Tuesday, 30 December 2014

Predictions for 2015 and a reflection on how wrong I was last year

First the picture from last years New Year predictions post.

Photo of the popular hogmanay sport of haggis hunting

Next my predictions for 2014 in red


I think the main recent change here has been browsing the shops and then buying cheaper online, with the smartphone aspect of this being cutting edge at the moment.

I can partly explain this in teams of secondhand books, something I sort of understand, this is becoming a bit of a double edged sword with pretty much everything hanging on the price. In simple terms if the price in the shop isn’t competitive with the price (including p&p) online, then for the most part this spells the end of the shop.

Now most of the secondhand books I buy from other shops are for resale and the internet sites, particularly Amazon and Ebay - the main sources of secondhand books - have changed the values of secondhand books, meaning that when it comes to pricing I am no longer as much of an expert as I was. Which means I generally look book prices up on the internet before buying them, if I can’t get an internet signal on my smartphone then I mostly don’t buy the book.

So my prediction here will be more shop closures and I guessing that the balance has shifted so there will be probably more at Westwood Cross than in the Thanet towns during 2014.


Are there any more big skeletons in the cupboard? Not sure here I may come back to this later.

I intend to work on this post on and off today as I get the odd bit of time or I think of something.


I would guess the airport is more likely to go one way or anther, I would predict that the last fifty years of loss making commercial aviation there will come to an end fairly soon although I am not sure this will happen during 2014 but I would say the sale price of £1 was an indicator.


With Pleasurama I guess the February 2014 date when the development agreement completion date expires, word on the street is that the developer can’t come up with the funding and isn’t likely to. Despite this I am predicting a long and expensive legal battle between the developer and the council.  

Port Ramsgate
I guess Port Ramsgate has a bit of a history of making losses while Ramsgate marina makes a profit as an expensive boat park. The history of this is difficult to extrapolate due some creative accounting where the marina profits and the port losses get a bit tangled up. The prediction here is that the port will produce a loss again. 

I guess the big question here is whether Wetherspoons are going to turn the Pav into another Mechanical Elephant, I don’t know what to predict with this one, but will go with it remaining a council owned derry. 

Albion House
Well this one is finally under way and should soon be Boutique Hotel, which is what I am predicting. 

The tunnels are due to open to the public in June and as they are the largest all weather leisure space in Thanet I am expecting this to be a very significant development attracting more visitors that The Turner Contemporary.

Westcliff Hall
Project Motormouth as it has become known locally still has a very long way to go as far as I can see, so I predicting that this will still be anohtere council owned derry by the end of 2014.

Plans to turn the working slipways into a bar and café have been passed, but the council own the freehold and the lease at the moment stipulates that the site can only be used as a boatyard.

Of course the other side of the coin here is that the developer owns the freehold of The Custom House and leases this to Ramsgate Town Council, so factoring this in I would say it will turn into a bar and café and would expect work to be well underway by the end of 2015.   

An amusing aspect of this is that the council has commissioned a boat hoist to replace the slipway but word on the street is that they have ordered the wrong hoist and it isn’t big enough to lift the windfarm cats.



Well with this one I am still waiting for the first showing of a major exhibition that will be a big draw for the artistic community worldwide resulting in gallery rage queuing and a monetary return for taxpayers, don’t hold your breath in 2014. I am predicting further catalogues where the exhibit numbers don’t match and further mechanical breakdowns.

These come from the post http://thanetonline.blogspot.co.uk/2013/12/new-years-honours-and-predictions.html so how did I do? And what about next year?

Retail, well most of the big chains are just about hanging in there but the pressure seems to be building. With non food and clothes retail it isn’t just about online competition but inter store competition, particularly at the quality end where the issue is. The shop that closed in 2014 that I miss the most was Chromos in Canterbury, this was the artist’s materials shop with the largest range in area. Fortunately the other decent independent artist’s materials shop Lovelys in Cliftonville is still there.

Back in the day Lovelys was the only place in Thanet where you could buy artist’s quality watercolour paint, now there is The Range and Hobbycraft, but is there really any more demand? Add to this it being cheaper to buy it online you really are going a lot more artists in Thanet to make all these shops work long term.

What I did miss was the unexplained and considerable improvement in retail sales in my bookshop during 2014.

So predictions for 2015 on the retail front. TDC will buy up more town centre shops to convert into residential, but their efforts to destroy Ramsgate shopping centre will be largely ineffectual. The new Sainsbury will bring more people to Westwood Cross but some of the chains with shops there will go down. Canterbury will continue to move from a shopping centre to a café centre. My own bookshop? Frankly nothing much would surprise me, the shop is still much busier than it was last year and this has a knock on effect of allowing me to buy more large batches which improves quality and prices.

