Sunday, 30 September 2012

Regeneration and Political Focus

Kicking this blog off on a positive note, the Streets Ahead Margate crew have moved into their new HQ at 60 High Street (the former Boots Opticians). Hearty congratulations to the team.

I’d also like to give thanks to the lady who was working on the Rose Garden in Hawley Square Friday afternoon. Lovely job and Hawley Square looking gorgeous.

Back onto politics where, despite my best efforts, my point seems to have lost in the ether while debate, which started well enough with contributions from Cllrs Moores and Wells, reverted suspiciously back to the issue of Worrow who coincidentally has released another video rambling about the Conservatives. The video justifies my argument that the Conservatives must change their strategy towards him.

Continuing to tackle Worrow on the basis it will make Labour cut ties with TIG will only work for so long. Worrow’s history is well known, particularly the more controversial aspects, such as his previous two blogs and indeed his new YouTube Channel which I suspect will end in the same way as the blogs did but the TIGA site can only do so much before its impact wanes, as it has. Labour accepted they would be attacked for their link to TIG as part of the deal in any case. The TIGA site is not the answer to the Worrow problem and in fact is counter-productive.

There is a wider point to this which is far more important than the maneuvering within the Chamber. Outside the Chamber, it smacks of an immature Opposition, lashing out at Worrow for costing it the Council, rather than moving on, scrutinising the new administration on its policies and actions and challenging it to improve its proposals. Too much comment needlessly revolves around him and thus he attracts the publicity and justification, at least in his own mind, necessary to continue publicly criticising Conservatives for alleged homophobia or harassment. This is a serious flaw in Conservative strategy which opens it up to TIG attacks. This is why in retrospect the Diversity Champion motion was a bad move. It was only ever going to lead to the events we saw a while ago.

For the Conservatives to make the transition from the position it held before December to being an effective Opposition, I firmly believe it must break away from what appears to be a fixation with Worrow. I am not arguing that the Conservatives forgive him or let him off but to be smarter. By showing the patience and discipline not to give him what he wants, Worrow will be deprived the publicity he and the TIG crave and they will be left aside. 

Im not saying this approach would be easy. It would be incredibly tough and would need Conservatives to not issue Standards complaints against Worrow. The pay-off is that such discipline would show that the Conservatives are ready to govern again, seeing past the problems of the past to put the public first.

Going back to Streets Ahead Margate, the regeneration of our High Streets should be something which should motivate and unite Councillors regardless of affiliation into action. A Portas Pilot shouldn’t have been required for this to be important. In light of the treatment of the last Budget, it is evident that both Labour and Conservative Cllrs need to work together in order for the regenerative effort to work.

I pointed out way back during the Budget debate about the differing approaches to Council spending by the two main Groups and this underlines the point I'm making. The Conservatives were looking from the business side of things, about the opening up for business to grow, with dropping barriers or looking to business to help the Council perhaps by helping with events in place of Council funding. Labour on the other hand was looking for how TDC could by its own efforts and its own monies make it happen. Each approach in itself isn’t a solution to the economic problems facing Thanet but an amalgamation of the two could be forged which would be comprehensive enough to provide such a solution. You can argue the toss about who gets the credit later.

The Conservatives have an opportunity not to be missed where they can show leadership and maturity but they must also consider that their strategy with regard to Worrow has hindered more than helped. The reward to them and the public must surely be worth it.

Sunday, 23 September 2012

Sticks and Stones

Another Full Council meeting in which 3 Councillors dictated the tone of debate for the other 53. It was to be expected that TIG would have their moment over animal exports, though with the trade now moving to Ipswich and a reported 15hr travel time you might wonder what there is to celebrate...

The Leader's Report was published on the Thanet Lab site while Clive Hart was still in the Chamber which is a bit spooky, though I must make it clear, as Clive said at the meeting, that this speech wasn't scripted! There was a bit of an argument between Bayford and Hart over this Locality Board mess and who was really to blame for it. If it mattered that much, then try again to sort out an agreement. 

The item I previewed to some depth earlier this week was the recording of Council meetings motion. Driver said his piece as proposer with some irrelevant stuff thrown in to cause trouble. It eventually and reluctantly got a seconder but Driver alienated what support he had by going off on one about how the public should secretly record meetings. Thankfully Labour and the Conservatives voted against this.

On a side note, reference was made to a Statutory Instrument No.2089. It doesn't relate to public recording of meetings though it does affect access to information. A quick read of it indicates limited impact to TDC as a lot of it is already done as routine.

We then moved onto the "Diversity Champion" section where all hell broke loose. Worrow nervously enjoyed his moment shouting "criminal" and "homophobe" at Ken Gregory and "call Ken Gregory" at another Member. All three TIG Members made speeches slamming the Conservatives, including its supporters, as harassing Worrow and having an underlying homophobia. I must admit, the logic is irrefutable...

A number of Councillors focused on what impact Worrow had made via his role as Diversity Champion, without making reference to the controversies, but those moments of clarity went nowhere towards avoiding the downward spiral, nor did we get any answers to those points. For example what contribution has Worrow actually made to the upcoming Equality Strategy aside from being present at the meetings?

I quite liked Iris Johnston's speech speaking many Members thoughts of how sick she was of all this talk of homophobia. I suspect a lot of Councillors across the Chamber and across party lines agree. This debate should have been cut short as soon as it started getting nasty. Yes, it would have meant a very short debate but there was absolutely nothing to be gained from continuing it. All you end up with is bitterness and resentment which rolls over onto future meetings. An opportunity came when a Labour Member wanted to end the debate but Chair Doug Clark rejected that saying that there hadn't been enough debate. The debate had gone on for some time at that point.

