Labour and UKIP  council administrations to comply and cooperate also underlines the urgency of developing a “People’s  Plan” for Ramsgate seafront which will be leisure focused and exclude inappropriate industries and off-shore Panamanian property speculators too.  

Thursday, 13 October 2016

Ramsgate Port, Brett Aggregates & Revolving Door.

I’m extremely worried about Brett Aggregates plans to massively expand their operation at Ramsgate Port. I have some serious environmental concerns about their proposals, not least of which is the impact that a large aggregate washing facility might have upon the protected marine conservation area adjacent to the port. I’m also concerned that the growing industrialisation of what is essentially a failed port, will adversely affect Ramsgate’s  growing visitor economy and work against  any discussion of alternative, leisure based uses for the port such as modern 21st century marina. The continuing use of the port for low investment, low job creation businesses such as aggregates, car-importation and live animal exports threatens to blight Ramsgate’s seafront and is not the best answer for the regeneration of the town.

I'll be writing about these issues in more detail over the next couple of weeks and am now doing some background research into Brett’s and their plans. But  within 10 minutes of me kicking off my research and Googling information about  the company blow me down if I didn’t spot something very interesting.  According to a press release on Brett’s website the company has appointed a new Director of Lands and Planning. I assume that this Director will be responsible for acquiring, disposing of and managing all the sites and properties operated by Brett’s and ensuring that they all have the required planning permissions and licenses. I also assume that this Director will by the nature of the job title, be leading the negotiations and discussions with TDC and Kent County Council about the expansion of his employers operations at Ramsgate Port.  But what caught my attention  most was not the duties of the job, but the person who had been appointed to do it – Mr John Bunnett.

John Bunnett was until 2009 Deputy Chief Executive of Thanet District Council. If my recollections are correct Mr Bunnett  was responsible for managing TDCs regeneration and planning operations . I also believe that he may have managed TDC’s current Chief Executive. Mr Bunnett left TDC in 2009 to become the Chief Executive of Ashford Borough Council where he remained until moving to Bretts this year.
I’m not suggesting any impropriety by Mr Bunnett or anyone else, but I have always felt  uncomfortable about the so called “revolving door”  whereby senior public servants move into the private sector and then use their public sector knowledge, expertise and contacts to benefit their new employer. Indeed there was an identical situation 18 months ago when TDCs former Director of Planning and his deputy - Brian White and Doug Brown - were employed by O’Regans to unsuccessfully push through a planning application for a concrete block manufacturing operation at the port. I wrote about this in early 2015 and the posts are still on this blogsite if you are interested.

Although “revolving door” employment  is perfectly legal it doesn’t feel right to me. I believe that  there is something fundamentally unethical and undemocratic  about private companies head hunting senior public servants to capitalise upon their knowledge, experience, contacts and influence in order to secure a unfair business advantage over their competitors. And its not just me who has these concerns. The House of Commons Public Administration Select Committee and the Committee for Standards in Public Life have both said that the “revolving door”  carries with it major risks of unfair influence and advantage which work against competitiveness and value for taxpayers money and can often lead to unfair and improper decision making. The highly regarded anti-corruption charity Transparency International  recently published a report which argued that the revolving door can sometimes give rise to corruption, preferential treatment and unfair advantage.
So as a starting point in considering Brett Aggregates plans for its Ramsgate Port operation,  I think it would fair to ask Thanet Council and Kent County Council   to provide the following information  

·        The number of meetings (formal or informal) which have been held in 2016  between TDC/KCC  (officers and councillors) and Brett’s to discuss their plans for the expanding their  operation at Ramsgate Port including the introduction of aggregate washing and the dates of these meetings.

