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.

RSP at Parliamentary Briefing

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From RSP:

Louise Ellman MP, Chair of the Transport Select Committee and Geoffrey Clifton-Brown MP, Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group for International Trade and Investment amongst MPs briefed by RiverOak Strategic Partners (RSP) yesterday on their plans for Manston Airport.

Also in attendance at the briefing, which was hosted by Sir Roger Gale MP, was the member for Canterbury and Whitstable – Sir Julian Brazier MP, together with Robert Flello MP – Member of the Transport Select Committee and Sir Gerald Howarth – President of the All Party Parliamentary Group on General Aviation. Also in attendance were Richard Dilks of London First, Heidi Skinner of the Freight Transport Association and Henk van Klaveren of the Airport Operators Association.

George Yerrall, director of RSP said: “Every year the UK economy loses more than £2 billion due to air cargo capacity constraints in the south east airports system. This is set to rise to £3.9 billion by 2050, even with a third runway at Heathrow. Manston can provide the answer and this was a valuable opportunity to brief Ms Ellman, Mr Clifton Brown and the others MPs that attended on why we are confident that, with RSP’s strategy and commitment, and the long term support of our investors, Manston has a promising future as a vibrant hub for international airfreight – one which delivers much needed runway capacity in the south east, boosts economic prosperity and employment across Kent and protects a strategic aviation resource for the nation.”

This article can also be found on the RSP website.

RSP provide evidence to enquiry

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From RSP:

In evidence to the Lothian Shelf planning appeal Chris Cain, a director of Northpoint Aviation and the former Regional Airports Policy Manager for the Department of Transport, has highlighted how the passenger-focused business model, set out in the Avia Solutions report, fails to fully explore the huge potential that Manston presents to stem the £2 Billion lost to the UK economy each year due to cargo capacity constraints in the London airports system – a figure set to rise to £3.9 Billion by 2050, even with an additional runway at Heathrow.

Mr Cain’s evidence sought to illustrate how RSP’s proposals for Manston Airport will depart from the unsuccessful business models of previous owners of the airport, by placing an explicit emphasis on the need for diversified income streams, underpinned by a state-of-the-art cargo operation serving dedicated freighters importing and exporting a range of perishable, high-value and time-critical goods rather than rely principally on passenger services as in the past. Other activities will include aircraft servicing, teardown and recycling facilities, business and general aviation, pilot training and commercial acceptance flights providing a broader and therefore more robust base to drive the airport’s future revenues.

The evidence shows how RSP’s proposals are consistent with York Aviation’s Report for the Freight Transport Association and Transport for London in 2015 and the Department for Transport 2009 prediction of increasing cross-channel displacement of air cargo, bound for the UK, to airports in near Europe.

It also points to the lessons that can be learnt from other benchmark airports, which have already successfully developed the mixed-activity business model of the kind RSP is proposing to implement at Manston. These include Alliance Fort Worth in Texas, Hamilton Airport in Ontario, Bergamo in Italy, Liege in Belgium and Leipzig-Halle in Germany.

Said Mr Cain: “Avia’s report demonstrates a failure to grasp how strategically significant infrastructure assets such as Manston can play an important niche role within a congested system of airports such as those serving London and the South East. RSP’s carefully tailored proposals demonstrate that Manston can be successfully developed as a mixed-use airport, underpinned by a substantive and much-needed cargo operation, that will contribute materially to the local, regional and national economy.”

S53 Documents published by PINS

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The Planning Inspectorate have today made public the s53 documents granting RiverOak access to the Manston Airport site for vital surveys, in order that they can make their full application later this year.

These documents can be found below.

Authorisation Annex 2 Plan Identifying the Land

Authorisation Annex 4 Schedule of Surveys

Section 53 Statement of Reasons

S53 Authorisation

Excuses

Of note are the reasons that Stone Hill Park gave for refusing RiverOak access to the site, which include:

  • Prematurity of the original s.53 application
  • Challenging that entry should not be permitted as RiverOak’s project has not yet been designated a Nationally Significant Infrastructure Project (NSIP)
  • Asking whether RiverOak’s project is of real substance
  • Challenging whether or not RiverOak genuinely require access to the land.

