Thursday, January 05, 2012

In Extra Time

I can’t really describe tonight’s Cabinet meeting of Thanet District Council as a ‘Game of two halves’ but in many senses it was. The one person everyone was looking forward to seeing in the chamber was however conspicuously absent or perhaps observing unseen!

The new Labour administration kicked the Pierremont Park community centre firmly into touch and Margate Football Club’s pitches and Travelodge hotel application were the victim of an unfavourable referee’s decision and sent back to the changing rooms or at least a full council meeting later this year.

We had some political waffle about ‘the disgraceful state of repair’ of our legacy buildings but without any recognition of the last report I was given in 2010, that estimated a sum of £11 million was required by the council, simply to keep them all going; we have so many fine buildings from the Victorian era to maintain.

As the former Cabinet member for Planning I had told Margate Football club that the decision was on the council agenda and would be determined before Christmas. However the incoming Labour administration, removed it from the business and tonight turned this into a non-decision. This now confuses me for these reasons:

1) Mr Piper and Mr Lever met with me and insisted on several occasions that there was an absolute deadline required for a council decision on their lease application to be met by the middle of December or the development partner, Travelodge, would pull-out and the club would be unable to move on and up.

2) Labour members and in particular, Cllr Hart,  didn’t appear to grasp, that the entire development picture for the future of the club and the artificial pitch, has, for the last year, been predicated on the council treating the a slice of the park  as an asset disposal under its rules and granting a 125 year lease for the hotel and nothing less, as I have written before.

Now it’s quite possible that Mr Piper has a different agenda or indeed a different development timeline designed to convince Labour members that he hasn't  shared with me. However, any final decision will be made by the entire council on whether to grant the long lease the club insists it requires to deliver on its plans. I now wonder if it has become irrelevant, unless the Travelodge deadline has now slipped well into 2012. I’m sure supporters and local residents would really like to know but Labour missed the opportunity to be decisive and the game continues on, well into extra time and may in time be settled by a penalty shootout in the council chamber.

The 2012 council budget… what can I say? It’s really the Conservative budget with some tinkering around the edges which even Cllr Ian Driver regarded as completely daft and said so. I never thought I would find myself in agreement with him!

In a nutshell, Labour has released money for events, bread and circuses the Romans might say but they have taken it from the council’s contingency fund at a time when Government warns that we may be even harder-up next year.

So Labour locally have done what their government did nationally. Spent a huge part of the safety net on populist and token gestures, that will have an almost insignificant affect on anybody in Thanet, but which could put the Council in a very difficult position in the future.

The Conservatives, being as fiscally cautious as you might expect, kept council tax unchanged but worried that in the present perilous economic climate, we might need the money for something really important in the future. Labour, playing Russian Roulette with the events budget think otherwise and on this we must disagree, politically, financially and philosophically. I suspect that even Karl Marx might throw a wobbly but then I’ve a great idea for a new tourist event for Labour to fund with all that extra cash from the 'New Homes Bonus Fund' and I even have a Trade Union boss ready to support it!

40 comments:

Anonymous said...

Simon,

Excellent news on the Piermont park and Hartsdown Park issues, at last a council that respects the wishes of the residents of Thanet and has decisively put them first.
A great decision all round for common sense and clear thinking.

Anonymous said...

No they haven't. They're just afraid of making a decision which will p--s off the powerful football club so they haven't made a decision at all!

But if they sell the public land for profit to the club, the people who voted for them will dump them like the plague.

And they're flogging off the family silver to pay for some photo opportunities in the summer. So if there's a problem needing saved cash to fix it, we're buggered and essential services will be cut even more.

Common sense and clear thinking?
Are you sure?

Jeremy Jacobs said...

How interesting Simon. I've heard (albeit at some distance) that the Council has approved all leases for Margate FC (including new stadium and hotel) and that the only thing that wasn't approved was the was the 3G pitch.
As you so rightly state, the decision now goes to full council for what would appear to be "rubber stamping" and about time in my opinion.

DrM. said...

Completely untrue Jeremy.

The amended planning permission on the smaller hotel was approved.

No new leases have been approved and this will now be sent to full council later this year to decide on each and every one.

If you have heard that any leases have been approved outside this transparent process then you need to inform me as it sounds like a return to the bad old days of Thanet.. nod nod wink wink which I thought I had buried for good!

Anonymous said...

Thanet has always suffered from the nod nod wink wink wink brigade,you only have to look at the mess that is the current Dreamland site, Pleasurama, Northdown House and alike to understand that there are some who deal at a different level than the rest of us.
Simon, I applaud your efforts to clean up Thanet politics but even someone with the experience you have must feel like your fighting a losing battle.

For me at least, it does not matter what side of the table you sit, all that matters is that the job of running the council is done professionally and with a high degree of competence,it's early days yet so lets give Clive room to show what they are able to do, after all Bob had more than enough time at the top and achieved absolutely nothing.

