Monday, February 28, 2011

Lost in Translation

I was just reading the opinion section in the Thanet Extra  free paper, with my jaw bouncing off my desk. According to Mr Rochester of Ramsgate, Pfizer's sudden exit from Sandwich was caused by 'Thanet Council's refusal to allow the company's request to develop part of the plant.' 

So it must be true then, it's in the paper, which gives it printed credence. Of course, the editor would have checked the details first or at least believed there might be some grain of truth in the story; well you might have thought so but for one small but very important detail.

Pfizer sits in Sandwich which is not in Thanet or under the planning control of Thanet Council. It may share our Thanet South MP, Laura Sandys but that's as far as it goes and I've certainly never heard of this before.

Mr Rochester goes on further to lay a share of the blame for the closure and the loss of jobs squarely at the foot of Thanet Council, which I'm sure you will read with proper outrage, if you happen to have a copy of the paper.

I only mention this story because it's not unusual  in the least. I read stories on an almost weekly basis in our local media which frequently have their own bizarre departure from the truth. From time to time, I even discover things about myself that I never knew!

So, dear reader, next time you read any local outrage or interest story spare a thought for the other side of the argument should the argument even exist at all or whether its simply an exercise to fill a little extra printed space in the newspaper!

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Who Moved the Goalposts?

A huge spike in 'Blog' traffic over the last couple of days and I see that some of the comments have become more reasonable, although I have had to remove several from 'the usual suspect' and those that involve personal abuse.

Looking across several online forums I have trouble recognising the same topic as its reported here and rather less charitably elsewhere. One bone of contention is that I only answer questions that suit me. Let me reply to this by saying, that I do reply to most questions when I can but surprisingly enough, I do have other things to keep me busy beyond being interrogated on planning details by fans. I'm not a planning officer and it's not my place to comment or pass opinion on some things for very obvious reasons. I'm happy for people to debate politely among themselves but I only 'dip-in'  to the comments section when I feel like it or have something to contribute, so please don't expect otherwise.

Some people close to the club are becoming very confused, if only because they believe what others, who are equally confused, tell them is true. Apparently, I have "been shown up somewhat with his lack of knowledge and assumptions, will want to save face in some way and will dig his heels in."

The matter of the lease in regard to both public consultation and length is a good example  of such confusion. For asset disposals by the council, this is now 25 years or more but for any development in Hartsdown Park, it is for 'Any' lease over any period of time, which is a hugely important detail that is being consistently ignored by those who suggest I'm making all this up as I go along! Also, why others might comment that the building of the Turner Contemporary Gallery, funded entirely by KCC, the Arts Council and more, establishes some kind of  precedent for Thanet Council  to reject new rules on public consultation in favour of a Travelodge on public land in the park quite escapes me.

For the first time in local politics, I'm sharing a personal view and extending the level of transparency and debate on an important subject through my weblog and not just a public meeting or an agreement behind closed doors. This debate is defined by strong feelings on both sides as you can see from the many partisan comments it attracts.

My own role, once again is that of mediator and procedural oversight and I have no decision making powers because that is for others as part of the democratic process.

Planning rules may have changed in some important aspects over the last five years. Some people welcome these changes as giving more control,consultation and democratic accountability and others may take a contrary view. I can't change that. In a high profile matter which attracts such strong opinions, it is absolutely vital that proper legal process and interpretation is followed to the letter and with no exceptions. I'm sure readers would not have it any other way. If the rules are not followed then the result can lead to a long and drawn- out court process as one side or the other lodges objections.

So contrary to what I read, I'm not for or against anything beyond offering transparency and impartiality in exploring a solution to a problem which involves two strongly opposing views. Whether I happen to 'speak posh' or I'm a 'Stuck-up b***d'  or even both together, is irrelevant to the task in hand, which involves finding a sensible way forward that follows the rules and might meet everyone's approval.

To quote Abraham Lincoln, who with a civil war to fight of his own, was perhaps fortunate enough not to become involved in Thanet football politics: "You can please some of the people all of the time, you can please all of the people some of the time, but you can’t please all of the people all of the time”.

Friday, February 25, 2011

What Recession?

