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 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?


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)

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. 

Date: 8 April 2014 16:36
Subject: Thanet District Council - Your Information Request Response
To: ""

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
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 
• 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

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.


Tuesday, 4 March 2014

Thanet Council policy regarding email retention

Thanet Council's email system has cropped up in conversation a few times recently. I'd heard from a few councillors that the council system is awkward and not the easiest to use. Which has lead to many councillors privately stating they prefer to use their own private email accounts for council business. This may recently have changed following a statement of clarification from the Information Commissioner's Office. 

The Council's previous stance was that private email accounts were beyond the remit of FOI and Data Protection requests, because it is Council policy that only official email accounts may be used for council business. The Information Commissioner's Office then clarified on October 16th 2013:

"More generally, the Council will need to remind and impress upon the councillors the requirement to adhere to the Council’s policy on use of official Council email addresses only for Council business.   

Should any councillor fail to do so and continue using their personal email address to conduct Council business, it will need to be made clear to them that such information will be potentially subject to FOIA and will need to be made available upon request (subject to any valid exemption).  Moreover, were the Council to provide a not held response to a future request, or only provide some of the information actually held, and were the Commissioner to subsequently discover that in fact relevant information was contained in the personal email accounts of a councillor(s) then this would be a serious matter for which the Commissioner would need to consider more formal action."

I've recently been sent a series of Thanet District Council policy guidance documents that go some way to explain why officers and councillors might be struggling to keep up with the demands of modern day email communication. They have a 500MB inbox limit. I don't think I've had a 500MB limit for the last decade. 

Council email management guidance issued July 2012 gives the following advice:
"Things to remember about email;
Your Mailbox has a size limitYour mailbox will be set to a 500mb limit as standard and will only be extended with the written authorisation from a head of service or equivalent.To help you manage the amount of storage space, you should complete some routine housekeeping on a regular basis.  Housekeeping tasks should includeDeleting all unwanted emails from all your folders, inbox and sent boxSaving any large attachments to an appropriate network folder, then deleting the email
  • Using the inbuilt function to empty your ‘deleted items’ folder, this can be found in Tools – Options - Other"
What is not clear, is how councillors and officers, who are very busy, are supposed to manage deletion of information in the present day, that may then become relevant and important at a later date.

And further, recognition of emails as potentially required in future legal action or as evidence in a court case:
"A public office must not dispose of any records required for current or pending legal action or where the records may be required as evidence in a court case.  A public office should not destroy records that are the subject of a current or pending Freedom of Information (FOI) request."

What I can't yet find is any supporting policy guidance on claims that emails older than 4 months old can now be deleted. Most domestic free email accounts such as gmail give 15GB of storage, and some council based projects can take years to undertake, is the advice to delete for good housekeeping really prudent advice? As their own guidance states, correspondence can convey the background to contractual agreements. Another interesting fact is:

"It is important that nothing is sent via email that could be considered as bullying, harassment, offensive or discriminatory"

Thanet District Council Policy Guidance Documents relating to email retention:

Monday, 3 March 2014

Cliff Terrace circa 1900

On the eve of MP Laura Sandys Cliftonville Conservation public meeting, Thanet District Council has published the seven Draft Cliftonville character appraisal documents and many people have been asking to see sight of them for years. The appraisal documents were commissioned and paid for by English Heritage and were completed in 2011. So it is a hugely big deal for these documents to now be released and up for consultation.

So go download them and tell Thanet Council what you think:

There are seven areas up for consultation and this is a first step towards them achieving Conservation Area status. 

Politicians from all sides of the political spectrum have popped up saying the other side won't work with them. Then they've all popped up to say they will. So thank goodness for that. We can all now look forward to people sitting around the same table working out how best to preserve and enhance the wonderful built environment in Cliftonville. 

The seven proposed areas are:

Guest blogger: Councillor David Green on Cliftonville Conservation Areas

It's now the turn of Cabinet Member for Housing and Planning Services, Councillor David Green as guest blogger.

"Members of the council have agreed to consult on the future designation of a conservation site for Cliftonville with reference to the appraisals undertaken by the council.

Preserving the heritage and important historic architecture of Cliftonville is a key part of the wider regeneration here and we recognize the benefits that formally designated Conservation Areas can bring.

We’d like to begin consulting with residents to build support for future management of any conservation area and discuss the area this could cover. Our aim is to develop this in a way that is manageable and sustainable, complementing the wider regeneration of the area.

This consultation will be in parallel with work to develop a new Design Code for Cliftonville which the council has initiated. This sees the council working in partnership with the local community so that they can be directly involved in how their town develops.

This is a great opportunity for local people to give their views on the appraisal documents and to set out how they would like to see conservation taken forward in the future.

The comments received will be used to feed into the development of the new Cliftonville Design Code which residents will have the opportunity to contribute to at a public event in April.

Residents can share their views on these appraisal documents by e-mailing or writing to Consultation, Thanet District Council, PO Box 9, Margate, CT9 1XZ.

Louise, could I ask you and your colleagues to encourage as many cliftonville residents as possible to respond."

Saturday, 1 March 2014

An open letter from Councillor Julie Marson to Councillor Will Scobie

The guest blog theme continues... Councillor Julie Marson responds to Councillor Will Scobie.

Dear Cllr Scobie
I am pleased that you are on board with our commitment to the conservation of Cliftonville and very glad that you are keen to implement these conservation designation areas soon. As you are aware Laura and I have been campaigning on this for almost a year.

Since the administration amended my motion to exclude certain areas and to phase the designation, I would welcome the opportunity to discuss my and the residents' real concerns about implementation with the Labour administration. I would also like to extend the invitation to include Cabinet Member for Housing and Planning, Cllr David Green, since his decisions will be critical to the success of conservation in Cliftonville.


Cllr Julie Marson