THANET COUNCIL

CHRIS WELLS: THE POINT OF UKIP

Thanet is the only council in Britain under UKIP control. Here council leader Chris Wells explains the party’s purpose by launching a blistering attack on previous Conservative and Labour Party administrations. After the meeting Labour’s Iris Johnston accused Wells of distorting the truth about her, while Tory leader Bob Bayford pointed out that Wells was until recently a senior member of the Conservative council he attacked in his speech.

During the election of last year UKIP made much of promising to reopen Manston Airport. But now they seem happy to see it closed. Chris Wells hasn’t ruled out running for leader of UKIP.

 

When Bobby & Chrissie met Jackie

 Councillors Bobby & Chrissy…

jackie walker subtle

….And Jackie

A debate called “Why My Party is Great”  was held recently before students of  St George’s School in Thanet with three people representing the major parties in the local council.  Momentum Thanet’s JACKIE WALKER, representing Labour, describes her encounter with UKIP’s Chris Well (leader of Thanet District Council) and Tory Bob Bayford ( leader of the opposition in TDC).

We each have three minutes for statements and then questions.

The suitably suited and booted Bayford begins, picking through a sheaf of notes, mumbling general election quotes about how we achieve a fair and prosperous society.

He sees no irony in this.

I explain to students a few economic facts about Thanet, of the 43% of children in Newington living in poverty and ask how austerity – cutting money from schools, street cleaning and housing so we can pay back the country’s debts – could help an area with the highest unemployment figures in the county?

And what are we doing paying back all debt when no one else is, I ask, when not even the US, the richest country in the world, or Germany the most powerful country in Europe is doing the same.

Austerity is also the reason that our local Conservative MPs voted to take £30 a week from the income of disabled people.

I tell students at the present time that the LP is the only political party opposed to austerity.

Well’s hearty rendition of what a splendid country Britain is, and how we don’t need Johnny Foreigner interfering with our splendid-ness, is obviously a well-used ploy to raise a cheer from audiences old enough to feel nostalgic for some imagined past.

Today it falls flat.

The questions from the students are, as you might expect – the EU, Manston, education, the future for Thanet and migration.

Wells agrees with me that the airport has become a political football and implies it might never reopen.

On rubbish – Well’s comfort zone – he waxes lyrical on sacking operatives and suing punters , raising smiles from many students.

A disparaging gesture about the lifestyle of the mostly white, working class Cliftonville voters who elected him makes Wells feel even more relaxed with his performance and he eases his considerable frame into his chair, UKIP’s resounding success in changing Thanet for the better flooding his political neurons.

Game over!  The debate, he can see, is easily won, until I say, “Hold on!” to the students.

“This is why you need to find the truth before you believe what some politicians tell you. These initiatives on dog poo (and rubbish of course) were started by Labour!”

It’s Poogate! The smile on Well’s face freezes.

As for the state of Thanet and the future, well, despite the poverty and the austerity yet to come, Wells and Bayford think things are mostly pretty ok in good old Thanetland, so by time we get to migration the gloves are off.

Wells has already blamed the EU for pretty much everything (except I have to admit, poo on the streets) but adds that the reason we have so many (ahem!) immigrants in Thanet (statistics are apparently meaningless to UKIP) is the low cost of housing!

Trick answer again, I say, telling the kids of the below average number of people born outside the UK in Thanet (8.59%) as compared to richer areas like Canterbury (10.2%) and the much richer London (39%).

Perhaps we need more immigrants then?

Interesting thing about these kids, even though they are at a secondary modern school, they can add up.

Asked what we would do to change education for the better, Wells and Bayford talk tests and standards and by then, I’d really had enough of their nonsense, pointing to the almost unprecedented crisis in teacher vacancies, the undermining of the teaching profession and, worse of all in Kent, the grammar school system.

When they’re asked students, to the obvious surprise of Bayford and Wells, overwhelmingly condemn the failed (for the majority) grammar school system that the Tories are now expanding in Kent by a legal back door.

The debate ends and the time comes for the vote.

I expect the worse. I’d been warned – Thanet kids tend to be reactionary.

It’s a show of hands: eight hands for Tories, maybe 10 for UKIP and the balance of over 200 were enthusiastically Labour!

My mouth falls open….

And then comes the clanger of the day – the “Can I say one more thing?” from Bayford moment.

The teacher nods.

“When I was 16, I was a socialist too,” he pleads, “but I grew out of it.”

The hall falls silent.

This confirms my fears. Not only is our council run by people with only the faintest grasp of facts, they are stupid too.

“Do you know how condescending that is, Cllr Bayford,” I ask, the full amplification resounding through the hall, “not just to the students but to me?”

He blushes.

The mumbling which so appropriately started Bayford’s contribution to the debate seems an apt way for him to finish and for him and Wells to leave as students queue to find out more about Momentum and Labour politics from me.

