New social media code of conduct for Medway councillors

At this week’s full Medway Council meeting, Medway councillors will agree to add a new section to their Code of Conduct, specifically around councillor’s use of social media.

The process of introducing this code began a year ago, when we published a story on the controversial tweeting of Conservative councillor for Luton and Wayfield, Michael Franklin. The Medway Labour group lodged a formal complaint over the matter, and while no direct action against Franklin was taken, the council have drawn up a new section to the Code of Conduct (above) to emphasise how seriously such matters are taken.

While many councillors maintain rather boring accounts, and others avoid it altogether, there are some who are ‘colourful’ in their use of social media, and we look forward to seeing how they react to the new rules.

An indication might come from the aforementioned Councillor Franklin, who has spent recent days calling celebrities ‘silly cows’ and demanding black people thank him for ending slavery. With the change in policy, it’s probably best he gets it all out of his system now.

Grain’s ‘China Syndrome’

Grain village is on the Isle of Grain, part of the Rochester & Strood constituency, and on the edge of the Thames estuary.

Grain

On the island is a Liquid Natural Gas (LNG) plant owned by National Grid, which was expanded upon with giant gas storage tanks, moving it closer to the village.

One Grain resident, Jack Hope, has since 2011 been questioning the validity of any emergency plan and been vitriolic on social media on the issues. Calling many local politicians out on the situation, this has left many of them, some of whom feel they are not being given a fair deal having previously engaged with Jack, to ignore and in some cases, block him. As a result, many were reluctant to engage with us for this piece, if at all, due to not wanting re-engage with the issue or Jack Hope, who has been viewed as ‘obsessive’ and ‘abusive’. We want to make it clear that whilst we have used information provided by Jack, this is not a piece by him, and not a piece written with the intention of unreservedly supporting him.

Jack posted the following comment on Facebook before the publication of this post.

“A big thankyou to Steven Keevil & Ed Jennings for taking the time to at least ask questions about my concerns.
I could be about to be torn apart here or I could be shown to be right that my questions deserve answers and that the safety here in Grain should not be hidden in redacted documents. Whatever this blog shows, Steven & Ed have taken the time to write this up and to put across my views and the views of certain Politicians.
If the Politicians in Medway had not been so devious in their attitude to being questioned publicly then maybe the off site plan would today be fit for purpose and not hidden away. ( For the record I have no Idea what the centre and whats left have written. ) All I ask for is the airtime to be heard and to show how politicians here in Medway have placed people in danger zones so that National Grid can profit. Kids are at risk and politicians are trying to hide that fact!!
Thanks Ed & Steve looking forward to reading your blog.”

I’m not going to go into detail about LNG here, for which there are environmental concerns, or about the nature of LNG storage, for which there is evidence of hazards.

There are two main concerns to consider;
1) There have been allegations that the Emergency Plan for the island, in case there was a serious incident, has been hidden and redacted.
2) That children have  been placed in a danger zone.

A map dated 2010, the most up to date we have seen, shows the outer zone in the event of an incident would affect the whole village, and we are given to understand the current plan requires a manual barrier to be placed on Grain road, to stop people driving into the incident, Jack maintains the planned site for the barrier, is in the wrong place.

map 2010

Medway Council and National Grid have in the past maintained that there is little likelihood of an incident, and that is why no public evacuation test has been done. Jack Hope believes this to be one of many unsatisfactory conditions, including the fact that;
– the village fire station is not manned 24/7,
– there is no clear plan to deal with panic should an incident occur,
– or any plan to evacuate the village.

‘Stay home, tune in’ is the best advice given by the council.

In 2011 Cllr Mike Obrien responded by saying:
“I’m confident that I can say to the people of Grain. You have nothing to fear”

The worst case scenario that is acknowledged, maintains that the incident would be contained to the LNG site, and that any attempt to evacuate would result in residents or first responders being placed in danger. If residents go home and stay there they can be contacted and found. The river and beach front then used to bring services to the island. First responders only responding when a risk assessment had been carried out.

Robin Cooper, Medway Council’s Director of Regeneration, Community and Culture, said at the time that a new escape road would be unworkable.