No the best of weather today. I'm supposed to be doing a regular photo survey or an area on the river at Tilbury and it's not looking too hopeful.

I lost my patience with the Labour opposition at last night's council meeting as they carped on about the recession being the fault of global bankers and that the last Labour government wasn't in any way responsible for the catastrophic levels of debt that challenges the future of this country.

For those with short memories, interest on Government debt is greater than all the country's mortgages put together and the last Labour government spent more on welfare than it received in income tax in the financial year ending in March 2010. As it could not raise enough in taxes, it simply borrowed the nation into financial oblivion, expecting our grandchildren to pay the enormous debts that accompanied extravagant initiatives such as PFI.

The biggest myth of the 21st century is that public spending stimulates growth. In fact 20th century history proves pretty conclusively that state monopolies deprive the public of choice and they always have done. The worst example of this being our management-heavy, sacred-cow, the National Health Service which offers some of the worst outcomes in the developed world.

A large state apparatus only concentrates poverty and mass unemployment and is the norm where you find them. It's true of any country where the socialist experiment like Cuba or Venezuala has demonstrably failed. Uncontrolled capitalism isn't much better but there is a compromise and that involves a much slimmer public sector and not one which is cynically used to hide unemployment in the private sector. As an example, in Scotland, 61% of all jobs are public sector, in Wales that's 77% and in Northern Ireland, that's reportedly a staggering 81%. Who pays for all this bureaucracy when income tax receipts are insufficient? The answer comes with the most uncontrolled and extravagant borrowing in British history and when Cllrs Poole and Nicholson ('The recession is a Conservative myth') grin across the floor and point to all the fine new hospitals and schools built by the last Labour government, I say fine but was it right to blindly maintain an 11.6% fiscal deficit after the biggest economic crash of 60 years and who pays for this going forward? The answer is my grandchildren and yours, through years of austerity ahead.

Returning briefly to the council's budget that maintains the level of council tax and our essential front-line services at a time of deep cuts to the grants available to our chronically benefits dependent community, not one member of the Labour opposition had any suggestions as to what they would do, other than focus on the lack of money for the Walpole Bay lift; one item out of £1.7 million the council had to find in savings.

In the end , I'd had enough and told them that, I've sat relatively quietly and always politely since 2007 listening to them but what they did in the past under Harold Wilson perhaps, isn't important or even useful. It's today that matters, 2011 and I can't find one person on the opposition Labour front bench who has any ideas or grasp of finances, beyond objecting and mouthing party slogans. Collectively, they are in my opinion, quite unfit to lead donkey rides along Margate beach, let alone be left to influence or direct the fate of this island in the most difficult period of the last sixty years!

Finally, last night, I was shown an unusual new website that hasn't been indexed by the search engines next. It's a Wordpress design with a URL, "clivehartmustgo" and appears to represent a collective effort by web-savvy, local Labour supporters to force him out him in favour of the deselected Mark Nottingham! I can't recall the exact URL but I'm sure it will pop-up soon! Local Labour does appear to be coming apart at the seams but if I'm absolutely honest, I haven't found one Labour councillor who supports Mark Nottingham yet. Quite the opposite in fact, so if they do see him as 'leader in Waiting',they are keeping it very quiet.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

The Offside Rule

The public meeting to discuss Margate Football Club's new plans went ahead as scheduled last night and this evening, in full council, I have to speak to the petition submitted by the friends of the park, which demands that Thanet Council revokes the authority to develop the park. I also note that last night, Cllr Iris Johnston was given a petition by the football club, pressing the council to permit the amended development that the club is asking for.

Parked out at the far edge of the stage, I did think that the meeting could have been handled better and that there was absolutely no place for politics in the discussion. I've written this before and what Labour did for Thanet in the past is of absolutely no interest to me and I did say to the audience that this is 2011 and not 2004, 2006 or even 2010 and in that time, we have had a change of government and some of the rules that govern both planning and public consultation have changed.

I did feel the debate was poorly directed and occasionally politicised from the chair and that the audience were allowed to be distracted by questions and arguments that had absolutely nothing to do with the purpose of meeting itself. For example, where the spoil from the five a side pitches went or indeed, drug addicts needles that can be found in the park from time to time may be of individual personal concern but have no bearing on either the lease or an amended planning application.