 

 

 

WHY THANET WILL ONLY TAKE EIGHT SYRIAN FAMILIES

 CHRIS WELLS

Thanet council leader Chris Wells

 Over four and a half million Syrians are refugees from war in their country. Half of them are children. Last year Thanet District Council, at the time controlled by UKIP, said they would accept EIGHT refugee families. This is the lowest figure among Kent’s district councils.  

In the following interview, conducted in December 2015, Emily D M Robinson asked Thanet  councils leader, UKIP’s Chris Wells, about the background to the council’s decision. The following is the interview in full.

How do you feel issues of immigration have been dealt with by past councils? 

WELLS: Councils have relatively little power over what happens with immigration. One of the difficulties we have is being part of the big powerful south east and having a relatively low level of housing demand, and one of only a couple of areas that offer cheap rented accommodation.

Whenever there is a wave of immigration coming into the south east of England, we seem to catch the brunt of it. Whether the immigration comes in from Africa, from Afghanistan or wherever, we seem to catch a big wave in Cliftonville. Particularly in that bit of Cliftonville where 90%, which I believe is the highest in the country, of the housing is privately rented, and is where these guys come and flock, whether illegally or legally. That gives us as a council an issue to manage. It’s very difficult to manage that issue when you’re not in control of the people who come in.

With that in mind, have you been able to make any changes that you’ve really wanted to introduce or have you met a lot of road blocks in that regard?

WELLS: The biggest change we’re probably making is a continuation of a previously successful policy. Four and a half years ago we designated part of Cliftonville, as a council, as a selective licensing area, where we took greater controls over landlords and how they operate. The law allows you to run that for five years. We’ve lost a couple of years off of the front of that five years because of a judicial review from the local landlords, so we’ve only had it for three years.

We have seen success in limiting anti-social behaviour, limiting the amount of people who may be tucked into flats and crammed into areas and overcrowding. We’ve got an award winning group called the Margate Task Force multi-agency who operate through that area frequently, trying to control what’s happening in those areas.

We will, in the spring, be putting forward to Kent council an option to renew that and run it for another five years, in order to readdress those issues and make sure those areas come up to what we would expect.

Is there any difference in future plans in terms of how you deal with Syrian refugees coming in compared to economic migrants?  

WELLS: I suppose the difference in one sense is that because of the nature of the controls that go with having Syrian refugees and coming from government by negotiation is you have a degree more control over that than you have over the wide scale immigrant impacts that come from people who come in simply because they can do so under EU legislation.

What we have been able to do, perhaps for the first time in a long time, is measure what we think we want to offer sensibly and weigh that in accordance to what the government is willing to fund, and accept a number that felt reasonable under our current circumstances.

We are one of the most deprived parts of the south east and we are still one of the areas that has more problems and issues with immigration than many others. Even though the headline figures are less than what one might expect. At least we feel to a degree we have a control over the numbers that come in, and have an idea of what services they may need and whether we will be able to offer and meet them.

The issue that we usually have is that groups of people turn up and we find out weeks later that they’re here when they start putting in requests for services or things that are needed by them. So at least we were able to plan for this particular group.

Did you find negotiating that number an easy process?

WELLS: Basically an appeal went out across the whole of the south east for councils to put in bids, if you like, for the numbers they thought they could cope with and they could actually deal with. I think the largest I’m aware of in Kent is Ashford who said they would take 50 families over the five years concerned. The others said they would take 10, 12 or whatever.

We decided to look at eight families and the reason for that is very simple. It is because the other issue we have here is that we do have rather more unaccompanied asylum seekers who come in on their own and they are fostered in large numbers in this area because fostering is a big employment for this area. So in a sense we’ve already take our fair share of asylum seekers.

We decided that actually we should be in the lower end of the numbers for the Syrian families on account of the numbers of those unaccompanied refugees.

Which parts of Thanet are going to see a bigger impact from the crisis? Are you aware of where the families are going to be going. For instance, are they going to be going together in the same town or are they going to be spread out throughout Thanet?

WELLS: Funnily enough we are going to a conference on Monday in London which is about the experience that some areas who have already taken these refugee families have had. And, if I understand correctly, some have grouped them together, some have spread them apart and I understand there’s an argument for both particular positions.

There are a couple of very simple things that I think we have decided and that would be important to us. The first is that they will not be going to Cliftonville West which is where we have the rest of the refugee and immigration problem. It’s the poorest part of the three towns so we really know they shouldn’t go in there.

Our instinct at the moment is probably to spread them around the area but if we hear on Monday that the experience of the other areas having groups makes them more self-supporting, more independent and less dependent on other services then obviously we will look at that as well.

What we have said is that we are not going to use any of our existing social housing, so no Thanet resident will be disadvantaged by the incoming groups from outside. In doing that we are probably going to have to rent or maybe buy specifically in order to house these families accordingly.

There’s pros and cons of both. I’m sure if we rent from the private sector, again we’re back into that whole issue of whether it’s a good idea to put more government money into them, and if we buy specifically I’m sure we’ll be told that’s really unfair, we don’t do it for local residents. But if we do buy of course that means we will have more social housing stock in due course when these families move on.

