A key manifesto objective of the country’s only Ukip-controlled council hangs in the balance in a row over money and councillors’ liabilities.
Ukip took control of Thanet DC in May partly on the back of a pledge to compulsorily purchase and reopen Manston airport.
The party overturned a decision by the previous Labour adminstration to end talks with the council’s investment partner for the project, American finance firm RiverOak, due to a lack of sufficient financial information.
The council cannot buy the airport without an investment partner to pay for Manston’s refurbishment and operation.
After months of talks it issued RiverOak with an ultimatum to demonstrate that it has the necessary resources to give Thanet the confidence to purchase Manston.
But Thanet said last week, in what it described as a ‘final request’, that RiverOak had failed to supply vital information it had promised for early July.
Leader Chris Wells (Ukip) said: “We have to be absolutely certain that the financial evidence is in place. I look forward to receiving the information as promised to provide the assurances we need in order to progress.”
RiverOak said in a statement it had “taken steps to reassure unfounded concerns that there may be personal, financial or legal risk to Thanet District Council officers or councillors in relation to the choice of…partner”.
It published legal advice from James Maurici QC, which said: “Given that the council itself is very unlikely to suffer any losses at all, on that basis it is difficult to see what liability there might be on the part of councillors themselves.”
Mr Maurici said councillors remained trustees of the public funds they control. “Were they to act in breach of trust they may be liable to their authority. But assuming that councillors act on legal advice – the cost of which it will be indemnified in respect of – I simply cannot see there is any realistic prospect of a breach of trust.”
The airport closed last year and was later sold to developers who plan to build a business park, although it is currently being used as a reserve lorry park for traffic stranded on the M20 due to disruption at Calais in France.