Tuesday, 25 February 2014

I Support Laura Sandys MP Call for a Ramsgate Seafront Masterplan

Green Party Councillor and Prospective Parliamentary Candidate for Thanet South, Ian Driver, has lent his support to the call from current Thanet South MP, Laura Sandys, for the development of a Ramsgate seafront masterplan.“Following Thanet Council’s decision to terminate the failed Pleasurama scheme which has blighted Ramsgate for more than a decade, the time is now right to begin consulting with local people about how they would like to see their historic seafront developed” said Driver. “The ex-Pleasurama site offers huge potential for leisure based development which could be linked with imaginative plans for the nearby Royal Pavilion, an iconic building which has been boarded up an allowed to rot for the past six years. The Council’s review of Ramsgate’s Royal Harbour and it’s adjacent Port which has all but closed following the collapse of TransEuropa Ferries last year, needs to be added to the mix, as does the development of the wartime tunnels which will open this summer, the restoration of the old motor museum and the completion of a full high speed rail link to Ramsgate cutting journey time to London to less than an hour”.
“I believe Ramsgate is in the unique position of having several linked development opportunities coming together at the same time. It’s an exciting once in a generation opportunity, which if managed properly through joined up strategic planning, could make a massive impact on the fortunes of the town and Thanet as whole. This is too important a chance to be squandered for lack of a vision. I love Ramsgate and desperately want it to re-invent itself and succeed, that’s why I am supporting Laura’s call for a seafront masterplan. I want to work with her as Thanet South’s MP to make things happen for Ramsgate”.


Sunday, 23 February 2014

Development Pressure on Thanet Greenfield Land

The  Manston Green Planning Application got me thinking about the growing pressure to build on Thanet's greenfield open land. So I checked out Thanet Council's Planning Map and looked up all the l greenfield site planning applications in central Thanet since 2005. I took a screen capture of the result which I have included in this post and which  is very disturbing. Not all of these applications have been  approved and some are still pending approval especially Manston Green. But you can see for yourself the enormous pressure to build on open land during the last 9 years. We need to be very vigilant.

Take a look at the planning map. its well worth a play. Here is the link http://maps.thanet.gov.uk/LocalViewTDC/Sites/planning/

Saturday, 22 February 2014

Manston Green

Comments on the Manston Green Planning application must be received by the Council on 28 February. The developers intend to build 800 houses between 2016 -2022 in 3 phases on a sites adjacent to the Haine Road. The will also provide a secondary school and invest in improving infrastructure, including (although not guaranteed) the donation of land to build a Ramsgate Parkway Station



This is an incredibly complex planning application which is not straightforward. Issues include the close  proximity to Manston Airport and public safety concerns. The rich archaeological heritage of the area. The loss of 50 hectares of prime agricultural land. The loss of open space, habitat and biodiversity.   The location of the development in a flood zone. The need for a Parkway Station and the implications for Ramsgate station and the development of high speed rail services between Ramsgate and Ashford. The lack of affordable social housing in the plans. On balance I am inclined to  oppose this application. I do not think there is a need for such a large scale development. There are plenty of smaller scale brown field sites in Thanet which could be used by developers. I also feel that the provision of more  social rented housing is a higher priority  than the executive style housing to provided at Manston Green. What do you think?

To find out more visit the UK Planning Portal and enter the  code OL/TH/14/0050

http://www.ukplanning.com/ukp/custom/forwards/selectandsearch.jsp?council=Thanet%20District%20Council&fwd=search/

Thursday, 20 February 2014

PLEASURAMA BREAKING NEWS

Thank goodness I was wrong! Here is the Cabinet decision. This does not mean that a deal might not been be done with someone else though. Here is a press release from the Council

Members of Cabinet have tonight (Thursday 20 February) decided to adopt the recommendations of the Overview and Scrutiny Panel to terminate the development agreement in relation to the Pleasurama site in Ramsgate.

A construction expert will now be appointed to advise the council on the steps to be taken next.



