Saturday, 31 July 2010

Town and Country Housing Association

Town and Country Housing Association (TCHA) features three times in this week's edition of The Courier.

I declare an interest. I was a member of the board of High Weald Housing Association (as TCHA was known then) in the 1990's as a nominee of Tunbridge Wells Borough Council. It was during this time that the association acquired former army properties in Dover.

The first story concerns the future of the Age Concern building in Tunbridge Wells. Two issues are conflated in this story: the continuation of revenue funding by local authorities and the future of the premises in Wood Street. The article suggests that the future of the Age Concern premises rests with TCHA and it finding an appropriate building for Age Concern to continue its operations. The building is owned by TWBC, but its future is tied in with plans by TCHA to sell adjacent properties. Is all this something to do with land assembly? What is the role of the development company jointly owned by TWBC and Laing? My advice to Age Concern is to sit tight. It has seven years to run on its lease.

The second story is about TCHA securing an agreement with Skinners' Kent Academy to ask prying personal questions to pupils through a questionnaire prepared by the association and disseminated by the academy. It took the intervention of a county councillor to stop this nonsense. As a borough councillor stated, what were TCHA going to do with the information?

The third story relates to a matter I have discussed on this blog previously. TCHA is preparing major plans for Sherwood which it is understood will include building on allotments and green spaces, demolishing homes and a new road. Documents had been given by TCHA to the Council and in particular to borough councillors for Sherwood on a confidential basis. Two of the councillors then proceeded to publicise the proposals through leaflets distributed to residents.

The two councillors have been hauled in front of TWBC's Chief Executive and in the words of one councillor slapped on the wrists.

Now, here we are in the brave new world of localism, citizen engagement and civic participation. But what does the Chief Executive have to say? According to The Courier, the following:

The Sherwood Vision is still a work in progress and subject to discussions between Town and County Housing Association and the Borough Council. It would be inappropriate to consult on proposals before they are finalised or to comment on them.

Frankly, this is Grade A bullshit. The Sherwood Vision is about major regeneration of the estate. Many residents on the estate are not tenants of TCHA, but are owner-occupiers. They have every right to know what is being dreamt up by the cosy housing association/council relationship.

A few years ago I was critical of the way Tunbridge Wells Borough Council was approaching its responsibility to produce a community strategy/plan for Tunbridge Wells. For my troubles I became chair of an independent group which developed the community plan.

The DETR guidance on community plans stated:

If community strategies are to respond to public concerns, there needs to be genuine engagement with the beginning of the process. It is important that community planning allows communities to be fully involved in establishing both the long-term vision and the shorter term priorities for action. It would not be enough simply to consult communities on a range of options determined by the authority and its partner organisations. Attention should be given at an early stage to ensuring all sections of the community have the opportunity to participate. (The emphasis is mine.)

Sound guidance then which is just as pertinent and relevant today when participation, engagement and localism are the new ways of conducting affairs.

Town Hall PR: Soften up the public to Hawkenbury move

The official line of Tunbridge Wells Borough Council is that no decision has been taken about moving the Council's administrative base to the former Land Registry building at Hawkenbury.

However in this week's edition of The Courier is a two page spread about the town hall. The Courier reporter was given access to the building, staff were posed for photographs and there were interviews with staff. The general tenor of the interviews was that the town hall is not a suitable building. Well, well, what a surprise.

Mind you, I would have been amazed if the responses had been that staff wished to remain at the town hall.

The article is an inept attempt by the Council to soften up the public to the idea that the Council should move to Hawkenbury. No decision taken? Maybe not formally, but informally it looks as though it has.

Alistair Tod has made the pertinent point that the inside of the town hall could be reconfigured.

Wednesday, 28 July 2010

A night with friends

Just been to a barbie with Rosemary and met up with a lot of old friends. Most enjoyable.

Tuesday, 27 July 2010

Foodbank for Kent: Progress

I am delighted to announce that Action with Communities in Rural Kent is supporting the development of a Foodbank for Kent. Our aim can be summarised in the following phrase: No-one should go hungry in the Garden of England.

