Monday, February 27, 2012

Briefly Sainsbury's

Birchington Parish Council had Sainsbury's on the agenda this evening and along with Westgate's Cllr Tom King, I sat in. And very crowded too it was as you might expect!

From Sainsbury's PR Agency, GKA, David Hoare -pictured below- and Maria Twomey answered questions and shared the early results of the company's own public consultation. This was reportedly 300 responses by email, mail, etc of which 55% supported the plans and 39% were opposed, with 6% undecided. That's roughly 5.5% of the Westgate population.

In contrast, local trader, Reg Bell, who was present, has raised 1,000 signatures to his 'Say No to Sainsbury's' petition, which he will be handing-in to the planning department of Thanet District Council.

While several people spoke out in favour of the plan, the great majority of those present this evening were quite outspoken in their opposition to the building of a 12,000 sq/ft supermarket on the Canterbury road, next-door to the Ursuline college.

I did raise the matter of the Will of the late Ivor Reed, which made a condition of future development of Hundreds Farm, one of not more than three houses. GKA pointed-out that this was not a covenant and no restriction to commercial development on the land.

Once again, the principal concerns surrounded the potential impact on the surrounding high-street economies, the impact on the Canterbury road of a new junction and what this might mean for traffic and surrounding schools and of course a reluctance to see commercial development on that side of the Canterbury road.

Cllr King and I have offered to call a combined public meeting when Sainsbury's finally submit their application for development and the company have agreed to attend, to present their plans in a properly chaired open forum and allow the traders and the public present their views.

I will be keeping readers informed as this progresses.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Spring Comes Early

Dusk on Saturday evening was a colourful event. Not only were four of the planets lined-up neatly with the point of the crescent Moon in a cloudless sky but here on the north cost of Kent we had one of the artist's fabulous 'Turner sunsets' to enjoy.

I was out walking the dog and tried to catch it on my iPhone camera and the result, given its limitations, really wasn't too bad I thought!

Yesterday, I was over to Compton Abbas in Dorset to fly a banner and by mid-afternoon, the band of spring-like weather stretched all the way along the south of the country, giving some fantastic views on the way home. I missed hitting a large buzzard by a matter of yards at several thousand feet over Sussex, enough for me to see the startled expression on its feathered face and perhaps for the bird to hear me say *****!

Tearing myself away from Katie Price's riveting column in today's Sunday Sun newspaper and catching-up with Friday's equally 'soaraway' Thanet Gazette, I notice that the letters pages are increasingly becoming a platform for personal remarks. The tone of the letter written by Cllr Jack Cohen, directed at Cllr Alasdair Bruce, was quite uncalled for and I thought, petulant, discourteous and misleading too, as it used the excuse of seeking support for the Minnis Bay day centre, to attack Cllr Bruce's position on achieving a sensible and consistent local parking policy, a subject where both Cllr Cohen and Cllr Worrow, remain isolated in their demands for special treatment for Birchington. I have added a response from Cllr Bruce to the comments on this entry.

Changing the subject completely for something more romantic than parish politics, it's a Leap Year on Wednesday and I already have one, if not two marriage proposals to fly as the ladies use this once in a four year excuse to try and nail down indecisive partners. If you are a fan of Ice Age and the character 'Scrat' then you may have the same picture in your head as I have.



Friday, February 24, 2012

Nicholson's Silk Monkey Moment

Thursday's full council meeting was one of the more good humored that I can recall over the last five years and reminded me of a long football game that was being settled by penalties, as both teams looked to score a winning goal against the other.

To share some of the highlights, Cllr Ian Driver, was undoubtedly the star player of the evening and the former left-winger and red team player caused the collapse of the Labour group defense on several occasions, voting with the Conservatives and leading to the defeat of Labour's manifesto pledge to reduce councillors' SRA allowances by twenty per cent. This was on the grounds that it would discriminate against minority groups, the disabled and women from becoming involved in local politics.

In fact, councillors allowances have been held by TDC for six years now, against the advice of the independent remuneration body that calculates them and Tory leader, Bob Bayford, described the Labour motion as 'Cynical gesture politics' that would release a relatively small amount of money which would achieve very little in real terms.

