Rehman Chishti MP gifted £11,000 trip by Saudi parliament
Plus buskers are put on notice, Cllr Lammas' very bad week, Paddock plans scaled back, and more
Welcome to Local Authority, some kind of Medway newsletter. Some interesting stories to get to this week, and let’s get to it as I had a tooth extracted this morning and it turns out that isn't hugely comfortable.
Rehman Chishti gifted £11,000 trip by Saudi parliament
Congratulations to Gillingham and Rainham MP Rehman Chishti, who had to declare a new foreign trip on the register of interest for MPs after the parliament of Saudi Arabia provided him with a trip worth £11,000.
Rehman headed to Saudi Arabia for five days in February as part of a trip organised for the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for Hajj and Umrah, of which he is a member. APPGs are informal groups of MPs based around particular subjects or places that interest them. They hold little in the way of a formal role within our politics, but they are a great opportunity for relevant freebies and trips from companies and countries lobbying on those subjects.
The part I find fascinating here is the sheer value of the trip. £11,000 for any trip that lasts five days feels like a lot, and a cursory glance at flight costs suggests flying to Riyadh in February costs roughly £120. That leaves accommodation, internal travel, and meals, and even with the grandest hotels, fancy limo travel and some amazing food, I struggle to see how you’d get to that amount.
But he did, and here we are.
As ever, I’m obliged to point out that there is nothing here to suggest Rehman or anyone else has done anything wrong. These kinds of trips are fairly commonplace within our politics, and taking one doesn’t make him any worse than any other MP who has done the same. Whether or not these trips should even exist in the first place is another matter.
To be clear, it’s not as if Rehman hid exactly where he was during this period:
This isn’t the first time Rehman has done well out of Saudi Arabia. He was investigated after he took a £2,000 per month second job from a Saudi think tank before asking a number of questions friendly to the country in parliament.
This job, as well as taking a similar trip in the past to the one registered this week, led to him being spectacularly tackled by Channel 4 at one of his ‘regular’ constituency surgeries.
Saudi connections to MPs went a little bit quiet in recent years following controversies like the country being implicated in the death of journalist Jamal Khashoggi as well as accusations of war crimes in Yemen.
Still, it seems the time for such coyness is now over, and Rehman can once again be treated to vast sums of hospitality from such an upstanding country.
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Rochester’s buskers are put on notice
Rochester is being blighted by buskers, if you believe Rochester West councillor Stuart Tranter.
He’s drawn up a code of practice for buskers to limit how and when they can perform in the town.
And it’s all very odd.
Cllr Tranter’s rules require buskers to perform in three set locations within the town, bans the use of amplifiers, and wants them to take a three-hour break for every hour of performance.
He also, quite rightly, points out such a system wouldn’t be policed, so it all feels like a rather pointless exercise.
Now, I’ve lived near and worked on Rochester High Street a lot, and do understand that some buskers can be obnoxious, particularly those performing with amplification.
But this seems like a heavy-handed solution in search of a problem that is, at best, a minor irritation.
The more interesting issue is quite how Cllr Tranter has any actual power to do this. He’s a Conservative councillor in a split ward that he shares with a Labour colleague, so surely can’t unilaterally introduce new street rules. It’s clear that no formal public consultation seems to be involved in the process, making it all the more questionable.
Surely Cllr Tranter isn’t just trying to seem like he’s getting things done ahead of a local election in May that will prove rather challenging for him?
Covid in numbers
Hospitalisations: There are currently 28 patients being treated for covid in Medway Hospital, with none of them on a ventilator. This is down 24% from last week.
Deaths: 2 new deaths were recorded this week, taking Medway to 1,018 covid deaths in total.
Robbie Lammas’ bad week
Two weeks ago I wrote about Princes Park councillor Robbie Lammas going full Liam Neeson and threatening to hunt down the people who stole his bicycle.
Two days later he was tweeting Londis to complain about an employee that apparently screamed at him, and oh to be a fly on the wall during that encounter.
Later that same evening, Cllr Lammas attended Medway Council’s Health and Adult Social Care Overview and Scrutiny Committee, where he got into an argument with the Chair of the meeting before storming out.
