Sunday, 21 February 2010

Hydrocarbons and effluent and other bits

A meeting last week with the BBC to discuss a documentary on Thor and the Manston pollution and monitors.

It seems extraordinary that the council and police don’t have this as a regular agenda item for cleanup, all the details published online and a police car at the gates.

Thor was due to have closed 20 years ago. At the time of the chemical fire in 2007 it was actually expanding with scientists brought over from Germany to expand production of chemicals.

The Cato Ridge site in South Africa became infamous as a toxic dump –to this day – poisoning the water supply and killing several of the workers and residents.

Thor is on a par with Union Carbide or Dow as notorious corporate polluters. Easy for the politicians and civil servants to skimp on the inspections, rubberstamp the paperwork and turn a blind eye.

A report in the Gazette details the latest Environment Agency report on the water supply with “hydrocarbons” that’s “petrol” to you and me and damaged sewers leaking “effluent” that’s “brown sticky stuff” to you and me.

Clearly petrol stations and cargo airports and chemical factories can’t be built on the water supply.

Particularly with Manston as there are no overflow sumps so any fuel drains into the underground water reservoir or flows into the road system drain and tips directly into Pegwell Bay. The latter is of course a UNESCO site.

So whether you’re swimming in it or breathing it or drinking it something has gone very wrong with the environmental safeguards.

A police car at Thor is certainly the best way forward: checking what’s going in and coming out. Alerting Nash Road estate and the GP’s and hospitals to check on mercury etc.

As having Thor handle their own cleanup with no site oversight is abysmal.

It seems to me with the removal of monitors at Manston and incidents such as Thor and the Gasworks and Richboro that there also needs to be some detailed oversight by the NHS.

I drink the tapwater but don’t like doing so.

Bottled water is best to be used whenever possible. People with young children should check on using bottled water for very young babies.

It’s no great consolation at the moment but I’m amazed at how resilient Nature is cleaning water supplies and vegetation growing back – as the pollution is stopped and then subsides.

It’s not especially relevant to Thanet but sites I’ve visited in Vietnam that were defoliated by Operation Ranch Hand and Agent Orange to strip away the forest and poison the ricefields grew back very rapidly.

The museums in Vietnam sadly though detail the thousands of foetuses in bell jars and deformities from the chemicals used. Horrific deformities we can’t really imagine now: no eyes, no limbs and so on.

The aquifer under the airport is one of the most polluted in the South East: as the concrete runway and the SEEDA car park is removed – also the MOD fire site- then rainfall will dilute the water table and flush out the oil, petrol and de-icer chemicals very rapidly etc.

It is daft to build on the water supply. That’s why the towns are built in a thin crust around the coast. The bit in the middle is the water supply.

There’s also a very good initiative by DEFRA to ensure farmers detail the chemicals they use on farmland which would be useful for Thanet – although the Council and Police phoning farmers, suppliers, checking sheds etc would be as effective.


On a more positive note I saw the crest by St Peters Village Tour which looks rather marvellous and a quote from Pytheas who I’d never heard of visiting Thanet in 325BC: “A green wooded land at the end of the world”.

Rather marvellous.

From a tourism point of view Thanet is very special with visitors such as this, Caesar, Hengist and Horsa and St Augustine.

And the Landings tourism attraction fell away to nothing.

The woods too may not be what they once were though: Westwood, Eastwood and so on.

We seem to have business parks, car parks, retail parks, office parks – everything except park parks.

Thanet has begun to turn the corner from a mere mini-Milton Keynes of cookie-cutter architecture (close your eyes and squint at Westwood Cross Debenhams, Fenwicks Canterbury and Ashford Debenhams. Tell me the difference if you can for three cod-parthenons off the same drawing board), boarded up toilets, identikit High Streets – like everywhere in Britain.

I’m very concerned that we seem to let our trees in the towns die – and where have all the grass verges gone?

We seem to have the quick and easy council culture of chopping down trees, tarmacing pavements instead of flagstones and digging out grass verges and flowerbeds. These are the weft and weave that make our towns unique.

Easier and cheaper but not what Thanet is.

And with Climate Change the civil servants should be doing what they do best and leading the way in protecting the public and improving the area. Removing benches (near Pleasurama) and beach shelters and beach huts that are garden sheds and a blizzard of tarmac is silly.

It doesn’t do Thanet any good at all.

Again they’re the important weft and weave that make a place what it is. Easy to remove and then never replaced. And a little bit more of the towns die.

And then it looks like Milton Keynes - if that.

Mayor Green has made several good points on the use of tarmac in Ramsgate when flagstones or a special concrete should be used. Maybe Pulhamite or a special screed with unique designs, flowerbeds and flowers that represent the towns.

One other point is that the concreting of gardens and removing grass verges again reduces the amount of rainfall that replenishes the aquifer. And especially in Thanet the water pours off the tarmac into a drain and into the sea. With Thanet one of the sunniest parts of Britain those extra inches of rainfall are vital for the aquifer.


