Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Builder's Dump for Sale, Please Apply

This 'Rat infested heap' in Westgate's Ethelbert Square, marks the remains of the 'Bungalow', a conservation area building I tried to protect from development earlier in the year.

As you will see from the photograph, what replaces the building is not exactly 'In-keeping' with the neighbouring properties and hardly reflects the developers plans for a project that would almost seamlessly mirror adjoining buildings in a sympathetic manner.

A year ago, at the planning meeting where the decision to accept its demolition was made, I made a rather passionate speech about the need to protect our conservation area here in Westgate, which lies in constant danger of being trampled upon by cynical  commercial interest. The list of buildings to date, Sea Tower, the Bungalow, Harold Ave, Beach Rise and many more, makes me deeply pessimistic about a process of preservation  and local conservation which appears to hold very little weight against planning  legislation stacked heavily in favour of the developer. We either have a conservation area or we don't and if we don't, then let's do away with the pretense and the hope and effort of trying to protect what we can't.

In the example shown in the photo, we now have a derelict wreck which has been sold on by the original developer and I'm told that a effort is being made to sell it on again. I'm also told that the site should have been cleared but the penalty for non-compliance is so low, that whoever owns it can't be bothered and if they happen to be in administration, then there's no point in chasing them either!

So Westgate is left with a derelict, long-term heap of builder's rubble right in the middle of its conservation area. It's a problem that I'm going to be exploring further into the New Year but I fear that it's only one small symptom of a much greater national malaise, in that our threadbare democracy has been steadily emasculated by changes and constant meddling in the planning legislation which rather makes local conservation an aspiration rather than a practical objective.

Monday, December 29, 2008

A Little Fiscal Prudence

If any readers managed to enjoy the holiday without watching the alternative Christmas message from the President of Iran or catching the flu, then cheer up, there's always 2009 to look forward to!

To be honest, I'm a Wallace & Gromit fan and so reading the papers may be enough to send all but the most most stalwart personalities into spiralling depression and the popular television soap operas appear to be working overtime, the BBC's now politically correct Dr Who included, in convincing us that the end of civilisation as we know it is upon us.

Throw in a handful of Church of England Bishops declaring from the Xmas pulpit that the Government is morally corrupt - nothing new there - and the looming spectre of growing unemployment for anyone not lucky enough to be an MP or working safely in the public sector, then there's nothing more inspiring than our Great Leader, Gordon Brown, donning the mantle of Winston Churchill and invoking the memory of the Dunkirk Spirit in such troubled times.

In economic terms Britain looks much like a snowball that has just started rolling down a very steep hill. It's not that large just yet but gathering speed will see its surface area growing as financial gravity takes over and it swiftly gathers up families and businesses in its path.

Oil revenues and the City of London make-up the Lion's share of the UK's economy. Having allowed manufacturing to wither and almost die over the least decade, we are now a society that produces 'Services', welfare and public sector jobs. A raft of employment legislation also makes it very difficult for small businesses, to create jobs and as a nation we have become increasingly uncompetitive.

If any Government is going to 'Get a grip' on the problem of both the failing economy and social breakdown then it needs a radical agenda but many would argue that no sitting Government could win an election with a manifesto of true reform; the medicine would be too harsh for the electorate to contemplate.

Which leaves us where we are now, on a bright winter's day surrounded by the best Xmas sales in living memory, comfortably sitting in the calm of the eye of the hurricane that may be about to break.

Being old enough to recall the last two recessions, I'm aware that they can hold opportunities for those who are prepared for them. However, what's different today is the size of the personal debt mountain shared by individuals and families across the country and the accelerating negative equity impact of the housing market. Government, with its VAT reduction is attempting to persuade us to spend our way out of a recession but the maths simply doesn't add-up. Instead, this is the real time for all of us to be following Gordon Brown's original message of fiscal prudence, although, taking following the example of Winston Churchill he might reply:

"Although present on the occasion, I have no clear recollection of the events leading up to it."

Friday, December 26, 2008

January Sales

I was up over the Bluewater and Lakeside shopping centres at noon today as a photo flight for one of the national newspapers. While everyone, the media included, appears to expect a record number of shoppers, I can tell you that neither one of the two shopping centres had what I would describe as an unusual amount of traffic and I did actually wonder if John Lewis was closed.

If I hadn't known it was Boxing Day, I might have thought of it as being a normal Saturday afternoon's trade!

According to the Dail Mail: "At Bluewater near Dartford, Kent, bargain hunters began queueing at 7am for a 9am start, clogging up surrounding roads. The centre's 13,000 car parking spaces were full by mid-morning."

That's not what I saw with my 'Birds-eye view' at the same time and not much traffic on the motorways either!

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Station Road

Here's a view of the bottom of Station Road in Westgate, taken at about 11:30 this morning. It was another chance to photograph the proposed site of the shop development in the existing Ellis goods yard to the left of the railway line.

Westwood Cross Quiet on Xmas Eve

Some observant readers may have noticed me flitting about just before noon today, taking photographs of the Christmas Eve activity below and particularly at Westwood Cross.

I've uploaded some of my photos which take in Westgate, Margate and Westwood Cross on to Flickr and you can find these here.

I can't admit to seeing as many people shopping as I would have expected at the peak time of the retail season but judge for yourselves!

My apologies for the quality as they are not as sharp as I would wish. The light is very poor today and the best my camera could offer for a high-speed aerial setting was ASA 500. I'm tasked with going over Bluewater for one of the daily papers on Boxing Day and so I'm hoping for rather better conditions then.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

On the Beach

Being more than a little curious, I wandered down to the beach this afternoon to take a photograph of the ship moored in St Mildred's Bay.

I can't recall seeing one of such a size this close to the beach before and at low-tide, if a passing Dover Sole can squeeze under the keel, then it would be doing well. My immediate guess is that it's aground on the sandbank or very close to it and won't be going anywhere until the next high tide.

Perhaps its packed full of secret Santas just waiting to paddle ashore at the next low tide? Remember. it's only a few years since I discovered, to my surprise, a fully dressed gentlemen of Middle-eastern appearance swimming in, from about the same distance, as I kayaked off-shore one summer's evening.

So, if you spot any damp and suspicious-looking Santa Claus characters wearing leather jackets and trainers and the obligatory beard and red and white disguise, asking for directions to London, then it may be a clue!

Woolies Goes West

The closing dates of Thanet's Woolworths stores have been announced.

Margate and Ramsgate stores will close on 27th December and Cliftonville and Broadstairs on 30th December, ending 99 years of high street trading and wiping out 27,000 permanent and temporary jobs. How many local jobs will be involved I don't know but it's a terrible Christmas tragedy for all the hard-working staff at the four stores which have served the people of the island for so long.

What comes next I don't know. I've noticed that one of the estate agents in Westgate, Miles & Barr now has a sign in its window saying that the business has been transferred to another office and the new pet shop in Station Road has lasted less than a month. There's a notice in the window this morning saying that it has closed and the busienss has been transferred to Northdown Road in Cliftonville.

In January, I wouldn't be surprised to see another rash of closures, local and national as businesses of all kinds and sizes, predicted by the BBC, are faced by the prospect of paying both their rates in advance and their VAT.

Word on the street is that one of the largest national electrical goods outlets is struggling to survive the holiday and stores are expected to slash their prices to the bone for January sales which are likely to start before we even unwrap the traditional Christmas presents.

