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Wednesday, 16 December 2009

Easy as 1, 2, 3!

Just when you thought it couldn't get any better! This winter's Bounds of The Downs walk will feature a quizzical treasure trail, concocted by the mischievous and maverick minds at Campaign HQ. The puzzles around the treasure trail range from just counting things (hopefully the right things!) to head-scratching brain-teasers, so there's something for all ages, and all the answers will be right in front of your eyes.

Up for grabs is a complimentary family ticket to Wildwood (kindly donated by the lovely people at the Wildwood Trust), so come along and have a great time, and you might just win yourself another!

Sunday, 29 November 2009

The Bounds of The Downs

Borrowing from the tradition of beating the bounds of a parish, walking The Bounds of The Downs is an opportunity to appreciate The Downs from every angle. Walking the Bounds will happen on the Sunday nearest each solstice and equinox, so that we also get to appreciate The Downs throughout the year.

The plan is to go clockwise, starting from the King's Hall. The full tour of The Bounds of The Downs is about 3¼ miles, but there are shorter routes. The red shortcut, up the Hundred Steps, brings it down to a very manageable 1¼ miles. The yellow shortcut, up the slope leading to The Lees makes a 1¾ mile circuit.

The first Bounds of The Downs will be on Sunday 20th December 2009, starting from the King's Hall at 10am. Feel free to start from the beginning, or anywhere along the Bounds. If the weather is filthy, stay indoors - this is supposed to be for fun! - as there'll be another chance later:
  • Sunday 21st March 2010
  • Sunday 20th June 2010
  • Sunday 19th September 2010
  • Sunday 19th December 2010

Thursday, 17 September 2009

Councillors break oath of silence

There's much rib-tickling japery in the current HB Times on Page 1 and Page 3. I'm tempted to start up a TV show called "Councillors say the funniest things" which would feature elected representatives trying to keep a straight face while spouting nonsense, distortions, half-truths, non sequitors and unsupported assertions. Some of our guys must be up to national standard.

Except for the current plans for The Downs, which the CCC Executive Committee made CONFIDENTIAL in July. Cllr Vickery-Jones sits on that Committee. He voted to make these plans CONFIDENTIAL, yet he now insists there are no secret plans. "There are no secret plans" - says the man who made the current development plans CONFIDENTIAL! If the plans aren't secret, would Cllr Vickery-Jones release them to the HB Times for publication, or put them on display in the Council Offices in Herne Bay? Or maybe there's a subtle distinction between 'secret' and 'confidential' that I'm missing.

First I've heard of this, although the Council did try to pull this stunt sometime in the 1960s, so I'm told. This may be nothing more than a straw man, that they put up just to knock down.

Obviously, it would be easier to get more facts if the Executive (which includes Cllr Vickery-Jones) hadn't made them all CONFIDENTIAL. Neither Councillor actually identifies any of the 'misinformation' they say has been spread. There is no misinformation on the leaflet, just facts.

Oh, how I laughed! We have spoken to ALL the Councillors at least once. In January 2009 we were in email contact with Cllr Vickery-Jones, when we had to explain to him exactly where the beach huts going to be sited - on the grassy slopes, not the concrete path as he had mistakenly thought. So much for getting your facts straight! Just to straighten up a few other facts: as well as the email exchange (available at your request) with Cllr Vickery-Jones, there was at least one lengthy phone call in January 2009; we have presented a speech and 135-signature petition to full Council; we have twice addressed the Executive Committee (Cllr Vickery-Jones was present on both occasions); and we have fruitlessly asked for information from Council officers, who were gagged by the Executive's CONFIDENTIALITY order.

This isn't about beach huts, it's about saving The Downs.

What's got so many people in Herne Bay so riled is that the Council even thinks it can touch The Downs. Cllr Vickery-Jones is right about the legal covenants - they say that The Downs must be kept as an open space and pleasure ground for all the people of Herne Bay forever. So why has the Council even started de-designating bits of it?

This the Council's current favourite cover story for the development - it's replacing or reinstating the wooden beach huts that were there before. Oops! The earlier beach huts were in breach of the legal covenants on the land. They were illegal. The proposed beach huts would also be illegal. It would be a repeat offence!

N.B. All snippets were snipped from the Herne Bay Times 16th September 2009, front page and page 3.

Thursday, 23 July 2009

Open to Interpretation

Wouldn't you know it? Nothing for ages, and then a flurry. Canterbury City Council have finally produced their Draft Open Spaces Strategy, and a rattling good read it is.

Section 5 has some good stuff in it:

Sage words. Fine words. Dear reader, imagine my consternation and disappointment when I found this, tucked away in a far distant Appendix:

Despite the King's Hall slopes and The Downs being 'existing open spaces', CCC are proposing to develop some kind of 'interpretation project', defeating the aims and objectives of their declared Strategic Vision. I must admit to being somewhat mollified by this proposal being equal 14th in a prioritised list of 17 to be spread over the next 5 years. Time enough, I thought rashly, to persuade CCC of their folly. Hey ho.

On the Agenda for the CCC Executive's meeting for the 30th July, a frustratingly secret item:The standard excuse for excluding the press and public from the sausage-making ugliness of Councillors in action is that there is some kind of commercial confidentiality at stake. (Remind me, whose money is it that they're spending?) So what's going on?

