Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Consulting the Oracle

The Legendary Oracle of St Mildred's Bay
A quick visit to the Manston Road, KCC refuse centre this morning and I overhear two people talking about Pleasurama and the last Council meeting. From the sound of it, Cllr Driver's vigorous disinformation campaign is working well, as quite clearly, the 'Truth,' whatever this elusive commodity might be, is being hidden from the good people of Ramsgate, from dysfunctional and arguably dodgy Councillors like me, with no more right to breathe God's clean air than a weasel!

Which of course, brings us neatly to the subject of the week's County Council elections, only forty-eight hours away now.

If you believe even part of the election literature flying around, then Westgate's library is to be closed at least twice, the fire station closed altogether and huge fees imposed on anyone, without restriction, who visits the Minnis Bay Day Centre.

Some readers may have noticed that Labour have been shipping a small army of 'activists' to Thanet, from as far away as south London - looking at their 'Tweets' - as part of a concerted effort to try and find the former Mayor of Margate, as of yesterday evening, a new taxpayer-funded job on the slippery ladder of socialist politics to further his post-university career. 'Any job' may do in fact, other than one which actually involves working for a living in the more conventional sense, like you and I and all inside a single term as a district Councillor.

In Birchington, UKIP's manifesto, which recommends regular vigorous exercise for young men and 'birching', as a suitable sanction for failing to wear a shirt in Station Road, has been welcomed by many, as has the suggestion, that the parish council introduce Sharia law on Fridays. What may soon be the former site of Brills, on the mini-roundabout may be turned into a CCTV-equipped pillbox, should the party succeed in attracting enough votes to send its candidate to County Hall.

The LibDems have gone awfully quiet since my last blog entry, as have the Green Party who are strongly opposed to the hoverport in Pegwell Bay. So I very much expect Thursday to be a three horse race between the Conservatives, Labour and UKIP. As I've written before, voters should be very wary of what they wish for, as exercising any form of 'Protest' vote is likely to achieve the very opposite of what they might want in results that may impact their lives over the next four years.

I think that many of us may agree that the political scene in this country is now starting to polarise, with the socialists, prepared it seems to promise anything, remaining in denial over the state of the nation's finances and prospects and shifting to the left and Conservatism showing signs of lurching to the right, as represented by UKIP and the debate over Europe and immigration. Where this will leave the people of Kent on Friday morning remains to be seen but I suspect the outcome may leave ordinary people worse-off and buried in a pile of soon to be broken promises. We'll see.

Sunday, April 28, 2013

Big Man Small Dog

One unusual view of a bride from a thousand feet above the wedding reception at the Oake Golf Club near Taunton.

The South west was bitterly cold yesterday with a strong wind which put a stop to the parachuting at Dunkeswell aerodrome until mid-afternoon, when conditions calmed a little.

Oddly enough, I spotted the wedding reception at four miles, coming over the high ridge to the south of Taunton, not because I could see the Oake golf club but because I could see the Sun reflecting off the bride's white dress.

The news this morning has UKIP's Nigel Farage, suggesting that the Conservative Party is running a clandestine, 'Dirty Tricks' campaign against his County Council candidates, by trawling through the internet and social media sites, looking for damaging material. I might remark that in many cases, 'trawling' would be quite unnecessary as many candidates appear to be revealing their more unorthodox opinions, without any help, as we can see quite plainly on a local basis. If the Conservative Party, of which I am a member, was organised enough and had the resources to mount such a campaign, I for one one would be very surprised indeed.

Stroke and Vote Campaigning with Cllr Chris Wells
I was out briefly canvassing on Friday with Cllrs Robert Burgess, Michael Jarvis and Chris Wells, with help from the MEP Richard Ashworth. One remark that struck me from a passer-by, was that the Chancellor had, after three years, plenty of time to sort-out the deficit and bring employment down. It's not an uncommon opinion locally and I do find that many people remain unable to grasp the sheer size of the financial crisis left by the crash of 2008 and the over-spending and borrowing of the last Labour goverment.

National issues don't really have much place in County elections but people, quite understandably, feel strongly enough to mix the two together and want to protest the new, sudden and far-reaching changes that are impacting their lives..

I will leave you with one thought however, The economy has to grow by at least 2% each year to more than double the average national income over seventy years. That's not happening, it's not going to happen with any Government in the foreseeable future and quite possibly, not in my own remaining lifetime either, given the burden of national debt, worries over sources of energy and the displacement of the global economy towards the far-east. The choice for all of us, voting in any election, nationally or locally, is whether we recognise the new economic reality and slowly attempt to climb out of the abyss we fell into as a nation in 2008. This brings a great deal of pain for many as the welfare state is rationalised to match what we can afford; the new austerity or we can hand back control of the economy to those who put us down the deep hole in the first place?

One side has a plan it's sticking to. The other, mumbles unceasingly about 'Millionaires' and has declared it won't reveal its financial strategy until before the next General Election but the numbers are quite inescapable, much like the law of gravity I pointed out to Labour members in a Council meeting last year. Wishful thinking and humming the 'Internationale' will not reverse the consequences of a collapse in confidence in our model of capitalism, built on impossible levels of government and consumer debt which gave as the illusory prosperity of the last thirty years. Something a little more practical is required and for the moment, paying down our debts is the only option available to keep interest rates low and avoid the consequences of stubborn denial, seen in a crisis-ridden Europe, where France now has three million unemployed under its new socialist government and Spain has a quarter of its workforce now jobless.

Thursday, April 25, 2013


TransEuropa Ostend Spirit Spotted at Tilbury
It all seemed to be happening when I was away. Perhaps it's the novelty of warm sunshine over Thanet?

According to the Police, there was a 'disturbance' in Birchington's Station Road yesterday, involving several past and present local political figures as well as a fracas involving a 'Day-Glo' Nazi poster waved in front of a UKIP candidate.

Now you might think that this might involve some kind of roving diversity champion; perhaps even a larger-than life a Ramsgate councillor or even, by odd coincidence, an independent local filmmaker, who just happened to be passing, at the very moment it all' 'kicked-off'?  I could not possibly comment, as I wasn't present and I expect to see the results on YouTube very soon.

