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Ukip's Chris Wells quits as leader of Thanet District Council

By Paul Francis

The Ukip leader of Thanet council, Chris Wells, has quit his role.

Cllr Wells, who came to power in 2015 as the leader of the country's only Ukip-run council, announced his resignation today.

He said: "It has been a rare privilege to lead this council through some difficult times, facing declining budgets and increasing demand for services.

Cllr Chris Wells has quit as TDC leader

"My resignation recognises a simple fact of political life, that an administration needs to win votes to get policy through, and an administration supported by 13 or so of 56 councillors would be a highly unstable proposition.

"The uncertainty that would create damages the smooth running of the council, something so many have worked so hard to maintain in challenging times."

Cllr Wells had faced pressure to quit since the Ukip group split recently over a controversial decision to rule out the former Manston site for some kind of aviation use.

Instead, the council wanted the site to be earmarked for 2,500 homes but that was rejected in a vote.

A statement issued by the council today said: “Thanet District Council Leader, Cllr Chris Wells and Cllr Bob Bayford (Leader of the Conservative group), met on Friday 9 February 2018 to discuss the changed group arrangements within the Council Chamber.

"Cllr Bayford indicated as Leader of the largest group he would move to form a fresh administration.

"Cllr Wells agreed to step aside to minimise disruption and maintain stability at the council by ensuring a vote for a new Leader without the disruption of a vote of no confidence.”

Chris Wells has stepped down as leader of Thanet District Council

Cllr Bayford said: "This is an appropriate way to recognise the changed council groupings and a sensible way forward following the fault lines that emerged across the Chamber during the Local Plan vote of 18 January 2018."

Thanet North MP Sir Roger Gale welcomed the news, saying Mr Wells’ resignation was the right thing for him to do as he had gone back on his word to fight to re-open the former Manston airport site.

He said: “He broke his election pledge and if we now have an administration that is more supportive, it will make life a little easier. Hopefully, we can get back to where we were two years ago.”

“There will have to be some form of coalition and whatever that is a Conservative-led one or not, it is going to face problems.”

On the issue of the Local Plan - which was rejected by councillors over the designation of the Manston site for housing rather than for aviation - he said: “There is now a breathing space that I hope will be used to bring forward a Local Plan which accepts and honours the original pledge to restore Manston for aviation.”

Cllr Wells' resignation takes effect as of Wednesday, February 28. An extraordinary council meeting will take place the following day to elect a new leader.

Deputy leader, Cllr Lin Fairbrass, will be acting leader for the period between the resignation taking effect and the results of the leadership election.

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