Monday, March 31, 2014

Kept in the Dark

An opportunity to write a quick blog entry on the train from Victoria this evening. I have been over at Westminster and it's a pleasant change to see dusk at seven O'clock at last.

On the way to London earlier, I discovered, quite by accident that we have a secure home for vulnerable boys in Westgate, I was quite unaware of.

Lately I had spotted some very young characters hanging around the station during school hours and others locally had remarked on the same. However, it appears that one lad, who I saw when buying my ticket, had absconded because I came across the search party looking for him.

Just as I got on my own train, I spotted him again, so with the name of the home clearly ex-directory or Google search, I quickly called our local police inspector to pass on his whereabouts to the home and told him where to find it.

I had a quick phone chat with Cllr King and he was equally unaware of the home's presence. They are not obliged to tell anyone of course but local readers with a long memory, will recall that at one point we had twelve such homes in the immediate area and that had consequences for Westgate before this number was reduced.

We are supposed to have a policy now that either prevents or discourages the placing of vulnerable children from outside Thanet but I am concerned by the possibility of these 'Slipping under the radar' because there is no duty to declare their presence to the authorities or council.

Westgate always stands in danger of being over-subscribed in the treatment of problems that start elsewhere, principally because of its large houses from another era. A week or two ago, I saw the same lad, of about twelve, sharing a cigarette at the station, during school hours, with one of our 'Recovering' alcoholics who had clearly put recovery behind him. This is exactly the same type of risk that put the Cliftonville homes in the national spotlight and should not be happening. It's absolute madness, to mix the vulnerable with the recovering and possibly even those on the register or early release as we have seen too often in other parts of Thanet.

Where do we go from here. I honestly don't know. In the time I have been a councillor, the question, keeps reappearing and the answer remains the same, that the local community and the council has no right to know about such matters, even when density or proximity to risk factors might make this a matter of common sense or even basic child protection. It's only when things go awry that the hand-wringing and finger-pointing begins; somebody comes-up with a policy of a kind; promptly forgotten or ignored and the problem starts all over again after a decent pause.

As a Westgate councillor, I would very much like to know about facilities of every kind that might have a bearing on the health, well-being and ordered life of my community but instead, I can only play the part of a political mushroom, kept in the dark with so many questions left unanswered.

Finally, if you live in Westgate and Westbrook, please keep your eyes peeled for unusual activity during the day. One of our local locksmiths was burgled this week and despite the highest possible levels of deterrence,  I'm told that it appears that entry was gained through a forced side window, much too small for an adult. Whoever went through there, then opened the house-up to accomplices to ransack. All rather reminds me of the 'Artful Dodger' character in a Dickens novel, except that this is devastating to people's lives; I spoke to someone else recently whose home had been burgled.

Please make sure you take every precaution as we may have an organised gang working the area, looking for opportunities during the day. If you see anything suspicious, please call the police.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

A Serious Game of Two Halves

I have been a little busy today as you may have seen from the papers and the  sports news.

I'm not quite sure when I 'm going to have a chance to write a proper blog entry but please consider this a holding page until I surface for air.

The video is of the banner pickup from Blackpool. Very windy and very bumpy it was too but it also got me from Thanet to Blackpool in under two hours with a strong tailwind.

Group Photo 
I was terrified of missing and throwing-out the arrival timing at Old Trafford but fortunately, for me at least, it was my lucky day and all went smoothly and as planned. More in the Sunday papers I expect!

(c) Jim Bennett

Monday, March 24, 2014

Manston's Final Fears

While the local paper carried several of my comments on the news of Manston's threatened closure, I've been a little reluctant to add much more, when I'm aware of so much effort going on in the background, to save both an important piece of local history and one of the few, unrealized and large potential economic opportunities that exists on the island outside of tourism.

The first I heard of the story was when the BBC called me on the high-speed train to London from Margate, characteristically crawling it's way towards Ashford behind a delayed Charing Cross-bound service from Ramsgate. As the holder of the 'Shadow; operations cabinet portfolio, this came as a big surprise and my Twitter followers will have seen me send of a quick 'Tweet' asking if anyone else knew of this.

Thanks to the immediacy of Twitter, I had my answer in minutes, which is of course what everyone else now knows after the event. It all seems to have happened in great secrecy; a 'Faites Accompli,' if you like and I'm not alone in being unhappy with the process, although if you look back on Thanet Life, and the many stories on the airport over ten years of blogging, you might see some level of predictability, following the last Council debate and vote on the airport.

