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?
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?
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 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?
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.