A mediation meeting was held last night (February 19) in a bid to reunite the UKIP and UKIP Independent groups at Thanet council.
UKIP’s Local Government spokesman and Local Government Association member, Councillor Peter Reeve MBE, has been acting as a facilitator to the talks following yesterday’s announcement that group and council leader Chris Wells has resigned his position as from February 28.
The move comes at the same time as Thanet Tory Party leader Bob Bayford indicated he would move to form a fresh administration. The Conservatives are currently the largest group at TDC with 21 councillors. UKIP has 13, 12 Thanet Independent UKIP Group; 6 Labour; 2 Independent Group and 2 Independent.
Following talks with Cllr Bayford this month Cllr Wells gave formal notice of resignation, allowing for the calling of an extraordinary council meeting to take 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.
But the talks could mean a reformed UKIP throwing their hat into the ring – although discussions have so far stalled. Thanet Independent UKIP Group leader Cllr Stuart Piper claims demands were made that Cllr Wells remain in the Cabinet, an existing Cabinet member takes the lead role and Cabinet roles remain in situ, adding that this was “unacceptable.”
He said: “We do not think that is at all appropriate for the people of Thanet particularly given the desire by those same people to lose the airport and accept excessive housing numbers without any challenge or application of the Objectively Assessed Need criteria or use of the Localism Act of 2011.”
The talks, if resolved, could mean the survival 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, the last being the move to Independent UKIP status of the 12 UKIP members who voted down the Local Plan.
The sticking point of the plan was the proposal to remove the aviation-only designation for the Manston airport site and instead earmark it for 2,500 homes.
An “11th hour” amendment to defer for two years the mixed-use designation for Manston airport pending the resolution of the DCO process was not enough to get the plan voted through to publication stage.
Cllr Bayford said if the party did reunite then they would be in a position to retain control of the council.
But he questioned whether the issues between the two groups could be resolved. He said: “Given that they split on the biggest policy there is, I cannot see how they can come together with any kind of credibility, they would be compromising any policies they have.
“Chris Wells going was inevitable, he had lost the confidence of the council, and as the largest group (Conservatives) it was incumbent upon us to step forward to form an administration.
“If they (UKIP) come together they will be able to keep control at the council but there will have to be a massive compromise and I am not sure that it will be good for Thanet.”
Campaign group reactions
The resignation of Cllr Wells and impending leadership contest has brought a mixed reaction from campaign groups concerned with the future use of the Manston site.
Save Manston Airport association
Pro-aviation group Save Manston Airport association (SMAa) said: “SMAa would hope that all the TDC councillors will now work together to restore aviation at Manston airport. Although they can’t adjust the formal submitted TDC response to the RSP consultation, perhaps a new TDC administration can submit a second response, or at least an email, that does recognise the result of the voting on January 18, and quotes Policy EC4 as being in force.
“And, of course, it is important for the new administration to work towards a fresh response to the local plan that recognises the wishes of the people of Thanet and the realities of the forthcoming DCO for Manston airport.”
No Night Flights
But Anne Marie Nixey, founder member of No Night Flights campaign group, said the group had deep concerns. She said: “ The chaos at council level plays to the agenda of our partisan local MPs and their plans for Manston. We remain deeply concerned at the fact that undermining the initial, evidence-based Local Plan has led to the unseating of the council lead.
“Now more than ever we need to be vocal about what it is that the community itself wants in Thanet. The huge volume of people who submitted complaints about the airport consultation last week shows that much of our community feels that its voice is not being heard. We will continue to be their voice and are asking our local councilors to meet with the ward as soon as possible.”
The election of a new Thanet council leader will take place on Thursday, March 1.
Cllr Wells said he would make no comment until after the leadership election.
pvp. It would be a bad thing for Thanet if Cllr Wells as made a cabinet member. He still holds his same views over the local plan, housing and Manston airport being designated for housing. Again a pvp he should not be given any position of responsibility within the council.
Yes that is right no position for Cllr Wells
No No No Wells and his cronies cannot be allowed any power in the new administration! They have shown their colours and will work against the desires and wishes of Thanet!
Thanet’s residents have many different desires and wishes.
Between 65-80% of Thanet residents want their airport back. The Council should remember that when they vote on 1st March. The new Leader must listen to the wishes of those who elected them to office and get fully behind the efforts of RiverOak to reopen the airport. This will become even more vital post-Brexit.
Between 65% and 80% of Thanet residents do not want a cargo hub.
And you are basing that figure on what exactly? Best if you don’t make up figures. What is needed is accurate and verifiable information and lot less hot air and what is more and more speculation, and guesses,.
Has there been an impartial survey of adult Thanet residents? It’s hard to believe that what most people in Thanet want is a cargo airport with all the attendant noise and pollution.
Of course,we did, that’s what UKIP promised before the election. They were elected & got my vote on this election promise to reopen Manston as an Airport
Those are just repeats of comments made by the two MP’s who have an agenda of their own and relayed by those councillors who have been persuaded by them, “that they are working for the majority of residents”, but which of course is a load of rubbish as there has never been a full consultation or vote over an airport at Manston for Thanet residents. They can say what they want over percentages just like they are about the need of a freight airport in the South of England, but it will be dismissed as it’s all untrue and nothing more than hearsay. Those SMA protesters need to smell the roses and come to their senses. An airport is just not viable there and never has been no matter who is in the council offices. This saga they have produced is just holding Thanet back year on year.
So some I’ll informed residents don’t want the airport! Yet 2500 houses will destroy the local environment and just increase the number of unemployed in Thanet. We need the jobs in Thanet first before we become the benefit corner of the UK.
It’s already the benefit corner of UK has been most of my life and I’ve been here a long long time.
I find it hard to believe there are still people out there that think that if they save the airport then we don’t get houses! Some very ill informed, or totally not informed people need to understand that TDC is getting a quota of over 17,000 houses over the next ten years, and all of these houses have to go somewhere. If 2,500 of them, or even more go on the disused brownfield airport site, then it frees up open greenbelt land that does not need to be used. Just because some people do not want new houses, does not mean they are not coming. To add that those houses are going to go to people on benefits is scaremongering, there is no evidence for this. Others say that the houses will be unaffordable for local people. Again, total speculation. Please Roy, get informed.
It is for the councillors who decided to vote against the local plan to sort this out. They decided, in their wisdom, that this was the correct course of action, so they are now responsible for dealing with the fallout. Wells did what he could but some power-crazed idiots have whipped the public into a frenzy, so that reason and logic have gone out of the window. We all know that it isn’t realistic or feasible to reopen the airport and this has been apparent for some considerable time. But there is a highly vocal and unrepresentative cabal which is determined to keep pushing for this to happen, even though there is no credible mechanism for doing it. At the end of the day, the council lost control of what happens at Manston when they allowed it to be sold into the private sector. They had the option of buying it when Infratil put it up for sale but, strangely, the highly aggressive and irrational mob were silent at that time. They only got all wound up after it was sold and Sir Roger Gale decided to crusade against the inevitable closure. I just wonder how much longer it will take before the mob realises that they have just been used as pawns in a giant political game.
You’re talking about the past now I’m talking about the future the one and only company ever to put in hundreds of millions of pounds to make it work and it will work and it will make a lot of jobs for a younger generation. Can work and it will work with now got a company really got down to business so let’s forget the past and the failures and think of the future and the what it’s worth the figures are more like 70% for it 30% against