Sunday, 21 December 2014

UKIP expel Councillor Rozanne Duncan for 'jaw dropping comments'

Rozanne Duncan

The news has spread like wild fire this afternoon across local and national media that UKIP have expelled Councillor Rozanne Duncan from the party for making what is quoted as 'jaw dropping comments' in a BBC documentary to be aired in January. 

UKIP have so far declined to offer any further clarification on what Ms Duncan, the Deputy Leader of the Thanet UKIP group has actually said. There has also been no statement from Councillor Duncan either. This leaves the residents of the Cliftonville East, the ward that Duncan represents very much in the dark.

Duncan took the seat in last year at a bi-election after Sandy Ezekiel the former Conservative Leader of Thanet District Council, was jailed for misconduct in public office. I also contended this seat as an independent candidate myself.

It leaves open the question whether the so called offending comments, that were strong enough for expulsion from UKIP, a party that in recent weeks has thought it acceptable and defended a candidate's use of 'chinky' as a colloquial term often used by people who come from council houses, were comments acceptable for a serving councillor to make. Describing the comments as 'jaw dropping' and offering no further explanation has lead to rampant speculation as to their content.

So, will Rozanne Duncan, who has previously served as a Conservative Councillor, do the right thing by the residents of Cliftonville East and clarify what all of this is about without delay? The silence so far is telling. Her member information page on Thanet Council's website only has a landline number and postal address and not even a council issued email address.

Shouldn't Thanet District Council be clarifying what this is about? Surely residents need to be assured that their councillor abides by the Code of Conduct. 

Friday, 19 December 2014

Is Thanet's Local Plan a viable plan?

Here's a puzzle for you:

What happens if you plan to build 12,000 new houses in one of the poorest districts in the country (that's had one of the highest council spending cuts of 5.3%) around a shopping centre that is based on people visiting by car.

Then you only plan to create 5,000 jobs. You then designate the shopping centre, full of corporate chains that up sticks when the going gets tough, as the main primary town centre drawing transport and other resources (such as train services from the stations in the towns to the new station in the middle of the fields to serve the new 12,000 houses) away from the three towns of Margate, Ramsgate and Broadstairs.

This puzzle is laid out in Thanet Council's draft Local Plan that will be up for consultation in the new year.

Someone had better invite an economist quick!

Saturday, 6 December 2014

Thanet Council plan demolition and social housing plans for historic Fort Road Hotel, Margate

During the Leader's Report on Thursday's Council meetingIris Johnston announced  the Council's intention to seek potential demolition of the historic18th century Fort Road Hotel, directly opposite Turner Contemporary and that the Council were working up plans for social housing flats on the site.

Present day with scaffolding
This news has come as a complete surprise to many of us that were waiting to hear when works would commence on the boutique hotel and restaurant scheme that had been announced in the press last year.

In 2011 the hotel was compulsory purchased by Thanet Council. It was then marketed by Thanet Council as a site suitable for regeneration into a boutique hotel. They advertised the building and even funded the placement of a neon advertisement on the roof proclaiming 'Iconic Site'. 

It was reported that there were 20 expressions of interest and a developer was then selected who then committed to working up plans. The developer was the owner of London's Beach Blanket Babylon. A mixed use hotel and restaurant scheme was drawn up by Guy Holloway Architects (who are also working on Dreamland) with all the associated costs of this process.

In their own report of 2011, Thanet Council described the building as:

"The Fort Road Hotel (previously the Fort Castle Public House) is one of the last surviving buildings in the area today that the artist JMW Turner would recognise. Turner spent fifteen years ‘weekending’ in Margate with Sophia Booth (whose house was opposite) and, as a noted drinker, it seems inconceivable that he did not visit the establishment.
This gives the former hotel hard-to-beat historic and artistic credentials that are likely to be of special interest to visitors to Turner Contemporary. The hotel also benefits from a fantastic position, facing the sea, overlooking (and overlooked by) the gallery. The two buildings share the same privileged view of Margate’s sunsets, that Turner declared “the loveliest in Europe”. These associations with Turner (historically with the artist and now with the gallery) give the Fort Road Hotel potentially iconic status.Furthermore, the building is well situated on the main coastal route in and out of Margate, within close proximity of the harbour area; the Old Town; and Margate High Street."
Thanet Council also posted a video on Youtube, which shows inside the building and includes a very fine Georgian staircase in the interior:

This leaves a number of unanswered questions:

Why is the boutique hotel and restaurant scheme not going ahead?

