Wednesday, 2 July 2014

Manston Airport closure update.

 As blog readers will know I have tried over the years to hold something of the middle ground over Manston Airport, I would say regardless of my personal feelings as a prominent local blogger I have a duty to present both sides of the various arguments on major local issues, so here we go with the update.

First is the forthcoming auction of airport equipment, vehicles and so on, here’s the link And here is the link to the pdf auction flysheet with the pictures of what they are selling now and the notes about the next Manston auction:

Control Tower / Airfield Lighting & Navigational Aids inc: communication control system. ground receivers. master clock.
information management system (2008). telephone system. met wind systems & barometer. glide path .non-directional
beacon. aviation localiser. Constant current regulator. UPS, ILS etc.
Complete Chiller Facility, Portable Buildings, Sub Stations, Security Equipment, inc: CCTV, barriers, swipe systems, digital radios. Fuel Farm inc: water separator. microfilter. Qty pipe sections, valves & tanks. foul water separator. tank quantity monitor & leak detector. bunded plastic storage tank. pumps etc"”
 Next come the various bits from Kent County Council, the first being the Save Manston Airport group email to Paul Carter the leader of KCC and his response:

“Thank you for writing to me on 16th May, 20th June and 23rd June about this important subject. As you will appreciate, I have received a large amount of correspondence about Manston with similar questions asked. Therefore I thought it would be helpful, and for the sake of transparency, to share a list of the questions asked, plus my answers.
Q1. Do you support a Compulsory Purchase Order for Manston Airport, and would you be willing to allocate Kent County Council’s resources to ensure a CPO is successful?
I recognise that many individuals would like a yes or no answer to this question, however the situation is complex. Thanet District Council (TDC) is the Planning Authority for Manston site and I understand TDC has not yet taken a decision on the matter. Until TDC decides how to proceed, and until such time as the ambitions of the current owners and any potential successor owners of the airport are known, I believe the CPO issue is premature.
Q2. Your register of interest shows you are a property developer. Can you confirm you will not benefit from Ann Gloag’s proposal?
In no way whatsoever.
I have no private business interests in the Thanet district and will not benefit personally from any proposal relating to the Manston Airport site.
My concern for the future of Manston arises from being Leader of Kent County Council and wishing to see a strong, secure and viable future that results in a growing economy and creates jobs for local residents.
Q3. In whose interests are you acting? For the people of Kent, for local businesses, or for Ann Gloag, the current owner?
My endeavours are to secure the outcome in the best interest of the people of East Kent and for local businesses.
Q4. Did Ann Gloag lie when she bought the airport and did she never have any intention of running it as an airport?
Ann Gloag articulated her intent to run the airport for two years and hopefully bring it into profitability. When she bought the airport last October, she said publicly “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. Having worked in the transport industry for 30 years I believe I am very well placed to help maximise opportunities for both freight and passengers at Manston”. That confirmed what she had told me the previous month, on 5 September 2013, which is the only meeting that I have had with her. On 5 May this year, the BBC reported that "the Airport will consider any offer that is credible and viable”. I intend to meet her soon, and I will ask her about her plans.
Q5. Are you concerned about Ann Gloag asset stripping the airport?
Kent County Council is not party to any “asset stripping” and I personally would not support it.
Q6. I think it was very short sighted of both yourself & TDC to enter into talks selling the airport to Ann Gloag. It appears she had no previous experience, and certainly was not credible. She closed the Airport after only 6 months, so where was due diligence and background information there?
It was Infratil’s decision to sell Manston Airport to Ann Gloag: the Airport had been “on the market” for over 18 months and no other bids had been forthcoming – It was the only game in town.
Q7. Don’t you agree that Manston Airport has been deliberately run down by a series of owners so that it could potentially be sold off for development to another company no doubt connected to the current owner as well?
I have seen no evidence to suggest that the Airport has been “deliberately run down”: the decision last year by KLM to start scheduled flights from Manston indicates the opposite.
I understand the current and previous owners experienced financial losses in order to keep the airport operational.
Q8. Please give us an overview of all meetings you had with Ann Gloag and her representatives. Did you ever discuss housing and did you give your Council’s approval of redevelopment of her housing plans?
I met Ann Gloag and her senior financial director back on 5 September 2013 when they were showing interest in a potential acquisition from Infratil.
At this meeting, I was upbeat and optimistic about the future of Manston and explained all we were doing to provide a faster train service via High Speed 1 and I touched on looking at alternative uses for parts of the airport site (such as aviation hanger space, servicing and maintenance) to help subsidise the running cost. A change of use of the Airport was not discussed. At the time of this meeting, Ann Gloag was on her way to meet Thanet District Council to seek its views, particularly around operating hours. This has been the only meeting I have had with Ann Gloag personally.
Another meeting took place on 14 March 2014 with representatives of the Ann Gloag’s company, but she was not present. Her representatives explained it was the intention to close Manston Airport for economic reasons. Kent County Council had no foreknowledge prior to the meeting that this was the company’s intention. There was no discussion of a change of use of the Airport. No notes or minutes were taken at the meeting.
Q9. Why was the response delayed to the FOI asking about these meetings?
I am sorry that two of the FOI requests were published two days late. I have spoken to the FOI team about improving the response times.
Q10. Do you agree that mixed-use development would not offer any meaningful employment, and will you support the public view against a housing development?