I have been chatting with the BBC, who know about it and are rather frustrated that the prevailing purdah period of election reporting, forbids them mentioning what happened in Birchington village at all, which leaves only me and I'm still quite vague about the details.

I am reliably informed, that a UKIP candidate, a parish councillor and an independent councillor were involved in a cynically-contrived, roadside political dust-up but I'm reluctant to mention the names of those involved, without corroboration of the detail, beyond the police and the BBC.

I'm sure however, that most readers will be able to make a pretty good guess at which political characters and agent provocateurs, may have been involved. Other sources tell me that no biting was reported during the incident and neither has the Councillor involved been given a ten match ban by the Standards Committee, at the time of writing this report.

Meanwhile, spotted today in the photograph moored at Tilbury docks. Looks familiar to the people of Ramsgate perhaps?

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

A Neighbourhood Plan?

Simon Moores - Yesterday in Prague
I'm back at my desk again, having arrived in from Prague about an hour ago. I see that the official video of the last Thanet District Council meeting on 18th April, is now available to view online and is attracting a full spectrum of comment elsewhere.

However, what strikes me most, is that the debate is solid and the meeting is remarkably well-behaved. That is until about 65 minutes in to the recording, when Cllr Ian Driver and Cllr Rick Everett both raise the temperature in the Council Chamber, beyond boiling point with provocative statements. You can of course freely judge for yourself and take a moment to see if my 'Tweet's at the time and my own commentary on this blog from the following day, does indeed tally with what happened, because I have been accused of making some of it up by some observers, who wouldn't believe how wild it became at times..

As you can imagine, I've some catching-up to do with letters, phone calls and email, so I will keep today's entry short. I really just wanted to let Westgate residents that an informal meeting to discuss the development of our own neighbourhood plan for the town is scheduled for next Friday 3rd may at 6pm and I'm thinking of asking if we can use Paul's Bar. If you would like to be involved and feel you can contribute to the conservation, heritage, legal or planning side of designing one, please let me know as skilled volunteers are most welcome if we are going to be successful in pushing through the first of its kind to appear in Thanet.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

On the Bridge

Different sides of modern austerity, seen in Prague's Old City. Telecoms conference still going strong as I break for a coffee and a quick update to my blog.

At home, we increasingly take fast internet access for granted. Here, in the Czech Republic, even in my hotel, I have to hunt for a good signal.

Prague is a fabulous city to visit with its medieval architecture and streets but if you do, bring some good walking shoes with you, as it took me almost five hours to cover the Old Town sights yesterday and I only scratched the surface. Photo link here.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Boat Trips?

Yesterday, I wrote about our Liberal Democrat candidates, standing in County Elections and today, I'm reading through some of the policy statements in Friday's Thanet Gazette, from the fringe political parties, keen to make their case for next month's County Council elections. I rather wonder if I've picked up a Blackadder script by mistake?

"Thanet appears to be very crowded with many people who have come to Margate from other areas and countries." (UKIP)

Now, as the line between UKIP and the National Front in Thanet is reportedly blurred, one is really tempted to read between the lines.

"Can we not consider re-instating boat trips to and from London?" (UKIP)

I think the paddle steamers from Greenwich stopped operating before the First World War but UKIP fails to have noticed that the pier at Margate, where they all berthed, is no longer there? Happy memories for some of the older candidates though I'm sure!

The Old Margate Pier
"The seafront should be more inviting with a new Dreamland with a part closed area or roof." (UKIP)

Nice idea of course and the money to build this Wimbledon-like roof will come from where exactly?

UKIP may have been inhaling rather too much of the smoke from our popular home-grown plants but the Green Party appear to have been making it into cakes as well. The Greens endorse Thanet as a 'Green Isle' with a long policy statement that looks as if were written with blanks for 'Insert name of district here,' rather than anything that might vaguely be considered meaningful to voters. The Green Party is however dedicated to "making sure that cycling and public transport are prioritised," so on your bikes everyone!

The Independents, that's Ian Driver and Tom King really haven't that much to say and in Tom's case absolutely nothing other than standing behind a table in Westgate's Station Road this morning.

Ian Driver is predictable, demanding the termination of the  Pleasurama development in Ramsgate, that Kent leaves the EU and that Ramsgate Town Council be replaced. Nothing this time on his views on the liberalisation of drugs. I'm sure he will attract lots of votes for the sake of mischief making at County Hall if nothing more.

Yesterday, I watched Labour's latest Party Political broadcast and that too seemed like a Blackadder pastiche of the industrial revolution, taking us back to the events before the Luddite mill riots of 1812.

Ed Miliband gazed nostalgically into space, flaring his nostrils and making promises that he knows he simply can't keep, when the time finally comes to reveal what Labour would actually do to deal with the national debt and the deficit, after the next General Election without having to broadly parallel what the coalition is doing today.

As an example, while concentrating on damning the tax cut for "Millionaires," (Labour's own idea) he ignores the fact that 2.7 million working people have now been lifted out of income tax altogether and that the wealthiest in society will pay a bigger proportion of our nation’s taxes in every year of the present Government than in any year under the previous Labour government. That's with 10% of the working population now contributing 68% of all income tax.

Economic policy in these days of austerity represents the interpretation of the ideas of Keynes, Friedman or Hayek, depending on one's intellectual loyalties. It was the Keynsian view of intervention, which flooded the economy with money - quantitative easing - after the financial crash of 2008, while Hayek had a very different. 'hands off' argument on how to re-balance the engine of the global economy following a crash.

When Cllr Poole stands up to give his regular lecture on "Millionaires" and "Greedy bankers" in Thanet District Council's Chamber, it represents the intellectual equivalent of counting beans and proves absolutely nothing.

So for reader's benefit and possible interest, I have embedded the BBC 'Masters of Money' programme on the work of Hayek and you can follow this to the programme on Marx and Keynes as well if you wish.

Friday, April 19, 2013

The Keys to the Asylum

Please study the three characters in the attached Liberal Democrat County Council election flyer opposite. Two of these at least you may recognise as local bloggers with delusions of grandeur.

