Wednesday, 25 January 2012

FLYBE IN THE OINTMENT

The issue of night flights at Manston Airport has been rearing its ugly head again. Despite the fact that FlyBe announced that they'll stop using the airport for passenger flights by March 2012, Manston Airport owner Charles Buchanan has told This Is Kent that the decision "reinforces the need for the airport's proposals for limited and managed scheduled night-time flights" and David Foley from Thanet and East Kent Chamber of Commerce also banged the war drum by singing from the same hymn sheet on BBC News.

But hey, wait a minute, didn't Manston Airport's Master Plan explicitly state that the success of passenger flights would be a precursor to any 'additional services' it might offer? Here's a quote:

"We anticipate that initial growth at our airport will come in steps. Initially, passenger flights will be offered by aircraft based at other airports and operating single daily return flights to various destinations from our airport. As the market grows, additional services will be offered and aircraft operators will look to base aircraft and crews at our airport. Our airport is not the first to predict growth based on this model and many regional UK and mainland Europe low cost airports have developed in this way." (Manston Master Plan, p50)

Since the success of passenger flights formed such an important part of Manston Airport's Master Plan, the fact that FlyBe will no longer be running passenger flights due to low demand makes it more problematic for Manston Airport to argue the case for night flights. After all, the Master Plan clearly states that additional services will be offered as the market for passenger flights grows and since the market is clearly not growing then I'd say this doesn't reinforce the need for night flights at all. If anything, they should say it reinforces the need for day flights!

A big reason behind Manston Airport's existence is, of course, freight. This is why I assume night flights are still being pushed for, even though doing so in the absence of any passenger flights somewhat contradicts their Master Plan. If you remember it, according to an overview of how Thanet Council hopes the District will look by the year 2030, it was hoped that Manston would be "the commercial centre of Thanet" and that Kent International Airport will have "established itself as a major cargo base for the UK, processing 500,000 tons of freight per year, particularly from nearby continental markets."

Since freight is clearly the name of the game, I found it odd to discover that Cardiff Airport has been at the heart of similar plans, with an IFW news article stating that it could become "an air-freight hub for Tesco, flying in perishable goods from Spain and Holland for delivery to supermarkets across northern Britain." Hmm, Tesco, eh? Since Margate residents near Arlington House are trying to resist plans to build a Tesco superstore, this should ring alarm bells – could this be the ulterior motive behind Manston Airport's persistent push for night flights? It seems more than a coincidence to me.

Monday, 23 January 2012

STRIKE IT RICHBOROUGH

The towers and chimney at Richborough Power Station are going to be demolished, according to BBC News, Kent Online and This Is Kent. In last week's planning committee, as covered by 'Ville Views blogger James Maskell, councillors voted unanimously in favour of demolishing the iconic East Kent landmark, and though I'm saddened by the news, I'm not in the least bit surprised. It was an inevitable consequence and I think people should resign themselves to accepting this new reality. It was inescapable.

At first, I had ambiguous feelings about the idea of demolishing Richborough Towers. On the one hand, I felt that the case could be made that they're a great example of Brutalist architecture from a bygone historical era, and I previously wrote about how I had a sentimental attachment to them due to the fact that my grandfather worked at the power station for most of his adult life.

On the other hand, I saw no entirely legitimate reason to keep the towers because: a) They've been in a state of disuse for so long now that maintenance costs would outweigh any nostalgic value b) It's not like they could be brought back into operation now, is it? and c) It's been 16 years since they closed, so it seems rather futile to hang onto two big lumps of concrete when they serve no practical purpose whatsoever.

I ended up joining a Facebook campaign to save the Richborough towers and chimney, largely out of a sympathetic loyalty to the significant role they played in my grandfather's career. Some environmental activists spoke out in support of saving the towers, but considering the role Richborough Power Station played in polluting the very environment those activists claimed to be defending, it seemed like a massive contradiction in terms to me.

However, I did end up writing an e-mail to Planning Services in which I outlined how important I felt the towers were to my family and I concluded with the following statement:

"If indeed the site is to be used as a 'green energy' recycling plant to generate electricity, why not keep the towers as a reminder of how things used to be done? Why not set up a museum and try and educate school students across Kent about the importance of energy resources and sustainability, teaching them about the important historical role Richborough Power Station once held?"

