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Ukip has lost control of Thanet council after former leader Chris Wells quit

By Paul Francis

Ukip has relinquished control of Thanet council - the only authority the party has ever run.

The Conservatives have taken over the administration of the council following a special meeting tonight to elect a new leader.

That is Cllr Bob Bayford, who led the council prior to the 2015 election.

Cllr Bob Bayford
Cllr Bob Bayford

He will now appoint his top team and will face scrutiny over how the new administration handles the issue of the fate of Manston airport site.

He told tonight's meeting: "There are going to be a lot of challenges but we are up for it."

He said the party would be setting out a full programme of policies within the coming weeks.

However, the former leader Chris Wells fired a departing broadside at Manston supporters in a statement: "I wish my successor the best of luck. He will need it. He, like me, will have to face the baying of the shrinking gallery of diehard airport supporters"

Ukip's grip on the council has ebbed and flowed since it triumphed in the election of 2015, when it won 33 seats, seeing a flurry of defections and an almost permanent row over Manston.

The tipping point came a fortnight ago when 12 members out of 24 formed a semi-independent group, breaking away in protest at what they claimed was the failure of the leader to keep a pledge to re-open Manston.

Leader Chris Wells faced pressure to quit and eventually stood down, saying that with just 13 members, it was not viable to run the council.

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

This week, that 12-strong breakaway group detached themselves completely from Ukip in a move that indicated they could be willing to form a coalition with the Conservatives.

However, the Conservatives have sought to avoid a formal collaboration.

The trigger for tonight's takeover came when councillors rejected the authority’s Local Plan in a long-running dispute over the former Manston Airport site.

The plan had designated the site for housing rather than for some aviation use, leading to accusations that UKIP had reneged on its key election pledge to reopen Manston as an airport.

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