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.

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

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.”


Riveroak: Initial response to Avia

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From the Riveroak website:

RiverOak is working on a comprehensive rebuttal of the Avia Solutions report, which it plans to release early next week, highlighting how basic factual errors and questionable methodology, together with a decision to ignore six respected and publicly available air freight studies, has led to a set of conclusions about Manston Airport that are unsafe for Thanet Council to rely on and therefore render the report unusable.

The rebuttal will include:

  • Details of how RiverOak offered Avia consultants open access to the full business plan but couldn’t get agreement that Avia would treat this in confidence.
  • How RiverOak also offered open access to the business plan to Edmund Truell during a meeting earlier this year. RiverOak sent him a non-disclosure agreement for signature as the business plan contains commercially confidential information. He never signed it, nor has Mr. Truell responded to multiple attempts to communicate directly with him by RiverOak.
  • Evidence that RiverOak sent details of six published freight studies to Dr Chris Smith on 11 August. None were used in the report.
  • An absence of any peer review in the report to confirm its accuracy.
  • Evidence of published criticism of the author, Dr Chris Smith, for poor methodology in the production of a previous report, including ‘confusing’ ‘inaccurate’ and ‘misleading’ information, for Luton Borough Council, the owners of Luton Airport.

Why was it necessary for the leader of Thanet Council to effectively commit the council to adoption of the Avia report last week, ahead the proper process taking place and before many of the elected members had even read it? For the Avia Solutions report to be properly adopted as council policy it needs to go through the normal local authority scrutiny procedures, with elected members, in the coming weeks.

RiverOak is confident that, when exposed to this proper and thorough scrutiny, the considerable shortcomings in the report will ultimately inform how much weight the council is able to attribute to it for Local Plan purposes.

Riveroak responds to SHP comments

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From Riveroak website:

RiverOak Investments is disappointed by the inaccurate and misleading comments made yesterday (21 September) by a Stone Hill Park spokesperson on our exciting plans for Manston airport project. We felt we had no option but to respond to their deliberate misinterpretation of our approach to community engagement, which is one of the largest and most comprehensive seen in this part of the country.

We recently held a non-statutory consultation so that we could get feedback from all interested parties to help inform the development of our plans.  Several supporters of our project provided voluntary services during the events allowing us to engage with members of the local community.

We received more than 800 responses, with the vast majority supporting our proposals.   We are, however, taking all the feedback into account as our plans progress and take it all, supportive or otherwise, very seriously.

For the avoidance of any doubt, all consultation responses submitted at the consultation events were passed to Bircham Dyson Bell, who are providing all legal support to the project.   Stone Hill Park’s assertion that not all responses were included in the feedback figures is completely without foundation.

We are aware of one resident who informed Bircham Dyson Bell that a response was submitted following attendance at an informal consultation event.  However, as we have explained to them directly, Bircham Dyson Bell cannot trace this submission.  To ensure this resident’s views are included, we offered to accept a further response from them and treat it as if it was submitted during the consultation period, and we await this.

We believe that is one of strengths of holding a non-statutory consultation first – it allows us to get our process right and be flexible around the needs of the community.

It was always the case that a statutory consultation would follow completion of the bulk of the environmental assessment of the project.   We gave 5 September as the closing date for the non-statutory consultation, not the start of a statutory one.  This followed advice from the Planning Inspectorate at a meeting in April that we should avoid overlap in the timing of the non-statutory, statutory and scoping report consultation activities and so help make it clear to the community what was happening and when.

Our original intention was to hold a formal consultation in autumn 2016. However, repeated requests for our professional team to be allowed onto the site for testing and data gathering have been continually rejected by the current owners, Stone Hill Park.  This meant that we were left with no option but to apply to the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government for compulsory access powers, under section 53 of the Planning Act 2008.  We are waiting a decision on this.

Any suggestion that access isn’t possible due to government contracts or other activities on the site is inaccurate.  This was clearly demonstrated when Avia Solutions, commissioned by Thanet District Council to assess airport viability, were permitted access within a week of their request.

This refusal to allow us onto the site is the sole reason for the delay in holding the statutory consultation.

It is also inaccurate to say that we could and should have undertaken statutory consultation prior to any environmental survey of the site.  The Development Consent Order process for us to gain permission to go ahead with the project requires that Preliminary Environmental Information (PEI), which includes information about the planned mitigation of environmental impacts and which will rely on environmental surveys undertaken on the site, must be made available as part of statutory consultation.   We simply cannot hold the statutory consultation without sufficient information for it to be meaningful.

We have kept the Planning Inspectorate informed of our concerns regarding the delay and the impact it is having on the planned timetable. We publicly communicated the likelihood of a delay to the initial timetable and the reasons for the delay in a statement on our website on 12 July.

RiverOak remains committed to reviving Manston Airport and to preparing a comprehensive set of proposals which we will consult fully on.  We are confident that the statutory consultation will confirm the public support for our proposals. We will then submit a pragmatic, well-evidenced and well-supported DCO application to the Planning Inspectorate for an air cargo hub at Manston Airport. The proposals for the reopening of Manston will serve as a catalyst for economic growth locally and throughout Kent and its hinterland.

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 :


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




Consultation: Overwhelming support for DCO proposals

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From RiverOak website:

90% of local people who took part in the recent informal consultation by RiverOak Investments support proposals for reviving Manston Airport as an airfreight hub with complementary passenger and engineering services. A further 8% of respondents said they opposed the plans and 2% are not yet sure.

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.

Support amongst consultees from Margate and Broadstairs was the highest at 98% and 94% respectively. However, support was also high amongst those from Ramsgate and Herne Bay with 82% and 86% of respondents, respectively, in favour of the proposals.

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.

All of this feedback is being factored into the development of RiverOak’s detailed proposals for Manston which will be published for formal consultation along with preliminary environmental information (PEI). The environmental matters raised, in particular, will be subject to rigorous examination as part of the field work for this.

George Yerrall of RiverOak Investments said: “We are really encouraged to see so much support for the airport and to get a sense of the issues of most importance to local people. Before the statutory consultation exercise starts, we will respond directly to everyone who has taken the time to submit a response and has provided contact details, although all responses will be taken into account.  We will also publish the information we provide to respondents on our website.

“However, we need the preliminary environmental information (PEI) work to be completed before we are able to respond on many of the matters raised. We have applied to the Planning Inspectorate for powers to enter the site for environmental surveying purposes, as the owners have not yet agreed to let us do so voluntarily.

“Given the delays we have experienced in accessing the site it looks increasingly as though this second, statutory consultation will now take place early in the new year, with our full application to PINS likely to follow in the second quarter of 2017.

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