TDC well 2015 is election year so I guess there will be changes, my take is that the present Labour run council hangs on people in Ramsgate who would normally vote Conservative voting Labour. This is roughly based on the enormous damage the previous eight years of Conservative administration did to Ramsgate at the end of which all of the major TDC owned iconic Ramsgate sites were derelict. For me Labour seemed to be doing a fairly good job of sorting this mess out until the bought the large shop opposite me to turn into social housing. But I guess for most people it will be the handling of the airport fiasco that will count and Labour’s support of a freight only hub which seems to have annoyed everyone regardless of how they feel about the airport. I guess I am expecting UKIP, Labour and the Conservatives to get a roughly equal share of the vote. I wouldn’t be surprised if this didn’t result in a mayoral referendum and an elected leader for TDC.   

Airport, I would expect Discovery Parks to get on with turning this site in to a large mixed use development.

Westcliff Hall perhaps some movement there by the end of 2015.

Pleasurama, Cardy Construction seem to be well on the way with taking this one over and I would expect a new and better planning application for this site.

 Port Ramsgate, like the airport I think it is pretty certain that a transport hub isn’t going to work there, so we hang in the balance between a polluting rubbish plant and the leisure based use that Ramsgate residents would like, I expect the worst from the council.
Pavillion, Wetherspoons open by the end of 2015.

Slipways, not sure how the standoff there will go but probably another pub in the building by the end of 2015.

I may do some more on this one

Sunday, 28 December 2014

A watercolour and pen sketch of Ramsgate lift from Albion House Hotel and a minor ramble

First experience of Albion House Hotel today, the wife and children had hot chocolate and I had a pot of tea all of which were good. I think this was £2.55 for a hot chocolate and I think it was £1.40 for a pot of tea for me.

In winter it is very difficult to get a seat anywhere from which you can paint or draw a picture of anything quintessentially Ramsgate.

Painting while sharing a table with children is a bit of an acquired art particularly towards the end when their patience starts to run out.

Sorry about the in situ photo the subject seems to have vanished.

Saturday, 27 December 2014

Pleasurama minor update and a minor ramble from the bookshop

The Pleasurama fiasco’s minor update is that the ownership of SFP Ventures UK Limited, the UK offshoot of the Virgin Islands company SFP has changed ownership.

This, the UK company is the one TDC have been negotiating with over the Pleasurama fiasco here in Ramsgate for about the last ten years, since it was formed, I would guess partly to overcome UK money laundering legislation. As far as I can work out TDC doesn’t have any method of checking moneys received form non UK companies and relies on UK banks having done the money laundering checks.

When questions were asked about whether the £1m security paid into the a bank account that TDC had access to by SFP as insurance in case anything went wrong was legitimately sourced, TDC’s assurances were that the money had come from the UK bank account of a UK company and that this satisfied them that the money was legitimately sourced.

All that said I guess we don’t want the council wasting too much money checking on money sources and I guess this is an economic way of producing a reasonably reliable result.

Here is the link to the change of ownership details http://companycheck.co.uk/company/05666803/SFP-VENTURES-UK-LIMITED/directors-secretaries I have also put a screenshot in the post in case the link won’t work for some.

Michael Stannard is the managing director of The Cardy Group http://www.cardygroup.co.uk/ who have been the building contractors (the company responsible for constructing the development) to SFP since 2009.

The good aspect of all this is that they are a local company with a very good reputation who employ local people.

At the moment the bad side of this is that the original developer didn’t do a proper survey of the site to establish what the civil engineering constraints relating to building between the sea and an unsupported chalk cliff were before commissioning the plans. These plans then were granted planning consent which TDC says stands in perpetuity. Initially back in 2003 the intention was to build in front of the cliff without any repairs being done to the cliff façade and although the council have spent about £1m on repairs it is self evident that the repairs haven’t been entirely satisfactory.

Of the plans themselves and disregarding the civil engineering problems but considering the building we may eventually get, the best one can say is they are dated and due to the gull winged roof having been remove due to the architect’s error over the height, rather ugly.

At the moment there is an investigation going on about the condition of the cliff façade which see.

From: *****
Sent: 15 September 2014 08:49
To: 'michaelchild@aol.com '
Subject: FW: Ramsgate - Cliff

Dear Mr Child,

I have been sent your details by Cardy Construction Ltd who inform me you have some concerns relating the area.

