Monday, December 31, 2007

The Big Prediction

Poor old Home Office Minister, Vernon Coaker. When presented with the Daily Telegraph story, that 500 people a day a being admitted to hospital as a consequence of binge drinking, he replied:

“It demonstrates the importance of the work that the government is doing in relation to alcohol and drinking.”

I think he means the “drink aware” message, particularly for tonight, where he urged people and predominantly the young, to drink responsibly but I do rather suspect that very few people will be listening or even bothering to visit the alcohol industry’s website? What do you think?

So what’s in store for 2008. As we have seen so many comments over the last few days, I thought I might invite Thanet Life readers to grab their crystal balls or gaze into their tea leaves and make their own predictions for the year ahead.

For example, does anybody want to predict another huge government blunder or data loss or is that too easy? Will we discover that Osama Bin Laden isn’t really living in the mountains of Pakistan but in a council flat in Tower Hamlets and of course, there’s absolutely nothing the government can do about it under the Human Rights Act?

Here in Thanet, we have some great opportunities coming our way, the ‘China Gateway’ being but one. However, as we all know, we have equally powerful challenges to face with infrastructure, housing, population and regeneration. Financially, we are on a par with Chief Engineer Scott (Scottie) from Star Trek, trying to squeeze more power from the engines to escape the gravitational pull of the growing public sector deficit ‘Black Hole’ that now defines our national economy.

Happier days ahead I hope and so may I take this opportunity to wish all our readers, Charlie and the commmittee of the Thanet Independent Action Party, (pictured) Gordon Brown, Ahmed Ahmadinejad, ECR, Tony Flaig and Thanet's Bloggers a very happy, healthy and prosperous 2008 to come!

Sunday, December 30, 2007

2008 - A Whole New Deal

The energetic traffic flowing across this weblog over the last two days also revealed several of the problems of comment threads when a vigorous public debate is in progress.

First of these is of course the subject being ‘hijacked’ by a reader with a separate agenda and while one moment you’re reading about Margate, the next you could be reading about the IRA and how the two are very loosely connected. The second problem is the mischief-makers, who have nothing to contribute to the discussion but like to tag it with their own comment, rather like a graffiti artist and the third, is the comment thread becoming so long and often going-off on such a tangent, that incoming readers struggle to discover what the crux of the argument is really about and how it started. This happens quite frequently.

Once a thread moves past twenty comments or so, you may find it starts taking on a life of its own and evolves into a different species with some attributes of the original conversation in much the same way that a whale and a bear share a common ancestor. At which point I move on.

With the New Year almost upon us, what silly stories can be found in the Sunday papers I wonder?

For starters, it appears that more than £30 million of taxpayers' money has been spent on a government scheme to help aspiring pop stars to make it in the music industry. Sadly though and despite the influence of X-Factor on budding talent, fewer than 4,000 people have gone on to find music jobs through the system, at a cost of more than £7,500 per position.

Apparently part of the Government's larger New Deal project to help get the unemployed back into work through training, the scheme pays would-be pop, rock, dance and jazz musicians a top-up of £15 on the £59 a week they would have got in Jobseeker's Allowance if they had remained on the dole.

If you know of anyone visiting the local job centre next week, then suggest they apply now before it all comes to a sticky end.

Ski resorts in Switzerland are reportedly setting “quotas” for Russian tourists. If you’ve been abroad recently, you may have noticed how the Russian influence is flooding some of the more popular resorts. Dubai can be unbearable and they have reached Cuba too. We British are infamous internationally for our football supporters, arriving like locusts in a city and causing havoc. The Russians however arrive in private jets and Bentleys, have bodyguards, lots of girls and quickly turn a family resort into something else. It’s all too much for the Swiss but wait until China allows its new middle-class out en masse; there will be no room at the inn, anywhere at any major holiday destination on the planet.

Finally and if you didn’t know it already, the financial outlook for 2008 is bleak and further reinforced by Gordon’s new year’s message:

In a strong warning, which sets the backdrop for a campaign to revive his premiership, Brown tells Britain to prepare for 'global financial turbulence' in 2008. 'Our strong economy is the foundation,' Brown writes. 'With unbending determination in 2008, we will steer a course of stability through global financial turbulence. The global credit problem that started in America is now the most immediate challenge for every economy.”

The Prime Minister goes on a bit but if we are tightening our belts here in Thanet, you can bet that the 2008 budget will hold some unpleasant tax surprises nationally. It normally does anyway. Wait to see however whether MPs vote themselves an inflation busting 10% pay rise which would be highly embarrassing for the government at such a difficult time in the public sector pay round.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

A Bloglist - Gone But Not Forgotten?

The Thanet Bloglist appears to have, well disappeared!

I have warned readers in the past about having their websites 'hijacked' by spam sites but this is the first time I've seen such a thing happen locally.

The Thanet Bloglist home page is now replaced by IP address which in turn goes to the website in the screenshot.

This all rather reminds me that I should be writing a column on ecrime, with the 2008 ecrime congress coming-up in March. With foolish talk on another thread about lecturing our Chinese guests to Thanet on their political and human rights record, I'm also reminded that I have to go Milan in April, to deliver a lecture on the energetic virtual conflict that we in the west are engaged with, in Cyberspace with our Chinese friends. It's all a little incongruous but brings a new and rather different meaning to the expression, 'China Gateway'.'

Deed Not Breed

Following the tragic death of a child, mauled by a Rottweiler dog, you may have seen the interview on Sky News, of a spokeswoman from a group called "Deed Not Breed", claiming that no one breed of dog is more dangerous than another.

