Saturday, March 17, 2012

Squeezed Middle

Last week, I promised a column to celebrate Labour's first hundred days of power here in Thanet, listing the Party's many rapid achievements and initiatives since independent Councillors Jack and John handed them the council in December. The problem however, is that the wheels are now falling-off Clive Hart's administration, so quickly now, that even with the most generous intentions, it's really quite hard to find anything of any real substance which has succeeded since December, which wasn't already a council initiative or policy in progress. Quite frankly, wearing a suit and camping-out in the council offices, simply because there is nowhere else to go for a day's work, doesn't always make an effective political administration.

This week we have the Minnis Bay windsurfing championships, overnight parking debacle, to add to last week's collapse of Margate Football Club's new stadium plans, Arlington/Tesco and of course, the news of the sale of Manston airport.

One has to retain a sense of humour in local politics and I read that the local rag has gleefully picked-up a quote from Clive that all his problems are a consequence of 'dithering' by me and my colleagues in the previous Conservative administration.

I've been accused of a great many things over the last few years but being a ditherer hasn't been among them; quite the opposite in fact.

Back to the news from Margate Football Club for a moment. Readers will recall much striding around, a personal examination of each blade of grass at Hartsdown Park and quite frankly, the wool being vigorously pulled over the eyes of the public and the club's supporters, by Margate's Mayor, Cllr Iris Johnston.

The Thanet Gazette, in the form of reporter Thomas Brown, were no help to anyone, as they seem absolutely unprepared to ask the really important questions, even when I told them what they were. The paper appears to have pinned its colours firmly to the belief that between them, Clive and Iris could wave a magic wand over Hartsdown Park and a new hotel would appear within weeks.

There's a great deal of the football club story that the fans don't know and I would encourage them to ask searching questions of the club, rather than simply lay the blame for Travelodge's decision on council officers. The decision could have been made before Christmas, when it was on my Cabinet agenda, but it wasn't and the rest is, I'm sorry to say, history.

I'm told that the application for a new Sainsbury's at Hundreds Farm in Westgate has now been submitted and next week, I've a meeting with Councillor King and Trader's representative Reg Bell, to decide on the next step towards calling a public meeting which can involve both Birchington and Westgate interests.

This week, I also discovered that an application is being prepared for a small Tesco store in Station Road, Westgate, in the disused railway strip opposite Beano's cafe. and the new tapas bar, opening soon

This really did take me by surprise and there is a story attached. When the developer originally put in plans for this very tight spot, I was minded to oppose them but reached a compromise, which involved four small commercial shop units, in keeping with the style of the village, which might attract new businesses locally.

Mr Ellis received earlier planning approval for commercial use but now reportedly wishes to change the proposal quite radically. I'm quite unimpressed by this and do not believe that a Tesco store on this narrow spot is in any way appropriate; parking being the least of my objections.

It very much looks as if Westgate is now being squeezed tightly between the interests of Sainsbury's and Tesco and while that might be a good thing for shoppers' choice, I consider it a really bad position for local traders to find themselves in, so I will be keeping readers informed of what's happening as the weeks pass.

16 comments:

Anonymous said...

It's ok though - we see from the Gazette that there is a strategy from Labour courtesy of Cllr Gibson - they're going to turn Thanet into a maximum security prison! Fantastic. That's the sort of regeneration focused thinking we want to see from our Labour leaders!

Thomas Brown said...

Allow me to respond, Mr Moores, if you believe in balance and right to reply.

If you read the Times piece in conjunction with the Gazette article you will see both sides of the story.

I spoke with Alan Poole on two occasions after the club were asked to provide evidence.

A 125 year lease is tantamount to asset disposal so a compelling case was required from the club's investors and a letter from Jones Lang LaSalle was deemed insufficient.

Not being a expert in leases and land law, Cllr Poole enlisted the support of a Tory councillor with more financial acumen to help oversee negotiations - Rosalind Binks.

Speaking to Cllr Binks, she said there was no progress as the info received to date was not enough in the eyes of senior officers.

After taking advice from people in the market, she agreed that 125 yrs was excessive and Cllr Poole could not have done more.

What did frustrate club officials was the lack of dialogue with council officers on the finer detail of what they actually needed. Keith Piper claims he submitted evidence on Jan 29, only to be told on Feb 15 that it was insufficient.

This wasted valuable time and Mr Piper had provided all the contact details for investors and lawyers to try to reach a compromise.

In the meantime, Mr Piper had hired an independent valuer to value the lease but this seems to have changed little for TDC.

There are parallels between the windsurf debacle and the stadium saga in the sense that officers do not seem to have gone out of the way to enable progress.

One could conveniently blame councillors in both cases but as you are keen to point out officers hold the expertise and should not be constantly micro-managed. I believe councillors should at least oversee situations and enable communication between officers and organisers/developers to break deadlocks.

What were the important questions I failed to ask?!

Cllr Poole says they needed a letter explaining 125 years was a requisite for investment not merely a wish. The debate seems to have never moved beyond that.

The club's fans and thousands out of work deserve better than for people to play politics with the stadium.

Please enlighten everyone if you do know more than is in the public domain.

It may help overcome the impasse and I'm sure the Gate's legion of fans will give your blog thousands of hits to hear the full story.

DrM. said...

Tom, I did attempt to inform you at the earlier Cabinet meeting in regard to progress on MFC but not unusually, you had appeared to have made up your mind and were not prepared to listen.

The results proved me correct.

It's not for me to try and help you ask the right questions, I can only try and point you in the right direction.

So I recommend you look back at your coverage of the story and compare and contrast it with what has been written in quite some depth, here and elsewhere and judge for yourself, whether anything vaguely resembling useful 'investigative reporting' has been carried out by the paper.

