So what did Thanet Earth do for Thanet?

Friday, January 7, 2011
1:36 PM

Yourthanet editor DAVE MAIRS ponders quite what Thanet Earth has done for Thanet.   Every week, along with presumably many others on the isle, I receive a business bulletin from David Foley, chief executive of Thanet and East Kent Chamber.

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Yourthanet editor DAVE MAIRS ponders quite what Thanet Earth has done for Thanet.


Every week, along with presumably many others on the isle, I receive a business bulletin from David Foley, chief executive of Thanet and East Kent Chamber.  The bulletins are well written, enthusiastic and entertaining. Sadly, they can also highlight a deep-seated and long-running flaw in the attitudes of many on the isle.Take a recent item on Thanet Earth. In it, Mr Foley implores us to 'not forget the continuing success of the world-class hydroponics facility near Birchington'.'On any one day, there may be 450 people working on site,' he enthuses.Wonderful. Just a pity that hardly any - indeed if any - of those 450 were drawn from Thanet's long-term unemployed. With the jobless used so often to justify development on the isle, why has the building of Thanet Earth made not the slightest dent in its unemployment figures?Just in case you are not aware quite where or what Thanet Earth is, it is the giant, disfiguring industrial sprawl between the villages of St Nicholas, Acol and Monkton that will, on completion, have destroyed 220 acres of countryside at a stroke of a planning-committee pen. It produces cucumbers, peppers and tomatoes, but it might as well be making plastic dustbins for all the contact it has with Thanet's rich and once-treasured soils.     However many awards it gathers, however many records it breaks, however many politicians leap aboard an adoring bandwagon, the unpalatable truth is that Thanet Earth has done next to nothing to benefit the people who live here.And that fact has been obscured by the very Thanetian notion that any development is good development. Thanet Earth proves it is not.    Some might play clever with the definition of local people, but the pledge to this newspaper by then Thanet Earth marketing managing director Steve McVickers that 'these are jobs for the people of Thanet - we need loads of local people to work for us' will ring hollow with those born and bred on the isle or who at least have spent most of their lives here.As everyone on the isle, with the apparent exception of Thanet councillors, knew, this was a development geared for transient migrant labour.An investigation last year, again by this newspaper, discovered that people of 10 nationalities were working at the site, much of the labour being sourced through the Worldwide Recruitment agency.  Just see the number of foreign-registered vehicles bringing in staff, or talk to local people who have tried for work at Thanet Earth, and the assertion by Mr McVickers that 'just a handful' of employees would not be local is laughable.It's all very far from a joke, however. It doesn't matter that Mr McVickers no longer works with Thanet Earth Marketing - this operation is not making the necessary effort to engage a Thanet workforce.   A friend who works for Defra (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) toured the site a few weeks ago. 'How many local people work there?' he said to me. 'About 10!'Only an impression, not an official head-count, but you get the idea. At this point, I should clarify that this is not a criticism of foreign workers. Most are, I'm told repeatedly, harder-working, more diligent and of a cheerier outlook than their British counterparts. That, however, is a more far-reaching issue and best left for another day.No, what galls is watching Thanet's remaining open space built on to allow foreign companies (three of the seven plots have been sold to Dutch firms) to make what might one day be lots of money and to provide work for people from the other side of the continent.I'm not sure my greatest anger is saved for the developers, despite the fact they have shown so little regard for the needs of Thanet. They are, after all, developers - they do what they can get away with.It's more to do with what our supposed representatives - the ruling (Conservative) regime at Thanet District Council - did to ensure Thanet Earth benefited Thanet. To ensure it helped kill that perennial albatross around our collective neck - unemployment.Where was the insistence that positions were displayed in the isle's JobCentres? That the claimed 500-jobs jamboree was brought to everyone in suffering Margate and Ramsgate. We could have had stalls in the high streets and at Westwood Cross - indeed, one of Margate's countless empty shops could have been leased to provide a point of contact.Of course the witless decision-makers at Thanet council secured none of this - I doubt they even asked. Instead what we got was internet direction to employment agencies. Why, you might be forgiven for thinking there was a deliberate policy to avoid contact with Thanet's unemployed! Perish the thought.So what have we gained from Thanet Earth? An industrial estate instead of open farmland; a grotesque visual introduction to the isle for visitors; unacceptable light pollution (what happened to those screens that were a condition of planning permission?); and a risible jobs return.We do not have the pledged visitor centre, the promised trees on the skyline between the site and Monkton Nature Reserve, or the promised area of chalk grassland for wildlife.So we shall end where we started - with the Thanet & East Kent Chamber bulletin.Immediately after his eulogy to Thanet Earth, Mr Foley asks 'Do you speak Dutch? Thanet Earth is looking to appoint a Dutch-speaking non-executive to a salaried post…'I'm sure applications from isle residents will be dropping in by the sackful. The irony is painful.Would any other local authority in the country have given up so much land so readily, so keenly, for a project that delivers so little for its residents? For those of us familiar with the ways of Thanet council, it's a rhetorical question - we know the answer.Thanet has been sold down the river. Again.