Questions have been raised following a claim that an extension to the Planning Inspectorate deadline for Thanet’s draft local plan was secured from government before last week’s vote by councillors.
Council leader Chris Wells suffered a humiliating blow last week when 12 of his own UKIP members aligned with the Conservative Party and three Independents to vote down taking the Local Plan to the publication stage.
Thanet’s Draft Local Plan is a blueprint for housing, business and infrastructure up until 2031. The plan sets out how much development is needed to support the future population and economy. Transport, employment and infrastructure -such as roads, schools and GP surgeries – are also examined in the plan.
Consultation was carried out last year on revisions to the plan, including axing the aviation-use only designation at Manston airport was which shut down in 2014.
But the change of status for Manston to a mixed-use designation to include 2,500 homes proved the downfall of the plan, with 35 councillors rejecting the proposal to put it forward for publication. Just 20 voted in favour and one Conservative councillor was absent.
An amendment to defer for two years the mixed-use designation pending the resolution of the DCO process was not enough to persuade the majority of councillors.
The vote means it is possible that the plan will not meet the March 31 deadline to be submitted to the Planning Inspectorate.
A threat of government intervention was issued in November by Secretary of State Sajid Javid. He said the failure of Thanet and 14 other authorities to meet deadlines to put a local plan in place meant the government serving notice of its intention to intervene.
Following the vote Conservative County Councillor Paul Messenger posted to social media saying an extension to that deadline had been secured.
He wrote said: “Both Craig Mackinlay and Sir Roger Gale had a meeting with Savid Javid on Monday (January 15) who completely understands the ‘Thanet question.’
“He assured both our MPs at this meeting that his department would not in any way shape or form ‘penalise’ Thanet with demands for even more housing given that the Local Plan is voted down.
“Sir Roger is correct that a tweaked revised Local Plan can be brought forward with the ‘airport only use’ designation preserved for Manston before the deadline. However, our MP’s have also managed to get the deadline extended.”
Letter to the Ministry
Thanet council leader Chris Wells has now written to the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government to ask whether the claim is accurate.
A Thanet council spokesman said: “We are in contact with the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government (MHCLG). At present, we are reviewing our position but have not been informed about an extension of the submission deadline being granted.
“Cllr Chris Wells, Leader of Thanet District Council, is writing to the Permanent Secretary, MHCLG to ascertain whether or not this is the case.”
Letters to the Ministry have also been sent by Thanet’s Labour group. Labour councillor Karen Constantine said: “I have now written personally to Craig Mackinlay, Roger Gale and Sajid Javid seeking clarification, as has the Labour group. If there were agreements reached prior to the full Council vote on January 18 which were not shared, that is undemocratic and completely unacceptable.”
Cllr Messenger said he had been informed that county council leader Paul Carter and the authority’s legal department had received complaints about his post. But he added: “Sir Roger made his statement after the vote. Chris Wells and Madeline Homer made their statements to all councillors in the chamber stating that Savid Javid will penalise us if the vote fails before the vote. I stand by this and I am confident that I am correct.”
Mr Mackinlay declined to answer questions about whether there had been a meeting but said he and Sir Roger would be having discussions with the Ministry this week.
In his weekly column, he adds: “It is now for myself and Sir Roger Gale to get the ear of the Secretary of State and to argue the case for the uniqueness of Thanet’s situation. Ideally, we need a Local Plan of two halves – a short-term plan for the next few years, and then a longer plan thereafter once the Manston issue is finally decided and settled.”
It is not yet clear whether an extension for Thanet would have implications for the other 14 authorities which were also warned by Sajid Javid over failures to implement timely local plans.
‘No big secret’
But Sir Roger said although there is possibility of some leeway he believes there is no need for an extension as the plan can be altered and still be submitted by the March deadline.
He said: “We don’t need an “extension. “
“The need is to have the political will to modify the plan, remove Manston from the equation and make a real effort to get it in before the deadline. I cannot see that Cllr Wells has that political will so TDC has to be run by officers and councillors who do. If it’s clear they are making a real effort then the (Secretary of State) may grant them a bit of leeway- but not much.
“Craig and I were asked to establish what the position would be if the plan was voted down. We were told the position as I have described which is pretty much what Paul appears to be saying. No big secret or hidden agenda!”