When trying to tell where the council are going with their plans to try and buy the closed Manston Airport site to turn it into an air cargo hub and aircraft scrapping facility, there are no straight answers and for people like me who are Thanet council tax and business rates payers, it is a case of trying to read the signals that come from the main protagonists.
At the moment the situation is that the airport site has been bought by the people who own the largest local employer, Discovery Park at Sandwich http://www.discovery-park.co.uk they have plans to turn the site into a mixed light industrial and housing complex.
So what the council are proposing is to use money provided by an American property hedge fund management company RiverOak http://www.riveroakic.com/ to fund a compulsory purchase of the Manston Airport site to turn it into an air cargo hub and aircraft scrapping facility.
Both RiverOak and Discovery Park have websites detailing their plans http://www.riveroakinvestments.co.uk/ and http://www.stonehillpark.co.uk/ I supose the fundamental difference is that Discovery Park own the site and RiverOak don’t.
So I suppose the first question is; why would Thanet Council want to take the site away from a major local employer with plans to create local jobs and housing on the site?
I guess this happened when the airport closed and a lot of local people tried to get the council to do something to get it reopened, I would say that the local consensus is still for a regional airport. A problem here though with the various groups supporting the airport reopening is that they are now supporting an air cargo hub and aircraft scrapping facility and not a passenger airport.
Anyway the political part of government in this area, by this I mean the people we vote for as opposed to the local government employees, seem to right behind the council engaging in a compulsory purchase.
I guess in terms of risk though our local politicians would do very little in terms of carrying the can if the cpo goes wrong and for the most part they seem to be saying they intend to save the airport without making it clear that this saved airport won't be a passenger airport.
RiverOak the American hedge fund broker have set up a Delaware LLC to manage the cpo and channel investors funds into the project, which means investors can hide their identifies, click on the link http://beginnersinvest.about.com/od/holdingmethods/a/Delaware-LLCs-for-Beginners.htm or just google Delaware LLC, to see where I am coming from here.
I guess as RiverOak are a fund management company, perhaps the biggest question of them all is; whose funds are they going to use to finance a hugely expensive cpo?
It seems the answer to this one is; that they won’t even tell Thanet Council.
Here is the council’s latest statement:
Thanet District Council is currently reviewing its position around whether Riveroak is a suitable indemnity partner for a compulsory purchase order on the Manston Airport site.
This followed a Cabinet decision in July which committed to re-opening discussions with the American firm.
Following a final request for financial evidence promised by Riveroak, Thanet District Council’s solicitors have now reviewed the information submitted by the company on Friday 14 August.
An important part of this process is for the council to seek financial assurances from Riveroak given the significant financial risk of pursuing a CPO by a publicly-funded authority.
Two redacted letters were provided which do not identify the names or addresses of the investors who Riveroak suggest could provide the financial security required.
This approach to providing information in a redacted format is for a local authority, highly unusual and prevents it from being able to gather any financial assurance from it.
As a consequence the council has now asked for confirmation of the bond agreement as detailed in the draft indemnity agreement submitted by Riveroak.
Here is the link to the statement on the council’s website http://thanet.gov.uk/the-thanet-magazine/news-articles/2015/august-2015/manston-position-statement/
I would say that if after a year of our local politicians pursuing a cpo by Thanet Council with a major inventor financing the cpo, the council don’t know the identity of the investor, then it is time to ask the council just how much money they have spent so far on pursuing this cpo.