Politics and the potential fall-out for east Kent

Chris Wells, the former leader of Thanet District Council

The question of Manston Airport, whether it would be developed for housing or remain a cargo hub, sealed the fate of Thanet Council’s Local Plan. Chris Wells, the authority’s former leader, offers his view on the situation:

Pope Francis just told us all he is ashamed of the state of the world. It did cross my mind that his comments could have been applicable to a number of Thanet local councillors and their supporting MPs.

Prior to the full council vote on the local plan on January 18, 2018, councillors were all warned of the risk of government intervention.

Those opposed to the draft Local Plan can only get a review in housing numbers from a planning inspector – and 35 councillors were encouraged to hide from the scrutiny of a planning inspector.

For some weeks the decision appeared free of any consequence. North Thanet MP Sir Roger Gale and South Thanet’s Craig Mackinlay assured us of time until the summer recess to fix the problem.

Then, mid-March, Easter not summer, the government acted. Thanet acquired the dubious privilege of being one of only three local authorities nationally singled out for urgent attention.

The Manston Airport site, it said, is not an exceptional circumstance which should delay the Local Plan.

Kent County Council will be canvassed to potentially enact a local plan on our behalf, possibly engaging other east Kent councils in the process.

We already know that the draft Local Plan as put forward on January 18 was considered “sound” by both legal and planning experts, which is why it was recommended full council approve publication for public comment. That is comment the public have been denied because of that vote.

With no plan and no airport site included for housing, the council did the only thing it could do.

It put out the call for new sites, greenfield sites, to consider how it could relocate houses from the airport, a brownfield site, to maintain the airport dream, against all available independent evidence.

This is an airport which it is claimed will operate a cargo hub with 19 times the capacity of what was there before, which promises 10,000 jobs to replace the 147 lost upon closure and could see at least eight flights per night.

This means that:

  • 35 councillors will bear the responsibility for that loss of green space.
  • 35 councillors who stuck their fingers in their ears and sang la la la to avoid hearing the truth.
  • 35 councillors who care little for the impacts on life in Ramsgate and Herne Bay.

Many of those same councillors who led the vote against a sound draft Local Plan will now have to seek compromise position with their own government’s determination to build more houses, all the while hoping that a Development Consent Order (DCO) can be forced through to save their otherwise untenable position.

Do the 35 realise that the DCO published proposals seem to want a higher overnight noise allowance than Heathrow – and as cargo in the main with likely noisier planes?

Dumping on Canterbury and Thanet would appear to be the name of that game. Canterbury City Council has already indicated in its existing consultation responses that it has huge concerns about cargo operations, and reasoned support for passenger services.

Cargo here may be great news for Mrs May’s west London MPs – but is that what national interest should be about?

In Basildon recently, councillors passing their draft Local Plan for public comment, referenced the Thanet approach as the “nuclear option”.

We are now face the fallout – damaging communities, green space, council reputations. This is damage that will only increase as each month passes.

It would be ironic if only a matter of months after failing to agree an east Kent Local Plan as part of the “super council” proposals, it is forced on us all by government, or more ironic, KCC, whose lukewarm attitude to the enlarged East Kent District did so much damage to the concept.

Perhaps this time KCC will feel it is in the driving seat, not that of a back seat passenger.

Chris Wells was the leader of Thanet District Council, the only Ukip-controlled local authority in the country, between May 2015 and February 2018, when he resigned as his group split over the draft Local Plan. The Conservative group, which led the rebellion against the draft local Plan, have assumed minority control of the council.


  1. RiverOak Strategic Partners confirms breadth of Herne Bay consultation
    Published on April 3rd, 2018

    Following a request from Canterbury City Council, RiverOak Strategic Partners has set out the full extent of the publicity outreach campaign in Herne Bay surrounding the January 2018 public consultation exercise.
    Consultation postcards were delivered by hand to over 50,000 properties, including all those in Herne Bay, Ramsgate and surrounding areas, between 6 and 13 January 2018 (Herne Bay deliveries being between 6 and 8 January), in line with commitments made in the Statement of Community Consultation.
    In addition, details about the consultation events were publicised widely on Facebook and Twitter as well as emailed to more than 2,000 people who have registered for updates from RiverOak Strategic Partners. Press releases were published on the RSP website and sent to local media, with articles appearing both in print and online. Adverts also appeared in local newspapers publicising both the Herne Bay and Ramsgate events, as is required by the DCO process.
    More than 300 people attended the subsequent Herne Bay consultation event, on 24 January 2018, and an analysis, which has been provided to Canterbury Council, shows a spread of attendees from neighbourhoods across Herne Bay and surrounding areas, suggesting the consultation was widely known about and that the postcards and other publicity methods used were successful in communicating the details of the consultation events. Over 500 people attended the Ramsgate consultation event the previous day and, in total, over 1,300 responses were received to the consultation.
    Added to the 2,100 responses received to the 2017 statutory consultation and 800 to the 2016 non-statutory consultation means that 4,200 consultation responses have been considered and analysed in developing the DCO application.

    • Utter tosh. The consultation has been an inadequate and offensive farce. No-one under the flight-path in Ramsgate received a personal invite. The only reason anyone turned up was because of word of mouth and social media notifications, RSP’s PR exercise has not been user friendly either in paper communications or at the so-called consultation events. These were as glib as a bad stand at a trade-exhibition. RSP, Gale and MacKinlay are just prolonging the blight on Ramsgate, wasting tax-payers money and contributing to ruining the Ramsgate and East Kent area permanently. It is a dangerous proposal for people’s health and the environment. Birmingham has been referred to in the past as the arsehole of the universe. If this paltry plan goes through East Kent will win Birmingham’s epithet. RSP, you really do not seem to understand how much you are despised. Try making money doing a real job that engages you with humanity.

  2. The claim that 50,000 postcards were delivered is coming under intense scrutiny. The only people in Ramsgate who appear to have seen one of these postcards are members of the pro-airport campaign groups. Hundreds of people have already complained that they weren’t notified about this consultation even though they live in areas which lie directly under the runway approach route. Questions are now being asked as to whether the pro-airport campaign group was entrusted with posting the postcards. Given their conduct at previous consultation events, this would be a dreadful mistake.


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