·        The number of telephone calls  (formal or informal) which have taken place  in 2016  between TDC/KCC (officers and councillors) and Brett’s to discuss their plans for the expanding their  operation at Ramsgate Port including the introduction of aggregate washing and the dates of these meetings

·        The number of e-mails  (formal or informal) which have been exchanges   in 2016  between TDC/KCC (officers and councillors) and Brett’s to discuss their plans for the expanding their  operation at Ramsgate Port including the introduction of aggregate washing and the dates of these meetings

·        Whether any of these meetings, telephone calls and e-mail exchanges involved Mr John Bunnett of Brett's and if so please specify which.

Wednesday, 12 October 2016

Cardy Construction. £18million debt. Liquidation & Pleasurama

The publication of insolvency practitioners, RSM Restructuring LLP’s, report into the collapse of building contractors Cardy Construction in July of this year, with a loss of approximately 200 jobs and debts estimated to be £18million is, according to ex- Thanet councillor Ian Driver, “devastating news for former Cardy staff and Kent  based businesses and also raises  extremely serious questions about  Thanet Council’s (TDC)  dealings with this failed company over the Ramsgate seafront Pleasurama development”.
The report, published on the Companies House website, blames a series of unspecified arbitration claims against Cardy, totalling  £3million, for reducing  the company’s liquidity to a level at which “it could no longer meet its ongoing cash requirements and pay its debts as they fell due”. The administrators will be recommending, at a creditors meeting to be held in London today (Wednesday 12 October),  that all available funds recovered from the non-trading  company are distributed to creditors and that the company is then dissolved via a Creditors Voluntary Liquidation process.
Documents published on the Companies House website record almost a thousand creditor claims against the company, with more likely to be in the pipeline. Many of the claims are from small/ medium sized Kent-based businesses ranging from several £100s to £10s of thousands. The administrators have identified NatWest Bank, which is owed £347,953, as a secured creditor and former employees, who are owed £165,274 in unpaid wages, as preferential creditors. This leaves an estimated £556,000 to be shared out amongst the remaining creditors including HM Revenue and Customs who alone are owed £304,000 in unpaid taxes and national insurance.

Said Driver “the collapse of Cardy Construction will have a devastating impact upon the 200 people who worked loyally for the company and the hundreds of businesses in Kent and elsewhere who will now have to  absorb  losses which could easily destroy some of them. This is appalling news for Kent’s economy which is ill-placed to deal with a multi-£million hit like this”.
He added “I’m extremely concerned about these revelations and the implications that they have for the controversial Ramsgate seafront Pleasurama development. In March 2015 Thanet Council's then Leader Cllr Iris Johnston and Cabinet Finance boss Cllr Rick Everitt signed on behalf of TDC a contract with Cardy Construction to become the builder of this large  £30million development which includes 107 luxury flats and 60 bed hotel. The question must now be asked what due diligence did TDC and  Cllrs Johnston and Everitt conduct  into Cardy Construction before the contract was signed? Was TDC aware of the arbitration cases pending against Cardy and their impact on the company’s financial  stability? If not why not?”
He went to say “Debts of £18million don’t accumulate suddenly  overnight. It took many months for this terrible situation to develop and the warning signs must have been clear during  2014/15 when TDC was negotiating with Cardy. Did TDC spot these signs? If they did  what action was taken to protect TDCs interests? If they didn’t why not?
“I’m also extremely concerned by the actions of Cardy Construction’s managing director, Mike Stannard. According to the administrators report Stannard, and I presume his fellow directors, were aware of  Cardy Construction’s financial troubles  long before it entered administration. So why, just a week before the company was taken over by administrators RSM Restructuring LLP, did  Stannard buy the freehold of the Pleaurama site, as previously agreed by the Labour controlled council in 2015, using  £3million loaned to him by the  financial backer of the discredited former Pleasurama developers SFP Ventures, Mr Colin Hill. It seems very strange to me that at the very time that the company which was going to build the Pleasurama development was going out of business, its managing director buys  land which it would have been unable to develop.  It simply doesn’t make business sense to me. I think Mr Stannard and Mr Hill need to provide the people of Ramsgate with an explanation about this mysterious transaction.

