No action to be taken after secret meeting

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Thanet District Council’s Standards Committee has today decided that no action will be taken against council leader Chris Wells, after his secret meeting with Ray Mallon.

Mr Wells was photographed having a private lunch with the spokesman for Stone Hill Park Ltd at a pub in Broadstairs on 2nd November 2017.

The authority’s anti-fraud and corruption policy, which prevents council members from being lobbied by interested parties, states:

“…unless an officer is present, no member will meet a third party to discuss….the securing of planning obligations or other community benefits arising out of or in connection with a planning application under consideration by the council.”

A total of 39 individuals made a complaint to the Standards Committee.  The committee recommended that the informal dispute resolution procedure be adopted, with the reason being:

“The Sub Committee considered that (i) there was no or insufficient evidence to substantiate an alleged breach of the Code of Conduct and (ii) the volume of similar complaints suggests that the complaint is politically motivated”

This is despite photographic evidence being provided which showed the pair meeting without an officer present.

It is wrong of the committee to suggest that the sheer number of complaints makes it “politically motivated”.  There is no political motivation, only the expectation that our elected officials follow the rules to which they sign up on taking office.

An anonymous investor

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Local newspapers (and their online editions) have been awash this week with the news of a surprise “new investor” interested in acquiring the Manston Airport site.

It emerged on Wednesday that an unnamed American logistics company had approached Thanet District Council (via a German intermediary) with a £100m plan to act as an indemnity partner for a compulsory purchase of the site.  The news was that this company plans to base 12 planes at Manston.

Of interesting note is that this news was released by Chris Wells (TDC Leader) the day before the Kent County Council elections, for which he was standing in the Cliftonville seat (and which he ultimately lost to the Conservatives).

Electioneering?  Definitely.

Thanet North Parliamentary candidate Sir Roger Gale, stalwart supporter of the campaign to return aviation to Manston Airport said of this new emergence:

“If there is indeed another serious player on the field then I would strongly advise that they make contact with me and, more importantly, that they seek to make common cause with RiverOak Strategic Partnership  as the company that has already carried out the necessary Environmental Impact Assessment and has the Development Consent order process in hand.”

Chris Wells said:

“We have made it very clear from the beginning that providing an inward investor can show proof of funds, then we are duty-bound to work with them in the best interests of our residents”

Avid readers will remember that Chris Wells spent £50,000 of Thanet rate-payers’ cash on the Avia report, which when cross-examined by RSP’s legal team at the recent public inquiry into change of use of buildings at Manston Airport, was found to be deeply flawed.  Despite Cllr Wells’ best attempts, it is no basis to use to permit the building of at least 2,500 houses on Manston Airport (in the removal of the Saved Policy protecting the Airport for aviation use only from the Local Plan).

We wait to see how this one pans out, and what more the local media has to report on it.

RSP Update: Comments by Cllr Wells

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The following is an update from RSP about the comments made by Councillor Chris Wells.

RiverOak Strategic Partners Limited (“RiverOak”) has been engaging with Thanet District Council, in order to pursue a project to revive Manston Airport as a successful and profitable airfreight hub. We believe that the airport will be a huge benefit to the local community, with job creation and increased local industry, as well as complimentary passenger and engineering services.

M.I.O Investments (“M.I.O Investments”) was registered in Belize in October 2016 by RiverOak investors as a specific funding vehicle for the investment in the Manston Airport project. This is standard practice and all required details of the company were submitted to Companies House. RiverOak remains a UK company and will pay UK corporation tax on its UK profits.

Following the establishment of M.I.O Investments, Councillor Chris Wells sent an email containing entirely false and highly defamatory allegations against RiverOak and M.I.O Investments, openly copying in 35 other members of Thanet District Council.

The allegations in the email were such that we were compelled to take legal recourse, both to defend our reputation and to ensure a fair and unbiased consultation and subsequent decision on the future of Manston Airport. The legal remedies we are seeking are: an unqualified withdrawal of the allegations with an apology and an undertaking not to repeat these or similar allegations; a charitable donation; and the payment of our legal costs. We are also seeking confirmation that Councillor Chris Wells will recuse himself from any involvement or decision by Thanet District Council relating to the Manston Airport site.

