Less than four months after Thanet Council became the first local authority to come under UKIP control, a split has opened over the Party’s promise to keep Manston Airport open.
Four UKIP councillors have expressed no confidence in their leader, former Tory Chris Wells, over his handling of the Party’s promise to pursue a compulsory purchase order (CPO) for the airport. An American company, RiverOak, says it wants to run the site as an airport, mainly through freight traffic, and has said it will indemnify the council’s expenses in the CPO. The company says it has already set aside £1.5 million for this.
The council’s UKIP leaders are being understandably cautious, in contrast to their bold pre-election claims. The airport has a history of failure and council knows that pursuing a CPO is likely to be a long and costly procedure. Even in the unlikely event of the council winning in the courts, there is no guarantee that RiverOak will be any more successful in running the business than other owners, in which case the airport’s future would look more uncertain than it does now.
But the cautious approach of the council leader has angered the dissident four who have been vociferously supported by members of the Save Manston campaign. Needless to say, Thanet’s two Tory MPs had added their voices to the argument, urging the UKIP council to press ahead with the CPO despite the obvious pitfalls.
The airport closed more than a year ago and the new owners, who have pledged to fight a CPO, have presented plans for the 800-acre site involving industrial and commercial development, housing, and leisure facilities, including an artificial surfing lake, similar to ones near Bristol and in North Wales.
Thanet Green Party has drawn up its own ideas for the site which include a leisure park with trees, ponds, bio-halls, and an amphitheatre. Our approach is to try to engage positively with the owners to ensure that this huge site is used principally in the interests of the people of Thanet and in keeping with the principles of the Green Party.by