“Furthermore  why did TDC and its new political bosses UKIP who had seized control of the council from Labour in the   May 2015 elections, allow the previously agreed sale of the Pleasurama freehold to go ahead? Surely the council and its political leadership must have known just before the land sale happened in July 2016  that Cardy was in serious financial difficulties. Surely the right thing to have done, if they did know, would have been to put a hold on the sale of the land until the situation had been properly investigated by TDC and its legal advisers. Sadly nothing was done. The land is now under the control of a company which is managed by a long-standing colleague of SFP’s Shaun Keegan and Colin Hill and there is a loan charge on the land for £3million  from offshore Panamanian registered Mintal Services Inc. which is linked  to Colin Hill”.
Labour Councillors Everitt & Johnston celebrate in March 2015  doing the deal with Cardy's Stannard . If only due diligence had been more robust
“Had the council and its Labour and UKIP political bosses, managed a much more robust and comprehensive due diligence of Cardy then I believe that it would have been  highly unlikely that the Pleasurama development contract with this  company would ever have been signed and highly unlikely that the freehold of the land would have been sold to Stannard.  We now have the appalling situation where,  because of what appears to me to have been  gross incompetence and mismanagement  by TDC and its political bosses, a large chunk of expensive, and  previously publically owned, seafront land has been lost forever to an offshore Panamanian company.  These disturbing revelations add yet further backing to Thanet South MP Craig MacKinlay’s call for a an independent inquiry into the shameful Pleasurama debacle”.

As my heroes the Sex Pistols Said Do you ever get the feeling you've been cheated? 

Wednesday, 5 October 2016

Pleasurama Labour’s Excuse Factory Begins Work

Everitt & Pals  Wiping Pleasurama Slate Clean - Or Did They?
Writing in this week’s Gazette former Thanet councillor Rick Everitt, the man responsible for overseeing the 2015 deal whereby building company Cardy replaced SFP Ventures Ltd, as the new Pleasurama developers said that this deal had “wiped the slate clean”. I assume he meant  by this that getting rid of the people associated with former developers SFP Ventures, Shaun Keegan and financier Colin Hill, who were responsible for 14 years  of inaction and the blight Ramsgate’s seafront, a new start could be made and the development could finally get underway.  Indeed in his letter Everitt actually says “when the Council signed the deal with Cardy Construction for them to take over the contract in the spring of 2015 I was confident work (on the Pleasurama site) would recommence that summer”.
But was Everitt’s confidence a confidence of convenience? And just how clean had  the deal with Cardy wiped the filthy  Pleasurama slate?  Because despite Cardy’s takeover of SFP Ventures in 2015 those previously associated with the company continued to lurk in the shadows from where, I believe, they exercised a powerful influence and control over the new Pleasurama developers Cardy and its  managing director Mike Stannard.
And on what do I base this assertion?  Well in 2014 Cardy Construction was granted outline planning permission by Waveney District Council in Suffolk to build a £150million,  850 house development at the  Brooke Marina site  Lowestoft. As developments go this is quite substantial and possibly one of the biggest projects Cardy had ever been involved in. The profit to be made from a development of this size would, I image, be quite substantial and very, very tempting. But here’s the rub, the owner of the Brooke Marina site is according to Land Registry, Swiss based company Flight Services SA. A quick check on the internet reveals that Flight Services is owned by a Mr Colin Hill. This is the same Colin Hill who was the financier behind SFP Ventures Ltd. Hill’s father in law is Shaun Keegan who was, until Cardy and Mike Stannard took over control of SFP , its sole director. Between them they were responsible for 14 years of inaction at the Pleasurama site and the long-term blighting of Ramsgate’s seafront which continues to this day.  