Although she firmly believes that Labradors and Spaniels present the same level of danger to children as Pit Bull Terriers and Rottweilers, the tragic statistics show otherwise and her ludicrous argument was very politely disassembled by the facts.

However, of late I've noticed, as you might have, an increase in the number of the larger and more aggressive breeds in Thanet, sometimes in pairs and rarely under the firm control of the owner. The popular Thanet Pit Bull appears to be in decline but other unusual breeds that I recognise from TV coverage appear to be on the increase locally or at least that's my impression.

Have you noticed the same?

Friday, December 28, 2007

Let's Have an Ice Rink

Reading the Thanet Gazette today, I see that there is yet another letter from another “Thanet Independent Action” "councillor" taking the council to task over the usual Turner 'conspiracy theory.'

What bemuses me is that Mr or Mrs X, a “Parish Councillor for Y” are now starting to sign their names and use the title, “Councillor X” as if they were District or County Councillors for any one of the Thanet wards, which may provoke confusion in those who aren’t properly aware of the difference – explained here - . “A Parish Council is the lowest tier of local government has nothing to do with the church, despite its name, has little power but a reasonable amount of influence in regard to local community projects, such as war memorials, street lighting, rights of way etc. It plays a useful role in representing local views back-up to District level."- BBC

Aside from my confusion with the context, What's clear in the last two letters I’ve read in the Gazette from ‘Thanet Independent Action’, is that the two correspondents are at worst, ‘away with the fairies’ and at best, have a very tenuous grasp of the harsher financial realities facing local government here in Thanet.

It's suggested that we “Use the Turner Centre money and build a new pier and an ice rink”! I don’t think so. It’s not our money to spend on anything else but the proposed project and the message, still isn’t getting through. Let’s be thankful then that those suggesting such solutions have no democratic responsibility for allocating or spending any of your money on such a scale or we would be in trouble. Let me try again to explain for anyone who has missed it and those who don’t want to see it.

If we don’t have the Turner Centre here in Margate the money which has been allocated only for the Turner Centre – not ice rinks or piers – by KCC, SEEDA, Arts Council et al - will go elsewhere. Anyone wishing for ice rinks, piers and other good works, which, like me, we would all like to see one day, will then have to explain to the people of Thanet why they lobbied against the only chance for a national project of any description coming to Thanet. Perhaps the future really does lie in “Kiss-me-quick hats and Margate rock?”

I see this morning that the public toilets at St Mildred’s Bay have been re-tagged over the last 48 hours, this time, with bright blue paint. One can’t fail to be frustrated and depressed by the result, given the efforts and costs involved to have them renovated this summer. Equally bad perhaps, is that we have to keep opening times restricted to avoid vandalism inside and to try and control (unsuccessfully) the regular activities of one particularly group of sexually active male residents, who, the cleaner tells me, are averaging 30 condoms a week. I even picked-up a used ”sharp” outside last week, which he kindly disposed of for me.

The Gazette, didn’t quite catch-up with the result of the NSPCC charity flight; the best being a rushed and crude cut and paste job entitled, “The Best of the Blogs.” At least it had some coverage of what was achieved but I also understand that the Gazette are unable to actually read the different local weblogs because of a company policy over accessing “Social Networking Sites.” If anyone can explain how any of the local weblogs sit in the same pigeonhole as MySpace, Facebook and Bebo, Let me know!

Thursday, December 27, 2007

The Sweeping Sands

I have managed to recover "Black's Guide Book to East Kent" (1909) which was lost in the attic for some years. It makes fascinating reading. On Margate:

"We emphatically repudiate the sweeping criticism of the popular authoress to whom the name of Margate suggested nothing but 'sixpenny teas' and a vulgar flavour of shrimps floating, unbidden in the air. Miss Marie Corelli is recommended to make a visit to Cliftonville, with rooms, say in Sweyn Road or one of the new large hotels; and in fact to obtain a more through acquaintance with teh 'upper' and pleasanter side of the the Margate of today."

What Marie Corelli, born Mary Mackay would make of the place 99 years further on is anyone's guess but the little green book is an absolute treasure trove of traveller's information from a long lost time; hotels, walks, teas, excursions, histories and of course, bathing machines!

"Merry Margate can boast some advantages not possessed by it rival neighbours, monotony here, there cannot be."

I may get around to quoting some excerpts on Broadstairs and Ramsgate too but meanwhile, I'm enjoing this little time machine view of another world.

By the way, if anyone is following the excellent BBC mini-drama "Ballet Shoes" that screened last night, look out for the aerial scenes that we shot with the BBC last summer opposite Reculver.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Boxing Day Bazaar

Up early this morning to try and beat the rush to Westwood Cross and the PC World Sale and the all "singing and dancing" new printer I wanted.

Hardly anyone about and the PC World salesman tells me that it's much quieter than the previous year. Unfortunately for me though, I find that the printer I want is not featured in the Christmas Sale, so I could have bought it for the same price last week!

Nobody appeared to have told all the early shoppers that most of the retail outlets at Westwood weren't opening until 10am. I ventured across with my daughter to the main area and lots of annoyed people were milling around at 9am, peering through windows with visible frustration. Unable to take her to the video games shop as promised, I had to make my way back on my motorcycle with her at noon, which at least guaranteed me a parking spot, only to find that the games shop had a queue for the tills that stretched back to Cafe Nero! - She gave up and will buy her next Playstation game on the internet instead!

