Councillor’s bid to debate Thanet’s housing crisis denied in vote branded ‘wrong’ and ‘undemocratic’

Cllr Helen Whitehead was calling for urgent action on Thanet's housing crisis

A bid to have Thanet’s housing crisis debated as an emergency item at a council meeting last night (August 30) was denied by a vote of 8 to 6.

Thanet Labour group’s deputy leader Helen Whitehead made a rarely used ‘councillor call for action’ in the hopes of debate and agreement for a formal hearing that would invite attendees from government and relevant organisations to look at ways of solving Thanet’s increasing homelessness, rising rents and spike in ‘no fault’ evictions.

She had hoped the action would force the formal hearing and intervention from central government to aid people moved into temporary accommodation, or those sleeping rough, due to rent hikes and a lack of truly affordable accommodation.

An option to hold the debate was backed by Labour and Green councillors on the Overview and Scrutiny Panel but rejected by Conservative members and committee chairman Stuart Piper (Thanet Independent).

Councillors who spoke in support of the debate included Independent Cllr Ruth Bailey, Green’s Cllr Mike Garner and Cllr Abi Smith, Labour’s Cllr Rob Yates and Sarah Ellis from Thanet’s Citizens Advice.

However, there was some disruption as the option not to debate the issue was not one of those listed in the report but was proposed by Cllr Piper.

Cllr Stuart Piper

Among the reasons given by Cllr Piper were that a report on housing issues faced by Thanet is due to be discussed at a council Cabinet meeting on September 22; that a call for action should be for issues that can realistically be resolved by TDC and that there would be cost to bringing in people for a formal hearing with money that would be better spent on shelter for those in need.

He added: “Everybody in this room sympathises with the views you (Cllr Whitehead) have and the actions you would like to see being taken but given there are finite resources. How do we justify what could be an extraordinary cost.”

He said his recommendation was that the panel take no further action “at this time” including having no debate on the subject.

The argument was disputed by Cllr Whitehead and others in the meeting, including Cllr Becky Wing and Cllr Corinna Huxley. Cllr Whitehead said the debate and action was needed precisely because Thanet council could not solve the issue alone and the only cost would be sending emails to those asked to take part.

Cllr Huxley said she had been ‘ignored’ and not allowed to speak despite trying to put forward a proposal in favour of debate. She said to Cllr Piper: “You’re the referee in this situation, you shouldn’t be giving a 20-minute speech. I asked to speak first and you have ignored me.”

The outcome of the vote, which created some confusion, meant no debate on the housing issue took place.

Following the meeting Cllr Whitehead said: “This item was not party political and emphasised in both paperwork and verbal contributions that both recent administrations have attempted to resolve this issue and have had no useful response from central government.

“As such I do not understand why an issue that affects all our residents, and requires addressing with external partners now, has been dismissed simply because the nature of a call for action required a councillor from a significantly affected ward, who happens to be Labour, to bring it.

“Residents are suffering and councillors have been silenced and prevented from speaking up for them. I have made clear that I have no criticism of our housing officers, who work tirelessly, but the system is broken, and we have tried every form of internal meeting, every letter, every form of communication to make it clear that we need further funding and support from central government.

“A call for action is a call of last resort, which requires you to prove that you have tried everything else, and the role of scrutiny is not to shut down but discuss and debate.

“All the formal guidance emphasises the importance of considering and debating any call for action. It is never necessary to deliberately stifle debate, especially when that is not a given option. What has happened here goes directly against best practice guidance for a councillor call for action. It is wrong on every level.”

Cllr Garner added: ““Last night’s meeting of the Overview and Scrutiny Committee which was due to debate a ‘call to action’ on the worsening housing situation across Thanet was farcical. While those of us not on the committee were able to put our views across and Cllr Helen Whitehead, who’d bought the call to action to the committee, was able to make the very compelling case for the committee to call for a public hearing on the issue, it soon became clear that the Tories had already decided, before the meeting, that this was not going to happen.

“With the cooperation of the committee Chair, Cllr Stuart Piper, they voted to prevent debate on the issue, even among committee members themselves. The residents of Thanet, especially the increasing number who are being made homeless and looking to us to take action, deserve better than this.”

