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Monday, 14 November 2016



 
 
 
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Thursday, 10 November 2016

High Sherrif’s Posse to Raid Dreamland?


Documents  published on the Companies House website reveal that  Charles Whitbread of the Whitbread  brewing family, and the current High Sherriff of Bedfordshire (http://www.centralbedfordshire.gov.uk/council/high-sheriff/charles-whitbread.aspx),  loaned £500,000 to a company called Southeast Retail Limited in March 2016.  Southeast Retail owns the Sands Hotel in Margate and one of its directors and part-owners is Nick Connington who is also a director of Sands Heritage, the operator of the Margate Dreamland Amusement Park.

The High Sherriff who is appointed by the Privy Council and acts as the Queen’s representative in Bedfordshire, has secured his £500,000  loan to Southeast Retail by placing a charge on most  of the Dreamland Amusements Park’s fairground rides including the Big Wheel  the Cyclone Twist, the Swing Boats and the Helter Skelter. If the loan is not repaid then the High Sherriff can muster a posse, mosey on down to Margate and seize the  fairground rides. And the risk of that possibility looks to be growing.

According to Companies House both Sands Hotel Margate Limited and SouthEast Retail have failed to submit their annual accounts which were deadlined fir submission  by late September 2016. Almost 2 months after the deadlines elapsed  and nothing appears to have been submitted. Late submission of accounts is often seen as a symptom of a company in financial trouble and Companies House treat late submission extremely seriously  here’s what they say

“Failure to file confirmation statements, annual returns or accounts is a criminal offence which can result in directors being fined personally in the criminal courts. Any criminal proceedings taken as a result of non-filing of confirmation statements, annual returns or accounts is separate from and in addition to any late filing penalty imposed against the company for filing accounts late. The registrar may also take steps to strike the company off the public record if these documents are delivered late. There is no late filing penalty imposed on confirmation statements or annual returns that have been filed late. Failure to pay the late filing penalty can result in enforcement proceedings”.
So the question is will the High Sherriff of Bedfordshire and his posse be  riding into town in the near future to seize his goods? If he does Dreamland will be left without most of its rides, apart from the Scenic Railway which isn’t working anyway. Yeee haaaa!! Ride them Dreamland cowboys!!

 



Thanet's Child Poverty Shame

Former Thanet Councillor and Citizens Advice Manager, Ian Driver, described as “deplorable and shameful” news that Thanet has the highest rate of child poverty in south east England. According to a report produced yesterday  (8 November) by the Campaign to End Child Poverty (an organisation made up of more 100 children’s charities, child welfare organisations, faith groups and trade unions    ), over one third (34.4%) of children in Thanet are living in poverty. Based on the latest population figures, this equates to almost 11,500 children up the age of 18.

This is the highest rate of child poverty out of all of the 67 local government areas in south east England. Hasting was second highest with a child poverty rate of 32%; Southampton was third with 29.9%; Dover fourth at 29.9%; Shepway fifth  at 29.4% and Portsmouth sixth at 28.9%. The figures show that 18 out of 23 electoral wards in Thanet have child poverty rates of over 20% indicating the depth and spread of this problem. The 5 Thanet wards with the highest rates of child poverty are Cliftonville West 48.49%; Margate Central 47.57%; Newington 43.97% Eastcliff 43.49% Dane Valley 42.98%.

Said Driver “these deplorable and shameful statistic should be a wake-up call to Thanet and Kent County councils and Central Government. They must work together to  develop plans to regenerate Thanet and tackle once and for all the deep seated economic malaise which has blighted the district for two generations. It’s totally unacceptable that one third of our children are being brought up in poverty. Poverty is a well-known cause of educational under achievement and reduced life chances. Our politicians, civil servants and public services  cannot stand by and allow 11,500 children to  have their  futures blighted through no fault of their own”.

He went on say that “Central Government should make available extra funds for major infrastructure investment in Thanet including the reduction of  HS1 journey times to London to less than an hour; the transformation of  Ramsgate’s port and seafront into a leisure focused visitor destination with a modern 21st century marina.  We also need to support  the development  of the former Manston Airport site into a thriving commercial and industrial park and the further expansion and growth of the ex-Pfizer site at Discovery Park as a home for high-tech companies. Last but least the Government should designate Thanet as an Enterprise Zone, allocate funding for several thousands of  desperately  needed affordable rent council homes in the district. These measures will encourage business to invest in Thanet and  create  decent, well paid, paid jobs Thanet so urgently needs and which will help to reduce and eliminate the appalling situation of one third of our children living poverty”

Wednesday, 9 November 2016

Ramsgate Port Industrialisation Outrage Continues

In my last blog post I wrote about the secrecy and lack of public consultation surrounding the development of the Ramsgate Maritime Plan under Labour in 2014 and UKIP’s continuation of this arrogant and undemocratic approach in relation to its plans to transform the port into a heavily industrialised facility. I warned that industrialisation of Ramsgate  port, especially UKIPs plans for a freight terminal with a capacity of up to 1million HGVs per year and the expansion of Brett’s aggregate processing and concrete batching operations would be disastrous for the town.  The risk of damaging pollution would be high.  The threat to  Ramsgate’s reviving visitor economy would be serious and the long-term economic viability of  a freight ferry operation  extremely doubtful in view of Dover Harbour’s massive £200million  expansion programme  which begins next year.