One person after the meeting told me that I gave the impression of being against the club and that is not the case. I will be sitting down again with Mr Piper and council planning officers on March 3rd to discuss their application once again but I would say that every planning application the council receives is treated equally and with no exceptions. My role is to ensure that the correct process is followed. Drawing from a football analogy, I can't suspend the offside rule simply because one side wants me to! In this particular example we have polarised opinions from the club on the one hand and the friends of the park on the other.

Finally and as I wrote in my previous post, consultation is the pivotal point and any further development involving the granting of a new lease would require measurable public support from the club's neighbours as well as its fans.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

It's Wednesday

Tonight's the night when Margate Football Club will present their revised plans for a hotel and stadium at the Westgate Pavillion at 8pm. There will, I'm sure, be an opposing group of residents, who may wish to express their views and concerns, following the petition against further development on Hartsdown Park, recently submitted to Thanet council.

I will be there in no other capacity but to listen to the debate and answer any questions where I might have useful answers. This is of course, a planning matter and subject to council officers advice and the decisions of the council's Planning Committee. Over the last week, I've heard and read a number of contradictory stories and from what I gather, confusion appears to exist over what was permissible at the time the club's application was granted in 2006 and what exists today. This is very much focused on the long lease the football club requires for the park as the rules on public consultation  have changed and the council's position is that:

- A new lease is required before anything can be built on the site
- Even the existing planning permission requires a new lease
- The artificial pitch granted in 2010 needs a lease
- The lease is subject to public consultation; residents will have their say

Whether the revised or amended application for the hotel is bigger, smaller or even a different shape is clearly a planning issue but it's the public consultation that remains pivotal. Before last year it wasn't an issue but now the council is actively consulting with residents over developments and considers long leases of 25 years or more as equivalent to an asset disposal process, the goalposts have moved, if you'll forgive the pun and local residents will be pleased to hear that they have their say and can influence the future of the park.

Contrary to what some readers have suggested, I have absolutely no issues with the Football Club or indeed any antipathy towards sport at all. Dig-up some very old copies of the Thanet Gazette and you'll find me in the sports pages as a much younger man. It's the process which remains the subject of debate and the fact that local planning rules may have overtaken the original 2006 application, as encouraged by public opinion and concerned residents, the council is now consulting much more closely than it ever did in the past.

Meanwhile, you may have seen the council press release on Houses of Multiple Occupation, HMO's. With my Cabinet colleagues, I'm working hard to address a number of problems that have been dropped on us, here in Thanet over the last ten years or so by central government policies and this is one of them.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

A Big Society at its Best

I've just come back in from a cold and damp under cliff at Westbrook where I was both impressed and delighted to see so many volunteers out clearing the ground for planting. Well done Tony Sykes and Paul Pearce (pictured with me) and everyone involved because without a doubt, this type of initiative shows-off the concept of the 'Big Society' at its best, as a community comes together to achieve a common purpose.

I've added some photos and hear I only just missed Mayor of Margate, Mick Tomlinson but bumped into Cllr Bert McAstree, who arrived with a car full of soft drinks and nibblies to distribute to the hungry at his own expense. The group were already  pretty well organised with their own mobile canteen to cater for the hungry but I'm sure appetites will grow as the afternoon passes!

What this successful local project does illustrate, is that if a community has a plan and a purpose which involves council land, then my door is always open to ideas and initiative of this kind, even, if there is no council money directly available in these challenging times.

No Right Turn

It's a grey and rather miserable Sunday morning and while on the one hand, I'm trying to pull-off a banner for the birthday celebrations of Guru Ravidass over Wolverhampton, there's the Westbrook Undercliff Nature Park volunteers day starting at noon at Barnes Avenue car park, which I will be attending to add moral support for an excellent community-driven project. The former event, I'm told is expecting many thousands of people and I'm hoping for an equally good turnout for the latter is the rain holds off.

I see that the Thanet Gazette's Saul Leese has posted a video of the flight I took him on around Manston in order to demonstrate that a departing 747 on RW10 didn't really have the space to make a sharp, ninety degree right turn before Nethercourt, to avoid overflying any part of Ramsgate.