Perhaps you should seriously consider running for the leadership Simon, you have a firm support base and hold a deal of respect across the political divide of Thanet..... you have had some good ideas in the past so something to ponder.

Anyway, fingers crossed that the issues of Hartsdown and Piermont are now confined to the rubbish bin where they hailed from,Thanet has enough to worry about without these needless distractions.

Jeremy Jacobs said...

Simon

Can I suggest that you pop a note on to the MFC forum and the FB site? The impression left by those in attendance was that there has been a huge step forward with most leases being approved.
If this isn't the case, then some supporters (and I'm not one of them) will see this as yet another fudge by the Council. What is the problem with giving MFC a 125-year lease now?
Simon, this is so frustrating - other towns such as Dartford, Crawley, Fleetwood, and countless others I could mention all seem to have local authority backing. Everywhere else seems to progress except for Margate.

DrM. said...

Jeremy .. You do it and point them back here. The 125 year lease challenge has been explained to death!

It's public land and the club needs the long lease to raise value against it for the hotel development

This would basically involve granting them the equivalent of freehold and local people hold very strong views as reflected in the consultation

Jeremy Jacobs said...

I've already mentioned this blogpost on the unofficial FB site.

Perhaps I'm missing something here Simon. You've granted planning permission for a new (and smaller hotel) and one presumes will shortly grant a lease for that and other parcels of land on which the football club currently resides. The contentious issue is with the ingress into Tivoli Park by the 3G pitch and I hear that a lease for that has, or will be, refused.
I'm keen to understand why certain local residents think that the existing ground football club area is "public" - when in reality it has been closed for public access since 1929.
I understand the point you make about the 125-year lease and can see why some people would object in principal.

DrM. said...

Jeremy.. I've just noticed you are listed as an editor of one of the more bizarre websites I have seen yet http://www.theospark.net/

One-up on Peter Checksfield perhaps!?

Anyway.. to answer your questions:

The club is a tenant and does not own the land. It has had a rolling lease for years. A developer (Mr Lever) with an 'interest' in the club has applied to build a hotel and expand the clubs activities across the public land while seeking to unlock the value of one section through asking for a 125 year lease in order to fund a hotel.

The council have consistently been informed that without that 125 year lease,which is pivotal for all the other smaller leases there would be no hotel and potentially no future for the club.

So has Mr Piper been completely honest with his fans or is there another hidden agenda? To be honest I no longer know but suspect there is more to this than meets the eye.

Perhaps Iris Johnston knows more but getting a straight answer on the subject from our lady Mayor may be asking a little too much.

So full council will now decide to whether to grant each and every lease, one after the other and there may be an end to it.

Peter Checksfield said...

Thanks for that Simon (& Jeremy), site now bookmarked! : )

Tom Clarke said...

I see someone claims the council have at last listened to the people over the Pierremont Park community centre. Well that hardly seems to be the people of Broadstairs.

At last May's election the opponents of the community centre made it an issue by calling on their supporters to vote for candidates who opposed the plan. These names were well publicised in a press release.

In fact, in only one Broadstairs ward were opponents of the centre elected. Elsewhere thirteen out of fifteen elected Broadstairs town councillors supported the scheme.

Is that listening to the people or is it democracy Labour style where vociferous minorities are championed over the Conservative majority of the town. Michael Childs wondered if the new administration would punish Tory areas as he alleges the previous one did to Ramsgate. I think he now has his answer.

Cookiemfc said...

Mr. Moores.It was nice of you to give us your full backing last night.Appreciated.
Just a couple questions if I may. Iris Johnstone says it is a matter of procedure that a decision has to go to Full council rather than be decided on the night (last night).Is she correct?
Does that not apply to the Pieremount issue where that in fact was dismissed on the night & not passed over to full council. Are dismissal decisions therefore allowed on the night but any possible passing of applications is passed over.Is that correct also?.

Anonymous said...

OOOOhhhhhh someone's tired !!!!

cookiemfc said...

Sorry, you confuse me there with your comment.
A few simple questions for confirmation purposes that's all. I'm quite content with last nights decisions/outcome thank you.

DrM. said...

Cookie.. I was never unsupportive but simply responsible for making sure that the process was followed properly. If you asked for my opinion I would say the delays have been mostly with the club and Mr Piper's side because while you might hear that applications or documents had been submitted, this wasn't always the case or more accurately, they were not in the form required by the council to move forward. That meeting at Westgate Pavillion was a fine example as you may recall me challenging Mr Piper when he said he had submitted the amended planning application for the hotel and paid the fee, told the audience he had when I challenged him, when in fact, this was not the case.

In regard to the Cllr Mrs Johnston's statement on leases, Cabinet is empowered to make final decisions but may choose to refer any item back to full council for further debate if it wishes.