In the beginning, so rumour has it, A Developer approached A Councillor and convinced her/him that The Downs was ripe for development. Said Councillor presented the idea to the Council. The Hive-mind cried "Desist! The constraints of good governance, that chafe us so, compel us to solicit competitive bids - this cannot be seen to be a stitch-up or shoo-in!".

There was some hasty tendering, and all looked set fair to continue as originally planned. Oops! Local irritants highlighted the illegality of breaching the covenants on the land. CCC's legal advisers told them all was well. The Irritants pointed out that they were mistaken. Everything went quiet, supposedly while the legal position was examined more closely. Suddenly, the proposal re-surfaces, although shrouded in secrecy.

My interpretation is:
  • through poor legal advice, or sheer bravado, or blind greed, CCC has convinced itself that commercial development of The Downs is not illegal;
  • they have received proposals that they believe circumvent the restrictions stated in the legal covenants that came with the land when it passed to them;
  • CCC will want to impose their preferred bidder, regardless of the legality, or the local opposition.
I look forward to finding out exactly how My Council proposes to spend My Money, defiling My Town. Personally, I believe that Councillors who wilfully pursue an illegal course of action should be responsible for any and all costs that arise. Once upon a time, they would have been - it was called surcharging.

Tuesday, 21 April 2009

Instant torpor

Dear reader, how I have missed our little tête-à-têtes. Or more strictly speaking, doigts-aux-yeux, but that sounds much less cosy. There has been a deathly quiet from the general direction of Canterbury City Council's Lethal and Demagogic Dept. But I have news! There will be nothing happening for a little bit longer. Officially.

I was so twirled by the giddying pace of events I had to sit down and do some calming maths.

From the moment I reared my ugly head and warned CCC that there were covenants on the land they wanted to misuse, to the time a memo appeared from Legal & Democratic Services saying everything was fine, took a grand total of SEVEN DAYS. This exemplifies the speed of mind and action that I am pleased to see from the (public) lawyers I am funding with my Council Tax. Not single-handedly funding in their entirety, I accept, but there's got to be a couple of legal pads with my name on.

But now, a disappointing contrast. It's been SEVENTY-FIVE days since Mrs Activist and I put the frighteners on the Executive by explaining that they were dabbling on the fringes of criminality. For 2½ months the Execs have been drifting inexorably towards a life of ASBOs, glue-sniffing, electronic tags, incomprehensible street slang and drab ill-fitting hoodies while the lawyers just stand by and watch. It makes me feel so helpless. Is there nothing we can do to save these rough diamonds from the downward spiral that starts with property crime and ends with the electric chair blanket?

My trusty informant tells me that there is little or no chance of the proposed East Cliff Annexation being dealt with before the next Executive meeting on June 8th, ONE HUNDRED AND TWENTY-THREE days after their second written warning. Please, please, would someone from L&D Services put the Westgate Eight straight before they blot their copybooks and blight their futures through a silly high-spirited mistake?

Tuesday, 31 March 2009

Patience is a virtue

Eight weeks ago the Executive were alerted to their imminent criminality. I replaced my blood with espresso to ready myself for the frenetic pace of their response. They wondered. Legal pondered. Time dragged. I could have saved myself a fortune in coffee bills: I should have got some decent time-lapse photography kit.

From which you will have gathered that not a lot has happened. But I am neither perturbed nor dismayed, because I went to The Great Exhibition at the King’s Hall. CCC treated us to their vision of our future, in the form of the Area Action Plan. This consists of 10 objectives, the last (but by no means least) of which focuses on their conservation credentials and environmental ambitions:

“Located to the East of Herne Bay town centre are sites of exceptional importance in respect of rare, endangered or vulnerable natural habitats and species within a European context. They consist of Special Areas of Conservation (SAC) that seek to protect wild fauna and flora and Special Protection Areas (SPA) which seek to protect wild birds.”

Joy of joys! A clear and simple reason not to allow private development of public open space. If they’re half-way serious about this, there’s absolutely no need to involve lawyers (always a good thing). Instead, we can all just concentrate on the fact that we’ve got an accessible piece of semi-wild land that should be conserved. I’ve been finding out about Duncan Down in Whitstable – seems to be a very good model to work from.

As my spell-checker confirms: hop sprigs eternal in the hum an beast.


Sunday, 22 March 2009


Well, with a bit of luck and a following wind, we may be getting hints of activity over the coming week. Just maybe. The Executive will be huddling on Thursday week (2nd April), so I should find out this week whether CCC's lean, mean legal machine has decided on the legality of the bonkers proposal.

Until that glad day arrives, do skip over to have a peek at some of the other things that have been sporadically hijacking what's left of my attention:
  • PlanesOverHerneBay a sturdy and increasingly plausible stand against (in descending order): planes needlessly flying over Herne Bay, when they could easily divert out to sea; unrestrained and unmonitored increase in flights through Manston; local democracy being played like a puppet by commercial interests.
  • KentAndKentish a long-term, ongoing survey of the stuff I like about Kent, starting with the things my tastebuds like about Kent.