Little did I know, when I was writing the article, that this muddleheaded plan was anything more than a failed £6 million funding bid to the South East Local Economic Partnership (SELEP) which would hopefully be cast to one side and forgotten about now that the powers that be have rejected it.  Well it hasn’t been!  And just like the mythological Hydra which sprouts new heads when one is chopped off, the plan to industrialise Ramsgate Port has come back again – this time in the form of a document called “Economic Growth Strategy for Thanet” produced I am told at a cost of £55,000 by external  consultants.

To be discussed next week at a Cabinet meeting  by TDCs  political leaders, the Economic Strategy includes a section glamorously described as Transformational Initiatives. Top of this list are proposals for Developing the Port at Ramsgate.  But there is nothing remotely transformational or glamourous about these proposals. They are no more than a rehash of  Labour’s secretly  developed Maritime Plan of 2014  and UKIPs failed £6million  funding bid which was humiliatingly  rejected by  the SELEP a couple of months ago.

Once again these discredited proposals for the port are not analysed and tested as to their viability or sustainability. There is no mention of any market testing or demand analysis for a RoRo freight ferry service at Ramsgate. Not a word is said about what the  environmental and pollution implications of a freight ferry service and  expanded aggregate/ concrete batching operations  at the port might have on the town and its protected marine sites. Nor is there any analysis of how an industrialised port and seafront might impact upon Ramsgate’s visitor economy and whether or not more jobs will be created or destroyed in the long-term by embarking upon the proposed changes at Ramsgate Port. And not a word is said about the massive £200million expansion of Dover Harbour which begins next year and how competition from Dover and also the new London Gateway Freight Port on the Thames Estuary  might impact upon ferry services from Ramsgate.

Last not but least I was unable to find a single mention of the phrase public consultation anywhere in the Economic Strategy document. Like Labour before them, TDCs UKIP leadership appear to be determined to push through badly thought out  plans which are not evidence-based; which haven’t been properly risk assessed;   which lack economic analysis and which are hugely unpopular, without any public engagement and without consideration of any alternative ideas for the future of the port and seafront.

This is bad governance in the extreme. The risk of failure is high and the consequences of failure for local people would be massive. Pushing these proposals through would also be grossly hypocritical. As I mentioned before UKIPs 2015 election manifesto says that the party is committed to bringing more transparency and openness to local government; that the community is the boss, and that local people will have more power over planning. Well here we are in the only council in the UK controlled by UKIP and everything they have promised about being a force for democratic good has been thrown out the window in order to push  through plans for Ramsgate Port which are economically and environmentally dangerous without any public consultation and without any discussion of alternatives.

Just like Labour the LibDems and the Conservatives, UKIP is firmly part of the political establishment they falsely claim to be challenging. They lie, cheat, bully and deceive just like of the rest of them.  And like the rest of the political  establishment they only listen  to themselves, unless of course their seats at the council are  threatened by people power

Sunday, 6 November 2016

Ramsgate Port, Brett & Secrecy

Brett Aggregates’ proposals  to expand their activities at Ramsgate Port,  reveal just how unaccountable, secretive and out of touch our elected councillors and senior council officials are becoming on matters related  to planning, environmental protection,  and economic development in Thanet. There is also a very disturbing pattern of arrogant   “we know best” attitudes emerging within Thanet’s political establishment which are  clearly demonstrated  in a quote from council leader Chris Wells in this week’s Thanet Gazette where he says “I make no apology for investing in the Port of Ramsgate and wanting it to succeed for the benefit of people of Ramsgate and Thanet as whole”.

I agree with Cllr Wells that there needs to be investment in the  port, but had he  been at Oddfellows Hall on 27th October  he would have realised that the 200 plus people who attended the packed  public meeting about Brett Aggregates plans for Ramsgate  port were vehemently opposed  to his idea of investment in the port, which  is  to industrialise it. Most people disagree with Cllr Wells’ vision of a heavily industrialised port belching out massive levels of pollution, damaging the health of local people and threatening  our protected marine environments. Most people prefer instead leisure based and traditional maritime uses of Ramsgate’s seafront. But council leader Wells isn’t listening. Arrogantly he makes “no apology” for pursuing a policy of environmental destruction which, if not halted, will surely destroy Ramsgate’s slowly reviving visitor economy which has massive potential for economic regeneration.
But to be fair to Cllr Wells he’s not entirely to blame for pursuing out of touch, and potentially risky polices for Ramsgate port.  He actually inherited  these policies from Thanet Council’s former Labour administration who developed, in secret and behind closed doors, plans to heavily industrialise the port.  But instead of choosing, as a new Council leader with  a large  mandate,  to review and consult local people about these policies he decided to ignore public opinion and accelerate the process of industrialisation through  secretive efforts to secure Government funding to develop a freight based port with capacity for up to 1 million HGV lorries per year and an expanded capacity for aggregate processing and concrete making.   

