Sunday, January 15, 2006

Ramsgate Campaigners Call for Town Council

The BBC reports that campaigners have taken to the streets with a petition for their Kent town to be allowed its own parish council.

Ramsgate is currently represented by 17 charter trustees elected onto Thanet District Council.

But the council is conducting a parish review with local people given until 18 January to have their say on the issue.

Members of the Ramsgate First group were promoting their campaign for a town council on Saturday, trying to collect signatures for a petition.

Thanet's parish review for Ramsgate began on 6 December.

Chief executive Richard Samuel said at the time: "When a decision is made we want to ensure it takes local people's views into account."

A "yes" decision would see the Ramsgate Charter Trustees abolished after more than 30 years of existence.

A parish council would have a role to play on issues such as planning, highways and street lighting.

However, such a change would incur an extra cost for Ramsgate residents, which would be added to council tax bills. - Seven other towns in Thanet have their own parish council


Cllr David Green said...

I can see little merit in the idea unless the local government situation changes in favour of Unitary Authorities. Until then a Parish Council would risk duplicating the District Councillor's role. It could be very expensive for Council Tax payers.

Weston Super Mare's experience of moving from Charter Trustees to Town Council is worth examining as I think it offers an interesting parallel to Ramsgate.

Weston-super-Mare Town Council was created in 2000. The Town Council has 31 Councillors and represents a population of approximately 71,000.
The creation of the Town Council followed a long campaign by local residents. Over 7000 local people signed the petition.

There is no evidence of widespread support in Ramsgate.

Precept of Weston Charter Trustees about £100,000 (similar to Ramsgate)
In May, 31 new town councillors were elected, most of which had not been councillors previously. One of the biggest issues for the new Town Council was the desire to reclaim assets previously donated to the ‘people of the town’ – in particular Grove House. Almost an exact parallel with Albion House in Ramsgate.

The town mayor role continued from the Charter Trustees and approximate 500 engagements per year are carried out including large events such as the Ceremony of Mayor Making, Remembrance Day and Annual Charity Ball.

Precept £250,000
Services: Allotments, Bus Shelters, Charities (support via Town Mayor), Christmas Illuminations, Civic Functions, Cleaning of Town Signs, Consultees (Planning, Highway etc), Dog Faeces Bins, Grants to Local Organisations, Grove House restoration project, Literary Award, Marina Investigations, Street Naming Town Centre Partnership, Town Clock, Town Promotion (including tourism).

The allotment sites were finally handed over to the Town Council in 2001

Precept £264,340
Services as above and Youth Bus, Youth Council, Golden Jubilee Celebrations, Cycle Racks, Notice Boards, Monthly Newsletter.
The Town Council opened the first large wheels area (skateboard) in the town, following considerable consultation and involvement from young people, via the dynamic and active Youth Council.
Improvements to the allotment continued and the transfer of assets were still being negotiated.

Precept £427,944
Services as above and Wheels Area (skateboard etc),Wedding Facilities, Leisure Directory
The second election for Town Council was held. There were 93 prospective candidates for 31 seats. Political control changed from Conservative to Liberal Democrat.
Transfer of some assets still being negotiated.

Precept £517,000
Services as above and Website, Punch & Judy, Cemetery, Play Equipment

Town Council agreed to purchase the small community theatre (threatened with demolition) and develop an arts project. The future of Grove House is finally resolved.

Precept £701,265
Services as above and Blakehay Theatre, Britain in Bloom (Flower Power)

The precept increased from £100,000 to £700,000 in 4 years (Ramsgate's is currently £100,000.) This is a sevenfold increase in Council Tax!
Although there are some good achievements in this time, there is nothing there that the Ramsgate Charter Trustees (District Councillors) aren’t already doing, or couldn’t achieve given the will, the right Mayor and a proper democratic forum to discuss ideas to improve the Town.
One difference is that the Charter Trustees can’t own property, but that could be overcome by forming a Town Trust.

Anonymous said...

How interesting that David Green, a member of the party that made such issue of bringing self government of a sort to Wales and Scotland, at enormous expense. and has pushed in other areas of the country for extra regional layers of government, and is currently pushing for localism as an agenda in local government should be so against a town council for his own back yard!

Listening to campaigners, it is clear there is a feeling of representative deficit for many in Ramsgate, who clearly feel, for whatever reason, they are not high on the agenda of the District Council. It is not, I believ, a provable proposition, however the perception of people in Ramsgate is otherwise. Arguing against a Town Council on cost grounds alone will not overcome that feeling. With experience of Broadstairs Town Council I can say that what is expected of Ramsgate putative Town Council is probably unachievable, however there are several areas where over the years district has changed provision and the Town Council has stepped in and covered the gaps. MOst notable is when under the previous Labour admministration Park Hall was threatened with closure and the Town Council stepped in and ran the hall and are now looking at putting a replacement in place. Willsons Hall in Ramsgate was closed at the same time, stayed closed and will not be replaced. So, Town Councils can do things a bit differently. Yes, they do cost a bit more on top of the current council tax (Broadstairs costs around £200,00 per year, just under £20 per annum per household) but people feel they have someone in the Town they can directly deal with everyday many are reluctant to deal by phone, video link and email all the time.

Perhaps the conclusion of all this is that the Charter Trustees in Ramsgate are not generally thought of as doing a good job? I dont know, but I do know that David may better spend his time showing how current arrangements may work well, because clearly that is the source of frustration, not comparitive detailed figures from the other side of the country, interesting though they may be.

Chris Wells