Gales View - Manston Business Park (September 24th 2008)
I shall be delighted to be proved wrong but I remain to be convinced that the present planning application relevant to Manston Business Park is likely to lead to the creation of more than a modest number of new jobs for local people. My antipathy towards at least one of the personalities involved in the project is also not exactly a closely guarded secret!
None of that, however, is of any relevance whatsoever to the planning application due to be considered on October 9th by Thanet District Council.
The application currently before the Council is for land covered by Phase One, only, of what has become known as the China Gateway scheme. It is a lawfully submitted application for land designated in the local plan for industrial use. As such the councillors have no alternative but to properly consider it under planning law. That may not be palatable but those who seek to pretend otherwise are wrong in fact and wrong in law.
Of course Thanet Labour Party, having taken a £25,000 donation from one of the landowners with an interest in the application, find themselves in an embarrassing position and it is probably for that reason that an arms-length operation to seek to discredit the current Thanet Council administration has been mounted. An enterprising journalist might seek to demonstrate otherwise but search as I may I can find no indication that any of the empty drums now beating so loudly in protest made any submissions at the time that the local plan went out to lengthy public consultation before it was approved by this Government's Secretary of State.
We are, therefore, where we are if not where we would like to be. Under those circumstances it would be helpful if those who are genuinely concerned for the future of our environment would concentrate their energies upon what may be achieved. Much useful work has already been done. The work of Councillor Dr. Alasdair Bruce in highlighting the potential threat to water supplies and the diligence of those planning officers who have put together the package of recommended planning conditions to be applied to approval of this application mean that mains drainage plans, road infrastructure, tree-screening and landscaping proposals together with the details of a Section 106 agreement all have to be further approved by the Council before development may commence.
It is clear from ill-informed statements made by some protestors that relatively few people have actually bothered to read the documents, which are in the public domain, that are relevant to the application. As an additional safeguard some of the land required for development, including what is known as a "ransom strip", lies within the ownership of Kent County Council and Thanet District Council and may only be sold at an appropriate price and for approved purposes .Public pressure will also help to ensure that all imposed conditions are rigidly enforced and that fierce scrutiny is applied to final plans.
It surely has to be better for our Councillors on both sides of the political divide, to recognise the reality and to vote for the granting of a consent with stringent conditions attached rather to vicariously take a populist line and reject it only to see it granted, under the terms of the local plan, by an inspector at an inquiry the full costs of which would be met by Thanet's already hard-pressed Council Tax payers. Such a consent would very probably be given without the proposed conditions and at desperate cost to our environment and I cannot believe that that is what genuine, as opposed to politically orchestrated, protestors wish to achieve.
For the rest, Phases Two and Three of the current proposals do not form part of the current planning application and lie outside the provisions of the local plan. I indicated weeks ago that were any planning application to be submitted for that land then I would personally, representing my constituents, ask the Secretary of State to hold a public inquiry and I imagine that many other individuals and organisations would quite properly do likewise.
One final thought: I bow to nobody in my active concern for human rights, for the elimination of poverty-level labour worldwide and in particular for the treatment of the people of Tibet. (Unlike many who are "campaigning" I have been privileged to meet the Dalai Lama in person). Those are not, however, considerations that a local Authority, sitting as a planning committee, may lawfully take into account when considering a planning application and anyone who pretends otherwise is either disingenuous or ill-informed.