If you didn't know already, today's Times points out that £500 billion or around £8,000 each, is a conservative estimate of what taxpayers, you and me included, are paying for Gordon Brown's plan to bail out the UK banking system. The three-part package includes committing up to £50 billion of taxpayer funds for a part-nationalisation of Lloyds TSB, HBOS and Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS), which is now 57 per cent owned by you and me.

£500 billion is a staggering amount of money, equivalent to 4,000 brand new hospitals (at £125 million each), 16 new high speed rail links between London, the north of England and Scotland or 37,000 Jamie Oliver-approved free school meals for each and every pupil in the UK. Instead, writes The Times, they'll be eating turkey twizzlers!

Sunday, December 21, 2008

The Great Westwood Rush

Westwood appears to be busy this afternoon but what I noticed is that the 'Fast-fix' electronics and toy stores are thriving while the likes of Laura Ashley and Carpetland appear almost deserted, even with big discounts being offered in the store windows

Unable to fit a five foot wide LCD Hi-def television on the back of my motorcycle, I returned home empty handed but from the looks of it, other weren't deterred and at PC World, they have apparently run-out of Apple Macs.

"But they are still more expensive here than buying them direct at the Apple Store", I said to the young shop assistant and she did rather agree with me that charging almost £900 for a MacBook seemed unsustainable when PCs can be bought for less than £200 these days.

Wait for the New Year sales I suppose, after all, if you don't spend it now, then 'Generous Gordon' is one day going to ask for everything you've got left in new taxes once he wakes-up to the grim reality of an economy that has nothing left to offer. As a result, every man, woman and child is expected to do his or her duty and spend, spend, spend the country back on to its feet again. And when we've done all that patriotic spending, then what?

One economist I know is predicting the USD$ to go to $1.24 to the British pound very soon. With the Euro now at near parity 1:1 with Sterling you've got to ask where we go from here? The answer, say my informed 'City' friends, is nowhere for the forseeable future, as our own economy, being principally oil, finance and service based has very little resilience to the banking catastrophe which has done so much damage to global market confidence.

The clever money is on at least three succesive quarters of recession and deflation before the impact of the financial crisis stops ricocheting around the globe sufficiently for any recovery to have a chance of taking root. Until then, the banks are sitting on their money, the business supply chain is in crisis and the political parties of all colours are very short of real answers that may cause the patient which is our own economy to recover rather than killing him outright with the cure!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

It Will Be Alright on the Night

The Ursuline College's inaugural drama club presentation was a wild success last night. Students presented to a packed hall and a broad variety of local dramatic and dancing talent was displayed.

It's a shame that I didn't have a good enough camera with me to capture some of the performances but tremendous credit goes to the teachers and the college teenagers who raised money for the Pilgrims Hospice in selling tickets for their event, put in so much effort and for giving all the assembled parents such a good show.

Several of us were reminded of the 'Cambridge Footlights' in the comedy sketch, pictured, giving a passing impression of the likes of Emma Thompson, Tony Slattery and Stephen Fry and so it looks as if there's a rich vein of comedic talent at the school which should be putting on performances for some time to come.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Boris Discovers Manston

Boris Johnson gives Manston a passing thought in his Daily Telegraph column today.

He writes:

"South-eastern councils and the London authorities have decided to look again at all the options, around London, that could save us from the mistake of expanding Heathrow. They include making better use of existing assets, not least Manston, which has the longest runway in the country."

I wonder if this means that our local airport may yet become a serious candidate as an alternative to a third runway at Heathrow or a second runway at Gatwick?

We may yet see Boris making an impromptu visit of exploration to Thanet in the Mayor Force 1, pictured.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Gary Glitter's Margate Revival?

Convicted paedophile and former pop-star Gary Glitter has reportedly been seen flat hunting in Cliftonville, according to a story in today's Thanet Times.

Apparently he was spotted by a bus driver who picked him up outside Margate station as well as several taxi drivers and the former dropped-him off at Dalby Square in Cliftonville. Glitter reportedly told the driver he was in Margate looking for a bedsit and wanted to know if the Winter Gardens was still open!

Readers of Thanet Life may recall that two years ago I placed a Freedom of Information request with Kent Police, enquiring as to how many convicted sex offenders in Thanet might pose a risk to our children. The police declined to provide such information on the grounds that to do so "may provoke public disorder."

If the report of Mr Glitter's visit is correct (his real name is Paul Francis Gadd) then it appears that the agencies involved are once again riding roughshod over the will of local people and encouraging their sex-offender problems to migrate to an area of the country that has had more than enough of their attentions.

Contrary to what the agencies involved might believe, we have no equivalent to the Statue of Liberty standing outside Margate station, offering a warm welcome to unlimited numbers of perverts, paedophiles and registered sex-offenders here in our over-subscribed seaside community beyond what might be considered a normal statistical distribution for such matters.

Why should the safety of Thanet's children be placed at a lower level of priority than the safety of children living in the wealthier suburbs of London?

After all, rather too many sex-offenders have been re-discovered or prosecuted in Thanet over the last twelve months than I care to remember, in addition to the horrifying and tragic discovery of missing teenager, Vicky Hamilton's body buried at Peter Tobin's former home in Irvine Drive.

The Thin End of the Westgate Wedge?

I've been out this morning taking a straw poll of residents and traders in Westgate in regard to a planning application by DJ Ellis Construction to change what is now his goods yard adjacent to Station Road and the railway platform to four blocks of two storey office buildings.

The area involved is cleared illustrated in my aerial photograph as the green area to the right of the train (click the photo to expand it) and it looks to be around 10 metres wide at best.

This is of course a central part of the Westgate conservation area and a development of this nature would make a fundamental change to the look and feel of the town. While I accept that this tiny strip of land wedged between the public toilets and the garden centre could be tidier, I'm reluctant to see yet one more precedent set for quick construction on such a small plot and I'm equally surprised to read of a perceived need for office space as we plunge into the deepest recession since before the last War.

Listening to the views of residents and other ward councillors I have now referred the matter to the planning committee for debate. The application is F/TH/08/1393 should local residents wish to express their own views on the subject.

Update - 19th December

I met with Mr Ellis this morning and we discussed the proposed development while I had the benefit of looking at the plans. He stressed that the proposal involves retail space rather than office space but that there is no distinction made between the two uses when submitting an application.

In principle, I have no objection to a new development of an unsightly space beside the railway, which is sympathetic to the traditional covered look and feel of Station Road and which adds more shopping space and choice to Westgate but if any residents wish to express an opinion please email or write to me directly or let Cllr King or Cllr Goodwin know.

Friday, December 12, 2008

An Icy Morning at Gatwick

If you wondered why Manston appeared rather busy on Thursday morning, it was because of a 'SNAFU' at Gatwick, which caused a number of passenger jets to divert in to Thanet.

More than a hundred planes were grounded and up to 2,000 passengers were left stranded after ice and light snow closed Gatwick's single runway for four hours.

The closure started around 6am and was over shortly after 10:30am, by which time at least 100 inbound and outbound flights had been affected, all because they forgot to de-ice the runway which they only started to clear after 6am, far too late for the in-bound aircraft stacking above Kent.

A spokesman for the Met Office said Gatwick did not subscribe to its Open Runway service, which would have flagged up the conditions. 'I don't know where they get their weather reports from,' added the spokesman.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

How Green is My Thanet

According to the release in front of me, Caroline Lucas, leader of the Green Party, and Kent’s Green MEP, will call for a radical “green new deal” for Thanet when she speaks at a public meeting in Ramsgate on Friday December 12th.