Cllr Mike Harrison, AKA, 'Comrade Lenin' has his own version of events, which deftly ignores the pivotal role of Ian Driver of undoing Labour's plans or indeed 'The Campaigner'  and once again retreats into the familiar socialist rhetoric of a 'relentless attack' on the working classes by the coalition Government.

'Comrade' Councillor Nicholson, couldn't resist the temptation to remind councillors that 'Toff Millionaire Cameron and his fag Clegg" along with their friends "The white silk monkeys," were untouched by the financial pain felt by the rest of us but what a 'white silk monkey' is or does in a political context, was a mystery that was never revealed and perhaps we will find out at the next council meeting.

Confusion still exists in Labour's ranks on the subject of taxation and Government cuts and they might have done well to listen to former Chancellor, Alasdair Darling being interviewed on Radio 4 this month, over the problems he faced in regard to the vexing question of a 50p tax rate. Just to remind ourselves, the top 1% of the country's earners contribute 30% of the total tax revenues. The highest earning half of the population is now contributing nine pounds out of every ten in income tax and the biggest problem, as described by Darling, lies with the so-called 'Squeezed-middle', those families who lie just on the wrong side of the working tax credit system but are not among the highest earners taking home above £40,000 a year. These pay the greater proportion of the taxes required to fund our welfare state and who feel the pain of the recession most.

The political high point of the evening, other than a robust exchange involving bottoms, male genitalia and beards between Cllr Wells and Cllr Driver followed-on from the appointment of John Worrow as the council's 'Diversity Champion'.

Cllr Michelle Fenner had avoided answering any direct questions over why John might be qualified for the role or indeed why we needed such a champion and Cllr Worrow had already primed the debate by asking if the new council telephone system took diversity issues into account. This question on diversity conscious telephony, caused a few puzzled looks, as some wondered if this was asking whether the caller's ethnicity, age, gender or disability might deserve separate questions and keypad responses on an automated system.

However, John Worrow, 'The Campaigner', was confirmed in his new role, as many councillors struggled to suppress grins and giggles, including those on the Labour front-bench and then a little later in the proceedings, it all went horribly wrong for them.

Back to the question of reducing councillors allowances and Ian Driver lucid and very passionate speech. '"Ask your new Diversity Champion what he thinks," said Conservative Jo Gideon and John Worrow, bless him, promptly shot the Labour motion down in flames and with it, one of their manifest commitments, leading to complete defeat when it went to the vote.

Worse still for Clive Hart, what should have been a simple rubber stamp exercise to appoint a Labour councillor to an outside body overseeing housing in Kent was unceremoniously kicked-out and his nemesis, Ian Driver was voted-in instead.

There's enough material to go on for hours but I will stop here, go and buy the local paper to see what they have made-up this week and perhaps return to edit and tidy a little later.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

A Film About Margate & The Turner Contemporary

A nice Sky Arts film about Margate and The Turner Contemporary up on Vimeo. Thanks to the Reading Rooms for spotting it. I have also added a second video by way of artistic contrast and readers will notice where regeneration has been taking place since it was filmed. Some great clips of past glories too.

A film about Turner Contemporary and Margate by Sky Arts from Turner Contemporary on Vimeo.


Greetings From Margate from Louis on Vimeo.


The Jelly Report

I dropped in to the first Margate Jelly Group small business forum at the Westgate pavillion this morning and enjoyed a chat and a cup of coffee, plugged into the pavillion's public WiFi network. If you happen to run a small business and have an interest in new technology and how to use it, do drop into the next one, as I'm sure you will leave with some useful ideas.
This had me thinking that from experience, Thanet does produce some interesting small businesses as well as interesting people too and that we too frequently dwell on the negative aspects of the island rather than celebrating the positive outcomes of living here.

As a small example, this week and with my other business hat on, I've been in conversation with a young Thanetian who became an SAS officer and having recently left 'The Regiment', has started a private military consultancy. This reminds me too of a friend who became a nuclear submarine commander and another who pursued a successful career with Intel.  These are very difficult times for local young people with 14% unemployment in that category but the three I mention may be unusual but, illustrate that there is still every reason to follow one's dreams even if it means leaving Thanet to achieve them.

