Thanet council leader Chris Wells has resigned his post.
The move follows a meeting with Thanet Conservative Party leader Bob Bayford this month to discuss the changed group arrangements within the council chamber following the defection of 12 UKIP members to Independent status.
Cllr Bayford, as Leader of the largest group now on council, has moved to form a fresh administration. Cllr Wells agreed to step aside to minimise disruption and maintain stability at the council by ensuring a vote for a new leader without the disruption of a vote of no confidence.
Cllr Bayford said: “This is an appropriate way to recognise the changed council groupings and a sensible way forward following the fault lines that emerged across the Chamber during the Local Plan vote of 18 January.”
Cllr Wells has today (Monday 19 February) given formal notice of resignation as of Wednesday, February 28, allowing the calling of an extraordinary council meeting to take place on Thursday 1 March to elect a new Leader for Thanet District Council.
Deputy Leader, Cllr Lin Fairbrass will be acting leader for the period between the resignation taking effect and the results of the Leadership election.
Cllr Wells said: “It has been a rare privilege to lead this council through some difficult times, facing declining budgets and increasing demand for services. My resignation recognises a simple fact of political life, that an administration needs to win votes to get policy through, and an administration supported by 13 or so of 56 Councillors would be a highly unstable proposition.
“The uncertainty that would create damages the smooth running of the council, something so many have worked so hard to maintain in challenging times.”
The resignation will signal the end of the country’s first UKIP council, elected in a landslide victory in 2015.
The party won 33 of the 56 seats. But the group 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 crossed to the Conservatives in 2015 and Cllr Peter Evans followed 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.
This month the Thanet Independent UKIP Group was formed by the 12 UKIP members who voted down the Local Plan.
It means the political composition of TDC is: 21 Conservative; 13 UKIP; 12 Thanet Independent UKIP Group; 6 Labour; 2 Independent Group and 2 Independent.
What will it mean for the Manston airport site?
All serving Conservative councillors at the Local Plan vote last month rejected the publication stage. The group has consistently backed the aviation-only designation for the site with Cllr Bayford telling the January meeting: “We feel that every effort should be made to facilitate a return of aviation.”
Aviation is also staunchly backed by both Conservative MPs for the isle.
South Thanet MP Craig Mackinlay said: “I am positive that a Local Plan, in accordance with national requirements can be delivered, but short of the 2,500 houses that were allocated under the Cllr Wells plan to the Manston site.
“Manston should, in my view, be maintained as zoned for aviation use only. This can be the working document to be put forward, and hopefully agreed by the Planning Inspector.”