Cllr Bailey said adding an option of no debate, which was not in the report, was “quite extraordinary.”

She added: “After a long speech the Chair himself put forward a motion which would effectively shut down any debate and summarily dismiss the councillor call for action. This to me seemed really undemocratic, I for one would have liked to have heard what the committee members had to say, on both sides of the argument. What is the point of a committee if they have no voice?“

Cllr Piper said: “It is perfectly normal for committees to have three options. The no debate option was not ‘added’ it was there all the time, a fact I mentioned twice during the evening.

“The options outlined at the beginning were…1. Debate and accept in full…2. Debate and make changes…3. Decide not to debate. Two proposals were made…1. Not to debate…2 To debate the issue. There was a simple yes /no choice and the decision not to debate was decided upon.”

Options published in agenda

4.1 The Panel could opt to debate the call for action request and agree to conduct a full hearing at an agreed future Panel meeting.
4.2 Members could choose to debate the call for action request and make recommendations for consideration by Cabinet.
4.3 Members could opt to debate the councillor call for action and thereafter decide to take no further action.

Recorded vote

In favour of debate

Cllrs Corinna Huxley, Patricia Moore, Heather Keen, Alan Currie, Becky Wing and Tricia Austin

Not in favour of debate

Cllrs Charlie Leys, Kerry Boyd, Paul Moore, Linda Wright, Phil Fellows, Mick Tomlinson, Keith Coleman-Cooke and Stuart Piper


  1. So, no improvement really at TDC!
    This is the big issue giving families nightmares and which they are most anxious about.
    It is also becoming extremely urgent.
    Times have changed and processes should change with them.
    This is becoming a crisis. A blinkered approach, sticking to the old rules will not work anymore.
    This is not something that can be shuffled down the agenda. We need our best brains on this one and it needs plenty of exposure to debate.
    It is simply not something that can be covered up. Families are facing eviction due to a lack of action years ago.

    • “Families are facing eviction due to a lack of action years ago.”

      ITs almost like we’ve been under Tory austerity (who fund local gov from central gov) for 12 years and change.

      The lack of action is people continually voting in a blue rosette, without actually looking at previous form and current policy…

      Its all well and good, pretending you’re doing something, by saying something needs to be done…

      But unless you actually vote the Tories out, you won’t get any increased funding…(well, besides maybe a sticking plaster/fig leaf in the form of levelling up town funds)…

    • Cllr Piper is ex UKIP, and supposedly a church minister! Where is his Christian love for his fellows, when the nation is facing the biggest crisis in homelessness since the war? The hiking up of energy costs will not just mean people having to choose between heating or eating, it will mean paying the rent, or not! If they can’t do that then TDC will have to rehouse them in temporary accommodation(sic)

  2. No surprise that the Tories blocked this; their government have caused the crisis over the last twelve years of austerity and giving money to the rich while the poor starve, and the Conservative leadership candidates are ignoring the crisis they have been instrumental in creating. We’re about to have a leader foisted upon the country that has only been chosen by a very small number of predominantly elderly white uneducated males. We’re all doomed.

    • I’m autistic, Peter Checksfield. I try to not only normalise autism in politics but also make it as visible as possible so that the next generation see politics as an option.

      And thankfully our meetings aren’t usually that noisy, but yes, my headphones do come with me everywhere. 🙂

          • Hello helen, not sure if you remember me you tried to help me back in January 2020, my name is kerry babington when i was made homeless and i wasnt helped by anyone, i was sent to social services to try grt help from them, they also couldnt help, im about to go through the same situation landlord selling property could you try find the time to grt in touch to see if there is anything this time you could do to help my situation please?

        • “I do have a couple of close family members who are also autistic.”

          the “I’m not racist, I have a black mate” of alleged ableism…

  3. Tories sticking to the party script despite the needs of the people – usual priorities: self first, party next then self.
    They really are a shower – no sign of the new chief exec on this one?