Saturday, 7 March 2009

WBC: boxing clever

Wordle: WBC
No, not the World Boxing Council, the Whitstable Beach Campaign. Plenty of sweat and tears, but much less blood. There's a delightfully lucid explanation of a complex situation on the front page of their site which describes the rather odd way Whitstable meets the sea. WBC have dedicated themselves to:
safeguarding Whitstable's beaches for the enjoyment of the public by protection against commercial development.

Keen followers of this blog will have pounced on the spooky parallels to what we're trying to achieve here on The Downs: keeping the space both open and public.

One of their founders, whom I shall refer to as "N" in order to create an air of mystery, invited us over to plot and seethe over mugs of tea. Very useful, heartening and fun. (As an aside, I must say that this really isn't how I ever expected to be spending my time - more on this another day, perhaps.) If I can get cracking on half the things we covered, this campaign will be broader, deeper, more polished, and hopefully more effective.

Stay tuned.

Friday, 6 March 2009

A little bird told me...

...well, Graham Finch (my favourite Democracy Services Officer at CCC) told me: the Executive can't yet make a recommendation to Council about the beach huts, because they don't have a report from their legal boffins. The Executive next meet on 2nd April - with luck we may have both activity and progress by then.
The law does grind exceeding slow. I hope it turns out exceeding fine. Fingers crossed. 

Saturday, 28 February 2009

Muse. Um.

Here’s a very British gem: the Herne Bay Museum (link).

Fearless and fervent, my woman and I swarmed into the Museum to see what we could find out about The Downs of yesteryear. The place is a treasure trove! If you haven’t been recently, pop in and saunter around. From fossil teeth to bouncing bombs, they’ve got all sorts of goodies on permanent display. There are also temporary exhibitions - all the ones I’ve seen have been well worth a good peer. Currently it's 'Inventions', with a few kids’ own ideas: “a friendly robot to bring me sweets”.

Met up with Craig Bowen who looks after the tardis-full of stuff filed upstairs, like a collie looks after a flock of sheep. He’s actually divided between several museums, with Canterbury getting the lion’s share of him (hope we get the useful bits!). Enthusiastic and very helpful, as was the nice lady on the front desk.

There’s an almost magical, other-worldly, time-slip quality about the archives, as seems to happen when the present is dedicated to the past, so it didn't seem out of place when a paternal Victorian figure stepped through the mist of time into our little tardis, brooding and reserved. He looked like someone's long-lost great-uncle Septimus, and muttered 'pas devant les enfants', so we took the hint and scarpered.

I like the Museum a lot. It's a delightful and poignant venture, burnished by the care and love invested in it, and handsomely repays the time you spend there. Long may it thrive and prosper. I would hate to see it fall prey to the unthinking short-term destructive greed that was directed at the Visitor Information Centre. For instance.


Thursday, 26 February 2009

Sausage revival

Disappointing. Unsurprising. Recoverable.

CCC voted down the opportunity to flaunt themselves as 21st century cyber-starlets (see Radio Sausage). The world is a marginally less glitzy place as a result.

More to the point, they voted down the opportunity to let their constituents see them in action. Internet access is becoming much more widespread, and is almost universal among the 'young' (anyone who runs for a bus). These are the very people who must be engaged in the democratic process if we are to stand the slightest chance of not going down the constitutional toilet, as a district, a county and a nation.

In the hope it will make some difference, I am emailing ALL the Councillors a link to the Radio Sausage post, in which I offer to prop up Western democracy single-handed. With luck, we may get some interesting and productive comments.

Councillors: I mean it. I am very worried that you have become so enmeshed in process, procedure and petty politics that you have lost sight of your purpose. You must actively seek out, and then represent, the wishes of your constituents. This takes involvement and commitment from everyone. There is an absolute need for widespread involvement in a vibrant and transparent local democracy.

You won't earmark a few tens (or hundreds?) of pounds to increase accessibility and participation.

Out of a budget of millions.

That is shameful.

Wednesday, 25 February 2009


Godless spawn that I am, I failed to gorge on pancakes yesterday.

To make up for it, I shall give up Easter eggs for Lent.

Monday, 23 February 2009

Mappa Monday

Dear Reader, give yourself a treat and check out this map. It is jam-packed with facts and fun.

Just the other day, I quizzed CCC about the Herne Bay Conservation Area. I had heard people (well, estate agents) talking about it, but had no clear idea of where exactly it was. Quick as a flash One-Of-Those-Planning-People came back with a couple of great links. One of them links to this excellent map of the Canterbury District Local Plan. The left hand side of the screen explains how it all works.

This is a detailed, zoomable map of the whole CCC fiefdom, showing conservation areas, cycle routes, flood zones, offices nodes (huh?), ancient monuments, open spaces, regeneration zones, etc, etc. There's an associated Local Plan document that spells it all out in words of English. Words, pictures - whatever works for you.

I don't know if every District Council has one of these maps, or if CCC are blazing a trail. If it's the latter, congratulations, people: a great piece of mapping.

Saturday, 21 February 2009

Radio Sausage

A few ounces of reconstituted tree, shaped into a local freesheet, thump to the floor. The crisp metal edge of the letterbox snaps back into place, briefly trapping a small fleshy obstruction. The pain-numbed child continues its paper round.

This is what passes for effective communication in 21st century Kent.

