Saturday, 13 September 2014

Does Thanet Council suggest to people not to be filmed at public meetings?

Yesterday I received an email from an officer from Democratic Services at Thanet District Council. It was part of an email exchange regarding public speaking at the upcoming Planning Committee on the 17th. Out of the blue the officer sent an email flagging up 'new filming regulations' with regards to public filming:


"I should have mentioned that there are now new filming regulations which allow attendees to film the proceedings of public meetings.    Would you (or XXXX) have any objection to being filmed?   If so, the Chairman will ask attendees not to film you/ other rep. when you speak."

This seems a little overly proactive of the Council to suggest to prospective speakers at a public meeting tin advance that they may opt out and that this will be flagged to the Chairman, who in turn would ask members of the public not to film them.

On what basis would the Chairman ask members of the public not to film under these new regulations?


The guidance issued by the Government in June stated:
"Are there other limits that I should be aware of? 
The council or local government body should consider adopting a policy on the filming of members of the public, such as allowing those who actively object to being filmed not to be filmed, without undermining the broader transparency of the meeting."

This seems very different from an officer corresponding with a member of the public in advance of the public meeting and without communicating any detail on the regulations.


My view is that Council meetings are public meetings and speaking at them is public speaking. Similar to how photographers have a right to photograph us in the street.

And here is a Council meeting filmed by a member of the public regarding the Pleasurama development in Ramsgate on September 11th.

 

Tuesday, 15 July 2014

Public right to film Council meetings will be law in August 6th

The right to for the public to film and record Council meetings will soon be enshrined in law. The Department for Communities and Local Government that Parliament has now approved the draft Openness of Local Government Bodies Regulations 2014. The Government intends to make the Regulations on 5 August and they will therefore come into force on 6 August.  The will give the public new rights to film and report council meetings, including meetings of committees and subcommittees, using digital and social media.  The Regulations will also require councils to publish a 'decision record' for certain significant decisions taken by officers acting under delegation from their councils.  

The Government has produced a draft plain English guide to the Regulations. Download the PDF here.

Brandon Lewis (The Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Communities and Local Government; Great Yarmouth, Conservative) stated on June 26th:

"Most town halls in England are already embracing such transparency, and do not need to wait for permission from Whitehall to open their doors to the press and public. However, a small minority are dragging their feet; Ministers want to make it clear that there is absolutely no reason for the public not to be able to exercise their new rights once the secondary legislation has been approved by Parliament and made."





Monday, 14 July 2014

Why is Andrews Passage taking so long to re-open?



Andrews Passage in Margate has been closed for months since a hole opened up in the flagstone pathway.

1873 OS Map
The passage is one of Margate's most historic walkways, providing a link from the middle of the Lower High Street to the seafront. The passageway existed before Marine Drive was built along the seafront.







Over the years, Andrews Passage has suffered through neglect. The beautiful original iron railings have been allowed to rust and so were boarded up for safety reasons. The York Stone flagstones have been patched with tarmac repairs. The shops that run along the passage used to have active window displays onto the passage forming an arcade. Now they're boarded up.








One building, next door to the brilliant Henry's, is owned by what appears to be an absentee landlord with little interest in maintaining the property the fronts on to the High Street. It has stood empty for years boarded up with a publicly funded painted mural, making the trading environment for nearby shops even harder.

The maintenance of the passage is the responsibility of Kent County Council Highways. One has to wonder why this walkway, so vital to the shops on the High Street and to the businesses on the seafront is left closed with no timetable for re-opening.






Thursday, 10 July 2014

Thanet Council to allow BBC and ITV to film tonight's Council Meeting but not the public


Thanet District Councillor, John Worrow (Labour), announced via his Facebook page that tonight's Council meeting will be filmed by the BBC and ITV. Tonight's big debate will be a motion from the Labour Group regarding Manston Airport. 


Thanet Council, however, are still not extending the right to film to the public only to corporate media.

I previously covered this issue in March 2013:

The right to report, film and tweet from council meetings in England

This runs contrary to the guidance issued in June 2013 by the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government Eric Pickles MP. This guidance from Central Government 
explicitly states that individuals should have the right to film and report on local council meetings that are open to the public. Yet Thanet Council are relying on the 2012 Statutory Regulations to prohibit the public from filming and reporting on their meetings.


Let's look at Thanet Council's position in detail:

2012 Statutory Regulations:

“Nothing in these Regulations requires a decision-making body to permit the taking of any photographs of any proceedings or the use of any means to enable persons not present to see or hear any proceedings (whether at the time or later), or the making of any oral report on any proceedings as they take place.”