Thanet, she says, should turn away from developments such as the controversial China Gateway plan and the destruction of greenfield sites, and instead pursue an alternative, more sustainable, economic strategy.

Her 'Green' plan for action for the island includes:

- Abandoning Manston Airport and turning it into a centre for leisure

- The transformation of Margate seafront and the rebuilding of Dreamland

- A growth in Thanet’s further and higher education opportunities

- The expansion of organic farming

Regardless of my politics, rarely have I had the privilege of reading such utter tosh! What on earth does she think the present agenda is for Margate's regeneration and who does she think will pay for other populist schemes which imply substantive levels of private investment; just as we run into the buffers of the worst economic recession since before the Second World War.

Who will 'rebuild' Dreamland or will subsidise turning Manston into a local version of Disney World I wonder, that's assuming it's not your cash-strapped local council and we all wish our council taxes to remain at much the same levels over the next few years.

I do wonder if she has any true idea of how hard the fallout from the faltering economy is going to hit deprived areas such as Thanet and what struggle lies ahead in maintaining essential public services; that's assuming that some of the money to fund her vision is to come from the public purse?

Environmentally friendly policies I quite agree with and let's have more organic farming by all means and the growth in our further and higher education facilities, whatever that implies. However before we add World peace to her wish list, perhaps she might share with the uninformed, like me, where the money for all of this may be hidden among the funds for the Olympic Games, the banks rescue, and a 2.5% VAT reduction? Perhaps, like the popular TV series, there's a secret millionaire walking among us here in Thanet with the kind of money to risk on a Manston Airport Leisure Park in return for getting rid of all those noisy aircraft.

Perhaps it's ECR because it won't be Sir Alan Sugar?

PS.. speaking of green issues:

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Centenary Mass at Birchington Catholic Church

I attended the centenary mass at the Church of Our Lady & St Benedict in Birchington today. One hundred years on from its founding, the Right Reverend Bishop John Hine (auxillary Bishop of Southwark), celebrated the mass and the congregation were delighted to see parish priest, Canon Bill Clements, arrive specially by ambulance from hospital, in London, where he has been ill for many months.

I was asked if I might record the event, given that I had my camera with me and so I've placed a selection of photos up on Flickr for members of the congregation to look at and download if they wish. These can be found here.

A special Papal blessing was sent to the parish and you can see the the Reverend Bishop displaying it to the congregation in the photo.

A very busy and well attended buffet reception and celebration was held in the church hall after the event, adding to the success of the day.

All present today send their best wishes to Canon Bill as well as the prayers of the congregation for his speedy recovery and return to a parish where he has done so much good work over the years.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Westgate Lights

It's the Westgate Christmas lights fair today and there's everything from ice-skating - a temporary rink - to candy floss and childrens' rides happening in Station Road.

I've been wandering back and forth taking photos which you can find here and now I'm off out again to take some more.

A good day's trade perhaps for local character 'Victor' from Romania, selling the 'Big Issue' outside Somerfield, his regular spot - he tells me he has seven children to support - and great to see our ex-community warden, Tony Bailey back in town to help, if only temporarily. He's sorely missed by the community!

The weather is perfect and everyone involved has done a fantastic job in making this event a success for yet another year. Angelo's is doing a roaring trade in roasted chestnuts and bacon sandwiches and there's even free mulled wine on offer at Mr Bell's off-license as well!

Friday, December 05, 2008

Wiki Westgate

For Westgate residents with an interest in the town's history, I've been making some small edits on the 'Award-winning' Wikipedia web page about the town and added one of my aerial photos as there's a request there for more images.

There are lots of people out there, I'm sure, who could make a valuable contribution to the entry, once they've worked out the process and rules for editing entries and so I would encourgage any keen local historian to do so and perhaps make it one of the best small-town information pages in the online encyclopaedia

A vote of thanks to the author of all the splendid work on the Westgate entry to date! If he or she would like to contact me in a search for more photographs, I 'm very happy to oblige!

PS Don't forget that tomorrow, Saturday, sees the turning-on of the Christmas lights in Westgate and with it, an afternoon of fun for all, which will also celebrate the Westgate & Westbrook Residents Association 5oth anniversary.

Fantasy Economy

As we plunge ever faster towards a recession - I hear that thousands of City jobs will go from banks and institutions in the weeks before Christmas. This leads me to wonder about the "Three million 'new' jobs" that supposedly reflect this Government's much-trumpeted success in revitalising the economy.

This week, the Financial Times published an analysis comparing the growth of jobs funded by taxpayers with those funded privately. In a stinging editorial it remarks:

"Two out of three jobs created between 1998 and 2006 have been in sectors dominated by public services: health, education, social work and public administration. Some of these workers - agency nurses, supply teachers and public policy consultants - may legally have private employers, but they depend on the state."

The paper adds:

"Whatever the merits of public sector workers, they are not an investment. They provide services that must be paid for, and in the coming recession it is hard to see how."

What the FT has done is to use figures from the Office for National Statistics' Annual Business Inquiry to calculate job growth across the main industrial sectors of the economy. All too predictably, the growth of public sector jobs has been concentrated in Labour constituencies and grandiose and generous spending projects North of the border. Note from the diagram that Thanet and other South-eastern deprivation hotspots, has not figured even modestly in contrast with equally deprived North of London.

In the period, 1978-2008, the UK has created a net 4.8m extra jobs but no fewer than 3.3m of them have been in these same sectors dominated by the public sector. So actually, that ratio of 2 in 3 new jobs being in the public sector is not just a New Labour phenomenon. It's representative of our entire post-1970s history.

This is a worrying fact because it suggests that even at the height of Margaret Thatcher's power, the UK's job growth actually depended more on the public sector than the private and the Labour Government simply carried on the work of the past, in building the public sector in line with its good socialist principles!

The conclusion from the FT and economists elsewhere, is: "That looking forward into the gloom of our high debt, high tax, spending restrained future, there are going to be an awful lot of people without jobs. We truly have been living a fantasy."

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Falling with Style

Not for the nervous flyer perhaps but the video below displays such outstanding airmanship on the part of the pilot, that other than gawp with admiration at his skill and fast reactions, I can't really pass comment!

Best ask Roger to try and book him for next year's airshow I think!

On a further exciting note, I'm delighted to hear that Flybe will be operating from Manston with regular flights to Jersey next summer. Good news for local residents in the flightpath, is that they will be using ultra-quiet STOL Q-400's a stretched Dash-8 with seventy seats, similar to those that go in and out of London City airport.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

The Wonder of Woollies

‘The Wonder of Woolies’ may soon be no more! Opening in 1909 Woolworths was not only an icon of the British High Street it frequently defined it. Affordable shopping at its best, where shoppers went to ‘pick n’ mix’ and to watch the pennies. Saddled with an enormous debt and a crumbling business model, Woolworths was an inevitable victim of the credit crisis and with its demise go some 30,000 jobs and millions of customers, frequently from a part of society who couldn’t afford to or weren’t able to drive and shop at the brighter out of town shopping malls.

The eight hundred stores across the country are set to close after Christmas and for Thanet, the loss of its high street presence could be a small catastrophe, both in jobs lost to the local economy and the impact it will have on the on-going efforts to regenerate our Thanet towns. I had been worrying for some weeks now that business would collapse under the weight of its debts and had already raised the possibility in conversation but the speed of the announcement took me by surprise and now, the already struggling Ramsgate, Northdown Road and Margate High Street are looking like high-profile local victims of its demise.

