My KCC Election Manifesto & Video

Wednesday, 11 October 2017

British Open Golf: Organisers Blackmail & Bully Kent

Kent’s only championship golf course, the Royal St George’s at Sandwich, which will be hosting the prestigious British Open in 2020, faces losing its rights to host any future Opens, unless Kent councils agree to pay almost £1.4 million  towards improvement  works to Sandwich Station in time for the 2020 tournament.

In a document discussed by the   South East Local Economic Partnership on 22 September 2017 it was reported that British Open Championship organisers, the Royal and Ancient Golf Club had confirmed that “without the transport improvements ..  Kent will not be invited to host the Open at all, and the area will lose the resultant economic impact”.

The works, which are estimated to cost £4.29 million,  include an  extension of Sandwich  station’s  platforms to cope with the longer trains which will be laid on during Open week 2020,  and the construction of a second passenger footbridge to better manage the large number of spectators who are expect to  travel to Sandwich by train to attend  the tournament.

Ashford, Canterbury, Dover, Thanet and Shepway councils have already agreed to make a joint contribution of £100,000 towards the cost of the works. Kent County Council will contribute £250,000 and £1,025 million in projected grant underspends for railway improvement works at Ashford is also being earmarked to fund the works, making  Kent’s contribution towards the station upgrading a huge £1.375 million.

The Department for Transport has indicated that it will pay £1.504 million towards the works and the organisers of the Open Championship, the Royal and Ancient Golf Club have said that they will contribute  £1.418 million (33% of the total).

The report estimates that the 2020 Open will attract at least 200,000 spectators to the Royal St George course and “the economic impact is forecast to be in excess of £85m, of which at least £26.8m is forecast to be direct additional spend”. However, critical transport improvements are required at Sandwich Station to enable the expected number of spectators to access the Royal St George’s Golf Course when The Open is underway”.

Suggestions that the station improvements will benefit the local economy are, in my opinion, utter nonsense. The works are aimed specifically at maximising the numbers of day visitors to the Open. These day visitors will not be staying in local hotels, not renting out property in and around Sandwich. Nor  will they  be eating or drinking in local bars, cafes and restaurants. Most of their spending will be passing through the cash tills and online payment services of  the Royal and Ancient and the Royal St Gorge’s golf clubs and filling up their pockets with tens of millions which will never  find its way into the East Kent economy.

The British Open Golf Championship is one of the most lucrative sporting events in the known universe. Television rights to broadcast the Open were recently sold to Sky TV for £15million a year. Add to this the income generated by ticket sales,  sponsorship, branding rights and Open Golf related  product sales  then it’s quite possible that the tournament could easily generate a profit of £10-15 million if not more. With profits of this order then I would expect the Royal and Ancient and the Royal St George Golf Club to agree to pay all the costs for improving Sandwich station, instead of bullying, blackmailing and threatening Kent’s hard-pressed council tax payers and the Department of Transport into paying 70% of the bill.

Surely £3million of public money would be better spent  on dealing with the housing crisis, or problems in the NHS and education instead of being used as a public subsidy to support an elitist sport  played by well-heeled rich boys.

And rich boys is not an inaccurate description of the majority of golf players, With expensive  green fees and membership fees, playing golf is  unaffordable for many  people and that’s  probably why  participation in the sport has been  declining for a number of years. There is also a massive gender imbalance in golf. According to  KMPG’s 2017 Golf Participation Europe report only 13% of golfers in England are female. This is one of the lowest female participation rates in Europe. Probably because golf in England has a long history of being  a bastion of macho power and control. Indeed some  golf clubs still refuse to permit women to become members.  Many people, myself included, are angry that such a large amount of public money is to be invested by Kent’s councils,  and national public bodies,  into a sport which is played mainly by the wealthy and a sport which is hardly an example of gender inclusivity in a modern society.

