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More ups and downs in the Manston Airport saga.

by Paul on Politics, by political editor Paul Francis Friday, September 26 2014

The saga over Manston Airport has already thrown up plenty of surprises but perhaps the biggest one came this week.

Just days after minister Grant Shapps declared his unwavering support for the airport and left campaigners in a euphoric mood came the news of its sale.

And the new owners dropped a bombshell: in their grand masterplan, regeneration specialists Chris Musgrave and Trevor Carpenter declared there was no place for an airport or any aviation-related services.

There has inevitably been speculation that the idea of a "mixed-use" commercial development outlined by the new owners means something else, namely a sprawling housing development.

The owners firmly reject the claim of uncontrollable housing sprawl insisting they are genuinely committed to establishing a site which has a variety of commercial uses, as well as some residential development.

Either way, Thanet Council is facing both a quandary and an opportunity. The ruling Labour administration is in the throes of deciding whether to push for a CPO in partnership with the American company RiverOak.

The latter has said that so far as they are concerned, the sale of the site to new owners makes no difference to their plan and a commitment to the council to underwrite the costs.

In a sense, RiverOak is right but the same cannot be said for the council.

From a position where there was only one offer on the table, the council now has another, which looks on the surface to have some credibility and would dovetail with the work underway to redevelop the former Pfizer site, the Discovery Park.

The difficulty for the Labour leadership is that it has, until now and very publicly, stood four square behind those who want to see Manston retained as an airport.

Behind the scenes, we know, however, that there is some disquiet among Labour councillors about supporting a CPO even if it is underwritten by RiverOak. Some of that disquiet is also felt by members of the Conservative group.

The report council officials will present to next month's cabinet meeting cannot overlook the new owners' plans, and neither should it.

The political quandary is which option to back. Support a CPO which is bound to lead to a lengthy legal tussle with no guarantee of success or swing behind the alternative business park scheme with its promise of jobs (albeit rather imprecise) and investment.

The consolation for Labour is that precisely the same conundrum faces the Conservative party, which has also been fairly explicit in supporting those who want Manston to be retained as an airport.

The odds last week were on the council backing a CPO. This week, I would say those odds have lengthened considerably.

But next week? Who knows.

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- Taking flight - the fight for Manston. Plus: Home Rule for Kent?

by Paul on Politics, by political editor Paul Francis Friday, September 19 2014

The government has been studiously neutral on the fight to save Manston airport despite the best efforts of MPs and campaigners.

But that changed and changed potentially significantly this week with a visit by the government minister Grant Shapps, the minister without portfolio.

Mr Shapps, greeted like a folk hero, made some of the strongest comments in support of the airport by a senior politician we have heard.

 

 

 Not surprisingly, campaigners who turned out in numbers to hear him, were pretty pleased.

He chose his words carefully, of course, and avoided making concrete pledges but he struck a much more positive and upbeat tone than anyone could have expected.

Why? He certainly seemed genuine enough and it helped that he was able to display his familiarity with the area - he told the crowd that he had used Manston himself and not just as a passenger.

 As a keen pilot, he had flown into Manston in the past and "hoped to do so in the future." (Interestingly, he has ben involved in trying to secure the future of an airport in his own constituency)

An underlying reason is that the fight for Manston will be a key issue in the general election campaign if there is no resolution by next May. The Conservatives locally have no doubt alerted the Tory high command that they cannot afford to let UKIP make the running on the issue.

It was revealing to see the prospective Conservative candidate Craig Mackinlay and the Thanet Conservative group leader Bob Bayford both in attendance.

In the weeks and months to come, we can expect to see a Manston arms race develop among the political parties, manouevering to ensure they are seen as the most interested in securing the airport's future.

And just possibly their own.

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Which brings us to the vexed issue of whether the Labour-run council will seize the moment and back a move to pursue a CPO to acquire the airport from owner Ann Gloag.

There appears to be some disquiet within her own party's ranks over this.

Leaked emails suggest some rather stark divisions not just in the cabinet, which will initially have to put forward a recommendation based on what council officials say.

Some are clearly anxious that they will trigger a lengthy legal wrangle that will drag on for months and with no cast-iron guarantee of success and doubts over the cost to the taxpayer.

My guess is that the meeting scheduled for mid-October will outline the options over teaming up with RiverOak,the American consortium, and recommend the decision should be a matter for the full council.

This would just about be consistent with the rules around the executive decision making process, although ultimately, the cabinet leader would have to sign off any formal decision.