One, 'Lord Matt' Thanet's self-styled "leading independent journalist," has a particular talent for English prose and is the proud author of "My Big Fat Arse.com" ...Enjoy...!

You may wish to rearrange the following words to suit your own amusement or political taste:

"Keys, Lunatic, Asylum, Hand, Liberal Democrat, Thanet."

Martin Powell
Quite how Liberal Democrat policy on surrendering control of our Parliament to Brussels, immigration and indeed, anything else of public interest, could be reconciled by any one of them, I really don't know, as one character leans to the far left of Nick Clegg and another to the far right. However, democracy is a strange and wonderful thing, as last night in Council demonstrated. Here in Thanet, history shows we are frequently deceived by those who believe they have those unique personal qualities required for a prominent role in local politics.

Back in Westgate, the BBC Radio Kent programme this morning, gave a detailed report on the town's victory over Tesco this week, with comment from the public, Tesco and the volunteers who played a vital part in drawing up the successful strategy which prevailed over the supermarket giant.

BBC's Alex with Jonathan Simmons
Tesco have not yet indicated they will appeal and the programme can be heard again here at 24 minutes and 50 seconds after the start of 'breakfast with John Warnett and Clare McDonnell.

Pictured left and below, are Martin Powell and Jonathan Simmons who played such a vital part, with Dr Dawn Crouch, in assembling the material we needed to challenge Tesco's planning application.

We are now in the process of starting a local group to devise a 'Neighbourhood Plan" building on the work done with the Tesco objection and which will, under the introduction of the new localism policy by Government, offer the residents of Westgate, far greater control of what is built in our town and where.

A Right Carry-on

To establish the sequence of extraordinary events at last night’s meeting of Thanet District Council, you will have to look back on my Twitter feed remarks but I will try and summarise the highlights as a complete report would take pages of text.

The big debate last evening was to surround the future of the Ramsgate Pleasurama agreement and the issues surrounding both the freehold of the site and the suitability of the developer. The problems to date, claimed Labour's Cllr Poole, in his speech, lay firmly at the feet of the millionaires and 'greedy international bankers' who had caused the recession. He failed to explain quite how and why.

Conservatives constantly pressed Labour for clarity over their intentions and persistently met a wall of prevarication, distraction and finger-pointing, mostly from Cllr Iris Johnstone, on arguments going back almost two decades. This led Cllr Julie Marson to remark on Labour's policy on Pleasurama as "Putting the sham into shambles and the shame into shameless."

Everyone expected that Cllr Ian Driver would use the meeting as an opportunity to promote himself and his County Council campaign but none-of-us expected that both he and local ‘activist’ and film-maker, Christine Tongue would actually provoke the situation that came next when they started to openly film the debate in contravention of the Council’s rules.

I’m sure Christine will have this on YouTube very soon, to further the political agendas of both of them, so I won’t spoil it for you until you have seen it!

The result of all this 'Carry-on', was that the Chair, Kay Dark, had to instruct security to remove Ms Tongue and as Cllr Driver, then refused to accept the authority of the Chair and not to give any assurances that he would not continue to film, he was expelled from the chamber and a fifteen minute recess called.

Councillors of all parties were appalled by the behaviour they had witnessed and Council Leader, Clive Hart, later commented: The glee on Cllr Driver's face was unacceptable” as was his "Grandstanding."

Many people had attended to hear the debate on Pleasurama but now it went off the rails even further, when Clive Hart forgot to reserve his own right to reply on the subject. The Conservatives, with no confidence in Labour’s motion to have the Pleasurama football, kicked-back to cabinet for the third time for decision (remember Margate Football Club) and a quiet burial, demanded that instead, it be sent to the scrutiny committee, where it was felt by many to belong.

This was put to the vote and it was found that the minority Labour administration were one vote down. Young Cllr Will Scobie had left the chamber earlier to ‘glad-hand’ bedroom tax protestors outside the Council building – there’s an election on – and embarrassingly failed to return in time for the vote, which was lost to Labour and won by the Conservatives, who promptly kicked the matter to scrutiny for proper resolution and away from the hands of Cllr Poole.

Then, another strange event. The Gazette’s Thomas Brown, shouted from his chair that there had been a miscount. Mr Brown, as readers may recall, has been warned in the past over his occasionally bizarre and unprofessional conduct, mixing personal politics and journalism and appeared unable to restrain himself last night. None the less, the vote was judged correct and carried.

Other high points or low points of the evening were Labour’s Clive Hart and Rick Everett attempting to grandstand around the Sandy Ezekiel trial. Cllr Rick Everett, also standing for KCC in Ramsgate, made a vigorous attempt to connect the criminal conduct of Sandy Ezekiel with Pleasurama and the present Conservative team. This slur caused Cllr Mick Tomlinson real anger and he asked if it were appropriate that the Cabinet Member for Finance, Cllr Everett, who had been reportedly dismissed from his job at Charlton Athletic, was on his criteria, equally fit to serve on Labour’s front bench; all of which raised the chamber temperature to near boiling, as the air-conditioning, like many of the microphones, had broken-down and the heating was on full..

There was of course much more and I’m sure readers will look forward to watching the official Council video of events. I found it interesting that at one point in the evening, during his Leader’s report, Cllr Hart, referred to bloggers as ‘Cowards’ for poking fun at the Council, looking fixedly in one direction but quite what he meant I’m not entirely sure.

Cllr Hart did make an outrageous remark of his own when he said: "I really am delighted that it is our Labour administration that will now oversee that process (of reform). It would have been difficult, if not impossible, for a Conservative group so closely aligned to the former leader to perform this task." I wonder if any reader sincerely believes that I, for one, am somehow tainted, my integrity open to challenge or indeed, I'm in some way associated with the actions of Cllr Ezekiel and events that happened several years ago?