As I say above, I have never discussed with Ann Gloag a change of use for the Airport. Our current view is that Manston should remain predominantly commercial. Should there be any proposal for a change of use it is for Thanet District Council, as the Planning Authority, to determine the application. I have so far not seen any specific proposal for any redevelopment of the site, other than for an Arts Academy.
Q11. Does KCC want to encourage a 'Garden City' at Manston?
I do not currently support a Garden City at Manston.
Q12. Will you oppose any redevelopment of the site other than for aviation use?
I will support what is in the best interest of East Kent and assess any proposal on its individual merit. Our priority is to focus on jobs and economic growth.
Q13. Have you met with RiverOak Investment Corporation and/or any other interested parties? Have you pledged your support for them?
I met RiverOak on 19th June when I told them that they had to submit a business plan for the Airport before I could form a view.
Q14. Have you engaged with the Chamber of Commerce about any suggestions they may have for the site?
Yes: I have asked the Chamber of Commerce to see the plan they have been drawing up.
Q15. What resources (particularly financial) are you willing to give to support any prospective buyer so they can run the airport?
The Council is ready to support any credible investor who can generate new jobs in Thanet. The Regional Growth Fund is already in place to support good viable business propositions.
Q16. Are you engaging with Iris Johnson, TDC, Roger Gale, and Laura Sandys, etc?
Sir Roger Gale’s Manston Working Group brought together all the relevant parties (including the Leader of TDC and Laura Sandys MP), and I am continuing to hold discussions with each.
Q17. There is airport congestion in the South East, and Gatwick and Heathrow are being asked to expand. Why not keep Manston open, as this may solve the problem? What information have you given to the airports commission that are looking into airport expansion?
Kent County Council has submitted a strong case to the Airports Commission on Manston Airport’s potential but this can only be achieved if there are commercial operators willing to use the Airport. So far, operators have not been forthcoming.
Q18. It is understood that cargo carriers which fed Manston were hugely upset by having to move elsewhere and would happily return. Have you explored this?
Several cargo carriers have indicated they would like to return to Manston but those businesses on their own do not appear to be sufficient to make Manston Airport viable.
Q19. Don’t you think Manston should stay open as it has one of the longest runways in the UK and indeed Europe?
The long runway was Manston’s unique asset, and I would love to see it re-open and for the Airport to thrive. But I am not a commercial airport manager!
Q20. Given the historical significance of Manston and the vital role it played in the Battle of Britain, could a future use be found that focuses on this?
I would like to see the Heritage of the Airport remain and become more prominent in Kent’s tourism and visitor programmes.
Q21. Could a tourism campaign not increase the passenger potential?
The Council did support the Airport through its tourism programme and would be prepared to do so again.
Q22. Have you thought of using Manston airport for aircraft salvage and repair?
I believe this is RiverOak’s plan but without details of their business plan, it is difficult to comment on it.
Q23. Have you thought about an aviation college to be built so that the next generation can learn aviation and engineering, this would bring many jobs to the area, builders, lecturers and of course students.
This could be an exciting idea but it would need to be an adjunct to a viable airport operation.
Q24. Would allowing night flights improve the economic viability of Manston?
Night flights were controversial when Infratil owned the Airport but again I have seen no proposals for these.
Q25. Have you thought of supporting an enterprise zone status for airport related businesses, such as freight operations including establishing small package freight to adjacent airport hubs for global express packages?
Thanet District Council's suggestion that Manston should become a new Enterprise Zone has been submitted to Government. We have not yet had a response.
I support the Enterprise Zone expansion.
Q26. Little thought has been shown to the former employees, and your comments saying most employees have obtained employment elsewhere are incorrect and insensitive. Why did you make this statement and why did you repeat them at a meal last Wednesday?
The situation on the numbers of former employees finding new jobs was reported to us at Sir Roger Gale’s working group over a month ago, and I repeated that statement in good faith. I am sorry for any offence caused. I do not have more recent figures but Kent County Council is working with the local JobCentre Plus network to ensure that everyone who was employed at the airport gets the appropriate personal and family help, including Job Seekers Allowance and advice on job availability.
Q27. How do you envisage you will be able to create jobs in East Kent to support former employees?
Kent County Council will work with the existing owner (and any other potential investors) to secure an ambitious future for Manston and to promote projects which have substantial potential to create significant new job opportunities and drive forward the East Kent economy. Our track record following Pfizer’s decision to quit pharmaceutical R&D at Sandwich is proof of what we can achieve: there are now 50 new businesses located at the old Pfizer site. Our Expansion East Kent fund has committed over £20 million to businesses creating new jobs in East Kent.
Q28. Manston supported small businesses that did trade with the continent? How do you intend to do that now?
The Expansion East Kent fund is ready to receive applications from local businesses - there is an application page on the KCC website.
Q29. How come Lydd airport is expanding when the residents don’t want it to, but Manston, where is supported, is closing?
The expansion of Lydd is a commercial decision made by its owners and Lydd Airport’s plans to expand received planning approval earlier this year. I am not aware that these would have had any impact on Manston.
Q30. Will you attend the next public meeting of ‘Save Manston Airport’ on 19th July?
I have asked my PA to look at my availability and we will be in touch with the organisers.
I hope these answers above are helpful in explaining Kent County Council’s position and activities, and this full response answers the questions that you had.
I know the closure of the airport has hit some families and businesses very hard and I am personally reading every single piece of correspondence sent to me so that I can ensure everyone’s points are taken on board by myself and the Council’s Cabinet Members.
Kind regards,

