Brexit: Manston on my Mind

What started off as a rumour on social media, and led to an underwhelming ‘no deal’ Brexit contingency exercise, has made millions of people around the world aware of Manston Airport through the international media It was suggested on 3rd January that the Department for Transport, in conjunction with Kent County Council, was planning a test of the movement of 100-150 HGVs from Manston Airport down to Dover via the A256.  What actually happened was only a small amount of lorries turning up, an apparently lost key, and a very controlled movement on coned-off roads, with the general public being fully aware of the plan. This “window dressing” as some outlets have called it, however, has put Manston on the minds of many people, thanks to the global press. Of course, the story was first reported in full by our local news website (and now print newspaper) The Isle of Thanet News, run by Kathy Bailes, and subsequently by Kent Live. It was relatively quiet over the weekend, with Sky News being one of the few outlets to report on the planned test. But the situation really blew up when it became apparent that only 89 HGVs had turned up for the exercise. From there, the story was carried by The Guardian, the Daily Mail, and more. The ever-informed i News ran a step-by-step guide to the trial, but lost points by calling it Operation Block.  Transport Network reported a lower figure of just 79 HGVs. City A.M. said that it was expected the test would cause delays, being the first real day back to work and school for many. Kent Live branded the exercise ‘shambolic’.  Reuters said the ‘war game’ had prompted scorn. The New European published MP Charlie Elphicke’s comments that the test “will cause enormous confusion”. RTE had a interview with RHA chief executive Richard Burnett, who said the exercise was “too little, too late” (as did TalkRADIO). The South China Morning Post called it a ‘waste of time’. The Express reported that the HGV drivers were paid £550 to take part. Euronews called the exercise a ‘fake traffic jam’, but carried a short recommendation from campaigner Ruth Bailey. Following this, the story was picked up by the Handy Shipping Guide, BBC News, Eyewitness News, Yahoo News, The Loadstar, Beloit Daily News, The Metro, The Irish Times, the Irish Journal, ITV News, Quartz, the Irish Examiner, The New American and The New York Times. We think there’s a better solution. Riveroak Strategic Partners are attempting to acquire Manston Airport via a development consent order, in order to re-open it as an air freight hub. This is certainly a better use of the site than as a lorry park, or for over 3,700 houses. If you’ve found us today because of the international press, or if you think the same, why not join us?

(This post is not an endorsement of any of the media outlets mentioned or linked, except of course for The Isle of Thanet News.)

What started off as a rumour on social media, and led to an underwhelming ‘no deal’ Brexit contingency exercise, has made millions of people around the world aware of Manston Airport through the international media.

Meeting: Manston’s aviation future

russ timpson

Manston airport campaigners plan to prove that the site has a viable aviation future at a public meeting next month.

Thanet Liberal Democrats have organised the event for February 4 at Margate’s Winter Gardens from 10am until 2pm.

Lib Dem member Russ Timpson says there are various “ambitious activities” that could take place at the former airfield and is keen to discuss the options while the consultation period for Thanet’s draft local plan is running.

The local plan – a blueprint for housing, business and infrastructure up to 2031 – suggests designating Manston airport for mixed use development – ending a caveat for aviation only.

A report to council Cabinet members last month said: “The site has the capacity to deliver at least 2,500 new dwellings, and up to 85,000sqm employment and leisure floorspace.”

An application for mixed use development of the site has been submitted by current owners Stone Hill Park. The proposal includes a business park focused on advanced manufacturing – including digital and emerging energy firms – up to 2,500 new homes, plus national sports and leisure facilities with about one-third of the site reserved for parkland and open space.

American firm RiverOak has alternative plans to retain aviation – including cargo business – and is in the process of submitting a Development Consent Order to the Government.

The homes would be part of 17,140 needed by 2031, although some 1555 dwellings have already been delivered.

Mr Timpson is hoping to persuade the public, and the council, the remove the mixed use plan for the site and concentrate on the aviation possibilities.

He said: “This technical meeting, supported by groups fighting to save the airport, will take place in the Winter Gardens (Queens Hall) Margate, from 10 am till 2 pm on Saturday 4 February 2017. It will be a platform for relevant subject experts to explain how Manston Aviation Hub could generate a viable business and revenue streams for Manston from cargo handling, aircraft recycling, pilot training and private flying, and a spaceport.