But things are looking up: I read in that very freesheet that one of our elected representatives (Cllr Perkins) seems to have 'the vision thing' (article). He has proposed that Council meetings be recorded and broadcast on the internet, arguing this would encourage greater engagement in local politics - I approve. Anyone who actually gives a toss could listen live, or any time later that suits them. They wouldn't have to get themselves to whichever Council meeting place at whatever (more or less inconvenient) time of day.

Cllr Perkins accurately predicted that other Councillors would oppose the idea. Cllr Gilbey is quoted as saying "My personal view is that I wouldn't want to give the opportunity for grandstanding in front of cameras or recorders."

I may be warming to Cllr Gilbey's sense of humour: the idea that the mere presence of a microphone or webcam would transform Council into a casting session for Chicago! just makes me chuckle. On my one exposure to Council I observed:
  • very little excessive or unnecessary expenditure of effort
  • peer and group pressure to conform
  • many conventions and procedures to curtail or restrict Councillor participation
  • only about 5% egomania
This is not an ideal nursery for 'grandstanding' prima donnas. And they're limited to three minutes each, anyway.

The dark voices in my head tell me that some Councillors oppose this move towards greater transparency for bad reasons: embarrassed by what they say, or by how little they say; wanting to lay claim to non-existent protests and challenges; not wanting their words to be remembered too precisely; not wanting to be seen as a low-budget part-time imitation of Parliament at its braying worst; and so on.

The saying goes that law-making and sausage-making are not pleasant to witness. The proposed internet broadcast would be like listening to sausages being made (every one a sizzling banger, hopefully). It might set your teeth on edge. It might send you to sleep. It might play havoc with your blood pressure. But if it gets more people more involved, and makes more Councillors more responsive, it will be worth every penny.

If CCC 'doesn't have the money for this sort of thing' as Cllr Gilbey is reported as saying, I am more than happy to discuss digging into my own pocket to help make it happen. Any Councillors wanting to take me up on this kind offer can contact me via the Comments below.

Friday, 20 February 2009

My first Brazilian

Dear reader, if you have ever thought yourself at all 'odd' for reading this stuff, rest assured: you are now much less odd. Thanks to a kindly word in Mr Nottingham's blog, you are now part of something even bigger than before...
Margate. Alaska. Norfolk. Kalamazoo. Sweden. Manitoba. Exeter. Brazil.
A growing constellation.
A crowd in the Cloud.

Wednesday, 18 February 2009

With your own eyes

I'm looking for more information about the range of species, the natural richness, the biodiversity of The Downs. Buttercups, butterflies, bugs, bunnies, birds, bats, whatever - it all counts. Tell me what you have seen with your own eyes.

I've seen kestrel, stonechat, curlew, avocet, turnstone, redshank, slow worm, rabbit, some mousey/voley/shrewy type things - bit hard to tell... (More species as I remember them. WIP.)

Saturday, 14 February 2009

Moderate Gale

Saturday: a beautiful frosty, sunny winter's morning in Herne Bay, and time to meet our MP. My fine & beloved woman and I strode up to the dodgy automatic doors of the Herne Bay Council offices and pried our way in. There we found Roger Gale, and Cllr Ann Taylor (HoS) who had kindly made time to see us.

Given that the Evil Land Grab is entirely a Council-level rather than MP-type issue, we asked Roger about the options open to us if the Council behaved illegally. He came up with some sensible suggestions (Secretary of State, Local Government Ombudsman, District Auditor) and a couple of other useful leads.

However, I was taken aback by his views on the covenants. "Twenty-five years experience as an MP... a Council can just say 'Rats!' to a covenant... not worth the paper they're written on...".

Bad attitude, Roger!

I'm disappointed and dismayed to see an elected law-maker wearily accept the spectacle of other elected representatives trampling over covenants. When it comes down to it, even the Law of the land is 'worthless' unless and until it's enforced. The covenants are legally binding, cannot be disregarded, and will be enforced.


Thursday, 12 February 2009

Media frenzy

More press coverage, this time in the Herne Bay Times courtesy of their award-winning news-ferret. As media interest picks up, I'm planning ahead as far as negotiating the film rights. This is the time for all involved to start getting your bids in for you want to be played by. I would settle for Daniel Craig if he wasn't so sissy.

(I appear to have a touching faith in the police, according to the article.)

Saturday, 7 February 2009

Whose baby?

By popular demand, here's the potted life history of CCC's Unlawful Shameful Proposal. (See "Timeline" for full dates and details.)
  • The USP appeared, seemingly out of nowhere, last autumn.
  • The Herne Bay Councillors supported it, and told the Executive.
  • The Executive liked it, published their public notice as "consultation", and waited to see if there were any objections.
  • The objections were disregarded and the site was marketed.
  • Around this time, I was made aware of the unfolding horror, and went to speak to the Council, armed with a sturdy petition. One of the questions I raised was the legality of the proposal.
  • The Council's own legal eagles have said it's OK, but I'm convinced they're wrong.
  • The Executive have been told that it's illegal, and they're having a bit of a think before reporting back to full Council.
That's all well and good as far as it goes, BUT it doesn't answer a key question:

Where was this evil hatchling spawned?

I can find no mention of it on the CCC website before 23rd September last year. There are several policy documents with an optimistic, broad-brush approach to conservation, tourism and regeneration, but none of them single out this particular strip of green. So where did this idea come from? Who has ownership?