In summary then, a bad-tempered meeting with unacceptable behaviour from Cllr Ian Driver, acting in the Parliamentary style of George Galloway but worse. A small victory for the friends of Ramsgate seafront with Pleasurama being sent to scrutiny and away from a Labour cabinet, who after several attempts and now a chamber debate, seem quite incapable of making a decision or giving direct answers to direct questions, from either the public or councillors opposite.

As for me.. I have to go flying. Back later!

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

A Battle Won

Roxburgh Road c 1912
You may have heard by now that Thanet District Council's planning committee, rejected the application for a Tesco Express in Westgate's Station Road, the building unsuitable for a number of reasons: The height, scale and mass is not keeping and is harmful to the Westgate Conservation Area and location."

Before I collapse in a heap, I would like to give proper credit to all of you, who proved that a small determined community can take on a giant supermarket chain and win.

Last year it was Sainsbury in the Canterbury Road. Tonight it was Tesco but this was, once again, a real victory for community spirit at its finest and we will see if, following today's shock financial results for Tesco, whether it will appeal the decision of the planning committee and the very clear message, sent by our energetic band of residents here in Westgate.

Thank you everyone who made my own role as a lobbying councillor a little easier, by protesting in the street, preparing and collating petitions and Facebook pages, using professional skills to build 3D models or investigate any legal basis or planning argument to lead the objection in the council chamber this evening.

Station Road C 1905
Most importantly of all perhaps, it demonstrated that we live in a strong community where people are not reluctant to express their opinions and where necessary, support a cause they feel strongly about.

While the conservation area and Station Road isn't safe for another century, it's safe for a while at least and I have one very important request to make to all our traders and businesses in the town.

We aren't living in a museum but we do want to preserve the unique character of our town and that precludes being buried under a mound of cheap and garish PVC. If and where, out-of-keeping materials on shop facades and buildings are used that dilute or alter Westgate's unique Victorian character it becomes so much easier for the planning department, under new guidelines, to roll over the objections to preserve our heritage. If we want to keep Westgate special and respect its past, then collectively, an effort will have to be made to protect its future and the canopied shopping in Station Road.

Please help me as one of your councillors to continue to work to safeguard the character of the town for future generations to enjoy.

Will it be Tesco Time in Westgate Tonight?

Stop Press!
Tesco application for Westgate rejected by Thanet District Council Planning Committee.

This evening, at 7pm, Thanet District Council's Planning Committee, will make it's decision on whether to approve a Tesco Express in Westgate's Station Road. As regular readers will know, as a ward councillor, I was asked to represent the residents, businesses and traders objecting to the application and I will be permitted a short summary speech before the meeting starts.

With only forty places available for the public to watch the debate from the gallery, it's very much a 'first come and first served' basis because of the fire regulations. So to try and keep people informed, I'm publishing my short speech in advance - it may change slightly - and I will be using Twitter (@simonmoores) to keep my followers up-to-speed on the progress of the debate in real time. and you can also see my Twitter updates on the side bar of this weblog.

Credit for all the hard work behind the arguments and research goes to a small team of hard-working volunteers who have sifted through local plans, national policies and planning regulations, seeking good arguments to support the position of the objectors. Thank you everyone, without you the application would have been rubber-stamped weeks ago!

"Chair and members of the committee.

This evening, you will be making a decision with a possibly wide-reaching and historical implication for the unique town and conservation area of Westgate on Sea.

You have been lobbied with the letters and emails of many hundreds of residents and two separate petitions with signatures now into the thousands.

Its been a privilege working with such a polarised community and I  wish to thank all those Westgate residents, from a broad range of skills and professions, who have worked so hard to study the legislation and its supporting national and local planning policy guidelines. Rather than make a long speech, I would like to leave you to your debate with six arguments, that I believe offer reasonable grounds to reject this application on planning grounds:

1. What determines this application is the Local Plan – Please don't be distracted by talk of The National Planning Policy Framework. (NPPF) This makes it is clear that current local plans apply.

2. This application does not comply with policies TC1 TC8. The need for new retail business must be explicitly shown and assessment of impact on local and district centres must be assessed. This has not been done and the application, by its own admission, is aimed at 'top up' shopping only. Where's the 'Need'?

3. Permission was given for 4 individual units. They complied with planning policies and general intentions which are for 'local stores' to be encouraged. This proposal is completely different. One large store. Calling it "TESCO Local" does not make it a 'local store'!

4. The building which blocks the morning light to the Sunny Side of the Street, markedly affects the Westgate Conservation Area. This was a planned design of Victorian shopping area with open and light filled areas. This building as you may have seen on the three-dimensional rendering from its plans, on my website, will form a 'tunnel effect', and 'build outs' will only enhance that. The size of this unit dominates and would completely change our street scene forever.

5. The design of the building is poor. It represents Tesco's standard 'house style' with pastiche 'add ons'. This cannot in any way be said to 'enhance' the street scene. The 'Canopy' element is a mockery. What will the Conservation Department of Thanet Council actually object to if it fails to object to this cheap PVC and plastic eyesore?

6. The traffic management plan is unreasonably optimistic as members will have witnessed during their site visit. It relies on the loading bay always being empty at 0700, delivery lorries parking within inches of the kerb, and (in practice) unenforceable restriction on non-articulated delivery vehicles only.

In summary then, this application does not, I believe, comply with the full policies TC1 (main town centres) or TC8 (district/local centres). It is misleading, misquotes the policies and compares the sleepy Victorian character of Westgate with central Manchester & Birmingham stores; completely unrealistic 'comparisons'. Can such an application even be trusted and I wonder if our Planning department even noticed?

Following our own Council Policy it is not ‘Unreasonable’ to reject an application with so many demonstrable flaws and which represents such a weight of public opposition. I would ask you to consider these and other powerful arguments and leave Westgate as its Victorian planners intended,  freeing us of the shadow of a Tesco hanging over Station Road

Monday, April 15, 2013

Big Decisions

Jackson's Garage Westgate on Sea
Margaret Thatcher's funeral and Westgate's big Tesco decision on the same day this week. One I won't be able to attend and the other I most certainly shall.

