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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Sir Roger Bangs the Drum for Manston

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The campaign to save Manston Airport rolled into the House of Commons this week following the launch of an all-party group for general aviation.

Thanet North MP Sir Roger Gale renewed his vow to fight to see Manston re-opened and aircraft once again landing and taking off at the historic airfield, describing it as an “act of corporate vandalism” on the same week that Thanet District Council opens its consultation into amendments to its local plan, where it proposes the site will be turned over for mixed-use, rather than just aviation.

A report by consultants Avia Solutions last year concluded that airport operations at Manston were “very unlikely to be financially viable”.

Sir Roger was joined at the launch by television personality Carol Vorderman, who owns and flies her own light aircraft and has previously done so from Manston.

At the meeting, the former Countdown star stressed the importance of the contribution made by the Air Cadets, for whom she is an ambassador, to the training of tomorrow’s young pilots and engineers and of the country’s airfields to the future of jobs and prosperity both now and post-Brexit.

Sir Roger himself paid tribute to the late Ted Girdler, the former Red Arrows pilot and founder of TG Aviation, and for his family’s work in running a flying club and promoting general aviation.

He also called upon the group to press for legislation to protect airfields from changes in planning use, saying that “once these national assets are gone they are lost forever”.

The group has been formed under the chairmanship of the MP Byron Davies to promote the interests of general aviation and to protect further airfields from closure and re-development as “brownfield sites”. Mr Davies said: “General aviation is worth over £3 billion to the UK annually, provides unrivalled training to our pilots and supports a huge industry of enthusiastic aviators.

“Aviation has a long and proud tradition in the UK and supports thousands of jobs in constituencies across the country yet it faces a crisis that must be averted.

“Together with [former party chairman, aviation minister and private pilot] Grant Shapps, we seek to change the current situation by supporting the industry as strongly as possible and to seek to influence government policy.”

From Kent News (http://www.kentnews.co.uk/news/sir_roger_gale_continues_to_bang_drum_for_manston_as_former_countdown_star_carol_vorderman_joins_kent_mp_at_launch_of_parliamentary_group_for_general_aviation_1_4853492)

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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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