Tomorrow night, it's a full council meeting and the vexing matter of Manston Airport is on the agenda and I have a question to ask of Clive Hart on the subject. Of equal interest to many onlookers here  perhaps are several other questions, among them, the problem of seaweed now under the control of Cllr Poole and a more searching  question being asked of portfolio holder, Cllr Michelle Fenner, on the role of our new council 'Diversity Champion' John Worrow. 'The Campaigner' and the 'constitutional authority for appointing him without an open and transparent process and in the absence of any formal training or experience for the role?

Possible answers to these and other puzzles on the back of a postage stamp please!

Monday, February 20, 2012

Fire's Out

I though I could smell burning plastic a little earlier and it soon became apparent that this was rather more serious than I thought, as two fire engines raced down Westgate Bay Avenue in Westgate and the road was closed off.

The second floor of one of the larger houses between Norman Road and Saxon Road was ablaze and the Fire Service moved swiftly to extinguish the flames. I'm told by a neighbour, that thankfully, nobody was home but some tropical fish and I expect to receive a report on these later.

As Westgate Bay Avenue is a main thoroughfare, there's congestion reaching back into Westbrook, with a small queue of buses and I don't yet know when the road will re-open, but I expect it to be around midday.


Sunday, February 19, 2012

Tailwind

To say the wind was a 'bit fierce' yesterday, was an understatement! I was blown over towards Burgess Hill to locate and take a close look, with a long lens, at a huge country house/estate that's been bought by a new singing sensation called 'Adele.'

"Who," I said blankly, not knowing much about such things since the days of Madonna, Duran Duran and Spandau Ballet and having never watched a single episode of the X-Factor, I'm embarrassed to confess.

Anyway, it was a little hairy getting over there between squalls with nobody else adventurous enough to be airborne in the south of England by the silence on the radio. Coming back into Thanet at 3,000 feet, I set a personal record in my Cessna with a tailwind pushing me to 155 knots, which is over 160mph, a turn of speed I could get quite used to, covering the distance between Herne bay and Rochester in ten minutes.

Perhaps one day I might win the lottery and get to fly something a little faster still? A used Russian MIG 29 perhaps? Dream-on, as I would need to at least buy a ticket first!


Friday, February 17, 2012

Gone Social

I went to a working lunch in London today. The topic was child exploitation on the internet and among other things, I learned it takes as many as 148 keystrokes or mouse clicks to maintain what I might describe as a reasonable degree of privacy on a Facebook profile.

I'm not a great fan of Facebook and I keep my own information and circle of 'friends' to a very bare minimum, because of those very same privacy issues and concerns. If like me, readers had access to the same stories, I suspect parents in particular would think twice before allowing their teenage children to use it without thought to the implications and potential consequences.  Social media offers us some remarkable opportunities but it carries with it a Pandora's box of risks and dangers to the most vulnerable in our society that leaves me cold.

On the train home, as usual, passengers right to a peaceful journey from Victoria station, was interrupted by the noisy and disrespectful antic of  four teenagers, two boys and two girls of about fourteen, who had to be ejected from the First Class compartment. I felt a personal sense of shame that they were from Westgate.

On a completely separate note, the concern over Sainsbury's building in Westgate, was covered in today's Thanet Gazette and I spotted that 'Smudger' quite possibly gazing at my last email through the opaque lens of a lunchtime bottle of Gordon's, had a problem grasping that I am still 'shadowing' planning, even though this has been sucked into the Black Hole of Iris Johnston's impressive commercial services portfolio, along with just about everything else except finance and the responsibility for parks, seaweed, rubbish and an epidemic of dog mess. These now fall on poor Cllr Poole's head, figuratively speaking of course!

I did explain earlier in the week, that for now at least, it makes some sense to leave the experience of planning in place, particularly as Labour, with the loss of Ian Driver, are now in a minority and hanging on to power, largely thanks to the vote of our so-called 'Diversity Champion', Cllr Worrow who was elected less than a year ago as a Conservative in Birchington but remains as confused over his politics as he is about his policies.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Liberator Crash Update

I've written and researched a great deal about the Liberator bomber crash in Westgate, with the help of local enthusiasts and historians and last week. I  was given an excerpt from  H.W. (Bill) Hambidge's memoirs written in 1974, which described the bomber crash of 27th April 1944 at West Bay.