There's a great deal been said in recent days over the myths that now surround the 'Iron Lady.' Few people know or even wish to know that Harold Wilson closed more pits than Margaret Thatcher but being reminded of Maggie's legacy, even today, in Thanet's own council chamber, isn't that unusual.

Boston 1978
I've some memories of my own, having briefly met Margaret Thatcher in London and Harold Wilson, one day, when he came to speak at the university I was attending in the United States.

Like many lads of my generation, I left Thanet with a few school qualifications at the age of eighteen and went to look for work in the big city; which was mostly labouring and temporary work. One of these jobs was at the Daily Mail Ideal Home Exhibition where the IRA planted a bomb, which maimed some lovely girls I was working with one Saturday afternoon. I had the afternoon off, I recall to play rugby for Rosslyn Park against Esher and so was lucky but it was Margaret Thatcher who came to came to visit us at the show afterwards, still very nervous indeed, as the exhibition continued into the following week.

Another early job I had, was working at the old Times newspaper building in Grays Inn Road. I still have my original TGWU union card, that the shop steward forced me to go and get from somewhere near Tower Bridge, because I had arrived as casual labour and was non-union. He had been on to me like a shot within an hour of starting work.

The printing presses maintained the old 'Spanish practices contemporary post-war socialism at its finest, with three or four men working a single printing machine. What would happen is that two men would be present, one would normally be 'off' sick and the other away, not unusually, claiming unemployment benefit.

If Thatcher's controversial reforms hadn't swept away Britain's plunge towards an East-German-style socialism, I wouldn't not have been able to start my own business or indeed, wouldn't be writing this today. So while I understand the deep-seated grievances of many communities I also grasp that Thatcher's premiership marked the end of the politics of the industrial revolution and the beginning of the economic globalism that surrounds us today. Our economy at the time was sick to the point of death . Left in the hands of characters such as Wilson, Callaghan and Foot, we would never have seen the confident national resurgence of the 1980's and perhaps, not even the end of the Cold War, where Thatcher played a pivotal role in brokering the meetings between Reagan and Gorbachev.

So everyone has a view on the funeral and many readers may not share my own but it does mark the end of an important chapter in our political history; that is until the time comes, one day, to hold a funeral for Tony Blair.

This month, I'm speaking at a government conference in Prague and the Thatcher funeral oddly reminds me of 1968 and the 'Prague Spring' as the Russian tanks rolled into Czechoslovakia. For some reason I can still remember reading the story in my father's newspaper, one hot day on the beach at Westgate.

I'm told that on Wednesday night, only forty places are available in the council's public gallery for the decision on whether to approve a Tesco in Westgate's Station Road or not. This time, the Council will be enforcing the health and safety regulations and so once that figure has been counted into the lifts from reception, that's it I'm afraid.

When it is finished and the decision made, I will come downstairs immediately to speak to any residents who may be waiting to hear the news outside the Council offices.

Of late, I've seen provocative and negative comments being spread around by persons or person unknown, attempting to lay the blame for the original planning decision which granted retail use for the plot in Station Road at my feet. I'm accused of being in favour of the application and voting it through the Council's planning committee but I'm afraid the truth rarely gets in the way of a good story and the fact that I've never been a member of the planning committee, doesn't appear to be a problem.

In fact, Westgate's former councillor Brian Goodwin was and so presently, is Cllr Tom King. Inquiries should really be directed to them although in Brian's case, that could be a little difficult, as he is now sadly deceased. So if people are going to invent stories about me, it's always best to do a little research first.

Michael Child and I have been comparing weblog notes of late and both of us might agree that a few obsessive individuals posting anonymously or under pseudonyms, perhaps with personality disorders, can be a worry and I'm having to watch what I publish as comments very carefully. I may be forced along the route of only allowing people with real identities to leave remarks and comments. As an example, I'm now the subject of a Standards Complaint to Thanet Council for in principle 'Not' allowing one individual to post his remarks about former councillors, surrounding events that happened in the distant past; a chronic waste of my time and your taxpayers money.

So, please be aware of my acceptable use policy when you make comments and that I have no reason to publish allegations or personal abuse, pointed at me or indeed, anyone else in Thanet, alive, undead, deceased or gone-away.

Sunday, April 14, 2013

A Little Trivia

I really didn't think I would get away with today's job, a 100th birthday message for Aston Martin at the World FIA Endurance Championship at Silverstone this morning.

Spring might have been in the air and the long winter very suddenly over but the wind-speeds were horrendous, showing 45 knots above Silverstone's circuit as I had a cursory look at the track for the first time, on the way into Turweston airfield, nearby.

Normally, Silverstone is as easy to get to as any top-secret military establishment, with its own helicopter air traffic control and a large "Keep-out" sign aimed at the unauthorised and curious. Being invited in to fly there before this morning's race, was a huge honour and I pulled-out all the stops to try and make it happen.

By 11:15, the wind was howling and it was raining. The parachute display had been cancelled and the conditions were so far over my normal operating limits, I very much doubted there was any chance at all of picking-up a banner in the vicious turbulence and then flying it successfully to the track a few miles away without shredding it or worse.

As it was, I was lucky, very lucky indeed. I  hit the line just above the ground first time, with no mishaps, other than forgetting to turn on my video camera on the approach to pick-up the banner, so intensely was I concentrating on trying to keep stable close to the ground..

So a good result for all and here's the short video for all the motor racing fans among my readers.. You will see from the end of the video that the cross-wind was equally nasty after I drop the banner and come into land.

Returning back home just after 1pm, the wind here in Thanet was blowing 30 knots, which made life quite interesting trying to put my small aircraft back on the ground.

At least spring has sprung at last!

Friday, April 12, 2013

Conservation of a Kind

I Wish..!
I was very pleased to see the Thanet Gazette's coverage of last week's demonstration against Tesco in Westgate, in the pages of the newspaper this morning. We now have an updated 'Alternative' conservation report to study and you can read it here.

If you do plan to come to next week's meeting of the Council's planning committee on Wednesday at Cecil Square, to see the outcome of the application for yourself, then do arrive early as I'm sure there will not be enough places when the meeting starts at 7pm

It's interesting for me to see the rapid growth in this weblog's readership in the last month. People clearly have strong opinions and they are prepared to share them, both for and against the application. This morning, I collected another shopping bag full of letters and petition signatures to deliver to the Council and the community's involvement to date has been no less than remarkable.