The Foodbank for Kent project acknowledges the assistance it receives from Voluntary Action Within Kent.

Monday, 26 July 2010

A Nottingham haunt

Close to where I worked in Nottingham was a public house. Maurice, the landlord, believed in the personal touch. He wore always a towel over his arm and it was waiter service in the lounge bar. You pressed a bell-push and Maurice would appear.

Maurice was interested in aquariums and dotted about the lounge bar were a number of tanks. I was intrigued by the fish that sucked its young into its mouth whenever danger threatened. Maurice would travel far and wide in the UK to exhibitions of exotic fish, tanks and so forth. The hobby came to an abrupt end when his wife discovered that he had an interest in an exotic bird of the non-feathered variety. Retribution took the form of Maurice and wife's emigration to Australia to live with son and daughter-in-law.

Many a happy hour was spent in the pub plotting and scheming against our dreaded head of department. One colleague who attended from time to time was Rex. One day Rex disappeared into the gloom of the gents lavatory and was followed in from the tap room by two enormous men. After what seemed an age, Rex and the two men re-appeared to much back-slapping, glad-handing and bonhomie. Rex had been in the SAS and wore a tie which indicated to those in the know as much. The two heavies were former SAS and were checking Rex's credentials to wear the tie.

Saturday, 24 July 2010

What is Kent?

Many people think of Kent as the boundaries of Kent County Council, although some include the Medway Unitary Authority.

However, over the years the western boundary has been moving east.

In 1889, the County of London was created and the townships of Deptford, Greenwich, Woolwich, Lee, Eltham, Charlton, Kidbrooke and Lewisham were transferred out of Kent and in 1900 the area of Penge was gained. Some of Kent, notably Dartford, is contiguous with Greater London.

After the Second World War, Kent's borders changed several more times. In 1965 the London boroughs of Bromley and Bexley were created from nine towns formerly in Kent. In 1998, Rochester, Chatham, Gillingham, and Rainham left the administrative county of Kent to form the Unitary Authority of Medway.

Kent County Cricket Club plays at Beckenham.

Some regard Kent as being the area prior to the 1965 change, so one has to be careful when promoting an activity as being 'Kent-wide'.

Friday, 23 July 2010

Town Hall Secrecy at Tunbridge Wells

So here we are in the Conservative Government's brave new world that demands transparency in local government.

In Tunbridge Wells this translates into a private meeting of councillors at which it was agreed to borrow money to purchase the Land Registry site and, so it is believed, the Odeon cinema site.

It is rumoured that the amount to be borrowed is £20 million. The Council has refused to provide information on the amount of the loan, the length of the loan or the total cost to to the Council.

This is a disgrace and one trusts the Local Government Department, of which the borough's MP, Greg Clark, is a minister, will have something to say about this. There is concern already at the secrecy shrouding the activities of the company set up by the Council and Laing to develop Council owned sites.

Cllr Ransley (Con) is quoted in the Courier thus:

(The purchase) was viewed with considerable concern even by those members who supported it. This whole thing is going to split the Conservative Group on Tunbridge Wells Council if we are not careful.

Begs the question: how many councillors voted against the proposal or abstained? It really won't do if the project goes pear-shaped for those who have doubts now to have voted the proposal through out of party loyalty or for the quiet life. Stand up and be counted! In fact do we know what was the number of votes for/against/abstention?

Rusthall Fete 24th July

Rusthall Fete: Saturday 24 July 12.00-5.00PM at Southwood Road playing fields. Should be fun. Not to be missed.

Wednesday, 21 July 2010

The Phantom Coach: 1970s

The Phantom Coach public house is located strategically close to Coventry Crematorium. Many a mourner has stopped off for a 'stiffener' (maybe not the most appropriate word to use in this context) before or after a funeral. Indeed quite a few did both.

One lunchtime I had arranged to meet a few people at the pub and it became apparent that mourners going to a funeral would meet up first at the pub and then go en masse to the crematorium and return likewise after paying their respects to the dear departed. The 'before' and 'after' atmosphere of these groups was interesting: hushed tones before and party like afterwards.

