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.

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Gale’s View – 29th Mar 2017

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Paul Francis, who writes for this newspaper, is a competent journalist bedevilled by a headline writer with an eye for sensationalism rather than fact!

A couple of weeks ago we were treated to the front page suggestion that ‘Development Plans Kill Off Airport Hope’. Last week we were told that ‘RiverOak has pulled out of Manston’. Neither, as anyone who actually attended the recent Planning Inspectorate hearings in Thanet Council Offices will know, is true.

Thanet’s Draft Local Plan is deeply flawed both in content and in process and will be subjected to rigorous public scrutiny and, I suspect, condemnation when it is considered by a planning inspector. The proposals put forward by Ms Gloag’s Lothian Shelf company are, as was exposed by the planning inquiry, lightweight and lacking in substance.

It is correct that two of RiverOak’s senior main Board Directors, Niall Lawlor and George Yerrall, have left the RiverOak Corporation of America. They have bought out that company’s interests (at a million bucks or so not bad for a company that Mr Wells would like us to believe has no money!) to establish RiverOak UK as a British enterprise with a Head Office in London and to devote their entire energies to the re- opening of Manston Airport. Hardly “pulling out of Manston”!

While this paper’s headline was landing on your doormats, RiverOak was hosting a breakfast briefing at the House of Commons, in the presence of those who intend to finance the acquisition and rebuilding of the airport via a Development Consent Order (DCO), for the Chairman and members of the Transport Select Committee and other MPs. This event detailed in terms the Company’s intentions and the timelines for the process that will lead to literal and economic take- off.

Contrast that approach, if you will, with TDC’s commissioning of a report to get the Council out of the election pledge made by Cllr Wells and the subsequent further ‘study’ allegedly being carried out by The Disruptive Finance company (with whom Craig Mackinlay and I spoke about a year ago) upon which Mr. Wells is now staking his County Council election hopes.

As I told the Planning Inspector recently we shall, post-Brexit, need every inch of airport capacity in the South East if we are to develop new markets in Asia and the Far East and to build the economic success that we seek as a nation. Trying to re- furnish an operational airport would have been a nightmare. With adequate funding, which is now readily available to RiverOak UK, we instead have the exciting prospect of creating, practically from scratch, a brand new, world class, state-of-the-art freight hub and subsequent passenger airport to serve the needs of UK Ltd, and to bring business lost to mainland Europe back to Britain. That surely, is a project that ought to have the full support of Government at every level.

One final comment. I am asked, occasionally, “what’s in it for you?” Apart from the satisfaction of securing the future of a national asset for my Country I have, indeed, made one – and only one- request of RiverOak. I have asked that the first aircraft to land again at Manston, alongside a plane representing Sue Girdler’s TG Aviation (in memory of the founder of the firm, her Father, Ted) shall be a Spitfire. This is a Battle of Britain that we have to win.

RiverOak Strategic Partners Limited is the new UK registered company pursuing the DCO.

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Gale’s View – 8th Feb 2017

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The two meetings held at the weekend, at Margate Winter Gardens on Saturday and at the Manston Sports and Social Club on Sunday, should have sent a very clear message to the Leader of Thanet District Council (who attended for part of Saturday’s meeting), to those at present in control of Manston Airport and to what at present passes for “leadership” at County Hall.  Contrary to the suggestion made recently that Thanet’s second Draft Local Plan, which seeks to zone Manston for housing and industrial use, has “killed off hope” of re-opening Manston as a commercial airfield progress towards the necessary Development Consent Order is moving inexorably forward.

The decision by the Planning Inspectorate to dismiss the feeble objections raised on behalf of Messrs Cartner and Musgrave leading to a Ministerial decision to grant RiverOak access to the site to carry out the necessary Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) denote a recognition that the project to re-open Manston is, as I have consistently said, of National significance.

