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'Open up debate on airport issue'

BUSINESS people and leading councillors hope to avoid a clash next week when they discuss the proposed airport at Cliffe, near Rochester.

The Thames Gateway Kent Partnership, a Rochester-based quango set up by the Government, is hoping to agree a united front on the controversial airport plan.

But they are unlikely to agree a definitive position on the airport proposal when they meet in Gravesend on Monday.

The chief executive of TGKP has rejected claims by local Liberal Democrats that the businessmen wanted to go into secret session.

Marc Hume rejected claims by Medway’s Liberal Democrat leader, Geoff Juby, that the partnership was going into private session as it had already decided to support the proposal.

He is keen to open up the debate on the airport and expects another meeting to take place in late November once all the councils have decided their positions.

But Cllr Juby, who is not a member of TGKP, said: “The partnership is a totally non-elected body which includes a Labour MP (Paul Clark of Gillingham), leaders of Labour and Conservative councils and businessmen with interests in developing vast areas of north Kent. It has total government support, enormous influence - but no responsibility. It’s clear they intend to support the Government views.”

His colleague, Alan Jefferies, said the companies included those responsible for the Holborough Cement Works, Bluewater, the Ebbsfleet developments and Medway Ports.

Rodney Chambers, Medway’s Conservative Leader, promised: “I will speak up for Medway and re-state my personal opposition to the Government’s plans for an international airport in Medway.

Medway’s former representative on the partnership, Labour’s Paul Godwin, said: “I agree it should be held in public. It’s almost suggesting there is a very deep desire to close the public debate.”

Swale council leader Andrew Bowles (Con) said: “Someone will have to explain to me exactly why it is so confidential! There is tremendous public interest.”

Sandy Bruce Lockhart, KCC leader, said: “I can’t see any reason why it should not be in the public domain. All our positions are known’’.

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