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Cllr Ray Field suspended from Labour party after joining Folkestone's mainly-Conservative cabinet

A Labour councillor has been suspended from his party after making the decision to join a mainly-Conservative cabinet.

Cllr Ray Field says he was invited to join Folkestone and Hythe District Council (FHDC) due to his negotiating skills and previous work with the authority.

Cllr Ray Field
Cllr Ray Field

It comes after leader of the council Cllr David Monk (Con) offered leaders of opposition parties a place on his cabinet as part of a new power-sharing arrangement.

Cllr Lesley Whybrow (Green) and Cllr Tim Prater (Lib Dem) accepted positions, while Cllr Connor McConville, leader of Labour, declined.

But Cllr Field's decision to join has now seen him removed from the local group and suspended from the national party.

A spokesman for the Folkestone and Hythe Labour Group confirmed: "The Folkestone and Hythe Labour group have removed Cllr Field from their group.

"This is a result of his suspension from the Labour Party’ over his decision to join the cabinet of Folkestone and Hythe District Council, without the permission of the Labour group or the Labour party at both a local and national level."

Cllr Tim Prater
Cllr Tim Prater

Cllr Field, ward member for Folkestone Harbour, said: "Cllr Monk asked me if I wanted to join due to my negotiation skills and the work I've done with the council.

"I was asked to join on my merit. It is a NSA (no strings attached) arrangement."

Cllr Field said he had discussed the decision with his party. He will now take over the portfolio for digital transformation, previously held by Cllr Ian Meyers (Ukip) who stepped down this month.

He sat on his first cabinet on Wednesday night.

But in another surprise move Cllr Field also defied party policy by voting against an amendment which was put forward in a bid to stop Hythe's divisive Princes Parade scheme being built.

The "crucial" vote was lost by one vote.

Artist's impression of the Princes Parade development set for Hythe
Artist's impression of the Princes Parade development set for Hythe

At full council, also held on Wednesday, Cllr Tim Prater (LibDem) suggested an amendment which called for the £29m designated for the seafront housing development to be removed from the council's General Fund Medium Term Capital Programme.

It also called for the proposed leisure centre to be erected on an alternative site, such as Martello Lakes.

While the removal of the cash from the budget wouldn't have changed the council's plans to build at Princes Parade, it would have "taken away the means to do so".

After a lengthy debate, 15 members voted against the amendment and 14 voted in support, including the council's five other Labour councillors.

Cllr McConville said after the vote: "At the full district council meeting Cllr Field chose to vote with the Conservatives to defeat a crucial amendment seeking to remove nearly £30m from the annual budget for the housing development on Princes Parade.

Land at Princes Parade
Land at Princes Parade

"This amendment was lost by a single vote.

"The five Labour councillors voted unanimously to support the amendment.

"They will continue to follow their current policy and oppose the Princes Parade development at every opportunity."

The Princes Parade development, which was granted planning permission last year, will include 150 new homes, a hotel, shops, green spaces, a children’s play area and a leisure centre with a swimming pool.

It is set to be built along the coastal road next to the Royal Military Canal, a Scheduled Monument.

It has been subject to years of criticism, objections and protests.

Dr Geoff Burrell, Save Princes Parade campaigner
Dr Geoff Burrell, Save Princes Parade campaigner

Those against it claim it is ecologically risky, harmful to wildlife and not financially viable.

Campaign group Save Princes Parade (SPP) have launched Judicial Review (JR) - a process under which executive or legislative actions are subject to review by the judiciary - in a bid to halt the controversial project.

SPP say council officers acted illegally when recommending that the project be approved. It will go to court next month.

On the vote, Cllr Field said: "I can see the arguments on both sides. The amendment came at the last minute; I knew about it the night before.

"I had to weight up both sides and if in doubt we're trained to go with the officer's recommendations.

"I know some people aren't happy with it. But at the time I did what I was trained to do.

"I need to do a lot more investigation into Princes Parade, something I can now do that I'm on the cabinet."

Dr Geoff Burrell, secretary of SPP, added: "Ray Field single handedly managed to let the Princes Parade development through when it could have been stopped in its tracks.

"He voted against Tim Prater's amendment that would have stopped the development for sure and I cannot believe his party would be at all happy about that."

Read more: All the latest news from Hythe

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