The threats, bullying and blackmail used by the Royal and Ancient  to force hard-pressed and struggling council tax payers into subsidising a sport for  elitist  non-inclusive, macho-men  who like to bash their balls around with sticks is utterly shameful.

Wednesday, 4 October 2017

Ramsgate Port Council’s Shameful Secrecy

Hats off to Kathy Bailes and the Isle  of Thanet News for  revealing that the Council is holding a daytime meeting on Monday 9th October to discuss and approve the East Kent Regeneration Board’s  (EKRB) document the East Kent Growth Framework. This is the document which includes a £multi-million funding bid to expand and  industrialise Ramsgate Port which I blogged about a few days ago. Here’s the link.
Monday's meeting  is a Cabinet and Corporate Management meeting which are always held in secret with no admission to the press or public. This is outrageous and massively undemocratic and speaks volumes about the attitudes of senior politicians and managers towards the public whom they to  claim serve and represent. Dover District Council when discussing the same report on 4th September  did so at an open meeting to which the press and public were free to attend and film it if  they so wished.
If Dover councillors and officers were happy to  discuss the document in public why have senior councillors and officers in Thanet decided to discuss it in secret in a bunker at Cecil Square? Is it because they know that by approving the report they are approving plans for Ramsgate Port which most people in the town don’t want.? Is because that by approving the plans they will be approving proposals which are  likely to cause dangerous levels of pollution which could  damage the health and well-being Ramsgate residents?  Is it  because by approving the document they will be approving a development  which could threaten to seriously damage Ramsgate’s tourist industry? 

Whatever the answer might be,  its totally unacceptable for a supposedly democratic organisation  such as a local council, to keep secret from its citizens plans and proposals which will have  a massive impact on their lives. Surely instead of approving these plans and proposals in secret they should be openly and transparently consulting with Ramsgate residents to seek their views and ideas about the future of the Port.

As you will know from my previous blog articles I have been trying to  get to the bottom of what Thanet Council might be planning for Ramsgate Port for a long time.  My efforts have been  stone-walled at virtually every turn by a Council more suited to operating  in North Korea than in a modern, 21st century,  democratic state. In the past month I have submitted 2 Freedom of Information Requests about the Council's plans for the Port. Here they are –

Dear Thanet Council
I understand Thanet District Council has prepared plans to improve, modernise and expand the Port Ramsgate and that these plans have been shared with the East Kent Regeneration Board and other organisations. Please provide me with a copy of these plans and all supporting and related documents.

The works to expand the Port of Ramsgate will have a significant impact upon the environment. Please provide me with a copy of the environmental impact assessment, or any other environmental evaluation the council may have carried out in relation to its plans to improve, modernise and expand the Port of Ramsgate.

Dear Thanet Council

According to an article in the press this week Thanet Council has issued a statement saying that it "has been in discussions with several interested parties, both in the UK and on the continent" about the restoration of ferry and/ or other shipping services at the port of Ramsgate. Please tell me -
1. the number and names of these interested parties and their locations by country  2. the number of meetings held with each of these interested companies. 3. the dates of the meetings held with these interested parties.4. the type of services each of the interest parties wish to operate e.g passenger ferry service, freight ferry service, freight and passenger service, other type of shipping service e.g. refuse/ waste, aggregate/ dredging. 5. whether or not discussions are still on-going with some, or all, of the interested parties and the names and/or number of those parties still involved in on-going discussion with the Council

Both requests were rejected by Thanet Council on grounds which I believe to be spurious, unjustifiable andunfair. I will be appealing to the Information Commissioner and am confident that Thanet Council will be ordered to release the information.

Monday’s closed meeting and the unjustifiable rejection of Freedom of Information request are but the latest incidents in a long and shameful history of secrecy surrounding decision-making about the Port of Ramsgate. Here’s a list of the Council's secretive Port dealings and dirty deeds. It should not be allowed to continue!