Why is Thanet Council, as the developer, contemplating demolition and working on plans for the development of flats in this key seafront location when we last heard it was going to be restored as a hotel?

Yes, there is a need for social housing in the Margate area. But the Council itself advertised this site for development into a hotel. 

Were the developers offered the option to demolish and replace with flats? Why take forward the creative marketing scheme of the 'Iconic Site' neon if all that is planned is demolition and flats?

We have, at Thanet Council's last count, over 800 empty properties in Margate and Cliftonville to be brought back into use. The Fort Road Hotel site seems to be a poor choice of location for the development of social housing. Tourism is a valuable, sustainable industry for Margate and key seafront sites like this are limited and should be retained for tourism purposes. Thanet's heritage buildings are a key driver for tourism. Extensive funding has already been allocated towards the marketing of this historic site to attract developers for the purpose of restoring the building as a working hotel. This seems to be yet another example of Thanet Council embarking on a u-turn without any of the public being informed of the process and heading off in a conflicting direction that their own policy stipulates. 

What can you do?
- Please sign the petition and share it with your friends and contacts.
- Give the Save Fort Road Hotel Facebook page a like and a share.
- Use the hashtag: #SaveFortRdHotel on social media.
- Write to the Leader of Thanet District Council, Councillor Iris Johnston with your views.

Saturday, 22 November 2014

As Hornby vacate Thanet why do we need their advice?

An article in today's Guardian features Thanet based business Hornby moving out of its base of 60 years and follows on with the woeful news about the struggling Margate economy.
You might be interested to know that senior executives of Hornby take up places on the boards of both
Thanet Regeneration Board (you have to actually click on Frank Martin's name to reveal he's from Hornby) and the Destination Management Plan Steering Group (Nick Cole representing the Thanet Business Group is Vice Chairman). 
Now we hear Hornby are upping sticks out of Thanet completely [edited to add: the Guardian article states they may keep their visitor centre in Margate], just as Thanet District Council release their
draft Local Plan which earmarks large scale development and expansion of the Westwood Ward. That's Westwood Cross, folks with infill of housing all around it on empty brownfield sites on all sides, and includes land that was once prime agricultural and ended up as EKO
The Financial Times reports that Hornby:
"announced an annual pre-tax loss of £4.6m and renegotiated its debt. Two months earlier, it issued its third profit warning in less than two years following prolonged problems with a Chinese supplier and adverse foreign exchange movements."

Do we need this kind of regeneration advice for Thanet?

There are no small business reps on the Thanet Regeneration Board. Why? I've asked and have never been given an answer.

So, here's to another positive piece in the national media about Margate struggling, when in reality, there are many small businesses collectively expanding.

The times they are a changing.

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

'Stylish' Walpole Bay Cliff Lift Grade II Listed

What a marvellous bit of good news to come home to this evening! English Heritage have approved my application and have designated Walpole Bay's 1934 Art Deco cliff lift at Grade II.

The Advice Report from English Heritage states:

"The Cliff Lift, Queens Promenade is a stylish 1934 Art Deco style concrete cliff lift which survives externally unaltered. It is an example of a very rare building type of which only four examples nationally are currently listed and the published criteria state that these are 'generally listed'. It is comparable with an inter-war cliff lift at Ramsgate which is listed at Grade II. It is part of a series of seaside structures in Cliftonville ranging in date from the early C19 to the 1930s, most of which are listed. It therefore meets the listing criteria for its building type."

The Cliff Lift now joins the recently designated Walpole Bay Tidal Pool at Grade II. Along with the rejection of the de-designation of Walpole Bay for bathing, the future for bathing at Walpole Bay looks ever more secure. If the Walpole Bay Swimmers keep at it they'll still be swimming at Christmas. 

In recent months, residents rallied and undertook the hard work of organising and painting of the lift's sadly dilapidated facade. The indefatigable Kate Harrison, while working as a Community Organiser for Locality, came across local painter and decorator Mark Johnson-Cooper who was eager to work to improve local historic buildings and get them looking better. They got others involved locally. The team was made up entirely of volunteers. Funding for the painting project was through the Community Organiser project and the Margate team that were in place at the time. The Margate Community Organiser team was the result of local residents successfully applying to Locality.
Transformed in 2014:

Photo Ian Venables
There is a dedicated Facebook Group for the lift. Join!