Simon Moores - Thoughts on Manston Airport
I've read some comments from councillors on Facebook and elsewhere and quite frankly, I regard several as expressions of the problem rather than the solution; that's if we can find one. We know why we arrived at this point and we know that restricting the operations of the airport has been a pillar of Labour's policy.

I respect that many people feel strongly about the airport and would rather not have one and I've seen all kinds of suggestions, a Center Parc and a giant IKEA among them. I've also warned on many occasions that the existence of the airport protects Thanet from a significant housing development project in the middle of the island but already, an application is already in for these as predicted.

If I think of every similar case in the past, where the airports I knew once stood, there are now lines of neat Barratt Homes, spreading for acres.

I'm very impressed, that now the awful realisation has set in among the public, a petition of ten thousand signatures has been raised. However, regardless of the strength and feeling of public opinion, Mrs Gloag is seemingly holding all the cards at the moment; it's her airport and our two Members of Parliament are working very hard to try and identify a purchaser and potential source of rescue, - I had a chat with Sir Roger Gale on the subject - which might also allow it to become the Air Sea Rescue hub as reported last March.

Despite Labour's protestations, we arrived at this point for very narrow political reasons rather than economic ones. A strong pressure group, achieved the results it wanted and a poll of residents on the airport approach corridor, was offered as proof positive by Cllr Hart's minority Labour administration,that the people of Thanet were in favour of restricting Manston's operating hours.

Quoting from my blog entry at the time:

"Cllr Ian Driver of the Thanet Independent Group (TIG) suggested that the airport now be closed altogether and that in the near future, the aviation industry will cease to exist. It's worth noting that the survey of local opinion only took in less than 5% of Thanet's population directly under the flight path in Ramsgate and that Labour was already committed to this decision as part of their election manifesto."

This is a terrible situation for the two flying schools, TG Aviation and Polar helicopters to be in, as well as the many other businesses and families that rely on the airport for their income. I'm reassured by powerful desire of so many people to save Manston and allow it a chance to fulfill at least some of its potential as source of jobs and economic growth for Thanet. I do worry though, that we although Manston isn't going to go quietly and without a fight, we have been given so very little time to remedy a difficult situation and already, I'm told, that skilled staff are applying for jobs elsewhere.

For the majority of residents who wish to see Manston thrive, let's remember, we have been here once before and it's not over until we say so.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Don't Inhale Suddenly

I've been away, off and on, this month, which may explain the gap in my blogging coverage. I return to discover that a Ramsgate councillor, Ian Driver, wants to open a cannabis cafe in Margate and that our old friend, Birchington's Cllr John Worrow, is now blaming UKIP and perhaps even Nigel Farage personally, for attempting to 'poison' his political career, with an unfounded allegation of a serious sexual assault.

Of course, it all happens here, as we know and quite why Ian Driver would prefer to open the first smoking rooms, since the 19th century in Margate, rather than his home of Ramsgate, where he is a councillor, I can't quite follow. Neither it seems, can the BBC.

As for John Worrow, his video account of why police dropped charges, contradicts what I have heard, in regard to the evidence but I'm sure everyone will be happy to welcome him back to his seat in the council chamber as Cllr Hart's principal cheerleader.

If you watch the video, then John Worrow appears to be suggesting that the Conservatives and UKIP, somehow colluded, in an effort to remove him from the council chamber, so that together they might overturn Labour's very slim minority. If that was indeed the case, then you may have noticed that Labour remain very much in control of Thanet Council's political merry-go-round and John Worrow's absence to date, has made not one iota of difference beyond making the meetings a little shorter. For the administration to change would require all the independents to vote Labour out or a sudden illness to thin their ranks decisively at the next council meeting. Both of these appear somewhat unlikely.

Meanwhile, I see the criminal justice system is being used once again, this time with Cllr Driver, making a complaint to the Serious Economic Crime Unit of the Kent and Essex Police regarding possible misconduct in public office by a senior Thanet Council officer in relation to a planning application submitted by East Kent Opportunities LLP for development of 550 houses on land adjacent to the New Haine Road.