Monday, 2 October 2017

Ramsgate Port Plans Shitting On Town

I’ve just uncovered proposals for the massive expansion and industrialisation of Ramsgate Port. The plans form part of a 64 page document called the “East Kent Growth Framework” which sets out a series of infrastructure projects which, it is argued, will promote sustained economic growth and inward investment in the East Kent area. Many of the projects I agree with and support. But when it comes to Ramsgate Port the proposals being put forward are not economically sustainable; are seriously damaging to our environment and are fundamentally undemocratic because they have been developed behind closed doors with no public consultation whatsoever . 

Here’s what the “East Kent Growth Framework” says-

The Port of Ramsgate is a vibrant Port with over £2 million investment in the refurbishment of Ro-Ro berths two and three, perimeter security improvements and maintenance dredging. The Port currently has capacity for 500,000 units (HGV vehicles -my insertion) per annum which could be doubled (to provide capacity to handle 1million HGVs per annum – my insertion) and provides significant value to transport and logistics in East Kent. The project is currently at detailed design stage with the Council leading on delivery of the first phase. The first phase is the construction of a new double-deck roro (roll on roll off) berth which will provide additional capacity for modern double deck loading and unloading which will increase resilience at the Port. This initial phase will also include capital dredging of the 1nautical mile long approach channel to the port entrance. This will widen the channel to provide the necessary clearance for larger vessels (up to200m in length) to be accommodated at the port. 

The second phase of the project involves seaward
port expansion via land reclamation. The scheme will deliver at least 10 hectares of additional port side space and a long (250m) alongside quay facility allowing up to 2 freight vessels access at any one time”. 

So who’s behind the East Kent Growth Framework? Well it was produced by an organisation called the East Kent Regeneration Board (EKRB) which, according to the Growth Framework document, “comprises the five East Kent local authorities and Kent County Council. Board representatives include the Leaders and Chief Executives from each of the five East Kent Districts, together with the Kent County Council’s Cabinet Member for Economic Development and Corporate Director of Growth, Transport and Environment”

The EKRB is linked via membership arrangements, to county and regional level regeneration agencies including the Kent and Medway Economic Partnership (KMEP) and the South East England Local Enterprise Partnership (SEELEP) both of which shortlist and approve submissions for Government grants to fund major infrastructure projects in Kent such as the 2015 grant towards the costs of constructing Thanet Parkway Station and, if the EKRP has its way, a grant to cover some of the costs of the proposed development at Ramsgate Port. 

Yet for an organisation of such power and influence the EKRB is profoundly undemocratic. All of its meetings take place behind closed doors; it doesn’t publish minutes of its meetings or any other documents about its activities. It doesn’t have a website or direct means of contact. EKRB is a secretive, North Korean style, organisation which thinks it knows best and which doesn’t listen to, consult with, or take account of, the ideas and proposals of East Kent residents. This is an organisation lacking any form of transparency and accountability to those it purports to serve, and it’s arrogant, out of touch, attitude is clearly demonstrated in the case of Ramsgate Port.

In 2014 and 2015 Ramsgate residents made their views about the Port abundantly clear when they came out in their hundreds to attend public meetings opposing the O’Regan Group’s plans to develop concrete batching and waste wood recycling plants at the port. In 2016 hundreds of Ramsgate residents, once again, attended public meetings to campaign against and oppose Brett’s proposals to massively increase their aggregate processing operations at the port. 

These campaigns demonstrate that a significant section of Ramsgate’s population doesn’t want a dirty, polluting, heavily industrialised port operating on their doorstep. Instead public opinion has, over recent years, shifted hugely in favour of transforming Ramsgate Port into a modern 21st century marina and seafront “village” with workshops, bars, cafes and restaurants. 

