Do I Detect The Seeds Of Another Canvey Petition Protest?

IT SEEMS THAT  Canvey Island Town Council, under the new chairmanship of CIIP member John Anderson, are now about to spend more residents’ money in obtaining the views of islanders regarding a pedestrianised shopping precinct in Canvey’s town centre.

Not content with wasting £180,000 on Canvey Lake, which is in any case earmarked for improvements under the Town Centre’s regeneration plans, the Town Council has apparently decided that the 3,687 participants in the public consultation process do not reflect islander opinion. They are certain that, given the opportunity, islanders would choose a pedestrianised High Street as opposed to wider pathways; cycle tracks; and a two-way traffic system to overcome the present congestion problems.

Indeed, it seems that congestion – whether it be island traffic or just petulant opposition to any modern progress – is the Town Council’s stock-in-trade. They have had the opportunity, since September last year, to promote their own ideas regarding the town centre’s regeneration; but instead they have, as usual, waited until the last moment to criticise the consultation process and infer that the developers have it all wrong.

True to form, the local Echo has taken to providing its column inches to the Town Council’s view – with no coverage of the alternatives that the visitors to Canvey Island’s Regeneration Shop have had the opportunity of choosing between. Furthermore, the Town Council is not urging residents to visit the Regeneration Shop to make their views known, they would rather just pose a simple question to residents – rather than give them the opportunity of making an informed decision.

The Town Council’s proposed opinion survey is heavily weighted against the developers. Most people, asked if they would like to see the Town Centre pedestrianised – and given no alternatives – are likely to say, ‘Yes.’ A fact that is not lost upon the Canvey Island Independent Party (CIIP), which has a reputation for taking arguments out of context and then organising petitions around them.

The protests over the Concord pool and Kismet Park’s Adizone have since flowered and gone to seed; but the CIIP is determined, in this the Town Council’s election year, to create another local issue that it can use to retain its political foothold.

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TC Mismanagement Gives Way To More Adizone Stories This Week

Cllr Peter Burch exercising at Canvey's Adizone

AS IF IN AN EFFORT to quickly change the subject, the Echo, this week, decided not to follow-up this Blog’s revelations regarding Canvey Island Town Council’s financial mismanagement. 

Max Orbach, presumably stung into action by a Canvey Island Independent Party source, was, I am told, querying my interpretation of the Town Council’s latest budget; but dispensed with trying to contact me after looking at the actual figures

Interestingly though, the Echo did not run a similar article. Instead it reverted to rehashing an old piece on Kismet Park’s Adizone – with a twist. 

Instead of padding its allegations of yobbish behaviour with comments drawn from CIIP councillors, it introduced the island’s latest local celebrity, Colin Letchford, as the unhappy residents’ spokesman. And Colin, true to form, gave his own inconsistent take on why the public gym should be removed. 

Whenever I go past there are children as young as eight playing on it, even though a sign clearly states it is only meant for 12 years and over. 

It is dangerous for them, but they use it because the neighbouring playground for younger children is so run down. 

Shouldn’t the council have some form of security to ensure younger children are not injured using it? 

This is the same Colin Letchford who, when speaking to Rebecca Harris, in my presence, completely sided with her view (regarding Canvey’s Concord pool) that the Labour Government’s onerous Health and Safety Legislation needed to be rolled-back and a more sensible approach adopted to public facilities. And the same Colin Letchford (whose own report on the Concord pool highlighted its dangers to youngsters) who took the view that those dangers were acceptable and the council need only erect a sign saying that the facility is used at the public’s own risk to avoid any possible prosecution. 

So, having a youngster injure a limb through jamming it in dangerous rock crevices, or falling 1.8 metres from a slippery foothold is acceptable to Colin; but having the same child use the Adizone’s equipment as a climbing frame is not. 

The Echo does not make clear which council Colin is referring to in his statement. Logically, it is the Town Council (TC) to whom residents should first make their complaints; but it seems that the TC, rather than taking responsibility for the island’s yobbery alluded to in the article, would rather remain silent and pass the buck onto the local Borough Council, via Colin, in an effort to gain political points. (The Echo willingly conspired with this strategy later in the week by again raising the Concord pool topic – and quoting more Letchford comments). 