Fanciful as it might have been, that opinion still stands. However, let's be honest, keeping the towers was never a likely outcome. But if anything deserves to replace Richborough Power Station, this new Green Energy recycling plant is a rightful successor. As someone who strongly believes that action needs to be taken on reducing CO2 emissions and building a low carbon economy, why would I poo-poo the notion of setting up a green energy facility such as this? It's the perfect way to modernise the site of the former power station and drag it kicking and screaming into the 21st century.

Sure, Richborough Energy Park might not look as iconic as the towers and chimney, but it will ultimately share the same goal of generating electricity, only this time without having to burn fossil fuels and melt our planet's beloved ice caps. And what's so bad about that, eh?! The only disadvantage as far as I can see is that Richborough Energy Park will only be generating electricity for Belgium via undersea cabling and not for the UK, but hey, if it generates enough jobs, it will achieve far more than the power station will do if we continue to allow it to sit on a derelict brownfield site. 

So, despite my initial objections, my discomfort, and my sadness at the thought of an East Kent landmark being blown up, I've slowly come round to the idea of demolishing the old to make way for the new. How do you feel about it?

Tuesday, 17 January 2012

THE ONLY SOLUTION...?

The proposed demolition of the chimney and cooling towers at Richborough Power Station is going to be discussed by the planning committee at Thanet District Council tomorrow (Wednesday 18 January). I'll be honest, I'm not really sure how this planning committee malarkey works. Does this mean that we'll get a definitive yes or no whether the demolition is going ahead? Can anyone enlighten me? 

While we're still on this subject, I noticed on the drive past Richborough Power Station that there's a huge sign (see the above picture) describing the proposed Green Energy Plant as “the only solution for the residents of East Kent that already has planning” adding that “there is no need for TWO energy plants we have the only ONE required.” If that's not a blatant attempt to resort to propaganda – oops, sorry, I meant advertising – to fill the heads of passersby with pro-demolition messages then I don't know what is.

It gets more in-your-face though. If you think that sign's not persuasive enough, or that they're not trying hard enough to convince the public that blowing things up is the only way forward, check this out...



I've noticed lots of these signs on the drive past the power station. It's signage for DDS Demolition Ltd., a company which describes itself as “a demolition company predominantly operating throughout Kent, London and the South-East” and that they are “a front runner in the demolition industry.” Clearly, they make no bones about the fact that they're interested in being destructive (quite literally), and judging by the dozens of signs they've hung up along the fence near the Richborough Roundabout, it looks like they're more than eager to do the job. 

So, despite the fact that an official decision about the power station's demolition hasn't yet been made by TDC (as far as I'm aware), it seems as though the site's owners at Richborough are upping the ante by going crazy with the signs to win the PR battle with passing drivers. You'd almost think that the demolition of the towers and chimney is a foregone conclusion, wouldn't you?

Saturday, 14 January 2012

IN THE KNIGHT'S GARDEN

After all the merriment of discovering Roger Gale MP had been gifted a Knighthood by Her Majesty the Queen, our Knight in shining armour rode into town and cast a chivalrous eye over his constituency. Upon looking in his own back garden with a noble glint in his eye, can you imagine how Roger must have felt to discover that 23% of children in North Thanet are living in poverty?

According to statistics published by the Campaign to End Child Poverty, North Thanet is one of the worst constituencies in Kent to be blighted with impoverished minions, as reported by the Kent Messenger Group last week. The soon-to-be-Sir Roger Gale must be feeling rather sheepish now his royal accolade has been blighted by the revelation that his 'subjects' are all traipsing round with begging bowls. 

Needless to say, putting these stats into context with the rest of the county, it's quite appalling that Thanet is being described as one of the worst for child poverty. In this instance, poverty is considered as being confined to "families claiming out-of-work benefits or in-work tax credits where their income is less than 60% of the average" and though living standards in the UK are an enormous improvement on Dickensian levels of destitution from the Victorian era, it's still an unseemly reminder that we still have work to do.

