Sunday, 26 April 2009

Duty and disobedience when questioning the council

There has been some debate on this blog this week about the ethics of my questioning the council and other government organisations particularly with regards to technical issues, see which I found particularly interesting.

For me a major issue here is the way in which my representatives, in this case councillors function and although this may seem strange my feelings are that too many of them have had too much experience of being councillors.

One way or another with the huge amount of legislation, regulatory bodies and being heavily guided by council officers a situation has developed where councillors appear to be trained to conform with council officers wishes, rather than represent the electorate which is supposed to be their primary function.

For me then I find the only course of action open to me is to question the officers directly, for example having acquired the water quality tables my main concern is the private boreholes that may not be properly regulated. For instance this week I will ask what treatment if any is used for the water pumped out of the ground for irrigation at Thanet Earth.

This is not because I have any expert knowledge of water contamination but is based on the premise that if the public water supply needs to be purified and diluted to be safe for consumption, it probably needs to be purified and diluted for the intensive growing of cucumbers and tomatoes that are by their very nature er watery.

A couple of things that I am unhappy about is that all the pesticides are grouped together in one table and my rather dated scientific knowledge leads me to believe that DDT bonds with the fatty acids in plants, I also believe that mercury would accumulate in the growing process.

When I asked about water draining into the ground at Thanet Earth I was told that it wouldn’t so presumably the water must go round and round in the growing process until it evaporates leaving most of the chemicals behind.

One of the great problems with contamination of the aquifer is that many people who would be likely to contaminate the aquifer, engineers and lorry drivers for instance would be unaware of its existence.

To this end I have asked if the council would consider signposting in appropriate areas and I am told that they are considering it.

Another thing that interested me this week was the complaint that I made that didn’t appear on the councils list of complaints, the council officer I asked assumed that I had emailed it to someone randomly and they had forgotten to record it.

In fact I used the online complaints form the essence of the complaint was to try and get TDC to post the dvds, of council meetings that they already make, to Kent TV so they could be available online in a way that would cost the council virtually nothing.

I eventually got a response that a committee was to be set up to find a more expensive way of doing this and at that point I just gave up on the issue.

Trading in the real world in this recession is not easy and that sort of thing makes one annoyed.

Anyway this complaint should have registered automatically so either the council have a serious IT failure here or they are adjusting the figures for some reason or another.

In terms of official complaints and freedom of information requests I am very reluctant to use them as I assume they cost the council a lot to resolve, for instance I believe I have only ever made 3 complaints 2 of which relate to Pleasurama.

With Pleasurama I am going to pursue its problems much more vigorously to ensure that we don’t get another 5 years of deserted building site, 3 years of delay was caused by the council sitting on the survey of the cliff façade and not taking any action.

It was only when I discovered the existence of the survey that action was taken, it may have been coincidental but the timing suggested otherwise.

Now I have suggested the access road is dangerous see and the answers I got from the council suggest that this may be the case, I would imagine that this has instigated some sort of survey, but just don’t know, if it says the road can’t support busses I am determined that they don’t sit on it for 3 years this time.

This is important because if it can’t support busses for the expected life of the new development, it will either have to be made so it can and I would expect the expense of doing this would be tremendous, or it will have to be closed to heavy vehicles.

If it is to be closed to heavy vehicles then the new development will have to be completely redesigned which would mean that it would have to be environment agency compliant.

Another problem I find with the various government agencies is it is very difficult to get them to view big problems as a whole, with the water issue there is now no doubt in my mind that Thanet Earth, China Gateway and airport expansion can’t all be allowed to happen on the aquifer.

Certainly there doesn’t appear to be any way that China Gateway can expand beyond phase 1 as we just wont have enough water if it does and with phase 1 being built it would seem highly unlikely that any airport expansion that involves more hard standing can occur.

Now regardless of your views on other aspects of these developments they involve businesses that are prepared to invest in this area and without Southern Water, the environment agency and the council setting some definite guidelines as to the amount of development on the aquifer that can be allowed it is not possible for these businesses to function properly.