Listening to the weather forecast for this weekend, I hear we are promised a first real taste of spring, with temperatures possibly reaching 20 Celsius which would be nice at last. I'm booked on Sunday to fly a display at Silverstone to celebrate Aston's Martin's 100th birthday and the FIA World Endurance Championship but while the weather looks warm, there's a real chance of a gale that might cause me a real problem and the thousands of runners in this year's Brighton Marathon as well.

The competition for the County Council elections is well underway and I notice that both Nigel Farage and Ed Miliband have been busy here in Kent, drumming-up support for their candidates. I will confess that I am somewhat perplexed by the divided loyalties and previous affiliations of several of the UKIP candidates here in Thanet but remain curious as to how the public will view their promises on election day.

I am assuming though, that true to previous form, the Labour candidates will be making promises that they are quite unable to keep or that lie completely outside the relatively modest remit of a County Councillor. I recall that at the last by-election, here in Westgate, I came across vulnerable people, who believed the doorstep message, that a vote for Labour in Westgate would somehow lead to a magic reversal in their benefits cuts. On a personal note, I have nothing but utter disdain for that level of political exploitation from anyone, of any party but I fear it will be repeated, along perhaps with some of the 'barmier' promises that UKIP were offering a year ago:

'UKIP: "Will cut ICT and computer equipment and re-open all the museums, Margate Caves and the Shell Grotto that have been closed by the previous councils. Open-up the old Second World War air raid shelters in Ramsgate with tours and exhibits from the wars.'

Without a doubt, a Party with its finger on the pulse of local priorities!

I suspect the outcome of what local people want and what local people will actually get after May 2nd, may be two very different things.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Tesco Westgate In 3D

Westgate Tesco Express from Plans
Updated Friday 12th April. Please see the "Alternative Conservation Report' available here.

The final decision on a Tesco Express in Westgate's Station Road, comes back to the Council's Planning Committee for debate on the evening of 17th April.

This time, no public speaking is allowed but as the councillor representing the objectors, I am allowed a summing-up. So our small band of  dedicated volunteer experts, historians and conservationists, will be working with me on a script to attack the weaknesses in the planning and highways department's arguments with forensic precision.

One of our local residents, Brian Kok, a 'Computer Buddy' at Westgate Library - see comments - has used his professional talents to create a three-dimensional rendering of the Tesco building from its published plans and made it available to everyone by using Google's free 'Sketchup' product that you can download here. This will allow you to view the building in 3D and from all angles.

The data file is quite large and so I have stored it on my cloud storage account on BOX.Com and you can download it here.

So, if you want to see the plans in 3D on your computer, first download the Google Sketchup program and install it and then download and save the Tesco data file to your PC. Double click it and it should then immediately open-up the plans for you to play with in Sketchup.

I have included some screen captures so you can see what it looks like and judge for yourself, whether the building with its high quality PVC materials, is indeed 'Sympathetic; to Westgate's Station Road and Conservation Area.

It's more than likely that the council chamber will be packed to capacity once again at 7pm on 17th April, so please arrive early if you wish to attend.

Monday, April 08, 2013

A Shock Resignation

A shock announcement from the committee at the monthly meeting of the Westgate and Westbrook Residents' Association this evening, when seven of its members resigned. With the press not in attendance this evening, I decided that a public record would be useful for residents who were not able to attend and who might wish to see the supporting documentation online rather than in type, later in the month.

The following statement was read out by the minutes secretary, Chris Whittingham to a stunned audience:

"For a considerable time, Cllr King has repeatedly failed to act in accordance with the WWRA Constitution requiring him to consult with the elected Committee before making decisions or committing WWRA funds
The WWRA is not Cllr King’s personal organisation or the headquarters of the Independent Party. As an elected Committee we are no longer prepared to tolerate Cllr King’s refusal to engage with us if we disagree with him.

Our duty is to serve the best interests of the Membership, not the Chairman. We have offered to mediate with Cllr King in a bid to settle the differences listed in our Statement for the good of the WWRA. However, Cllr King will not speak to us.

As a consequence of Cllr King’s refusal to negotiate, we are left with no other choice than to reluctantly resign from the WWRA."

Cllr Tom King
The committee also referred to a collective statement of concern, made on 11th March in regard to its complaint to Cllr King (involving allegations made by TDC Cabinet Member, Cllr Iris Johnston at a previous meeting - see video):

Cllr King, the Chair of the WWRA, now running as an Independent candidate in the KCC elections next month, made very little comment other than remarking that he "Held his committee's resignation in the contempt it deserves" and would be seeking new committee members to replace them in time for next month's AGM. A list of vacant positions can be found at the Bakehouse in Westgate for anyone wishing to apply.

I had been planning to write a few words about the death of Baroness Thatcher, a much bigger shock today but I'm sure local people would prefer I share the details of this evening's surprise announcement instead.

Sunday, April 07, 2013

On the Gravy Train

Kim Seen on an a Visit to Thanet's Gateway Building
This weekend, you might have been forgiven for thinking the world had gone mad or just become rather more dysfunctional than the week before.

There's a plump young dictator in North Korea called Kim, who likes basketball, pizza and heavy artillery, loosely following the plot of an old Peter Sellers satirical comedy of the Cold War. He thinks that if he declares war on the United States and loses, he can confidently expect to have his country rebuilt, through the generous largesse that the United States bestows on all its vanquished enemies (as it did for Germany through the Marshall Plan at the end of World War II and Iraq more recently).

Then last week, you might have heard that our Police Commissioner for Kent, Ann Barnes, appointed the notorious socialite Paris Hilton to the new role of junior police commissioner. Paris then did what Paris does best on Twitter and I assume Facebook too, although we haven't seen the latter social network figure in the Daily Mail just yet. Young Paris has managed to become an unintended 'car-crash' celebrity of sorts, while simultaneously calling into question the judgement of Ann Barnes. In such unfortunate circumstances, I'm not convinced the position of youth commissioner remains tenable.