“Overall it will amount to a clear statement of the case for accepting that Manston can be a sustainable, viable aviation services hub, bringing employment and innovation to Thanet for many years, and making full use of a valuable existing asset.

The meeting has been organised by Thanet Liberal Democrats – but is in no way a political platform and there will not be any political speeches.”

Anyone who would like to attend can book a free ticket here.

Article taken from Kent Live (

Manston: Case Study in Conflict


Vocal stalwart of the campaign to Save Manston Airport, former politician and BBC Radio Kent presenter Lembit Öpik has had a brilliant article published in Flight Training News.  A transcript can be seen below.

Flying politician Lembit Öpik reviews the on-going dispute over the future of Manston Airport in South East England and outlines the strategic imperative for politicians to protect this vital resource.

It is hard to believe that the Government has been so slow at approving the third runway at Heathrow. Everybody who looks at the situation knows that, with aviation likely to expand at, say, 5% per annum, BOTH Heathrow and Gatwick will need more runway capacity in the foreseeable future. And still that is unlikely to be enough. What then?

Many years ago I used to fly to Manston Airport a lot. It took about 80 minutes in my Mooney M20J from Mid-Wales to Kent – and from a technical point of view it was a very interesting flight to make. The route requires really serious attention to detail, on account of the crowded airspace around London, plus unpredictable weather conditions along England’s east coast.

Manston itself was an awesome destination when viewed on final approach, with close to three kilometres of runway. It’s orientation has everything to do with World War II. Runway 28 was constructed to ensure that damaged, hard-to-manoeuvre bombers returning from sorties over enemy territory could land with a ‘straight-in approach,’ having plenty of space to find a way to land.

To be honest, my first landing at Manston did not take account of the breath-taking length of the runway: I had to sort of ‘take off’ again to speed along the centreline and expedite my exit. I’ve never doubted the aerodrome’s 2,748 metres when it comes to accommodating aircraft of any size.

That was some years ago. Sadly, at present only crows land at Manston. Regular operations are currently suspended, and the 800 acres of its territory lie eerily silent. Yet there is a strenuous campaign to rekindle major commercial operations involving both freight and passenger movements. There is also another campaign -by forces wanting to redeploy the land for housing, or other non-aviation use.

Why would such an important infrastructure resource be facing obliteration? The public discussion has centred on whether building development is a better use for the land than flying. A severe housing shortage exists in the South East. New developments are sold out within hours of coming on the market. Prices reflect this, and to put it right would require the construction of tens of thousands of new homes.

A nice, flat, well-drained airfield is highly attractive to developers. It’s much easier to construct buildings on a site which has already been tamed by decades of careful land management. Conversely, something as economically exotic as an airport carries with it all kinds of complexities and uncertainties, in a way that bricks and mortar don’t. With an airport people may come and fly: with a housing estate people WILL come and buy.

So, it’s time to face a home truth at the very heart of this debate; not just for Manston, but for the UK’s entire aviation infrastructure. An airport cannot be judged simply on the basis of what makes the most money in the least amount of time. If this were the only consideration, economics would lead to a change of use of just about every airport in the land.

Think of the revenues if you turned, say, 3,000 acres of attractively situated land in an urban locality into residential accommodation. At an average of 23 homes per acre, and assuming a typical home value for the area in question, this could generate house sale revenues of around £33 billion. I am , of course, referring to Heathrow Airport. Turning Heathrow into a housing estate would deliver around 12 times more revenue than the airport’s current annual turnover. With the construction of flats, those figures could be tripled – a circumstance in which the Council tax revenue alone matches the annual profit of the Airport.

Every other UK airport which I’ve looked at is even more vulnerable. Newcastle Airport, with an annual revenue of around £60 million, is worth 110 times its annual revenue in housing. That’s right, one hundred and ten times its current annual revenue if it were developed at an average housing density.

If making profit quickly is the key aim, I believe every airport in the UK is more attractive as a property development than as an aerodrome. Hardly surprising, then, that Manston, with its surface area of 800 acres, has developers straining at the leash to start building on it. And let’s be fair: the developers have no moral or financial responsibility to consider the macroeconomic or social implications to the region or the country of converting internationally significant travel hubs into lucrative property initiatives. And why should they? It’s not their job.