For one of the most deprived areas of the country, Westwood Cross appears to be heaving with bargain hunters. With Thanet so short of cash one has to wonder whether a great many people are in denial over the predicted "credit crunch" to come in the New Year. Examined from another perspective it may simply be the urge to spend today, pay tomorrow and enjoy Christmas while the government worries about recession, failing banks and lost data.

Unable to find anything for myself, I did discover an attractive new "hoodie" for my dog for those cold winter mornings on the beach - pictured - although she seemed far from impressed with the result!

Finally, whoever designed the traffic-flow pattern in and out of the Westwood Cross car park did not think clearly about the consequences. Sitting on my motorcycle and watching the tortuous progress of the cars, it seems pretty clear to me that this bottleneck design is a major contribution to the traffic jam problems we now have on the approach to the centre. Whether this can be resolved, is another question and one I will certainly be asking in the New Year.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Merry Christmas One and All

And we raised £312.50 for the NSPCC too!

I will post an envelope stuffed with cheques, later this week. Thanks to everyone who contributed and if we are lucky, some more cheques might be on the way. Special mention to Tony Flaig, ECR and Paul Nettleingham for making the flight a memorable success. Thanks also to KMFM for their support!

A further note of thanks to those of you who are sending me email and asking how you can donate directly. You can donate online if you wish to the NSPCC website or send a cheque to NSPCC. Freepost WC1 613.

Paul's partner Lynn, pictured with Tony and Paul, survived the experience of being my co-pilot and I've embedded the video of the flight below. You may have spotted us over the towns and of course Westwood Cross at 1pm.

Have a great Christmas everyone and a happy and healthy 2008 ahead!

Sunday, December 23, 2007

And the Winner is..!

Congratulations to Paul Nettleingham of the Sleep Centre who placed the highest bid, £75 (for the NSPCC) to have his partner, Lynn, act as my co-pilot on tomorrow's charity banner flight over Thanet.

Hopefully, this will take place just after midday (fog and weather permitting) and Big News Margate Blogger, Tony Flaig, will also be coming along to help as ground crew to lay out the banner for the pickup. Perhaps I can persuade him to video the exercise?

Should you be at Westwood Cross or any of the Thanet towns, please wave and perhaps think of sending in your own contribution to the NSPCC. I even had a cheque from the "Irritating Bloke", who while temporarily banned from Thanet Life, obviously has his heart in the right place. I suppose I had better "un-ban" him but please. No more long stories about the police and the IRA or I'll have to switch you off again!

If you want to send in a donation to add to the modestly growing balance, you can always send a cheque to me, made out to "The NSPCC registered Charity", to the address on the Airads website.

This afternoon I foolishly venture-out to Westwood Cross. On a motorcycle at least I managed to get there and back but for anyone trying the same in a car it must have been awful. Absolute gridlock along the Margate Road.

Mind you, while we all complain about having it, lots of us seem to like it and just imagine the journey to Canterbury! - Now if we can only sort the roads out with a little help from KCC!

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Sealed Bids

The sealed bids are starting to appeat, for a ride in the aircraft on Monday, as co-pilot, while I tow the NSPCC charity "MERRY XMAS FROM THANET BLOGGERS" around Thanet.

I would like to once again thank those involved for wonderful support in a good cause and let's hope the weather stays fine for the occasion!

Remember, that "sealed" offers need to be emailed to my email address given in the previous story.

Meanwhile, a crazy Russian needs to propose to his girlfriend over Canterbury this afternoon, so I'll look forward to seeing if those kind people at KMFM 106.2 can drum -up some more interest while I'm out!

Friday, December 21, 2007

The Blogger Banner Winner!

Congratulations to Tony Flaig, who as part of a 'Blogger syndicate', with ECR, has won the Xmas aircraft banner message flight on eBay and with it, will be donating £150 to the NSPCC or the registered charity of his choice this Christmas, a wonderful gesture.

I'm waiting to hear what the message will be and weather permitting, plan to fly this around Thanet at lunchtime on Christmas Eve, making sure we sit over Westwood Cross and the town centres on the way.

Who will be taking the complimentary co-pilot's seat I don't know but he or she needs to be happy with extreme roller-coaster rides. To understand what I mean, this is what's involved:

Update: Having spoken with Tony Flaig, he's agreed with ECR to put the co-pilot's place back on bid to see if we can raise a little more money for the NSPCC. I have spoken with KMFM 107.2 and they have kindly agreed to promote it over the next forty-eight hours, so here's your chance to bid for the flight or even "fright" of your life in a good cause for Monday afternoon.

Unfortunately, eBay won't let me put a listing on for less than three days, so I'm accepting the highest sealed bid by email to by 5pm on Sunday! Please leave a contact phone number together with your name if you bid.

Please note: The winner is subject to a maximum weight restriction of 85 kilos be over 18 years of age and must not suffer from any reportable medical condition.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Heavenly Choir

At last, a bid for my charity eBay flight with one day to go. The bidder is named "Tony", so this may be a clue to his true identity! I shall immediately have the festive Elves start preparing the red Christmas letters for the banner. In the meantime we have three more flights to get out of the way first, a Chinese wedding outside Oxford tomorrow, above Old Trafford for the Premier League and a flypast marriage proposal from an eccentric Russian businessman to his girlfiriend, outside Canterbury cathedral on Saturday.

This year's most popular Christmas cards appear to have a "doggy" theme. One pictured is by Jeanne Heilman and you can see the complete collection here!