Refreshingly though, Matthew Stanton at the Yellow Advertiser, decided to adopt an objective approach to the Kismet park story. Moreover, he actually chased down Lee Barrett for a comment and succeeded in getting behind the real reason for CIIP-led residents’ protests. Despite the numerous press articles on the Adizone facility’s proposed location; coverage of its installation; announcements of its opening and, some time beforehand, having been informed by CPBC letter of the decision to erect it in Kismet Park, it seems that some 40 residents do not check their letter-box or read the local papers. 

Lee Barrett was reported as saying:- 

… The residents who want the equipment moved feel they were not consulted properly and only knew about the work when it was happening. 

I had a few calls from confused residents asking what was going on but it was too late to do anything about it. 

Meanwhile, on the subject of the Town Council and my Freedom Of Information (FOI) Act requests, the TC has not even acknowledged my last FOI’s receipt. Nor has it deemed to provide any further information regarding my first. It seems that, like denying residents their right to an Annual Town Meeting this year, the Town Council is determined not to release details of the companies and individuals whom have benefitted from their enormous expenditure over the past three years.

Bookie Fancies Rebecca’s Chances At The Ballot

REBECCA HARRIS has the best odds of any Castle Point general election candidate  – making her more favoured to win the seat than any other candidate.

With odds of 16/5 from website Betfair, Dr Spink has been judged as likely as the BNP candidate to win.

Betfair puts the Conservatives on 30/100; the Lib Dem candidate on 21/1 and Labour at 39/1.

UKIP’s chances are rated at 59/1.

Now compare those peculiar facts with Sarah Calkin’s spin-piece in the Echo

No, Bob Is Not An Independent Candidate

PPC for the Independent Save Our Green Belt Party

THIS YEAR, Bob Spink will be standing (as his nomination form shows) as the Prospective Parliamentary Candidate for the Independent Save Our Green Belt Party – whose manifesto for government (or even local politics for that matter) has yet to be published.

At last, Spink has revealed his intention to attempt a political coup of the mainland – and also position himself for becoming Castle Point’s first elected mayor.

As first revealed on this blog, and now further confirmed by Dave Blackwell’s support for Spink on the latter’s nomination form, the two leaders are intent on carving-up the borough between themselves. Their purpose? To ensure lucrative government posts for themselves from which they cannot be easily deposed.

Do not expect to hear much of the issues facing the country, or this borough, from either of the independence parties. And do not expect to see much coverage of this campaign’s real issues in the local press.

The Echo has already indicated its intention to pursue ‘its’ Save Our Pool Campaign as a means of bolstering both camps’ support (despite the Borough and Town councils being in private talks) – and we can probably be sure that, in the coming weeks, Bob’s picture will again be adorning their pages.

However, how that paper will be able to justify so much Spink coverage, now that he has adopted the clothes of an unknown political force, remains to be seen. There are strict rules governing the amount of press coverage that can be devoted to individual parties in an election campaign – and Spink may have cut his own political throat.

Had he maintained his independent status, he could have pointed to his support as a Conservative candidate and argued the case for the largest slice of the political coverage pie; but, under his new circumstances, candidates for the Official Monster Raving Loony Party would be entitled to more. (And they at least have a manifesto for government).

‘Like children refusing to play a game because their arch enemy is more popular than they are’

THE QUOTE IS STOLEN from a comment made by a regular contributor to this blog, Cynical Observer, whom was referring to the Canvey Island Independence Party (CIIP).   

This week Bob Spink, our local MP, has maintained an uncharacteristically low profile whilst the CIIP and Neville Watson have been keen to muster the local press and disrupt local online forums. While Dave Blackwell, the CIIP’s leader, was misrepresenting himself here in an attempt to manipulate resident opinion, it now transpires that Anne Wood, the deputy CIIP leader, was abusing the Methane, Mud and Memories blog in a similar fashion.   