I would say that the tremendous fluctuations in Commercial Group Properties share price is partly symptomatic of there being no realistic understanding both of how much they can expand and how they are going to manage the drainage for phase 1.

The fact that there was consultation with the council before the drainage plans that the council would have known would be totally unacceptable were drawn up shows just how much time and money can be wasted by the councils unrealistic explanation of environmental constraints.

The question I would like to ask those of you who feel I shouldn’t be using the methods I use to get the council to act in a more decisive way over issues that effect our safety and economy is; what methods do they think is should use?


  1. In your electronics engineering past, Michael, did you encounter what is called an "Unstable null" ?

    This is a feedback control thingie.

    Supposing a nasty piece of interference comes along. Bzzzzzzz in yer circuits.

    What it does is cause the negative feedback to question itself, realise for itself that it has settled at a bogus solution and self correct the system.

    This is kinda sacred geometry Michael. Society is the same as the electronics analogy.

    It matters least whether the dissident is right or wrong it matters most that the dissident is dissident. If he is right then society adapts if he is wrong then society is re-assured.

    You have an impressive track record of being right. But your ethical track record is that you have been unto yourself true.

    Didn't expect that with yer Sunday roast ??

  2. Michael keep asking the questions or become a councillor

  3. Yes- Michael why not stand in the June elections?

  4. Richard another case of a comment longer than yours coming on here. One of the first practicals in undergraduate electronics in the late 60 was to make a simple audio amplifier the only component the student had to decide the value was the resistor in the feedback loop.

    I believe the main reason for setting this experiment although all of the student’s amplifiers are the same most of the resistors in the feedback loops are of different values to obtain a null.

    Obviously this is caused by the variations in gain in transistors of the same type, the bit you can’t see, there are interesting parallels to blogging here to.

    The underlying science and maths that supports our understanding of the world is a purely fictitious framework that man has made up and is still changing as our understanding increases.

    There also sacred parts that would be better changed but we never dare change, it would for instance be arguably better is we counted to the base 12 instead of 10.

    Any physicist knows that matter (everything that exists) is completely different when it is observed than when it isn’t, it is easily proven in the laboratory, the technology that I am using to write this is based upon scientists knowing these things that they don’t and may never understand.

    Any scientist worth his sort has long accepted being ignorant but using that ignorance cleverly physicists for instance have had to tread in the realms of philosophy where philosophers hardy dare go.

    So when any engineer or scientist says something it is the engineers and scientists who doubt knowing that in engineering there is virtually no such thing a right just compromises that make things work.

    Don 13.34 The problem there is that if I became a councillor I wouldn’t be able to ask the questions that I ask in the public way that I do. My contribution to local society is to provide a bookshop, local history publications and try to keep an eye on issues relating to the safety of local people, frankly it’s as much as I can manage.

    I was talking to a couple of councillors about this the other day, high ideals to change the council from within, unfortunately in many cases it is the councillors that are changed by the council and not the council that is changed by the councillors.

  5. Michael, thank you for taking this issue seriously enough to make this posting. It may surprise you to learn that I agree with you on many of your issues, but not being qualified I am not sure enough of my case to make the pronouncements that you do. I agree with your point about there being no definitive right and wrong, but decisions have to be made. The way I understand it people who are able to make these decisions are known as "qualified" or sometimes "experts".

    In answer to your question as to what methods you should use, I think you have partially answered it already. We have elected councillors who should represent us, and they should listen to all points of view. It is they who should be taken to task if they allow council officers to miss-represent or not competently investigate issues. For any one of us amateurs to be permitted to negotiate directly with council officers on matters of public concern is a dangerous precedent to set as there are many of us, all possibly with different opinions. Officers of the council are not directly responsible to us and I doubt if they have a public right of reply to criticisms.

    It's also very foolish to bypass councillors as they are an important link in our democracy.

