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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.