As part of our routine maintenance regime, we are due a full structural inspection of the area and have instructed a survey.  Additionally, we have notified the HSE that we are about to undertake the inspection and will of course share all the information we have on this matter.

I trust this gives you some assurance, however, if you have further comments please send them direct to myself.



**** MRICS

Head of Economic Development and Asset Management

Thanet District Council

PO Box 9, Cecil Street


Kent   CT9 1XZ

Tel:  01843 577***

Mob:  ****  

   As I haven’t heard anything about progress on the issue recently I sent the following off to the council.

From: michaelchild
To: customer.services ; casework
Sent: Mon, 15 Dec 2014 11:37
Subject: customer feedback request

 I am writing to you for an update on the Pleasurama site, mainly as there is a certain amount of rumour circulating on the internet.

There are four main areas of interest relating to the civil engineering infrastructure of the project and updates on any of them would be useful at this time.

1 The cliff façade condition survey; is there any progress on this? And if there are any reports that are in the public domain can you please send them to me by email?

2 The flood risk and structural integrity of the sea defence, has any investigation been made into this? The latest information I have on this that the EA strongly recommended a flood risk assessment. Mike Humber emailed me telling me that the sea defence dated from 1860 and the council while being responsible for the maintenance of the sea defence hold no plans or maintenance record for it. This is particularly important now the construction method has been changed from bored piles to pad foundations sitting on sand held in place by the sea defence.

3 Cliff maintenance access, has any assessment been made to ascertain if there is enough space between the proposed development and the cliff façade to maintain the cliff façade for the life of the development? Important as the various surveys of the façade describe it as having a short serviceable life.

4 Road access, has any investigation been made into the psv and hgv access for the development? Mostly this relates to the Marina Road inclined viaduct, which as far as I can see from the plans is to be used for psv and hgv access for the development, once the development is built, despite KCC signing it as unsuitable for construction hgvs.     

Enough about Pleasurama and on to the ramble.

On the bookshop front I did open my bookshop today albeit a little late and considering the wet and windy weather it is proving to be a normal trading day although I will probably close early, mainly because we have more friends and family coming today and have another turkey in the oven.

The main news item today is part of the rebuilt Dreamland scenic railway blew down in the night, see http://www.thanetgazette.co.uk/Dreamland-s-Scenic-Railway-blown/story-25771766-detail/story.html this isn’t something to worry about as this type of structure can be fairly weak in places until it is fully completed and with my engineering hat on I would say a very minor setback. My only concern looking at the photos is that the quality of the wood looks pretty awful and much worse than would have been sourced when it was originally constructed. Heavily knotted deal rather than quality pitch pine doesn’t make the best framework for a roller coaster.   

I will ramble on here, have just come across this one http://www.thanetgazette.co.uk/Ramsgate-Town-Councillor-Trevor-Shonk-immigrants/story-25771851-detail/story.html and as one of the shopkeepers who talks to Trevor I am a bit gob smacked.  

So the immigrant situation here in Ramsgate, ongoing wise we have a small indigenous population which extends back to my great granny was born in Ramsgate, this is less than a lot of places as the most of the population was evacuated during both world wars.

I am a bit vague as to if there are any families here of ancient Briton origin or even if any of the families here have been here since William the Conqueror’s time, I guess as Ramsgate started out around 1550 with a few of the fishermen from St Lawrence putting up something like charcoal burner’s huts to service the local fishing industry we are probably looking at something around then.

I would guess with the fishing industry being a mobile business and Ramsgate doing considerable business with the Baltic countries the Polish community dates back to then.

I think the Jewish community here dates back to around 1700 and probably once again started from our seafaring connections.

We have the usual mix of Asians running small grocery shops Italians, Chinese, etc running restaurants and a few mostly upwardly mobile Europeans Polish Hungarians and so on who seem to be working pretty hard on the whole.

On the book front quite a few of my customers have immigrated to the UK including Jocelyn McCarthy chairman of the Ramsgate Society, this doesn’t seem to prevent them from buying books.        

Yes we have had some influxes of problem people moved into social housing here by various sorts of manipulation by various levels of government, social engineering if you like, but the vast majority appear to have been UK residents.

Then there is that foreign company that says it wants to build an airfreight hub at Manston, I did ask him at some length if he was supporting the UK company that wants to provide 4,000 jobs there.  

Then there is the business of the foreigners and the hospital beds, I had a minor op at QEQM a couple of years ago, the surgeon was Polish.   