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In the face of the devolution result, attention has turned to whether there should be greater devolution of powers from Whitehall to local tiers of government.

This is tied up with the awkward question over whether there should be a separate parliament for England and whether MPs should only vote on English issues.

The independence vote in Scotland has shown that the public can be engaged in debate around constitutional reform and the outcome does present an opportunity to address some of these other issues.

In Kent, that would almost certainly see a debate break out over the case for some kind of unitary government - an issue that would be as tricky for the Conservatives as Labour.

And I think voters will quickly be turned off if politicians spend more time advancing complex re-organisations and tinkering with the architecture of local government rather than more pressing issues like economy.

 

 

 

 

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Codgers get blame for hole in coffers – again

by The Codgers' Club Friday, September 5 2014

Villainous pensioners like we Codgers are being blamed once again for the state of the UK’s finances.

For the second successive year, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) said there was a national deficit of £239 million in July when economists had been forecasting a small surplus for the month.

All this was despite tax income being higher than July 2013.

It was when the ONS explained that social benefit payments had risen, that we Codgers (and a few million more over 65s) got the blame.

The explanation was that the rises were mainly due to increased state pensions.

A Treasury spokesman said the government was set to halve the deficit by December, and was quoted as saying: “The government’s long-term economic plan is working, delivering economic security for hardworking people.”

I can hear my fellow Codgers muttering: “nudge, nudge, say no more, say no more.”

The simple fact is we get a state pension that (if we are lucky) rises by the level of inflation. It never goes higher, and sometimes comes not at all. That we have paid National Insurance all our working lives is neither here nor there: pensioners are a drain on the assets of this country.

I’ve already had a close relative accuse my wife and me of being the cause of his “high” taxation. Well, tough!

We did the same for the hard-working pensioners who had worked for a pittance on the railways, in the merchant navy, ordered to fight world wars.

Not everyone agreed with my relative. The BBC was told by economist Azad Zangana: “Despite the very strong economy we are seeing, the government is really struggling to get the public finances under control.”

Codgers – be prepared for pension cuts under the next government. Read the manifestos very carefully.

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Categories: Moans and groans

The Friday Five - a round-up the week's top political stories in Kent

by Paul on Politics, by political editor Paul Francis Friday, September 5 2014

The Mayor of London considered it a dream but others saw it as nightmare. But it was Boris who woke up in a cold sweat this week when Sir Howard Davies finally sunk his grand plans for a Thames Estuary airport.

In a conclusive demolition of the scheme, the Commission said it was too costly, too environmentally damaging and too disruptive. Boris reacted in characteristically forthright fashion. "In one myopic stroke, the Commission has set the debate back by half a century," he railed. But for all his fluster, the scheme looks dead and buried. Unless BoJo becomes Prime Minister.

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There was not much evidence of entente cordiale as migrants gathered at Calais resorted to increasingly desperate attempts to cross to the UK. The Mayor of Calais threatened to blockade the port - a threat that didn't go down terribly well with Kent MPs or ministers. UKIP leader Nigel Farage remained uncharacteristially quiet...

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It was described by its creator as a "abstracted diagrammatic river...and a calligraphic motif simultaneously embedded in and separate from the surrounding streetscape." But the £100,000 concrete "flume" - an artistic feature of the divisive shared space road scheme in Ashford is falling apart and is to be ripped up. And who is to pay for it? Have a wild guess...

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After the defection of Douglas Carswell from the Conservatives to UKIP, the spotlight shone on other likely suspects who might follow suit. The Rochester and Strood MP Mark Reckless was the subject of this speculation but killed it off swiftly while Sittingbourne and Sheppey MP Gordon Henderson revealed he had been contacted by someone asking if he would like to consider joining. No, he said.

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Still, the UKIP bandwagon keeps rolling on although I doubt very much that Mr Cameron will be quaking in his boots just yet to learn that the Conservatives have lost a by-election in Folkestone.

Congratulations to David Callahan, though, who took the seat from the Conservatives with 27.9% of the vote, six points ahead of Tory candidate Rodica Wheeler with 21.7%.

 

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Categories: Precept | Relationships

Dropping Boris Island won't make the next airport decision any easier

by Paul on Politics, by political editor Paul Francis Tuesday, September 2 2014

For Boris Johnson, it was a dream solution but for many in Kent and Medway, it was a nightmare.

Now the Mayor of London has seen his vision of a four-runway hub airport grounded and unlikely to take off again at any time in the near future.

