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Seeing Red: Manston, 20’s Plenty, bus cuts and fuel price hike

Seeing Red is my regular column in The Isle of Thanet News. This opinion piece was first published on August 26, 2022.

I barely know where to start. It feels as though a lot has happened in Thanet in recent weeks.

Firstly, the go ahead for an air cargo hub at Manston. Whatever you think – or more to the point – whatever you believe about Manston, it remains a fact, that there are still, so many important and unanswered questions. Not least of all where will the required £500m investment come from? When will it come? Will the CAA give permission for flights? What success will a further Judicial Review bring – I believe more legal action is planned. We’ll all have to wait and see.

My own conclusion is, and here I’m lockstep with many experts including the Government’s own advisors, and the examining authority, the benefits of opening an air cargo hub do not outweigh the disadvantages. My own research and close questioning of those involved has led me to disagree with the proposal since they were first mooted, and to seek further factual clarification from them. I’m waiting for their answers.

I’ve also called for the implementation of a community scrutiny group. RiverOak has agreed. (More on that soon.) Because until, and if, this behemoth is built, it seems our local MP has largely stood down on the issue of economic recovery, regeneration and sustainable job creation in South Thanet. Preferring instead to pin his responsibility for the key area on this one trick pony, rather than to fight for what we really need.

I believe his constant belief in sun-lit uplands, has been a lynch pin in his successive (and successful) election campaigns. Suffice to say he’s not actually delivered any tangible economic benefits. But I would say that wouldn’t I?

Curious also, that our MP has publicly backed Liz Truss in the race for number 10. Yet it’s Rishi Sunak who’s actively talking about Thanet being one of the most deprived places in the County. He believes we need, ‘levelling up. Poverty isn’t just in big cities.’ We could have told him that! (World at One, BBC 4 25/08/22) For once I agree with a Conservative politician – bring it on Rishi, you’re not wrong.

Over the last few years, I have attempted to support Ramsgate residents in their calls for traffic calming measures and speed reduction schemes across Ramsgate. These are long over due in my opinion. We’re told that there’s no need for such schemes and more saliently, there’s no money to fund them.

Because this has been a long standing area of concern, and so many worried residents have contacted me, I’ve now called a public meeting. As a community we really need to come together to call for action. We can’t solve every traffic problem, but perhaps together, we can make a stand and start to get some tangible results.

The meeting ‘20’s plenty for Ramsgate’, will take place on 9th September at the Comfort Inn Ramsgate, 7-9 pm. All are very welcome.

Buses have also been in the news. Cuts are coming, despite our petitions and well attended demonstrations. Labour County Councillors from across Kent have done their best to defend much needed, much used bus routes. The County Conservatives were in disarray on this matter, they voted against their own proposal to accept the cuts by 9:2. Sending the cuts back to the Cabinet that suggested them.

We need fresh thinking. Public transport is a priority. Perhaps this internal fighting is a taste of things to come? We’re waiting now to see whether central Government will pick Thanet in the Beauty parade, that funding public services has become.

Last, but by no means least, I have called on Kent County Council to take urgent action to support all Kent residents who are going to impacted by the cost of living crisis, particularly with regard to fuel costs. The answer – we’ll discuss the matter on September 15th. Too late!

Frankly that’s not good enough. Ofgem has now confirmed that the new price cap is 3 times higher than last year. Even the CBI is calling on the Government for urgent action to support business, they say, “69% of firms expect their energy costs to increase in the next three months, with almost a third anticipating rises of more than 30% “

Some of these price hikes will be passed onto consumers, and some firms will doubtlessly struggle. This is the last thing we need.

The Joseph Rowntree Foundation has stated that expecting people to budget for this higher rate is unrealistic, and that, “Energy bills will fast outstrip people’s incomes to the point where paying them becomes fantasy.”

I fear this will cause severe hardship across Ramsgate. Whilst we are a community that comes together to support each other during hard times, there is a limit when those crisis’s are on-going.

I want to know for certain, that no-one, especially more vulnerable people, are not going to be left in the cold. Literally. I want action now to keep people warm. Action to ensure people can both heat and eat.

We’re the 6th richest nation in the world. I never thought I’d see the day that poverty would be so endemic, and so many hard working people would be so anxious about paying their bills, and keeping body and soul together. Coupled with the dire warnings of a ‘cost of business crisis.’ Not to mention rising inflation.

The Government need to step in and step up. Better still, call a General Election. We can’t seriously expect the politicians that got us into this mess, to get us out – can we?