Daily Mail
I'm starting to wonder whether Kent Police may have to set-aside a budget for dealing with criminal complaints against both the council and its councillors, as it appears to be starting to become a habit. If you throw in Freedom of Information Requests and Subject Access Requests as well, then less than ten individuals here in Thanet, with a passionate and consuming interest in every small detail of the local government decision-making system, are using-up a remarkable level of resource indulging what I can only conclude in several well-worn cases, to be an obsessive hobby. I'm sure you will have seen these individuals popping-up on the local blogs with monotonous regularity.

I've heard nothing back from Kent police on my own case yet. It's somewhat ironic as I've now met two government ministers and spoken with several national newspapers.

The view from London, at least, is that Kent police are not covering themselves in glory, in what looks remarkably like a very minor version of 'Plebgate.' and I already have my first FOI back from the Police Commissioner's office, which I will ultimately share and which confirms, in my view that a contradiction exists between the Office of Ann Barnes and Kent Police. I'm waiting for Kent Police to produce the documents I have requested from their side of the conversation and then, I hope, I will have a complete picture of what happened on or around 15th October of last year, to suddenly encourage the police to resurrect a complaint they had already dropped and to it, explore a complaint of a conspiracy against three local councillors.

Finally, I see that both the Daily Mail and the local paper appears to be 'Bigging-up' the Broadstairs meeting this afternoon to discuss a cannabis cafe culture for Thanet. Quite why, I don't know, as nobody has a mandate and I doubt the government are poised to change the existing legislation to oil the publicity of Cllr Ian Driver's latest political bandwagon.

Thanet already has a problem with social displacement and some very odd characters wind-up on our doorstep, courtesy of the probation service and mental health units across the south-east, looking for cheap rented accommodation. Imagine for one moment what the consequences might be, for our children and most vulnerable residents  of de-criminalising public cannabis use locally? It would, I suspect, encourage a drugs culture in an area already struggling with deprivation and substance abuse statistics which are either the worst or among the worst in southern England.

How many people would wish to take that risk?

Tuesday, March 04, 2014

Congratulations Kerry Boyd from Garlinge, Kent's Youth Commissioner

Hot off Twitter this morning, is that Kerry Boyd from Garlinge has been appointed by Ann Barnes as Kent's new youth commissioner. Kerry, aged 19, will start part-time as of the 5th March 2014, taking up the role full-time as of the beginning of April.

I saw Kerry, who has been working as a PE assistant at Hartsdown, only last week so this is a complete surprise and I would like to wish her the very best of luck in her important new role, representing Kent's young people.

Pancake Races Westgate 2014

It's been a bright and sunny morning for the annual pancake races at Westgate on Sea and the competitors, who have been training hard for the event since Christmas, were ready for a morning of highly competitive racing along Station Road.

I've shared some of my photos to Flickr and they are available for download if you wish.

Well done everyone involved and everyone who helped make it happen. I can remember the races over 50 years ago and it's wonderful to see the tradition maintained in the town.

The photos now appear to have 'Gone global' putting a little bit of Westgate in the news.

Westgate Goes Global

Monday, March 03, 2014

The Forgotten Streets of Cliftonville

Following the trend of using the blogs to comment on the plans for a Cliftonville conservation area, following Thursday's council meeting, I've added one here.

I did say, during the debate, that my own concern, was that if the conservation area was rolled-out, piecemeal, then the developers would roll ahead of it, knocking down anything that might be costly to support in a conservation area. Think of places like Cyprus and you'll know what I mean.

Residents can share their views on the consultation now taking place by e-mailing or writing to Consultation, Thanet District Council, PO Box 9, Margate, CT9 1XZ.

Conservative Group Press Release: 

The Labour administration at Thanet Council rejected calls to promote a conservation area across Cliftonville at last Thursday’s council meeting. Instead, having done nothing with appraisals that were completed in 2011, they voted to roll out conservation slowly, over a smaller area, section by section, signalling to developers where and when they are safe to demolish.

Cllr Julie Marson, Shadow Cabinet Member for Planning, commented:  "facing the embarrassment of having publicly to admit their laziness in dealing with the issue of conservation in Cliftonville, the humiliation of being booed in public meetings by frustrated residents, and the strength of the movement started by Laura Sandys MP last summer, the Labour Cabinet had nowhere to turn. So they did the cynical thing: rejected cross party working, reinvented a less effective form of conservation than they were asked for, and claimed it was their intention to do this all along."

Tweeters in the chamber and angry residents outside could not understand the lack of real action from the Cabinet, and immediately feared for the impact on the streets of Cliftonville abandoned by the Labour Party.