Where Government has been busy bailing out the banks, Woolworths was one small part of the same parcel of toxic debt that led to the global collapse of the credit system. Government isn’t so quick to rescue businesses and perhaps more importantly, this particular Government hasn’t been quick to help them either, with the present system business of rates on empty properties creating problems for business and local council landlords alike.

If Government appears to be wringing its hands while businesses like MFI and Woolworths collapse, I read the letters in the local papers: “The council should do this” and “the council should do that” from readers who sincerely believe that their council tax should be spent, like a magic wand, to support struggling local businesses without realising that a council’s job is to provide services with what little money that it has left year on year.

Business and consumer confidence is at a rock-bottom and there are doubts that the VAT cut will tempt cash-strapped consumers back into the shops. Not just in Thanet but in towns across the UK the writing is firmly on the wall for the great British High street, unable to compete effectively against the attraction of internet shopping or the ‘Wonder of Westwood Cross.’ But that’s what people want, it’s called choice and they vote with their feet, the High Street faced by competition from an out of town shopping mall, simply lacks competitive advantage, unless you happen to be part of a captive local audience, without transport or an eBay account.

Woolies survived the Great Depression but perhaps not the crash of 2008.The death of the great British high street has been predicted before and proved wrong many times in the past but perhaps on this occasion, we need to ask if its true and what should replace it in the fast-changing 21st century shopping environment?

But Christmas, recession or not, should be a time of good cheer and goodwill to all men, bloggers, council officers and councillors included and so may I wish you all a very merry Christmas holiday this month and a New Year ahead which won't be as gloomy as the newspapers predict.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Viva Bob!

What a great speech by Sir Bob Geldof this afternoon before he turned on the Margate Christmas lights. He didn't pull any punches with his remarks and it was both funny and entertaining at the same time.

All in all the whole event went very well I thought. Well attended with no howling wind and a mild afternoon temperature, the crowd included, I found myself standing next to Gazette columnist Jane Wenham Jones and 'Rock Doc', councillor Alasdair Bruce. In fact, Alasdair and I were both supposed to be somewhere else today and managed to get back to Margate in time for the grand switching on of the lights. These duly came on when Sir Bob squeezed the "six inch knob" that was handed to him - his joke not mine I should add - and whether this was the most exciting part of his evening, as he left rapidly for Heathrow, we'll never know!

As I left, the musical entertainment was in full swing on the piazza and twenty or more Honda Gold Wing motorcycles were lined-up on the harbour arm flashing their lights.

All credit I think to the Margate Charter Trustees and the Mayor's office for putting-on such a good show. At a difficult time there was a noticeably warm and enthusiastic spirit from everyone gathered around the piazza and the open-top bus for the ceremony.

On a more sombre note, to illustrate how tough it's getting out there in the economy, two good friends of mine both lost their jobs this week. They join thousands more workers around the country faced with the worst possible news before Christmas but in this case, what's so unusual, is that they are both UK directors of one of the world's best-known US computer software companies. Not the type of persons - both highly qualified - that you might expect to be made suddenly redundant and illustrative of the bloodbath that is presently sweeping the IT industry as companies suddenly see huge orders cancelled.

The knock-on effect of all this will only start to be seen, I estimate in about March. It's a slow train-crash we are seeing now and if the Government's emergency financial measures, announced last week, don't have an immediate effect over the Christmas shopping period, then we'll see the supply chain impact in about three months. As an example, the business of another person I know has become a sudden casualty of one of the two high profile retail chains that collapsed last week. He's owed, I understand, close to £750,000.

It all rather explains why it's rumoured that the Chinese plan to buy huge amount of gold bullion as an insurance against any further financial meltdown Of course, we can't buy anything significant in this country, firstly because as a nation we are only one-step above selling 'The Big Issue' outside Somerfield and secondly because our Prime Minister, the fiscally prudent Gordon Brown, sold-off most of our gold at a baragain price, soon after becoming Chancellor.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Sir Bob Cometh

"Who honestly belived", writes one of our Thanet Blogs, that Bob Geldorf would be switching on the Margate Xmas lights ?!The bloke who earlier in the year called it a dump, never on the cards was it really, and it was daft of TDC to think that they had him booked, unless of course it was just a big joke on the media anyway."

Well I for one believe or is that "belive" in Sir Bob Geldof or even his look-alike cousin, "Bob Geldorf" because I've just heard that he will be in Margate on Saturday 29th November, to turn on the Christmas Lights.

Margate Mayor, Brian Sullivan tells me: "The office has been in contact with Sir Bob's team, and Sir Bob was very concerned at letting us down, and through the efforts of both the Mayor’s Office and Sir Bob's team, the timings have been slightly changed so that he can turn on the lights and get his flight to Doha on Saturday night. “ He added “We are very pleased that Sir Bob has changed his plans to be with us on Saturday”

So Margate's lights lights will now be switched on at 4.30pm by Sir Bob, and the Shell Lady and Fireworks will be presented by Ben Mills and Mark Arden later in the evening. KMFM will be promoting local bands on their Roadshowand the Craft Fayre in the Old Town, the whole day will I hope, be a positive one for Margate, and I'm sure everyone will look forward to giving Sir Bob, Ben and Mark a traditional Margate welcome!!!

Burning Our Money

I happened to be at Westminster during the Chancellor's pre-budget speech yesterday and caught the train home to Thanet from Victoria, feeling somewhat poorer in anticipation of harsher taxes yet to come.

There's a 'Blog' I recommend reading on the subject called 'They're Burning Our Money' and it does a much better job of explaining what happened yesterday than I could possibly even try.

Should you, good reader, still have any doubts over the financial mess that surrounds us, then I suggest a quick visit to HM Treasury's website and a concentrated browse of the 'Crosby Report.'

The Crosby report into mortgage financing, named after its author the former HBOS chief Sir James Crosby, said repayments and redemptions will outpace lending in 2009 as the slump in the housing market deepens.

In his report for the Government, Sir James said that, in the current economic climate, it would be hard for banks to finance loans. Well we know that but here's the stark warning to the Chancellor:

"Therefore I believe that new net mortgage lending is likely to fall below zero in 2009, with only a modest recovery likely in 2010."

In other words there may be 'No' mortgage lending next year by financial institutions or in plain English, there's a risk of the wheels coming off the property-driven economy in which we live.

Whether a two and a half point decrease in the rate of VAT is enough to bump-start an economy that has four flat tyres is another question altogether!

Meanwhile, Westwood Cross was busy this morning, which may be a good sign of returning consumer confidence or perhaps people are spending all they have left before Government asks them for it back again with interest?

Turner Contemporary Ground Breaking

Fresh from the ground-breaking ceremony for the Turner Contemporary Gallery at the Rendezvous car-park on Margate seafront, the first pictures.

It's a howling North-easterly gale out there today, as you may have noticed and there was some risk of the councillors and small children in the picture being blown over or swept away by the incoming tide! The lifeboat was standing by, just in case!

You may notice from the photo that there is now some considrable digging left to do before the gallery appears but at least its a positive start after all these years, controversy and money being spent on the project.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Live Now - Pay Later

I ventured out into the gale and the near-zero temperatures for a run along the coast this morning. What three kayakers were doing in the bay was anyone's guess; members of the Special Boat Service practising perhaps? I didn't last long as the appearance of sleet drove me back inside but from the direction of Margate, I could still hear the muffled roar from the 'Big Sky' beach races taking place on the sands. I'm not convinced that the end of November is such a great date to put on a public spectacle of this kind but I take my hat off to everyone involved in such a spectacular battle against the forces of nature.