Paris Hilton
The Philpott trial has opened a completely new debate on welfare and entitlement as a lifestyle choice and this morning, I was listening to BBC Radio 4 and a programme on the history of the Welfare State; how what was imagined has changed so very much beyond the vision and finer purposes of its founding fathers. I recommend it as a lesson in how a plan built on the very best of principles can be overtaken by history and changing economic circumstances.

Here, at the centre of the political world with county elections just around the corner I sit here reflecting at the often turgid nature of local politics and what, in some quarters, appears as a sense of entitlement; a warped view of public service as a career choice which replaces employment.

After all, what might readers think, if any outwardly healthy, energetic and well-groomed leader of a local council had been claiming a disability pension for well over a decade? Based on the strength of the public's views this month, there's little sympathy for politicians and even less for politicians living on expenses.

It's rare for me to find common cause with Ian Driver, but people may also be irked by the lifestyle choice of the young Rodney, spending much of his time twittering enthusiastically that he is delivering political leaflets; hoping perhaps to make a career on Labour's gravy train, rather than looking for real work as you or I might understand it. Thanks to a little help and encouragement from family and influential political friends, collecting a series of generous allowances at the public expense, on an accelerated path that may soon exceed the average family income, here in Thanet.

Local politics on our own small island has become a career subsitute for some and I would argue that this lies at the heart of many of our problems, the often entrenched tribalism and the confidence deficit which now surrounds us. Local Government reforms were supposed to encourage politics as a part-time vocation but instead it frequently achieves the opposite and this is as good a time as any to encourage some frank and soul-searching introspection among ideas and time-expired councillors of all parties and in every corner of the land.

Saturday, April 06, 2013

Sun's Out

The Sun's finally re-appeared today after a short and very cold absence and before I go and get this afternoon's flying jobs out of the way between Tilbury and Hastings, I wanted to add my own diary farewell to an old friend of fourteen years, who left us this week.

Thanet, is an island of dog-lovers and I count myself among them, so many readers will know how very hard it is when the final decision time comes. Mind you, fourteen years for any dog is a pretty good innings and I would like to thank not only the Thanet Animal Hospital for their very sympathetic service but also our very kind local pet crematorium, who delivered Sammy back to her home to the following morning.

Changing the subject completely, I'm told that plans for this summer's Manston airshow are now very well developed with thousands of tickets to the big day on 22nd June sold. Whether I will be able to take part in a small way I don't yet know as I have to be out to Bahrain on business, early the following morning.

Pink Floyd's guitarist, David Gilmour's Stearman biplane
To put readers in a lighter mood, here's a video from a good friend, a former RAF pilot who has the unenviable privilege of having had to eject from a Hawker Harrier twice in his career and survive. Recently, he shared a photo of his squadron, showing which of his colleagues had not been so fortunate, which bought home to me what a wonderful aircraft it was and what a truly risky business it was flying one.

Friday, April 05, 2013

Localism at its Finest

Lisa Wickins and her dog Paxton

The public gathering this morning to object to plans to build a Tesco Express in Westgate-on-Sea, was both remarkable and impressive, given the awful weather and the early hour.

I hadn't expected so many people to arrive and to receive a new petition and letters to deliver to Thanet Council, representing the views of 1,900 residents, who are strongly opposed to the application.

The fact that even the elderly and the infirm was prepared to support the protest, expresses the degree of sentiment, felt by many people in Westgate, that allowing the building of a new store of this size, would set an unacceptable precedent for a town and a community which values its unique Victorian character and history.

The Weather isn't Stopping Me!
Members of the council's planning committee arrived just after 9am for the official site visit and by 09:20, the crowds were overflowing on to road outside Beano's cafe.

While the Kent Highways officer still maintains that the both Station Road and the plans for the building are quite acceptable in his view, we were all treated to a rather different street scene, as a bus and a TDC refuse collection lorry, struggled to negotiate the busy road with its 'ample provision' for parking.

The members of the Planning Committee, heard several speeches from the public and I added a few words of my own (see video). I did sense some degree of sympathy towards the Westgate residents but to reject the application, they need to identify a solid reason to refuse Tesco, within the planning legislation and our local plan. So it's now very much a matter of 'wait and see' what they come-up with on Wednesday 17th April, when a decision will be made.

Ample Parking Provided!
One interesting new objection voiced this morning by a railway worker, was that permission was previously refused  to develop on the site because of 'freshwater wells' that lie beneath it. I haven't heard of this before and so it's a new angle to explore.

I was very pleased to see the planning committee take its time to explore the site and hear a briefing from the council's planning officer, Luke Blaskett, on what the final building might look like.

Local trader, Reg Bell, pointed-out that if the plans were accurate, then a lorry parked hard-up against the Tesco loading bay, would knock-off the canopy in the plans. It was then revealed that Tesco's sympathetic reflection of the town's Victorian canopies, was actually a tiny facsimile of about a metre wide and not quite the grand vision of a conservation-friendly building they had been selling the public.

We have a Plan
So where are we now?

Beyond looking for any and every reason to object, which hasn't yet been explored, the final decision on whether we will welcome a Tesco Express to Westgate-on-Sea, rests in the hands of the planning committee.

I believe, as do many others, that we have a strong case for refusal built on real concerns surrounding heritage and conservation issues.

When I addressed the members of the planning committee this morning, I remarked once again that Westgate enjoys a unique heritage and history, which should not be trampled upon for the purposes of development when I believe need for such cultural vandalism cannot be shown to exist.

Cllr Jack Cohen - Chair of the Planning Committee
If a well-documented heritage conservation area and the visible strength of local opinion means anything to our council, then under our local plan, there should be sufficient reason to object to Tesco's efforts, as has been done successfully in so many other towns and villages throughout the country.

Without a doubt, Westgate needs a thriving local economy and new businesses but that should not come at the expense of its unique heritage and against the polarised views of a local community, who this morning, were prepared to brave the wind and the cold to make their opposition unequivocally clear.