The Secretary of State did not consider that any of these arguments provided grounds to refuse RiverOak access to Manston Airport.

RiverOak continues to be completely transparent in their procedures, as it will do so throughout the Development Consent Order process.

Further details of the DCO can be found on the PINS website.

RiverOak Granted Access to Site

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RiverOak

On Monday 19 December the Planning Inspectorate confirmed to Bircham Dyson Bell, lawyers for RiverOak, that Section 53 authorisation (permission to access the Manston Airport site), has now been granted.

Whilst a considerable amount of environmental analysis has already been completed, access to the site has always been preferable to provide the necessary level of detail for a Development Consent Order application. RiverOak’s environmental consulting team, led by Amec Foster Wheeler, will now make arrangements to visit the site as soon as possible in order to assess the site for the production of the Environmental Statement that will accompany the application.  As much data as possible will also be used for the Preliminary Environmental Information Report.

This report, together with other work already well underway, will be made available during the process of statutory consultation, which will take place as soon as possible in 2017.

SMAa Analysis

Despite SHP’s constant excuses for obstructing the process, the Secretary of State has at last granted RiverOak legal access to Manston Airport through an Order under section 53 of the Planning Act 2008 (an “s53”). SHP or their agents will now be committing an offence if they wilfully obstruct RiverOak’s team in their activities.

Since “some previous s53 authorisations have been the subject of judicial review”, PINS have had to make sure to dot every i and cross every t, hence the length of time taken. This means, amongst other things, that RiverOak have satisfied PINS they have tried every means possible to negotiate access directly with SHP, but without success.  Since PINS have recommended the s53 and the Secretary of State has granted it under these circumstances, we can be confident that the Secretary of State feels the request by RiverOak is “lawful and proportionate”.

It should be noted that the Secretary of State will only authorise entry in relation to a proposed DCO application if it appears to the Secretary of State that RiverOak ‘is considering a distinct project of real substance genuinely requiring entry onto the land’.

Sir Roger’s Opinion

North Thanet’s MP, Sir Roger Gale, has welcomed the confirmation, now formally issued by RiverOak that the Secretary of State has accepted an application, recommended by the Planning Inspectorate, by RiverOak for access to Manston Airport to complete environmental survey work prior to the Company’s submission of a Development Consent Order.

Speaking following the announcement (The SoS decision was made known to interested parties yesterday) Sir Roger has said:

“It is significant that the Planning Inspectorate and the Secretary of State have accepted the arguments put forward by RiverOak and has rejected the arguments put forward by those currently in control of the site and who have consistently sought to deny access.

The Secretary of State has, through this decision, recognised RiverOak as a player in the future of Manston and has also acknowledged the importance and significance of the campaign to retain Manston as an operational airfield.

The decision was, of course, also taken in the knowledge of the existence of the now widely-discredited Avia Solution report upon which Cllr. Wells and his councillors have sought to hang their volte-face upon the future of Manston.

There is still a great deal of work still to be done before a DCO submission is made and that submission, which will contain not only the Environmental Impact Assessment but a full Business Case, will then have to be the subject of a public inquiry, Inspector’s report and ultimately a decision by the Secretary of State for Transport.

Nevertheless, I am comfortable that this administration, as did David Cameron’s, understands the importance of preserving structural assets in the national interest.

It is time, I think, that those at present in control of the site and of Thanet District Council took that on board.”

RiverOak: TDC Not Transparent

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TDC Not Transparent: RiverOak have released a press statement regarding Thanet District Council’s proposed banning of press and the public from an upcoming planning meeting.

A pre-action letter from RiverOak lawyers Bircham Dyson Bell challenging Thanet Council’s recommendation to withhold its report and planned discussion in relation to “Change of Use appeals – Manston Airport” from the press and general public has been rebutted by the council. A copy of the letter by Bircham Dyson Bell can be viewed here.