So let’s rewind and look at how we got to where we are, and how we might be able to undo the mess we are in. The best place to begin is the Ramsgate Maritime Plan.  This document was approved by Thanet council’s then ruling Labour Cabinet on 31 July 2014. Amongst other things the plan says the port strategy will concentrate on the development  “of RoRo business with a focus of the commodity supply chains” which in layman terms means freight, rather than passenger  ferry services. To support a freight service the Plan says that the council will explore the  potential “for a longer term inland port/port-centric logistics/strategic rail freight interchange”. The Plan goes on to say that the “port operates an aggregates facility in partnership with Brett Aggregates. There is scope to handle greater volumes (of aggregate) which the commercial port will exploit within the region”. So what we have here is a policy for the port of Ramsgate which was agreed by the previously Labour controlled council for a freight based port with an expanded capacity for aggregate processing and associated concrete manufacture. This is precisely the policy which is now being followed by Council Leader Wells.
But this policy is, in my opinion, democratically illegitimate and contrary to the  wishes of local people.  Why? Well according to a Freedom of Information request I submitted at the time, Labour-led Thanet Council held just three consultation events to discuss its Maritime Plan. All of these consultation events were held in secret behind closed doors  and the Council decided who the consultees would be, with only one person representing the public. It’s hard to believe that a plan for the future of Ramsgate Port which will have a  profound  impact upon the regeneration and economic future of the town,  was decided upon, by a so-called democratic socialist party, in what amounted to be total secrecy. This cannot be judged, by any criteria,  to have been a democratic decision and its not in my opinion legitimate. Furthermore, in the 2.5 years which have elapsed since this plan was agreed the O’Regan, and now the Brett proposals,  for potentially polluting concrete and aggregate related operations at the port have galvanised public opinion in  Ramsgate strongly against the idea of large scale aggregate processing  and hundreds of  HGVs at the port. Yet Cllr Wells makes “no apologies” for pursuing policies which were undemocratically  decided, which   nobody supports and which, with the massive expansion of nearby Dover Harbour beginning  next year, makes no economic sense either.

Rather than taking account of these factors and instead of giving careful thought to the recently published Ramsgate Economic Plan which foresees a visitor based economy for the town, Cllr Wells has rushed headlong into implementing  Labour’s secretly decided, and now massively discredited plans for an industrialised port.  And just like Labour before him, Cllr Wells, is trying to achieve his aim in secrecy by sneaking his plans for the port under the radar so that nobody knows until it’s too late. Through the avenue of the little-known  Kent and Medway Economic Partnership (KMEP)  and then to the even lesser well-known South East Local Enterprise Partnership (SELEP)  Cllr Wells steered a bid for  £4.17million  government funding to industrialise Ramsgate port including a doubling of  HGV traffic handling capacity from 500,000 vehicles a year to 1 million; the development of an alongside quay for unloading greater quantities of aggregates, the building of a double dekker RoRo Berth and the construction of a freight logistics base near the former Manston Airport site. Cash strapped Thanet Council  was happy to top up the Government grant with £2million – presumably from the  £3million it has just received from the sale of the freehold of the derelict Ramsgate seafront Pleasurama site.
As far as I am able to tell there was no consultation whatsoever with democratically elected TDC councillors about this funding bid. The agendas and minutes of the  Cabinet, full Council meetings  and the Joint Transportation Board for 2015-16 make no mention of the fact that Thanet Council was seeking  a large Government grant to industrialise the port and that it would need to raid its own massively depleted capital reserves to the tune of £2million to help to fund this project. Worse still, just like Labour, Cllr Wells and TDC officers deliberately  failed to alert the people of Ramsgate to this funding application and seek their opinion of whether it was a good thing or bad thing. There were no press releases. No announcements of the council’s website. No effort to ask local people  what they thought  Why? because Councillor Wells and top council bosses knew damn well that if there was a consultation their plans would have been overwhelmingly rejected. And of course being part of Thanet's elite political establishment they  arrogantly  believe that they know best and you know fuck all about anything. Just as they knew best with the TransEuropa Ferries £3.4 million secret debt disaster and the ongoing £20million Margate Dreamland nightmare.

Fortunately my sources at the KMEP and the SELEP tell me that TDCs bid for money was a rushed and badly put together “dogs breakfast”  which failed to meet  sufficiently high  standards to be included in the final  list of funding bids to be put forward to the  Government for  consideration. They also felt that it was bit odd for TDC to bidding for money to expand Ramsgate port’s RoRo capacity when, almost 4 years after the collapse of Trans Europa Ferries,  the council has failed  to attract a new operator and when, less than 20 miles away,  Dover Harbour is undergoing  a £200 million expansion programme which will massively increase its passenger and freight ferry capacity and which will out-compete Ramsgate by any imaginable maritime industry standard or measurement. Sadly Thanet Council,  and presumably Cllr Wells,  are on record as saying that they  intend to rework and strengthen their  bid for the industrialisation of the port and resubmit it to Government at the earliest opportunity. Which reminds me of a very interesting paragraph  in the Ramsgate Economic Plan which says
“Ramsgate has suffered several major shifts in its employment opportunities. It was a supplier of labour to the Kent coalfield and for the myriad of light industrial businesses that grew up in the post-war period to service these industries and the booming holiday trade. The port used to have regular ferry services and a Hovercraft facility. However, many of these sources of employment have waxed and waned or disappeared completely. Instead of a reallocation of resources there has been a retrenchment in investment and the local economy has found it difficult to respond to changing markets and economic circumstances. Ramsgate has been in a type of mourning for the past; recent failures have instilled something akin to a fear of change. This could be termed post industrial trauma.”