What didn’t help the situation, if not caused the situation, is the reported dropping of an LNG safety leaflet which incorrectly stated significantly high casualty figures as a possibility. More people in fact then lived in the village, which Cooper stated was a blunder. This led to several meetings to be called, meetings which did not alleviate the fears of all residents.

There is a belief that telecommunications would not be vulnerable, despite them traveling past the LNG site, and that the residents homes would provide suitable shelter, offering a safer option then any attempt to evacuate, with Grain having approximately 2,000 residents. Jack Hope’s concerns being for those not in their homes, and for those at school. Would children be safe in those buildings during an incident?

Have children been placed in danger? It is an incredibly emotive question. The 2012 plans are confidential, as they contain sensitive information and intended for emergency responders. There has been no public consultation, and it was suggested that it was actions by Jack Hope that led to previous plans being removed from public view, though we do not know what those actions were.

Jack Hope has requested that a compensation package be made available to those residents of the village who wish to relocate due to the LNG site.

The councils Health & Safety Executive are satisfied the current plan is well tested with an emergency notification system and a warning siren, which Jack insists is not sufficient. And the council insists that the school is beyond any danger zone, though again Jack points out the consideration of wind carrying any fallout.

“Should something happen to the LNG facility it would affect the whole of the Medway towns in a worse case scenario.”
Chris Sams, council candidate for the Liberal Democrats

TUSC candidate for the Peninsula Chas Berry does believe that children have been placed in danger for this very reason.

We spoke with Vince Maple, Labour Group Leader, and a significant target for Jack’s anger.

“We met with Jack because in the large amount of emails there was legitimate concerns… one being the siren system, which is now louder.
Glyn Griffiths and I visited the National Grid LNG plant – I am not “on the payroll” when I say it seemed to be well run and as safe as possible.
With regards redacted files, the plant is a site of National Interest, there will be redacted information, which the public, which I as leader of the council opposition do not have a right to see. I think that for national security that is acceptable.”

Have children been placed into a danger zone?

“I don’t believe this is a simple yes or no.

When a child crosses the road they are at risk, but using the green cross code and safe driving dramatically reduces that risk.
So is there is a risk, but the risks are being managed.”

Mark Reckless, the UKIP MP for Rochester & Strood, of which the Village of Grain is part of told us

“Jack’s approach hasn’t necessarily encouraged bodies to co-operate, but when he started he drew attention to important issues;
1) the evacuation plan involved the parish council, something they weren’t aware of and hadn’t agreed to.
2) The siren which had been installed wasn’t sufficient and hadn’t been fully tested.
3) I ensured that a senior HSE representative came to a meeting of Grain residents, and I feel this meeting was constructive and showed safety was being taken seriously.

I have visited the site three times, and before I visited the LNG I met with other MPs researching LNG sites and I was satisfied the plant was well run and they take safety extremely seriously, for what is in a worst case scenario a horrific outcome.
It is a concern about the information that is available, but there is a trade of between local concerns and National Grid/ Police concerns about making information available to those that would do us harm.”

Have children been placed into a danger zone?

“I think there is a small, a tiny, possibility, as there would be when you store that much gas in one place, although the temperature it stores at mitigates against the risk. I believe HSE believe the most stringent measures in place.”

It is our measured and non-scientific or expert opinion that whilst there is a real risk with LNG, just as there is with any gas storage, it is unlikely to cause the destruction of Grain village, however the lack of clear continual communication on the issue has given the appearance of a conspiracy to hide the fact that people, including children, have been placed in danger without care or consideration.

A clear frustration for Jack Hope is that he is the only person talking about this. A clear frustration for others is that Jack Hope is talking about this.

Following the issue becomes difficult for some on social media, with Jack’s passion being a barrier to some from using Facebook groups where Jack can frequently be found accusing many of Medway’s local politicians for being silent and complicit in the danger. We contacted members of each party regarding this post and there was reluctance to speak with us and answer questions on this issue because of the connection with Jack, and he needs to take some responsibility for poisoning the well of available information, and muddying the water of available information, on this issue.

Medway Council refused to answer any of our questions seeking clarity on the points above, citing the fact that we had been in contact with Jack Hope as the reason.

Parish councillor Chris Fribbins said on his blog:
“with hindsight the worst thing I did was trying to help you (Jack) in the first place”

We hope that isn’t true for us at this blog also. If so, then this was written by Jennings.

Keevil