In the interim, may I wish all Thanet Life's readers a Very Merry Christmas and a Happy 2008 to come.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Thor's Hammer

I was coming back from Deal at 12:30 when I heard the Sky News helicopter working its way along the coast towards Margate. "What's happening over there", I asked. "A chemical fire apparently", replied the pilot.

A little later and it appears that an explosion at Thor Chemicals at about 10am on Chapel Hill caused a local emergency and needed six fire crews from around Thanet to get it under control.

It's reported that a 300m cordon was put in place around the area, which has since been lifted.

Police have confirmed that there were no reported casualties. All staff at the factory have been accounted for.
With a couple of days left, I'm seeing renewed interest in my eBay charity auction for an aircraft Christmas banner and a ride in the aircraft. Thank you Tony Flaig and ECR for your kind offers of support. However, bidding has yet to start on the eBay auction proper and time is running-out.

It's an eBay auction so that it's completely transparent. I'm delighted to hear that people and even fictional characters are happy to send cheques to charity but as it's been placed in the public domain, I think it's only proper that if anyone wishes to bid for the main prize they go through the correct process.

If nobody takes-up the online bid then I'm happy to pass on any cheques made out to the "NSPCC". If you are feeling generous, then please send these to the address on the airads website (bottom of the page) and I will report back here and to the local media on how much has been raised from readers over the holiday period.

Monday being Christmas Eve, weather permitting, expect me to be up above Thanet with something!

So if you are feeling generous...!

A Thanet Nativity Play?

I read that a Christmas card, entitled "Nativity in Thanet", which is reportedly being passed around the island, is causing a level of controversy. Here it is (pictured) what do you think?

A wry and very personal interpretation from the artist or an insult to all of us living here?

On a totally different and un-related subject, the potential 'China Gateway' project was presented at last night's full council meeting. If it proceeds as planned - and you'll find more on this in earlier stories - then it represents an enormous business opportunity for the island which may act as a catalyst in creating the same thriving economic environment that similar 'Gateway' projects have had in ther countries. The Chinese don't see Thanet's geographical position at the far-eastern edge of England as a disadvantage, quite the opposite in fact, so 2008 may yet be the modest start of our own "Great Leap Forward" with help from our new Chinese partners. Well, I hope so anyway!

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Drive Carefully

Between council meetings and lots of pre-Christmas flying work, I don't seem to be home much at present. Contrary to what you might have read elsewhere, the online auction for the eBay auction for a Christmas message banner - proceeds to charity - is still running; up until Christmas Eve and if nobody bids for it, then I'll write my own cheque out to the NSPCC.

Considering that the winner gets a free flight and the opportunity of advertising to the greater population of Thanet at Christmas, its a great offer and if you have a business, it should be tax deductible too!

We've been busy yesterday and today "beating-up" Bluewater and Lakeside with a big sheet banner for a client. In spite of the credit-crunch, both mega-shopping-malls appear to be heaving with Christmas shoppers, and the QEII Bridge and M25 in between, packed with traffic. Best stay at home I think.

True to the Christmas spirit, the so-called "Kent Road-safety Partnership" is busy speed-trapping drivers on the way in and out of Westgate past the King Ethelbert's school, so be aware. The usual place as described in an earlier story, just as the dual carriageway goes from 40 to 30 mph and quite probably making a healthy sum of money too.

Not quite the Christmas card that many of us would like, so drive carefully and remember, "Tis the season to be making money from motorists too."

Friday, December 14, 2007

Late Developer

A last minute appeal from developers to place a block of flats in Westgate's Harold Road conservation area featured in the Thanet Gazette, today, together with a photograph of a Residents Association protest, organised by Cllr. King.

In the background however, it's now up to the Planning Inspectorate to make a final decision on Harold Road but the Council have had a relatively succesful +80% record of challenging projects of this type and it's hoped that the inspectors in Bristol will take notice of a number of valid objections and reject the application. One can never be 100% certain though; the ways of planning inspectors being a mystery to most of us!

I did notice last week that another project to build flats, this time on Beach Rise in Westgate, has an unusual footnote. This one is also out for appeal and I wrote to the Planning Inspectorate on behalf of local resident along with some aerial photographs I took of the road to illustrate the potential unsuitability of the development. However, the same address has now appeared on an estate agent's list, priced at £750,000 "A substantial property offering scope for subdivision to apartments subject to any necessary consents being obtainable"; rather optimistically jumping the gun on the inspector's decision which has yet to be made!

Sadly though, if your'e a ward councillor, new property applications seem to arrive rather more regularly than buses. This takes us back once again to the earlier story on house building in general, the "presumptive approval" of such applications means that to have any chance of winning, residents need to have a very good and solid objection under the existing straight-jacket of planning legislation.

Beware Spam

I've noticed that Blogger appears to be letting spam comments through, so please be careful if you see a comment on a thread, which bears no relation to the conversation.

Here's an example:

"Broadband Sue has left a new comment on your post

Here’s a Broadband Video that will show you how to check availability by postcode, how perform a broadband speed test and where to find broadband forums to answer your questions. There are also offers for PlusNet Broadband."

Ed:In this case it looks quite possibly as if it's an attempt to re-direct the wary to a video site that will download malicious code into your PC, possibly for identity theft or to hijack it as a new member of an organised crime "zombie" network.

Unless a link if from me or you recognise the author in regard to the thread, please don't be duped into following such links here or indeed on any weblog.