Well done TDC Cabinet. Credit where it's due. You have made the right decision

Pleasurama Dirty Deeds Afoot


Rumours are rife that a last minute deal is in offing to save the Ramsgate Pleausrama Development. Allegedly, the building firm Cardy, who are currently contractors to project developers SFP Ventures UK Ltd, may be in the process of buying out SFP and taking over the development themselves. Although this is just a rumour I understand that a confidential report to be discussed at tonight’s Cabinet meeting largely substantiates what I have been hearing. Also Cardy have recently commenced works on the Pleasurama site constructing what appears to be a road from one side of the plot to another, presumably to allow plant and equipment to be moved around easier. I doubt they would be investing time and money on this work unless there was a purpose.

Assuming the rumour is  true, one wonders who is backing Cardy to buy out SFP and complete this £25 million project. If, unlike 2009, Thanet Council does a half-decent job of due-diligence, or better still commissions independent experts to carry out due diligence, I would not be surprised if the backers are not closely related to SFP Director Sean Patrick Keegan or his son in law and successful multi-millionaire property speculator, Colin Hill, his banking interests and his  mysterious Lichtenstein based Wetmore Foundation. But there again this is only speculation.

Whoever takes over SFP and whatever their source of funding, several things do concern me. First there is considerable uncertainty about the stability of the cliff face which will be about 4 metres from the development. Questions have been asked about whether there is enough space between the development and the cliff face to allow for maintenance and repair works to take place. If there is a major fall will residents of the apartments and hotel be safe?  It has also been argued that the money received by the Council from the  developers (£3million or so), will never  be of benefit to local people as it will all be used up in the cost of repairing and maintaining the cliff face on the Pleasurama site.

Next, I am seriously worried about the fact that the Pleasurama development is being built

on high risk flood zone without any flood risk assessment. Although planning permission was granted at a time when flood risk assessments were not required, the Environment Agency wrote to the Council expressing its concerns about the safety of any people who lived in the  apartments and the hotel because of the flooding risk. We have all seen the storms and high seas this winter. This was  not a one off.  On the contrary we are being warned that climate change will make these events commonplace. This will put  Pleasurama  and its occupiers at an even greater risk of being flooded. In my opinion Thanet Council should not knowingly allow developments to proceed where it is likely that the occupiers  will be placed at risk of injury or worse. This is morally indefensible and may even expose the Council to legal action for which taxpayers will have to pick up the bill.

Which leads me on to my next point who will be stupid enough to insure apartments, businesses and a hotel built in an area at risk of cliff falls and flooding? There is a likelihood that  the Pleasurama development might become uninsurable or too expensive to insure. I am sure those people tasked with selling Pleaurama properties, or their lawyers,  will truthfully and honestly advise their clients about these issues, which of course they are legally and proefessionally required to do. This is likely to  put off buyers and we might  be left with an expensive white elephant. Last but not least, most of the people I have spoken to over the past 2 years when I first began to campaign against this this development, simply do not want apartments and hotel built on this prime seafront location. Virtually everyone with an opinion has said to me that the site  should be used for community leisure facilities, which makes even more sense now that the nearby Ramsgate Tunnels will be opening.

For the record, Thanet Council does not have to deal with a new developer. It does not have to extend the development deadline. Thanet Council has obtained  detailed legal advice, which I have seen, which states that the Council  has a very strong case to rid itself of SFP and get back the site. I say to Thanet Council and its Labour leadership end the development now! Reclaim the site and begin a consultation with residents about what they want to see instead. No secret last minute deals behind the backs of  Ramsgate people!

Wednesday, 19 February 2014

Stop Press QEQM Emergency Surgery Re-located to Canterbury.

 Green Party Councillor and Prospective Parliamentary Candidate for Thanet South, Ian Driver has expressed his shock about the decision of the East Kent Hospitals University NHS Foundation Trust to relocate emergency and high risk surgery from the QEQM to the Canterbury Hospital.
Said Driver “This decision was a bolt from the blue, which will have a major impact on Thanet residents. I can’t understand why there has been no consultation with local people about the change. The lack of surgeons, which is being cited by the Trust as the reason for the move, is something which they would have been aware of months ago. I suspect that this is a smokescreen to cover up cuts to emergency surgery be re-locating it on one site. I would not be in the least bit surprised if this so-called temporary move soon becomes permanent. I will be contacting the Trust Chief Executive Stuart Bain to seek his reassurance that emergency and specialist surgery will not be permanently moved from QEQM”