Meanwhile, I wait with excited anticipation for the Royal Wedding invitation to drop through my door on Monday!

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Open Democracy of a Kind

Watching the wildfire of  popular protest running through the Middle-east and in particular Bahrain today, I worry about the friends I have living there, as I've visited the country on a number of different occasions for conferences over the last ten years or so.

It's particularly ironic, because several times I've given presentations on transactional government and the information society in the Arab world and the events of the last few weeks appear to be following my path, I've been in Tunisia and Egypt too. Of course, Saudi Arabia was one of my more frequent stops, just across the causeway from Manama in Bahrain and I can imagine the Saudis will be watching their small island neighbour with deep concern.

I did write a seventy page report on the 'Magic'  Kingdom's progress in the age of the internet for HM Government back in 2002 and I'm sure it's still kicking around on the web somewhere.

What is for certain is that history shows, only too clearly, that once one builds a small fire in the smouldering Arab imagination, it can burn fiercely  uncontrolled for a very long time. A fact that TE Lawrence knew only too well:

"...I drew these tides of men into my hands and wrote my will across the sky in stars..."

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

When the Whistle Blows

I see that Margate Football Club is ‘Twittering’ its petition to: “Demand that Thanet District Council honour the commitments made to Margate FC over the past few years through the granting of planning permission and the required leases for a new stadium.”

It’s only fair that I include the link but the strong use of ‘Demand’ does strike me as a little unusual in the circumstances. You may recall from my earlier entries and official comments in the paper and on local radio, that I've said, that while the Football Club had prior planning approval for an integrated hotel and stand development, the latest set of plans, presented on their website and which now includes a separate Travel Lodge proposal are considered materially different from the previously granted planning consent for a hotel, attached to the football stand, featuring guest rooms with a view of the football pitch. As such, the council regards this change as a different application, in much the same way, I understand, as if any developer had plans approved for one project but then swapped these for another with a different size and elevation, with associated landscape impact and views.

I’m told, that as the council is the owner of the land at Hartsdown park, it will not be granting any new leases or indeed, any variations to existing leases without extensive public consultation and without further legal research. Simply stated, this means that Hartsdown park is protected from any changes.

The uncomplicated answer as once again, I understand it, is that the football club is quite entitled to build inside its present footprint, what it gained planning consent to build several years ago but it also requires a long lease to match and under new rules, this is subject to a process of public consultation. However the club can’t suddenly start building something that is materially different, without following the same planning and consultation process that any other house owner or developer would have to in similar circumstances.

The Football club is calling a public meeting of its supporters at 8pm Wednesday 23rd February, Westgate Pavilion and Mr Piper's BBC Radio interview on the subject can be found here. time  is minute 27 of the programme.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Funny Valentine

An unusual Valentine's Day job yesterday with a flight over Sittingbourne, (photo montage by Jim Bennett). I'm still not entirely certain what it was for but I did put the Kentish Gazette, who called me when I landed, in touch with the sponsor.

Sittingbourne being a relatively small town, I can honestly say that in a sixty minute flight, if anyone didn't see the banner message, they were most probably asleep!

Once I'd finished there I had to take the aircraft down to the maintenance facility near Brighton for its annual service; a painfully expensive exercise at the best of times.

Where a garage normally offers one a 'loan' car for the same thing, I was given a loan aircraft to fly home again. As the one I was given was much newer, faster and higher spec than my own I was able to delight in the built-in 'toys', set the GPS for home (EGHB seen on the display) ,engage the autopilot after take-off and enjoy the passing scenery far below me. You can see from the phone camera photo, that among other details, the aircraft is at 3,000 feet, the Manston beacon NDB is set at 347. Lydd's VOR at 114.05 and that with 38 miles to run, I'm in radio contact with Farnborough Radar on 123.225. Unlike my aircraft which has two of them with different views, there are no moving maps.

I did notice today that a very large hole is being dug in the golf course at Westgate. Is this I wonder part of a cunning plan to move the Margate caves to a new home or simply a very deep bunker or should I say hazard? Fall in there and you won't be getting out in a hurry!