Grounded: The estuary airport plan is cut adrift>>>

For all the Mayor's protestations, the one thing he cannot complain about is that the Davies Commission didn't give him a fair hearing.

The review of the option allowed the Mayor and Lord Foster to argue their case again with the commission but it was to no avail - and some suspect it was always going to get knocked back.

The costs, the environmental damage and the disruption caused by closing and relocating an airport were all cited as difficulties that the commission concluded would be insurmountable.

It was not as if the arguments were finely balanced. The case against going ahead was fairly clear despite Lord Foster's assertion that the conclusion reached by the commission meant a fairly predictable compromise.

Attention now focuses on whether Heathrow or Gatwick should expand and both options are politically awkward.

Expansion of Heathrow would expose the Conservatives to the legitimate charge of performing a huge U-turn. Expanding Gatwick risks opposition from traditionally Conservative supporting heartlands - including west Kent.

The review will not report back until next September, conveniently after the general election.

What happens then is anyone's guess - particularly if there is a change in government and the possibility that Boris is back at Westminster.

The major problem with addressing aviation capacity in the south east is perhaps the fact that politicians are involved.

No decision will be taken until all the political ramifications are carefully calibrated and measured against the economic arguments.

Don't expect a quick decision - even if that is what UK plc desperately needs.

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I thought I’d ducked out of a drenching

by Nikki's world, with Nikki White Tuesday, September 2 2014

So, they finally got me.

For weeks, I’ve been watching with glee as friend after friend tipped a bucket of icy water over their head, and nominated somebody else for the ALS challenge.

There were buckets full of ice, dustbins full of water, sensible tippings on sunny days, and mad-cap near midnight drenchings outside our local pub.

I’ve watched celebs such as David Beckham and wife Victoria lay down the gauntlet, seen local councillors do their bit and also utter strangers make idiots of themselves.

I thought I’d managed to escape the madness because I’m the worst Facebooker friend ever.

I log on and love to catch up with what others are doing but when it comes to posting things about me, I never feel I’ve got much to say. So I don’t, which I thought meant I’d probably slipped under the radar.

And so I thought the ice bucket challenge had passed me by until one of my oldest and dearest friends nominated me on Thursday night.

Worse still, she’s not even on Facebook. She’d been nominated by her teenage son, and nominated me via her husband’s page – now that’s just sneaky!

So there I was on Friday night, running late to get ready to go out, and instead of luxuriating in a hot bubble bath, I was stood in the middle of my garden, tipping water over my head.

And before you ask, yes I did donate some cash.

The sad thing is that although this craze has swept the land, according to a recent survey, more than half of Brits polled did not donate to an ALS charity after taking part.

And 53% of people who did complete the challenge did not know what cause it was supporting.

If you don’t know, ALS is short for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, the American name for the condition usually referred to in the UK as motor neurone disease (MND).

It has raised more than £3m for the charity, but they could have so much more.

If you’re one of those who has taken on the challenge but not paid up yet, donate now. You can log on at www.mndassociation.org or donate £5 by texting ICED55 to 70070.

I’m now off to finish my loom band collection.

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Plotting a move, lock stock, shed and tyres

by The Codgers' Club Friday, August 29 2014

by Peter Cook

If you think moving house is tough, try moving your allotment.

I have finally conceded defeat to the rabbits and voles and slugs and snails and pigeons who for the past 10 years have made my life a living hell. I have tried trench warfare, chemical warfare, verbal warnings about ferrets, barriers that would rival the Berlin wall. Nothing keeps them out.

Sapper rabbits have created a network of tunnels to undermine my defences. Squadrons of pigeons have developed a technique whereby they land on protective netting forcing it down on to the crop so they can wreak havoc with their beaks. Slithery silent slugs actually tuck into those little blue pellets and demand more, before helping themselves liberally to the beer in my slug traps.

I know when I am beaten, and am now moving to a spacious new plot at the other end of the allotment site.

But you accumulate so much stuff in the course of 10 years, especially when, like me, you are an inveterate rubbish skip pillager.

There is my shed for a start. I can’t leave that behind. It’s made from inch and a quarter pitch-pine tongue and groove planking that once formed the Georgian ceiling of long demolished Chatham Dockyard buildings. That wood must be hundreds of years old, I can’t leave that behind.

So the whole building will have to be dismantled piece by piece and reassembled on the new site.

