Labour takes the helm of Thanet council this week with many of those taking on councillor roles for the first time.
In a massive change some 23 councillors out of 56 are new, or returning after a period away, with many familiar faces gone after failing to secure the votes or not standing this time around.
Labour took 40% of the vote -bringing 30 council seats – in Thursday’s local election polls with turn out in the wards ranging between 19% and 43%. It means the authority is under overall control for the first time since 2017. Since 2011 there have only been two years where the authority has been under overall control during the short-lived stint of UKIP.
Prior to the election, the council was a Conservative minority-led authority,
The election count on Friday (May 5) saw the wiping out of Conservative and prior council leader Ash Ashbee with Labour taking the Westbrook ward for the first time and the demise of Thanet Independents leader Stuart Piper and wife Lynda with Labour taking Northwood ward.
Conservatives lost eight of the seats held before the election while Thanet Independents have been reduced from seven to three. Greens have gained one seat with the election of former council tree officer Kevin Pressland. Independent councillors, including Viking ward’s Ruth Bailey, lost out at the polls. There is now just one Independent councillor, newcomer Alan Munns who swept Conservative Bob Bayford out of the Kingsgate seat he had held for more than three decades.
The make up of Thanet council is now Labour 30 seats, Conservative 17, Green 5, Thanet Independents 3, Independent 1.
Yesterday (May 7) Labour councillors confirmed Cllr Rick Everitt as leader and Cllr Helen Whitehead as deputy leader.
The Newington and Margate Central representatives, who have led the Labour group at TDC since 2019, were returned unopposed to their roles at the group’s annual general meeting. They will now be put forward by the group to lead the new council at its first meeting on Thursday, May 18th.
Cllr Everitt said: “Results across Kent show that we clearly benefited from the growing impatience for this hopeless Conservative government to be replaced by a new Labour administration under Keir Starmer. Labour is ready for power nationally as well as locally.
“However, we never win easily in Thanet and these results are a tribute to the hard work of the best set of candidates we have had in my experience. MP Craig Mackinlay is on notice from the people of Thanet that he can expect to leave Westminster next year, especially now we have Polly Billington lined up to replace him. The results in the likely new parliamentary constituency of Thanet East were spectacular for Labour.
“In the meantime, we will get to work on delivering real change for residents over the next four years. The council will have clear and stable leadership at last, but we understand that not everyone voted Labour and we will continue to work with other parties where we can.”
Cllr Everitt says the immediate priority will be to get a full briefing from officers and inductions.
One focus will be ‘cleaner streets.’ Cllr Everitt said: “If you ask people what is their number one (priority) and it’s cleaner streets. I do not believe this is an impossibility.”
Due to fewer street cleaners than in previous years the most recent strategy has been to target hotspots, but Cllr Everitt says people pay council tax and are entitled to expect the council to clean streets and deal with fly-tipping.
He said he hopes to introduce a mechanism where people can raise their concerns over litter in their areas, adding: “People pay for a service through their council tax and if they pay for it they should receive it.”
Transparency and accountability are also high on the agenda with Cllr Everitt saying processes, such as those around asset disposal, should be explained to people so they can see why and how decisions are made and how they can have input in that.
He said: “We need to have more of a public face.
“The challenge is to engage with the population as a whole rather than just the noisiest people. So, we are not just talking to them – and they have a right to be heard -it is about getting a real handle on what people think.”
Part of that, Cllr Everitt says, will be making sure councillors are visible in their wards.
Housing and the Local Plan
Housing and the Local Plan will come under scrutiny. Cllr Everitt said: “There is a lot of unrest around the development sites agreed in the previous Local Plan. We have to acknowledge the council was obligated to allocate sites to meet the housing numbers specified.”
Cllr Everitt says central government constraints meant there was an urgency to passing the Local Plan or risk it being taken over by Whitehall.
He added: “It is there and we can’t make unrealistic promises about reversing things. Any changes have to be done through legislation and Thanet council can’t pass legislation. What we can do is look ahead, we understand people do not want more greenfield development but we can’t make promises because we are bound by legislation. There are not enough brownfield sites in the urban area to meet housing targets.
“With the airport, we are out of the decision-making loop. If the airport does not go ahead it will be a different scenario but the decision of the Conservative and Independents group moved 2,500 homes to green sites and that’s where we are.”
Social housing and temporary accommodation
One important focus will be social housing and more temporary accommodation along the lines of the recently completed Foy House in Margate.