So where do we go from here? Well the rejection of the bid to Government to industrialise the port; my exposure of the secretive policy making  shenanigans  surrounding the port;   changing public opinion about the port and  how best it  should be used in future; coupled with the emergence of new thinking in the Ramsgate Economic Plan,  mean that time and space should be allocated for a proper democratic discussion about  developing a “People’s Plan” for Ramsgate’s port, harbour and seafront. This report should be based on the fullest consultation with local people and businesses and not conducted behind closed doors as Labour did. In fact MP Craig MacKinlay has already begun to kick start such a discussion with his recently formed regeneration group.
Engaging in and promoting such a public debate should not be a problem for Thanet Council Leader Cllr Wells. In 2015 he stood for election on a UKIP Manifesto which says that his party intends to “bring more openness, transparency and cross-party collaborative working” into local government;  that UKIP Councillors “believe the community is their boss” and that UKIP intends to “give local people control over planning”. Surely these manifesto commitments mean that Cllr Wells and his UKIP councillor colleagues,  should halt the  headlong, secretive,  dash to industrialise Ramsgate  Port and begin a genuine dialogue with local  people about a long-term and sustainable future their port and seafront. Whatever the outcome of  such a dialogue there is no  doubt that Cllr Wells’ credibility will be hugely strengthened by dropping the secrecy and openly talking with local people. Come on Chris the ball is in your court.

Thursday, 3 November 2016

Breaking News Dreamland, Arrowgrass, Cayman & Ethics

Arrowgrass swanky HQ Portland Square London
Ownership and control of Margate’s Dreamland Amusement Park  and associated buildings is very likely to be  handed over to  Arrowgrass Master Fund Limited according to former Thanet Councillor Ian Driver.

Based in the offshore tax heaven, and millionaires’ playground of Cama Bay, Grand Cayman, Arrowgrass Master Fund is managed  by London based Arrowgrass Capital Partners LLP and a US registered company of the same name. http://camanabay.com/home-visitor/ 
In a document published on Companies House website today, Arrowgrass Master Fund  secured, on  24 October,  charges on the  leaseholds  of 49 Marine Terrace and 50 Marine Terrace in exchange for a loan facility of up to £1million. A previous charge in favour of  Arrowgrass Master Fund , in exchange for a loan of £600,000,  was secured on the main Dreamland Amusement Park site on 27  May 2016.

Said Driver “I cannot see how Dreamland Park operator Sands Heritage Limited, which went  into administration owing  £14.3 million in May, can afford to pay back the £1.6million  plus interest and charges it now owes to Arrowgrass Master Fund. If, as I believe is highly likely, Sands Heritage defaults on its repayments, Arrowgrass will then own the  leasehold of the Dreamland Amusement Park and associated building on Marine Terrace. It would be a tragedy for the Dreamland Amusement Park to end up under the control of what is essentially a tax-dodging hedge fund making the super-rich, even richer, instead of the original Dreamland concept of not-for- profit organisation running the park and investing money  back into Margate. Rather than  helping to regenerate Margate, Dreamland might soon become a golden goose paying massive premiums to wealthy, tax-dodging,  fat-cats”.
“An Arrowgrass takeover of Dreamland also raises other  extremely serious ethical questions”  added Driver “Nick Connnington one of the Directors of Sands Heritage worked for Arrowgrass for a number of years  and has well documented business links with Arrowgrass Director Nicholas Graham Neill going back a long time.  John Peter Adams another director of Sands Heritage also has well documented business links with Niell. In March 2016, only weeks before Sands Heritage went into administration, Connington and Adams set up a company called Brede Hotels Limited. One of the shareholders, but a not a director, of Brede Hotels is Nicholas Neill of Arrowgrass. The company also appears to have taken its name from Neill’s place of residence, Brede Place, Brede, East Sussex.

“Not that I am suggesting any impropriety but taking  £1.6million of secured loans  from a company for which you  previously worked, which has a director with whom you have longstanding and current business links,  is a very unusual situation which, in my opinion.  merits close scrutiny. The question must also be asked whether Connington and Adams or their friends and relatives have any investments in Arrowgrass Master Fund or other related companies and whether such investments might mean they could profit from Sands Heritage failing as a business. At least £20million of public money including £10million from Thanet Council Tax payers, has been invested in the Dreamland Project. The history of the project is extremely murky and there are many questions which need to answered in order to ensure that this massive amount of public money has been spent wisely and properly, one of which is how and why failed company  Sands Heritage was appointed as the Dreamland operator. Along with local MPs Sir Roger Gale and Craig  MacKinlay I call for an independent  public inquiry  into the Dreamland situation.

Wednesday, 2 November 2016

Labour Proposes Dreamland Cover Up

In  letters to the Thanet Gazette and Thanet Extra the Thanet Council  Labour Group (Iris Johnston, Jenny Matteface, Michelle Fenner, Karen Constantine and Peter Campbell)  call for the management of the £20million publically  funded Margate  Dreamland project to be investigated  by the council’s  Overview and Scrutiny Committee.

In what must rank, even by Thanet Labour’s appalling standards,   as one of the most hypocritical letters ever written by local politicians, the Labour Group has the bare faced cheek to claim that it is promoting good governance and accountability. What a joke!  2 of the signatories of the letter, Iris Johnston and Michelle Fenner were responsible in  November 2013  for verbally abusing and bullying, at a public meeting, the four independent, non-elected,  members of Thanet Council’s  Standards Committee

Why?  Because the Independent Standards Committee members had produced a report which criticised the governance of Thanet Council and the accountability of councillors – describing the organisation and its elected politicians as being out of touch, secretive, rude and abusive.  Johnston and Fenner’s behaviour at the meeting and that of former councillors Clive Hart and Allan Poole, caused the 4 Independent Standards members to immediately resign. Labour’s nodding donkeys on the Standards Committee then voted to reject a report which was all about the promotion of good governance and accountability at Thanet Council. I secretly recorded this appalling incident and blogged about it at the time. Here’s the link http://thanetgreencouncillor.blogspot.co.uk/search?updated-max=2013-11-26T18:25:00Z&max-results=10&start=97&by-date=false

But I digress. Let’s return to Labour’s proposal for an Overview and  Scrutiny investigation into Dreamland. Were it not such an important issue I’d be pissing myself laughing about their idea.  First, the Dreamland project is  a  massive, ongoing,  undertaking  and Thanet Council simply doesn’t have the money,  staffing levels and experience to conduct a thorough and proper investigation into a matter of this size and complexity. Labour knows this. Councillors from all the other parties know this and so do the council officers. This proposal is  nothing other than cynical political posturing -  giving the appearance of trying to do something  whilst knowing all along that your suggestion is unworkable bollocks.