In regards to last night, the officer's recommendations were in the council documents and Cabinet could have run through each and every one as a 'Yes' or 'No' in regard to the different leases requested, which the Conservative group were expected to do before Xmas and I had told the club as much.

There's something else I want to check with the legal officer who is in a meeting so I hope to expand on this a little further later.

Anonymous said...

Does anybody know why JW wasn't there?

cookiemfc said...

"Quote"
In regard to the Cllr Mrs Johnston's statement on leases, Cabinet is empowered to make final decisions but may choose to refer any item back to full council for further debate if it wishes".

Thank you for your answer.
It did sound like it was a legal requirement from the way she spoke but obviously that is not the case..Thank you again

DrM. said...

On checking, my understanding is that the Cabinet is authorised to make lawful decisions and can change council policy which is basically what happened with Pierremont Park as Labour ran roughshod over the Broadstairs town council decision and supported a minority of Labour-led activists who were against the community centre.

So short of receiving contradictory information, which I would not have been party to yesterday evening, my view is that Cllr Mrs Johnston is incorrect and that the decision on the award of leases, could have been made on the night but was instead deferred.

cookiemfc said...

Your reply is appreciated.Thank you

John said...

Simon you should come to a game! or go through the MFC history site and see how important the club is to the town, its fans worldwide and how great things could be with a little positive backing.

DrM. said...

I have just had the benefit of the council's legal advice and the executive decision on Margate Football Club will have to be taken by the Cabinet and Cllr Mrs Johnston is misinformed and her statement of last night may have misled observers and fans.

So the application has been deferred and referred to full council for debate but full council will have to kick the ball back to Cabinet for the final executive decision on MUFC.

I hope that's now clear and would invite the Labour Cabinet to make an unequivocal statement on where the process now stands?

Anonymous said...

So are we saying that Iris was effectively "off side" WHEN SHE SCORED THAT AMAZING OWN GOAL ????

You gotta hand it to her, for a woman in her twilight years she really can cover a lot of ground...

Will Scobie said...

Annon 4.26pm

You cannot be offside when scoring an own goal.

Also Simon, while I enjoy all of the puns with regard to making decisions on Margate Football Club, I believe kicking into touch is actually a Rugby term although I may be wrong.

I look forward to discussing the future of MFC at Full Council in two weeks time, and in the interests of transparency I am glad everyone will have their chance to contribute towards this process.

DrM. said...

I ran out of puns and fell back on what I know best.. Rugby!

Michael Child said...

Simon are you saying that the press release that the council issued today saying:

“At a meeting last night (Thursday 5 January), Cabinet agreed a series of recommendations, which will now go to Full Council for a final decision. The recommendations from Cabinet are as follows:

Support the extension of the current lease for the main ground from 10 to 24 years.
Refuse granting a lease for an extended area for a football pitch, as this is too intrusive in Hartsdown Park………………”

Is wrong. That what one group of officers have relaxed as the council’s official position, another group of officers reckon is illegal?

DrM. said...

It's what is not said which is deafening....

The 125 year lease is what the whole project hinges upon. I checked with the council and apparently there has been no notified change in the position of the club that if approval wasn't met by 17th December 2011 the whole project would fall through.

Recommendations are simply 'Recommendations" they hold no executive weight.




Support the extension of the current lease for the main ground from 10 to 24 years.
Refuse granting a lease for an extended area for a football pitch, as this is too intrusive in Hartsdown Park.

Advise the removal of the extended parking area from the proposal or, at most, grant a small extension to the current car park. This would require the developers to seek an alteration to the current planning condition on parking provision. The reason for this is to avoid any further significant intrusion in Tivoli Park.

Support the granting of a lease within the current football ground area for the construction of a hotel in line with the approved planning application, but try and ensure that the lease is as short as possible, whilst still making the project work financially.
Support the extension of the lease for the current five-a-side pitches and car park from 15 to 24 years, to coincide in timing with the main ground lease.

Michael Child said...

Forward for final decision, seems pretty clear to me.

I suppose that a 125 year lease could never have been issued without going through the full asset disposal process, so the football club would have known that this couldn’t be granted by 17th December.

I suppose also as the club didn’t announce on the 18th December that there would be no development the deadline must have been a bargaining chip.

Are you saying here that the cabinet should have issued the full 125 year lease yesterday?

DrM. said...

The answer to your question is 'Yes' I'm told by Harvey earlier today, as Cabinet holds the final executive authority. Not much different to Pierremont Park.

The decision rests with Cabinet.

Based on his record to date it is quite difficult for me to have confidence in the accuracy of Mr Piper's pronouncements.

Michael Child said...

I think I see where Harvey is coming from here, we are talking the localism act if I am not mistaken and as far as I can see were this a residential lease where the tenant would not become the landlord or be the local council, this is right.