Cllr Everitt says it is a pressing need with 80% of his own casework in Newington involving housing issues.
He said: “There is an appalling shortage of housing for social rent in Thanet. It is difficult to build it, not so much financially but because of land availability and restrictions on the council by government but we would look for more innovative ways to build housing.”
Cllr Everitt says currently the council can’t meet urgent housing need in the way councillors and staff would want despite the efforts of a ‘fantastic’ housing team.
He added: “We need to provide more available properties. At the moment people can’t get what they need and everyone is entitled to decent housing.
“We have Foy House and we will be looking to develop more Thanet council in-house temporary accommodation.”
Cllr Everitt says the benefits of this are both financial -as homelessness costs come from the general fund and so are paid for by residents – and also the direct impact of preventing people having their lives disrupted by being moved out of the area.
Environment, Port and Levelling Up
Environment issues will be carried forward, including the pledge for the council to reach net zero targets and efforts to change to electric vehicles when current ones reach end of life.
Southern Water will also remain a focus with Cllr Everitt saying although the authority has no direct control over the company, councillors can still be ‘a strong voice’ raising sewage and service concerns.
The rejuvenation of Ramsgate Port and the £19.8m Levelling Up plans, initially put forward when the council had a Labour-minority lead, will continue.
The Ramsgate Levelling Up proposals include a ‘Green Port’ scheme projected to create 800 jobs, a Green Hub training centre for apprenticeships and training, hospitality and fishing fleet proposals.
There are plans to create a training hotel and restaurant at the Smack Boy’s building at Ramsgate harbour, a brasserie and a fishing facility for the local fleet to store and sell catch from; a new town square on the current pier yard car park, a refurbished clock tower building and two community sites in Newington – which has already been progressed – and Ramsgate with training kitchens and community teaching.
Labour’s Parliamentary hopeful Polly Billington said: “The voters of Thanet have put their trust in Labour locally to run their services for the whole community and do what is possible as a council to help with the cost of living pressures so many residents are facing and the challenges that local businesses are experiencing.
All change at Thanet council
New in the chamber
Jenny Matterface (Beacon Road) Labour (returning after a period out of council)
Joanne Bright (Beacon Road) Labour
Emma Dawson (Birchington South) Conservative – returning after period away from council
John Davis (Cliffsend/Pegwell) Conservative
Barry Manners (Cliftonville East) Conservative
Jack Packman (Dane Valley) Labour
Martin Boyd (Dane Valley) Labour
John Worrow (Garlinge) Thanet Independents– returning to council after a period away
John Dennis (Garlinge) Thanet Independents
Alan Munns (Kingsgate) Independent
Jim Driver (Northwood) Labour
Will Scobie (Northwood) Labour – returning after a period away from council
Debra Owen-Hughes (Northwood) Labour
Katie Pope (Salmestone) Labour
Leo Britcher (Salmestone) Labour
Kevin Pressland (St Peters) Green
Abi-Leigh Barlow (Villages) Conservative
Roopa Farooki (Viking) Labour
Kristian Bright (Viking) Labour
John Nichols (Viking) Conservative
Elyssa D’Abbro (Westbrook) Labour
John Edwards (Westbrook) Labour
David Donaldson (Westgate) Labour
Gone (either by losing the vote or not standing)
Ash Ashbee (Westbrook) former council leader Conservative
Ruth Bailey (Viking) Independent
Bob Bayford (Kingsgate) Conservative
Kerry Boyd (Garlinge) Conservative
Keth Coleman -Cooke (Birchington North) Conservative
Roy Dexter (St Peters) Conservative
Candy Gregory (Salmestone) Independent
David Hart (Villages) Thanet Independents
Mark Hopkinson (Sir Moses Montefiore) Independent
Charlie Leys (Cliftonville East) Conservative
David Parson (Bradstowe) Conservative
Lynda Piper (Northwood) Thanet Independents
Stuart Piper (Northwood) Thanet Independents
Linda Potts (Dane Valley) Thanet Independents
Aram Rawf (Beacon Road) Independent
David Saunders (Viking) Conservative
Mave Saunders (Viking) Conservative
Jason Savage (St Peters) Conservative
Trevor Shonk (Newington) Conservative
Horace Shrubb (Cliftonville East) Conservative
Mick Tomlinson (Westbrook) Conservative
David Wallin (Dane Valley) Independent