  4. Quite what is going to happen at a debate. It’ll be agreed that there is a lack of available housing in thanet, for multiple reasons, tdc has spent years trying to make the area more attractive and succeeded to a degree, the arty crowd have moved in, we have other boroughs placing people here, there’s considerable numbers of houses being built. The pressures as ever mean that some have trouble finding homes. We’ll get the usual statistics about numbers on the housing list ( but not usually without a home) those in emergency housing ( would councillor whitehead like to tell us how much Tdc have given paramount in each of the last 3 years?) how many empty homes but no breakdown as to the reasons , number of secondhomes ( not illegal to own one) and number of airbnb ( again these can be seen as a success given that there is demand for them from visitors).
    Will we get any numbers on how much the East Kent Housing fiasco cost TDC and then consider how many homes could have been bought on the open market with this sum.
    All it will really boil down to is a lot of political point scoring from each side, and statements that look/sound good. But in the absence of lots of money not much can practically be done.
    Anyone care to add more?

    • Even with lots of money there’s not much that can be done. This problem stems back to when Margaret Thatcher’s government thought it would be a good idea to give council tenants the right to buy their homes at a fraction of their market value. As a result a lot of council tenants made a fast buck by buying their home and then selling it for it’s full market value. The legacy of this is that we have no council houses, we have housing assosciations struggling to acquire property and sky high rents in the private sector.

      • Just thought I would add that not long ago, Boris was toying with the idea of giving housing assosciation tenants the right to buy their home. That would mean virtually no affordable rented accomodation at all.
        Everybody already has the right to by a home, it shouldn’t be one which has been set aside for the poorer people in society to rent at a more affordable rate.

        • Should there instead there be a mechanism where by when a social tenants position has improved that they are expected to move into the private sector/ buy on the open market and so free up. A social housing unit for someone worse off? Though the numbers this would affect would be few as around 70% of social housing tenants are on benefits.

          • Why should it be that “Social Housing” is synonymous with “Publicly supplied rented accommodation for poor people”?
            Until Thatcher, it was pretty common for people to rent their home from some sort of local authority provision. Just ordinary families.
            Now we have a situation where folk who’ve paid their rent on time, regularly, and been exemplar tenants, are being thrown out of their homes (sometimes for tens of years or more) because the landlord wants to make even more money.
            It is fundamentally ubiquitous that a families security of tenure should depend on the whim if a landlord.

            On a brighter note, I hear that Stuart Piper is emigrating to Wales. He’s sure of a warm welcome there.

          • Because that is what it has become. The move to “needs based allocation” of social housing marked the end of a working family with reasonable income having any chance of getting a council house. Such a policymis what has created the sink estates as a disproportionate number are the most needy simultaneously the most troublesome. The policy of requiring developers having to supply a percentage of affordable housing was in theory meant to help create more balanced communities, but not surprisingly those who’ve had to pay full price for their home and work hard to keep it are’nt overly enamoured to be lumbered with social housing tenants close by who have very different lifestyles/values.

  5. This will only get worse in the run up to 2025. Landlords have to upgrade the energy efficiency of their rented flats and houses to at least a C rating.

    The reality is that many landlords with older, energy inefficient properties will simply sell up and remove the properties from the rental market rather than invest thousands of pounds in improving them.

    • Isn’t the reality that for decades landlords have been charging £1000s for houses that are not fit to live in; poor insulation and inefficient heating systems requiring tenants to pay even more for their heating?

      • Rented homes have generally reflected the general standard of housing. The stories of rented hovels are no doubt true but no one gives figures for majority of rented homes that in good condition. The prs has higher standards of electrical safety and energy efficiency than vast numbers of owner occupiers homes. In my experience the most energy efficient part of my properties are those living in them, shorts and t shirt in mid winter, boiler running flat out and home cooled by opening a window rather than adjusting the heating appropriately. No interest in setting the thermostat and timer. Perhaps upcoming bills will focus minds.

      • Whilst moaning if they “lose money”, they think everyone is stupid is part of the issue. They get their mortgage paid for by someone else and moaning if their massively increased property costs them a few quid along the way.