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Site Visit for East Kent College

Star item tonight as expected was the East Kent College application where the only speaker in favour of the application was the Principal Graham Razey. The Officer tried to make the case but wasn't having much luck persuading the sceptical public gallery on the potential impact on nearby properties regarding overlooking and the parking/traffic problems. Councillors weren't impressed either with this one on the traffic issues. The Highways Officer spoke though I got the feeling he was a bit caught off guard. Its gone to Site Visit, to be held on 5th October and should return to Planning for final decision on 17th October.

The Hotel Leslie application was approved after a bit of debate, but the only other option would have been Site Visit and its a pretty well known site. When you consider what's there at present, the plans are an improvement. You can argue about the heritage of the building but I lived in Warwick Road for 3 years and never liked that building. Demolition is much better than trying to convert that. With the Embassy plans approved too, the street scene down there should be much improved.

The Park Avenue, Broadstairs  application for extensions to the property went to Site Visit. Its a bit difficult to judge this one without visiting the site because while the report may say there are big distances between properties on the neighbouring street, there's clearly a serious problem and so the Site Visit seems the sensible thing to do.

We also got a briefing from the Principal Enforcement Officer which is always interesting to hear about. Its quite a good example of how the Council is having to operate under constraints and trying to be flexible in sorting out issues they have to deal with, whether it be a breach of condition, or a giant Gorilla on Margate seafront. I have a lot of respect for Steve Albon, having heard him do this talk before and a similar talk at Manston Parish Council back in June. This item ends up as ever a mixed back of good the bad and the ugly and this was no different.

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

This Week's Planning and Full Council

Planning Committee meeting tomorrow (Wednesday, 7pm) with Thanet/East Kent College and the Hotel Leslie plans up for consideration. Given the scale of the works planned for both, they should get a good going over. During the meeting we might get a mention of the possible effects of government changes to what are known as Permitted Development Rights, this aspect of planning regs appearing more frequently these days in deliberations. Its a short agenda but an interesting one nonetheless.

Full Council comes the next day with a couple of motions, the latter on Animal Welfare Inspections  has just emerged asking for Council to take advice to making inspections compulsory for exporters from the port, such advice setting TDC back a few grand. I'm not understanding this motion so I'm going to wait to hear whats behind this specific request.

The motion on recording Council meetings though is one I'm wondering about. The Council spends money on recording Full Council meetings, producing videos which are widely criticised for being of poor quality. Of course this motion came off the back of the Tony Flaig incident, which was resolved and had nothing to do with this motion and more to do with an overzealous Council staffer. Has any member of the public asked to record a meeting themselves?

Instead of dealing with the Council-produced recordings, the proposal is for the public to record it themselves. While its for the Chairman of the meeting to interpret whatever guidance appears, which may or may not fulfil the requirements of this motion, what will happen if the more twitchy Councillors object to equipment near them recording their private conversations with their neighbours? Yes, I do mean John Worrow...

(One thought to add and maybe a Councillor could help here, what's the public attendance for meetings not held in the Chamber? A lot of OSP sub-Groups, along with Governance and Audit typically hold meetings elsewhere. A member of the public with a camcorder in the Austen Room is likely to be pretty distracting even if it fulfils the motion.)

While its good that the Council is going out and seeking views on the Skate Park plans, surely logic would dictate going to consultation before deciding the sites? I understand the reasons behind that, of the shortness of time and the need to move speedily onto securing funding but its a bit odd to go to consultation on something which to a certain extent has already been decided by TDC.

Saturday, 8 September 2012

A Few Local Matters

Another blog of whatever is going on...

We now have two Margate Town Teams with the creation of Streets Ahead Margate. I wish this new Group the best of luck though it’s going to have to work far harder than the existing Group as the official Town Team has the TDC Cabinet Member, who in effect has the keys to those Portas funds, in their team. Its unfortunate that there has to be two Groups but I hope the Council will treat them fairly given they are both looking to improve the town. The issue of Margate's regeneration needs careful attention and support from the Council which takes me to the next item.

The Parking Review has been kicked off with a questionnaire, criticised for asking questions that shouldn’t matter. I’m not convinced. It’s a routine question to ask and probably has more to do with compliance with legal requirements than any desire to peer into private business. Councils have gotten into trouble for not crossing the ‘t’s and dotting the ‘i’s on policy matters. Also the asking for the postcode thing may seem intrusive but given this policy affects Thanet, they have to pin down whether you are actually a resident or not. Its the same rule for petitions. 

To help with the debate, and to fill in some detail to the readers, I will be transcribing the Full Council debate from April which approved the current set of parking fees and charges. It was controversial but it’s the only video of Council debate on the issue.

Anti-social behaviour has been an issue for a while in Westgate as we see most recently with the brainless actions of a few destroying local assets such as the Westgate Cricket Club pavilion. During the election it was one of the top concerns of local residents and I fully support Simon Moores’s proposal of a dispersal order. Of course it might be difficult to put into effect amongst the ongoing argument about police numbers but I remember the last order between October 2009 and April 2010 had success so it could be worth another go.

And on a final - Planning related - note, you might recall TDC bought a property via auction on Ethelbert Crescent earlier this year. Well, a planning application has appeared to convert the 13 bedsits into three family sized flats. For those who know how to get around the UK Planning site the reference is 12/0638. As TDC is the applicant it’s going to have to come before Planning Committee sometime soon, as the Embassy Hotel one did.