Sunday, February 13, 2011

It's on a Weblog So it Must be True

While I’m being pilloried elsewhere for reportedly encouraging the concreting of the Westbrook Undercliff at Barnes car park, I see from their website, that the Westbrook WASPS, have now achieved ’Village Green’ status, so congratulations on their efforts and in particular for taking the time to come and discuss the environmental project they had in mind, which received my encouragement. Alternatively, you might believe another story I was told, that I was supporting a secret planning application to build a lorry park down there and that my efforts were frustrated by the presence of rare grasses and migrating Turnstones.

Looking around Thanet, it occurs to me that with the disappearance of Eastcliff Richard; the latest gossip I heard this week, being that he went one step too far in upsetting one of our local businessmen, Thanet blogs are in some kind of tabloid-style circulation war and some of these really appear to believe, that a few hundred ‘visits’ a day somehow puts them on an equal par with the local paper or maybe even the Daily Star.

Now if people wish to visit and read what I write and I’ve been doing this here in Thanet since 2003, then that’s fine but there is a danger of taking oneself too seriously, me included and a passing responsibility for those of us who choose to write our personal weblogs to explore the 'truth' or at the very least have a passing interest in it, rather than be tempted to repeat hearsay as ‘fact’, as a means of attracting web traffic.

Ever since aliens landed at Roswell in New Mexico – That’s true isn’t it? – The public have loved conspiracy stories and in Thanet we appear to love these more than most, particularly where local politics and the council are involved. In reality it’s all a bit mundane. Local government is a large, complex and frequently unwieldy machine built-up over more than a century. Councillors and officers are presented with a number of levers to pull, which in turn, perform certain actions with the expectation of predictable outcomes but the results of constantly adding in new ‘software’ in the form of legislation, occasionally means it doesn’t do quite what one wants.

What I’m saying here, is that local government is principally rules-based and politicians are presented with choices, negotiating a maze of regulations in a direction we hope will most serve the public good. We try and make things better with the tools and funds that we have available but society and the economy don’t stand still and so targets are constantly moving, budgets decline and outcomes frequently change.

My message to anyone reading is that if you’re concerned about something then you have an absolute right to ask questions of your politicians. However, if you’ve already made up your mind on a subject then you may not always receive the answers you like. On occasions, confidentiality rules, whether these may be commercial or personal, for one good reason or another, such as data protection, may preclude delivering the answer you may be seeking not because there’s any particular culture of secrecy but because Parliament and not your councillors or your local government, has wisely decided that some answers like in the public domain and others don’t.

Monday, February 07, 2011

Light at the End of the Tunnel

I pre-recorded an interview on the Margate Caves for BBC Radio Kent (1:53:50) a little earlier. 'Rock Doc' and fellow councillor, Alasdair Bruce will also be making an appearance and hopefully, when it's aired tomorrow, the matter will finally be put to rest; at least in terms of answering every question the BBC and I can think of.

What I did say, is and I said the same to Meridian ITV News, is that until someone comes forward with a proposal or business plan, with adequate funding, there is no good reason to spend Thanet Council's funds on a detailed survey of the various public safety issues, which include the potential hazard presented Carbon Dioxide gas and more. The council's surveyors have estimated a cost of around £100,000 to bring the caves back into use, as I've written before and there is a caveat that over time it could be more.

With the council on the edge of its reserves and a tight period of austerity and spending ahead, I for one consider it would be foolish to spend any more money, beyond the £15,000 recently spent on 'Making Safe' until such a time as a source or sources of potential funding can be identified and a business plan proposed. When this happens, I'm certain the council would be very happy to explore the sum with a much tighter focus on the final figure.

Let's not forget that the council did not close the Margate Caves, it was a Health & Safety prohibition order in 2004 and the fact that the concessionaire found itself unable to run them as a profitable business, capable of carrying out the necessary maintainable that would satisfy the public safety requirements.

Am sure that the story will continue to run a little longer though and I respect the efforts of the 'Friends of Margate Caves' who are working so hard to resurrect them as as tourist attraction. Believe me, I would much rather see them open and thriving with visitors than closed and silent!