So for former Councillor, Rick Everitt to state in a letter to the Thanet Gazette that the agreement with Cardy “wiped the slate clean” was not quite true. Cardy through their Lowestoft link with Colin Hill continued to have a close working relationship  with the very people who Everett and the Council claimed to have  eliminated from the Pleasurama equation.  I would suggest that this relationship, from Thanet council’s point of view,  was highly risky because the leverage and influence which could be exercised by the promise of a contract to build  the £150million Brooke Marina project would have made Cardy very malleable and highly likely to do the bidding of the former-SFP people.
The Cardy-Hill  Lowestoft link was never a secret.  During the course of the 2014-15 negotiations between Cardy and Thanet Council, it was well know that Cardy had secured planning permission for the Brooke Marina development and that Colin Hill was the site owner. In fact a former member of the Friends of Ramsgate Seafront management committee, Barry James, wrote a blog about this relationship and he has told me that he spoke to several senior Labour Party councillors about this matter on more than one occasion. So when Thanet Council and Rick Everitt where negotiating in 2014/15  with Cardy about taking over  the Pleasurama development contract from SFP Ventures it is extremely likely that they knew all about the Cardy/ Colin Hill Lowestoft  link. Knowing of this link The Council and Everett must have recognised that Hill was in a position to exercise significant  influence over Cardy and Mike Stannard. Surely knowing these facts Everitt and the Council should have exercised much greater caution in their dealings with Cardy and negotiated a much tougher deal with them, and certainly they should never have agreed to sell off the freehold of the Pleasurama site to Cardy. But they appear to have ignored the warning signs and failed to take action to properly protect the Council’s interests.
Moving forward 12 months, whatever the reasons for Cardy going bust we might never know. But it seems more than a co-incidence that Hill, through an offshore Panamanian registered company, Mintal Inc., lent Stannard and Cardy Ramsgate the money  needed to purchase the Pleasurama site, just days before Cardy Construction entered administration. There is a charge for this loan registered against the freehold of the Pleasurama site.  The question must be asked why this transaction ever took place when Stannard must have already known that  Cardy Construction was going to the wall. It also seems strange that shortly after the Pleasurama site had been bought off the Council  and Cardy had gone  under,  Stannard resigned as Director of Cardy Ramsgate to be replaced  by long-time associate of Shaun Keegan and Colin Hill,  77 year old accountant Anthony Hollis. 
You don’t need to be the sharpest knife in the box to have realised that Cardy and Stannard’s continuing association with Colin Hill made the Pleasurama development extremely vulnerable to an aggressive re-acquisition. And so it turned out, with the land and the development company now back firmly under the control of Colin Hill. With a little a bit of forethought and some focused research from Thanet Council  this  possibility  would have been clear and with half decent planning it could been avoided.
This is why I believe Rick Everitt wrote his letter to the Thanet Gazette. He realised his deal with Cardy  had collapsed and recognised that those previously associated with SFP,  who had supposedly been “wiped clean”,   had returned and seized control of the Pleasurama freehold. But instead of fessing up for overseeing and agreeing the  shitty deal which made this possible  and taking some of the responsibility he used his letter to quite shamefully pass the buck and heap the blame for this entirely  foreseeable fuck up on council officers. Like a coward scared of facing the music Everritt  claims in his letter that he began to have doubts early in 2015 about how council officers were managing the Pleasurama situation. Surely, if his concerns were genuine, he should have spoken out at the time, rather than waiting more than 16 months before expressing his worries. His long silence undermines his credibility and the timing of his letter is strongly suggestive of watching his backside.
So  now that the Pleasurama deal appears to have collapsed;  now that the freehold of this  prime seafront site has been sold off; now that the people of Ramsgate are likely to have to face the appalling possibility of having their seafront blighted  by this eyesore for many years to come; the Labour Party excuses factory gears up into action. I wonder who else from the previous Thanet Council Labour Cabinet will write weasel worded letters to the Thanet Gazette blaming someone else for their fuck up