Blue plaques and the Town Trail: a terrific idea.

I was very interested to read Paul Twyman’s letters which are always interesting. I’d vote for plaques for Coleridge and John Le Mesurier – a great writer unrecognised by his own town, and a great actor who lives over by the Westcliff so would spread the walk out across the town a little bit.

I’d never head of Jacques Tati in Thanet – the EU and TranManche programmes must still be going - but certainly it would be useful to have the Kent Film Office based down here. A film festival, film studio and sunshine – it could be like Hollywood but a bit better.

A really terrific initiative by Cllr Liz Green with the Seven Squares trail.

The only other Parliamentary committee I can think of to sit on in parliament besides DFID would be the Dept for Communities and Local government.

With my MP hat on I’d be keen to see the “Van Gogh Gallery” that regenerated the old Cavallino building: art gallery, photography gallery, local schools – and exhibition from the Dutch museums. 90% of museums’ exhibits are never shown.

It would be daft to have a derelict building, no art gallery and one of the greatest ever painters from Ramsgate – and no museum or gallery wouldn’t it?

With Climate Change it should be a proper eco-building not the usual houses with bits of wood stuck on them.

The “sale” of Albion House – that the public already own - is just as daft and only the Tory Group and Cllr Ward have come out of it with any credit.

Computers and Schools

This is a terrific programme that Steve Ladyman’s raised which is one of the best Government initiatives I’ve seen: computers and web for poorer kids.

For free.

It’s a terrific programme – I can’t understand why our councillors and civil servants in the Regen Dept aren’t pushing to have a job-lot of vouchers for Thanet.

Free computers.

There must be a Thanet Education Dept that could advise on the number of computers and web access in our schools by headcount – and some of the vouchers could be used for older people and mobile phones too.

I don’t know who BECTA are that run it but it seems yet another quango. Wouldn’t it be easier to have an “Office of Quangos” and then close it and them?

Schools these days that weren’t able to provide computers and web so every child had access to every website, literature and museum in the world would be daft.

Every Thanet child over 5 who doesn’t have a computer at home should be able to have one - and no Thanet child should have to share a school computer. Surely the schools could explain what they need?

There must be a TDC schools liaison and Thanet Education group for all the Thanet schools – don’t they report to the Town Councils and public anyway on what they’re doing?

I’m surprised how little scrutiny there is of Education, NHS, Coastguard, Fire, Ambulance and Quangos – who’s scrutinising what they’re doing and how much it costs?

Council budget

I’ve had a look through some of the items and the silliest is cutting councillor allowances to fund civil servant salaries.

Certainly there’s been dreadful political and civil service leadership over the years but the whole point of a council is that the councillors are of the public and juggle their time and work to act on behalf of the public.

A very petty and silly self-serving decision by the civil servants.

Publishing the full TDC staff costs would give us all a clear idea why there are 750 staff up from c.600 and why £22M out of £60M tax goes on civil servant salaries and a £7m reserve.

With almost all the rest then sent to KCC for a civil service “admin charge”.

50% paid in admin charges and the other 50% sent away for a further admin slice.

Terrific if the places were sparkling rather than being a road builder and property magnate’s wet-dream.

The answer’s a new road or an office block – what was the question?

Looks like bloat with civil servants paid first from the public funds and bean-counters tidying up the books while riding the decline down by hoarding the funds.

Thanet’s councillors don’t even review the payroll or expenses or cars at their monthly meetings.

KCC to its credit publishes its Budget Book although almost all the line items are – not unreasonably - staff costs in one form or another.

Bizarrely there seem little mentions of funds deployed to the public and no indication of front office and back office roles. You can guess can’t you?

As you can see around the towns the services and infrastructure have been denuded simply to pay civil servants or at best to ride the decline down.

Cutting councillor allowances is very silly. I think they’re too low already and should be increased to c.£10k but the number of councillors reduced. 56 for 3 small towns is mere bloat.

Especially if the only “services” are phoning KCC for roadworks. And riding the decline down.

A new Town Council for Margate would focus on the town and Cliftonville and allow the number of councillors to be reduced and merged.

In the near future an East Kent Council covering Thanet and Dover – based in Cliftonville initially - would provide a career path for councillors and civil servants to reduce the East-West nonsense and appalling deprivation levels and regenerate Cliftonville and Margate Town Centre.

Politics and Civil Service in Kent seems mere ceremony, cat-calling and construction than anything remotely resembling good governance.

The preponderance of property people on councils is always a concern as public land is one of the few assets that a council can “sell” for development.

Maybe Kent’s civil servants roll over and fail to enforce brownfield development and replacement stock. And isn’t two motorways overly generous for London’s Patio?

East Kent hardly needs any houses given it has hundreds empty.

As the population ages and dies - and as people leave.

Look at Detroit which is infamous for urban decay. Or the Soviet ghost towns. Or Chatham.

It doesn’t have to be like this. It could be worse.

Look how far Margate has fallen in 30 years or so.

No comments: