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Thanet District Council: Conservatives look to form minority administration

By Paul Francis

A bid by the Conservatives to take control of Thanet council in coalition with a breakaway group of disaffected Ukip councillors appears to be off.

Instead, the Conservatives are to look to try and form a minority administration next week.

The future political control of the council is in the balance after the resignation of Ukip leader Chris Wells this week.

Cllr Bob Bayford
Cllr Bob Bayford

That has led to an emergency meeting next week to decide who should take the reins.

A breakaway group of 12 Ukip councillors had offered to team up with the Conservatives - who have 21 councillors - to take over the running of the council in a coalition.

But the issue of Manston and its possible future for aviation has proved a stumbling block.

The breakaway Ukip group had made it a condition of any agreement with the Conservatives that the council should re-open a “soft marketing” exercise to see if there was any interest among other companies in forcing a Compulsory Purchase Order for Manston.

That condition was not accepted by the 21-strong Conservative group led by Bob Bayford. It believes it is unnecessary while there is a bid for a Development Consent Order by the company RiverOak Strategic Partners.

Cllr Bayford confirmed talks had taken place with the independent group but the differences over Manston meant an agreement was unlikely.

Chris Wells has quit as leader of TDC
Chris Wells has quit as leader of TDC

“We had differences over the way forward and our aim is to try and form a minority administration,” he said.

Meanwhile, separate talks aimed at brokering a reconciliation between Ukip councillors on Thanet council have ended in deadlock.

The party split over a vote to reject the council’s Local Plan because it failed to incorporate Manston as a site for aviation use. Instead, it has been designated for a huge housing development.

But it has emerged there had already been an attempt to bring the two factions back together so the party could continue to run the council.

A Ukip mediator sent to Thanet by the national party to try to broker a reunification failed to come up with a consensus between the two groups - chiefly over whether Cllr Wells should continue to have a role in the cabinet if they sought to regain control.

Rev Stuart Piper, who speaks for the independent group, said the potential role played by Cllr Wells in a new administration was a deal breaker.

“It was unacceptable for us. Nobody wants a messy transition and we will look to make a smooth transition as possible.”

In theory, the Ukip group could still run the council if it reunited but that seems unlikely to happen.

And it could also take up the role as the official opposition as it still has the second largest group of councillors.

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