Friends of Margate Caves Website

Saturday, February 05, 2011

In Caverna

I was out at the Margate Caves this morning for a BBC South-east news interview with Sarah Smith; the sister of the former Home Secretary no less. Labour councillors, Iris Johnston and John Watkins were also present and although the package was scheduled for 4:30 this afternoon before the rugby game, it didn't appear, so either something more important took its place or its exciting enough to hold over until Monday, when I think ITV Meridian may be running theirs as well.

I think that between us all there's a consensus that the money to re-open the caves simply isn't there at present but that doesn't mean that party politics aside, we aren't encouraging anyone with a business proposition to come and talk. The BBC's Sarah Smith recognised that with the Turner Contemporary opening very soon, there are great prospects for Margate's tourism economy in the future, particularly with the revival of the domestic market, given the strength of the Euro and so perhaps one day we'll all return to the same spot with a happier story to tell.

Meanwhile, I understand that the very public Hart vs Nottingham dispute has been referred to a higher authority, possibly Labour's National Executive Committee, after the Group's Thursday night meeting, so despite his threat to resign, Clive Hart remains firmly in situ and the story of so-called 'Dark deeds in Northwood' will run for a little longer if you'll forgive the awful pun.

Valentine's Day being just around the corner, I'm already taking unusual bookings for the 14th February. I've two aircraft to get up in formation for a company around Manchester and even had the daytime TV programme, 'Loose Women' wanting a proposal stunt over their studio in London. Unfortunately I can't operate over Central London; the authorities get a little nervous about such things and it's equally difficult, said the producer, to persuade such loose women to leave a warm studio and arrange it further out of town, so they'll have to do without!

In consolation, I was quite honoured however to be included in the gliderFX display team for the coming season. My flying is relatively modest by comparison with the experts as you'll see from one of their airshow videos and close to the ground I prefer to fly with my eyes closed!

Margate Caves- The Facts

I’m off to give a BBC South-east news interview on the Margate Caves this morning and rather than encouraging readers to visit other weblogs with their own and occasionally bizarre interpretation of the facts, I’ll share the accurate rather than imaginary detail with you here rather than look-up my comments from the earlier post on the subject.

The Margate Caves closed in 2004 following a visit from the Health and Safety Executive, who served a prohibition notice requiring essential work to be carried out. (HSE visited following a complaint that the site was not DDA compliant). Disability access is now a legal requirement that cannot be avoided and has caused similar problems for untold numbers of legacy sites across the country. At that time the owners of the business on the site were not in a position to meet the costs to carry out this work - TDC did negotiate with the owner to try and reach a resolution but a viable proposal was not put forward.

The work that is currently being undertaken at the Margate Caves site is essential to address a number of serious safety concerns and more recently those relating to vandalism. Whilst of course it would be desirable to re-open the caves to carry out the full range of work required to allow public access, this would cost the council in the ‘region’ of at least £100,000, (on-going maintenance costs over a period of time with the caves open to the public may be as much again) which in the current financial climate is simply not a viable option. Until Thanet’s economy can support the funds required to carry out this essential repairs work, the council is simply not in a position to re-open the Caves at this time.

There is absolutely no intention to dispose of the caves. The planning application for nearby houses, which is now held in abeyance as consultation continues, does mean that the existing entrance would be re-sited, however there is an alternative entrance (Forster entrance) which could be used if the caves were to re-open as a tourist attraction. If future funding can be found to carry out the necessary internal improvements then the site could be re-opened as a tourist attraction and the council would welcome and encourage this.

So to recap. Nothing is happening at present with the planning application for houses as the council continues to receive letters and representations from the public. The caves entrance has been subjected to sustained vandalism and the attention of drug users and reportedly other groups with what I would personally describe as a morbid interest in the underground environment. As a result the council has taken steps to seal the entrance to prevent any further damage or trespass.

As a consequence of the economy, Thanet District Council has to find £1.8 million of savings in its budget for the coming financial year alone. We have a number of splendid legacy buildings across the island which are also in need of attention and regular maintenance and the costs of providing such runs into millions. Margate Caves may be considered one of many worthy causes in difficult times and I hope the opportunity will arrive in the future to see them re-opened as a tourist attraction and to the standards required by HSE and DDA legislation.