In tandem with the most thorough EIA ever undertaken in East Kent the company seeking to acquire Manston will, having identified every household with a potentially affected interest in the airfield, not only in Thanet but in Herne Bay, Canterbury, Sandwich, Deal and Dover write to them to seek observations.  There will then be a full round of on-the-record public consultations available to each location culminating in the formal submission of the full environmental and business case for consideration by the Planning Inspectorate.  There will then be a full public inquiry and a recommendation made, following consideration of all the evidence, by the Inspector to the Secretary of State for Transport who will take the final decision whether or not to grant the Development Consent Order.  This process will take time and will cost RiverOak a great deal of the money that Cllr. Wells, the present Leader of TDC, claims that the company does not have.  When national interest is at stake the effort and expenditure are worth it.

Last year air freight traffic grew by nearly seven per cent.  With Brexit and the need to compensate for the loss of European business by developing new markets in Asia and the Far East we are going to need much more freight, as well as passenger, capacity in the South East.  That capacity, without Manston Airport simply will not be available. The facility is going to be vital to service our Country’s immediate and future needs.

For the sake of UK limited, as well as for the prosperity of East Kent, I urge all of those in the area who support this cause to both write in objection to Thanet’s Local Plan proposals for the airport and to respond to a Kent County Council consultation on the proposed Thanet Parkway station from which County Hall has noticeably airbrushed out Manston Airport while concentrating on a ‘Stone Hill Park’ that does not exist on any map known to man.  It is the future of our children and our grandchildren that is at stake.

You can find our own guide and link to the Local Plan consultation process here

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Why did Manston Airport close?

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Nearly three years after Manston Airport closed, campaigners believe its future could be decided within the next twelve months.  This handy guide will help inform you what has happened so far and what we hope will happen next.

Why was Manston Airport closed?

klm cityhopper at manston airport

The airport was bought from previous owners Infratil by Stagecoach tycoon Ann Gloag in November 2013 for £1.  Infratil said it was being sold for a “cash consideration of £1, plus an adjustment for working capital variances and cash injected by Infratil”.  This was expected to be around £350,000 in real terms.

Ms Gloag said: “I am delighted to have purchased Manston Airport from Infratil as I believe there is real potential for growth that has not been fully captured.”

However, in March 2014, a 45-day consultation on the “orderly closure” of Manston Airport was announced.  The airport officially ceased operations on 15th May 2014, with the loss of around 144 jobs.

Both KLM and Newmarket Holidays pulled out of Manston following the news of the planned closure.

It was reported that the airport was “losing £10,000 a day”.

What happened next?

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RiverOak tried to purchase the site, with an offer of the full asking price made on the day of its closure.  This was later discovered to be £7m.  The same day, former Eastenders actor Cliff Parisi was involved in an emergency landing at Manston.  He stated that had the airport not been open, he would have “ended up in the drink”.

The Save Manston Airport association was formed in its first guise, in order to protest the closure.

A petition with about 7,700 signatures was handed to Thanet District Council (TDC) in June 2016.  It asked the council to compulsorily purchase (CPO) the airport and return it to aviation use.  The TDC administration of the time held full support for the airport’s return.

An additional petition was handed in to 10 Downing Street in July 2014 with at least 26,000 signatures.

The TDC administration changed, and two attempts were made to find indemnity partners for a potential CPO on the site.  RiverOak responded on both occasions, but were not successful.  There were also other interested parties who submitted valid applications.

What about housing?

Plans for housing on the site were mooted ever since the 45-day consultation started, with a representative from Quinn Estates stating in local media that the site would be best used for houses.  Quinn Estates stated in a document that they had secured one third of the site for housing.  This was later found to be untrue.

The airport was “sold” in September 2014 to developers who stated that they were “not airport people”.  They renamed the shelf company Stone Hill Park Ltd (SHP) and set to work planning a “mixed-use development” which included a large portion of housing.

A planning application for change of use of buildings was submitted in 2015, which was rejected by the Council, as the airport was protected for aviation use in the draft Local Plan.  This has gone to appeal and is due to be heard in a public inquiry in 2017.  TDC backed down on their rejection of the application, meaning that RiverOak are the only party fighting against the application.