Then there’s my collection of old tyres set up to form convenient pest-free containers for strawberry plants. (It doesn’t work by the way. Voles come up from underneath and nibble the roots and slugs will always find a way.) Anyway they all have to be shifted, along with the three cast iron baths I use for bringing on young plants.

On top of all that there are fruit bushes and trees to be dug up and transplanted. The more mature ones will have to stay.

I will miss the old plot in many ways. Despite marauding wild beasts I have obtained some tasty produce from time to time. And the wildlife, despite its destructive behaviour, has been fascinating.

However, taking on a new plot gives me an opportunity to get my defences properly built before I start. I challenge any rabbit to chew its way through the corrugated iron that now surrounds it.

So I anticipate that next season I will have prize- winning parsnips, succulent strawberries, perfect potatoes and club root free cabbages.

Come to think of it though, I said the same things this time last year.

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Categories: Moans and groans

After the coronation - now UKIP leader Nigel Farage faces the heavy artillery

by Paul on Politics, by political editor Paul Francis Wednesday, August 27 2014

There was never really any doubt about the outcome of UKIP's hustings meeting to select the party's election candidate for Thanet South and if it wasn't quite a coronation, it came pretty close. It might have been billed as a genuine contest between the four candidates but Nigel Farage had activists eating out of his hands from the moment he took the stage.

Nigel Farage canters to victory in UKIP hustings>>>

Although in later interviews he reined back a little over his declaration that UKIP might hold the balance of power  next May, you could, in the febrile and euphoric atmosphere at the Odd Fellows Hall in Ramsgate, see why he said it.

So, can he win in Thanet South? Here are the reasons he might - and the reasons why he might not:

For:

  • UKIP has established a solid base of support in the constituency, with a growing number of activists and volunteers prepared to pound the streets, stuff envelopes and generally do anything they can to get him elected. After successes that exceeded the party's expectations in the county council election last May, UKIP believe it has momentum that will carry them through to next May.
  • Nigel Farage may not be to everyone's taste but he is a skilled and astute politician, who knows the area well and has a proven track record in winning elections. Yes, his claim to local connections are a little tendentious - he lives in west Kent - but he is hardly the first candidate to stand in a constituency he does not (yet) live in. The Conservative candidate CraIg McKinlay, for example, lives in Medway.
  • Although UKIP has become an established political organisation, it is still regarded as being outside the political mainstream. Voter disenchantment with the main parties remains high and UKIP continues to be a repository of support for the disaffected. It will benefit from the "plague on all your houses" sentiment for all it is worth
  • UKIP views on immigration and the EU continue to chime with a lot of voters across the political spectrum. It will push the message that if you want UKIP, you have to vote UKIP. Europe will be a big issue in the election in a way that it wasn't in 2010 and Thanet has arguably seen the consequences of a failure by successive governments to properl tackle immigration over the years
  • Voters like backing winners - if people feel UKIP is in with a chance of causing a political upset, they may want to join in.

Against:

  • By his own admission, the UKIP leader is a marmite politician. He divides opinion in a way few politicians do - you either like him or you don't. There's no middle ground.
  • While voters are concerned about immigration, as well as being sceptical over the EU, they will also want to know where UKIP stands on other issues. At the moment, there is a big policy gap that it needs to fill fairly quickly.
  • The other parties see UKIP as a genuine threat - although they might not admit it publicly. That means they will bring in the heavy artillery during the campaign to try and see it off. Expect Thanet to be inundated by a stream of visits from political heavyweights in the run up to May's poll.
  • UKIP is undergoing much more scrutiny than before and continues to have candidates and supporters capable of dropping the party in it with the odd unguarded remark and throwaway comment. It will have to be hard on disciplining transgressions rather than letting them go unpunished if it wants to be seen as a "serious" party.


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Categories: Precept

Dover's Rubbish

by Down and out in Dover and district, with Len Oldfeep Monday, August 25 2014

I’m sorry I have been away for so long but I have been in hiding, getting over the embarrassment of my ‘Face of Dover’ mix up. You see dear readers I was under the impression the Dover Express was looking for the best lookalike of ‘The Face’ from the A-team. I spent months cultivating the look and tracking down the right 80’s clobber only to find they were just looking for some attractive Dovorians... Never mind who would want to be the face of a town with such a litter problem anyway?

