Thanet council insists authority leader Chris Wells has not broken any council protocol after he was spotted having lunch with developer Stone Hill Park’s spokesman Ray Mallon on Wednesday (November 1) – but the incident has been reported to Kent Police by Conservative county councillor Paul Messenger.
Photos of the meeting in Broadstairs that surfaced on facebook caused furore among supporters of the campaign to bring aviation back to the Manston site owned by SHP, who said Cllr Wells was in breach of rules designed to prevent lobbying.
Save Manston Airport association says the meeting without an officer was contrary to rules sent to councillors by monitoring officer Tim Howes that stated: “Unless an officer is also present, no Member will meet with a third party to discuss:
•the acquisition of goods and services by or on behalf of the council including the terms on which such goods and services are to be acquired;
•the acquisition or disposal by the council of land or an interest in land including the terms on which such land or interest in land is to be acquired or disposed of;
•the actual or proposed development or redevelopment of council owned land including the terms on which such land may be developed or redeveloped;
•the securing of planning obligations or other community benefits arising out of or in connection with a planning application under consideration by the council;
•the award by the council of financial assistance of any kind whether by way of grant, pledge, indemnity or loan (whether secured or unsecured).”
SHP, which owns the Manston airport site, this week submitted a hybrid planning application for 2,500 homes; an advanced manufacturing focused business park; sports and recreational facilities, with the former runway becoming the focal point for a network of parkland, trails and outdoor space, and a ‘heritage hub’ at the site.
The new document outlines some changes from the original proposals submitted in 2015.
A rival plan by RiverOak Strategic Partners (RSP) aims to reopen the airport site in a £300m project to create an air freight hub with passenger services and business aviation.
The company aims to submit an application for a Development Consent Order to the Planning Inspectorate this month to allow a compulsory purchase of the site. It bought out the DCO rights from the original proposing company RiverOak corporation last December.
Conservative Kent County Councillor Paul Messenger said: “As a KCC member for Ramsgate division where the majority of my constituents are keen to see aviation return to Manston I find it very strange that Mr Mallon finds the need to meet the UKIP leader in a bar 5 miles away from the TDC offices in Cecil Square without an officer present.
“This is especially as SHP are hoping that a vote on January 18 in a full council meeting will see the new Local Plan voted through incorporating a new ‘mixed use’ classification for Manston, aiding SHP’s bid to develop for housing – killing any future for aviation at Manston.”
No rules broken
Pro-development campaigners have defended the meeting saying Mr Mallon is a spokesman and, as such, holds no decision-making powers. Some have also drawn parallels with Conservative members meeting RSP.
Thanet council say no rules were broken.
A spokesman said: “The Leader did have a briefing meeting with Mr Mallon, it is usual practice to have an officer at such meetings however this is not always possible because an officer may not be available to attend. The Leader has not breached council protocol by attending this meeting.”
Cllr Messenger has requested an investigation is opened and, after asking for advice from the county council’s legal officer, has reported the incident to Kent Police as a possible offence of misconduct in public office.