When 'before' and 'after' groups were in the pub at the same time it felt somewhat embarrassing. One felt that there should be pre-funeral and after-funeral bars.

One of my work colleagues reckoned he could visit the Phantom Coach any weekday and not have to pay a penny for his drinks. He would find out the name of the deceased and make sure he was standing close to the person ordering drinks. Once one group moved on he would attach himself to the next group.

Tuesday, 20 July 2010

A bit of a do

Many years ago I was invited to Louise's very posh wedding. Louise had had numerous boyfriends, concurrently and consecutively: and she was pregnant.

Arrived early, decided to visit the local pub for a drink. Inside was a wedding party: a groom and family. It looked and sounded as though they had been there a considerable time. The mother: large, garrulous and wearing a very tight fitting dress which revealed most of her huge bosom told her son repeatedly that he needn't go through with the wedding. The son was having none of it.

I departed the happy family, legged it to the church and having made myself as comfortable as was possible on the hard pews listened to the organ. After a while, stirring, in walks the groom and family: indeed the self-same family I had witnessed in the pub. This should be interesting I thought, can't wait for the reception and the mother-of-the-groom venting her spleen and frustration.

Time passed, the organist was going frantic as she went through her repertoire for the third time. No sign of the bride. Was the mother-of-the-groom to enjoy a happy ending to the day? The groom walked out of the church, I assumed to relieve himself as the effects of copious consumption of beer took hold.

Then, the groom shot back into the church, closely followed by the bride. The vicar, who had been notable by his absence until the bride arrived, announced to the congregation the reason for the delay. He had been the anchor man in the village tug-o-war team and just couldn't down rope for a trifling matter such as a wedding.

The wedding ceremony went well, save for a few grunts and sighs from the mother-of-the groom. Her husband, I was told at the reception, had divorced her some years previously and had not been invited to the wedding. Lucky fellow, I thought.

The wedding photographs were taken: no show from the mother of the now husband of Louise.

I don't remember much about the reception save for one comment by the mother: well I did warn you not to marry that slut said she as she stormed out of the reception with a man whom I took to be her boyfriend. The mother had seen the bride and best man passionately groping each other in a corridor.

Then a fight broke out involving the husband, the best man and sundry members of the two families. I repaired to the bar.

Monday, 19 July 2010

To the seaside, well not quite.

Journeyed to Brighton today, or to be more precise, Moulescombe to visit FareShare Brighton.
Learnt a lot.

As I sallied forth from Sainsbury's in Tunbridge Wells to Brighton via Crowborough and Lewes it struck me that at one time it would have been quicker by train. Now it takes two hours to travel from Tunbridge Wells to Brighton, about the same time as the bus.

Why is it that Brighton, a major leisure and economic centre is virtually impossible to get to from West Kent by public transport in under two hours? After all it is only just over 30 miles away.

Sunday, 18 July 2010

Tunbridge Wells: needs a boost

The late, much missed, Daniel Bech coined the phrase grot spot to describe locations in the town in need of tender loving care. There were many places for him to express his pungent and humorous comment, none more so than the old Odeon Cinema building and the former Safeway supermarket site.

Soon the Kent & Sussex Hospital site will be vacated and, despite denials from the Town Hall junta, it is likely the Town Hall will be vacated in favour of an office block in Hawkenbury. The Town Hall has an air of desolation as the public is firmly shut out.

What is the dynamic vision for Tunbridge Wells? How will these sites develop the town? There is talk of hotels, major 'up-market' retailers and conference facilities. All activities to encourage visitors to the town. Yet at the same time the Council considers closing public conveniences and withdrawing the tourist information centre to the Gateway.

I noted with interest a comment by the General Manager of the Kent & Sussex Light Railway that the Tenterden TIC was hidden in the Gateway and visitors found the railway's own tourist information of more value.

Three questions:

1. Where is the finance coming from for the development of the four sites mentioned above? The risk is, with finance hard to come by, we will have second rate buildings.

2. How is the additional traffic that it is hoped will be generated be accommodated on the Tunbridge Wells road system?

3. Tonbridge/Tunbridge Wells is a transport/economic 'hub'. How will links to other hubs be improved?

Friday, 16 July 2010

Shh...don't tell anyone: it's a secret!