Central Government Guidance:
This guidance, issued by Eric Pickles (the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government) on 14th June 2013, effectively, the guidance takes a different interpretation to that of Thanet Council, with regard to the 2012 Statutory Regulations (referred to above). The guidance, then, states that:

“The rules (the 2012 Statutory Regulations) require councils to provide reasonable facilities for any member of the public to report on meetings. Councils should thus allow the filming of councillors and officers at meetings that are open to the public.”

With regard to reporting via social media and blogs, the guidance also states that:

“Similarly under the new rules there can be social media reporting of meetings. Thus bloggers, tweeters, facebook and YouTube users, and individuals with their own website, should be able to report meetings. You should ask your council for details of the facilities they are providing for citizen journalists.”

Thanet Council’s Position:
Thanet Council has rejected the central government guidance, outlining their position on their website:

“Confusion over the council’s position has arisen following the publication of The Guidance Document, which substantially misrepresents what the statutory regulations say in relation to the recording and filming of council meetings – which is that the council has complete legal discretion in this regard.”

Thanet Council and Central Government appear to be at odds about the 2012 Statutory Regulations.

The Local Audit and Accountability Act 2014:
The guidance issued by Eric Pickles, regarding the right to "report, blog, tweet and film" council meetings, has been effectively enshrined in law by the Local Audit and Accountability Act 2014, which was passed into law on 30th January 2014. Eric Pickles has asserted that:

“this new right will be the key to helping bloggers and tweeters as well as journalists to unlocking the mysteries of local government and making it more transparent for all.”

In particular, s.40 of the Act now provides the Secretary of State with power to make regulations that may allow local people, including citizen journalists, to attend public meetings of local council meetings and report the proceedings by using various communication methods such as filming, tweeting and blogging. Therefore, once new regulations have been introduced, councils and other local bodies will be compelled to allow the public to "report, blog, tweet and film” at their public meeting. This applies to a number of bodies, listed under s.40(6), which include:
  • a district council, and
  • a county council in England
The Openness of Local Government Bodies Regulations 2014:

There are new Regulations, albeit still in draft form, which have been drafted using the Secretary of State’s powers under s.40 of the Local Audit and Accountability Act 2014. These Regulations will amend, among others, the Local Authorities (Executive Arrangements) (Meetings and Access to Information) England Regulations 2012 (referred to above). If introduced, the Openness of Local Government Bodies Regulations 2014 will:
  • Omit s.20(4) – the provision currently being relied upon by Thanet Council.
  • Require a decision-making body to permit any person attending a meeting of such a body to report on the proceedings - “reporting” is defined as:
“(a) filming, photographing or audio recording the proceedings of a meeting,
(b) using any other means for enabling persons not present to see or hear proceedings of a meeting as it takes place or later, and
(c) reporting or providing commentary on proceedings of a meeting, orally or in writing, so that the report or commentary is available to persons not present, as the meeting takes place or later.”

If these regulations are introduced, they will therefore confer a statutory right upon members of the public to film and report on council meetings that are open to the public.

Should it really be this hard if the right for the public to film Council meetings is going to be an inevitable right?

Wednesday, 9 April 2014

Sir Roger Gale MP's April Galemail





From my MP, Sir Roger Gale. Against same sex marriage. Against the European Charter of Human Rights. Against shooting badgers. Against hunting with dogs. Good morning!

I do find it odd it is sent out by his wife Suzy who then strongly states not to reply to her on her galemail.com address but to reply to Roger on his parliament address. Why don't they send it out on Roger's email in the first place?

IF YOU HAVE ANY COMMENTS ON THIS ARTICLE – PLEASE ONLY SEND THEM DIRECT TO ROGER AT galerj@parliament.uk – THANK YOU

Gale`s View – 9th April 2014. 

I cannot pretend to have endorsed every dot and comma of the Coalition Government`s policy. I remain opposed, for example, to the concept of same-sex `marriage` and had the Conservatives not failed to win the last general election we would most certainly have by now culled some 60 or more Parliamentary seats that, in this day and age of modern communications, are still funded by the taxpayer but surplus to requirements.  Without the Liberal Democrat albatross around our necks we would also have fulfilled our electoral promise to have scrapped our adherence to the European Charter of Human Rights in favour of a British Bill of Rights that recognises our sovereign desire to preserve our own identity and does not, for example, subscribe to the liberal view that it is in some way the “right” of convicted prisoners, otherwise deprived of their liberties in recognition of their crimes, to vote in elections. At the end of the day democratic politics is about numbers in the voting lobby and those numbers do not always stack up. 

Nevertheless, in more general and less geo-politically trivial terms, I believe that the Coalition, while not in the partisan interests of my own party or that of the Liberal Democrats, has certainly served the national interest and, in particularly, the repair of the broken economy bequeathed to us by thirteen years of Blair-Brownite misrule, rather well. I doubt whether we would be where we are today had it not been for the willingness of two otherwise frequently opposed parties to bury differences and work together to put the country`s finances back on the road to recovery.