Paul Carter, CBE”

The next being Paul Carter in the Isle of Thanet Gazette, here is the link

 Next is the TDC Labour Group’s position, here’s the link
 As you can see this is going to be long old post, I will endeavour to add to as and when I get the time today, so apologies for putting it incomplete but I do have plenty of work to do in my bookshop today
I would say the whole issue is turning into something of a political football, here are the Lib Dens latest ideas

Of course standing back from the game of political football, which seems to be running along the lines of. “I will publicise completely unrealistic plans to save the airport and when these fail I will be able to say I did everything I could, so if you are an airport supporter I hope you will vote for me.”

What are the realistic and viable options for Manston?

I don’t think the RiverOak cargo hub option has any hope, viewed objectively. On the one hand you have Ann Gloag with a long history of transport related investment, busses, hovercraft, airports and when she has got her hands on an airport which hasn’t worked out economically, she hasn’t developed the site as something else but has sold it on as an airport. On the other hand you have RiverOak with a long history of building houses and no connection with airports that anyone can actually find.

There may be or have been a future for Manston as an airport, but I don’t think there is or was ever any future for Manston an air cargo hub and aircraft scrapyard. The mixture of environmental and economic constraints that are peculiar to Manston make this solution seem totally unrealistic.

I can expand on this however if you click on the this link and every time you get to the bottom of a page click on the “older posts” I think you will find I have covered the issue fairly comprehensively.

One of the main issues with Manston is that it is on the Thanet water reservoir and successive Manston airport operators failed to do the work to make running an airport on the water supply safe, here is the main blog post about this something the SMA group have linked to and posted about recently.

It is what happened over this that is a big factor in making the cpo route unlikely to work, the key being that because the water supply protection work wasn’t done the airport never achieved planning consent as an airport.

My guess is that in legal terms it wouldn’t be seen as a closed airport but just as a big brownfield site that failed to tick all the right boxes to officially become an airport.

The airport route that I think could have worked was an expansion of the historic aircraft part of Manston and working in the general direction of becoming a small regional airport.

Now another option with the site would be to go down the road of trying to make it into a mostly industrial site, there are two snags here, one being that there is a surplus unused industrial space in this area and the other is the old water supply problem. In simple terms any industrial site built on a drinking water aquifer has to comply to regulations that get progressively more stringent as time passes, making it much more expensive for industry, and I guess airports.         
The next possibility I suppose is returning the land to agricultural use, this would seem unlikely as I think the site value as agricultural land would be in the order of £5m. the same sort of thing would apply using it as a windfarm or solarfarm. The big thing that makes agricultural land, greenfield sites, much cheaper than, brownfield sites is the difficulty obtaining planning permission to build on them.  

Now obviously Ann Gloag doesn’t intend that Manston will remain an airport, a quick glance at the glossy auction sale catalogue makes it pretty definite that she has no intention of selling it on to anyone wishing to reopen it as an airport.

The cpo doesn’t seem very likely without a very wealthy airport operator involved RiverOak just aren’t this, they are hardly coy about their achievements making money out of real estate, particularly residential accommodation, their press releases over the years confirm this, click on any of the archives links on the page this link goes to and you will see that if the had been a player in an airport they would have said so.