An outline planning application was also submitted for the overall “mixed-use development”, which is being considered by TDC.

What about RiverOak?

riveroak in westminster

RiverOak are the only company that have stuck with Manston Airport throughout.  Their attempts to purchase the site and their co-operation with TDC shows that they are dedicated to the airport and genuinely feel that aviation there can be profitable.

They are now going through the process of applying for a Development Consent Order (DCO).  This is like a CPO, but taken out of the control of the local authority and undertaken instead by the Planning Inspectorate.  It is used for large projects, with examples including London Paramount and the Thames Tideway Tunnel.  They are normally backed with funding from private companies.

RiverOak have held a number of non-statutory consultation events to gauge local opinion, but before they can make their full application, they will complete statutory consultation events in affected areas (and further afield).  They have also now been granted access to Manston Airport through statute, meaning they can access the site to conduct surveys and testing as part of the Environmental Impact Assessment.

What happens next?

Thanet District Council’s new draft People Plan will go to the public for consultation in January, and their proposal is to remove the protection for aviation at Manston from the Plan, as well as recommending a development of at least 2,500 houses on the site.

We urge you, wherever you live, to engage in this consultation, and state that you do not agree with the proposed Local Plan.  State that Manston Airport must remain protected for aviation use only.  State that you disagree with any proposals for housing or mixed-use development of the Manston Airport site.

Details of how to engage will be shared soon – watch this site.

Thankfully, SHP’s proposal for the site to be used as a lorry park during Operation Stack has protected the site from any development until at least December 2017.  Statute requires them to return the airport to its original state, which includes removing the painted parking spaces on the runway.  Unfortunately, SHP have been paid at least £3.5m of taxpayers’ money to do this.

When could aviation return to Manston?

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As campaigners, we are under no illusions – we know it will take time.  The biggest deciding factor is how long the Development Consent Order will take.

In addition, RiverOak will need to purchase a lot of expensive equipment, including runway lighting, RADAR and SMR systems and vehicles, most of which were auctioned off by Peaker Pattison in 2014.  Whilst this means that Manston Airport would be better equipped, these items take time to procure and install.

If you’re planning on flying from Manston yourself, you may have to wait a little longer.  RiverOak’s plans for Manston are based around a cargo freight hub initially.  But they have said they will expand into general aviation and passenger services on the back of successful freight operations.

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SMAa Writes to TDC Chief Exec

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SMAa writes again – the following letter was sent by Dr. Beau Webber to Madeline Homer, all TDC Councillors and the Isle of Thanet Gazette:

Madeline Homer
Chief Executive,
Thanet District Council.

Dear Madeline Homer,
In your letter dated 2nd November 2016, addressed to Mr. A Walker, of Bircham Dyson Bell, LLP, you write :

“RiverOak chose to provide only limited information to AviaSolutions when they were contacted by them during the preparation of their report. This is described at paragraph 3.5 in the report …”

This section 3.5 in the AviaSolutions Report is 16 lines long, of which you quote 8 lines.

However that is NOT where the bulk of the information that was provided by RiverOak and their team to AviaSolutions is quoted, this is given in Section 9 / Appendix A of the report, where there is a 63 line summary. For some reason much of this provided information, which is far from limited, including the figure of intended investment, of £300 million, fails to make it into the body of the report, or into your letter. However this information is stated clearly in appendix A, and we feel that this additional information, including this intended level of investment, should have been brought to the attention of the TDC Councillors. We trust that you will correct this omission.

On another matter, near the end of your letter, you write “I can also confirm that the Local Plan Working Group is not a decision making body either, so your concerns over the Group deciding to make any changes to the draft Local Plan are ill-founded.” In that case, can you please tell us by whom, and when, was the text prepared, that forms the draft Local Plan to be discussed at the Overview and Scrutiny Panel, on Monday 21st November 2016.

We note that there is minimal mention of the ongoing Development Consent Order (DCO) process in this draft Local Plan. Given the fact that this is a 6 stage progress, which began on 5th January 2016, and is now part-way through the first and longest stage, and in view of the fact that TDC is a Statutory Consultee of RiverOak’s DCO, surely this omission should be corrected ?