    Like it or not, that is our democratic system. Use and refine the system by all means, but to ignore it is a dangerous precedent to set.

    My view is that you should be naming and shaming councillors who in your opiniuon are under performing, and this blog is an excellent way to do it.

    I don't understand your comment about not being able to ask questions in the way you do if you became a councillor. Councillors have the same rights as you and me, but as they are elected surely they have more moral authority to seek answers on our behalf.

  6. I love this and will use it in church "Any scientist worth his sort has long accepted being ignorant but using that ignorance cleverly physicists for instance have had to tread in the realms of philosophy where philosophers hardy dare go.

    So when any engineer or scientist says something it is the engineers and scientists who doubt knowing that in engineering there is virtually no such thing a right just compromises that make things work.
    I always say to people you cant change anything from the outside and with the council possibly not from inside or outside. I dont have any answers but I for one am glad you take the time and interest in things for the Isle and its inhabitants.

  7. Michael, get a life, and stop worrying on behalf of others, they are not worth it

  8. Keep asking the questions Michael. You're only doing, for all of us, what our supine and ineffective Councillors are supposed to be doing. Sadly, they all think they are there to cosy up to the officers and to allow the uunelected officers to impose THEIR vision of Thanet onto the people who pay their salaries.

  9. Please keep asking the questions.They will only become unnecessary in the unlikely event of a council that does it's job properly.

  10. Keep asking the questions but through the councillors in the correct way. Use them or loose them. Despite popular opinion life without our representatives would be very different.

  11. Michael, I am interested that there is implied criticism of local councillors here by other bloggers, and i thought Ramsgate had more active ones - labour who did something, not like other lazy ones over the other side of the isle!
    You are taking up difficult issues but nevertheless things that need taking up floodplain sites for new buildings?drinking water etc - those challenging SE over legal issues elsewhere on the island were castigated as "mischief makers and those who should know better" but they were right! Keep fighting!

  12. So Michael is right to do what he does. He appears to have his own portal into Thanet Council, thus bypassing democracy. Why don't we get rid of the councillors and all 126,000 of us have our own gateway to the council.

    I agree with Thanet Resident, we must use the councillors. Michael is not an expert, he is not elected and he does not represent anyone other than himself. He should not get preferential treatment.

    Make the system work Michael, don't create a new one!

  13. The bookshop is much busier than I expected on a dull Monday morning so I will answer as I get time.

    Thanet Resident I do take the comment and commenters seriously anyone that can be bothered to type out coherent views on local issues to my mind is worth listening to.

    On the subject of qualified experts my feelings are that government officers that are supposed to be should show their qualifications on their correspondence as is normal in industry. In the case of say an EA officer deciding important issues about the water supply I would hope and expect that they would be highly qualified trouble is I just don’t know.

    I believe I haven’t made myself clear on the issue of using politicians I most certainly do use them, over the Pleasurama issue when I heard that the established firm that was already involved in a large and good development in the town and had tendered a much more attractive deign that would have a swimming pool to be given to the town gratis, had been turned down and an offshore company that appear never to have built anything had been accepted, in the first instance I contacted my MP on the 9th April 2003.

    Since then nearly all my requests for information have been to the chief executive and copied to my MP, ward councillor, leader of the council and the senior officers in planning.

    Where I have asked councillors to help they have tried the problem being that Ramsgate being predominately Labour our councillors are for the most part marginalised.

    I am completely baffled by the secrecy and lack of consultation on this issue or why no one seems to be able to tell me if the plans are valid or the money laundering documents valid.

    It has been a month since I asked and my ward councillor asked still no response.

  14. 19.56 I have made this town my home and therefore am concerned local people get the best, if the customers in the bookshop are anything to go by they are worth it.

    20.56 21.35 The councillors are not paid a huge amount and a mixture of legislation at a national level and tangled procedure at a local level makes them much less effective than they should be.

    8.13 I think it is more a case of they should be our representatives but local government seems to have evolved in such a way to make it difficult for them to carry out this task.