There has been some discussion as to who reached the stricken bomber first and rescued the crew members and this type-written document should now put this to rest. There's much more detail about this wartime incident, which I have slowly pieced together, elsewhere on this weblog and of course we now have a memorial to the crew, overlooking West Bay and the United States embassy have been sending their airforce attache to join in our local Remembrance Day ceremony.

2/Lt. Weinheimer managed to regain control of the aircraft, for which he was awarded a Distinguished Flying Cross (DFC) but, badly damaged, the aircraft attempted to reach the relative safety of the English coast and finally crashed-landed at 8:10 PM, one hundred yards from the beach at West Bay (the crew had practiced beach landings as part of their training in Texas before going to England). This aircraft was completely destroyed by the impact, its undercarriage ripped apart on the chalky limestone shallows, just before sunset as the tide was ebbing, along a line that can still be seen at low tide. An official USAAF photo of the wreckage was taken on the following morning and is reproduced here

It's of vital importance to collect information from eye-witnesses to the history of out town and store photographs and stories on the internet before the details are lost forever.

In his memoirs, Bill Hambidge writes:

"My son Dick refused to be evacuated.. sic.... one evening when he and his pals were outside the Ingleton hotel doing their gymnastics, they heard a loud noise of an aircraft, followed by a terrific sound like a crash, round the cliffs to the east of West Bay. Dick said he ran as fast as he could across the sand and over the rocks to where he could see a crashed aircraft.. When he reached the crash, he helped one of the crew-men out of the water who was shaking like hell from shock and shouting out frantically.

'My buddies, my buddies, my buddies.' He offered Dick his sheath knife from his flying boot but he refused the offer saying, 'you might need it.'

The aircraft was an American Liberator bomber that was completely wrecked on impact.

Police and soldiers were soon at the crash. One soldier was wading about through the water and he bought out at least two crewmen but they both were dead. The pilot of the Liberator was taken out of the wreckage and gently rested on the port wing but apparently had a terrible wound to the back of his head and died shortly afterwards.

Dick, who was the first at this horrible scene did what he could and the police told him to submit his name and they would recommend him for a medal for his assistance but this never arrived.

Next day, Dick went again to the spot of the wreckage with the object of salvaging and bringing away any bits and pieces for his - aircraft - collection. He found an airman's fur-lined boot and later he removed the fur and had it sewn on the collar of his leather jacket, which he still has."

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Margate Jelly

I don't run that many event announcements but this one is, I think an interesting opportunity for home workers, small business owners, freelancers and entrepreneurs! The first Margate Jelly Group opens for business on 22nd February at Westgate Pavilion, Sea Road, Westgate.

The Margate Jelly Group is aimed at those who miss the interaction and buzz of the office. The new group aims to meet once or twice a month at a venue in Margate / Westgate. Just bring a laptop, some work and get the buzz of the office environment!

As I know the company's work in the social media space and our small town of Westgate is soon promised to be a BT Broadband 'superhub' location, I'm hoping to be able to lend my support to this really good idea, although I am scheduled to be somewhere else that morning.

Described by its founders as a casual working event where people come together to work for the day, Margate Jelly is being organised by local firm Speedie Consultants. According to Jason Hulott, a Director of the company: "Isolation is one of the biggest challenges of working from home. Jelly is a friendly way for home workers to get out of their home office for a change of scene, a good chat and a shot of inspiration."

Jelly is (allegedly!) named after the jelly beans that two New York freelancers were eating when they came up with the concept of Jelly Groups. Since the creation of Jelly in 2006, groups have sprung up worldwide – and the first Margate Jelly Group runs on 22nd February from 10am to 2pm.

This Jelly Group will cost £3 to attend, which goes to the venue. The Westgate Pavilion will provide seating, desk space and free wi-fi. Refreshments / a snack bar will be available if you want to stop by for lunch.