Whose proposal is it?

Friday, 6 February 2009

Speech to Executive 5th Feb

My fine and beloved woman addressed the Executive Committee meeting yesterday, and left them looking restless and nervous, ready to bolt. This is what she said:

We have taken advice from a partner in a London law firm who specialises exclusively in planning law. We gave him the Land Registry entry and a link to Google maps so he could see the land. We told him: “The Council plans to lease part of this plot to a private developer. That developer will then build beach huts on the plot which will either be sold on the open market (leasehold, I imagine) or rented.”

His legal advice follows:

Q: Is what the council intends to do in accord with the idea that this is an open space?
A: No - the OCE provided makes it clear that the land is to be kept as an open space (subject to suitable buildings for the public use/enjoyment of the land). [OCE is an Official Copy of the land title from the Land Registry.]

Q: What does the council need to do to change the status of a piece of land that is open space so that it can dispose of it for development?
A: The Council needs to apply to the Land Registry to remove the covenant from the title. This is very difficult to do and the Council would need a very good reason to do so and not just for commercial development.

Q: Is the involvement of a private developer and the possible sale of beach huts to private individuals in accord with the idea that this land should be kept for public use?
A: No.

Q: The council put up beach huts nearby years ago to let to the public on a seasonal basis. That would seem to be keeping it all public?
A: Correct.

Q: Is a private developer a different thing altogether?
A: Yes.

Q: What does “obstruct the view” in C1 mean?
A: "Obstruct the view" would mean materially impact upon the visual amenity…. I would think constructing beach huts here would obstruct the view.

Your legal advice from Mrs Trevett is flawed. It repeats but doesn’t deal with the covenant that says the land is to be “an open space…for… the public for ever”. Leasing land to a private developer then selling or renting beach huts to people for their sole use keeps the land neither open nor public.

Your advice says that, if the beach huts aren’t high enough to obscure the views of 49 to 60 Beacon Hill, the council won’t be in breach. This is not what the covenant says. It says that nothing “shall obstruct the view of any of the houses…on… the Beacon Hill estate and the Lees Estate and the land fronting to Beacon Hill and lying between Hilltop Road and Bellevue Road”. You can not reduce the scope of this covenant to the view from just 12 houses.

Photo 1 shows the height of the Council’s preferred style of Tankerton hut. Photo 2 shows the height of the Coastwatch Lookout. The front row of huts will be taller than the Lookout. The rear row of huts will stand taller still and will “materially impact on the visual amenity”.

The council’s plan therefore breaches the covenants threefold:
  • It fails to keep the land as open space
  • It fails to keep the land in public use
  • It obstructs the view from the Beacon Hill estate, the Lees Estate and the land fronting to Beacon Hill.
This proposal can not legally be taken forward.

Phil Rose and Ros McIntyre


Thursday, 5 February 2009


In case you missed it (as most people did), here is what seems to be the full extent of CCC's public consultation. This was in the Public Notices section of the Herne Bay Gazette. In real life it measures 10cm x 12cm.

"... a small number of new beach huts ... " turns out to be 40. I had never thought of forty as a small number before.  (Site Map)

Open question to CCC
Why use the back pages in a small circulation, paid-for paper for your "consultation"?
  • It puts a cost barrier between your public and their democracy.
  • It guarantees that the majority of your public won't have access to it, or be aware of it.
  • The inevitably small number of objections can be mistaken for lack of opposition.
  • It does no more than meet your bare minimum legal obligations.
Or have I just answered my own question?

Wednesday, 4 February 2009

Pending rant

(Email sent 27th Jan 2009 to Herne Bay Gazette, for publication. As of 12th Feb, still unpublished. I am desolated.)

East Cliff beach Huts: illegal, immoral, unnecessary, unwanted and unwise.

A legal covenant on this land means that, by law, the Council must “keep the land as an open space and pleasure ground for the recreation and use and enjoyment of the public forever”. Privately owned beach huts aren’t open space, and aren’t for public use.

The people who gifted this land trusted the Council to do right by them. Carving it up for developers betrays that trust. One percent of the people I’ve spoken to knew about this plan. The Council has not consulted adequately, and does not have our permission – this is an anti-democratic abuse of power.

There’s already planning permission for about 50 huts elsewhere in Herne Bay, Tankerton and Whitstable.

There’s already more supply than demand: there is no waiting list for huts. There aren’t crowds of people saying ‘Yes’ to huts at East Cliff, but there are plenty saying ‘No’.

The last lot of huts (on exactly this site) became so vandalised and derelict that the Council had to demolish them. The unstable slopes at East Cliff have been expensively strengthened and drained – smashing them about for building work is just daft.

The Council are trying to do the wrong thing in the wrong place.

Beach huts are a bit like Marmite – some people love them, some people hate them and some aren’t that fussed. But for me, this isn’t about huts, it’s about keeping The Downs open and free, forever.


Monday, 2 February 2009



You wanted the job.

You were chosen for the job.

Now just do the job, properly.


Here's another kick in the teeth for local democracy: local Councillors who can't be bothered to reply to an email from one of their constituents about a constituency matter.