The Planning Committee Meets

Thursday, April 04, 2013

Occupy Tesco

Plenty of Parking Available
This Friday morning, just after 9:00 am, residents of Westgate on Sea who are opposed to the development of a Tesco Express store in the town's Station Road, will be gathering to express their silent opposition, to the members of the council's Planning Committee, who will be arriving for a site visit at 09:30.

While I know that a great many people who would like to come, are away on their Easter holidays, there appears to be an equal number or more, who would like to make a visible statement of opposition and I will be be there with my camera to support the campaign and record it, along, I assume, with members of the press.

No Traffic in Station Road
I have spoken with BBC's Southeast Today and BBC Radio Kent (previous stories here) about covering the story and they may be there. I would ask everyone who plans to come to please make this a quiet demonstration, otherwise the visit will simply be abandoned and we will be no further forward.

Any intimidation of the members of the planning committee, who have an important job to do is quiet pointless and indeed self-defeating and let's remember that we would like them to reach a decision on Wednesday April 17th, based on a calm assessment of the facts, that we believe support Westgate's case for a refusal, built on a solid and convincing argument.

From the photographs opposite, you can see that I take issue with Kent Highway's assessment of Station Road. If you accept their report, then there's ample parking available on the double yellow lines, at all times of the day and no traffic congestion whatsoever. I will be interested to see if the members of the planning committee find it easy to park, even at 09:30 on a school holiday morning, which the objectors believe is a time, totally unrepresentative of the rest of the year.

As you might imagine, with the benefits changes now coming in, any councillor's own case load is bound to increase. While I realise the Council is also under real pressure, as a resident and a ward councillor, I find it quite unacceptable to experience periods when the phones simply are not answered, following the example of agencies such as the inland revenue. As the former Cabinet member responsible in the last administration, I made it my business to keep an eye on the Council's call centre performance but I worry that this may be slipping at a critical time, as the occasionally bizarre priorities of the current cabinet members don't follow my own. So perhaps the Council can devote a little more attention on what really matters in helping the most vulnerable members of our community and rather less attention on its finer socialist-directed pet projects, such as diversity management, which, I suggest, very few people in Thanet really give a damn about.

Lastly, I read yesterday, that the Borough of Lambeth, is unable to cope with its own housing pressures and is casting its eyes on Margate as a potential relief destination for its homeless families. Ironically, there's almost a sigh of relief that its Lambeth and not Croydon, as the latter has more serious problems to deal with and is closer. That said, any attempt by a London authority, to further depress our own local economy by repeating the exercise that placed us in today's position, where Council figures report, only 17% of the population of our most depressed, crime and poverty-stricken wards were born locally, needs to be avoided at any cost.

Sir Roger Gale is away this week but Thanet South MP, Laura Sandys, issued the following statement this morning:

"I am extremely concerned by reports that Lambeth Borough Council is proposing to relocate homeless families to Margate. We already have many families in Thanet who desperately need homes so this will only exacerbate our housing shortage. It will also put additional pressure on our public services; something that is simply not fair on local residents.

“I have taken immediate action by requesting an urgent meeting with the Chief Executive of Lambeth Borough. I have also made Freedom of Information requests to every London Authority on the issue of re-homing families in Thanet and will be calling for an adjournment debate on this particularly pressing matter.”

While some kind of reaction from our Labour Council Leader, Clive Hart, might be equally welcome, without my having to push him into action, I suspect that most readers would agree with both Laura and me on this subject. I would expect to hear expressions of outrage at my concerns, from a vocal pink-spectacled minority, who constantly refuse to recognise the policing, health, education and welfare costs associated with our frequently disproportionate genorosity as a cash-strapped and struggling seaside destination.

Tuesday, April 02, 2013

All Go for Amsterdam

The KLM Flight Arrives
Back from this morning's  inaugural launch of the KLM service between Manston and Amsterdam and I'm reminded of the similar excitement that surrounded the launch of EU Jet, some years ago and which you will probably find in the Thanet Life archives.

One unscheduled moment of comedy this morning, when a UKIP candidate for KCC turned-up, rosette and all for some kind of misguided political publicity opportunity and was firmly told where to go, as there is a time and a place for everything and a month before the county elections.

An important day for Manston and this time, we have a major carrier behind a daily service to one of Europe's largest international hub airports. Beyond the attraction of day trips to Amsterdam, there's the added benefit of Schipol as a springboard for scheduled flights to the rest of the world.

I chatted with BBC Radio Kent earlier and heard that Council Leader, Clive Hart, had declined to be interviewed, citing the County Council election 'Purdah' period of political blackout as a reason for such uncharacteristic reticence.

But hold on a moment. I also had a chat with Sir Roger Gale and then, KCC's leader Paul Carter, who 'had' been interviewed and as Clive isn't a candidate, quite why he had ducked-out of an interview opportunity to lend his public support to Manston, remains a little unclear.

Airport MD Charles Buchanan 
It does however appear very convenient to any passing cynic, that today's event falls neatly into the start of the pre-election period. But even the most talented master of hypocrisy might have been able to stand up and announce that Thanet's Labour administration, still basking in the reflected glow of its equalities and diversity report really does support any opportunity to develop Manston in contrast to using every opportunity to make life awkward for Infratil.

So Clive, having failed to welcome the return of the Search and Rescue service last week, looks to be adding one more political cop-out, in a long and distinguished series of evasive maneuvers around the subject of Manston's future. If democratic localism existed in the real sense, then everyone in Thanet might have a say rather, than the agenda being completely hijacked by the 'No Night Flights' campaign.

People in Thanet need jobs and opportunity and the airport is one of the biggest potential employment cards we have left to play. Not appearing on the BBC to lend any words of encouragement and support whatsoever, sends a very strong message from the Labour Group that Manston remains a political embarrassment that Clive Hart's transparent and diversity conscious colleagues would rather not talk about on camera or the radio.

So please allow me, as a Thanet resident on behalf of many readers who feel the same way as I do, to welcome the KLM service to Manston and wish the company every success in developing it further; that's of course as long as it doesn't come and go after dark!