Summer is now a long way off and there's not much flying to be had either. The embedded video is from another weekend, Radio One's 'Big Weekend' last May, where the weather was warmer and kinder and I had two aircraft sitting over Maidstone. You can see from the video two banners laid out between two sets of poles as one aircraft after the other dropped down to collect them. You can also see how uncomfortably close those same poles are from a pilot's view as I fly between them. Roll-on summer I say but we've Christmas and the New Year holiday to get out of the way first and the promise, tomorrow, of dramatic tax cuts to get us all out there spending money in the sales; making our own small contribution to re-starting the economy.

What I can't quite grasp is why, if I'm suddenly given a little extra money to spend at the end of the month by the generous Mr Darling, I should go out and spend it, rather than putting it away to anticipate the harsher days ahead?

I know the economy needs a sudden jump-start, rather like a cardiac patient going into arrest but all the well-placed people I speak to in finance are expecting to see another half a million or so unemployed by the end of next year with a recession to match. So while stimulating the economy with tax cuts, is this really the right time for us all to spend the largesse on a new wide screen television for Christmas or simply save it against the worst to come?

It's really a 'Catch-22' problem for any Government of any colour, "Damned if you do and damned if you don't", so best call me Ebenezer Scrooge I suppose!

Catch 22” — the twenty-second of the guidelines used by military surgeons to “catch” those falsely claiming to be insane — is that an insane person should not believe or suspect that they are insane. Thus, to be recognised as insane, a person must not ask for an evaluation, because doing so implicitly shows that they suspect themselves to be insane. But, if a person does not ask for an evaluation, they cannot be recognised as insane because the evaluation is the method by which such recognition would occur. Thus, nobody can ever classify themselves as insane (even if they genuinely are), and thus nobody may ever use an insanity diagnosis to escape flying combat missions.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Big Sky - Cold Weather

What a bitterly cold day!

I've been down at Margate seafront for the start of the 'Big Sky' beach races, along with Cllr's Bruce and Ezekiel and now I've retreated back into the warmth of my house.

Outside on the beach, brave souls are challenging the cold and a fierce sandstorm to compete along a course of man-made sand dunes. It's a great shame about the weather because it's an exciting spectacle and conditions have kept the crowds away.

In the photograph, council leader, Sandy Ezekiel is seen taking a turn on one of the powerful quad-bikes competing in the events together with the familiar trail motorcycles seen in the second photograph.
I've been asked to do the prize-giving at the end of the event on Sunday afternoon but with snow forecast the conditions for the racers could prove very challenging indeed.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

On the Beat

I wonder whether the members of the Westgate Residents Association had, in recent times, seen so many police officers squeezed into one place but last week it welcomed a constable, a PCSO, a sergeant and an inspector, all ready to field questions from an often hostile audience which felt that the town had become a waypoint on the map between Birchington and Margate in simple community policing terms.

To be honest, Westgate shares many of the same concerns as other parts of Thanet. People are unhappy with the steady background hum of low intensity anti-social behaviour in their communities; mostly involving teenagers and cheap alcohol. Several well-publicised areas of the island have problems with crime that are orders of magnitude higher than others and the police, with only limited resources, have to sensibly prioritise their efforts but to many local people this can feel like neglect.

Last week, we heard in forceful terms from Mr Bell, the owner an off-license in Station road, that since Westgate had lost its police officer, PC Chris Bungard to new duties at Millmead and its popular warden, Tony Bailey to a new career, that the modern urban curses of anti-social behaviour and under-age drinking were once again the increase. Incidents aren’t being reported, said Mr Bell, simply because it was pointless to do so, as it is commonly believed, that the police, busy elsewhere in Thanet with more important matters, simply aren’t able to respond.

I pointed out, that on one occasion at the end of the summer; I had called the police three times in regard to the same noisy, under-age party on the beach at Westgate. The police, I was told, with their meagre resources committed to an incident in Ramsgate, were unable to respond at all but from my own perspective as a local councillor, that’s not good enough. We live in a democracy or at least the remains of one and in theory at least, the police should give appropriate weight to an attendance request from an elected representative of the community, even if this only means a ‘drive-by’ wave on the way to somewhere else.

We all pay our council taxes and explaining-away a change in our local policing on the basis that an area such as Westgate has a proportionally lower level of crime and anti-social behaviour than elsewhere, fails to recognise the rights of all residents everywhere to receive an identical level of service, the one described in the Government’s so-called ‘policing pledge’, a shiny new promise to the population of a new and ‘transformative’ service level agreement from the police “At a local level to meet the needs of communities.”

Our police do a great job with what they have and mostly with their hands tied with the red-tape of constant Government interference. If there’s a gap between the Home Office statement shown below and what we actually witness at a local level then perhaps it’s the politicians and not the Police Service that we should call to account for the results.

"It's important that neighbourhood policing is locally led. Engaging effectively with local people, and involving them in agreeing and tackling local policing priorities are vital elements of the national neighbourhood policing programme.” (Home Office)

Saturday, November 15, 2008

A View of Thanet Earth

Having revalidated my night rating at Manston yesterday evening, I decided to try out the new camera on the 'Thanet Earth' construction site on the way back to Maypole this morning.

Not the best of days to take photos with a 1,500 cloud base but I thought that some readers might like to see the current progress and the only place you are likely to have a bird's eye view of it all is here I suspect.

And should anyone ask, "Yes", I'm making the occasional posting like this one when something interesting turns up but "No" I don't plan to be making a habit of it. I'll leave that pleasure to others!

Sunday, November 09, 2008

Unwilling Passenger

Remembrance Sunday and I noticed that the sound of the canon from the ceremony at Margate echoed toward the war memorial on the clifftop here at Westgate.

I'm reminded of three members of my own family who took part in World War I. There was my paternal grandfather, pictured as a young officer fresh from public school, who was wounded and never spoke once about his experiences.

My maternal great grand-father, who lived here in Westgate and London and who volunteered, like the novellist Ernest Hemingway, to be an ambulance driver for the Belgian army at the very start of the war in 1914. From there, he became one of the first official war photographers, working for the Illustrated London News and survived, unscathed, retiring back to a quieter life in Westgate on Sea.

I still have his small Kodak camera, in excellent working condition, in its original leather case sitting on the shelf opposite, marked with the magazine's name on the inside.

Then there was Arthur Carr Osburn DSO, my Grandmother's brother, a doctor in the Royal Army Medical Corps and a regular officer. He'd seen the end of the Boer War in South Africa and joined the war in France at the battle of Mons (unknown to  the great Grandfather mentioned earlier who had a 'Mons Star' medal in his own collection). Arthur wrote a remarkable book about his experiences "The retreat from Mons", with the title: 'Unwilling Passenger' and having read one of the few surviving copies, I believe it's as good or perhaps even better than that of the poet and novelist Robert Graves, 'Goodbye to All That.'

For Arthur (whose brother Harold, was Captain of HMS Gary, pictured below) to have survived as a medical officer through all the major engagements and horrors of the Somme and Paschendale was nothing less than remarkable.Perhaps even more remarkable was how he maintained his sanity and ability to function as a doctor when faced with so many casualties under fire.

The expression: "Lest we forget", is an appropriate thought to keep in mind for all of those men and women who experienced the horrors and suffering of the 'War to end all wars.'

Wednesday, November 05, 2008


I was on my regular lunchtime run today and came across a small drama unfolding on the beach opposite the car park at Westbrook.