My fine and beloved woman emailed the Councillors for Reculver Ward.
One out of the three replied.
Congratulations Gillian Reuby.
Shame on you Ann Taylor and Gabrielle Davis.

She also emailed the Herne Bay Area Members Panel.
Three out of the thirteen replied.
Congratulations Gillian Reuby, Peter Vickery-Jones and Ron Flaherty.
Shame on you Ann Taylor, Gabrielle Davis, Evelyn Bisset, Sharon Sonnex, Peter Lee, Vince McMahan, Margaret Flaherty, Roger Matthews, Ken Hando and Robert Bright.

If any of the "shy" Councillors have a convincing explanation for not replying, do please let me know. Otherwise, you keep your place in the Hall of Shame.

An uncomfortable truth

When I went to the Council meeting on 22nd Jan, gracing the middle of the chamber were 50-ish Councillors, the Lord Mayor, and some Council officers and assorted hangers-on.

There was one guy sitting at the other end of my bench who left after hearing about the Council unearthing Roman remains in the basement of the Beaney - I assume he was an archeology fiend of some sort. There were two guys (spouses/partners/cabbies?) on the other side of the chamber who didn't seem to be paying much attention to anything. In other words, the public benches were all but empty. I'm told this is pretty well the norm.

Given that this is supposed to be the centre of our local democracy, this is not healthy.

I've always worked on the basis that if you don't vote in a General Election, you forfeit the right to bleat about whichever party becomes the Government. I've always voted, and have thoroughly enjoyed wailing and gnashing my teeth at each pitiful result. Members of Parliament are closely watched and extensively reported on - it takes very little effort to keep track of them, so I have grown lazy. Mea culpa.

MEPs and Councillors manage to fly over and under the radar, respectively. Until this Evil Land Grab popped up, I couldn't have named my Councillors, the Lord Mayor, or my MEP. (Just had to look up the last of those - turns out I've got 10, yes ten, MEPs. But I'm sharing them with several million other people.)

I freely admit, I've not been keeping an eye on CCC. But nor has anyone else, or not enough people. I have this awful dawning realisation that just voting isn't enough. It's not enough to make my mark on the voting slip and silently hope that everything-will-come-out-alright-in-the-end-somehow. Unfortunately, it's becoming increasingly obvious that the Council (and as a result, all of us) would benefit hugely from more of the public having more of a say.

I say 'unfortunately' because this does imply effort, and I am a lazy sod. I've heard a lot of people complaining with good reason about CCC's high-handed treatment of Herne Bay. The catch is: if you don't raise your voice (somehow), they'll never hear you, let alone listen.

The Council would find it harder to act with such high-handed disregard if they could hear the tuts of disapproval, the world-weary sighs of disappointment, the bitter "I-told-you-so" chuckles, the mocking laughter, the raspberries of derision, and the howls of rage from the Mighty Herne Bay Public.

Thursday, 29 January 2009

A mob, beautiful and fierce

Front page coverage, and well-deserved! What made this possible, and what lent clout to the speech to Council, was the 135 signatories to the petition - my thanks to each of you. Extra special thanks and a standing ovation for Tricia - superstar petitioner.

A virgin speaks

My first public act of flagrant democratic intercourse, beyond voting, that is: a speech to CCC, 15th Jan 2009.
This proposal is unwanted, unneeded and ill-conceived. You are proposing to act without the permission, and against the wishes, of those you serve.

The Downs is a Public Open Space, entrusted by the people of Herne Bay to the Council to be enjoyed by all, in perpetuity.

One legal covenant says it must be:
“… kept as an open space and pleasure ground for the recreation, and use, and enjoyment of the public forever”. In the hands of a private developer it won’t be.

Another covenant says that:
“… nothing shall be erected or built on the land as shall obstruct the view of any of the houses known as the Beacon Hill estate, and the Lees estate, and the land fronting to Beacon Hill”. These huts would obstruct the view.

There have been huts at East Cliff before.
• Originally they were concrete and brick structures built into the bottom of the slope; with nothing on the slope; with no views obstructed; and were owned and managed by the Council.
• Later, wooden huts were built on the slope, and obstructing the view: they fell into disuse, were neglected and vandalised to the point of dereliction, and the Council demolished them.

The Government’s Planning Policy Guidance 17 (PPG17) states:
• existing Open Space should not be built on unless it is clearly shown to be surplus to requirements. This is not.
• developers of Open Spaces must consult the community and be able to demonstrate that their proposals are widely supported by them. These are not.

We are at (or near) the bottom of a property cycle, making this is a particularly awful time to be disposing of land. The intention to lease the land to a private developer has raised widespread concerns about accountability for maintenance, hygiene and security.

There’s already permission for 44-67 more huts elsewhere in Herne Bay, Whitstable and Tankerton. Currently, Whitstable’s reining in development due to lower than usual occupancy, and having no waiting list. There is no waiting list for the existing huts in Herne Bay. There is an over-supply of huts, and there is no demand for huts at East Cliff.

It is very unlikely that the proposed huts will significantly help regenerate Herne Bay, as has been suggested. The hutters bring their own supplies - far from the pub and further from the shops, they will be hard-pressed to spend money on anything.