So, the inference is remarkably simple. No mainstream politician or businessperson doubts the central role of aviation in connecting large, modern nations with the rest of the world economically, culturally and socially. You only have to look at national planning around the EU and beyond to see that. Thus, in order to keep up in the shrinking global economy, especially in a post-Brexit environment, we’ve got to protect our aeronautical assets against the obvious attractions of a change of use.

Government must step up to its responsibilities here. If it cares about our position on the world stage, then politicians cannot sit back and merely ‘let the market decide’ – because the market will only decide one thing, and it’s not going to be flying. Ministers – and those in the Department for Transport in particular – have a moral responsibility to protect key assets of strategic importance to the long-term health of the economic and social evolution of the country. Manston is one of them.

Let’s test the figures. We can turn to proposals put forward by one group, Riveroak, which wants to re-open Manston for commercial aviation. They plan 500,000 tonnes of cargo and 2 million passengers within two years. Both these targets are many times higher than the previous best performance of the airport. What’s realistic?

The population of Kent is around 1.6 million – a little less than Northern Ireland. Yet between them, the two busiest airports there – Belfast International and Belfast Harbour – handle around 7 million passenger movements a year. At the same time, the City of Derry’s airport, at which only one carrier, Ryanair, operates scheduled services, handles 280,000 passengers – even though Derry’s population amounts to just 90,000. This is one example of many to prove that when you build airport facilities, the public will come. Manston doesn’t even have to be built – it’s already there. And it only has to achieve one quarter of the performance of Northern Ireland to make the Riveroak figures credible.

Even a more modest performance justifies retaining the facility. If 700,000 passengers passed through Manston, this would place it in roughly the middle of the league table of the top 40 UK airports. And to achieve that, it would only need one Airbus A320 to take off and land every two hours between 7am and 9pm. That’s around half the number of movements of Norwich Airport, and one sixth of the flights going in and out of Leeds/Bradford. It will still be operating at a significant level of activity, with potential to massively expand as the inevitable increase in air travel continues.

It’s worth noting that other factors drive Manston’s increasing viability in the longer term. With a credible and fairly simple plan to connect the airport with Central London by rail in a little over an hour, Manston is attractive to part of the Capital’s catchment too – especially on the east side. With two additional Thames crossings scheduled for construction – one centrally near Greenwich and the other to the East – there is even more reason to believe Manston will attract passengers, just as Stansted and Luton do to the north.

These factors are not being properly taken into account. Without a holistic approach, Britain’s entire airport infrastructure is vulnerable to death by property development – a factor which has already claimed or threatened other smaller airports such as Teeside, Kemble and Leicester. Filton in Bristol, where exactly the same development has killed a fine facility, thanks to the perfect storm of a voracious appetite for fast returns in the property sector and a serious housing shortage facing town planners. Little wonder, then, that such peril faces Manston.

Government has to learn from the fastest growing economies in the world. China is currently expanding 60 airports, and opening 40 new ones between now and 2020 – that’s 10 new airports a year. They would consider it unthinkable to close an existing facility. To an extent they’re playing ‘catch up.’ But China has global ambitions, as do many other developing countries. Their investment will necessarily increase flights to the West. If we haven’t got space for them to land, they’ll leave their vapour trails above Britain and land on to the European continent. Whether in French, German or English, business is business.

Others seem to have grasped the need for international connectivity. Across Europe, there are over 230 airport developments, many of them straightforward expansions of existing facilities. I was unable to find any example of a country on the continent which is closing down any large airport facility. Indeed, in a European Commission report entitled ‘An aviation strategy for Europe,’ the entire focus is about ensuring an adequate infrastructure to manage growth. The narrative is about increasing airport capacity, not reducing it.

Tensions have been running high over Manston. MPs and local Councillors have promised to get the airport reopened. UKIP made it a key election pledge in recent local authority elections. In October 2016, senior Conservative Member of Parliament of 33 years’ standing, Sir Roger Gale, said he would retire from Parliament if the airport were not restored to operational status. The site has powerful allies, but the motivations on the other side can be measured in terms of a monumental financial opportunity plus that local housing shortage.

