UKIPs 2016 Local Manifesto says that the party “believes in putting local people first and putting local communities back in control of what happens in your local area”. It goes on to say “we are giving people and communities what they deserve, more power for local people and local communities and more say in what happens in your street, village, town and city”. And finally “UKIP believes in real local decision making”. As someone who is committed to local democracy and giving people more power and influence over decisions which affect their lives, I can’t fault any of this. In fact its music to my ears.
But here in Thanet, home to the only UKIP controlled council in the UK, the party’s manifesto promises to empower local people are utterly meaningless. In fact here in Thanet our UKIP controlled council is acting against its own manifesto promises by cynically subverting and reducing opportunities for local people to influence and shape important decisions which will affect our lives. And this is why.
On 20th January TDC opened a public consultation on the Thanet Local Plan which runs for 8 weeks until 17 March. On 24th January TDC and KCC opened a joint public consultation on Thanet Parkway Station which runs for just less than 8 weeks until 19th March. These consultations are critically important for everyone in Thanet. They will shape the future of the district for many years to come. I believe that we should be given sufficient time to find out what’s being proposed, think about and discuss the proposals with family and friends and feed back informed comments to TDC and KCC about the plans.
But there’s one heck of a lot of finding out to be done. The two consultations include loads of documents which, added together, come to a massive 1,400 pages! Most people have busy lives with work and family commitments and there’s also the school half-term holidays, when many of us will be looking after kids, cutting across the consultation period. I think it’s totally unreasonable, unfair and undemocratic, to expect your average Thanet resident to have to plough through all this information and make comments in just 8 weeks. Also TDC and KCC should not have been so stupid as to run 2 extremely important consultations at the same time.
To have genuinely given Thanet people “more say in what happens in your street, village and town” and to have put Thanet’s “local communities back in control of what happens in your local area”, I believe that UKIP run Thanet Council should have held these 2 major consultation exercises separately and that each consultation, because of its complex and technical nature, should have been 12 weeks long. And it’s not just me saying that. In January 2016 the Government’s Cabinet Office published consultation guidance which many councils and public bodies across the country follow. Amongst other things the guidance says
· Consultations should last for a proportionate amount of time taking into account the nature and impact of the proposal. Consulting for too long will necessarily delay policy development. Consulting too quickly will not give enough time for consideration and will reduce the quality of responses
· Consultations should take account of the groups being consulted When the consultation spans all or part of a holiday period, consider how this may affect consultation and take appropriate mitigating action.
So not only is UKIP led Thanet Council tearing up its own manifesto commitments to allow more public engagement and involvement, but it is also ignoring consultation best practice set out by the Government. But why?
Well I think the answer is clear. The Local Plan includes some hugely controversial proposals on Manston Airport and proposals for extensive housebuilding, much of it on green field sites. The Thanet Parkway station proposals mean that Cliffsend is almost certain to be absorbed into Ramsgate as many of the surrounding open spaces are sold off to developers anxious to make a quick buck building commuter homes neat to a new high speed link to London.
Parcelling up these 2 controversial consultations into one and pushing them through an extremely short public consultation process is deliberately designed to subvert public scrutiny of the proposals and weaken and undermine legitimate opposition. Not only are UKIP tearing up their own manifesto pledges and not only are they ignoring Government advice, but they are acting in a fundamentally undemocratic way by deliberately denying local people a proper say in shaping the policies which will effect Thanet for a generation.
The blame for this skulduggery rests firmly on the shoulders on Thanet’s UKIP Council Leader, Chris Wells.