Yes rubbish is a problem in Dover. People are no longer sure of what can and can’t be recycled and contractors are refusing to take it away if you should put something in the wrong box. Our bins are being monitored. And now we’re being told we can’t even litter anymore! Can’t even drop a fag butt in the high-street or watch a crisp packet be cradled gracefully by the breeze to a nearby tree or settle in a children’s playground, without being fined £400 plus. At least Morrisons have had the decency to remove the one pound coin locks on their trolleys so we can shove one in a river on the way home after a nights drinking.

Dropping cigarettes has accounted for 80% of cases where people have been issued with fines by Environment Enforcement Officers. I can’t help but feel a little sorry for the perpetrators as the hefty fee does not seem fitting of the crime. There are worse offenders out there; irresponsible dog owners who do not clean up after their animals and fly tippers who I’m sure everyone would like to see punished more. Just six fines were handed out in the 191 reported cases of owners not clearing up after their best friend.

The aftermath of rubbish day is never a pretty sight; rouge cans bouncing and ricocheting down the streets to freedom, slices of half eaten pizza and rubbish sacks being pulled apart by Seagulls. It seems customary to blame the council and Veolia –Dover’s street cleaning service providers- after the foul scented trucks have disappeared for another week but if we examine what is left behind we can see who is to blame. I have seen nappies, pet food, food waste and all manner of things inviting birds, rats, foxes, vermin to come and see what bounty is inside, spilling out of purple sacks like the intestines of a wounded soldier on the battlefield.

I know the majority of people make the effort to separate their recycling, food waste and put their bins out in the morning and not days before. I see it with my own eyes every Thursday morning. We are not perfect and may toss the odd plastic container in the bin that is just too fiddly to clean out but we do our bit. It is the few who are not willing to perform these simple tasks, and I fear not just out of laziness but indifference to their hometown and neighbours, that are responsible for the carnage you see when collecting your morning paper. It’s the same people dropping litter standing next to a bin, drinking alcohol in the market square, and dumping shopping trolleys’ in the Dour. They will complain when their mess is not cleaned up quick enough too. Blame culture is prevalent nowadays. No one takes responsibility anymore.

Of course I can’t let KCC, DDC and Veolia get away with it that easy. Some of KCC’S policies have led to more rubbish on our streets. Fly-tipping increased in Dover district after KCC began charging people who use commercial vehicles to dump rubbish. DDC are being too soft on dog owners and fining Veolia paltry sums for not doing their job properly. People argue why they pay their council tax when the streets are an embarrassment but my point is who made them like it.

I would hate to see another big brother style measure like introducing transparent bin liners so your neighbours can see what you’re putting in your rubbish but perhaps it’s the only way we will rid the streets of garbage.

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Categories: Dover Town centre | Environment | Health and Safety; | Humour | KCC

Hell is being kept on hold to a call centre

by The Codgers' Club Friday, August 22 2014

by David Jones

I’ve said many times before in this column that if anything is going to drive me to an early grave it will be a call centre. I hate them.

As we wait, growing increasingly frustrated, we are told repeatedly that our call is important. We then join a queue waiting anything up to half an hour to speak to a real person. So our call is important, but obviously not that important.

To be fair, some companies, BT in particular, have a fast-track system which enables you, without joining a queue, to speak to someone in Bombay who doesn’t understand a word you are saying. But at least you can have a ridiculous conversation without waiting too long, or paying extra.

On a serious note, most people want to talk to a customer service desk in the UK about whatever issue they have. There has been growing pressure for companies to scrap their foreign-based call centres, which are much cheaper to run.

This week I read that mobile phone giant EE has found a way round the problem by introducing a ‘priority answering service’ at its call centres, which are now UK-based.

For a 50p payment, callers are fast-forwarded to the front end of the queue. If you don’t cough up, goodness knows how long you will be waiting. This is nothing short of outrageous, a form of commercial blackmail to extract cash from customers for a service they should be receiving anyway.

It makes my blood boil when I hear EE’s response to the inevitable complaints about its new charging policy. “We have invested heavily in customer service by bringing overseas call centres back to the UK and hiring more staff,” it says.

What that actually means is that we tried the cheap option abroad, but it didn’t work, so we are now going to make our customers pay to meet the costs of correcting our mistake.

Alarmingly, EE is not the first to foist this blatant money-making scheme on callers. Budget airline Ryanair is also charging its customers to jump the queue. It won’t be long before more get in on the act.

It’s time for a customer revolution, which, in the case of EE, has already started. Don’t let them get away with it, or we’ll be on the slippery slope to being charged for goodness knows what.

Companies should start doing what’s best for their customers, not what’s best for their bottom line.

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