According to the local press, Town & Country Housing Association has major plans for the Sherwood estate in Tunbridge Wells. The plans provide for demolition of flats, new build on allotments and green spaces and a new road.

I am sure it is all very commendable. The problem is that the plans have been developed in secret and have only partly come into the public domain as a result of details being 'leaked' by councillors to residents. Apparently councillors who have copies of the plans were sworn to secrecy.

We are told by central government that there is to be 'localism' and 'community engagement', yet in this instance the last people to know about the plans are local residents! When the Labour government introduced community plans the guidance was that it was no good simply producing a plan for comment. People had to be engaged in the preparation of the plan. It is a pity Town & Country did not consult at an earlier stage, then there would have been no need for 'leaks'.
The proposals should have a positive impact, but it has to be understood that many residents on the Sherwood estate are not tenants of the housing association. Worries and concerns will have been raised by the press report. The housing association should take residents into their confidence at all stages in the process, not hide behind secret documents, however laudable the plans or the intentions behind the secrecy.

Kent Police Authority

I note the Chair of Kent Police Authority (which attracts remuneration of over £29,000 per annum) has not endorsed the Government's proposals for elected police commissioners. She has trotted out the mantra that independent residents represent taxpayers.

The current system of appointment of independent members stinks. Prospective independent members have to fill in an application form which is considered by an outside organisation against criteria which as far as I am aware is not in the public domain. The next stage is for selected candidates to be interviewed by the Police Authority.

The sooner this system is swept away the better.

Health Fanatic

Having read the comments of Cllr Catherine Mayhew in today's Courier I have come to the conclusion that not only is she illiberal but also a health fanatic. There is far more danger to children from vehicle fumes. Perhaps she should propose that all motor vehicles be banned from roads which pass near schools?

Thursday, 15 July 2010

What can this be?

There I was, sitting in the garden doing nothing (and doing it well), when the post arrived. My eyes were drawn to a large envelope with the words Winckworth Sherwood emblazoned upon it.

Winckworth Sherwood? I knew the name. Solicitors! Was it a writ, had I received a legacy, was it one of those pompous letters threatening legal action? Then it struck me that I knew the name from my time in Chelmsford. No, not the prison. WS do work for the Chelmsford Diocese of the Church of England. Essex Savers Credit Union, for whom I have done some work, has its base in the diocesan office. Possibly circumstances surrounding this is why WS has written to me.

Enough conjecture, open the envelope.

Sadly, no legacy, happily no writ, not that I was expecting one, nor a pompous missive.

The envelope contained a certificate, number 018, stamped with a seal, stating that I was the Registered Holder of one fully paid share of £1 in The Conservative Co-operative Society Limited.

I wonder if the Society pays a divi?

Sunday, 11 July 2010

Sport reigns supreme today

British Formula One Grand Prix from Silverstone, followed by World Cup Final. Won't be doing any gardening, or much else for that matter today!

Friday, 9 July 2010


Previous blogs have referred to the organisation named Reform which has a membership of people in the Church of England with a conservative Evangelical agenda.

In today's Daily Telegraph, the Revd. Stephen Griffith , Christ Church, London SW14 writes:

Jeffery John is well known in this middle-of-the-road parish, and admired for his Christian virtues, his intelligence and his kindness.

No such description can be used for Reform, an extremist movement which seeks to do what the Puritans failed to do 400 years ago.

Some at the top of the Church of England need to tell them to be quiet and learn to be intelligent and loving.

Strong stuff. The Church of England used to be a very broad church: evangelicals, liberals, traditionalists, low church, high church, Anglo-Catholics all rubbing along. Yes, there was friction but the greater cause kept them together. This was underpinned by Cranmer's Book of Common Prayer, a masterpiece of ambiguity which kept Protestant and Catholic theology in tension.

The last major attempt by the Puritans to move the Church of England totally from its Catholic roots was the Savoy Conference in 1661, although sporadic forays were made by Protestants in the courts against Anglo-Catholic ritual following the emergence of the Oxford Movement. The Oxford Movement was more high church than Anglo-Catholic.