Dr. Beau Webber
Chairman, Save Manston Airport association
committee@savemanstonairport.org.uk
2016-11-19

The section of the Avia report where they speak to RiverOak can be found here.

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Sir Roger’s View

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“At a meeting in Beltinge Village Hall convened by the Herne Bay Town Crier last week the lead item was the future of Manston Airport. While in local authority terms this is the responsibility of Thanet District Council it has, of course, very specific implications for the Bay as well as for the United Kingdom.

I have received, as have local District and County Councillors, Councillor, the first response of RiverOak, the American-based company seeking to acquire the airport and to re-open it, to a recently commissioned report and the Local Plan process. It makes interesting reading and it kicks the bottom out of the pretence that the commissioning of the report on the viability of Manston was anything other but an expensive and cynical exercise designed to pave the way for Cllr. Wells’ ambition to abandon his election pledge to see Manston re-opened as a fully-fledged airport and, with the support of the Leader of Kent County Council but not of a majority of his Members, to pave the way for a revised local plan re-designating the airfield for overspill housing for Londoners – which is what inevitably a housing estate would become – and for industrial use for which there is no demand and already an excess of land.

Writing to the Chief Executive of Thanet Council those acting for RiverOak say:

“We are concerned that the Council may be about to take significant decisions about the future of the airport in a clandestine manner and on the basis of a report that is not robust, has not been tested or consulted upon and is indeed inaccurate, inadequate and misleading”

An initial assessment of the Avia solutions report indicates, for example, that their estimate of cargo demand is “in direct conflict with the conclusions of at least six respected studies showing considerable unmet and future demand for dedicated air freight” and that there is “no demand for air cargo to or from new destinations for 34 years”. It also makes the assumption that “Manston will reopen in the same configuration as before” when in fact the authors of the report were fully aware that RiverOak intends to invest in the region of £150 million to increase aircraft handling capacity.

I have said publicly many times that the UK is losing cargo business now on a multi-million pounds a week basis, to mainland European airports and with Brexit and the need to develop markets further afield in Asia and the Far East there will be further demand still for dedicated air freight. That business will go either to Frankfurt, Schiphol and Charles de Gaulle airports or it will come to Manston. There is no alternative. Even with the announced development of Heathrow, which I welcome, there will be no wheels on new runway tarmac in the South east for at least fifteen years and by that time demand will have grown still further.

What is as worrying as the lack of understanding reflected in the Avia report, however, is the still greater lack of transparency and democratic process within the Leadership of Thanet District Council. As RiverOak has indicated publicly there was a private briefing for Councillors about the report on 17th October and which Avia presented their “conclusions” to Members. Neither the agenda for nor the minutes of that meeting have been published. “The evidence of pre-determination by the Council and its individual members and lack of regard for proper due process” is indeed of great concern. It is also a process to which no self-respecting professional Council Officer should be party and may well end up either with the Local Government Ombudsman or Judicial review.

Local authorities – District and County – are fully aware that RiverOak is in conversation with the Planning Inspectorate and that that company intends to apply, in the National interest, for a Development Consent Order for the re-opening of Manston as a freight hub and subsequently passenger airport. That process is currently being delayed by those at present in control of the site and who are denying to the company the access necessary to complete the final stages of their Environmental Survey – a survey which, ironically, would also have to be carried out before the airfield could be granted planning consent for any alternative use.

As part of the DCO process there has to be not only a study into the environmental aspects of the airport which, as RiverOak’s spokesman explained to the Beltinge meeting, will include a house-by-house study of noise and air pollution and flightpaths, but also of proposed flying hours and a comprehensive business plan, all of which will be open to public scrutiny and investigation before the inspector makes a recommendation to the Secretary of State. The Company that the Leaders of Kent and Thanet have tried to suggest has no resources is already committing many millions of pounds to the process of acquisition prior to the investing of eye-watering sums to transform Manston Airport into the facility that the United Kingdom so desperately needs. Responsible, reputable and visionary local authorities truly serving the public interest would get behind such a project rather than seeking, for whatever parochial interest, to frustrate it.”