A leisure focused development at Ramsgate Port will enhance and strengthen Thanet’s large and rapidly growing visitor economy which, in 2015, was estimated by independent researches to have generated £293million a year and supported over 7,000 jobs. Imagine how much more money could be generated by the transformation of the Port of Ramsgate into a modern 21st century marina and leisure quarter. Imagine how many more desperately needed jobs, training and business opportunities could be created as well. In my opinion, a leisure focused port area would create much more money and many times more jobs than an industrialised port ever could. But don’t take my word for it. Ramsgate’s MP Craig MacKinlay is a leading advocate of a leisure focused Port and I have included in this blog an interview I recently had with him on this issue which is well worth watching. 

But instead of listening to the people of Ramsgate and the town’s MP and taking account of their alternative, modern, and environmentally friendly proposals, Thanet Council, the EKRB and KCC’s economic development boss, Councillor Mark Dance, appear determined to impose upon the town a large industrial port which most people don’t want. In fact the industrialisation of the Port of Ramsgate has been classified by the EKRB as a “strategically significant project” for the East Kent area which attracts “greatest priority for future investment”. This means that Thanet Council, the EKRB and KCC will be working tirelessly through the Kent and Medway Economic Partnership (KMEP) and the South East England Local Enterprise Partnership (SEMP) to secure tens-of-million of pounds of Government funding to industrialise and expand Ramsgate Port.

By anybody’s standard this proposal is massive. It will result in a doubling of the Port’s size and its HGV handling capacity. But will it be worth the huge multi-million investment required to build it? I’ve argued for years that Ramsgate Port’s future as a sustainable commercial enterprise ended with the collapse of Trans Europa Ferries in 2013. Since then the port has rapidly declined with a huge drop in traffic and income. If fact the Port has made eye-watering operating losses of £17.6 million over the past 7 years; the equivalent of £126 for every, man, woman and child living in Thanet. And, despite TDCs fake news and rumourmongering, there is no sign whatsoever of a new ferry operator coming forward to replace Trans Europa. 

Furthermore, work has now begun on the £225million, 3 year, expansion programme of Dover Harbour which will massively increase its capacity for handling passenger ferries and freight services. And, just 70 miles from Ramsgate, the state-of-the art London Gateway Port has recently opened a third deep water berth, with a fourth berth planned to follow shortly. London Gateway has also expanded its freight handling and logistics hub, making it one of the most modern and best connected ports in the country. 

Accepting that head to head competition with maritime giants such as Dover and London Gateway ports would be suicidal, then the only financially viable option for commercial port services in Ramsgate would be to focus on developing businesses not hosted by its rivals, such as the expansion of aggregate and related concrete trades which O’Regan’s and Brett’s have already flagged up. Then there is the possible utilisation of the port as a waste transfer facility. 

This option is not as fanciful as it sounds. In fact Ramsgate Port is, in many respects, an ideal candidate to host waste transfer operations. This is why. According to Kent County Council’s Waste Disposal Strategy 2017-2035 the closure of one of London’s last remaining waste land-fill sites in 2018 means that the amount of non-hazardous waste originating in London but treated in Kent will increase to an estimated 87,000 tonnes a year between 2018-2030. That’s the equivalent of 1,673 tonnes of waste being exported from London to Kent every week. 

In addition, the Kent Minerals and Waste Local Plan 2013-30 notes that the use of landfill sites for waste disposal must be significantly reduced in the next 15-20 years and that energy from waste technologies such as incineration and anaerobic digestion must become the major tools in tackling waste produced in Kent and waste imported into the county. However the Waste Local Plan warns that there is currently insufficient energy from waste capacity to tackle future demands. The county’s only energy from waste incinerator at Allington, which already processes some London waste, is nearing its operating limits, and the provision of anaerobic digestion facilities in the county is inadequate to meet future demand. 

Ramsgate Port is however in the unique position of being able to resolve many of Kent’s waste disposal problems. First, one of the easiest and cheapest ways to transport some, or all, of the estimated 87,000 tonnes of London waste for disposal in Kent would be by sea. It's no-coincidence that the alongside quay proposed for Ramsgate Port in the EKRB document lend itself admirably for hosting and unloading large waste transporting ships of up to 250 metres in length (the same also applies to large aggregate transporting vessels too). 