All that said,  policy insofar as it relates to animal welfare issues, a cause that has been politically close to my heart for all of my years in parliament, has been what, in tolerably polite terms, can best be described as “a badger`s muddle”.  

Nobody sensible could fail to recognise that bovine TB is a terrible disease that affects cattle and wildlife with equally awful consequences for animal health.  That something has to be done to seek to eradicate TB in the interests of farming and also for the benefit of many species of wild animals that carry and transmit it is beyond question but it is not enough to do “something”.  We have to do the right thing.   Scientists have been arguing for at least twenty five years about what that right thing is, with little agreement, but it has become painfully obvious that trying to cull the badger population by shooting it is not the answer.   “Blue Badger” and Conservative Animal Welfare have worked together to see the current programme of destruction that does not discriminate between healthy and sick animals  consigned to the dustbin and will now continue to work together to press for a co-ordinated programme of management and vaccination that stands at least a chance of working. 

Nodding in the direction of “Vote OK” and the countryside alliance the Government also flirted with the idea of trying to introduce by the back door (a statutory instrument that is debated in committee but not seriously considered on the floor of the House) an amendment to the Hunting Act that would have allowed farmers to increase the number of dogs allowed to be used to flush out “vermin” – a pack of hounds by another name.  Happily, a combination of those who still bear the scars of hours of debate about the Hunting Act before it was finally passed into law and a 2010 intake of young Members of Parliament who are not wedded to the idea of controlling wild animals by chasing them with dogs and then watching with apparent pleasure as those animals are torn apart, has at least for the moment seen off that proposal. The Government has had to bow to the fact that there is no parliamentary stomach or majority to re-visit the legislation.

 Curious, though, how a House of Commons that has, under successive Governments (and  the Conservatives both  care about animals and have legislated accordingly) brought about significant improvements in the laws governing wildlife, domestic and farm animals, remains unwilling to address the thorny issue of the manner in which Kosher and Halal meat is slaughtered.  There is a squeamishness, on both sides of the House, about  debating with what are clearly significant minorities (and those minorities do not by any means include all Jews and Muslims) in order to bring an end to an inhumanity that under any other guise but that of faith would simply not be permitted. Just because a practice has been followed for a millennium does not mean that it is right or that it ought to be allowed, in a civilised society, to continue. 
The priority of this Government has to be the economy, from which all else that matters flows, and Animal Welfare is not at the top of the political agenda.  It does, though, concern people  and I hope that we shall see a better  stall set out very clearly in the Conservative, Labour and Liberal Democrat manifestos for a General Election that is now only just over a year away.


Sir Roger Gale MP
01843 848588 (a.m.)
07623 978479 (24hr pager)
07774 841557 (Suzy - mobile)
galerj@parliament.uk
suzy@galemail.com
www.rogergale.co.uk
www.animalsworldwide.org

Tuesday, 8 April 2014

Thanet Council response re pre-consultation discussions re Walpole Bay De-designation

On March 28th, I asked Thanet Council for information regarding discussions that were undertaken by the council prior to the public consultation regarding the de-designation of Walpole Bay for bathing. These pre-discussions were part of their submission to DEFRA.

I requested:

"'During December 2013 and January 2014 the Council held discussions with two local hotels, a local traders' representative and a Residents Association representative. The business representatives felt that dedesignation was preferable to a sign advising against bathing' 
Please can you provide the details of these meetings and who they were."
The council has today replied stating it has applied exemptions under sections 40 and 41 of the Freedom of Information Act 2000.

Section 40  relates to personal information.
Section 41 relates to information that was provided in confidence.

I'm unsure how pre-discussions with groups that are then relayed to DEFRA as backing for the de-designation of a public beach could be undertaken by a local authority in private so that the information is 100% exempted from release.  Section 40 personal information could be redacted. Section 41, I'm unsure how the council can legitimately undertake consultations that are confidential in this manner. I've issued a request for an Internal Review. 

From: XXXXX@thanet.gov.uk
Date: 8 April 2014 16:36
Subject: Thanet District Council - Your Information Request Response
To: "louise.oldfield@gmail.com"


 
 
Ref No: 62796 / 2649740
 
Subject:Bathing Waters At Walpole Bay
 
Dear Ms Oldfield,
 
Thank you for your communication received on 28/03/2014 where you requested information about meetings held with local traders in relation to the consultation regarding the bathing water dedesignation of Walpole Bay.
 
This information is exempt from release under section(s) 40 & 41 of the Freedom of Information Act.
 