Deep down the real cause of argument is one of the authority of the Bible. Is it the once and for all revealed Word of God or is it a document which needs reinterpreting from generation to generation? Indeed, some Christians argue the Bible is entirely an human construct.

Savaged by dead sheep

Remember Dennis Healey's put down of Geoffrey Howe: like being savaged by a dead sheep?

Memories of that phrase came flooding back as I read the posturing comments of the two Rusthall ward councillors at a meeting to discuss the formation of a parish council.

The story in the Courier starts off with the statement that Rusthall's borough representatives have threatened action if their council colleagues block moves by residents to turn the village into a parish.

Better I suppose than threatening inaction. But what form will this action take: hunger strike, protest camp outside the Town Hall, resigning their seats and fighting by-elections, resigning from the Conservative Party?

Sadly not. Instead, we are promised that they will make strong representations according to one councillor and pretty strong representations according to another. I am underwhelmed.

I can see now Roy Bullock shaking in his boots, not from fear, rather from uncontrollable mirth.
Dear, oh dear.

Rusthall Council proposal rumbles on

As regular readers of my blog know I am not renowned for my enthusiasm for a parish council for Rusthall. Parish councils are restricted in what they can do by legislation: they cannot do much. What is needed is a neighbourhood forum with teeth. There are many examples of successful groups who have brought significant improvements to their communities which are way beyond the capacity of a parish council to achieve.

A parish council is the second best solution; second by a long distance. Radical transfers of power, funding and collaborative working cannot be achieved within the strait-jacket of the parish system.

Wednesday, 7 July 2010

Foodbank for Kent

I received the following from Nick Chard. It is encouraging.

'Thank you for your interesting email regarding Fareshare's work and the diversion of food from landfill. This charity clearly serves a very important function of preventing waste, helping those in need, addressing food poverty, saving landfill space, and reducing landfill gas, as well as saving scarce resources and carbon. It is certainly a very worthwhile enterprise and I am pleased to note that it is expanding.

From my understanding of Fareshare's work, essentially it takes food which would otherwise be waste from food processors and other businesses and provides it for community use. Turning to my role here at KCC, as the Cabinet Member for Environment, Highways and Waste, this covers the function of the County Council as the household waste disposal authority and therefore as you can see I have no remit in respect of waste food from business premises. In fact, the majority of Kent's household waste is being disposed of through the energy from waste plant at Allington and does not in any case go to landfill.

I agree that FareShare's objectives are extremely laudable and whilst landfill diversion is not an issue for KCC, I am sure that Fareshare's work will be of interest to other colleagues. In fact, during these difficult economic times, Kent has reviewed its priorities to place particular emphasis on supporting those who are disadvantaged and of course food poverty is closely linked to the well-being of our community. I will ask that the work of this charity is flagged to other directorates such as Children, Families and Education.'

Tuesday, 6 July 2010

Another salutory story

In the 1960s I came across a person who was a property developer, a magistrate and a former chairman of an urban district council. He lived in an expensive house and drove an expensive car.

Fast forward ten years and I bumped into the same person in a pub. His property company had failed, he had been declared bankrupt, his wife had left him and he was living a life which today is described as sofa-surfing. He was drinking to excess and a few months later he died of multiple organ failure.

Monday, 5 July 2010

A lecturer's tale (2)

My first lecturing post was at Chesterfield College of Technology. I was invited to speak to the Chesterfield Chamber of Trade, a group of local retailers. It was agreed that my subject would be the Trades Description Act 1972.

On arrival at the event I was plied with drink. Then we sat down for lunch. I was placed between the president of the august organisation and the secretary. Just as the main course was completed the president asked me what I was going to talk about. My answer elicited the response: nay lad, we 'ad a speaker on that last week, th'll 'ave to speak abart summat else.'

Rather put me off my pudding. Coffee was served and to the accompaniment of tinkling cups and saucers I was 'on'. The next twenty minutes passed quickly and with a sigh of relief I sat down to what I can only describe as polite applause. There followed a few questions which I thought I answered rather well. And then it was all over. I admit I was somewhat disappointed that having given an extempore speech the reaction had been so muted.