Sorry to be brusque here, I mean no offence, but perhaps one of the first steps to making sure that child poverty can be eradicated is by giving some parents a kick up the arse. It's easy to blame the problem of poverty on economics, or low wages, or broken households – all of which can be key components – but I do wonder whether this report fails to take into account just how much parental dysfunctionality is a factor too. After all, some children may indeed live in poverty, and I truly sympathise with parents who are trying to do the right thing but finding it difficult. But parents who claim to be struggling to feed their kids while at the same time spending more than £50 per week on fags and booze are, let's face it, the lowest of the low.

In spite of this, I am a big believer in facing up against social injustice and combating child poverty. Indeed, it pains me to admit that the weight of responsibility on household incomes these days is unbearably high. Food prices are rising, energy prices continue to soar, and the amount of financial responsibilities an ordinary UK citizen now has – being expected to pay for gas, electric, water, TV licensing, home insurance, a car, petrol, car tax, road tax, phone bills and internet broadband – means that it can often feel impossible to keep your head above the water. But if it came to a choice between throwing a crate of Carling Black Label in a shopping trolley or taking home a good nutritious meal for my child, I know which one I'd choose.

I don't think people should be afraid of making moral judgements and saying to some parents: "Hey, well, if you didn't buy all those cigarettes and bottles of wine your kids might actually have a square meal each day of the week." Obviously, most parents are decent human beings who are trying to do right by their children, working in low-paid jobs, spending every penny as wisely as possible but still finding themselves out of pocket or short on change through no fault of their own. But the sort of parents I'm talking about are the ones who don't make things easier for themselves financially, usually due to a particular nicotine, alcohol, drug or gambling habit of some sort.

As problems go, North Thanet's child poverty statistics are probably linked to the high numbers of unemployed people (and, ergo, benefit claimants) and the dire shortage of jobs in the local area. If those issues were addressed, it's possible child poverty could be remedied, but as for the dysfunctional parents, I don't quite know what the solution is. All I know is it's not as simple as sweeping it under the carpet and saying it's all due to laziness, which is utter nonsense. It's not quite as black and white as that – we're talking about children's futures here, so they fully deserve our help. But I think it'll take more than giving Roger Gale MP a Knighthood to solve this one, don't you?

Friday, 13 January 2012

IAN DRIVER IS NO LONGER A PASSENGER

Councillor Ian Driver is no longer a passenger in the Thanet Labour Group after handing in his resignation note last night and leaping out of a moving vehicle like Tom Cruise in Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol (sort of). This could be just as momentous as John Worrow's resignation, as little more than a month after assuming power we now have an odd situation where the Labour leadership have less councillors than the Conservatives but are instead kept in power thanks to the support from the Independent candidates.

This essentially means that the balance of power at TDC is now very delicate and every decision has a risk of being made as if treading on egg shells. I do hope we can avoid a situation where power keeps yoyo-ing back and forth between the major parties every few weeks because I worry this will end up making our council look like a laughing stock. I suppose it is now down to Clive Hart and his cabinet to show that they continue to have a mandate to govern – it might not come in the form of possessing a working majority (which even the Tories can't lay claim to), but it could very well come in the form of winning the political argument through sound reasoning.

Hopefully, councillors of all political stripes will do the right thing and pull together for the good of Thanet and form a consensus on the issues that matter most, rather than squabbling and bickering in a tug of war which will only make our local council's approach to governance positively schizophrenic. One thing's for sure – once again, this means that the Independents are the kingmakers and that ultimately it is they who will need to be wooed on a regular basis in order for a successful leadership to function. It's not a perfect state of affairs, but I'm afraid we're stuck with it.

Leadership challenge or not, we will still be lumbered with a hung council. If people want to moan about that, then perhaps more people should've turned out to vote. My own view is that Labour will remain in control of TDC as long as the Independents continue to vouch for them, but this probably won't stop the Conservative Group from trying to convince the local population that since they now have one more councillor than Labour they have more of a mandate to rule. Ironically, if the Conservatives did this, they'd effectively be advocating proportional representation – something which they were more than happy to criticize when voting No to AV, but hey ho, horses for courses eh?