Second and more importantly Asking TDCs Overview and Scrutiny Panel, which is made up of councillors from the Labour, Conservative and UKIP parties, to investigate this matter  amounts  to asking  those useless fuckers  responsible for the Dreamland mess-up,  to investigate themselves. Self-investigation means that misguided party loyalty, political self-preservation and reputational damage limitation will almost certainly get in the way of the truth being told. Any report resulting from such a process will not be worth the paper it is written on. It will  be tainted by the skid marks of corporate and political arse watching and will be an official whitewash.  Worse still, those senior politicians and council officers responsible for the Dreamland disaster, such as former council leader Iris Johnston and others will escape well deserved naming and shaming.

This is exactly what happened when politicians used the Overview and Scrutiny Panel to investigate themselves over the TransEuropa Ferries secret £3.4 million debt scandal in 2014. Despite the fact that the council’s constitutional  rules  had been deliberately broken and ignored by senior councillors and officers;  despite democratically elected back-bench councillors and the public been lied to and deceived for almost 3 years about the secret and rapidly growing debt, Tory and Labour politicians nobbled the so-called investigation to ensure that everyone got off Scott-free for serious abuse of process and bare faced lying.  Labour, like the rest of the political establishment, knows this is how  internal, self-investigations work and that’s precisely why these shameless scoundrels are asking for one – because they know damn well that an Overview and Scrutiny investigation will get them off the hook for their appalling mismanagement of the Dreamland Project.
I have always called for an independent public investigation of the Dreamland debacle perhaps by the National Audit Office who have considerable expertise and experience in this area. Although we may disagree on many other things, the two Thanet MPs Sir Roger Gale and Craig MacKinlay  both  support my  call for an independent and public Dreamland investigation.  If  Thanet Council Labour Group, ,  genuinely support  honest  and accountable government, then they  too should be calling for an independent  public investigation into Dreamland,  instead of a squalid conflicted self-investigation which, many people feel  will be nothing than a cover.
The people of Thanet have paid,  through their  council taxes,  over £10million toward Dreamland. The  same amount of public money has been invested via central Government Grants and the Heritage Lottery funding and much more public money will undoubtedly be invested into this project in forthcoming years. Its therefore essential that the catalogue of disastrous mistakes and mismanagement which have been a feature of what is supposed to be a  flagship regeneration projected  are investigated and lessons learned. The only way to do this is through an  independent inquiry

Tuesday, 1 November 2016

Ramsgate - Brett’s Kicked in the Aggregates

Environmental watchdog, Natural England have dealt, what might be,  a fatal body blow to Brett Aggregates plans to expand their operation at  Ramsgate Port to include a large aggregate washing  and crushing plant.

In a letter to Kent Council Planning Officer James Bickle,  Natural England says that “your authority does not currently have enough information to robustly conclude that the applicants proposals will not have a significant impact on any of the internationally and nationally important nature conservation sites  nearby”.

The letter goes on to request that  Kent County Council secures  “additional information” about noise pollution levels which might be generated from the proposed  operations at the Brett site  and the impact that this might have on bird species living in the area. The letter also expresses concerns about dust pollution from Brett’s existing and proposed operations at the port saying that “we have been provided with photos of the current operations which appear to show large piles of material which are unprotected by bunds or bays”  and that “there is the potential for dust generation from the (new) proposals”. Natural England insists that before approving the proposals KCC obtains clarity about improvement  on current and future dust control practices from Brett’s.

In a further setback, Natural England also questions whether or not Brett’s existing operation was ever properly approved by Thanet Council and KCC. They state that the case papers  for Brett’s current application include a communication dated  28 May 2010 which “makes reference to the Council Harbour Master (presumably from Thanet District Council) making a report to English Nature (one of the predecessor bodies to Natural England) regarding the batching plant proposal. Unfortunately I can find no record of this report in our files, nor any other correspondence relating to the batching plant. I am therefore unable to provide a view as to whether or not Natural England was appropriately consulted on the batching plant, nor whether we had any concerns with regards to its potential impacts on the natural environment”.
This is an issue which I brought to the attention of Natural England last week and also raised with KCC. Both organisations  say that they have no record of the Harbourmaster’s report. I also submitted a Freedom of Information request to Thanet Council last week requesting a copy of the Harbour Master’s report. I somehow get the feeling that it won’t be located.