My understanding is that as this a commercial lease of over 25 years it still has to go through the asset disposal process, although this process is now different due to the act.

I guess the cabinet could have tried this on the basis of it being new legislation, but I think this would have left the council open to judicial review, something that could have been very expensive in the circumstances, as I think they would have been the first council to try this under the new legislation.

Then there are the implications of part 5 chapter 3 which is to do with the rules for land of community value, this is based on the council having to make a list of this land, I would guess disposing of any of it between the time the council were told they had to make the list and the time the list had actually been made would be a lawyers paradise.

DrM. said...

We could go around in circles for hours but I think in an analogy for the fans, the game is about to start extra time and the referee has gone missing!

I really don't think that Mr Piper has clearly explained the linked-issues and his deadline to them while at the same time, last night's Cabinet, with all the officers present, could have properly summarised and explained what the situation was before they ran off with the ball.

Anonymous said...

Simon,

There seems to be some confusion here, on one hand it is being very clearly stated that the 3g pitch has been totally removed from any further negotitions and is no longer on the table. The remaining leases are to be negotiated on individually and no assett disposal of public land is viable:
HOWEVER, posted onto the Margate Football Club website is the following...
Full Cabinet had recommended that Full Council formally approve the club's application for the following:

Area (A) The Football Stadium - 24 year lease
Area (D) The Commercial Parts, including the 80 Bed Hotel - 125 year lease
Area (E) The existing Car Park - 24 year lease
Area (C) The additional car park - 24 year lease, but reducing the car park length towards Tivoli Park Avenue in order to free up more park land.

Full Cabinet further recommended refusal of Area (B) The Full Sized 3G Pitch (24 years), but have given the club until Friday 13th January to amend its application on area (B) in order to gain Cabinet support, which in turn would change Cabinet's recommendation to Full Council.

Now all of this totally goes against what has already been stated as the position of council, perhaps you could untangle the above and provide some clarity on exactly what the hell is going on.... this from some angles does look like a nudge nudge wink wink deal in action...

DrM. said...

It all hangs on 'Area D' as the club has insisted that development as planned is predicated on the 125 year lease being granted so the value of the land can be leveraged for the Travelodge construction that will fund its plans.

The position appears to have changed somewhat between an outgoing Conservative administration and an incoming Labour one.

To be honest,I'm not happy with the clarity of the picture as it was presented by Cllr Mrs Johnston last night or indeed the process and neither I suspect, is the leader of the independent group, Cllr King, who was asking similar questions some minutes ago.

Anonymous said...

Area D will require assett disposal if 125 yrs is to be granted.
With the current valuation of Hartsdown being in the region of £20m development value there will need to be a sizeable payment made by Travelodge for the rights to this land.After all 125yr lease is effectively freehold.
Nowhere in any documents raised so far by MFC have there been any indications as to payments towards this cost of land ownership, are we to believe that this land is being "GIVEN AWAY" by council so that a hotel can be built ?
No buisness plan so far that justifies a financially viable proposition yet it is being given approval..... are you mad !
Smoke and mirrors so far have left everyone now scratching their heads wondering what is actually happening.
Simon, hyperthetically, if you and your Conservative colleagues were still in power would this entire proposal have been given a green light last night, YES or NO ?
i cannot understand how a proposal with no viable business plan is being given such support.

SteveP said...

Hold on a minute who said anything about Hartsdown being given a 125yr lease?
There are charitable organisations at Hartsdown struggling to get more than 10yrs on their leases, so why are the football club being given such favourable treatment, that's hardly transparent council now is it..

DrM. said...

I am quite aware of such concerns but as the change in council denied us the opportunity to debate the matter in Cabinet it's no longer my decision and the only input i will have is at the full council meeting where i hope i may add to the debate in a useful way!

SteveP said...

So when you get the chance to add to the debate wil you be in favour of giving a 125yr lease for the hotel or would you be looking at a much lower figure....

DrM. said...

You will have to wait until I give my own little speech otherwise I would be givng my position away in advance!

Anonymous said...

O come now simon, that is really low and hardly the type of answer i would expect from someone with your reach.
Ok then, put it a different way so as to save your blushes.... had Labour not got into power would the conservative cabinet have passed the proposals to develop Hartsdown Park, in your opinion of course.

DrM. said...

Now if I told you what I might have done, then Labour would immediately latch on to it in one forrm or another. The decision was taken out of my hands and given to Iris so let's see what she does but I warn you, you will get a very long story crammed full of reminscences I'm sure!

Anonymous said...

Dont we know it, it's enough to put you to sleep,i really do not envy you having to put up with it, mind you with the years marching on the way they do the problem must surely be over very soon,not exactly the spring chicken.
So in the words of good old Jeremy Clarkson "and on that bombshell" we will have to end it there !