Councillor Chris Wells was given until 5pm on 11 April 2017 and, subsequently, an extension to 5pm today, 13 April 2017, to respond to our letter, setting out the legal remedies sought. He has not made a substantive response by this deadline.

We are disappointed that Councillor Wells has defamed RiverOak, and that he has so far failed to correct his libellous allegations when he was given the opportunity. In doing so he has complicated and tarnished a consultation process that should be focussed on the important issue at hand; the potential successful reopening and operation of Manston Airport.

RSP threaten legal action

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BBC South East Today yesterday (11th April 2017) revealed that RiverOak Strategic Partners Ltd is threatening Thanet District Council leader Chris Wells with legal action, over potentially libellous comments he made regarding the location of one of their key investors.

A transcript of the report is below.

Rob Smith (Anchor):

Lawyers acting for RiverOak, the company that’s hoping to re-open Manston Airport in East Kent are threatening legal action against the leader of Thanet District Council, Chris Wells.

Juliette Parkin (Anchor):

It follows an email he sent to fellow councillors, claiming that Belize, where one of RiverOak’s key investors is based, is a major money-laundering country, linked to the illegal drugs trade and human trafficking.  Peter Whittlesea has our exclusive story.

Peter Whittlesea (narrating):

It may have closed, but the company RiverOak that plans to reopen Manston Airport is threatening to sue the leader of Thanet District Council following comments he made regarding the company’s financial interests in Central America.  In an email to a local resident and copied to thirty five members of Thanet Council, Chris Wells wrote: “Belize is one of fourteen Caribbean nations named by the US as a ‘major money-laundering country'”, adding, “whose currency transactions involve proceeds from international narcotics trafficking, and Belize is a shipment point for marijuana and cocaine, human trafficking is also a concern.”

Save the airport campaigners say they’re shocked a reputable company, trying to create employment in Thanet, has been written about in this way.

Nicholas Reed (Manston Airport campaigner):

The allegations are something about RiverOak’s, got something to do with some obscure country in South America which is a most extraordinary implication to make about a perfectly respectable organisation which has been trying very hard for several years to get a fair hearing.

Peter Whittlesea (narrating):

RiverOak’s legal team have written to Chris Wells demanding “an unqualified withdrawal of the allegations, and an apology.  Confirmation that you will recuse yourself from the involvement of any decision of Thanet District Council relating to the Manston Airport site.  And payment of a significant sum in damages for the damage caused to RiverOak’s reputation”.

Chris Wells (UKIP Leader, Thanet District Council):

I’m not sure that’s even a relevant statement for anybody to make, so no, no comment at all.

Peter Whittlesea (narrating):

That was Chris Wells’ response today, but when elected as UKIP’s first council leader, he promised to keep Thanet District Council out of the headlines.

Chris Wells (in 2015):

We’ll see whether or not by adopting a very different approach, a very sort of more calm approach in doing things, that we can actually find that Thanet Council becomes less the object of people’s attention, and more the object of admiration because they simply get on with getting the job done.

Peter Whittlesea (narrating):

But critics say when it comes to Manston Airport, that the council has failed to get the job done.

Juliette Parkin (Anchor):

Ok, well er, we can cross live to Peter Whittlesea who’s in Manston for us now.  So Peter, what more have RiverOak had to say today?

Peter Whittlesea (Reporter):

Well RiverOak said they gave Chris Wells a deadline of 5pm this evening to meet their demands or he’d face legal action.  They said that he hasn’t tonight correct his libellous allegations, and, but, he has asked for extra time.  Now the interesting this is what happens next.  If Chris Wells does not defend this, then what his political opponents are saying, he’ll become a lame duck council leader because he won’t be able to make crucial decisions when it comes to Manston Airport.  But if he does defend it, I understand these are claims against him personally, not the council, so the big question is, does he have enough cash to fight a legal, er, er, legal battle against a big company?  Because we all know that legal battles can be expensive.

Juliette Parkin (Anchor):

Okay Peter, thanks very much.