Meanwhile, in the Echo, Janice Payne was reported scorning the idea of any part of Canvey being used for 48 hours as an Olympic Park and Ride station; Dave Blackwell and John Anderson were photographed side-by-side in a piece about an ‘ex-cons’ hostel’ in Second Avenue (that both were apparently unaware of despite being town and borough councillors with their ears devoted to residents’ concerns); Nick Harvey had his photo taken with the backdrop of a sign he was complaining about, which the borough council had erected; Dave Blackwell made another print appearance attacking ‘the council and Natural England’ (Blackwell is keen to shorten his phrase to ‘council’ when the county council is concerned – just so there can be some confusion) over its plans for an invertebrate reserve; and Colin Letchford (Concord Pool report man – and totally unconnected with island politics) decided to start a petition for an elected Castle Point Mayor.   

The latter piece is interesting, because, as the Echo states in its article:-   

Elected mayors may choose their cabinet and then decide how much power they want to share with other members, but the buck ultimately stops with them.   

Here we go with the CIIP’s second front. If they cannot seize power via the election box they will again conspire with Spink (in the same way as they did for establishing a Canvey Town Council) to subvert the majority’s wishes. No doubt, if Spink is not re-elected, we will see him installed as mayor. The conspirators’ plan is obvious – wrench power at any cost.   

What Colin is apparently unaware of is that his proposals do nothing to change the current position where some decisions are taken by Cabinet. In other words: an elected mayor would appoint the Cabinet (in the same way as the Prime Minister appoints his) – rather than having full-council elect a leader whom then appoints their Cabinet, as is currently the case.   

The current system, because the leader is chosen by full council, is, in most people’s mind, more democratic.   

Now, I am not a political journalist. But what frustrates me, in this island’s politics, is the constant whining of the CIIP about the Cabinet – as though they have been denied some ‘right’ to participate in it.   

It is complete, utter, nonsense. And, were the CIIP ever to form a majority in the borough, you can be sure that their Cabinet would consist only of CIIP members.   

Margaret Thatcher had no Labour or Liberal members in her Cabinet. Gordon Brown has no Conservative or Lib Dem members in his. That is how British Democracy works. The majority are given the power to implement their manifesto, which the public has democratically chosen. And local government is no different in that respect.   

Letchford’s petition is a distraction; but, if he does obtain enough ‘signatures’ to force a referendum and residents vote ‘yes’ to an elected Mayor, we know who the ‘Independents’’ candidate for mayor will be: a defeated Bob Spink or his puppet Dave Blackwell.   

As the CIIP’s support begins to drain away, their thoughts now turn to seizing power by other means. They know they cannot win with empty pledges and a blank manifesto, so they attempt to introduce the alternative: a personality contest to elect an all-powerful mayor (and save themselves the trouble of establishing a new front with an Independent Save Our Green Belt Party force).   

Bob Spink may have been uncharacteristically silent in the local press; but he has been busy begging for funds to support his re-election campaign. The interesting point, in his email, is that he will apparently be standing as an Independent. He makes no mention of his new Independent Save Our Green Belt Party; but readers should note that his message was sent on April 1st (April Fools’ Day) – so anything could happen, I guess.   

Spink's Yellow Advertiser Advert

Apparently, Spink’s proposed press conference, for the 20th March (don’t set too much store by readers’ voting in the link – it has been heavily modified by the CIIP) did not go ahead. So he and his new ISOGBP candidates were spared the indignity of being questioned by journalists. Moreover, the anticipated follow-up for Bob’s new party in the Yellow Advertiser, planned for the 25th according to his email, did not materialise. Instead he seems to have changed his mind and launched himself on a purely independent platform. In his advert he resorts to using the same ‘What part of [X] don’t you understand?’ sound-bites that proved so successful for him in his last campaign – when standing for the Conservatives – on immigration.   

So what has happened to the ISOGBP? It appears that Spink and his cohorts have discarded the idea of another party altogether in preference to Colin Letchford’s campaign. The strategy would allow them to rule the borough with a single mayor appointing just eight other like minds to the Cabinet. (And you can be sure that ALL decisions would then be taken there – particularly concerning members’ allowances; salaries; and the council’s own Constitution).   