Friday, 26 December 2014

Happy Christmas

Very much involved in a family Christmas here at the bookshop, just managed to get the first sketch in and will do some more as Boxing Day progresses.

As you see I need to get my hand in, with the bookshop being so busy in run up to Christmas I just haven’t had the time.

I still haven’t worked out exactly what we are doing over Christmas opening, but will definitely open for the middle part of tomorrow, opening late and closing early, as it is supposed to rain pretty much all day tomorrow I don’t think this will be a problem for most of my customers.

As our normal closing day is Thursday and both Christmas Day and New Years Day fall on a Thursday we only get today off officially.

Just been told to put some colour on it

Tuesday, 23 December 2014

Slag heap for Port Ramsgate and a ramble.

The photos are of King Street in Ramsgate at 10.30 am on Friday which is market day and the busiest shopping day of the week.

As you see the council decided about six months ago to move the rubbish collection from abut 6.30 am on Wednesday morning about the quietest time in what is a fairly busy shopping street.

Their next plan of attack was to buy the only empty shop in this fully let shopping parade and give themselves planning permission so they could turn the shop into social housing. I am not sure whether this was designed most to punish Ramsgate shopkeepers or the unfortunate individuals who will have to live with their bedrooms next to the pavement opposite the takeaways the council have licensed to be open until 4 am.

And yes of course the airport, now many people including myself are supportive of a regional airport however the council’s only plan has been to try to support a cpo to turn the airport in to a freight hub that we can’t fly from.

As far as I can see this one has fallen through and there is no council plan B so discovery parks will probably be allowed to invest millions of pounds on the airport site to create thousands of jobs. 

Well the latest mad idea seems to be for: Aggregate Import by vessel and cleaning.
Cleaning of port dredging material. Use of material to make concrete blocks for construction for despatch by road and vessel. Waste Wood Importation by road for processing for despatch by vessel.

The rumour is that this plan has been put together by two ex TDC planning officers, so no doubt it will go sailing through all the hoops at TDC.

My assumption here is slag heaps and outfall pipe, noise, dust and bathing water pollution.

I have no doubt that this will involve a Save Our Port campaign while carefully omitting the information that the council will be supporting saving a port that you can’t get a passenger ferry from.

Now my take is that Ramsgate is doing quite nicely without council help, the shopping centre is reviving, mainly because it is adjacent to an open air car park that shoppers feel comfortable about parking in. The café culture is expanding nicely too.

Monday, 22 December 2014

Nicolas Fromage and the UKIK Party App and a ramble.

I have just downloaded this app created by Canterbury Academy students, here is the google play link to the Android version https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.fongames.ukick&hl=en_GB and here the KM article http://www.kentonline.co.uk/canterbury/news/farage-phone-app-game-crosses-28974/

Frankly when politicians start complaining about schoolchildren mocking them those politicians don’t get much sympathy from me.

Mind you there may have been an aspect of creative journalism in the article, who knows.

On the national political front and judging the situation from the point of view of a small businessman I have to say that things are improving and I guess the election will rock that particular boat.

On the whole coming out of Europe thing I guess while there could be some improvements after about ten years I would expect the initial impact of the UK going it alone would be very difficult economically. I don’t fancy trying to get through the period where my customers who either directly or indirectly have an income related our ties with Europe can’t afford to buy books.

The strange business of men and Christmas shopping is unfolding in my bookshop today, from the desperate bloke who has just bought as much as he could carry from the 5 and 10p section to those who capitulate and get credit vouchers.    

With the strange business of other media, records, cds and dvds having passed my understanding I am mostly giving people books this year and am reminding people that we have three new Thanet titles – links on the sidebar – which have been published since the beginning of November, so most people won’t have them yet.

I have the Conservative candidate Craig Mackinlay’s survey in front of me and am vaguely wondering if he will publish the results.

Not quite sure there is an immigration problem in Ramsgate or Sandwich nor have I had any issues with my children’s schools, I guess the airport is pretty much over now, anyway I will think on this one.

We went on a Ramsgate Tunnels Tour yesterday as we are in the visitors period related to Christmas, this is well worth the money see their website http://www.ramsgatetunnels.org/ it take about an hour and seems to be ok across all age ranges.

They don’t seem to have much you can buy about the history of the tunnels, we have a couple of related books and a couple of related maps in the bookshop.

       I have to admit to being surprised to see the recently gutted amusement arcade open yesterday
 I would have thought demand down there for the old one armed bandits would be a bit slow.