You can watch the incident here from around 2:33:
Cllr Lammas packs up his things, calls the process “laughable”, and heads out.
Hopefully not to another Londis.
A Medway based music video
The latest video from popular drum and bass upstart Venbee came out this week and features a video entirely shot in Medway.
Medway landmarks feature prominently in the video, from Sun Pier to Chatham High Street to Gillingham to the Davis Estate, representing the first time the latter has ever been relevant within popular culture.
I’m not going to say much more on this as it’ll quickly become clear that I have no idea what I’m talking about given I’m too old to understand what drum and bass even is, but Venbee recently had a number 3 UK single and is from Chatham. I’d never heard of her before this week. Still, good to see someone local doing well who isn’t from the usual four sweaty boys with guitars brigade.
Chatham Paddock plans get scaled back
It’s a common refrain with Medway Council that grand ambitions get watered down by the time they reach fruition. So it shouldn’t be surprising that they are already planning to scale back plans for the new park and public space area to be built on the Paddock in Chatham between the Pentagon and the bus station.
Despite spending nearly £2m on the project, Medway Council are now looking at ways to ‘reduce the quality of the materials used in the project’, which are absolutely words you want to hear about a project of this scale.
While the majority of the plan will supposedly still go ahead, using cheaper alternatives for a prime town-centre regeneration project hardly sends a positive message, and the centrepiece fountain continues to be a subject of debate.
Several people have asked how the water feature will be funded on an ongoing basis, with little clarity coming from Medway Council. It was revealed this week though that the fountain can be switched off whenever money needs to be saved though, so I’m willing to bet that even if it is built, it won’t be bubbling away for very long before the financial reality gets the better of it.
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Mexicano in Rochester mexicannot open anymore after being repossessed by the landlord (KentOnline). The business was owned by Rico Sabor, who recently had a similar incident at their Dover branch.
Dance Junction in Rochester is closing following an 86% rent increase (KentLive). I suspect we’re going to see a lot more of this in the coming months.
Access to Sun Pier is at risk due to the state of the pavement (KentOnline). Medway Council claim they will be fixing it in the near future. Unlike Rochester Pier, which was allowed to fall into the river.
‘The festering cesspit of Medway’, a look at life on Luton Road (KentLive). Surprisingly balanced piece despite the dramatic headlines.
Customers of Flip Out are flipping out after the trampoline centre went cashless (KentOnline). Not offering customers a choice seems a bit self-defeating, but this kind of thing does feel inevitable.
Over two-thirds of the general admission tickets have been booked for our debate ahead of the local elections. It’ll take place on April 19 at MidKent College in Gillingham. Don’t forget to book your free ticket and submit a question for our potential future leaders.
If you hear about any Medway news that might be of interest, let me know! Hit reply to message me directly, DM me on Twitter, or leave a comment.
Music that soundtracked the creation of this newsletter: The Prettiest Curse by Hinds, You Signed Up To This by Maisie Peters, and Dear Catastrophe Waitress by Belle and Sebastian.
Hi Ed I sent you a comment a few weeks ago about S 106 funding, but had no reply from you. Please bear with me… It was about S106 funding particularly in relation to the Rainham Healthy Living Centre. So it is interesting to see the Health and Adult Social care meeting, ( where a councillor walked out) you have highlighted on here is the same one where my local CouncillorMartin Potter had initiated a debate about the HLC. It’s towards the beginning if you would like to review it. I was utterly appalled at the way in which this matter which is important to Rainham residents was received by the committee and how his whole presentation appeared to be disregarded, in my opinion. I have subsequently met with Councillor Potter and as he is standing down at the next elections he couldn’t tell me how this issue will continue to be discussed or resolved. The ICB who were supposed to be there to answer his concerns did not even have the courtesy to turn up, nor offer an explanation it seemed as to why they were not there. Is this anything which is of interest to you or am I just wasting my time trying to get the issues recognised and highlighted of the huge amounts of S106 monies?(and apparent secrecy and lack of transparency in how it is spent). We are talking millions of pounds here both locally and throughout the country. Please let me know one way or the other if you are able to help in any way. Thank you Maggie Francis. PS Sandy Fleming of Rainham News has suggested I should contact you about this on more than one occasion.