This is such an obvious ‘flanker’ that I am surprised at Colin Letchford’s involvement.   

Colin: you are an intelligent man. Please do not let yourself be used by these people. How can anyone vote for, and put their trust in, any party that refuses to answer all questions put to them by the people’s representative, the Press?..   

Meanwhile, Spink, on his site, berated Cameron and Brown for, apparently, not agreeing to debate with him. Bob has this to say:-   

Like David Cameron, Gordon Brown has now refused to debate issues that affect Castle Point people with Independent MP Bob Spink   

Bob says:
“Last month David Cameron said he was going to visit Castle Point during the election but he bottled out when I challenged him to a public meeting to face the questions that local people feel are important. Questions such as:
-Improving the state pension and a bit more respect for pensioners
-Our local NHS hospitals, dentists and doctors.
-Cutting Immigration
-Protecting our greenbelt and flood plains
-Canvey Island’s new road which the Conservatives are blocking
-Removing politics from Local Government and passing power back to each Castle Point community to make their own decisions [separation]
Neither David Cameron nor Gordon Brown have the guts to debate these with me. They have no answers to the important questions, they’re both running scared.”
Bob has often debated with Brown and Cameron at Westminster but they must feel unable to debate with him on his own turf. They do not want to take the risk of being embarrassed by a straight talking, honest, Independent MP, who believes that serving the people is more important than serving a political party.   

It is interesting to see how Bob is admitting to supporting Canvey Island’s separation from the mainland – without admitting to it. (If you see what I mean).   

But Bob does like the new Nature Reserve on Canvey Marshes. He gives no credit to the Tory-led Borough Council for instigating and championing the development, of course – Bob would rather let readers assume that he was the driving force for that particular project.   

Independent MP Bob Spink today congratulates all the partners who work together to make the West Canvey Marshes Reserve such a fantastic asset for all to enjoy.
Bob says:
“I particularly congratulate the RSPB and area manager David Hedges who worked tirelessly to create this new environmental asset that will raise the profile of Castle Point for years to come.
“Two windmills, (not wind farm), will sustainably pump fresh water to maintain the lakes and wet grassland for breeding waders.
“On the site I saw British Kingfishers, a fantastic sight, they are one of the most beautiful of our birds. Of course the key attractions will be the breeding lapwings, redshanks, oystercatchers, knots, dunlins, godwits, sandpipers and little egrets. There will be many breeds of birds and ducks and also many small mammals, including the renowned great crested newt.
Work has been delayed somewhat by the wet weather but I am hoping the site can open informally in April and I am very much looking forward to the official grand opening just before summer”.   

I feel it is appropriate to leave Bob Spink hereaway with the birds, as usual…

Bob Fails To Undermine Democracy Further With His Flood Plains Bill

JUST THREE MONTHS AGO, the Echo was enthusiastically reporting that Bob Spink, our local MP, had ‘put forward a private members’ bill to the House of Commons, which if passed would prevent new developments on flood plains.’

Spink was quoted as saying: ‘This is very relevant nationally and locally.

‘Canvey already suffers from surface water problems and if you build new homes you only increase the risk for both the existing and new residents.’

Bob is vehemently opposed to nasty rainwater being allowed to find its natural course through the island’s drainage system – or being evaporated by the sun. To hear him speak one would believe that islanders are forced to wade through several inches of water each day while going about their normal business – a fallacy that is often portrayed in photographs taken immediately after a seasonal downpour.

Of course the Echo must have known that Bob’s bill stood no chance of success. It was, after all, a further attempt by our disingenuous MP to further undermine Democracy. But the Echo did not report that. Instead, Max Orbach chose to caveat his piece by stating: ‘The private members’ bill will get its second reading in the House of Commons on January 29, however it is very unlikely to become law unless it receives the support of Government.’

Nice touch that, ‘… unless it receives the support of Government.’

Max was setting the stage for Spink, once again, to blame others for his future defeat.