Finally, uninformed suggestions I read elsewhere that money for the caves could be diverted from other equally hard-pressed local services or indeed council employees salaries or redundancy payments range from the risble, illegal and unworkable. 

Wednesday, February 02, 2011

Switching Sides

I was busy 'Tweeting' along with the BBC Radio Kent programme on Pfizer this morning. What was interesting was how presenter, Julia George was picking-up some of my remarks and I was able to tell them that council leader, Bob Bayford, KCC's Paul Carter and our two MPs were on their way to Westminster to meet with the Minister at lunchtime today. They will discuss the way forward in encouraging inward investment and protecting our local economy as best we can, from the harsh impact of yesterday's shock announcement.

Not to be outdone, I did notice  that Tony Flaig was also 'Tweeting', attempting to direct the BBC's attention in a 'plug' of his 'Biggest' weblog but clearly without much luck. We can be sure however that this story will be running for a long time yet and so I'm sure there will be plenty of room for comment from all sides.

Yesterday, in a strange piece of irony, one of our Trades Unions leaders offered to sponsor me as a Labour candidate. It was a bit embrassing, as I know him well but have never mentioned that I was a 'political' animal before and had to confess that I'm actually a Conservative cabinet member here in Thanet. So the Labour Party is safe for now and without holding it against me, he wrote "When you have had enough of Cameron and Osborne come and see me."

So If Clive Hart is listening, he might yet have another and rather unexpected rival for Leader of the Labour Group other than Cllr Nottingham but not this year at least!!!

Tuesday, February 01, 2011

Pfizers to Close in Sandwich

You may have heard the unhappy news on the Pfizer closure on the BBC and I've been over at the Thanet District Council offices working on the official press release, which is shown further below and is available on the council web page.

Today, one online news magazine commented: 'The impact of outsourcing and the internet means people in the UK will need to create their own jobs, rather than hope to walk into a job as in the past.

There is hardly a job left which cannot be simply and cheaply outsourced and offshored. Where once manufacturing work was sent abroad, increasingly it is design work and other added-value services which also head offshore.'

Colin Blakemore, professor of neuroscience at the University of Oxford, said: ‘This is a shocking wake-up call. The pharmaceutical industry will go where it can recruit the best trained scientists and can interact with the best university researchers.'

One very small ray of sunshine is that only a couple of weeks ago BT announced that Sandwich was going to be one of their handful of 'super' broadband exchanges and so may prove an attractive location for 'incoming' hi-tech companies if they can be attracted to the area!

Thanet District Council commented:

"News of Pfizer’s decision to cease operations at its Sandwich site has come as a huge blow. Leader of the Council, Cllr Bob Bayford said “This news is an enormous setback for Thanet and the East Kent economy as a whole. Many of the staff who work there live in Thanet, so the unexpected closure of such an important contributor to the East Kent economy is especially worrying, particularly at a time when both the national and local economy face equally daunting challenges.

Thanet’s unemployment level is already the highest in the South East so this is going to hit us particularly hard, at a time when the economic recovery is still very fragile.

We will be seeking an urgent ministerial meeting with our local MPs to see what action the government can take to mitigate the job losses. We call on the government to intervene and provide tangible opportunities to attract business investment into East Kent to replace the jobs lost. We will be redoubling our efforts to attract businesses and investment into Thanet.

We will also be working closely with our neighbouring councils and with the county council to mitigate the impact of Pfizer’s closure on surrounding businesses and the local economy.”

All About Crime

At last, local people can find information on reported crimes of all types, that have taken place in the streets around them. by visiting the new PoliceUK site launched today.

Simply type in your postcode and with help from Google maps, this will show you what crimes took place where, together with our local policing information, such as your neighbourhood officers and contacts.

From Westgate's perspective, our anti-social behaviour problems around the village, prompting the need for a dispersal order, are clearly visible.

I've added a screen shot from Westgate, 'CT8' below but quite clearly, 'CT9', the Margate postcode is the one to look at and illustrates the challenges that the community and the police face locally.