Edmund Truell steps up interest in Manston

From Kent News:

Bosses behind the Stone Hill Park project at Manston airport insist it remains not for sale as a former aide to Boris Johnson stepped up his interest in resuming aviation operations at the site.

In a rollercoaster week in which owners Chris Musgrave and Trevor Cartner also agreed the sale of its other major venture in Kent, the Discovery Park business estate in Sandwich, to focus full attention on their plans to develop housing and leisure facilities at Manston, Edmund Truell, a pensions and investment adviser to the former London mayor, has signalled his intent to take aviation plans forward.

Mr Truell was behind an expression of interest made to Thanet District Council earlier this year to become an indemnity partner to launch a compulsory purchase order of the site.

His investment party, backed by sovereign wealth, was reportedly going to approach the owners and negotiate an offer, with the intention of investing as much as £150m.

In an email to a number of big players in the Manston saga, seen by Kent News, Mr Truell said: “I and my infrastructure investment team believe that there is a real case for the restoration of airport operations at Manston.

“This is predicated on the assurances we have had from Kent County Council and Thanet that a fast rail link can be established as well as encouragement from the owners that they would at least consider an airport rather than a mass housing project.

“Recently, I have had significant interest from far eastern airlines in operating into Manston for long haul flights coming in to the UK in the early morning.

“I would like it put on the record that we are very interested in investing in the new facilities acquired to create a proper long haul destination.

“We will also ensure that we acquire the interest of the current owners at a fair price and have indeed made several proposals to them.”

American investment firm RiverOak has been the driving force behind attempts to get planes flying again in east Kent, and are preparing to launch a development consent order for the site.

Sir Roger Gale recently vowed to retire as MP for Thanet North if RiverOak’s plans did not stand up to scrutiny, after questions were raised following the publication of council-commissioned report by consultants Avia Solutions, which concluded airport operations at Manston were “very unlikely to be financially viable in the longer term and almost certainly not possible in the period to 2031”.

Mr Truell’s comments were celebrated by the Save Manston Association, whose chairman Dr Beau Webber said: “This makes it very clear that Manston can have an aviation future, in spite of any opinions in the Avia report, who we believe failed to talk with Edi Truell.

“Given the fact that there is a development consent order process underway, SMA believe that the only way this proposal can gain traction is for Edi Truell to join the RiverOak DCO process to turn Manston Airport into what is known as a nationally significant infrastructure project.

“However this proceeds, it is very important proof, with two very rich groups interested in running aviation at Manston, for the purposes of the Thanet council local plan process, that to close off aviation options too soon for Manston could be a significant mistake.”

Sir Roger said it “kicked the bottom out of the Avia Solutions report”.

He added: “What is clear is that there are those in addition to RiverOak, at present the only players who have stuck with the airport project, who believe in contradiction to the [Council leader Chris] Wells and Avia line, that the airport is viable.”

Cllr Wells, who has come under fire for allegedly reneging on a pre-election promise to re-open Manston as an airport, told Kent News: “As the person who dealt with Edi Truell following his withdrawal from soft market testing, I welcome his continued interest and involvement but note that he first has to establish an agreement with the owners of the site and that it’s clear from his comments that he would seem to have no interest in working with RiverOak.”

However, despite the claims by Mr Truell, Stone Hill Park spokesperson Ray Mallon told us the owners had received no offer to buy the site, nor do they have any intention of selling in the future, and played down talk of a “mass housing project”, insisting the plans are for a maximum of 2,500 homes.

He said: “Mr Truell is a speculator and representatives of Stone Hill Park met with him this year out of courtesy, as we have done with various other speculators.

“We informed Mr Truell of the extensive work that has been carried out analysing possible futures for this site and the clear conclusion from past history, independent studies and industry experts alike that an airport is not viable.

“Mr Truell did invite Stone Hill Park to become partners with him in developing an airport.

“Stone Hill Park rejected this because the site is not viable as an airport and anyone who invested in such a scheme – whether it was their own cash or other people’s pensions – would lose their money.

“If Mr Truell really believes an airport is viable he should have produced the evidence during either of the two CPO procedures or for the recent Avia report.

“The fact that he did not suggests his speculation would not bear up to public scrutiny.”

Speaking to the Supporters of Manston Airport campaign group, which has long been in contact with Mr Truell, he responded to Mr Mallon’s comments, saying: “As for being a ‘speculator’ I am better known as a long term pension investor.

“In my role as adviser on Pensions and Investments and as chairman of the Strategic Investment Advisory Board, I was asked to investigate the acquisition of Manston Airport and the co-ordination of investment to develop the airfield into a commercial venture.

“This I have patiently attempted in a non partisan manner, until it became clear that the present owners are determined to turn it into a housing estate and have no intention of reopening it as an airport.

“Within our group, we have fostered the Annuity Infrastructure Club and the team there have made some $68 billion of infrastructure investments, including 14 airports across the world.

“Not exactly ‘speculation’”.

This article can be read in full on the Kent News website.