A young Porpoise had been spotted stranded on the sands at around 10:30am by two dog walkers and by the time I arrived, the Police, Coastguard and British Divers Marine Rescue, were in full swing attempting to keep the animal comfortable while they waited for a vet to arrive and make the final prognosis on its condition.

It still had a visible amount of energy left and why it was beached its hard to say as the sea conditions aren't excessive today. I'm sure you'll discover what happened next in the local papers, as I sent copies of my photographs to them.

A little later, Marine Mammal Medic, Jon Brooks, emailed  and writes: "Our vet on site felt, at the time, that the mammal was in a good condition and stood a vey good chance of being refloated. Sadly it later came to light that he was not" - and it was put down - . "This was not due to a lack of a sanctuary", as was previously suggested by an earlier reader. All very sad given the remarkable efforts that everyone involved made to save it. As an interested observer, I would like to thank them all for what they did this morning in visibly difficult conditions.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

For Whom the Bell Tolls

“The world”, said Ernest Hemingway, “is a fine place and worth fighting for.”

Ironically, I had a ‘Hemingway adventure’ of my own last winter, tracing the author’s path around the lively bars of Havana. As a boy, I discovered a loose connection, between the great 20th century author and a beach inspector in Thanet and it goes back to the Spanish civil war.

I had just left school and was “working the deckchairs” in Palm Bay when a chance conversation revealed that the old chap I was working with, Jim, (not his real name) had been a member of the International Brigade, fighting for the Republican cause against the Nationalists of General Franco’s Nazi-Germany-supported army in Spain between 1936 and 1939.

The advent of the mass media allowed an unprecedented level of attention on the Spanish Civil War (Ernest Hemingway, George Orwell and Robert Capa all covered it) and so the it became notable for the passion and political division it inspired, and for atrocities, such as the bombing of Guernica, committed on both sides of the conflict.

My own father had to leave Madrid because of the civil war and Jim, a fervent trade-unionist, between rolling cigarettes, in a cold windswept beach-hut in the July of 1975, shared with me his personal story of an encounter with the author and the events which led him to volunteer to fight in Spain.

Of course, Hemingway wrote the classic, “For Whom the Bell Tolls” but Jim and many others like him had equally fascinating stories which may never be told. There was John Brown who lived quietly in Broadstairs, who flew pathfinder Mosquitoes in the Second World War and led the bomber raid on the German Peenemunde rocket complex. In Birchington, a former Royal Flying Corps pilot from WW1 who was as bright as a button, used to frequent the Bungalow Hotel and even my former head-teacher at the Charles Dickens School, Mr Morland, a member of the elite Navy Special Boat Service, had to clear the obstacles from the D-Day beaches before daylight, in advance of the main landing.

Thanet, I find from meeting our retired residents, is full of untold stories of personal heroism and achievement and with every year that passes, more of this history is lost. Today, we have a thriving internet ‘Blogging’ community on the island and for the first time in history, it gives everyone a chance to tell to their story and secure it for the future as part of a universal record of human experience.

A secret history is a lost history and so today I would really like to encourage readers to use the internet and sites like blogger.com to start telling their own stories of the more interesting events of their lives or their grandparents as they dovetail into moments of our collective history. All that remains of Jim’s own Hemingway encounter is in my own fading memory of a conversation of thirty years ago but he firmly believed that what he did in Spain as a volunteer made a moral difference in defending Europe from the growing ambitions of Nazi Germany.

There are lots of unknown stories in Thanet, Lots of ‘Jims’ both men and women and perhaps an Ernest Hemingway or two hidden among them. Now might be a good time to use the Internet to start telling their 20th century stories before it’s too late.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Under Suspension

You’ll be the first to hear that I am suspending ThanetLife and possibly plan to take it down completely.

As a local councillor here in Thanet, I fully understand one needs broad-shoulders and I’m quite happy to take criticism where it is deserved. However and most importantly, I am ‘not’ prepared to see my family involved in the abuse or indeed have my personal reputation and integrity compromised and defamed online.

When I started this weblog, I had hoped that this and others like it would breathe more life, debate and interest into the local democratic process. It even encouraged me to move from the sidelines and take an active role in my community by becoming a ward councillor. I make no apologies for that being a Conservative councillor but since May of last year, my Conservatism – which is visible to all – has clearly antagonised others.

I grew up and went to school in Thanet and when I returned and started this weblog it was with every intention of helping, in whatever way, to make life better for others. Thanet Life is however a political ‘red rag’ to others and a vigorous campaign of abuse and crude defamation continues to grow. As this has now reached beyond my shoulders, now is the time to stop and get on with earning a living and being a ward councillor for Westgate.

Although I may make an occasional entry in future, I’m unwilling to allow the farce to continue for the personal entertainment of a malicious few who aim simply to increase their own weblog traffic as a consequence.

Dane Park Lights

I had an email earlier today expressing a number of concerns over both the lighting and the present state of Dane Park, so rather than kick-off this week's latest conspiracy theory, I thought it best to ask, given that I had a vague recollection of hearing somewhere, that the lack of lighting was something to do with EDF Energy having to run-in new cables.

Anyway, I'm told that the lighting in Dane Park is partly a KCC matter as an element of the new cycle path and partly a Margate Civic society project to have more cycle paths included with lights.

The work got underway and was tested in November by the KCC contractor and EDF Energy were informed. However, EDF were unable to schedule the connection until January.

There is an outstanding problem with some lights still not working and apparently some vandlalism has taken place. The contractor has been instructed to correct the problem and make repair as quickly as possible.

When the cycle path lights and others are all working then TDC will take them over them from the contractor - except the cycle path which will remain with KCC.

The reinstatement will be done in March or earlier if the weather stays as it is, however, when the work was completed in November it was not an ideal time to seed the new grass. Construction of the new play area is underway and this is expected to be finished in early April.

I hope that answers any questions.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Another Canterbury Road Accident

I had noticed the air ambulance over Westgate at lunchtime today but one of our readers has sent in more information and writes:

"There was a crash on Canterbury road dual carriageway today at about 1.15pm, there were three people injured and the Kent air ambulance attended. Firecrews had to cut one person free from the Volvo pictured. Sorry if the picture is not that good, certainly not your standard anyway, but it felt a little insensitive to photo too much.

I'm sure you know this area is a blackspot for RTA's with most cars breaking the 40 speed limit."

Ed: Thanks for letting us know. Speeding on the roads between Westgate and Margate was an issue mentioned at the last meeting of the 'Joint Transportation Board' but with particular reference to Westbrook Avenue and Westgate Bay Avenue. It's remarkable how skilled the air ambulance is in reaching very tight areas. They are a fantastic medical resource for the county.

Beach Scramble or Scrambled?

One of our readers, Barrie, has spotted something interesting about the advertising for the quad-bike, beach races at Margate this month. Has anyone else noticed?

He writes:

"The organisers of the beach scramble have had some giant posters made advertising this event on Margate beach.

The date advertised is February 24th & 25th, the 25th is a Monday so I am sure it should read 23rd & 24th February ?

If this is the case then we might be entitled to say "plonkas"!

Either the organisers, the advertising agency and or the printers might have had the wit to question this obvious mistake ?

The usual scenario is that the printers would send a proof copy to those responsible thus passing the buck if there is a mistake."

Ed: Let me know if you see the same thing?

Saturday, February 09, 2008

The Art of Conversation

I do wonder who sits reading and making comments on this weblog in the early hours of the morning?

Perhaps I’ve discovered a sure-fire cure for insomnia but I can say, with relative certainty that most comments made after 1am are unlikely to be spiritually uplifting. In fact, most of the really negative and often personal comments you might read from time to time, originate from six IP addresses and there are no prizes for guessing who these contributors might be.

