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.
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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.