The idea of Jelly is that there is no pressure or obligation – you simply turn up to the venue as and when – and as often – as you want, with your laptop, and you are away, whether for an hour or the whole day.

Visit http://margatejelly.eventbrite.co.uk to book your ticket. The £3 is payable on the door to the venue but by booking we can monitor numbers and make sure we have space for you!

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

A Public Meeting

At last night's packed Westgate & Westbrook Residents' Association (WWRA) meeting, it was agreed to call a public meeting to fully explore the Sainsbury's planning application for Hundreds Farm on the Canterbury Road and to give all the involved and interested parties and parishes involved an opportunity to present their views.

Councillors Tom King and I discussed this earlier today and I will also be catching-up with a convalescing Cllr Brian Goodwin as well as Birchington Councillors. I have sent a note to Mrs Utton, the Head-teacher of the Ursuline, asking if we may take up their offer of suitably large public meeting space and I will be making contact with Sainsbury's as well.

We need to give the supermarket an opportunity to present a formal application first and so I anticipate that the meeting will be several weeks away in March but I will keep everyone informed of any date, here and through the WWRA as well as council colleagues in Birchington.

For broader interest, Mr Patel, who manages the Londis store in Lymington Road, gave me a copy of the Will of the late Ivor Read, which specifically refers to 'The Hundreds Farm Estate' by covenant and 'To keep, so far as is practical, the existing buildings thereon and not erect more than two houses for residential use with direct access to Linksfield Road only"

Covenants are notoriously difficult to enforce in the face of a determined developer but I will be passing the document to council officers for an opinion. I can confirm however that Sainsbury's have sought and received pre-application planning advice from Thanet District Council, which is quite normal in such circumstances and given the size of the proposed development. To recap briefly, Sainsbury's are keen to involve themselves in the debate and tell me that their formal application will not likely appear until late March and I have told them that there is no good reason to call a large public meeting, involving two towns, until their 'proposed' development turns into a formal planning application.

Finally, while a great many people and local traders in particular, appear opposed to the idea, others and particularly those people living in the surrounding housing areas may be supportive and we need to give everyone the opportunity to present their opinions in a fair and democratic manner, which engages both the Westgate and Birchington communities in debate.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

A Small Sainsbury's

Along with many other people and fellow councilors, I visited the public exhibition that Sainsbury's put on at the Ursuline College on Friday evening.


Before I comment any further, I should say that it happened there because Sainsbury's booked the school hall because it's right next-door to Hundreds Farm and not because the Ursuline is involved, as the Head Teacher, told me, in any way.

The application will be a subject for discussion at Monday's WWRA meeting which will take place at the Westbrook bowls club at 7pm - on the Royal Esplanade - and so if you plan to attend, you best arrive early as there is not a huge amount of seating space.

I had a word with WWRA chairman, Councilor Tom King, last night and it's likely we will attempt to hold a larger public meeting at some date in the near future, involving Westgate and Birchington traders and residents and which will likely take place at the Westgate Pavillion. On the way up to the Ursuline, I dropped in on the Lymington road shops to look for opinions there as well as in Westgate.

First off, I raised the matter in Cabinet a week ago and discussed it it at my monthly 'shadow' meeting with the council's Director of Planning Services and so residents can be assured that all the right buttons are being pressed as we wait for the full application from the company.

From what I can judge, the community is polarised between those who think that a Sainsbury's on the Canterbury road is a good idea and those, mostly traders, do don't.

There appear to be three main objections:

1) That a right turn from the Canterbury Road into Hundreds Farm has already been rejected by KCC on road safety and access issues, which is why the housing development was sold to Sainsbury's. Just because the company is prepared to fund a new set of traffic lights and road changes, doesn't appear to remove the original argument on a busy road with two schools within two hundred yards.

2) Westgate is a planned town with a sensitive economy showing encouraging signs of recovery. Birchington would be equally sensitive to a Sainsbury's appearing. Any application, regardless of the jobs being offered, would have to be measured against the potential impact on existing jobs and a very fragile local economy.