With the nearest loo ¼ mile away at the King’s Hall, some people will take the lazy option and use the sea: so much for our Blue Flag beach status. The proposed site borders the Thanet Coast SSSI and is a RAMSAR and SAC site of national and international importance to wildlife. The Council is expected to conserve and enhance the SSSI - this proposal does neither. The land is also home to slow worms (a protected species) which will be put at risk – Kent Wildlife Trust have expressed concern.

The East Cliff is special because it is quiet, peaceful and undeveloped. It is unstable scrubland, where both the land and the huts will need protection from landslip and in dry summers, fire. The nearest parking (on Beacon Hill) is fully parked in the summer as it is: where will the extra cars go?

The “consultation” over this change in the legal status of a Public Open Space seems to have consisted of a small ad in a local paper which is read by less than 10% of Herne Bay’s population . There is strong and widespread local opposition, and of the 135 signatories on this petition, only 2 were already aware of this proposal – clearly the public consultation process has been woefully inadequate.

You are proposing to act without the permission, and against the wishes, of those you serve. For more than a 100 years the people of Herne Bay have, in all good faith, entrusted their land to you. This proposal betrays that trust.

Tuesday, 27 January 2009


By the time I got to find out about this (mid-December 2008) the Council seemed to be regarding it as pretty much a done deal. It had been "resolved" by the Executive, and the wheels had been put in motion. The site was being marketed; closing date for bids was late January; contract to be awarded soon after, with a view to having the huts ready for the 2009 summer season.

It was about this time that I started getting shocked and angry, and re-shocked and re-angry on a daily basis.

The Council's total effort at "consultation" consisted of a small ad in the Public Notices section at the back of the Herne Bay Gazette. The Gazette (long may their organ prosper) has taken a healthy interest in this embryonic campaign, for which I am pleased and grateful. However, when all's said and done, their circulation amounts to less than 10% of Herne Bay's population, and only a few people actually read the Public Notices. In fact, out of all the people who signed the petition, only TWO had heard of the proposal (and one of them is a Councillor) amounting to about 1%.

Yes, dear reader, ONE PERCENT awareness amounts to effective public consultation in the hive-mind of CCC, and even that produced five objections (no approvals). The objections were noted and then dismissed by the Executive who "resolved" to go ahead.

Now, this is one of the many areas that I need to understand better. I get the impression that once anything has been "resolved" by the Executive, it appears that they regard it as unchangeable and eternal, as if written on tablets of stone. I detect delusions of God-hood in the hive-mind. They seem to think that each and every decision they take is irreversible, regardless of whatever else may change in the real world around them.

So far there has been no pause for thought, no double-take, no head scratching, no notice taken of the sudden huge increase in objections. There has been no recognition, acceptance or regret that their preferred method of "consultation" is evidently woefully inadequate.

At the time of writing, if everything's running to timetable, all the bids are now in and CCC are picking the winner. The winning bidder will then apply to CCC for planning permission to go ahead with their winning bid. I assume CCC will support the planning application from the bid they chose.


Sunday, 25 January 2009

First media sighting Friday, October 17, 2008, 12:37 (see Links box to the side).

More beach huts for Herne Bay

A CONCERNED councillor fears vandals could "cause havoc" if 40 new beach huts are built on the Herne Bay coast. Cllr Gillian Reuby of King Edward Avenue voiced her fears after the ball was set rolling on plans to build the "Tankerton-style" huts at East Cliff.

Two potential developers want to design, build and manage the huts on land near the old Lookout Tower – an area designated as public open space. The city council's Executive put the proposal to public consultation on Monday.

Cllr Reuby, who has lived in the town for 32 years, said: "It is a quiet and peaceful area and should be left well alone. I agree there is a need for more beach huts but this isn't the right place.

"The huts would be completely out of sight, meaning vandals could cause havoc and no one would see it. Beach huts at the west end of town are always being vandalised so why would it be any different here? It would almost certainly be a case of out of sight, out of mind."

The Reculver ward councillor also expressed concerns about the number of huts proposed and the lack of parking spaces: "They say 40 huts could be built but I've heard there could be up to 60, which is just utterly ridiculous - even 20 would be too many. They would all need to park at the top of Beacon Hill, which is bad enough as it is. At the weekend it's almost impossible to find a parking space."

The East Cliff area was home to concrete and traditional timber beach huts until the 1960s. Cllr Reuby said: "Things were different back then. There wasn't the problem of vandalism like there is in this day and age. I think it's just the council thinking about its capital receipt. They are not thinking about how horrendous the problem with vandalism could be."

Cllr Reuby's concerns were not echoed by fellow Conservative and Reculver Ward councillor Gabrielle Davis. She said: "We can't let the vandals beat us. There will always be vandalism but we just have to find a way to prevent it. I think beach huts are a splendid idea and make a seaside resort look much more attractive. The English holiday is coming back so what better way to bring people to the town."

City council property manager David Kemp was also confident the new huts would boost the town's image: "This is an opportunity to create an area of focus at East Cliff and to attract more people to this area. It will hopefully also generate additional trade for the eastern end of the town - particularly the King's Hall tea shop. The provision of beach huts help to make seaside towns more attractive to visitors and residents alike."