    9.34 I find good and bad on both sides of the political divide.

  15. I sympathise with your cause, and I know how frustrating it is to not receive a reply. I also believe that local government can be very inefficient at times. However, I still believe you are going about things the wrong way. If your councillor cannot get answers there seems little point in asking again. It just serves to frustrate an already inadequate system.

    I don't wish to be derogatory, but I must remind you that you are not our elected representative, you do not necessarily reflect our views and you are not a qualified expert. If just 1% of our population took it upon themselves to do the same as you the council would no doubt cease to function. Why do you think you have greater rights than us?

    Please use your councillors and make them work for you. If they don't understand, seek to guide them. If the council have not responded to you it may be because they are not obliged to. If they have not responded to your councilor that is a serious issue and there must be some form of redress.

  16. It's all very well saying use your Councillors. However, as those of us who have had to deal with them will testify, their first loyalty is to their party and not to their constituents. Councillors won't raise an issue on your behalf unless they have been cleared to do so by their party leadership. Nor will they raise an issue on your behalf if they don't happen to agree with you. I'm afraid that our Councillors don't understand democracy and this is where the problem lies. You are elected to serve the people and when you are elected you are there to serve all of the people, not just the ones you agree with and not just the ones who voted for you. When our Councillors begin to understasnd this and act accordingly, we will be able to hand matters ovcer to them. Until that time Michael, and others, will need to keep pushing.

  17. I think the answer 18.44 is to have more independant councillors they are there for their electorate not to be shoved around by their bullying leaders that is what local democracy should be - just got badly forgotten by the current leadership!

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  19. The council should be questioned constantly. China Gateway and receipts of a business trip paid for by CGP after they told us that Chinamex paid for it; Manston planning decision rail-roaded though, while small businesses/perfectly reasonable amusement arcades requests get ignored/black balled; pollution of any kind being allowed unchecked, unannounced; Westwood killing retail in 3 towns for what?; Turner, pleasurama, dreamland, museums, powerboat weekends, lorries parking on the western undercliff - all on this councils watch.

    Thanet Resident - if you want to put up with it and put all your effort into wasting Michaels time, some of us would rather be wasting the time of the shower that contributed most to the roll of shame above. If you think that our council tax bill would have been less if Michael and others stopped questioning and just waited to vote, you really are quite naive

  20. Thanet Resident I suggest that you perform an experiment which is to ask your local councilors to find the answers to the questions that the chief executive of the council promised to answer for me a couple of weeks ago and then didn’t.

    “I have been told that as work has started on the access road work is deemed to have started on the development and therefore the consent didn’t expire after five years.

    1 Does this mean that planning consent is granted in perpetuity for this development?

    I have been told that before work can start on the development a bond has to be placed in a bank account, last time I asked about a month ago and after the five years had expired the bond had not been placed.

    2 Does this mean that work has not officially started on the development and therefore planning consent has expired?

    3 I gather that SFP as a company would need to have supplied you with a certificate of authenticity for prevention of money laundering purposes does such a certificate exist?”

    I am very loathe to go down the official complaint road with the council as it costs them and therefore us a tidy sum of money, so I have had a considerable correspondence with Richard since then trying to get answers to my questions so I was very pleased to get the following email from him promising answers this week.

    “Subject: Re: Pleasurama
    Date: 09/04/2009 19:18:20 GMT Standard Time
    Reply To:

    An officer will reply to you on this next week. I have made some initial inquiries and I understand the obligations under the Proceeds of Crime legislation are not quite as you say. I think you may be confusing due diligence procedures with irregularities in the deposit of funds which do not come into effect until funds are received. However I am not the expert and you will receive a fuller reply shortly.

    Richard Samuel
    Chief Executive”

    You can email your councillors and test what you are recommending I do in practice and I would be very grateful if you could inform me of the results you get.

  21. Sorry Michael, I'm out of the country for a few weeks. Will look at it again on my return. If councillors don't do their job, take them to task.


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