The decision of Thanet Council's Labour group to support UKIP and Conservative plans to seek a partner to assist TDC's compulsory purchase (CPO) of the former Manston Airport is an act of unmitigated political stupidity which will have major consequences for the people of Thanet.
First there is the question of cost. Based on the abortive RiverOak debacle, its likely that Council Tax payers will have to foot a bill of somewhere in the region of £100,000 to pay for the work involved in securing a new CPO business partner. Considering the precarious nature of TDCs finances this is money which will have to be taken out of front line service budgets or paid for by further council tax rises next year. And for what? Many commentators, more legally knowledgeable than I, have already said that it is extremely unlikely that a CPO will succeed so why force the public to pay £100,000 for what appears to be a pig in a poke?
But this is just the tip of what could easily become a massive financial iceberg. The airport site has been under new ownership for approaching 3 years. Clearly the owners, like all businesses, want to see a return on their investment. However the seemingly endless efforts of TDC politicians to secure a CPO could be argued to have blighted the development of, and investment in, the former airport site. If the CPO process continues for very much longer then, I would guess, that the owners may quite rightly conclude that they are the victims of a politically motivated abuse of power. This could possibly lead to court action against the Council with the owners seeking compensation for lost income. Bearing in mind the scale of the proposed Stone Hill Park development, compensation could quite easily exceed the £4.2 million already paid out by TDC to the cruel and barbaric live animal exporters or the £3-4million compensation and fines which are expected to be imposed on Thanet Council later this year when it is sued and prosecuted for the “vibration white finger” scandal in which TDC unlawfully failed to protect the health and safety of 20 or so of its staff. I reckon that to wilfully blight, through an abusive use of the CPO process, a development as large as Stone Hill Park could easily cost £10miilion in compensation which would have to be picked up by the council tax payer.
On the basis of finance alone, it was clearly wrong of TDCs Labour councillors to have backed UKIP and the Conservatives in their extremely risky decision to continue with the CPO which is very likely to cost local people a small fortune. Considering the massive overspends and loses incurred when Labour ran Thanet Council such as Live Exports, Dreamland and the TransEuropa Ferries disaster, which undoubtedly cost Labour many council seats, I would have thought its councillors would have become more financially prudent. Clearly I misjudged their capacity to learn from their mistakes, demonstrated by their support for an extremely risk CPO, which might cost residents dearly.
The next issue is jobs and the economy. There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that a successful mixed use development at Manston would create many more jobs than a re-opened airport. It would also attract massive inward investment into Thanet from the organisations which located to, and helped to construct, the site. In an area blighted with rates of unemployment well above the national average; the lowest wage rates in south east England; appallingly poor levels of educational attainment and some of the highest rates of deprivation and poverty in the country, a regeneration project such as that proposed by Stone Hill Park is a once in a generation opportunity which should be eagerly grasped with both hands.
By supporting UKIP and the Tories in their search for a CPO partner, TDCs 5 Labour councillors have turned their backs on the future, supporting instead an action which will frustrate, blight, delay and undermine the massive regenerative potential of a development plan for the airport site which could be a key driver in kick starting Thanet's troubled economy. Furthermore, I can't understand why a party which is allegedly committed to tackling unemployment, poverty and deprivation allows 5 of its councillors to support plans which will undoubtedly make these problems much worse instead of better. I thought the reason why Jeremy Corbyn had been elected Leader was to transform the Labour Party into a rejuvenated socialist force which challenged poverty and deprivation. Clearly TDCs Labour councillors have not been listening to their national leader.
Last but not least the environment. Airport's are renowned as being a major cause of noise and atmospheric pollution. Considerable care, attention and cost is now invested in planning strategic aviation needs so as to protect the environment. As part of the recent strategic review of airport capacity, chaired by Howard Davies, it was concluded that Manston had no significant role to play in the future aviation needs of south east England. So why should Thanet's 5 Labour councillors lend their support to saving an airport which will not only pollute the district, but which has also been adjudged by industry experts as being superfluous to future capacity requirements. This is just plain stupid. But sadly hardly surprising. Under the leadership of Clive Hart and Iris Johnston, Thanet Labour councillors have actively despoiled Thanet's environment; approving plans for 750 houses on farmland at the New Haine Road; supporting the unnecessary and damaging Parkway Station at Cliffsend and their development of a Local Plan which locates 60% of their projected 12,500 new houses (now increased to 15,600) on greenfield sites. Supporting the compulsory purchase of Manston airport is a continuation of Thanet Labour councillors long and appalling record of environmental vandalism, which once again starkly contrasts with Jeremy Corbyn's insistence that Labour focus on promoting the green agenda.
In summary Thanet Council Labour Group Leader, Iris Johnston, and her four Labour councillor colleagues by supporting UKIP and the Conservatives on the Manston CPO have agreed to support a policy which has potentially disastrous financial consequences; a policy which will blight, undermine and delay the economic development of Thanet and a policy which threatens to cause considerable environmental damage to Thanet. What the “gang of five” have achieved is to support a policy which runs contrary to fundamental Labour Party values. An action I would argue brings the Labour Party into disrepute.
So how did the Labour Party get itself into this embarrassing position? Easy pure electoral opportunism. Seeing the growth of what was then a powerful campaign to save Manston Airport, Labour (Like UKIP and the Tory's) cynically jumped on the bandwagon in order to secure votes in the 2015 election. Even I was guilty of being mesmerized by the power of the extremely well organised Save Manston campaign and supported the CPO until I had properly thought the issues through. Thankfully some people in Labour have also, albeit belatedly, been thinking about the Manston issue and the South Thanet Labour Party voted at the end of the 2015 to back a policy supporting a mixed use development on the former airport site.
But even though this policy was agreed in 2015 the South Thanet Labour Party decided not to mention in it in any of its its election literature during the recent Newington by-election. I wonder why? And why despite having a policy supporting a mixed use development at Manston, did councillors Campbell, Matteface, Fenner and Constantine who are all South Thanet Party Labour members, fail to stop Labour Leader Iris Johnston from putting forward a pro-CPO policy at the Council meeting last week, when this was clearly against the wishes of a majority of their South Thanet party colleagues? If I was a member of the South Thanet Labour Party I would be furious and would be demanding that a statement be immediately issued distancing the party from rogue councillor Iris Johnston. I would also be actively campaigning for her removal as TDC Labour Group Leader. I touched on these questions in my previous blog and produced evidence to demonstrate that people in the Labour Party were indeed extremely angry with Johnston for supporting the Manston CPO. I was promptly removed from the No Night Flights Facebook page for raising these serious issues of political accountability without the opportunity to explain my actions and even though the No Night Flights groups is allegedly “non-party political”.
I believe that in typical Labour Party fashion the deep and acrimonious internal divisions about Manston Airport are being covered up and suppressed to create a misleading public impression Labour is united on the airport when clearly it is not. This is why its election leaflets did not mention Manston Airport, this is why Iris Johnston and her “gang of four” supported UKIP and the Tories on the CPO partner. This is why an allegedly non-political facebook, page, which in reality is controlled by prominent Labour Party supporters booted me out without warning and without an opportunity to explain myself for exposing the splits and disagreements within Thanet Labour about the airport.
I thought Labour under Jeremy Corbyn was all about “new politics” which is tolerant of debate a differences. Not in Thanet where Labour remains firmly North Korean in its suppression of dissent and stupidly tribal in its approach to other progressive, anti-austerity political organisations