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.