I can't see things swinging back in the Tories favour just yet. The Independents won't want to be seen as flip-flopping. Besides, if push came to shove, I doubt the newcomer to the Independent bench Ian Driver will side with the Tories in a vote of confidence, knowing that Driver's prior support for Arthur Scargill's Socialist Labour Party indicates how far to the left he leans. Having met him in person at the Citizen's Advice Bureau, I can safely say that Ian is a man who is rather strong on principles, but whether this is to his own benefit or to that of his former party is anyone's guess. Obviously if Ian didn't feel at home in the local Labour party then I sincerely hope his decision to quit settles his conscience somewhat. I wish him well.

But I wish we could avoid these political rifts which end up making TDC council chamber look like it's descending into some sort of Machiavellian psychodrama. I mean, this is Thanet District Council, for goodness sake. It's not the House of Borgia.

Wednesday, 4 January 2012

IN THE GHETTO

In a spirit of bad tidings to mark the arrival of the New Year, Grania Long, the interim chief executive of the Chartered Institute of Housing, has spoken out in The Guardian about the coalition's welfare changes and has some gloomy predictions about Margate potentially becoming a 'benefit ghetto.'
 
"The whole of the south-east is a sea of high rents punctuated only by a few small isolated low-cost islands … mainly old seaside towns such as Margate and Hastings where the once buoyant tourist trade has long since declined. But if claimants migrate to areas like these then this will create benefit ghettoes … the result is likely to be increased social problems and a breakdown in community cohesion."
 
I seem to remember seeing bleak predictions like this last month, when The Guardian similarly predicted a mass exodus of lower income families from London taking refuge in Margate over the next few years in response to George Osborne's austerity measures, suggesting our seaside town will return to becoming a 'dole-by-the-sea' resort. Now come on, The Guardian, I admire your consistency, but I do wish you'd stop trying to rope Margate into your dystopic fantasies. The Guardian's concerns might indeed be warranted but if they're not careful all this speculation about Margate becoming a 'benefit ghetto' might actually magic it into existence, and nobody wants that, surely? Be careful what you wish for. Although, quite why anyone would want to wish for that is anyone's guess.

Tuesday, 3 January 2012

SIR GALE OF CAMELOT

Congratulations to Roger Gale, Conservative MP for North Thanet, who was recently reported to have been given a knighthood in the New Year's honours list. As much I question Gale's political views  in particular his support for capital punishment  it has to be said that acting as a political representative for 28 years and winning no less than seven general elections with an average of 52.91% of the voter's share is nothing to be sniffed at.

I'm not sure how I feel about the honour's list, to be honest. I find it all rather elitist. Being someone who is rather ambivalent about the monarchy, I would feel a bit uncomfortable kneeling down in front of the Her Majesty the Queen. I'm sure she is a very nice lady but I wouldn't really want to kneel down in front of anyone, so it's nothing personal. I'd like to feel that I'm no-one's servant and feel uneasy with acts of deference and subservience. I'm my own man. The only person people should kneel down in front of is their own reflections, that's my view.

Then again, saying that, I'm sure my cynicism about the royal honours list would be tested if I got offered a knighthood or an OBE in years from now - would I accept it, or would I be a refusenik? The late author J.G. Ballard once refused a CBE by saying: "It goes with the whole system of hereditary privilege and rank, which should be swept away. It uses snobbery and social self-consciousness to guarantee the loyalty of large numbers of citizens who should feel their loyalty is to fellow citizens and the nation as a whole." 

Though I (sort of) share Ballard's view, I'm not sure if I could turn down a royal honour and not live to regret it. My grandparents considered themselves royalists  they're far more conservative and traditional than I  and they would probably be rolling in their graves if they knew I'd refused a royal honour and besmirched the Edwards family name. Would I be the sort of person who'd put principle aside and just accept a royal honour for my namesake? I'm not really sure. I guess it depends if I earn the bloody thing first, eh?!

Anyway, I'm sure Roger Gale will have no such qualms accepting his honour, so I'd like to offer him my congratulations. Personally I would've liked to have seen Led Zeppelin guitarist Jimmy Page get given a knighthood, but I'm sure it's only a matter of time. Let's hope he gets offered it before he ascends that stairway to Heaven.