3) Placing a commercial unit of this size on the Canterbury Road may well set a precedent, change the nature of the town and encourage further commercial development on green space. If readers look back at Thanet Life over five years ago, then they will see that before I was a councillor, I joined in the community effort to protect the playing field between the Ursuline College and King Ethelberts School. People are quite rightly concerned that if the Sainsbury's application is approved, then it would be only a matter of time before the vacant playing field came under threat. Furthermore, the arrival of Sainsbury would likely decimate the local shops in Lymington Road and effectively split Westgate in two on a line defined by the Canterbury Road.

My last thought is that a new supermarket would give enough infrastructure impetus to encourage an expansion of the social housing on the southern side of Westgate at some point in the future.

So there you have the basic arguments and there may be more. By all means add your own ideas and views on whether this is in fact a good idea or an unwelcome visitor. Finally, if you have friends who are not aware of this weblog, please point them in this direction as one of the quickest and most effective ways of adding comment on a very contentious local issue.

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

On Thin Ice

People are, I see, still struggling with the icy conditions this morning and earlier, I was briefly stuck behind two cars trying to drive over the small railway bridge by the Westgate golf course. I said to my daughter, 'They won't make it' and sure enough, the Astra and the Mini both slithered back down the road on a sheet of ice. What possessed the drivers to even try it. I don't know and getting up and over was a 'Top Gear Moment' and an object lesson in 4WD.

Personally, I'm quite happy that I went on a course at TrueGrip, outside Herne Bay and I would recommend it to any driver. Simply owning a vehicle with full 4WD capability, doesn't mean one can use it effectively in icy conditions without a little instruction.

Yesterday, I struggled up to Cambridgeshire to a NATO security conference at a large RAF base. In fact it took me almost 30 minutes to leave Thanet thanks to the traffic and the arctic road  conditions.

Although I wasn't able to attend any of the classified session that run over three days this week, I did manage to sit-in on a fascinating briefing on Russia's cyber policies under Putin and Medvedev; the conceptual, ideological and political gulf that divides the West and Russia where the internet is concerned. Mind you, anyone can see this and draw their own conclusions on the subject, simply by watching Russia Today on Sky TV.

While our new council diversity champion might worry that Abu Qatada is the subject of anti-Islamic discrimination, I take a rather different view. I spent an hour or more, yesterday,  listening to a discussion of the capabilities of both Al-Qaeda and Al-Shebab, the latter now giving our country more cause for immediate security concern, as you may have heard on the news.

My own opinion, is that the independence of our judiciary, liberally interpreting the EU Human Rights legislation, poses a real risk to our national security interests and that can't be a good place to be, particularly with the Olympic games just around the corner! I see on the lunchtime BBC News that Home Office Minister, James Brokenshire, is off to Jordan next week to discuss the case and explore any means possible by which we can send Abu Qatada home.

In case you didn't know it, Al-Qaeda has its own glossy house magazine, Inspire, but you might find it hard to find a copy to thumb-through on the shelves of WH Smith in Margate. The production quality is pretty good too. At this point and given the subject,  I'm pretty sure that GCHQ is taking a long hard look at this blog!

This morning I had a regular monthly meeting with our Council's Director of Planning, to catch-up on the progress surrounding projects such as Dreamland, Arlington and Fort Hill as well as a discussion on Thanet Earth's application to build their biggest greenhouse yet and of course Sainsbury's in Westgate.

The latter is going to be undergoing considerable scrutiny for planning, highways and of course local economic impact and I suspect it will be a topic for vigorous local discussion at next week's WWRA meeting.

Sunday, February 05, 2012

Big Snow Small Town

The small town of Westgate is near impassable in parts this morning and I've been out to get supplies from a busy Somerfield helping push one car out of a small bank of snow on the way.

Quite how I'm going to get my rubbish wheelie bins up the long garden path tonight for tomorrow's collection, I don't quite know yet and I see there's a forecast of more snow on the way this evening.

The roads are so bad and as yet, ungritted that I don't recommend that anyone ventures out without at least four-wheel-drive. Having helped one car struggle up to the top of Westgate Bay Avenue on the way to the village, I can only imagine how bad the side-roads must be.



Saturday, February 04, 2012

A Visit to Occupy Thanet

I walked to the Turner Contemporary Gallery yesterday on a bright but bitterly cold afternoon to spend an almost an hour chatting with 'Chris' from the 'Occupy Thanet' group, huddled in tents outside the gallery.