Pentameter Strikes in Thanet

With the deprivation that Thanet suffers from, it doesn't surprise me that we might figure in somewhere in the sex-trade and human trafficking league. Chairing, as I do, the "Tackling Organised Crime" congress, the statistics of misery are far greater than most readers would ever imagine!

Seven people were arrested yesterday and eight women are being cared for by specialist officers following a Kent Police operation to target people trafficking and the sex trade.

Early on Thursday morning more than 100 police officers from across the county visited 11 addresses in Margate, Ramsgate, Canterbury, Herne Bay and Sittingbourne where warrants were executed.

According to the report, detailed searches of those properties were carried out. Four of the addresses are understood to have been used as brothels. The other locations are believed to be home addresses of people suspected of being involved in the crimes. Police say further arrests are anticipated.

A Kent Police spokesman commented: "This is part of the nationwide campaign Operation Pentameter 2, led by the Association of Chief Police Officers and the Home Office, which aims to protect vulnerable people being exploited by organised criminal groups. Kent Police is playing an active role."

"The seven people have been arrested on suspicion of conspiracy to traffic women for sexual exploitation and conspiracy to control the activity of prostitutes for gain or money laundering, together with drug offences.

Thousands of pounds in cash have also been recovered.

Anyone with any information about trafficking is urged to contact Kent Police on 01622 690690 or Kent Crimestoppers, free and anonymously, on 0800 555 111. In an emergency, always dial 999.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

A Little Sea Air

"The poorest man may in his cottage bid defiance to all the forces of the crown. It may be frail - its roof may shake,the wind may blow throught it, the storm may enter but the King of England cannot enter." - William Pitt.

Following rapidly on the heels of the Housing Minister's announcement of a new home's building priority - further below - we have another story appearing in the papers today.

It appears that "Pensioners will be encouraged to give up council houses in the cities and move to the country.

The elderly will be paid cash and helped to move, so that their homes can be given to families.

Labour said the plan would ease overcrowding. Housing Minister Yvette Cooper, who put forward the plans, said: "Too many children are stuck in cramped houses. How can they get on at school if they haven't got space to do their homework? Kids need space, and so do their parents."

But critics warned it would put pressure on pensioners to quit social housing.

Middle-aged couples living in large council houses in cities could be forced to move to the country

The plans will mean the elderly, and some middle-aged "empty nesters", get priority for small council or housing association homes outside cities."

Ed: William Pitt never imagined the appearance of New Labour. It all rather sounds like a covert form of eviction to me. When I wrote the earlier story, "The Biggest Priority of All", I never realised that the Government had such a dramatic 'Re-distribution' proposal up its sleeve.

Bus loads of pensioners facing compulsory purchase and being sent to view retirement flats in depressed seaside towns, courtesy of Minister, Yvette Cooper, What do you think?

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Trains - Pay More, Get Less

North Thanet's MP, Roger Gale, has accused the Government and Southeastern Trains of adopting a "Pay More - Get Less" policy towards travellers from Thanet.

Following receipt of a letter from Southeastern the MP said:

"Southeastern Trains have made it clear that they are not willing to "comment on estimated journey times (for the fast link) quoted by London and Continental or the DfT eight or nine years ago".

In other words, the promises that were made by Labour Members of Parliament locally and by Transport Ministers were not worth the press release paper that they were written on. We were told, back in 2001, that dramatically reduced journey times were to be with us by 2007 and that new fast trains were on order. That is clearly demonstrated to have been so much pre-election party-political moonshine.

The fast link from Thanet, via Canterbury, Ashford and Ebbsfleet, to London is vital to the development of the economy of East Kent in general and of Manston Airport in particular.

I am told that :

"A yet to be determined premium fare will be charged for journeys between Ashford and St. Pancras. However, the premium will not apply for those travelling from stations on the Kent main line, only for the section of the journey from Ashford that uses the high speed line. In other words a passenger travelling from Margate to St. Pancras would pay a premium fare for that portion of the journey between Ashford and St Pancras but not between Margate to Ashford".

Which in plain English means that for the "privilege" of using a bit of high-speed track for part of a journey to a terminus that passengers do not wish to arrive at, passengers will pay more!

Given that it is technically possible to travel, today, on existing track and using existing rolling stock, from Ramsgate to Victoria in one hour flat I think that it is time that local Labour MPs prevailed upon their government to either deliver on their promises or to be prepared to face the electoral consequences. In short, the people that I represent do not like being short-changed and they do not like being lied to".

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Body Discovered on the Margate Beach

Following closely on the heels of last nights traffic disruption along Margate seafront, caused by a potentially dangerous arcade sign, Police were once again cordoning-off areas of the seafront opposite Dreamland, when a man's body was discovered on the beach by a passer-by.

No further details are available at present. I was one of the first walking past the incident as the cordon was being set-up, on my way to a licensing committee meeting at the council offices.

The Lonsdale Story

With luck, Thanet North MP, Roger Gale, has fought-off an attempt by Metropolitan Resources Ltd to use the Lonsdale Hotel in Cliftonville as a processing centre for ‘Failed’ asylum seekers. He’s made it very clear that Thanet is “Resistant” to any idea of introducing further asylum resources to an area that both Thanet District Council and Kent County Council have targeted for urgent regeneration and that the present use of the Nayland Rock Hotel for such purposes is quite enough for Margate, as I’m sure most readers would agree.