Thursday, 13 February 2014

Ramsgate Live Exporters Guilty of Animal Welfare Abuse

I had the pleasure of being in court today to see the sentencing of the barbaric and cruel live animal exporters Thomas Lomas and Channel Livestock  Ltd. Lomas was given a 6 month suspended prison sentence and ordered to pay  £4,000 costs. His company, Channel Livestock Ltd was fined £5,000 and ordered to pay £10,000 costs. The prosecution arose from the death of 40 sheep at Ramsgate Port in September 2012. Right from the beginning of the awful trade starting at Ramsgate in 2011 hundreds of  Thanet people campaigned against it and  denounced it as being cruel and barbaric. Today a judge in a court of law agreed with the people of Thanet.

I would like to thank  Kent Action Against Live Exports, the RSPCA and Compassion in World Farming, who supported the large number of Thanet people who campaigned against this cruel trade. The organisers of that trade have today become convicted criminals. Here's a picture taken outside the court today BAN LIVE EXPORTS!!

Wednesday, 12 February 2014

Breaking News Live Exporters Plead Guilty

The company behind the live export of sheep and calves from Ramsgate to Europe for slaughter, today pled guilty to animal welfare violations which resulted in the death of more than 40 sheep at Ramsgate Port in 2012. The guilty pleas made at Dover Magistrates Court, vindicate the tireless campaigning of hundreds of Thanet people, and their supporters who fought against this cruel and barbaric trade for more than 2 years. I had the pleasure of campaigning with these compassionate and caring people and many of them  have become my close friends. The guilty pleas demonstrate that they were right all along and that this trade should be made illegal. The guilty pleas also demonstrate the RSPCA and Compassion in World Farming were right to support our campaign. The judge will sentence tomorrow. I sincerely hope that the awful story of suffering which emerges from this case will help to stop the export of live farm animals to Europe for slaughter. Thanks to the people of Thanet and elsewhere who worked tirelessly to bring this matter to the public attention and ultimately to court.See More

Friday, 7 February 2014

Campaign for Democracy in Thanet?

T
Campaign for Democracy in Canterbury
here’s a lot of talk about Thanet Council’s dysfunctionality, but little discussion about how to fix it. Here’s my suggestion. First, I think most of TDCs problems emanate from the fact that the council is ruled by a leader and five cabinet members from the same party who together make all the important decisions at TDC. Many commentators believe that this system concentrates too much power into the hands of too few people who all share similar views. This means that decisions are often based on a narrow range of ideas which can easily lead to ill-informed and bad choices being made like those related to Pleasurama or TransEuropa Ferries.

Another problem with the leader/ cabinet system is patronage. Cabinet members depend on the good will of the Leader to keep their posts and their lucrative responsibility allowances, Council officers are reluctant to disagree with political leaders and cabinet members for fear of their jobs.  This often means that Leaders and Cabinet members become surrounded with yes men and women who, because of self-interest, seldom dare to question or disagree with their patrons. Unhealthy relationships such as these, often lead to a regime of fear and secrecy which can have a disastrous impact upon the quality of decision making, often leading to bad practice, misconduct and corruption. Thanet has had its fair share of this in recent years.

But it doesn’t need to be like to this. The Localism Act 2011 gives residents the tools to fight back against councils like Thanet which are ruled by secretive cabals of powerful politicians and replace it with something better - the committee system.



Show of Hands in Favour of Committee System
The committee system prevents undemocratic rule by tiny elite from the same political party.  Power is spread out across several committees. Backbench councillors from all political parties  become  engaged in making decisions rather than being excluded as they are under the leader/ cabinet model. It’s even possible for members of the public to be co-opted on to committees to give councillors the benefit of their specialist knowledge and experience. An inclusive approach to decision making means that wiser choices, which are more reflective of public feeling, are usually made. It also destroys the malign influence of patronage which is a great corrupter of democracy.

So how do we make this change? Simple the people of Thanet must raise a petition signed by approximately 5,000 registered electors (5% of total registered electors). If this is achieved, then the Council is forced to hold a referendum on changing the decision making process from the leader cabinet model to a committee system.

