Thursday, 21 August 2014

Response to my complaint to Thanet District Council about their E-petition scheme, a sketch of Deal High Street and a few photos of Walmer Castle.

First here is my complaint to the council:

Hi I wish to complain about the council’s online petition facility.

I am concerned that no effort is made by the council to separate or identify petitioners and those starting a petition, into Thanet Residents and non-Thanet residents or restrict the number of times someone can sign an online petition.

Please see the Manston airport cpo issue as being unrelated to this complaint and as only being used by me because it the most recent TDC online petition and helps me to illustrate areas of possible improvement.   

Although I am not against saving Manston airport, I did note that the petition was started by a non UK resident and that it had been signed both by other non UK residents and by people living within the UK who were protesting against airport expansion elsewhere in the UK, usually where they live. 

All of this meant that when councillors had to decide this important local issue it wasn’t possible for them to gauge the support for the cpo among Thanet residents, who are now funding the various legal stages in investigating the issue.

The norm (that used by KCC and the UK government) appears to be only members of the electoral roll (councils) or UK residents (UK gov) can start petitions or sign them, either online or on paper.

My suggestion would be that when members of the public join the council’s website they have to supply their names and addresses so that the council could verify them. Obviously once the names had been verified they wouldn’t subsequently need to be verified for every petition, which would save the council money. 

People who have already joined the council’s website would need to be emailed asking them to update their details. My understanding is that it is possible to join the council’s website, to sign petitions as many times as one has email addresses at the moment, so this would be an opportune moment to resolve the multiple signing issue too.

I would also refer you to your own document pack from when the council decided on how online petitions should function, which states that the rules for online petition should be the same as those for paper petitions and that the names and addresses for signatories of paper petitions should be verified. 

I believe the situation is generally different for online consultation, where people from outside the area are allowed to take part but their responses are weighted to reflect their geographical location.    

Best regards Michael

Here is the council’s response:

Dear Mr Child

Customer Feedback Reference: 67697/2756315

Thank you for your recent communication which was received on 11/08/2014.

I will endeavour to answer the points that you have raised in your email to us one at a time.

1) The petition was not started by a Thanet resident. - Under the Council's existing petition scheme there are no rules surrounding where a petitioner may be from.

2) The petition was signed by non-UK residents. - The Council's petition scheme currently allows for non UK residents to sign a petition or an Epetition.

3) The norm is that only UK residents can sign a petition to the UK government and only those on the electoral role may sign a petition to a Council. -  Whilst I cannot comment on UK government policy, the current government introduced the Localism Act 2011 which repealed the section of the Local Government, Local Development and Construction Act 2009 that required all local authorities to have a petitions scheme. Therefore no Council is required to have a petitions scheme and if it does have a scheme then it would be up to the Council as to how it would verify signatories to a petition.

4) Those signing an epetition should provide their addresses. - Whilst not currently required by the petition scheme, this issue will be discussed at a forthcoming meeting of the Constitutional Review Working Party on 2 September.

5) I would also refer you to your own document pack from when the council decided on how online petitions should function, which states that the rules for online petition should be the same as those for paper petitions. - I believe the document pack you refer to is the one for the Council meeting of the 10 July 2014, - however if this is not the case then please say. In it does state the prayer for both the Epetition and the paper petition should be exactly the same. I can confirm that they were the same. In addition, clarifications to the rules surrounding whether an Epetition and a paper petition can be run concurrently are also due to the discussed at the Constitutional Review Working Party on 2 September.

Separately I can also confirm that all signatories to a paper petition are verified - officers ensure that a name, address and signature are present in order for it to be considered as a valid entry.

We hope that this resolves the matter to your satisfaction.

If you are not happy with our response, you may write to us with your reasons within the next ten working days, requesting a further review.

In order for us to respond as efficiently as possible, please ensure that you quote the above reference number and address your communication to Amanda Buckingham - Customer Contact Officer.

Yours sincerely

***** ******
Committee Services Manager

My feelings are that the complaint, which I submitted after some discussions with officers and councillors should fit the bill and allow them the resources to rectify the problems with the petition system.

Here is the sketch of Deal High Street today, from outside Costa Coffee, sorry it didn’t get finished, but the shopping finished before I did.

And finally a few photos of Walmer Castle. All the pictures should expand if clicked on


  1. So are you thinking the loopholes will be closed off and when they devised the e-petition they didn't think it thru

    BTW Michael have you seen the action plan 2015-2019 from RTC?

    1. Barry I have had an initial look at it at

      I also put up it at in text for my own convenience as my mobile phone didn’t like the format and I see as one for dipping into while I’m in queues and waiting to press 3 when I want to press 4.

  2. It wouldn't matter that the petitions are flawed if the council wasn't using the numbers of signatures as a justification for spending public money to try to revive the airport. If you look at the people who are organising the pro-airport groups and submitting the petitions, they all live outside Thanet and do not pay council tax here. Keith Churcher lives in a quiet little village called Wouldham to the South of Rochester, Beau Webber lives in Littlebourne, Oscar Maynard comes from Deal and is currently a student living in Holland and Mike Barker comes from Sevenoaks. The electronic petitions were advertised outside Thanet using social media. Many people from Medway signed the petitions because they were told that supporting Manston would help to prevent Boris Island from going ahead. The petitions were advertised worldwide using web-sites for travellers and aviation enthusiasts. The pro-airport supporters say that it doesn't matter where the signatures come from. This would only be true if the petition was directed at the airport owner and was being used to encourage the airport owner to reopen. However, these petitions were directed at the local council and are being presented as a representation of local opinion. If TDC is to spend our taxes, they should be looking at what the people of Thanet want and need, and not responding to petitions which have largely been signed by a curious amalgam of aviation fanatics, people who are against airports in their own vicinity, and people who don't want more housing. These are all negative reasons for signing a petition and are not expressions of support for Manston. In any event, the number of signatures on a petition should not be the only consideration. Our councillors should be considering whether a particular course of action is not only popular, but is also sensible and likely to succeed. The decision to proceed with the CPO doesn't meet either of these latter two tests.


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