Just a test mobile edit here

Saturday, 20 December 2014

A ramble about Christmas shopping, books in the bookshop and probably Manston.

 The pictures in the post were a quick run around my bookshop with the mobile phone camera so are probably not very good.

 The label on the bookshop can says about 30,000 books on about 100 bookcases which when you add on the various reserve stock shelves (do you have any French literature?) runs out at around 1,000 shelves.
 This means it is difficult to make any impact on the stock, either by adding to it or taking away from it, a big estate car holds about 1,000 books, so one in or out only represents about one book on each shelf, practically no impact at all.
 Christmas shopping wise we have been much busier this year, one aspect of the internet being that sceondhand books are now much more acceptable as presents, certainly a lot more acceptable than books you don't want.
 On the new book front the three latest local books (on the sidebar) are all selling fairly well and after Christmas when people are trying to turn the celebrity chef books they got as present into cash I doubt we will see any of these come back.
I think the steady improvement of Ramsgate combined with it still being possible to park albeit for a price may be a factor, friends and family who have braved Westwood Cross today had trouble parking.
Depending on how blurry the pictures are I guess you can see the stock of books is holding up fairly well although I think this is probably mostly a reflection of how difficult it is now for private individuals to realise any money from selling their own books online.
On the Manston front I am still trying to work out the significance of Monday's council meeting where a lot of councillors walked out.
The Isle of Thanet Gazette this week has made much over councillors being impartial on deciding the Manston issue, this is also a bit confusing as it sounds like they are saying there was a vested interest in saying yes to RiverOak but they said no.
With the local media Extra and IOTG there does seem to be a slight movement away from supporting the cpo and towards supporting Discovery Parks, I guess this means that the local politicians will be following on with this not long after the papers.
One factor here is not having much understanding the council's grounds for rejecting RiveOak, one telling comment from Cllr.David Green who is one of our councillors that I have considerable respect for. "There is the risk of running foul of the money laundering regulations. That is not to accuse anyone, but Riveroaks mode of operation gives them problems in disclosing the source of their finances. The second area is in regard to any possible compensation awarded to the owners. This could be awarded whether or not the CPO succeeds and could be sustantial. Riveroak could not give a assurance that they would cover this or that they had sufficient finance in place to do so."
My own investigation on the internet goes like this: Google "RiverOak Investment Corp" and it only comes up with about 2,000 web pages compared with around 13,000 for "st peters village shop" and around 42,000 for "michaels bookshop" "british airways" bring up around 42 million.
Anyway you can do the same exact phrase search on Google by using the quotation marks as I have above and see what you think, it certainly doesn't stand out as saying "here is a company likely to invest millions in Thanet"
This does make me wonder if a lot of the Manston supporters are most concerned to preserve the status quo i.e. a very inactive and failing airport, such as we have had the last thirty years.
I have to admit that seeing comment on on various Manston supporters sites that supporters are worried about the increased traffic associated with a thriving discovery park disrupting their lives, while at the same time supporting an airfreight hub a bit incongruous.
With Manston I guess the business of shooting messengers has reached the point where there really isn’t anyone much left to shoot. I guess the penny that really doesn’t seem to have dropped is that this isn’t so much about being against the airport as being about being able to find a company with the money to fund an airport there.  
I guess what was surprising was that there weren’t more contenders as indemnity partners. 
Personally I can’t see how anything other than either a major UK company with three years of good reputation and a full UK bank account or a major multinational could have fulfilled the criteria as indemnity partner.   
I guess that really does rather beg the question of who knew this to be the case and how much political posturing went on.
With Discovery Parks and as the council leader has said that they already have planning applications in the pipeline, we move into the area where if the council turn down any reasonable application the planning inspector is likely to override their decision.   
I say this particularly with respect to environmental restrictions, where there is sometimes a much better case for approval with strict environmental regulation rather than rejection only to be overturned.   
The trick is always to try and get on the right side of the balance which goes something like this: On the one hand any significant industrial or commercial activity – airport or discovery park – produces pollution which reduces life expectancy. While on the other hand any significant industrial or commercial activity increases affluence which increases life expectancy.  
I may ramble on here
Coming back to earth in the bookshop, I guess the pictures in this post show the problems related to online book browsing, here I take book browsing to mean going into a bookshop and looking at the books there in order to discover and possibly buy books that you didn’t know existed. 
Nearly all of those spam emails and a great deal of advertising is trying to achieve getting people buy something they didn’t know existed before. Shops have been doing this for years. But although I buy quite a bit on the internet I virtually never buy something online without knowing exactly what I want before I start.