TDC listened, and said “No” – will Mr Buchanan get the message?
On the face of it, it looks like a straightforward example of democracy at its best.
A local council is faced with a difficult decision that involves complex technical issues. Quite correctly it takes advice from technical experts – in this case, two separate firms of experts.
The first firm of experts (Bureau Veritas) said that the costs outweighed the benefits. So that’s a “No”.
The second firm of experts (Parsons Brinkerhoff) said that the costs had been understated and that the benefits had been overstated. So that’s very “No”.
The local council then asks the local people who will be affected by the outcome of their decision what they think. Three-quarters of them say “No”.
So the local council says “No”.
As I said, on the face of it, that’s fine. However, there were a few patches of turbulence en route to this fairytale ending.
First of all, the leader of the Blue Squadron, Cllr Bayford, moved an amendment to the motion which was more of a reverse thrust than a touch on the rudder. Red Squadron Leader Hart wanted to vote on:
The Council confirms that Thanet District Council fully supports the day time operation of the airport but further recommend that as a consultee the Council cannot support the introduction of scheduled night time flying operations between 2300 hours and 0700 hours.
Whereas Blue Squadron wanted to vote on:
The Council confirms that Thanet District Council fully supports the airport and recognises that it needs some flexibility in its night time flying policy in order to realise its full potential and deliver the jobs that Thanet so desperately needs.
Can you spot the difference? Cllr David Green thoughtful this amendment so completely changed the meaning of the motion that it should be disallowed. Legal eagle Harvey Patterson disagreed – I do wonder about legal minds sometimes. We then had an hour and a half of debate and discussion, of very mixed quality.
Red Squadron Leader Hart surprised everyone in the room by revealing Charles Buchanan is “a lovely man”. However, this was not going to stop him refusing the request for scheduled night flights.
Blue Squadron Leader Bayford criticised the council’s public consultation exercise, but was happy to treat the airport’s own (unaudited, unverified) consultation as being valid.
Cllr Wise showed his mastery of understatement when he said that Manston “needs more time”. The airport’s future depended on attracting night freight he said. He was “astounded and staggered” that anyone would want to deny the area the benefits of night flights between 11pm and 7am, particularly “for the sake of a few votes in Ramsgate”.
Cllr Harrison pointed out that the economic downturn that had caused the unemployment that so concerned Cllr Wise would also mean that there would be less demand to use the airport, day or night, passenger or freight.
Cllr Fenner was the first of many to point out the disastrous effect night flights would have on the growing tourism industry in Thanet and Ramsgate. (This is a rock-solid argument that should be presented louder, clearer and more often. East Kent tourism already employs tens of thousands of people, and is growing. It’s a diverse sector with a multitude of employers, making it more resilient than a Pfizer-style arrangement where there are so many eggs in a single basket.) She pointed out that a green light for night flights would simply increase the sale price, benefiting only Infratil.
Cllr Ezekiel tried to score points by pinning the blame for the S106 on the Red Squadron, but this backfired when it was pointed out that the Blue Squadron had failed to do anything about the S106 year in, year out. Things went from bad to worse when he managed to corner himself into having to withdraw sweeping statements about Red Squadron’s voting record. A bit of a tizzy ensued, when he called the long-suffering general public in the cheap seats “a rabble“, and accused us of intimidating him with “hissing and sissing”. I was there – nobody hissed. I’m not even sure what “sissing” is, but I expect I would have noticed it. Anyway, Cllr Ezekiel easily won the evening’s prize for over-sensitive petulance, but I understand he has a lot on his mind at the moment so perhaps we should cut him some slack.
Cllr Liz Green pointed out that many of the proposed night flights of freight would be coming from third world countries that themselves had the sense to ban night flights.
Cllr Scobie drew our attention to the rather puzzling fact that the Blue Squadron’s amendment had been tabled by the very same people who had voted for the motion in earlier committees… so why were they now wanting to vote against it?
[I’ll add some more details here later, if I can face the trauma of re-living the dreary horror of it. There were some refeshingly good performances from the Independents, and a quite brilliant shooting-self-in-foot from Cllr Gideon.]
Anyway, the Amendment was voted on, and was voted down. All the Conservatives, plus Cllr Ezekiel, were for; all the rest were against.
The main vote was split into three, and the pattern of voting was identical in each case. Blue vote was the Conservatives plus Cllr Ezekiel, the Red vote was Labour plus all the Independents except Cllr Ezekiel.
- not supporting night flights between 2300 and 0700: Red all for, Blue all abstained.
- agree the draft response as the Council’s official position: Red all for, Blue all against.
- authorise Madeline Homer to write to Manston confirming the above: Red all for, Blue all abstained.
The Conservative party had long ago said that it would be a free vote. It is simply coincidence that they all voted exactly the same way, four times in one evening.
See the Press coverage.
See the political posturing.