Sir Roger Gale MP

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SMAa Website Revamp

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The Save Manston Airport association website has undergone a revamp.

All the documentation and features of the previous site remain, we’ve just started to make it more user friendly and tech savvy.

Your comments and suggestions are always gratefully received.

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SMAa Analysis: RiverOak pre-Consultation Results

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Save Manston Airport association Analysis

RiverOak release the results of their pre-Consultation with Thanet and Kent about Manston Airport.

RiverOak are working with the National Planners to prepare a Development Consent Order (DCO), so as to present a plan to raise Manston Airport to be an airport of national stature.

In July RiverOak held a (non-statutory) pre-consultation exercise with the people of Thanet and Kent to find their views about re-opening Manston Airport and developing it to be a Nationally Significant airport.

As well as holding six roadshow events, across Thanet and East Kent (Broadstairs, Margate, Herne Bay, Canterbury, Sandwich and Ramsgate), to enable local people to learn more about their preliminary proposals, RiverOak distributed, and their lawyers collected and analysed  booklets with questionnaires. “More than 800 responses were received by Bircham Dyson Bell, lawyers for RiverOak Investments, following the informal consultation events held in July. Of these, 332 were handed in during the six consultation events, 268 were emailed and a further 222 hard copies were posted.”

With a closing date of 5th September, all these documents have now been analysed by RiverOak’s DCO lawyers Bircham Dyson Bell, and a summary released on their web-site :

http://www.riveroakinvestments.co.uk/consultation-feedback-shows-overwhelming-support-manston-airport-dco-proposals/

Kent and Thanet want Manston Airport back open

The most significant conclusion is that 90% of respondents approve of RiverOaks proposals, and want Manston Airport to re-open for aviation use.

Now this is completely in line with previous polls, district elections, local plan responses and TDC Council votes, that have been collated by Save Manston Airport association, where the figures have ranged from over 80% to over 90% in favour of Manston Airport reopening :

Evidence of mass support” – Letter to the Editor, Isle of Thanet Gazette, Friday May 20th, 2016.

http://www.savemanstonairport.org.uk/wordpress/documentation/ : ▼ Polling & Membership

However the number of respondents in this RiverOak pre-Consultation and the directness of these questions asked makes this pre-Consultation a far more definitive exercise.

Specific requests by the people of Kent and Thanet

The really important point of the exercise, however, was to go to the people of Kent and Thanet, so as to find out what they actually wanted with regard to Manston Airport, rather than just present them with a take-it or leave-it plan at the Autumn statutory DCO Consultation. A number of important conclusion are noted in this report, many on subjects raised by SMAa and their members, including :

  • Preservation and location of Manston RAF, Spitfire &Hurricane Museums.
  • Placement and orientation of new hangars so as to preserve views from RAF Manston and Spitfire & Hurricane Museums to the runway.
  • Discussions regarding number, orientation and timings of flights.
  • Importance and number of new jobs for local people as a result of Manston Airport opening.
  • Impact of Manston Airport on education, training, and apprenticeships.

RiverOak say :  “High on the wish list for Manston were the inclusion of passenger services, a flying school, viewing area and a requirement for employment at the airport to be drawn from the local community. Of concern, quite naturally, are environmental issues such as night flights (although only amongst 9% of respondents), noise (8%) and air pollution and the flight path, both raised by 2% of respondents.”

Main Conclusion

It is fascinating to hear the true voice of the people of Kent and Thanet, to hear what they really do want for Manston Airport. SMAa asked: are they asking for many thousands of new houses in addition to those required for Thanet by the Government? No, overwhelmingly they are asking for a working airport of national stature, with high grade jobs.

Dr. Beau Webber (Chairman)
Save Manston Airport association

committee@savemanstonairport.org.uk

www.savemanstonairport.org.uk/

www.facebook.com/groups/savemanstonairportassociation/

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