In any event as I wrote on my blog on 18th October “I cannot believe that it was appropriate for Thanet Council to have delegated the task of writing a “report to English Nature with regard to the batching plant” to its Habourmaster. The Ramsgate Port  Habourmaster is not qualified in marine environmental science. It is my opinion that he is not competent to produce a report on the environmental impact of a concrete batching plant upon the protected marine habitats adjacent and close to the port. I’m astounded that Thanet Council’s then Head of Major Developments, Doug Brown, seemed happy to accept a report from an  unqualified person as “confirmation of how environmental implications (relating to the Brett concrete batching plant)  were addressed”. However, this is same Doug Brown who,  after leaving TDC, teamed up with his  former boss and ex-Director of TDC Planning, Brian White, to  advise O’Regan’s on their unsuccessful application to set up a concrete block manufactory at Ramsgate  Port.

The right thing to have done in 2010 would have been for Thanet Council and Kent County Council to have insisted that a proper independent environmental impact assessment of Brett’s concrete batching plant be carried out by a suitably qualified marine environment protection expert and that this report would have then been sent to English Nature for them to decide if Ramsgate port was a suitable location for an industrial operation such as this.  KCC and TDC should also have insisted that such a report be produced at Brett’s expense, rather than what appears to have been a highly irregular and  improper freebie from an unqualified council employee. I will be contacting Thanet Council, KCC  and English Nature to find out exactly what happened in 2010 because from where I’m  standing it looks as though  the existing operation may well be environmentally compromised, which will of course have implications  for Bretts new proposals”.

So we now have situation whereby Natural England is far from happy with both Brett’s existing and proposed operations at Ramsgate Port and the possibility that they had, or are  likely to have, environmentally damaging implications on the  internationally and nationally important nature conservation sites close to the port. Today I have already publically called upon council leader Chris Wells as the port landlord  not to permit the Brett’s proposals to go ahead. I repeat this request again and go further – that he arrange a full investigation into the circumstances surrounding the setting up of Brett’s concrete batching operations at the port in 2010 and any environmental impact assessment which may have taken place at the time, or before, including the Harbour Master report which was alleged to have been produced.  Council Leader Wells should also insist that notwithstanding any previous reports, there should also be a full and proper environmental impact assessment conducted by suitably qualified experts into Brett’s current operations produced at Brett’s expense. If the  report finds that current operations are environmentally damaging then Brett’s lease at the port should be terminated. This is what most people in Ramsgate would want and it’s the right thing to do.

Ramsgate Port & Brett Council Complicit in Act of Environmental Vandalism.

By allowing Brett Aggregates to expand their activities at Ramsgate Port, Thanet Council and Kent County Council and their political leaders will, I believe,  be directly responsible for supporting an act of environmental and historic vandalism on a massive scale.

Yesterday a group of campaigners from the Dover and Deal area handed in a petition of 11,677 signatures to the Prime Minister at 10 Downing Street. The petition opposes plans by Dover Harbour Board (DHB) to dredge 2.5million cubic metres of aggregate from the Goodwin Sands over the next 3 – 4  years. The aggregate will be used in the massive £200 million Dover Port expansion project which begins next year.

Campaigners argue that dredging on this huge scale will damage the unique marine habitat of the Goodwin Sands and will  threaten the survival of a broad range of sea life which depend upon it  including  a colony of 350 grey seals and the Thornback Ray. It is also argued that the removal of a large chunk of the sands will reduce the level of protection provided  by the Goodwins to the East Kent coastline and could result in greater erosion and increased tidal  flooding. Finally, the Goodwin Sands are the location of many historic shipwrecks and the remains of countless Battle of Britain aircraft. As someone committed to protecting the environment and conserving our history, I think this large scale dredging is wrong and I support the campaigners and
Save Goodwin Sands Petition Handed  in to Number 10 Yesterday.
Picture Goodwin Sands SOS Facebook Group
have signed their petition. We will find out in December whether the Government’s Marine Management Organisation (MMO) will, despite numerous objections and the huge petition,  grant a licence to DHB to extract aggregate from the Goodwin Sands.


I believe that Brett’s Ramsgate Port  expansion  proposals are directly linked to, and timed to  coincide with,  DHBs  plans to undertake the massive and damaging dredging of the Goodwin Sands.  Having a modern state of the art aggregate washing plant conveniently  located at a port  close to Dover would place Brett’s in a very strong position to successfully tender for the lucrative aggregate processing contracts which DHB might be letting during the construction of the expanded port.  Brett, though its joint venture companies Britannia Aggregates and Volker Dredging (2)  already have substantial experience of marine  dredging making  them an even stronger  contender to become DHBs partner of choice to dredge the Goodwin Sands and process the extracted aggregate”.

Its inconceivable that TDC and KCC are unaware  of the link between Brett’s expansion proposals  at the Port of Ramsgate and DHBs plans to dredge 2.5 million cubic metres  from the  Goodwin Sands.  To allow Brett to expand their operations at Ramsgate makes  KCC and TDC complicit in an act of unprecedented environmental and historic vandalism on a massive scale. I publically call upon Ramsgate Port owners Thanet Council and its leader Chris Wells to refuse, in the interest of environmental protection, to give  Brett Aggregate Ltd permission to locate their aggregate washing facility at the Port of Ramsgate

Sunday, 30 October 2016

Ramsgate Live Exports We're Making History


On Friday I attended a meeting organised by my friend and longstanding anti-live animal exports protestor, Reg Bell. The meeting had been arranged  to review the 5 year old campaign to ban the  brutal animal export  trade, not just from Ramsgate, but from every port in the country. But this was no ordinary meeting. Reg being an extremely persuasive person, was able to bring together under one roof in Thanet, some of the most influential voices in animal welfare in the country.
The new Chief Executive of the RSPCA, Jeremy Cooper was there along with Daphne Harris Chair of RSPCA Trustees and Chris Wainwright the RSPCAs Director of Communications and External Relations. Emma Slawinski Director of Campaigning from Compassion in World Farming attended as did Thanet South MP Craig MacKinlay and Ian and Yvonne Birchall from Kent Against Live Exports.