In Canterbury, local people who have become disillusioned with the City Council’s leader/ cabinet model have recently set up a Campaign for Democracy in Canterbury. I attended a public meeting called by the group on Wednesday which was attended by almost 200 people, which for a wet stormy evening was a pretty good showing. The campaign group is now now busily collecting signatures for their  petition for a referendum.

We need to follow Canterbury's  lead. A public meeting called by Thanet Watch, which will be discussing our dysfunctional council, is being held at the   Red Hall Broadstairs  on 26th February. This  might be a good place to begin talking about replacing Thanet's leader/ cabinet system with a committee system. A representative from the Campaign for Democracy in Canterbury will be speaking at this meeting.  I think it would be well worth attending this meeting to find out more.

If anyone who interested in contacting me about campaigning for a committee system in Thanet please e-mail on ianddriver@yahoo.co.uk.

If democracy is good enough for Canterbury its good enough for Thanet. 
Campaign for Democracy in Canterbury Leaflet

Tuesday, 4 February 2014

Ramsgate Port £7million Madness

Ramsgate Port £7million Madness On Thursday the Council will be voting on taking out a £7million loan over 10 years at a cost to taxpayers of £1million per yea...r to develop an alongside quay for Ramsgate Port for cruise liners and cargo ships. Only yesterday Dover Harbour Board announce a massive investment to develop the western dock for cruise and cargo ships. Just before Xmas the state of the art Thames Gateway Cargo Port was opened with massive capacity and excellent transport connections. How can Ramsgate compete against these giants? In usual Thanet Council style there has been no public consultation on whether people would like to spend their council tax on a scheme which is likely to be a white elephant. Nor have councillors been provided with the business plan and project costings before been asked to vote. This it a typical Thanet Council example of mismanagement and secrecy. In my humble opinion the port should be redeveloped with a focus on leisure rather than commercial activity.
The commercial competition is simply too strong. However a leisure focus could be very successful. I will be opposing these plans but fear that once again the Council is likely to be repeating the mistakes of Pleasurama, EKO, TransEuropa Ferries.

Saturday, 1 February 2014

Pleasurama Update

Yesterday I attended a meeting of Thanet Council’s Pleasurama Working Group. The meeting was called to consider the legal advice received by the Council about its relationship with Pleasurama developers SFP Venture (UK) Ltd. This company was appointed by Thanet Council 12 years ago to develop a luxury hotel and apartments on a prestigious seafront site. In this time the company has developed precious little. Instead it has succeeded in turning this once beautiful seafront location into a festering bombsite which has blighted an otherwise lovely area of Ramsgate for more than a decade.

As someone committed to open and transparent government I would like to be able to tell what the legal advice said and what the Working Group decided. However, on this occasion even I, who has previously released secret Thanet Council documents in the public interest, have to agree that the advice was of such a sensitive nature that it should remain confidential for a short while longer.
My personal view is that SFP has been in breach of its development agreement with the Council for at least a year and that the company should have been thrown off the site a long time ago. When I began to campaign for the removal of the developers more than a year ago I met nothing but from resistance, ridicule and downright hostility from the Council’s ruling Labour Group, especially Ramsgate Labour councillors, who openly supported the developers despite a decade of failure. Thankfully a number of Conservative Councillors including Jo Gideon, Ros Binks and Julie Marsden joined with me to call for the removal of SFP. It is only relatively recently, when the labour Councillors realised they might lose their seats at the next election that they woke up to reality and decided to take the matter seriously.

My view has not changed. I believe that the Council must remove this company of failed developers from the site as quickly as possible. Whilst not going into details, I believe that the legal advice received by the Council is very helpful in this regard. I repeated my views at yesterday’s meeting and I was not alone. There will be another 2 meetings where the legal advice will be discussed and a final decision on what the Council will do should be taken in the next 2-3 weeks.

I sincerely hope that the Council will decide to rid itself of its incompetent and failing developers as quickly as is legally possibly. If this course of action is approved and the Council recovers ownership of the land there should be a proper and  meaningful discussion with the people of Ramsgate about the Pleausurama site should be used for.