I blogged at the time that Councillor Johnston’s position, and the position of the Thanet Council Labour Group, was at odds with the members of the South Thanet Labour Party who had voted before Xmas 2015 to support a commercial, residential and leisure development on the airport site. I pointed out that there was a great deal of anger amongst Labour Party members about Councillor Johnston’s support for continuing with the CPO charade and I published some Facebook screenshots of comments made by Labour members (and a non-member) who were less than impressed with Councillor Johnston. I also speculated about whether Councillor Johnston’s political career was going to be brought to a premature end by her colleagues.
Well blow me down less than a week later and a post mysteriously appears on the Thanet Labour Facebook page which says “the Labour Group supports the regeneration plans of the owners (of Manston Airport) as it offers a much needed employment opportunity for our residents ….. such a move eases pressure on our grade 1 agricultural land and protects greenfield sites”. So the lady was for turning after all. In the space of less than a week Iris Johnston and her 4 labour councillor colleagues had executed a 180 degree U-turn on Manston airport. I’m unsure whether Councillor Johnston remains at the helm of the TDC Labour Group, but most sudden changes in direction are usually brought about by a mutiny of the crew!
I know, and have never made a secret of the fact, that I also executed a U-turn on Manston, but that was over 2 years ago. If only the Labour Party, whilst it still had power in its hands, had done the same thing, then there would be no talk today of CPOs and Development Consent Orders to save Manston and the new owners plans for the re-development of the former airport would not be blighted and held back by uncertainty and doubts resulting from the making of poor political choices.
Although I warmly welcome its change of heart, the Labour Party should nevertheless take some responsibility for holding back the urgently needed economic development of Thanet by relentlessly pursuing a wrong-headed policy on the Manston CPO. Some honesty, truth and contrition about this matter wouldn’t go amiss.
But there is lot to be positive about. I personally feel that Labour’s change of position on the airport removes a major obstacle which prevented the Greens and Labour from working together on regeneration and environmental issues in Thanet. I also feel that the removal of certain old-skool figures from the Thanet Labour bureaucracy might also improve relations between left of centre political organisations in the district. I am sure the new intake of Corbynistas know who these people are and will politically dispose of them soon!
In a practical sense this could lead to the Greens and Labour working together to ensure that Stone Hill Park’s plans for the redevelopment of the former Manston Airport site are environmentally friendly and sustainable. Collaboration will be much more influential than ploughing our own furrows. I also think that the Greens and Labour should consider pooling our resources and working together on a response to the Local Plan consultation which takes place this summer. This will be massive task and will not be easy, but the Local Plan is a once in a generation policy making exercise which will determine the shape of Thanet for our children and grandchildren. Surely as people concerned about Thanet’s environment, its economy and social justice and fairness we can’t let an opportunity for collaboration like this pass us by?
More immediately is the question of Thanet Parkway station. Thanet Labour Party in their 2011 election manifesto opposed the station because it was environmentally damaging and totally unnecessary. The Greens share this position. Sadly, under the leadership of Councillor Iris Johnston who was also the Leader of the Council, Thanet Labour councillors reversed their position to one of support, meaning that valuable agricultural land at the back of Cliffsend is going to be concreted over for a 700 space car park and station. The area around the station will quickly become a magnet to housing developers and Cliffsend will soon become absorbed into Ramsgate.
Now that Thanet Council Labour group has reversed its position on Manston Airport, now that their leader has been overruled (and perhaps even removed - I’m not sure and I don’t know) surely it’s time for Thanet Labour to rethink it’s position on Thanet Parkway? As their Facebook statement makes clear they are now publically committed to “easing pressure on our grade 1 agricultural land and protecting greenfield sites”. Surely this means the protection of Cliffsend against the Parkway station. Its time to talk methinks.