Given the uncomfortable freezing conditions,  we went inside to the cafe and I bought him a cup of tea to warm him up a little. The small collection of activists are made of sterner stuff than me, on a Siberian winter weekend when six inches of snowfall is predicted - see snow forecast - but like those following a similar agenda,outside St Paul's cathedral in London, are quite committed to their cause.

I pointed out to Chris that Karl Marx used to enjoy the view and write only than a hundred yards from where we were having tea,

The focus of the Group's argument here in Thanet is fundamentally pseudo-Marxist and argues both that capitalism is both discredited, defunct and that the council and local politicians live in a moral vacuum.

More precisely, with subjects such as Westwood Cross, Margate High Street, the Arlington and now Sainsbury's in Westgate, local government should intervene on behalf of the people. So, Westwood Cross would not have been built, legal action would have been taken against Freshwater for the state of the Arlington and some kind of new initiative would be taken to have Margate High Street repopulated with shops.

I can quite understand his frustration but like many well-meaning people with a similar agenda, he won't accept that local government is both constrained by the finances it has available and has to work within the straight-jacket of the law. In Venezuala, President Hugo Chavez can walk into the centre of town with his heavily armed entourage, point at a 'capitalist' clothes retailer and have them slung out of Caracas to be replaced by a 'People's' store. The Leader of Thanet council doesn't share the same authority.

Now I'm not making light of the argument because I have great sympathy for those, the 'squeezed middle' included,  now suffering as a consequence of the global recession and readers will recall that I have written  about this and Marxism before .

I was in Westminster Great Hall on Monday evening and once again looked at the plaque where Sir Thomas More stood trial. Chris's argument reminds me of an exchange from that famous film, 'A Man for all Seasons':

William Roper So, now you give the Devil the benefit of law!

Sir Thomas More: Yes! What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil?

William Roper: Yes, I'd cut down every law in England to do that!

Sir Thomas More: Oh? And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned 'round on you, where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? This country is planted thick with laws, from coast to coast, Man's laws, not God's! And if you cut them down, and you're just the man to do it, do you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I'd give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety's sake!


And that, in a nutshell, seems to be the heart of the argument. Local government and local politicians work tirelessly to make things better. Frequently mistakes are made but its an evolutionary process at the mercy of both the national and local economy and over time processes change for the better.

Chris objects to our planning laws and on Thursday evening Cabinet approved new rules from Government, under the Localism Bill, which involves local people, more than ever before, in the planning process.

At this point, I have to go and assist Roger Gale at his monthly constituency surgery at Westgate library but I will attempt to add a little more to my thoughts later.

Friday, February 03, 2012

Thanet GCSE School Results 2011

The Thanet Gazette carried a report on our local schools GCSE results today but my feeling was that it was delivered slightly out of context and so for clarity and future reference, I'm reproducing the BBC results table here.

It is, I feel, important to include two extra columns, the value added score: "A statistical measure of how well pupils are helped to progress from their starting point."

A score above 1,000 is better than the national average" and the percentage of pupils getting three A-levels or equivalent qualifications. Otherwise the significant performance differences between say the Charles Dickens which is NA and the Ursuline College which is 44,  is rather lost in translation. Click on the table to expand it.

Thanet Watch

I reluctantly parted with 20p at the newsagent in Westgate this morning for an A3 double-sided broadsheet called 'Thanet Watch.' Having had a quick read and identified the origin at Red Hall in Broadstairs, I quickly identified the 'usual suspects' behind the print and asked the lady behind the shop counter if they plan to stock Socialist Worker or the Morning Star as well. Apparently it's selling quite well, so perhaps I should run and print-off my weblog and charge 20p a copy for that too?

Last night's Cabinet at Thanet District Council had two items that I wanted to comment on here. The first was of course the football club coming again from full council for some kind of decision on a way forward for Hartsdown park and the Travelodge hotel application. Strangely though, the extra football pitch seems to be back on the agenda, "We realise that an additional football pitch is something that’s important to the club", (Cllr Poole)  even after Clive Hart, dismissed the notion at the last council meeting with a fine speech about protecting green space.