Lots of pros and cons on how you weigh it up and deal with it but very clear that whatever we do will not disadvantage those on the current housing waiting list.

Have you seen a difference in the public’s willingness to take refugees since the Paris attacks?

WELLS: I personally haven’t noticed any particular difference. One of the things that actually occurred during this whole thing as it hit the news and headlines, is that people were ringing up and saying “I’ve got a spare room, I can offer accommodation for somebody here.”

Having talked to the government about the sort of vulnerable families that are coming, these are probably gonna be victims of torture who have had extreme trauma in their lives, it’s probably not the best way for them to be accommodated. It would be better for them to be accommodated as a self supporting family somewhere.

So we did see a huge willingness to offer spare rooms and offer support to individual incoming Syrian refugees. But none have arrived here yet and I hadn’t noticed any drop off in that from the Paris bombings. People still seem to be interested. We’ll just have to have a look and see what it is the government offer in our direction in the end before we decide how we will form their accommodation.

The average household family in the UK usually consists of two adults and two or three children; however in other parts of the world the average household family can be much larger, so do you have any idea how big these families are going to be?

At this stage no we don’t. I think the first families are likely to arrive in Ashford before Christmas which will give us an idea of the size and number that we’re actually talking about. I have to say as a father of 12 children I think it would be pretty ironic if I was knocking larger families.

But certainly you’re right in this sense that if you have eight families of four and they need services that’s one thing, but eight families of 10, that puts a different impact on the services they may use. We will have to monitor that and see what comes through the system. If they are coming from refugee camps I would be surprised if they were hugely extended families.

Final question, do you have a rough date as to when we can expect families to start arriving?

At this point [December 2015], some time in 2016. As I said, the very early ones are coming in soon to Ashford and some arrived in Northern Ireland just yesterday. They’re expected to come in increasing numbers through 2016. One of the nice things about being in the second or third wave of this is that we can look at other people’s experience and anything that’s gone wrong for them, and make sure we get it right.

GETTING A TREE PRESERVATION ORDER

TREE OAK

So what do you do to save a tree you don’t want someone cutting down?

You get a TPO – a tree preservation order – put on it.

But how do you do that?

You get onto the council’s planning department . You can write to the Planning Department, Thanet District Council, PO Box 9, Cecil Street, Margate, Kent, CT9 1XZ and/or email them on planning.services@thanet.gov.uk . Or, if you prefer, ring 01843 577150.

Tell them where the tree is and why you think it shouldn’t be cut down.

Good reasons to save it include…

how good it looks

how important it is to the landscape, your view

how it stops you just looking at boring old buildings,

how important it is for the wildlife – the birds, insects etc.

Other phrases that may help, depending on where the tree is…

“It is a significant neighbourhood amenity.”

“Cutting it down will only create pressure to remove more trees.”

“It’s important piece of green space.”

“It’s a stepping stone… linking together the few remaining havens for wildlife.”

“It ‘s in an open landscaped areas.”

Tell them, too, any reasons you have for thinking the tree might be under threat.

Typical reasons are…

you believe the person who owns the land wants to get rid of it to build something there,

or – on a smaller scale – the landowner doesn’t don’t want it shedding leaves on their path or spreading its roots about their garden and so on.

The council will check that the tree is “healthy and stable”.

Watch out for this as they will often justify cutting a tree down by saying it’s “diseased”. It may or – may not be – diseased enough to cut it down.

So, if you’re really serious about saving this tree, get hold of a tree expert to give you an independent opinion and pass this onto the council.

Finally, ask the council when they’re likely to make their decision about the TPO and then chase and chase them up.

If you don’t make headway with the planning department, contact your councillor in Thanet District Council and ask her/him to do something about it.

HOW TO BRIBE THE COUNCIL

TW25 FRONT COVER

Thanet Watch magazine has published what it claims to be a guide to bribing the local council.

The guide, billed as being written by a “council insider”, offers an extraordinary “dos and don’ts” of using money to get planning permission or other decisions in your favour.

It says that the practice of giving council officers or members “brown envelopes” filled with money is a thing of the past.

Instead, according to the guide, people who try to influence councillors go in for selling them varioys luxury goods at greatly reduced prices, or finding ways for them to go on holidays to exotic places.

Thanet Watch editor Norman Thomas says that it’s not surprising that the guide should be published in Thanet.

“Our area has a long history of corruption and improper conduct in public office,” he said, “with two leaders of the council having gone to jail – one for actually forging money – and over the years many inquiries by the police and other bodies into allegations of corruption.”

Mr Thomas added: “And these are only for things which have to the light of day. Local people suspect that much more has been going on which hasn’t – yet – been exposed.”

Mr Thomas said that he hopes in publishing the guide the magazine will hasten the day when what he calls “deep rooted habits of corruption” will be rooted out in the area.

The guide is published in the latest issue of THANET WATCH magazine which is in newsagents and shops across Thanet now.

For more information, contact Thanet Watch on 01843 604253, 07989 070843 or inmeds@yahoo.co.uk