Second, just a couple miles from Ramsgate Port is the Richborough Energy Park which has plans to construct waste incinerators and which already hosts anaerobic digestion facilities. Next door to the Richborough Energy Park is the large Thanet Waste site which also has the space and capacity to develop waste incineration and anaerobic digestors. The port is connected to these sites by a fast dual carriageway which could, with some further investment, handle hundreds of waste carrying HGVs a day. 

Last but not least Thanet Council’s Director of Operational Services, Gavin Waite, worked in the commercial waste industry for several years and, I would imagine, is well connected with leaders of this industry, who I am sure would be extremely interested in developing partnerships with Thanet Council to manage the thousands of tonnes of household and commercial rubbish which might soon be passing through the Ramsgate Port every week. In fact my sources at the Council have already informed me that Mr Waite has held several meetings with waste management companies to discuss the use of the Port as a facilitator of a large scale waste disposal operation. 

But what impact would a heavily industrialised port have upon Ramsgate and Thanet? Clearly the daily movement of hundreds of HGV vehicles servicing waste, aggregate and concrete related operations would contribute to a huge increase in air pollution which would be a serious threat to the health and well-being of local people. As would the noise, dust and smells generated by the large number of ships visiting the port every day and the operation of the plant and equipment required to support the likely waste management, aggregate and concrete related operations at the port. Our roads, which are already busy, would soon become even more congested and there would be a greatly increased risk to the many national and internationally protected marine conservation areas surrounding Ramsgate Port. 

Thanet Council is legally required to produce an environmental impact assessment for any major developments it may be contemplating. However I can find no evidence that such assessment has been carried out on its plans for the Port. In my opinion the expansion and industrialisation of Ramsgate Port to include dirty industries such as aggregates, concrete production and waste handling is very likely to be an unmitigated environmental disaster. Industries such as these should be located in areas a long way from population centres and fragile internationally protected eco-systems. 

Needless to say, having an expanded and industrialised port located just metres away from a historic and much visited Royal Harbour would be disastrous for Ramsgate’s growing tourist economy. Having filthy, dirty and noisy industries belching their pollution out across the seafront will kill the visitor industry dead and destroy the valuable income, jobs, and business opportunities which Ramsgate so desperately needs. It would be no exaggeration to say that an expanded and industrialised port would destroy many more jobs than it creates and generate less income than the current visitor economy. 

This is why I oppose the expansion and industrialisation of Ramsgate Port because it’s a step backwards not forwards. It’s polluting and dangerous. It will destroy the tourist economy and it’s undemocratic because there has been no public debate or consultation about the plans. 

I’m also bitterly disappointed that, with the honourable exception of MP Crag MacKinlay, all the major political parties in Thanet and East Kent appear to be supporting the industrialisation of the Port. UKIP led Thanet Council is backing the plans as are the four Conservative led councils and their political bosses who make up the EKRP. Even the Thanet Labour Party who, under the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn, is supposedly embracing the green agenda, as remained shamefully silent on this extremely important local issue. 

Perhaps that’s because it was the Thanet Council Labour Group which kicked off this drive to industrialise the Port with its publication, in 2014, of the Ramsgate Maritime Plan which, just like the EKRB proposals, was produced secretly behind closed doors with no public consultation. 

I will be keeping the pressure on Thanet Council and will try my best to force it to reveal its full proposals for the Port of Ramsgate including the disclosure of full financial and environmental evaluations of its plans. I will also join residents  in campaigning against the proposals and although I disagree with him on many issues, I will support MP Craig MacKinlay in his campaign for a leisure focused development at the Port 

Ramsgate deserves much better than the dirty, polluting plans which are being foisted on the town without any consulation. Shame on those who are shitting on the town.