Twelve rebel UKIP councillors were among the 35 that voted against publishing Thanet’s Draft Local Plan this evening (January 18) – and it is believed the group will demand council and group leader Chris Wells steps down.
Thanet’s Draft Local Plan is a blueprint for housing, business and infrastructure up until 2031. The plan sets out how much development is needed to support the future population and economy. Transport, employment and infrastructure -such as roads, schools and GP surgeries – are also examined in the plan.
Consultation was carried out last year on revisions to the plan, including axing the aviation-use only designation at Manston airport which was shut down in 2014
But the change of status for Manston was the sticking point for members of the administration’s own party as well as for the Conservatives and three Independents.
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.
Speaking at the start of the debate council Chief Executive Madeline Homer warned of the “consequences” of voting against taking the next step with the Local Plan, including a potential loss of ability to stop development on the isle – including the airport site – Judicial Review and the risk of central government now stepping in to take over the plan process.
Council leader Chris Wells urged members to “hold your heads high, pin your shoulders back and vote yes to retain local control.”
But Conservative group leader Bob Bayford had already announced that the Tory group could not, despite the amendment, support voting in favour of the plan, adding: “We feel that every effort should be made to facilitate a return of aviation.”
Labour’s Peter Campbell and Michelle Fenner spoke in favour of the plan, with Cllr Fenner calling a vote to reject it “foolish and reckless.”
The result of the vote was 35 to reject and 20 in favour. One councillor was absent from the meeting.
Thanet Labour group leader Jenny Matterface said: “Residents need to be aware that by voting down the plan going out for comments we will now have faceless bureaucrats deciding what happens in Thanet and we have no say in what happens.
“The airport supporters could end up with thousands of houses there as the site is large enough for huge numbers of properties.”
But Tory councillor Mick Tomlinson said that it was “the right choice” and aviation must be retained for the airport site.
Twelve UKIP, 20 Conservative and 3 Independents voted to reject. Among these were UKIP Cabinet member for housing Rev Stuart Piper (pictured), Ramsgate mayor Trevor Shonk (UKIP) and former UKIP Cabinet member Suzanne Brimm (now Independent).
Another unbelievable @ThanetCouncil fiasco. I’m currently not allowed in to the Special Council meeting to decide #Thanet’s future #Localplan as it is ‘full up’ according to door staff. @Kent_Online @ThanetGazette @IsleThanetNews
— Craig Mackinlay MP (@cmackinlay) January 18, 2018
The result brought cheers from a packed public gallery. Many residents were unable to get into the meeting. Among them was South Thanet MP Craig Mackinlay who was turned away, being told the Chamber was full.
Thanet council had said there was no evidence to support retaining the aviation-only designation at Manston airport and so earmarked the land as a site for 2,500 homes.
A mixed use plan has been submitted to Thanet council by Stone Hill Park, which owns the Manston site. The plan is for up to 4,000 new homes over 20 years; a new hi-tech manufacturing business park; a new country park and a state-of-the-art sports and leisure village.
But campaigners and RiverOak Strategic Partners, which aims to reopen the airport site in a £300m project to create an air freight hub with passenger services and business aviation, and demanded the aviation only designation be kept in place. RSP is currently carrying out consultation and plans to lodge a Development Consent Order with the government which would allow a CPO of the land.
What happens next?
The plan’s housing target is 17,140 new isle homes by 2031.
Some 1,555 homes have already been constructed; another 3,017 have been given planning permission; 2,700 are accounted for through windfall housing –sites that have historically had planning approval and may be put forward again – and 540 are already empty homes.
This leaves 9,300 properties to be accommodated.
The overall figure for the isle could possibly now rise to more than 20,200 homes following a threat of government intervention issued in November by Secretary of State Sajid Javid, from the Department for Communities and Local Government. He said the failure of Thanet and 14 other authorities to meet deadlines to put a local plan in place meant the government may serve notice of its intention to intervene.
This could result in the higher housing target due to government proposals to standardise the way local authorities work out housing need.
The voting down of the plan means it will most likely not now make a deadline of submission to Planning Inspectorate by March 31.
The rebellion of so many UKIP councillors also leaves the position of leader Chris Wells in question. Rebel UKIP councillors are now understood to be calling a meeting where it is thought they will tell Cllr Wells to resign his position or they will all quit the party to become Independents.
Cllr Wells said a vote against would allow the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government to intervene, with Thanet’s “failure to follow legal advice showing (we) have not learnt the lessons of the past.”