Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Grumpy Britain how about Kent?Is it any wonder, that Britain is amongst the most grumpy Nations in Europe. The fact that researchers from Cambridge University, have either the time money or inclination to research this, is in itself reason enough to hack me off this morning.

One of the conclusions apparently drawn from their research is that, there is an increasing lack of trust in our government institutions. The lack of trust, particularly in our local government, is what upsets me most, whether it's our local Conservative councillors, pushing through the hideous Westwood Cross Housing Estate or Kent 'County' Tories wasting public money on their own television channel. Incidentally Kent TV must be a breakthrough or extension in the field of vanity publishing (this being the term for the generally talentless paying to publish their own trash (bit close to home that one)).

For those of us looking into this country's local government from outside, it seems like a totally artificial world, populated by those who think we need, consultants to state anything but the bleeding obvious, unaccountable quangos with a cosy appointment system, even hiving off taxpayers' money into special regeneration funds (which suddenly becomes local authority gambling money) and yes vanity broadcasting.

We elect councillors, who are supposed to take decisions on our behalf, but as we have seen here in Kent, the traditional system of elected representatives isn't working, because it appears that instead of relying on their own judgment, they often can't wait to pass the buck, by getting second opinions from clueless consultants.

I would have more faith in local government, if when the council needed a second opinion, they rang someone up like me and said what do you think, example flights from Manston to obscure American towns, or offshore art galleries, Bollix would suffice for many of their crazy ideas. Instead of paying someone £1,000 plus per day, ring me for an instant yes or no. Just think had they asked me, or you about Manston or Turner, the Kent council could have saved the public £8 million.

Link BBC's version of grumpy story


  1. At great personal risk I am sure, Tony, I will respond. No one in local government, councillors, officers or whoever, lives in a parrallel universe. Many of us who are councillors are also out there trying to earn a living alongside your good selves. Yes, there are often ways of doing things which seem tortuous and long winded, but most of those come from safeguards to prevent waste and stupidity, even though they sometimes look like the real article themselves.

    People are being completely misled around the whole westwood cross housing scenario. Let me try and state it clearly one more time. New housing on this site has been in the governments, and the councils local plans since 1999. This was under the previous labour administration at TDC who wrote 1000 houses there into the plan. The aim was to build a wadge of new homes in one place not have a series of green belt invasions dotted around the island. This is in addition to using the available brownfield sites. It has always been accepted to meet the (labour) governments demands for housing in this area some greenfield sites would have to be used. This was seen then - and probably now - as the least worst option available.

    Since that plan the arrival of westwood cross shopping centre has changed traffic flows around the area for the worse. There are solutions in the pipeline, but have not been put in place prior to the arrival of the new housing outline application.

    This was why the current (conservative) council worked so hard to ensure that there are road and infrastructure items up front within the new development plan; and that the east kent access road is brought on stream (KCC work that one, with government).

    What happened at planning and full council last week was a tactical shift by the labour group to pretend publicly they are against the development, when they were quite happy to put 1000 houses into
    place, but are now opposing 1020 or 1060 as if it is the end of the world. This is tactical dishonesty of the first order, and judging by the letters in the Thanet Times today sadly some people are fooled.

    Cllr Nicolson also dishonestly waved about and quoted from a government press release about reduced need for housing, whilst not admitting it referred to the situation after 2026.

    If the Conservatives had wanted to play games, then we could have accepted the labour amendment and tied them to the development, their development. But to do so would court losing some of the road structure through appeal as the councils position would have been judged unreasonable in the circumstances, and huge costs would have been awarded against the council.

    Turning to the KCC television station. Again the Labour opposition at county hall have made much of this expenditure, and encouraged all to pour scorn on the idea. It was, I have to say, my initial reaction as well. However - how much money do you think KCC currently spend trying to stay in touch with people and undertake government demanded consultations? If that money is piled into a television station on the internet where consultation, planning notices, job advertising, and engagement, as well as housing and council tax benefit tables etc how much simpler such a single source information channel may be, and how many different people might it reach?

    None of these things are done lightly, without considerble tooth sucking and deliberation, debate and discussion. This has worked elsewhere, as well as failed elsewhere. If it is a great success I wonder how many will claim to have supported it from the beginning? There is cost control, we know how much alternatives cost, we know who we currently do and dont reach. This money would be spent on communication anyway...so why not try and make it work in the most attractive way possible?