The resistance to this new proposal is very much a consequence of the efforts presently being made to return the Nayland Rock to use as a quality hotel and the continued regeneration of Margate Central and Cliftonville West as two of the most disadvantaged areas of South-east England. Thanks to ten years of Government policy, we have a fragmented and largely transitory population with a turnover in excess of 34% and some of the highest levels of crime and anti-social behaviour in the county.

In addition to the existing figures, we now have to include Eastern-European migration over the last two years, with some of the local schools now reporting that over 50% of their intake this year is from the families of new economic migrants.

Given the investment and the commitment being made by a Conservative-led Thanet District Council in an attempt to turn Margate around in the face of enormous challenges, both socially and economically, I suspect that most Thanet voters would agree with Roger Gale and the council and ask Metropolitan Resources to take their project somewhere else.

What do you think?

The Biggest Priority of All

Last week, the Government announced a building target of three million homes by 2020, two million of which are to be delivered by 2016. This is now an absolute priority for New Labour and supersedes both health, defense and education, leaving the audit commission to comment that such a priority has only been seen three times in British history, during the industrial revolution and at the end of the First and Second World Wars.

For those of us in Thanet worried by the spread of concrete and increasingly busy roads, Housing & Planning Minister, Yvette Cooper, had few words of comfort. “We are not”, she said, “going to build our way out of traffic congestion”.

So what does this all mean for us?

The good news is that £732 million will be spent helping councils with the infrastructure costs if they support new housing or to quote the Minister, “Those councils and communities that are doing their bit to deliver new homes should get more cash” but where this cash will really go remains a mystery and every indication is that it will join all the other money going North to places such as Leicester and Northampton, to name but two, rather than towards a Thanet which has seen its central government support slashed this year.

Contrary to what South Thanet MP, Dr Ladyman has said about our island’s so-called over-achievement in housing, Thanet is apparently not building enough houses, because so-called ‘Windfall sites’, the bungalows springing up in gardens around the island don’t count in the housing targets. No, apparently, we need to build at least 30 more units per annum (as instructed by SEERA - than are being built already, just to stand still.

Bearing in mind that in Kent, 8% of homes are in the private rented sector and in Cliftonville West, this figure is 59%, perhaps you should know that the council is receiving an average of 314 applications for social housing each month from people that live both inside and outside Thanet. With 4000, people or families now on the council's housing register, The Conservative Group that leads Thanet District Council has decided it urgently needs to introduce a new housing allocations policy: “To give appropriate priority to local residents and discourage the inward migration of vulnerable people to Thanet.”

Far more attention needs to be been given by Government to the scale of the problem facing our local population. The London Borough of Newham, as one example, has 5,800 people in temporary accommodation, who cost rather more to keep in London, than they might if sent to accommodation in Kent. While Thanet welcomes migrant workers that make a contribution to the growth of our local economy, what is Government actually doing to address the constant migration pressure from London?

Ironically, for the last two years, Thanet has actually put more people back in work than any other part of the South-east and the council is working hard to deliver both affordable homes through agreements with developers and reduce the number of vulnerable people living in non-decent accommodation through effective licensing and enforcement activity.

This government is going to try and build its way out of a housing crisis and both infrastructure and carbon-neutrality will suffer as a result. While we are trying to draw breath and at least get the patient, which is Thanet’s own infrastructure and housing problem, back on its feet, Government not only wants to suffocate us under even more concrete but it appears unlikely to give us anything near (if at all) of the financial support it will apply to more important constituencies running-up to the next General Election.

Draw your own conclusions.

Monday, December 10, 2007

New Toilets Wrecked

Kent Online reports another dismal statistic of local vandalism, that the College Walk toilets in Margate have been defaced only a day after £4,500 was spent improving them last Wednesday.

Teenagers were reportedly found smoking and drinking in the new baby changing rooms and Thanet District Council said the baby-changing mat had also been loosened from its fixing and had to be repaired.

Cllr Shirley Tomlinson, the council’s cabinet member for commercial and environment, said: “It is so disheartening when something like this happens. The council is working so hard to improve the existing facilities for local people and as soon as work has been completed it’s vandalised and used for antisocial behaviour.

“Not only is that completely unacceptable, but it also costs taxpayers dearly, because we are the ones left footing the bill for repairs.”

The damage came only 24 hours after work on the public toilets had finished last Wednesday.

Cllr Tomlinson added: “If we could cut vandalism at our public toilets, we could put the money we’re currently spending on tackling that problem, into local people’s priorities.”

Ed: Similar improvements costing £4,500 have been made to the toilets in East Pier Yard in Ramsgate but one wonders how long these will last.

Constant vandalism is costing Thanet far too much money, time and wasted resources. I noticed last week how graffiti is spreading across the bays once again and the Minnis Bay toilets have been completly defaced. It's only a matter of time before the public toilets in my own ward, Westgate, meet a similar fate, again, having only recently repaired and re-painted.

Until the courts which act as a revolving door, start imposing custodial sentences on young vandals as a shock deterrent - which they won't - the problem will continue indefinitely and you and I will carry on paying for the repairs through our council taxes!

Saturday, December 08, 2007

St Angela's School to Close

Ian Day writes:

"I was greatly saddened to see in the Gazette newspaper yesterday, that St Angela's School in Westgate is to close.

They have always had such delightful children at the school, well behaved and polite, a real credit to them all.

Can you post their closure onto your blog to see if we can raise they're profile and try and show our support for the School and their excellent staff?"

