Gales View - Future of Manston - 11th February 2015
The question is “where do we now go with the future of Manston Airport”? Where, indeed!
Most of those with a keen interest in the matter will have watched the evidence given to the Transport Select Committee last week and will have formed their own opinions about who has been telling the truth and who has been, shall we say, not a little disingenuous. The matter has also been widely reported in the press and on radio and on television. I propose, therefore, to spare you a re-run of any of that.
Next, there are immediately two processes running together. First, the RiverOak files and Thanet District Council`s papers are with the Department of Transport and I would like to think that since 17th January, when the TDC papers were finally delivered to the Department, Civil Servants have been busy burning the midnight oil and analysing them. It seems to me that the DfT ought to be in a position to say, in the immediate future, either that Thanet was right to be cautious about the CPO because RiverOak need to provide still more information or, as I suspect, that TDC`s officers have been over-zealous and that there is no reason not to proceed with the CPO process on a back-to-back deal underwritten by RiverOak and with costs deposited in the bank in advance.
Second, there is the Transport Select Committee which, having taken evidence from a number of people already, will now need to interrogate the Transport Minister and to establish his personal view of policy relating to Regional Airports before then writing their report and publishing it, hopefully before Parliament is dissolved for the General Election. I naturally hope that my proposal that structures and facilities of potential national importance and significance, like Manston, should be “listed” will be given serious consideration but I cannot, of course, guarantee that it will be adopted.
Looking to the future there are other issues that need to be addressed. While the process of “decommissioning” is remorselessly pursued on behalf of those who really do own Manston Airport there is the small matter of the Draft Local Plan to be considered, together with the archaeological and geological impact that any re-development of the Airport might have.
At present Manston is zoned as an airport. I, in tandem with others who wish to see aircraft flying again from Manston, am resistant to any change of description in a new Local Plan to re-designate the Airfield as an “opportunity” site. That is an issue that, if the Compulsory Purchase Order is not progressed by the current or a future administration of Thanet District Council, will have to be fought through the public inquiry that will following the publication of the final local plan and, if necessary, up to and including a Secretary of State for Local Government who will have to approve that same plan.
The simplest, easiest, most cost-effective and job-creating solution to Manston would, of course, be to recognise both the strength of public opinion locally and to see the national interest in Manston operating as an airfield and to let those who believe that they can make a go of it try to do so. Those who currently really do own the airfield may have deep pockets but their reputations, together with the reputations of those politicians and others seeking to promote a housing and industrial estate, are at a low ebb from which, both locally and nationally, it will be hard to recover.
Before more of the facts emerge – as they undoubtedly will – it might be a good idea for those involved, even at this very late stage, to get around the table as they should have done months ago, honour undertakings that were given and work out how to get Manston Airport open again and operating at a profit. After all, we learned from the Select Committee hearing that the £7 million that was “paid” for the airport has yet to be handed over. That, curiously, is exactly the same sum that RiverOak offered, albeit before the airport was vandalised. Are we seriously saying that a deal cannot be struck?