Herne Bay Area Members Panel, Agenda Item 38.
The Unlawful Shameful Proposal (USP) sees the light of day for the first time. The Panel thought:
  • in principle the project was a good idea;
  • the normal consultation procedures should be used;
  • this was a good location for beach huts;
  • it was hoped that any beach huts in this location could be painted and named;
  • would the procurement rules delay the project;
  • could a planning application be made at the same time as the disposal was advertised;
  • was there any lighting at this location?
The Panel said they would:
  • support the disposal of Public Open Space to the east of the old lookout station at East Cliff, Herne Bay;
  • recommend that any negotiations relating to the use for this site be subject to the wider market.
WHAT?!? " the disposal of Public Open Space..." Without asking? Without knowing what we want? What were they thinking? Were they thinking?

The Government's national guidelines for how to look after Public Open Spaces are strict about disposing of a Public Open Space. They say that the land must be shown to be 'surplus to requirements', and that any development must shown to be 'widely supported by the local community'. Looks to me like 'No' and 'No'.

Executive Committee Item 136.
They decide to advertise the proposed disposal of Public Open Space, and consider any objections at a later Executive meeting.

First media sighting on

2008-Oct-23 and Oct-30
Ad in Public Notices, Herne Bay Gazette - see "Consultation".

Herne Bay Area Members Panel, Item 5 Matters Arising...
Reporting the decision of the Executive on October 13th.

Executive Committee Item 195.
The Council's laughable consultation exercise has produced five letters of objection, one of them from our very own Councillor Reuby. Continuing the long-running insult to democracy, the objections are brushed aside, and it's full steam ahead with marketing the site. (Incidentally, I've not seen the marketing effort. If anyone's got any details, I would be grateful - I'm curious to know how it compares to the Public Notice.)

I’m tipped off by my neighbour.

Speech to Council.

Herne Bay Gazette front page, inside pages and op-ed. Then nothing…

Blog kick-started.

Executive Committee

The Downs, and the danger

To set the scene: People have been walking, running, playing, dog-walking, kite-flying and just sitting on The Downs for hundreds of years. It's a nicely unkempt, tapering strip of land that runs east from Herne Bay to Reculver Country Park, sloping down from the sunlit uplands to the exceptionally shiny shingle of the north Kent coast.

Long, long ago, most of what is now The Downs was part of the Beltinge Estate (map), owned by Thomas Dence. With the passing years, the Beltinge Estate was broken into smaller parcels, and around the beginning of the last century this patchwork of land passed into the care of Herne Bay Rural District Council (later transformed by an evil spell into CCC).

When the Council was entrusted with this land, there were conditions (covenants) attached, spelling out what must be done with the land, what could be done with the land, and what mustn't be done with the land. I have highlighted the bits that give me a warm feeling:

  • "Covenant by Council to keep the land as an open space and pleasure ground for the recreation and use and enjoyment of the public for ever subject to such rules and regulations as the Council their successors and assigns may from time to time make respecting the use and enjoyment of the same with power nevertheless to construct and maintain thereon such shelters seats bandstands kiosks and underground lavatories or conveniences and other buildings and erections suitable or convenient for the use and enjoyment of the said lands and heriditaments as an open space and pleasure ground as the Council shall from time to time think fit but nothing shall be erected built placed or allowed to remain on the said land as shall obstruct the view of any of the houses built or to be built on the two Estates now known as Beacon Hill Estate and The Lees Estate and the land fronting to Beacon Hill and lying between Hilltop Road and Bellevue Road."

(Full stop keys don't get much wear and tear on an average legal keyboard.)

So the Council is supposed to be looking after the land, keeping it as an open space for the public, and adding nothing that blocks the view (unless it's a 'something-for-everybody' kind of structure, like the examples given).

So far, so good. However...

Towards the end of last year, CCC decided in favour of "the disposal of a small part of the coastal slopes by the granting of a lease of a site for the provision of high quality beach huts".

There have been huts at East Cliff before. Originally they were concrete and brick structures built into the bottom of the slope; with nothing on the slope; with no views obstructed; and were owned and managed by the Council. Later, wooden huts were built on the slope, and obstructing the view: they fell into disuse, were neglected and vandalised to the point of dereliction (photos), and the Council demolished them.

Saturday, 24 January 2009

Genesis: new readers start here

All this started when my neighbour pointed out a snippet on the Canterbury City Council website. They had decided to "dispose of" a slice of The Downs. Came as news to me. Bad news. Bad enough to get me off my backside.

Later on, I'll rant about the various forms of wrongness that the proposal suffers from, but the one that hit me first and hardest (and still does) is that this is public land - in Newspeak a Public Open Space. Initially this was just a strong and restless unease, but it crystallised when I found out more about the history of this strip of land.

Over a hundred years ago there seems to have been a small rush of people bequeathing or gifting some or all their land to the Council (Herne Bay Rural District Council, as was); this was both intended and taken as a public-spirited, charitable act. At the time, entrusting their land to the Council would have felt as certain and secure as putting their money in the Bank of England. They believed the Council would do right by them.

In the two-way relationship between the voters and their representatives, there are rights and responsibilities, expectations and duties, on both sides and in both directions. In a nutshell, there is a bond of trust, and it is that trust that makes democracy both possible and powerful. If that trust is tainted, twisted or trashed, we may as well be living in any tinpot, half-baked, third-rate country on earth.

And this is where Canterbury City Council comes in...