A strange one really, as the main thing that makes their involvement seem to me to be completely off the wall are the claims that they financed Fort Worth Alliance Airport this actually an airport owned and financed by the American billionaire Ross Perot. This is a bit like a very good privately owned café in Ramsgate saying that it actually financed the Ritz in London and it makes you wonder why and I guess saying so, without some verifiable proof would damage their creditability.   

There doesn’t seem to be any signs that she would be looking to build some sort of soak estate that is just low quality housing nor is Manston big enough for a garden city.

As far as at aquifer is concerned, you can build housing on it and although the drainage regulations are stricter than they would be elsewhere, housing and agriculture seem to be the two easiest options on aquifers.     
There is however a conclusion to this, which I think, needs to be explored and explored with a fairly open mind.

We have a situation here in Thanet where we have a huge commercial site which has been loss making for many years, this has now been bought by one of the wealthiest people in the country.

Very little seems to have been done to discover what the new owner’s intentions are and whether these intentions would have local economic benefits, however there has been considerable hostile activity from local politicians and the local council towards the new owner.


  1. Over on the No Night Flights Facebook page it was mentioned that Paramount have applied to build a giant theme park in Dartford creating thousands of jobs. Why can't we have a giant theme park with thousands of jobs instead of an airport employing a few dozen?

    1. Terrible idea, unless you want to ruin Margate, Broadstairs and Ramsgate?

    2. The Paramount development is estimated to deliver more than 25,000 jobs clearly something that you Peter would not like to see on your doorstep. So tell us why its a terrible idea?.

    3. How would having our beaches eateries pubs and events packed be a problem?
      Anyway Manston site has the same problem as Manston airfield its to far from London but if you ask roger then I'm sure he will disagree

  2. It would be funny if it wasn't so serious. Peter Checksfield doesn't want a massive theme park because he thinks it would ruin Margate. Have you been to Margate lately?

    1. Well if it's bad now then imagine how all the towns would be when no-one visits any of the tourist attractions...

      Having a giant amusement centre in the middle of Thanet will have the same effect as having a giant shopping centre in the middle of Thanet.

    2. westwood cross actually enables town space to be more easily utilised by independent owners, and stops local towns just being full of the same corporate-bland shops selling the same mass-mainstream stuff. it enables a better character. admittedly it's early days and independents are on the whole struggling (judging by the opening and then closing i see going on), but it's a question of time, and independents 'getting it right', and local support of course.

  3. I'm not sure what "tourist attractions" you are talking about. The Turner Centre? The beach? - that's about it isn't it? Are you suggesting that people visiting a theme park might not then venture into town for a bite to eat or to dip their toes in the water? Surely, that's the whole rationale for the Turner Centre on which so much money has been squandered. And what happened to all of the concern about jobs? How can you possibly oppose something which has the potential to create thousands of jobs?

    Is it not the case that you, along with the other airport supporters are playing a duplicitous game? You purport to want the airport reopened for the jobs it would create. In reality you don't give a stuff about jobs. You just have an irrational emotional attachment to the airport which means you will argue to have it reopened, no matter how uneconomic it is or how much damage it would do.

  4. Anonymous,

    And to what do you have an irrational emotional attachment seeing how you purport to recognise this phenomena?

  5. Does anybody know the result of the meeting between Ann Gloag and Iris Johnson?

  6. Not surprised John, it will apparently take place today, 03/07/2014. I thought it had already taken place. Doesn't look good though with all the assets up for auction in the next month or so.

  7. Seems today's meeting with Ann Gloag has gone down like a lead balloon. Iris Johnston says "the lady is not for turning" to quote a previous iron lady

  8. I note that Ann Gloag has asked for the details of the meeting between her and our ELECTED REPRESENTATIVE Iris Johnson be kept secret. Since we as electors are represented then we should be allowed to know the details of the meeting.

  9. Michael (and Joe Turner), check out page 14 of today's Gazette.

    1. Peter market day today so I may not get a chance, so please just give me the gist of it.

    2. Mike Pearce mentions your post on the FOI request regarding TDC cleaners, and is highly critical of Joe.

    3. Who is Mike Pearce? I don't care who is critical, I followed the rules and it was TDC who wasted their own time.

  10. Former editor and now occasional writer for The Isle of Thanet Gazette.

    1. To be fair, he didnt just comment on you Joe. He also moaned about the Save Manston lot. He likes a bit of a moan that one ;)

    2. I see. Not a democrat then.

    3. To be fair on Mike Pearce, he did introduce photos of topless models to The Thanet Times. That sort of thing should be admired (can't see Rebecca doing that somehow).

    4. There you go Joe:

  11. Thanks for giving this update !!


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