Planning Committee agenda papers for Wednesday 14 December show a recommendation, on an unknown date and by an unnamed Thanet council officer, to withhold from the public and the press copies of the report or reports relating to item 7 in the committee agenda, identified on the relevant agenda as “change of use appeals – Manston Airport” in relation to the Stone Hill Park planning application (formerly Lothian Shelf (718) Limited). Firmly believing that these matters are of significant public interest and in light of RiverOak’s openly stated intention to submit a Development Consent Order which would see the site returned to operational aviation use, Bircham Dyson Bell wrote to Thanet District Council on Friday 9 December to request that the council releases its report and ensures the item is considered in public.

A response, from Director of Corporate Governance and Monitoring at the council Tim Howes, dismissed RiverOak’s concerns, although did acknowledge that, as a recommendation, the decision to exclude the press and public from Item 7 could be reversed. A copy of the response can be viewed here.

Given the requirement for council papers to be published well in advance of any meeting, RiverOak has encouraged Thanet to postpone the Planning Committee meeting and publish Item 7 papers in full to allow them to be properly scrutinised ahead of their consideration.

George Yerrall of RiverOak said: “We remain concerned at the lack of transparency in Thanet Council’s scrutiny and decision making processes in relation to the Manston Airport site. The future of the Manston Airport site, no matter what your view, is of significant importance to not only Thanet but to the wider Kent region and beyond. The public interest is therefore not being served by the withholding of relevant information and we are not satisfied with reasons for doing so that were provided in the council’s response.

“We note, however, Mr Howes’ comment that the recommendation could be reversed and urge the council to fulfil its proper obligations to its electorate by postponing the meeting, publishing the papers in full and ensuring these discussions are held in public.”

TDC Consistently Ignoring RiverOak

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From RiverOak:

RiverOak has made numerous attempts to contact Thanet Council officers on at least four separate topics relating to RiverOak’s plans for Manston Airport and proposed DCO application. All of which have, to date, gone unanswered.

Importantly, they include an offer made on behalf of RiverOak, in June 2016, to provide a briefing on the proposed airport masterplan to TDC council members – a request which to date has been neither accepted nor rejected by Thanet Council officers.

Various emails sent to the council, by RiverOak planning consultants, relating to the Lothian Shelf planning appeal have also gone unanswered – as has a request for a response to an earlier enquiry about the deadline for comments on the Stone Hill Park planning application and other matters relating to those proposals.

In October 2016 consultants also attempted to contact, on numerous occasions, two separate council officers to try and understand the council’s process and timetable for formally considering the Avia Report and the subsequent local plan process. These emails were met with silence too.

George Yerrall of RiverOak said: “RiverOak has been criticised on many occasions for apparently failing to properly engage with Thanet Council. This could not be further from the truth as our planning consultants have tried and failed to secure even the most basic information from council officers to enable us to participate in the democratic process. It is hard not to get the impression that we’re being deliberately ignored which, if this proved to be the case, would be quite a serious dereliction of duty and due process by Thanet Council.”

Read more on the RiverOak website.

RiverOak lawyers’ warning shot to TDC

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Bircham Dyson Bell, solicitors for RiverOak, have today sent a letter to Madeline Homer, Chief Executive of Thanet Council, highlighting the RiverOak professional team’s concerns both with the methodology and findings of Avia Solutions report and the manner in which it is being considered by the council in connection with the Local Plan process.

George Yerrall of RiverOak said:

“This letter sets out very clearly the collective concerns of our experienced professional consultants, together with those of the RiverOak team, that this report is unsafe to rely on for Local Plan purposes. Not only are there numerous examples of basic, factual errors and questionable methodology, the report’s author also chose to ignore six respected and publicly available air freight studies in reaching their conclusions. Given the importance of Manston to the Local Plan process this letter also highlights a number of ways in which Thanet Council does not appear to be following proper process in respect of either the scrutiny of this report, or the wider assessment of Manston’s future role in the local economy.”

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