We live in an era when the free market is respected, and almost worshipped. Yet there has to be a time when Government intervenes to protect essential public resources that would otherwise be lost. However tempting it may be to build on flat, large and well-situated land, the reality is that there are other places the houses can go – for example, small additional developments in many locations which add manageable numbers of new residents – and turnover – to lots of village and town economies without creating a concentrated population spike – and traffic problems in one place. With a modicum of creative thinking, it’s a problem which can be solved without losing Manston.

With the airport, Kent and the South East of England can be international and global players. Without it, a vital component in the relationship between the South East, Britain and developing markets is. That’s why it’s time for politicians to step in and to facilitate a plan to make Manston the natural hub for new routes to and from developing markets. It is easy to add convenient passenger routes to connect the South East with feeder routes to regional airports – which removes some of the pressure from Heathrow and Gatwick, and creates many new business opportunities at the same time.

We should also include this obvious and attractive role for Manston as part of the UK’s intentional trade offering. When you look at it like that, it’s little short of scandalous that a private consortium is being left to defend and promote such a significant element in the country’s long-term infrastructure. After all, if China had an international airport less than an hour from the outskirts of its capital, they’d be hard at work investing in the future, guaranteeing it remained open for business.

The effects or abandoning this ready-made international airport would only become fully evident in the longer term. But failing to ensure Manston reopens for passenger and freight operations would represent an act of strategic self-harm for the county, suggesting Government really doesn’t grasp the central contribution of aviation to the UK’s status on the international stage.

The article can be read in full here.

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.

“Heathrow litigation: brace for impact!”

The Law Gazette has today published an interesting brief article on Heathrow and the future litigation to be expected as part of the fall-out.  It specifically mentions Manston Airport and Riveroak, but it is interesting because similar legal processes will be used for Heathrow as are currently being used for Manston.

Article written by Michael Cross.

Ah, nostalgia. On 22 January 1981, New Scientist magazine’s cover feature reported what it claimed was ‘the decisive battle in the 28-year war of attrition that has characterised the history of the London airport system’.

I know, because as a spotty young journalist I supervised the edition being cast in lead type by unionised printing tradesmen.

Later that year, I picked up an IATA paper airline ticket from a high street travel agent, hailed a black cab to Heathrow and flew in a bonegratingly noisy Boeing 707 to the Middle East. On the last leg of the flight I was the only passenger.

Thirty-five years on, both air travel and journalism have changed beyond recognition. But the decisive battle in what is presumably now a 63-year war of attrition over London’s airport system is still being fought. So readers may understand my sense of frustration the other day when Angus Walker of City firm Bircham Dyson Bell, an expert in the 2008 Planning Act under which the new Heathrow runway will supposedly be fast-tracked, outlined to me the scale of legal challenges ahead.

For what it’s worth, I didn’t particularly agree with the government’s Heathrow decision. (I would have gone for Heathrow Hub’s northern runway extension, plus Gatwick’s second runway and the RiverOak scheme for Manston in North Kent.) But at least we have a decision. To sabotage it through the courts would imperil not just the UK’s economic growth and international reputation for competence (such as it is…) but also, I believe, respect for the rule of law.

Whatever the rights and wrongs of the individual cases, judicial process is already held in fairly low esteem following the Iraq human rights furore; a sentiment ripe for exploitation by populist politicians. This can only get worse if the current article 50 challenge to the government’s powers on Brexit succeeds.

The consequences of the courts dragging out an already decades-old debate, which has finally been resolved by national democratic mandate, could be grim. We need to accept that a decision has been made. Certainly, the Heathrow development should be scrutinised minutely for any deviation from the government’s promises on environmental impacts, but to sabotage it from the word go would be an affront to democracy and, dare I say it, the national interest.

Ah, my green friends will say: what about a higher duty, to the global environment? The glib answer is that airliners are getting more quiet and efficient all the time: in 1981, the Boeing 707, even at full load, burned three times as much fuel per passenger kilometre as its modern equivalents. Its noisy turbojet engines would be banned from any commercial airport today. And in the electronic ticketing and online booking age it is unusual to find any spare seats, let alone an empty cabin.

Yes, but aren’t these improved efficiencies outpaced by the growth in demand for air travel, which it would be highly irresponsible to encourage? Perhaps.

But those who favour the kind of command economy that rations air travel and other consumer goods are free to vote for one; a number of political parties have manifestos along these lines. Attempting to implement such a policy through the courts brings the rule of law into disrepute.

This article was taken from the Law Gazette (