Ed: Quite right Ian, it seems a great shame to see the school close but other than reflect your sentiments and applaud the staff for all their fine work withthe children, past and present, I think it's a sign of the times.

Over-developed and Over-done

Kent News reports:

"A threatening phone call is not putting off a Kent film maker organising a second screening of her controversial piece claiming Thanet is being over-developed.

Producer Christine Tongue said she had the call from an anonymous man warning her not to show the film again"

So one crank call is enough to suggest a conspiracy? At least that the implication. Christine should try running a 'Blog' site!

And then South Thanet MP Steve Ladyman weighs in:

"Dr Steve Ladyman, Labour MP for South Thanet, Thanet MP said he thought that Tory-run Thanet council’s current policies risk ruining the island’s environment.

He said: “The council is not so much over-developing rather than inappropriate developing. “They are looking to put houses on tennis courts and sports fields. The council is already ahead of government requirements for house building, so I am not sure why they are still looking to put even more on back gardens. It will change the shape of Thanet eventually.”

What utter rubbish from a member of the same government that has made it frustratingly difficult if not close to impossible for councillors like me to challenge new developments. I've written about this before and I'm sure other local councillors will contribute to the comment thread.

None of us want Thanet concreted over and we are all concerned by the number of houses and developments springing-up - many of these in people's gardens too - Thank you Labour government - But instead of wringing our collective hands and blaming the local council, we need to clearly understand why those people, your elected representatives, who are committed to making Thanet a better place for all of us, are presented with a raft of legislation by government that appears to work against the public interest in protecting the local environment.

Friday, December 07, 2007

Balancing the Books

The Thanet Gazette devotes a great deal of coverage today to the island's fiscal challenges ahead.

Bearing in mind that the total funding we will receive from central government over the next three years us set to fall in nominal terms, and fall further after inflation is taken into account, the council is having to be very cautious with what little money there is available; remember that only 40% of the income comes from the community charge and Thanet is a welfare and grant dependent environment.

So, sixty pence in every every pound of the Council's income comes from central government and that will fall sharply. In addition, the new two-tier system for business rates adds further uncertainty, and an additional and unwanted central government tax on businesses of all sizes.

In the present environment, it's only sensible to examine what the taxpayer wants, against what they can afford, taking a quote from one of Charles Dickens' most famous characters, Mr. Micawber:

"Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen nineteen six, result happiness. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pounds nought and six, result misery."

As Councillor Wise says in the Gazette, "Thee council is committed to continuing to fund its core objectives, as well as providing events funding and for popular resources such as the Coastal project" but without a doubt tough decisions in regard to spending priorities lie ahead.

I read in the paper, comments such as "Where does all the money go?" and "The council should spend £75,000 repairing the building" (one of many ) and I ask, what money and whose priorities?

If you were responsible where would your priorities lie. Raising council tax to an unacceptable level in the face of a credit squeeze and a looming recession or trying to deliver the best possible all-round service with what little money there is available?

You tell me?

Noisy Neighbours

Home defense appears to have taken on a whole new meaning with the discovery of an MP5 machine pistol at an address in Ramsgate's Trove Court on Tuesday.

Police found the weapod during a drugs raid which netterd a large quantity of cannabisOther drugs, believed to be LSD and cocaine, were also seized. They have been sent for testing.

Police say the machine gun has been sent for forensic analysis.Det Insp Tony Pledger said: "We are fortunate gun crime is not prevalent in this part of the world and we are determined to keep it that way."Two people - a 26-year-old man and a 17-year-old girl - were arrested and charged with possession of the weapon and possession of cannabis. They have been remanded in custody.

Another 26-year-old man was also arrested in connection with the firearm. He was bailed until January 16, 2008, pending further enquiries.

Go Quick - Come Back Slowly

I've been away working in Amsterdam this week, hearing more horror stories from the credit card industry about the level of theft and what they are trying to do to combat the problem.

Last night, I took the 21:42 Easyjet flight into Gatwick, hoping to be home by midnight but the violently wet and windy M25 had other ideas, with me rolling up on my motorcycle just behind three fire engines as they arrived at the scene of a bad accident involving a Porsche 911 and a Renault Meganne.

The Porsche driver, as you might expect in his reinforced crash cage was shaken but otherwise fine. The Renault Meganne was an entirely different matter and with the motoway traffic halted, it took an hour for the fireman to cut the badly injured woman driver from the twisted wreckage against the crash barrier and into the care of the paramedics and the waiting ambulance. It certainly wouldn't be my choice of car in future!

Another hour passed while we waited for the trucks to remove the wrecks and the road cleaners to appear. what struck me was that the police didn't appear in any great hurry to get the traffic moving again and I had absolutely no sense of any one person being in overall command of the scene. That is, I suppose what makes us very different from other countries, where having the traffic moving again is an urgent priority. Wasn't the M25 closed for an entire day last summer?

It was 02:30 before I arrived back in Thanet, too wet and tired to care anymore!

A Buried Hstory

Prior to the building phase on the Fresca "Thanet Earth" site between Monkton and St Nicholas, an intensive archaeological study and excavation is under way. Conservative Councillor Dr. Alasdair Bruce, an expert geologist, recently visited the site to inspect the work being done.

Headed by Canterbury Archaeological Trust (CAT), the aim is to record and recover any exciting finds and features. The Isle of Thanet has long been recognised as one of the archaeological jewels in Kent's crown and this site is proving to be no exception. Already features such as Iron Age and Roman field systems are coming to light along with Roman cremation cemeteries.