What’s amusing in a certain way is how the same anonymous person will attempt to strike-up a debate by pretending to be two people. You can’t see it but I can and so sometimes, a long comment thread may be dominated by a single individual attempting to steer the conversation.

So someone who claims to be a “True Blue Tory” one moment can be “Larry Labour” the next and leave a trail of breadcrumbs leading back to a second weblog. Anyway, most readers are smart enough to see what’s going on and it’s a shame that the system doesn’t provide a means of tagging an IP address, like a telephone number to an ‘anonymous’ comment, so you can see what I can see.

Now if you visit other more notable websites with a political theme, you’ll probably notice that something similar is happening, spelling and punctuation errors or ‘turn of phrase’, will show that on ‘controversial’ issues, the same handful of “usual suspects” are very active. The silent majority visit, rarely post comments and simply watch the fun!

One solution is to only allow comments from registered users but I'm reluctant to do this. However, I reserve the right to if the childish mischief continues.

Friday, February 08, 2008

A Ground Breaking Project

Senior Thanet Conservatives gathered today to break ground at the New Haine Road, a joint venture between KCC and TDC.

Leader of TDC, Sandy Ezekiel commented;

"This is about the two Conservative Councils working together to get results. Results for Thanet people, and results for business. There’s not a penny of Westminster money going into this. "
North Thanet's MP, Roger Gale MP added:

"Thanet District and Kent County are doing their level best to get infrastructure in place before development takes place. The task would have been a whole lot easier, though, if the last Labour Council which likes to claim credit for Westwood Cross had paid just a little attention to roads and railways when agreeing the outline plans. Or if the last Labour Transport Minister, who happens to be the MP for South Thanet at present, had looked to the interests of the area that he was elected to represent and found a little more money for Kent and Thanet."
Photo - Valerie Cameron.

One Law for All or a Choice of Two?

It's hard to avoid the controversy caused by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, in the papers and on the radio and the television today.

The Archbishop believes that the introduction of Sharia law in this country is "inevitable" and why not, says BBC Radio Kent, "That's fine by me", says John Warnett the presenter but not "Stoning to death", "because that transcends" British law.

Sharia is the body of Islamic law implemented in some Muslim countries, including Saudi Arabia, Libya, Iran and Sudan. In some, it is associated with draconian punishments for crimes such as theft, adultery or blasphemy, such as amputation of limbs, death by stoning or use of the lash.

Women's rights are curtailed in many countries. Some interpretations of the law mean women have to cover themselves from head to toe in burkhas when they go out.

Religious groups and secularists attacked the Archbishop, saying that his comments were "baffling and bewildering" and would undermine social cohesion but Dr Williams said the argument that "there's one law for everybody" was "a bit of a danger" and called for "a constructive accommodation" with aspects of Muslim law.

So what's your view. Do you agree with Dr Williams? Is the introduction of Sharia law an inevitability and perhaps in the areas of Britain referred to by the Archbishop of Rochester recently? The Government certainly thinks not.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

I'm Alright Jack

I see the rumour and disinformation mill is running overtime on some other Thanet weblogs. I'm frequently accused of having a political agenda here but at least you know that I have a political leaning, and who I am. With this goes a sense of responsibility, when it comes to accuracy of reporting.

Before, I run out of the door to work, I would be interested to gauge readers opinions on the following, quite hypothetical story which has no connection with real persons or events, fictional or otherwise.

It's close the the end of the first decade of the 21st century. A powerful trades union insists on a 1950's 'closed shop' policy in large organisations that run essential services for the public. A smaller, rival trades union, believes, quite rightly perhaps, that it should also be allowed to recruit and represent workers on an equivalent basis. If this isn't granted swiftly it promises to take industrial action.

However, if proper equivalence is granted then the much larger union might then take industrial action and cripple the organisation as a consequence.

This reminds me of the plot of the famous 1959 Peter Seller's comedy, "I'm alright Jack". It's an invidious position for the employer to be in. So what would your solution to the problem be?

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

The Great Race

It's Shrove Tuesday and the time of the traditional Angelo's sponsored pancake races through Westgate. Thanks is due to Tony Bailey, Laura Peskett and PC Bungard for keeping the traffic away while the races were on and to all those involved, such as Rotary, in making this event its customary local success.

From the queue for pancakes outside Angelos, it rather looked as if he was feeding the entire village with pancakes but apparently, Angelo set a new record of 1000 pancakes served.

It's not often that one "snaps" Thanet Gazette editor, Rebecca Smith, who was giving away the prizes today or gets such a great spontaneous photograph of the vicar either

Monday, February 04, 2008

Busy Elsewhere

You may find that entries become a little thin on the ground for a while.

All of a sudden, I'm getting busy elsewhere, with what I hope will be the last of nine CAA theory exams, several conferences and an original piece of research to write on Chinese cyber-espionage.

The latter is a little ironic, given that we will be welcoming the Chairman of Chinamex to Thanet very soon but while at one level, we have seen the Prime Minister building relations between our two countries on his recent trip to Beijing, at another level, there's a vigorous campaign of industrial espionage being waged in cyberspace, which has reportedly involved a number of leading European companies and particularly the engineering giants.

If you remember the Code Red virus from 2001, there was speculation at the time that this attack on web servers, which caused an estimated $2 billion worth of damage, was a dry-run probe for an attack on the entire internet infrastructure, which might possibly have worked with a little tweaking.

So if it's a little quiet around here, you know why! I've a "Do Not Disturb" sign on the door.

HM Revenue Wants You

Reportedly, tax collectors are snooping on local homes in Thanet and Sandwich in a secret deal between HM Revenue & Customs (HMRC) and the Rightmove Property Company.

This news is from Laura Sandys, Conservative Parliamentary Candidate for South Thanet and Sandwich, who writes:

“I am very concerned at the news of a secret deal between the taxman and property company Rightmove that hold the details of 9 out 10 properties for sale or rent across the country. It has been revealed that detailed information on these sales and rentals in Thanet and Sandwich is being collected and logged in a ‘Big Brother’ database to prepare for council revaluation tax hikes.”

“Rightmove is a central web hub used by most estate agents to promote their properties beyond their local area. All the properties on this web site are now provided to the Revenue for them to assess the values of each property for the revaluation of council tax. This deal has not been done transparently and very few estate agents who place their clients’ property details on the website know about this deal.

“The Government has got to come clean", she adds. "It is preparing a revaluation for council tax that will place many of our residents in an even more difficult financial position than today. And yet again rather than being open about this process it is deviously using third parties to collect our home data to increase taxes on our properties.”

The implications are:

• Tax men plunder your data: Unsuspecting homeowners across East Kent are putting their property on the market for sale or rental, without realising that the tax collectors will use it to plan for new council tax hikes. HM Revenue & Customs, which has lost millions of personal tax and benefit records, is systematically raiding estate agency records to build up a property database for its council tax inspectors. Rightmove holds 16 million property records, with millions of individual entries being updated every month.

• Big Brother database invades privacy: People selling their home are not informed that information given to their estate agent, which is then passed to internet portal Rightmove Plc, is in turn passed on to the Government’s tax inspectors. Local estate agents have been kept in the dark about Rightmove’s actions.

• Details on people’s homes: The personal property data being passed to the taxmen include internal and external photographs of the home, the number of bedrooms and bathrooms, conservatories, parking spaces, and particulars such as area, layout, style, features and other ‘value significant’ features. The Government claims that the Data Protection Act does not apply to information about people’s houses. HMRC’s council tax inspectors will instruct local councils to increase the council tax on these homes.