The meeting discussed Craig’s 10 Minute Rule Bill which amends the 1847 Harbours, Docks and Piers Clauses Act, to allow local authority owned ports to use their discretion and ban live exports from their ports. Craig’s Bill reaches its second reading stage on Friday 4th November. If successful the Bill will then go on to committee stage, third reading and then hopefully becomes law.  But even if it becomes law, we will still have to wait for Brexit for it to have a practical effect. Nevertheless it’s a big step towards the eventual ending of this nasty and cruel trade. Both RSPCA and Compassion said that they backed Craig’s Bill and that their supporters across the country have been contacting their MPs to ask them to vote for it!
The meeting then discussed the enforcement of existing EU animal transport welfare regulations. Everyone agreed that pitifully few resources have been invested in policing the regulations and that  cuts in central and local government spending are likely to make an unacceptable situation even worse. However, Brexit, or no Brexit, it was still possible for the UK Government to introduce  our own legally enforceable national laws and regulations limiting live animal transport times to 8 hours a day. In fact  Sweden, Denmark, Holland and  Germany have already announced that this is something they are thinking doing themselves.  We all felt that an 8 hour limit would put an end to live exports to the EU, or make it so expensive to comply that the exporters would  simply give up. This is a subject which the RSPCA, Compassion in World Farming, Craig MacKinlay MP and local campaigners felt was worth exploring in much more detail.  It was agreed to establish a regular co-ordination meeting at which all parties would monitor the situation in Ramsgate and explore the development of Parliamentary actions to change our laws and effectively ban live animal exports for slaughter once and for all.

It’s not often I come away from  meeting thinking wow I have been part of  something which will make massive  and profound difference!  But thanks to the efforts of my friend Reg Bell a meeting was arranged  which  brought together all the key players in the UK animal welfare movement and this meeting, I believe, will kick start a co-ordinated drive to restrict live animal transport to 8 hours day ending forever the cruel, barbaric scenes we have witnessed and continue to witness at Ramsgate  Port.

As my one of my heroes LKJ once sang “we’re making history”

Thanet Labour’s Shameful Electioneering at Non-Political Community Meeting

Organised by a group of people from different political parties, or with no political affiliation,  who were worried by Brett Aggregates plans to massively expand their concrete manufacturing operations at the port of Ramsgate; the hugely successful public meeting  last Thursday was understood by virtually everyone to be non-party political. This message was re-enforced at the beginning of the  meeting by the Chair  (see video clip below. But sadly some members of the Thanet Labour Party crudely abused the non-partisan nature of  meeting by distributing Labour Party leaflets in the Oddfellows Hall.
Chief amongst the distributers were Thanet Councillor Karen Constantine and Raushan Rahman, who by a strange co-incidence are both also Labour Party candidates in the 2017 Kent County Council (KCC) elections.  In an ill-disguised  attempt at KCC electioneering the leaflet included many mentions of, and quotes from, the 2 aspiring county councillors,Constantine and Rahman.
Irecognised in the packed 200 plus audience people I know to be members of the Conservative, Green and Lib-Dem parties and members of UKIP also. Not one of them attempted to distribute party literature because they knew and respected the non-party nature of what was a community meeting. Sitting near the front of the meeting was Ramsgate Labour Councillor, Peter Campbell who appeared to me to be distinctly uncomfortable with the antics of his comrades Constantine and Rahman and who noticeably didn’t lend hand in the leaflet distribution.  It was utterly disrespectful and abusive of the meeting for Constantine and Rahman to have circulated their leaflets. Had I been the chair I would have asked them to desist or leave.
As a lifelong socialist who has handed out thousands of leaflets in my time,  I was taught that the proper and respectful way to distribute party literature at public meeting was to stand outside and hand leaflets to people has they entered or left  the hall.  But clearly Thanet Labour’s wannabe KCC councillors Constantine and Rahman don’t give a damn about the sensitivities and etiquette of  public meetings. Nor do they let the clearly expressed wishes of the meeting organisers and chair, hamper their shameless self-promotion. I trust  we don’t get a repeat of this unacceptable behaviour at the next meeting on 1 December and hope that Constantine and Rahman’s political bosses give them a good bollocking!
For the record I am not the only person to have commented about Labour’s disgraceful politicking. Several members of the audience said to me it wasn’t right, including one person who thought I was a Labour Party official!!!

Friday, 28 October 2016

Packed Ramsgate Port Meeting- Secret Plans Will Kill Tourism

It was standing room only as more than 200  people  attended a public meeting last night at Ramsgate’s Oddfellows Hall to discuss Brett Aggregates  expansion of  their concrete batching operation  at the town’s port, including the installation of large noisy aggregate crushing and washing facility.
The meeting was addressed by South Thanet MP Craig Mackinlay, John Walker of the Ramsgate Society, Janet Fielding of Project Motor House and former Thanet Councillor, turned local blogger and campaigner, Ian Driver.