CAT's director Paul Bennett says;

"We are seeing evidence everywhere we look of enclosures, ditches and drove ways telling us that this area has been in cultivation at least back to the Iron Age and probably earlier" "We have highly qualified staff working on this site recording all information unearthed".

Much of the work involves careful scraping off of top soil in likely areas of former habitation, looking for remains and artefacts, which are then removed and the areas mapped.

Cllr. Dr. Alasdair Bruce says

" Although my profession is geology, I could not help but be inspired by the level of care being taken by the site owners and CAT to ensure all evidence of Thanet's past is properly recorded."

On observing the cremated roman remains seen in a pot on the site Cllr Bruce said

"To be this close to an ancient Thanetian was a privilege and an honour. This was a new and exciting experience for me."

Photo Credit - Kim Bruce

The earliest known reference to Thanet is in Ptolemy's geography of the 2nd century. It refers to an island east of the Trinovantes region as "Toliapis" - probably Thanet

12th century Saxon chronicles refer to "Tenet", noting the island as a winter base for Viking raiding parties

18th century sources refer to "Tanatus", a Celtic name meaning "bright island" from the word "teine", meaning fire, or bonfire, thought to refer to a Romano-British lighthouse on the island

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

A Christmas Carol?

With Christmas just over two weeks away, I've had an idea which I hope will raise a nice sum for charity.

Over on eBay, I've started an auction for a "Charity Christmas or New Year's Aircraft Banner"; "Proceeds to the NSPCC or registered charity of the winner's choice."

The advert is self-explanatory but in summary, on Christmas Eve or New Year's Eve (winner's choice), we are offering a flight with the winner's Christmas message over the county. "The same lucky winner will also have the option of joining the flight - suitably dressed as Father Christmas (optional) to spread goodwill and cheer over the county!"

The bidding is starting at £150 and I've let the papers know and gave a quick interview on KMFM today, so it will be interesting to see if a little positive publicity will encourage a generous and charity-minded company or individual to bid?

On a related aviation note, I had a funny enquiry last week from a Russian businessman who wants to propose to his girlfriend. Initially, he wanted an aircraft around 'Big Ben' and Westminster Bridge and I did explain that this could be difficult, as it takes 21 days to get the appropriate permissions and we don't have a twin-engined aircraft - the one we used for the Ministry of Defense on Veterans Day - available. "No problem, I buy you the aircraft", well almost but in the end I managed to convince him that the aircraft had to be properly certfied for aerial work by the CAA, so money wasn't the answer.

He finally settled for Canterbury this month and the message in English, as I don't have any cyrillic letters to hand, mind you, it's on a par with the one I had to do in Turkish over Leeds Castle last year!

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Stormy Weather

There's a storm on the way.

Below is the forecast for today from Southend with 55mph winds on the way toward late afternoon. I'm supposed to be flying but I'll be staying put.

Veronica Taylor, watch officer at the coastguard, said the forecast for the south coast was severe gale force nine, rising to storm force 10.

EGMC 020904Z 021019 23022G35KT 7000 -RA SCT010 BKN030 PROB30 TEMPO 1013 24028G48KT 3000 +RA BKN012CB BECMG 1316 26025G35KT 9999 NSW PROB30 TEMPO 1419 27034G48KT 5000 SHRA BKN025CB

Violence in School

Following news that even violent assault is unlikely to keep a child excluded from school anymore, illustrated by several recent cases in the South-east, it appears that school governors are increasingly overturning head-teachers decisions to exclude dangerous and violent children from the classroom and the rules, as they should be applied appear further below.

A recent study has shown that England's classrooms are among the world's most violent, with the nation coming 36th out of 45 in a league table of school safety.

Call me old-fashioned, but I never thought that school was the place to keep violent children with "issues" because their continued disruptive presence damages the educational prospects of the other children. Sadly, because provision has to be made for the education of such 'lost' children (and there are increasingly more as time passses) and there is no money available for "special" education, the burden of care appears to fall back on the school.

If you had a demonstrably violent colleague in the workplace, would that person be dismissed or would the employer be expected to keep him in place, regardless of any potential risk to the workforce?

How the rules on exclusions work:

• Only the head teacher can exclude a pupil.

• The decision should only be taken where the basic facts have been established on the balance of probabilities.

• It should only be used as a last resort when other strategies have been exhausted.

• Exclusion for a one-off offence is permissible if there has been serious actual or threatened violence, if there has been, sexual abuse, or for supplying drugs or carrying an offensive weapon.

• Permanent exclusions must be ratified by the governing body. The head's decision can be overturned at this stage.

• Parents may contest the decision and take it to the local authority independent appeal panel, made up of between three and five people, including a serving or former school governor and a head teacher who have no connection to the school involved.

• Where cases include very serious one-off offences, persistent and defiant misbehaviour including bullying, or repeated possession and/or use of drugs on school premises, the Secretary of State would "not normally expect" the governing body or appeal panel to reinstate the pupil.

Christmas Lights-up Westgate

Well-done everyone involved in the organisation and switching on of the Christmas lights in Westgate yesterday afternoon. I have never seen so many people crammed into the village to eat roasted chestnuts, listen to music and welcome Father Christmas on his horse-drawn sleigh. Choosing community, warden, Tony Bailey, as the man with his finger on the switch, was also a great idea, as he's a universally recognised and popular figure among the residents.

It was a well-managed and great little event, mini-funfair included anda great credit to Westgate. Unfortunately, I have no photos but if anyone does, please send them in.