Laura concludes:

“We already knew that HMRC have recklessly lost the tax records of millions of law-abiding citizens. Now the same people are disregarding data protection rules to build up a chilling database of every home in the country.

“Residents across Thanet and Sandwich will be alarmed that detailed information on 9 out of 10 house sales and rentals is being passed secretly from estate agents to tax collectors, without public consent.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

A Little Education

Two stories caught my eye in the Sunday papers today. The first that husbands with multiple wives may now claim benefits, even though polygamous marriages are illegal in the UK.

The second, from the Sunday Times, that more interference from government, disguised as policy, is being introduced "to tackle 'segregation" in society". The judgements, which set a precedent extending throughout the state school system, include:

- Banning headteachers from asking parents why they want to come to the school, in case this puts non-English speakers at a disadvantage;

- Barring schools from asking for children's birth certificates in case this identifies the parents' jobs, which might give professional families a competitive edge;

- Forbidding a discussion with parents of the school's Ofsted inspection report as this might discriminate against parents who "do no understand bureaucracy";

- Stopping schools asking parents whether they support its ethos because this might be considered "patronising" to less well-educated or ethnic minority parents.

This weekend the moves were attacked as more evidence of "social engineering but I for one am reminded of the words of Sir Thomas More: "One of the greatest problems of our time is that many are schooled but few are educated.”

Not much has changed since the time of Henry VIII then?

What's your view?

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Subject to Repairs

There appears to be some concern in Ramsgate today over what appears to be the demolition of part of the marina café, described as "A charming listed building that withstood the great storms of 1897 and 1953,"

It's not a location I'm familiar with and I'm reluctant to pass comment without knowing exactly what's happening, other than Michael Child, who supplied the photo, telling me that "The building is subject to a Repairs Notice" and that as part of the restoration work and for safety reasons some of the structure had to comedown.

I'm sure local ward councillors will be taking an active interest in this restoration work but from the photo you might think it had been bombed!

I'm sure others will be able to shed more light on the subject.

Friday, February 01, 2008

A Serious Proposal

I've been over at Rochester this afternoon, talking to ITV Meridian News about 'Leap year' proposals.

With Valentine's Day approaching fast, this is of course a Leap Year, which give the girls an opportunity to 'pop the question' and propose marriage to the boys. As a result, Meridian think using an aircraft banner is a good idea and wanted to hear about the more unusual jobs of this kind that we've done, such as the one over White Hart Lane, which appeared on BBCs Match of the Day, featuring a bemused former England Manager,'Sven' wondering what it was all about.

Mind you, if the aircraft doesn't work, the young lady in the photograph appears to have other ideas of her own!

In a Flash

With the speed "Safety" cameras being out and about at strategic points across Thanet this month; just past King Ethelbert's school being a favourite, here's a list of the top ten speed camera excuses to share with you:

1) I had passed out after seeing flashing lights, which I believed to be UFOs in the distance. The flash of the camera brought me round from my trance.

2) I was in the airport’s flight path and I believe the camera was triggered by a jet overhead, not my car.

3) I had a severe bout of diarrhoea and had to speed to a public toilet.

4) There was a strong wind behind my car which pushed me over the limit.

5) My friend had just chopped his fingers off and I was rushing the fingers to hospital.

6) The vibrations from the surfboard I had on the roof rack set off the camera.

7) I had to rush my dying hamster to the vets.

8) A violent sneeze caused a chain reaction where my foot pushed down harder on the accelerator.

9) There was a suspected case of foot and mouth and I had to rush to see the cow concerned.

10) The only way I could demonstrate my faulty clutch was to accelerate madly.

If you know of any better excuses, do let me know!

A Place of Pilgrimage?

The city of Canterbury makes the news this morning for the wrong reasons.

"Residents living along its cobbled medieval streets also say they are blighted by drunken anti-social behaviour.

Cars are vandalised, doorsteps are soiled and residents are kept awake at all hours, they complain. There are even reports of drunken fighting in the city’s parks.

But many residents say the situation has now become “unacceptable” as its student population has grown to more than 30,000 while relaxation of licensing laws has led to late-night opening."

Read on.

Child Tax Credits -- Welcome Changes

The child tax credit system has, as we know, caused real hardship and worry to families in Thanet who have fallen on the wrong side of its mis-administration by HMRC.

North Thanet's MP, Roger Gale, has welcomed changes made to the Revenue and Customs Code of Practice 26 in the light of concerns expressed in the Parliamentary Ombudsman's report.

In a letter to the MP, as a follow-up to a meeting held last October, the Financial Secretary to the Treasury, Jane Kennedy, says;

"The revised code will aim to deliver more objective decision making when the HMRC consider whether to write off an overpayment. To this end COP 26 will no longer include a reference to what is or is not reasonable for a customer to have understood. Instead, HMRC and customers respective responsibilities will be clearly set out. Importantly,HMRC will have a time-limit (30 days) to act on information reported to them. So if HMRC fails to act within 30 days then any overpayment that occurs after 30 days will be remitted".

Roger Gale, who has waged a parliamentary campaign to change the treasury's self-imposed regulations says:

"This is good news. For far too long information given to HMRC by claimants has not been acted upon swiftly and that failure to act has led to overpayments and sometimes horrific reclaims running into thousands of pounds. I am pleased that the HMRC recognises its own responsibility in this matter and so long as claimants ensure that they notify Revenue and Customs, swiftly, of changes in circumstances demands for large repayments should, for the future, not be made.

Unfortunately the new conditions will only apply to notice of disputes received from today's date onwards and there is clearly a backlog of hard cases that need to be resolved, the Minister has, though, additionally said that "where a customer asks for a pre-January 2008 disputed overpayment decision to be reconsidered HMRC will make sensible use of their legislative discretion". And that "the department will look to see whether the overpayment occurred because the `reasonable belief` test was applied in a way which, with hindsight, was unfair or inconsistent".I hope that this will mean that at least some of the outstanding cases will now be swiftly determined in the claimants favour. HMRC have had a habit of sheltering behind the 'you should have known that we had made a mistake' defence and that has caused misery and hardship."

Thursday, January 31, 2008

All Things Being Equal

A further thought encouraged by the "Green Waste" story below.

I like to think that readers will stop-by this weblog for an occasional reality check. Of late, we're seeing far too many half truths peddled around online, like the museum story, the audit commission report and many more, which attempt to encourage people to draw conclusions that have little real basis in fact. I try very hard to get the details right here.

Recently and on another weblog I referred to a principle attributed to the 14th-century English logician and Franciscan friar William of Ockham, often paraphrased as "All other things being equal, the simplest solution is the best."

Where Thanet is involved and the stories you read, William of Ockham has a lesson for us all. The simplest of these being that Thanet is short of money and the economic climate is steadily worsening and costs are rising.

Here at least, you can raise questions and concerns and because of the acceptable use policy in place, you are unlikely to be abused. Criticised perhaps but you may get an answer, a "grown-up" argument and perhaps some action on the subject, like the great Broadstairs fence debate, taken by others who might note your concerns.

I would ask you to think back to a time before this weblog and how you might have been able to express your local worries and opinions then and have them read and taken seriously by those who may be able to help and make a difference?

Like the letter on green waste, by all means please write-in. I can't promise to publish or respond to every email or comment but I do try to either reply, forward or give your concern a hearing or even encourage some debate.