The listing now opens the door for further funding opportunities for this stretch of Cliftonville seafront. It's one of only four listed cliff lifts nationally. Taken out of service in 2009 when Thanet Council closed it, I hope that the dream of the lift working again and enabling easier access to and from the lower promenade can soon become a reality.
Walpole Bay Tidal Pool
Cliftonville has so many beautiful assets from the era when Britain proudly invested in building facilities for people to enjoy bathing along this unique stretch of coast. Protect them, love them and the community will flourish. They lie on the walking route from Margate Harbour along to the jewel in the crown of Thanet's beaches, Botany Bay and on to Broadstairs. For the last five years this has been a really popular pastime for our guests at our B&B throughout the winter months as well as the summer. This route aka, Cliftonville is the crucial link between the towns of Margate and Broadstairs. It's a place in its own right. Where else can you ride an art deco lift down to a 4 acre tidal pool at the end of your road? Viva Cliftonville!

Sunday, 2 November 2014

19 Hawley Square break ins

In the last week, we've sadly had to report a spate of break-ins at 19 Hawley Square. The building is Grade II listed and was, in better days,  The London Hotel. The building had previously had been sold to a housing association, then later becoming part of the portfolio of Orbit South. I've previously reported about Orbit South's failed attempts to get planning permission for conversion to tiny one bed flats and bedsits that were below their own minimum space standards. The purpose they stated at meetings with residents, was to obtain planning permission before selling on the property for the benefit of Orbit South's overall portfolio. 

Thanet District Council purchased back the building in 2011 from Orbit South for £75,000 to "bring a derelict building back into use and allow the Theatre Royal to expand its operations."  Earmarking 19 Hawley Square for the Theatre Royal has been the Council's stated intention for quite a few years. However, these intentions seem to have been ongoing for years and all the while a Grade II listed building is falling into ever greater disrepair. The building has substantial water ingress and dry rot. It's clear this situation shouldn't be allowed to continue indefinitely.

One has to wonder why Orbit South, allowed the listed 19 Hawley Square to fall into such a serious state of disrepair knowing its status as a designated heritage asset. The public may well now ask themselves how this affects Thanet District Council, who by buying the building have taken on the responsibility of the consequences of neglect. Depressingly, this was my post on the news of the Theatre's plans for the building back in 2011 and also Orbit South's Managing Director, Vivien Knibbs, also 2011. 

This is the third Grade II Listed large scale Georgian building on Hawley Square that is standing in a sorry state for years, exposed to the elements with seemingly no end in sight. 47, and 48-49 have both stood like gaping teeth having suffered arson attacks.
But these are Listed buildings. There is legislation to enforce their upkeep and protection from willful neglect. They are, by way of their listed status, eligible for funding. The Council purchased 19 Hawley Square in a bad state of repair and in the ensuing years the condition has worsened through lack of maintenance and repair. 

The Council list the property on their asset list:
19 Hawley Square is item 712, and is curiously listed as 'freehold and occupied'! The building has been empty for years.

Returning to this week's spate of break ins.

Worryingly, at the beginning of last week, children were seen entering the building at night with flashlights. This poses an obvious health and safety risk given the poor state of the building.

Today, two men were seen entering the building with a metal crow bar. They'd climbed up the scaffolding and entered through the easily accessible windows on the first floor.

Police attended and later this evening a Thanet Council Building Control Officer. The police contacted the company advertising on the scaffolding as responsible for security. The company stated their alarm, which didn't appear to work, was in place to protect the scaffolding and not the building.
Tonight the rain continues to fall into the buildings left with insufficient roof coverage.
Some may wonder how the Council's planning department can require of the public a standard of care for heritage assets in the face of this ongoing situation?

Wednesday, 1 October 2014

Roll over! Roll over! Chris Wells jumps ship to UKIP

After listening to the BBC Today Programme this morning slaughtering Ramsgate in their need to editorially define Thanet South as a UKIP Tory battleground acted out on a broken town, the news has just come in of another Tory defector to UKIP.

This time in the form of Councillor Chris WellsShadow Cabinet Member for Community Services and Councillor for the Viking Ward. Councillor Wells told The Gazette: 

"“I have become increasingly disillusioned with the direction of the Conservative party under David Cameron, and feel that locally UKIP now offer the best potential for positive change in Thanet.”
Perhaps that would read better as "the best potential for keeping my seat".

One hopes that Councillor Wells, now jumped ship, will not carry on with the jibes in the council chamber about other councillors who've changed parties.

Wells is returning to the side of Roger Latchford. Very soon the cabinet of Sandy Ezekiel will be reassembled. We can look back on those days with fondness as we survey the enduring rubble of Pleasurama.

Remember, folks. As Dave said so well today: "A vote for UKIP is a vote for Labour".

Tricky thing, this gambling malarky.