A reporter from the local evening rag hove into view and congratulated me on my speech. Could he ask me a couple of questions for clarification? It will be in the paper tomorrow night (a Friday) said he. I scanned the paper but couldn't see anything.

Next day, whilst enjoying a drink in the Market Hotel the reporter came in and I remonstrated with him that the article had not appeared. Off he went to his office and came back with the offending newspaper. The front page banner headline read: Fraudulent Traders Slammed! The story which followed was based on my speech but much of it was taken out of context.

The following Monday morning was interesting. My head of department was beside himself with rage as I had upset members of his advisory committee and a couple of governors into the bargain. Eventually it was smoothed over.

A lecturer's tale (1)

When I was at Trent Polytechnic we were expected to give presentations to outside organisations. One day my Head of Department, Glanville Griffiths, informed me that I had been selected to speak at a trade union meeting on the then government's proposed changes to labour and trade union law. The venue was a pub in Derby's cattle-market.

I arrived early. The pub was on a mound in the middle of the market and I noted that the cars parked round the mound were rather expensive. When I arrived at the meeting I discovered that the trade union was an employers' trade union. There then followed a very rapid revision of what I had intended to say.

A salutory tale

When I worked in Nottingham in the 1970s one of my colleagues had three lady friends. In those days there were no laptop or desktop computers, no e-mails and no mobile telephones, so communication was limited to letters and land line calls.

My colleague was a lecturer for the Open University and met his ladies initially at study weeks. One lived in Newcastle, another in Poole and the third in West Bromwich.

One day I entered his office and he was banging his head on a desk. Apparently he had written to his three ladies but was convinced he had put the wrong letter in each of the three envelopes he had posted. I managed to convince him that the Post Office would not permit him to retrieve the letters when the postbox was emptied and that strong-arm tactics would be frowned upon.

My thought that possibly one letter had been placed in the correct envelope cheered him up somewhat. But it was not to be. Back to the drawing board.

The Garden

Although I say it myself, the garden at 59 is looking good; a riot of colour and hardly a weed in sight.

The raspberries are forming and it looks as though there will be an excellent crop. Rosemary's raspberry jam is renowned. Fortunately we make much more than we can eat, so gifts will be wending their way to friends who appreciate home-made jam of the highest quality.

Sunday, 4 July 2010

A pleasure in life

One of the pleasures in life is visiting pubs with character (and full of characters) to have a few convivial drinks and leave with a feeling of well-being. Not for me huge drinking halls, binge drinking or loud music (except for live music). Is there such an oasis of civility near you? Please do tell!

Saturday, 3 July 2010

Parish Council for Rusthall?

Has anyone any information on the meeting earlier this week called by Tunbridge Wells Borough Council to consult on a parish council for Rusthall? How many attended? Was there consensus or deep division?

Friday, 2 July 2010

Around Kent

In one of my earlier posts I mentioned that I put nothing on this website which relates to information gained through my employment.

My work takes me to many places in Kent: Maidstone, Ashford, Lenham, Aylesford, Tonbridge, Tunbridge Wells, Sheerness, Gravesend, Sittingbourne, Dover, Folkestone, Whitstable, Swanley, Sevenoaks, Paddock Wood, Canterbury and Herne Bay. So far, I have not visited Deal, Sandwich, Ramsgate or Margate.

I have found much of interest in all the places I have visited. The downside is the poor public transport between many of these places. Indeed some journeys are impossible by public transport, either because of the time element, or the fact that the railway system is London orientated.

The road system is Kent is poor and congestion will only get worse as the population rises. Years of under-investment has led to this unsatisfactory position and no relief is in sight.

Thursday, 1 July 2010

Congratulations to the Council

Last Saturday morning, at around 3.30AM I was awoken my music being played close by to my home. An e-mail complaint to Tunbridge Wells Borough Council set in train a process culminating in a visit today by a Council officer to the miscreant noise creator. Impressive response.