        • But of course you’ve a great deal of experience as to the ins and outs of residential letting and tenant behaviour. I didn’t suggest that the tenants are stupid rather that they won’t put any effort or accept inconvenience when it comes to keeping bills down.
          All but two of my properties already meet the proposed epc C for energy efficiency, the two that don’t aren’t far behind. There’s very little more i can do. I’ve long term tenants whose rents haven’t increased by £100 in over 10 years and are well under the rate the council would pay benefit claimants. But that’s going to have to change after this winter if all the proposed legislative changes go forward. It’s got to the point where the anti landlord rhetoric means that there’s little point treating tenants well and keeping rents low as the antis care not one jot and would tax me as heavily as a landlord charging the max. Society is cutting its own nose on this issue.

  6. Well done Helen. There is a huge housing crisis in Thanet and the response was risible. Shame on self-satisfied ,stuck in 20th century, ‘I see no crisis’ Cllrs Charlie Leys, Kerry Boyd, Paul Moore, Linda Wright, Phil Fellows, Mick Tomlinson, Keith Coleman-Cooke and Stuart Piper

      • Should be better named the “ tea and biscuit rubber stamping committee”. I responded to a consultation some time ago , sent copies to the members of the committee prior to their meeting , only one responded (long after the meeting) and they couldn’t vote anyway due to a conflict of interest. The matter was passed with no discussion whatsoever.

  7. A Tory Councillor who voted against is currently evicting a tenant under section 21.
    He doesn’t want that made public I’m guessing.

  8. In spite of using undemocratic methods to suppress discussion, the message comes across that the Tories could not care less about homelessness and tenant precarity.

  9. Leaving aside the housing issues surely a major problem here is that this is the Oversight and Scrutiny Committee! How can it do either if no discussion or debate is allowed? This is a sham, why did the Tories get rid of the Homer cabal if they are just going to continue with the same undemocratic and self-serving behaviour?
    I can’t wait for 2023, new TDC elections! But will Labour and the Tories bring on fresh candidates as both have been appalling.

  10. Tories refusing to discuss or address issues whilst making themselves money off the issues they inflict on everyone else.

    What a plot twist.

    Or not.

  11. Talking of housing, perhaps Cllr Piper might like to explain why he is baling out of Thanet, now that his fabled DCO has been granted for the second time. Rumour has it that Wales is his destination, but of course he can deny it, and stay in the mess he created.I think Wales has enough problems without Piper + Piper adding to it.Besides, I might want to retire there myself, and it would be more than I can bear to have a narrow minded nincompoop like Piper on the doorstep.Mind you that said he does not dye his hair or try to live in the swinging sixties like some I can name.

  12. Good.

    The Isle is already too overpopulated.

    The district’s infrastructure cannot cope with the huge amounts of people that want to settle here with no good reason other than “it’s a great coastline”.

    Sorry folks, too gentrified for ne’er do wells who have nothing positive to bring.

  13. Conservative Council leaders will ignore Labour Councillors because the Conservative Liers don’t wish ANY other party to think if things the Tories havnt thought about and that’s because they like to look after fat cats before the ordinary person

    • It was of course a labour council at tdc that aided and abetted in the flagrant disregard of planning and listed building legislation , then rubber stamped a retrospective application ,ignored over 50 objections from local residents, the local councillor met residents who lived a reasonable distance from the building in question , yet ignored those living within sight of it, transformed a building with no insulation into a hostel, all to the benefit of a private company with whom tdc spends considerable sums each year.
      How does that fit with your political views of how labour/ conservatives behave?

  14. Having just viewed the proceedings it is clearly obvious that many of the councillors didn’t grasp the subtleties of the discussions and what Cllr Piper was trying to get over. I don’t believe he was trying to stifle debate and I certainly do believe and understand the crisis that is happening now regarding rental accommodation and the costs of it, etc.
    How I understood what he was trying to do was to wait until the meeting he referred to (22nd September) as the outcome of that would have a greater bearing on the subject matter overall.
    Then perhaps what was being discussed the other evening could be brought back again or even revised following whatever comes out of the 22nd Sept meeting?
    Hold fire and see what materialises ……………

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