GALE'S VIEW - 23rd October 2008 (Thanet)
I have this week written to the Secretary of State responsible for local government to put down a marker to the effect that should a planning application be submitted for phases two and three of what has become known as "The China Gateway" project then I shall submit a formal request for any such application to be called in by her department and submitted to a full public inquiry.
I have done this because while the Manston business park lies clearly within the approved Area Action Plan any proposal to extend the acreage covered onto agricultural land would not and would in my view therefore require a variation to that plan and would be dependant upon approval by the Secretary of State following proper and prolonged public consultation. I think that all of those engaged in this development, on both sides of the argument, need to be very clear about the reality of this situation and my own opinion, which is shared by my South Thanet colleague Laura Sandys, is "so far but not an inch further".
While I would like to think that those councillors, Labour and Conservative, that voted against the application did so with no thought of personal electoral popularity and for all of the right reasons I do not think that they acted in the best interests of Thanet. That the plan was considered by the full council is a good thing and that it was passed with conditions, I know at the expense of some soul-searching on the part of some of my good friends, is a source of relief to me on behalf of those that I have been elected to represent. The prospect of unrestrained development following a successful appeal at the ratepayer`s expense was singularly attractive.
The game must now move on. What matters from here on in is that those councillors responsible apply rigorous scrutiny to any proposals that are submitted for detailed plans to secure the highest possible quality of development - which is what the Chinese UN representative said that he wanted to see achieved when he visited Thanet recently.
In tandem with that approach equally vigorous scrutiny and enforcement has to be applied to proposals for mains drainage to serve the site, to tree-screening and landscaping to protect the environment and the residents of Acol from visually intrusive buildings, to the road infrastructure to ensure that all of the approach and service roads are adequate to meet the needs of any short and long term traffic generated by development and finally to secure a Section 106 agreement that is sufficiently generous to guarantee real benefits to the surrounding community.
If all of this can be achieved - and in Gordon Brown`s current economic climate it is a big ask - then we may yet secure for Thanet a Business Park that creates a satisfactory quantity of employment for local people, is easy on the eye and its surroundings, and proves the sceptics, of whom for the moment I remain one, wrong.