The reason for this is that the release of the names of the Traders would make the person on persons attending the meetings easily identifiable which therefore contravenes the Data Protection Act and Section 40 of the Freedom of Information Act applies.
 
Also, the attendees at these meetings had a legitimate expectation that it was held in confidence and that the council would not publish their details therefore Section 41of the Freedom of Information Act also applies.
 
These are absolute exemptions and there is therefore no requirement to consider the public interest.
 
If you are dissatisfied with the handling of your request, you have the right to ask for an internal review. Internal review requests should be submitted within two months of the date of receipt of the response to your original letter and should be addressed to: Information Request Assessor, Thanet District Council, P O Box 9 Cecil Street, Margate Kent CT9 1XZ, or send an email to foi@thanet.gov.uk.
 
Please remember to quote the reference number above in any future communications.
 
If you are not content with the outcome of the internal review, you have the right to apply directly to the Information Commissioner for a decision. The Information Commissioner can be contacted at: Information Commissioner’s Office, Wycliffe House, Water Lane, Wilmslow, Cheshire, SK9 5AF
 
Yours sincerely,
 
 ________________________________
This email and any files transmitted with it may contain privileged or confidential information. It is intended solely for the person to whom it is addressed. If you are not the intended recipient please destroy or delete the content of this message immediately and notify the sender by reply email. Opinions, conclusions and other information in this message that does not relate to the official business of Thanet District Council shall be understood as neither given nor endorsed by the council.


Monday, 17 March 2014

Give your view! DEFRA launch public consultation on the de-designation on Walpole Bay for bathing

Walpole Bay tidal pool by Chloe Young

Last week, the Thanet Gazette reported that, despite receiving a majority of submissions against de-designation of Walpole Bay for bathing, Thanet District Councillors Iris Johnston (Margate Central ward) and Alan Poole (Sir Mose Montefiore ward) referred the bay to DEFRA recommending de-designation. Today, DEFRA launched their consultation. There is a four page report which raises even more questions about how this proposal has reached this point:

The report begins by stating clearly that:
"Information about water quality is not taken into account in making a decision."
Remember that, folks! Wasn't most of the fuss in February being about the fear of signage that would have to go up in 2015 because it would fail to pass the new regulations. The de-designation process is actually about the number of users. The DEFRA report points out in some detail, that over the last few years, facilities to support bathing have been reduced. Obviously, the responsibility for any reduction in facilities lies squarely with Thanet District Council.
"Facilities at Walpole Bay have been reduced over recent years. In 2009 the beach was awarded a Blue Flag, an award which requires a high level of beach management. Since then lifeguards have been withdrawn and the nearest toilet facilities have been closed. The nearest cafĂ© is at the adjacent beach, Palm Bay. A lift that formerly operated from the top of the cliffs has been closed. 
The beach is, however, close to the amenities of Cliftonville and Margate town centre. The nearest public toilets are now approximately 750m away."
And yet, despite all these reductions in facilities, people still enjoy bathing at Walpole Bay. Imagine what it would be like with the facilities back in working order as they should be.
Then, DEFRA point out in their report that the wording in Thanet District Council's consultation:
'was a leading statement focussing on the perceived threat to to the local tourist industry, rather than on the number of  people bathing at Walpole Bay.' 
There is then a reference to pre-consultation discussions Thanet Council held with a local traders' representative and a residents' association representative between December 2013 and January 2014:
'During December 2013 and January 2014 the Council held discussions with two local hotels, a local traders’ representative and a Residents Association representative. The business representatives felt that dedesignation was preferable to a sign advising against bathing'
This is the first we have heard about discussions prior to the public consultation. 

Who were these representatives of a local traders' and a residents' association? Perhaps the Council or the people in question might be let us know.

Then the statement that:
'DEFRA state that 'Thanet District Council ward members are in favour of dedesignation'.

Is this true? All Ward Councillors of which Wards? Walpole Bay is in Cliftonville West. Have any Councillors from this ward stated they are in favour or de-designation? This would be:
Councillor Linda Aldred
Councillor Doug Clark
Councillor Clive Hart

The report confirms that a majority of respondents were against de-designation:

"There were emailed responses to the consultation from 74 individual members of the 
public. 
• 5 supported dedesignation 
• 36 opposed dedesignation 
• 9 commented specifically on the bathing pool 
• The remainder commented on the proposal but were unclear in their intentions." 

Further scrutiny is probably recommended of those that were unclear in their intentions!

The report finishes by stating that if it is de-designated, DEFRA will discontinue water testing.

So, if you have views about the de-designation of Walpole Bay for bathing, please send in your comments to bathingwater@defra.gsi.gov.uk.

Why not pop along to the Walpole Bay Bathing Facebook page and let us know your views. And do use the hashtag #walpolebaybathing on twitter.