I did ask if the council or its officers had received the information they had requested from Mr Piper and Margate Football Club in regards to negotiating a new lease and Cllr Poole avoided a direct answer. However, after the meeting I was told that we hadn't moved any further on the discussion since before Christmas, when I was still the Cabinet Member for planing, so the story continues. It's really time the fans started asking some searching questions of the club's owners, as more deadlines have passed and still nothing concrete appears to be happening in regard to both the detail and the constructive dialogue requested by the council in order to move forward.

I see that our new equality and diversity champion,  Cllr John Worrow, who is busy attempting to reinvent himself politically, having taken down his weblog, takes heavy criticism from Mike Pearce in today's Thanet Gazette (only 65p).  This takes me to the second item from last evening.

Readers will recall that Labour, with a political minority, is only in power, here in Thanet, because independents, John Worrow and Jack Cohen are keeping them there and so deals need to be done if we are to remain a beacon of socialism in a sea of Conservative councils

Outside of 'Special' responsibilities and titles, much of the hard bargaining surrounds the proposal for free parking in Birchington or more importantly that Birchington be treated differently - as a special case -  to other parts of Thanet.

Over the past weeks there has been a series of meetings between the councillors, parish councillor and council officers across Thanet to discuss this issue and I attended one in Birchington this week. While Jack Cohen arrived late, John Worrow didn't turn-up for what you would think would be an important debate.

To cut a long story short, councillors across Thanet have agreed that what I describe as 'The Balkanisation' of parking is not a good idea and what we need is a consistent charging policy, applied fairly for all the towns. I say 'councillors' but with two notable exceptions.

Last night Clive Hart offered to meet with the "Two Birchington councillors" to start the process of pushing through a policy that apparently  favours one part of the island over the others. He quite ignored the fact that there are more than two councillors in Birchington but if he is to remain the Leader of the Council, he needs the votes of Cllrs Cohen and Worrow. So 'sensible' and 'consistent' are two words in our local political lexicon that fly straight out of the Leader's window where those two gentlemen are concerned.

That's the nature of local politics under a minority Labour administration I'm sorry to say and I'm sure that influenced by the ambitions of Cohen and Worrow, there will be yet more strange decisions to come.

Thursday, February 02, 2012

Shutter Speed

Bitterly cold out there today and very few aircraft over the South-east as it's so windy.

I've been out doing my monthly photo survey of Essex scrap metal hoards and I thought I would share some photos for you, taken on the way home.

There's the chimney at Stoke, a million cars waiting to be loaded at Sheerness docks and of course Eastchurch prison on the isle of Sheppey, a long vacation spot that will be quite familiar to a number of Thanet's less community-spirited residents but rarely from above.


Wednesday, February 01, 2012

A Sainsbury Store for Westgate?

Not Tesco this time around and as the information is now in the public domain on another local weblog, I can now report that Sainsbury have applied to build a new store at the 'Hundreds farm' site on the Canterbury Road, next-door to the Ursuline College. (area right of picture with green buildings)

This was embargoed until Friday and Sainsbury's agent called me and other local councillors yesterday to advise us of their intentions. I have already discussed the application with Cllr Brian Goodwin and Cllr Tom King of the WWRA as well as Cllr Alasdair Bruce from Birchington. Tom and I plan to meet with local traders very soon to hear their views on the matter which readers are also welcome to post here for discussion, knowing that councillors of all parties will read what they have to say.

The planned store will be approximately 12,000 sq ft (1,114 sq m). The proposals would also provide up to 90 car parking spaces.

The company writes: "Through our plans we are seeking to increase supermarket choice locally and make main food shopping more convenient for residents of Westgate-on-Sea. Our store would also create up to 150 full and part time jobs for the local community. All new jobs would be supported by Sainsbury’s 'You Can' training and development programme which enables colleagues to gain nationally recognised qualifications."

They will be holding public exhibitions at the Ursuline College, Canterbury Road at the following dates and times:

Friday 10 February, 5pm – 8pm

Saturday 11 February, 10am – 4pm

Sainsbury has an email address for local residents or traders who wish to express their views or seek further information.