    Instead of why, sometimes we need to ask why not? I accept there is a huge fund of jests and jokes that will arise from this proposal, as ECR has shown with some skill. But there is also a serious need to engage and interest people in what KCC does, and how it does it - and this may be one step forward in achieving this.

    One figure haunts me more than any other. More people in our area vote in the inconsequential big brother phone ins than in local elections. I am certain more will vote for rescue dogs than me! If this is the way our society is moving, is it always wrong to try and move with it rather than, Canute like, row back to the past?

    PS THis does not mean you can look forward to councillors starring in big brother style programmes - can you imagine anything more boring than at home with Clive Hart? He bores us all enough in public......

  2. Thank you for your comments Chris as ever they raise the tone of this website and are much appreciated, even if I don't agree.

    Firstly although I rarely give this impression, I have a lot of admiration for yourself and others who serve on our councils, since the vast majority do so because they wish to contribute. Frankly it's the easiest thing in the world, to challenge the work of politicians, but having said that, I hope that I and others make our contribution from outside, what I consider to be a closed world of local politics.

    Who what or how the proposed development for Westwood Cross came about is irrelevant, yes there may well be a need for 1000 houses to accompany the retail park, my position in common with many of the protesters, revolves around the appalling lack of allowance made for traffic firstly to the existing retail park and secondly the new housing estate.

    Now the only people you can blame for the state of affairs concerning the traffic, that exists in Thanet are those who allowed the plan to go ahead, which may well have involved the Labour group. However as I understand the Highways are the responsibility of Kent County Council, and I personally found presentation of Kent Highways role in this development as given at the planning meeting (full council) pretty poor.

    In fact access to Thanet, has traditionally been abysmal, due mainly I think to the fact that, if it doesn't affect Maidstone, then Kent council aren't bothered.

    If Kent council had put the same effort into new road building, as they did leading up to the Kings Hill development, the source of Kent councils, special regeneration funds, then I doubt anyone would be complaining.

    I think traffic management around this development is pitiful, as are the resources, the roads provided by the Kent Highways Department. Just take us example the fact that, there is no adequate road into Margate, if the hierarchy that runs this county lived in Thanet, there would be proper access roads to Margate as well as Ramsgate.

    The idea of a Kent TV station, is nonsense, since if nothing else, it rather misses the point, the Internet already offers, what they're suggesting.

    I actually took advantage and watched, via the Internet the Cabinet meeting which discussed Kent TV, noting Kent council isn't all bad particularly the item discussing sex education.

    You're totally right about Big brother.

    Now any one reading this blog, probably comes away with the impression that I am some barking mad loony Socialist, when in fact I'm critical of all parties. Whether you or anyone else appreciates my comments, is neither here nor there, I have a point of view which is not represented in the media, God bless Google for giving me and my like a voice.

    What I would like see, is more accountability, more representation of ordinary people, just as an example take a look at East Kent partnership, without checking (so I may be wrong) most of the board are made up of chief executives and local authority functionaries, each of these will have an income and minimum 50 grand similarly other members probably in excess of £100,000, working in a bureaucratic local government culture, in no way reflecting the vast majority of East Kent populace. Why not for a bit of balance, have representation from ordinary people.

    Again thank you for your contribution Chris, as ever I respect your opinion but disagree in the main, however you are still in the running for my vote, if you appear on my ballot paper in the next county elections.

  3. Strewth, if I have to work this hard for every vote I had better start now for 2009! Thank you TOny for your good wishes. Credit where it is due. Roger Gale when first elected many years ago promised improved access to Thanet and everybody laughed and repeated your view about access. Roger got the new Thanet Way, but it ran into the ground at Manston. This is finally being rectified with the new East Kent Access Road coming along in stages.

    I am not sure what you want in Margate. A new twin track road through Shottendane? Demolition to clear remaining single track around the current entry?

    There are some choke points, but they need very big solutions, some of which are in the much derided Margate Master Plan around Dreamland.

    We all fight hard for what the area needs. Sometimes you have to settle for less than you would ideally like to keep all the necessary balls in the air so to speak.

    I travel widely, and, at the risk of getting shot, would say the traffic problems here are much less than those of many other areas I visit. Thatsaid, I have stated before, many come here to avoid suburban roundabout hell so common in the rest of the country, and are dismayed when it seems to be coming here.

    We all want the same thing. Good roads with no traffic on them when we want to use them. After all its not us that clog up the roads, its the other buggers is it not?