Speaker after speaker highlighted the damage which the expansion of Brett’s concrete manufacturing activities may cause to Ramsgate’s atmosphere and the increased risk of pollution to Ramsgate’s designated marine and coastal protection areas. The speakers all agreed that excessive industrialisation of the port area would have an adverse impact upon Ramsgate’s reviving tourist industry and was likely to deter visitors.
Craig MacKinlay told the meeting that he was opposed to Brett’s plans and called for a review of the Ramsgate port’s  future uses, with a focus on non-polluting light industry, the traditional fishing fleet and  non-polluting leisure use such as a modern marina to complement the Royal Harbour. He said that he had written to the Secretary of State for  Local Government, the Leader of Kent County Council and the Chief Executive of English Nature opposing the plans and demanding a full public hearing. John Walker read to the meeting a letter of opposition from the Ramsgate Society which had been sent to Kent County Council who are reviewing Brett’s proposals  and Janet Fielding explained some of the technical planning matters which people could include in their letters of objection.
 Ian Driver pointed out that Kent County Council’s Minerals and Waste Plan offered Brett’s operation at Ramsgate port strong protection from any challenge and objection. He also said that Thanet Council’s 2014 Maritime Plan stated that the council was in favour of expanding aggregate processing at the port. He criticised council officers and elected councillors, from all parties, for failing to ensure that there was proper and extensive public consultation about the Mineral and Maritime plans in 2014 when they were being decided on. He denounced Thanet and Kent County councils’ culture of secrecy and behind closed door decision making. And condemned has undemocratic “the deliberate exclusion of the people of Ramsgate from having a say about policies which will have a major impact on their lives”.

Ian Driver speaking photo Keith Ross
To audible gasps of surprise Driver announced that in response to a Freedom of Information request he had submitted to the South East Local Economic Partnership, he had received documents which revealed that Thanet Council had submitted a £4.17 million bid for Government funding,  plus a £2million contribution from Thanet taxpayers, to massively expand industrial activities at the port.
The funding would help to pay for an “alongside” berth at the port which would improve the unloading of bulky cargo such as aggregates for Bretts concrete making operation. It would also be used to help to fund the development of a large freight hub to service  the port on, or close to,  the former Manston Airport site. Finally the bid would help to pay for a massive expansion of Ramsgate Port’s capacity to accommodate heavy goods vehicles (HGVs) from the current annual capacity of 500,000 HGVs to a staggering 1millon HGVs a year.

Said Driver “these plans were developed in secret by Thanet Council officers and a tiny cabal of senior politicians without anyone knowing. Yet again there has no public consultation with the people of Ramsgate about whether they want a massively industrialised and polluting port with 100 of HGVs traveling to and from the port every day and night, or whether they would prefer instead a non-polluting leisure focused port which will create hundreds of jobs for local people and increased business and investment in the local economy”. Although Thanet’s plans were not put forward to the Government for approval this year, Driver says that reliable sources have informed him that the plans remain a top priority and will  be submitted as a funding bid at the earliest opportunity.
All of the audience speakers condemned Thanet and Kent County council’s secrecy in drawing up plans, policies and funding bids in secrecy and for deliberately failing to consult the people of Ramsgate about the intensive over-industrialisation of the port. All of the audience speakers insisted that Ramsgate’s port and seafront should be used for leisure, rather than heavy industrial purposes, which would develop and promote a sustainable and vibrant visitor economy in the town.  It was agreed to hold another public meeting on 1 December and to set up a fighting fund to secure legal advice on stopping Brett’s expansion at the port.

A copy of Driver’s FOI response is attached to this press release.
Dear Mr Driver
Thank you for your request for information made under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) 2000.
The Port of Ramsgate bid is a request for £4.17m of LGF3 funding to match with £2m from Thanet District Council for the construction of a new double-deck ro-ro berth at the Port of Ramsgate.  The Port is a municipal port owned and operated by Thanet District Council, and this investment represents the first phase of a three phase expansion strategy to increase the Port’s capacity and resilience.  This will enable the Port of Ramsgate to add to the South-East’s strategic capacity to service increases in projected cross-Channel ro-ro traffic of 45% expected through the South East’s Channel ports over the next 20 years (in Road Goods Vehicles terms an increase from 3.17m vehicles in 2015 to 4.6m by 2035, i.e. an additional 1.43m vehicles). (what about £200million expansion of Port of Dover won’t this deal with the growth in  vehicle numbers. No mention of London Gateway Port ability to absorb increased vehicle number – surely there is no need for Ramsgate Port expansion it will be a massive waste off taxpayers money? – comments Ian Driver) 
Ramsgate Port currently has the capacity to accommodate up to 500,000 HGV’s per annum. This investment will increase that capacity to 1 million HGV’s per annum.  At 58 miles, Ramsgate is the same distance via the M2 from the QE2 Bridge as Dover and offers an opportunity to meet future freight demand by linking with the continental road and rail network via the Port of Calais.  The port also offers cost effective routes to Northern Europe via Dunkirk, Ostend, Zeebrugge and Vlissingen.
This first phase of infrastructure investment will improve the Port’s handling capacity, particularly for unaccompanied freight vehicles. The proposed works for the first phase will develop a new modern double deck ro-ro berth which will increase capacity, and by offering an alternative to the existing double deck ro-ro berth will also build in resilience which cross-Channel operators often look for.
This on-port investment will be key enabling infrastructure capable of leveraging second phase public and private sector investment in the development firstly of an on-port new alongside quay for the Port’s existing aggregates cargo and bulk cargo expansion and secondly an off-site freight logistics hub at Manston Business Park; and if services and traffics develop to the level that is possible, then a third phase seaward port expansion.