Twelve UKIP councillors who defied their party to vote down the next stage of the Thanet Draft Local Plan have quit the group at Thanet council to form a new one.
The 12 have announced the formation of the Thanet Independent UKIP Group, with former housing Cabinet member Cllr Stuart Piper leading the party and Cllr Edward Jaye-Jones stepping up as deputy leader. The group became ‘official’ at 11am today.
Cllr Piper said: “Thanet independent UKIP Group has been registered and we are currently 12 members. We intend to support Cllr Wells with his budget proposals on Thursday evening at the council meeting but will not be supporting his administration after that.
“We look forward to meaningful discussions with other group leaders to find a way forward to work for the people of Thanet. For too long their voices have not been heard and they feel they have been shortchanged regarding the Local Plan preparations. We want to engage with the electorate, and with business leaders and get to grips with a redrafted Local Plan that can be supported by them and by major consultees.”
The move leaves the ruling UKIP administration with just 13 members, meaning it becomes the second largest group at council by a margin of one.
The 12 are Bertie Braidwood; John Buckley; John Dennis; Robin Edwards; Edward Jaye-Jones; Lynda Piper; Stuart Piper; Linda Potts; Roy Potts; George Rusiecki; Trevor Shonk and Gary Taylor.
The move follows a statement issued by Cllr Piper this month from the ‘rebel’ group calling for council leader Chris Wells to resign with immediate effect. This came in the wake of the vote on Thanet’s draft local plan on January 18 which split the party.
Cllr Wells has slammed the defection
He said: “The consequences of the decision by councillors to vote down the proposed local plan are becoming clearer by the day.
“Just yesterday Housing minister Sajid Javid said “Thanet council will not get special treatment over its failure to publish its Local Plan,” and that he may intervene to take control.
“He rejected claims the government had agreed to an extended deadline to enable the Manston site to be designated for aviation use.
“(He said) ‘But our message to all councils is that it is the right thing to do to plan for the number of homes that your community needs and if you are not doing that, you are letting down local people.’
“The Leader of any council has a responsibility above party politics. Part of that is to ensure any proposals for the area are legally safe, and within Government guidelines. Whilst we continue to seek ways to get a local plan through, as a council already in intervention our options are limited.
“Some seem to think that I am the block to their ambitions. They are wrong. The facts are the stumbling block. And too many Thanet councillors still want to hide from the facts.”
A change of status in the plan for Manston axing aviation-only status in favour of a mixed-use designation to include 2,500 homes proved the downfall of the plan, which is a blueprint for housing, business and infrastructure until 2031. The result was a vote of 35 councillors rejecting the proposal to put it forward for publication. Of those 20 were Conservative, 3 Independents and 12 were UKIP councillors. 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.
Following the vote Cllr Wells slammed the “stupidity” of the outcome, adding that he saw no reason to allow councillors who “refused to take proper legal, advice free rein to wreak havoc on the council.”
The failure to vote through the Local Plan leaves Thanet council at risk of intervention from national government.
The move means the Conservatives become the largest group in the administration with 21 members, followed by 13 UKIP, 12 Thanet Independent UKIP Group, 6 Labour, 2 Independent Group and 2 Independents including former UKIP member Suzanne Brimm and colleague Alan Howes. Cllr Brimm says she will not be joining the new group as she believes party politics are destructive for local issues and so she will remain Independent. Cllr Brimm is no longer a national UKIP member.
Conservative leader Bob Bayford confirmed this month that there had been discussions regarding a vote of no confidence. It is now likely an emergency meeting will be called to put that vote forward. This could see the council come under Conservative control.
UKIP took control of their only council in the country in 2015, winning 33 of the 56 seats. But the party has since suffered defections and resignations.
In 2015 Beverley Martin, Ash Ashbee and now-disgraced former councillors Konnor Collins and Helen Smith, who were later arrested on theft charges, set up the Democratic Independent Group in protest at a lack of action on Manston airport. They were then joined by Cllr Jeff Elenor, who later resigned his seat because he moved out of the area.
Cllr Martin later returned to the UKIP fold. Cllr Ashbee joined the Conservatives. Cllr Emma Dawson and Lesley Game crossed to the Conservatives in 2015 and Cllr Peter Evans followed them in 2017.
UKIP regained the majority when the party took back the Northwood seats in a by-election following the resignation of Mr Collins and Ms Smith in 2016.
The Party then lost its majority again last July when Cllr Beverly Martin defected, this time to the Tories. Its sway was further reduced when the Margate by-election in August returned Labour’s Ian Venables to the seat.
That same month Birchington ward councillors Suzanne Brimm and Alan Howes announced they were quitting the party to serve as Independents.
Now the Thanet Independent UKIP Group has been formed. Members of this group remain in the fold of national UKIP, whose leader Henry Bolton also called for Cllr Wells to resign, but are not a part of the TDC ruling group.