‘I did my best on this issue,’ Spink could say; ‘But the Tories and the Government voted against me.’

But the fact is that Bob’s bill was totally ill-conceived from the outset. Hastily constructed in order to fuel the bandwagon presented by the Environment Agency advising ‘against any new building on the island because of the risk of surface water flooding,’ Bob saw an opportunity to thwart the Borough Council’s planning ability by passing a law to ensure that the Environment Agency (a totally unelected and unaccountable quango) could veto all local, democratically elected, decision makers.

But Bob has no thought for Democracy. Time after time he has shown that his only agenda is to attack and hamper local government in Castle Point – and the Echo has chosen to join him in his quest: because a juicy local protest can help increase a flagging circulation base.

Fortunately, parliament can still distinguish a bill that is designed to undermine the very foundations upon which that honourable establishment is based.

Bob’s bill failed to obtain a second reading and has therefore been dropped.

Can We Have A Free Local Press For The General Election?

LAST WEEK I was ‘doing a Julian,’ musing on the possibility that the onset of Spring had been accompanied by a general reluctance by the Echo to publish Spink’s questionable newsletters. But, just two days later, the ‘newspaper’ went to press with another bandwagon piece regarding eight island children being refused places at their secondary school of choice.

Instead of accompanying their friends to Castle View school, the poor youngsters will have to endure the hardship of trekking all the way to Cornelius Vermuyden instead.

Characteristically, Bob Spink, our local MP, vented his anger at the Tory led Essex County Council for marking Furtherwick Park school for closure.

‘Canvey has yet again been betrayed by the council,’ the Echo quoted Spink as saying.

It seems that even the onset of Spring has no effect on Bob.

The next day, Spink actually made it into the Nationals; although not in the way he had intended. Fran Abrams, at the Guardian, wrote an insight piece on children with behavioural problems and chose Bob Hall and Canvey’s Continuum School to illustrate what can be achieved by dedicated people – and the opposition that such schools face from hard-line nimbys and bigots.

She chose Spink to represent the latter.

As if at their master’s command, the Echo decided to re-visit their Continuum School coverage on Thursday. The piece was devoid of any news; but obviously written to gauge public opinion for Bob’s campaign in the wake of the Guardian’s feature.

Despite obtaining resident opinion that concurred with Fran’s article, Sarah Calkin wrote determinedly about the school remaining as some form of community threat to measure those negative attitudes that the Echo had so carefully fostered last year. But her readers remained silent. The only feedback she obtained was from ‘upset, Canvey’ bringing readers’ attention to the fact that, despite all Bob’s bluster, he had achieved nothing.

Spink must have been very disappointed.

Paul Offord, at the Echo, chose midday on Friday to report Wednesday evening’s residents’ meeting regarding Canvey’s Concord pool. Spink was not mentioned, of course, since Bob has distanced himself from this particular campaign and handed it over to the Echo.

Bob does not want to be seen as leader of this protest so close to a general election (when he might be criticised for stoking-up public anger for political ends). Moreover, should the protest fail, he does not want to be personally associated with its downfall.

Why Paul should wait so long to file his report is perhaps explained by this blog’s coverage of Spink’s campaign letter,on Wednesday. Quickly placing it into the public domain forced Spink to bring forward his plans and cut-short public speculation. Early Friday morning, the Echo was forced to announce that Bob was setting-up a new national political organisation: the Independent Save Our Greenbelt party.

This was a scoop for the Echo (as you would expect for anything to do with Bob); but the strange thing is that they, and the Yellow Advertiser, had both been given Bob’s letter hinting at the fact long before I had received a copy.

Neither chose to publish it – or even mention its existence (despite the fact that this was its source’s avowed intention).

So, once again, it falls to a small local blog to reveal the truth about Spink. This time regarding his relationship with the Canvey Island Independent Party.

Neither the Echo, nor it seems, the Yellow Advertiser, deem such information to be in the public interest.

A free local press for the general election?..

I very much doubt it.

… (Echo, 14/03/2010) – Eight join MP in bid to save greenbelt