Anonymous said...

Is this the same reporter who got all dewy eyed over the Occupy wasters?!

DrM. said...

That's it. Got it in one!

Michael Child said...

Simon, even the Labour councillors who are not uncritical of senior Conservative councillors concede that out of all of them at least Simon Moores bothers to explain issues and generally what he says is intelligible.

Anyway I have just read your post and either they have put something in my tea or you have written a criticism of the Labour group and the local press, which is all fine and dandy, if the didn’t deserve it they probably will, so good on you.

However when you come to explaining the actual issues things seem to be aimed at people who already know about them, which in the case of the Minnis Bay issue I don’t, so do you think you could expand on it a bit.

One thing that seems glaringly obvious to me is that this is in one of the more affluent parts of Thanet, now my guess is that the councillors there are Conservative, did they have their eyes off the board as it were? I mean are you saying that the Labour councillors knew what was going on and didn’t do anything about it, while the ward councillors didn’t know what was going on so couldn’t do anything about it?

Looking in from the outside the football club business and the airport business seems to be beyond the control of the councillors of either party, where any council concessions, like give us £xm worth of real estate or £xm worth of deregulation, are just being used as bargaining chips with third parties that may have loads of money even £xm.

Oh and thanks for removing the word verification, there is nothing quite like trying to type something unintelligible on my phone.

DrM. said...

To be honest Michael, I have been away most of last week and only caught up with the Minnis Bay issue last night. Meanwhile, I'm involved in a rather bizarre email conversation with our diversity champion which I'm shaping into my next post. It's far more enjoyable, I'm sure!

Michael Child said...

I guess I would certainly be interested in your views on diversity and equality, how do you feel about same sex marriages?

DrM. said...

Michael

I support civil partnerships with most liberal-minded people out there.

Michael Child said...

I think you will find whichever way the same sex marriage thing goes, civil polygamy will still be off limits.

Anonymous said...

What has happened to the protesters? Last I heard they were on the station roudabout, but they're not there now.

Anonymous said...

They've revolutionised the evil capitalist system, brought world peace and an end to poverty so now they're having a well earned bath and a cup of tea and trying to finish that sociology essay that was due in last month.

Col said...

This must be the same Gazette reporter who thinks the Arlington Tesco will, 'overlook Margate maun sands' [Friday 16th March, P2]
The paper's standards were never particularly high to begin with. They have recently reached an all time low. For the record, the proposed store 'overlooks' All Saints' Avenue and the Railway Station!

Peter Checksfield said...

Col, I generally like & support The Gazette, but there's no doubt that they're showing considerable bias in their coverage of the Arlington Tesco. If someone bought a "seafront" property that was hidden behind a tower block & had no seafront views then they'd (quite rightly) want their money back!

As for gay marriages, I have very mixed feelings over it. By all means allow them, but not in churches (or mosques) if it's against what these religions believe in. The Bible (& The Koran) isn't The Highway Code, & can't just be rewritten to suit changing morals... and I'm saying this as an openly bisexual man who has no strong religious beliefs.

Thomas Brown said...

Hello Col and Peter,

I'll invite you to examine the latest drawings the developers have submitted. A selection are available at: http://www.ukplanning.com/ukp/doc/Drawing-9258819.pdf?extension=.pdf&id=9258819&location=VOLUME7&contentType=application/pdf&pageCount=1

The store is approx. 5 times wider than the tower block and 15m high, with the store set on the first floor above a customer car park.

Following the demolition of Arlington Square arcade, the Sands will be clearly visible from the store and vice versa.

I am not dogmatic about this application but the proposal and report accompanying it are so riddled with inconsistencies and omissions that the full plans are still not published and the Planning Inspectorate have had to order a new EIA ahead of an inquiry. Hardly an endorsement of due diligence.

Biased to whom, Peter? We present the facts and offer the developers/planners a right to reply and promote the scheme but alas nobody wanted to comment. People can make up their own minds.
Are you biased for having a view, Peter?

The campaigners have had to put their hands in their pockets to ensure the development meets existing planning briefs (it doesn't) and its impact is considered (it hasn't).

Other authorities have negotiated hundreds of thousands of pounds in s106 agreements for superstore schemes and all TDC officers have managed to get for Arlington is some minor highways contributions (to allow Tesco's legion of lorries to get in and out easily). All told, this scheme is of precious little planning gain for the people of Margate.

Anyone studying these proposals in detail and speaking to everyone involved with it (KCC, Dreamland Trust, TDC, developers, residents, traders) would struggle not to have these concerns.

KCC regeneration boss George Chandler is one such man - he expected a better contribution for much needed improvement to seafront public realm.

If having an informed view is biased and holds planners to account to get the best development possible for such a strategic location, then so be it.

Tesco are a major retailer and advertiser for our business and if we were truly self serving, we could spin it as a great thing for the town but anyone informed about the scheme would demand that we aren't asking the right questions...

Why are there not more planning gains?
How will you refurb the tower without owners' consent?
How will you manage the traffic when your own plans (Arlington/Dreamland briefs) tell you a service road would be needed to support any development in the area?
Why do the planners still not know what the store will look like?

I'll continue to ask these questions and endeavour to seek answers from the developers and planners. You can make up your own mind. But please READ THE PLANNING REPORT.

A final question to ponder: can you name a single successful seaside resort with an 82,000 sq ft superstore on its seafront?

Enough blog talk, I'm off to write something that'll get a few more readers!

Anonymous said...

Tapas Bar Openning soon? do you know when exactly and have you got a menu yet.

Sampled any food, and whats good to eat?