Gale's View (September 3rd 2008)
Thanet Council's controlling Conservative group need take no lessons from a local Labour Party with twenty-five thousand crisp reasons for wanting to sanitise its position in relation to the China Gateway project.
At the same time it is absolutely right that a planning proposal that has attracted such widespread interest and comment should be considered by the whole Council in order that views may be well-aired and the democratic process be seen to be open and above board. I applaud the decision of my Council colleagues on the planning committee who have voted to ensure a wider hearing and I believe that the Council's administration has nothing to fear and everything to gain from that process.
Let us be clear: The planning application falls within the confines of the Local Plan approved and signed off by the Secretary of State. To reject it, notwithstanding some ill-informed populist grandstanding, would almost certainly lead to an appeal, approval without conditions and safeguards and costs borne by the Thanet Council Tax Payer. In fact, the Council's team of highly professional officers, led by Brian White, have recommended a sequence of robust conditions that, if adopted and enforced in full, will answer the very real concerns that I and many others have raised concerning drainage and water resources, road infrastructure, tree-screening and landscaping and the terms of the Section 106 agreement under which any developer will be required to make a contribution to community amenities. At each and every turn, those provisions will have to be subject to Council approval before development commences. That, to me, is a far better option than a pyrrhic victory over a property company that has shown at the least some reluctance to meet the concerns of local people.
The impression has been given that anyone who questions this project is "against jobs for Thanet". Nonsense. There is every reason to seek the delivery of schemes that, in exchange for green fields, deliver well-landscaped development that generates a very significant number of the kind of high-quality jobs that Thanet's school-leavers and returning graduates now aspire to.
This Council and I have supported one of the largest and most invasive projects to hit the Island for many years - Thanet Earth. We have backed it, and I am highly enthusiastic about it, because it is well funded, well project-managed, environmentally sound and, representing the agricultural technology of tomorrow, is hugely exciting. It will also generate a great many jobs at various levels of skill.
We also wholeheartedly support the proposed offshore windfarms for the contribution that they will make to the future of our renewable energy needs, to local infrastructure and to employment. We do this because we believe in the future of our Island and the balance between the environment and development that we have to achieve if we are to bring about lasting regeneration.
Manston Business park may either be developed as a shed industrial estate of low quality and employing few people or it may be a series of well landscaped, high quality buildings demanding skilled employees to deliver state of the art goods and services. What matters is what follows from the granting of a planning consent. CGP is a property company, not a developer. The calibre and the resources available to whoever develops the site are of paramount importance and it is against that yardstick that Kent County Council and Thanet District Council, who own some of the land required to take China Gateway forward, will have to be prepared to be judged.