Thursday, 27 August 2015

A bit more on the Manston Airport, Thanet District Council, compulsory purchase saga.

I think it is possible that the fat lady has started to sing on this issue and that the council will drop the cpo business.

I guess the UKIP councillors won’t be saying that much but the Nigel Farage IOTG article seems to be saying that there isn’t much chance of a cpo now, see And on Thanet Extra "The last thing we can afford to do is to go ahead with the backing of RiverOak, the government then refuses it and Thanet council is left with a bill for £2m. I have been a businessman and know you have to make sure that the 'i's and 't's are dotted. I am totally convinced we are taking the right approach. It is about finding the right partner and that may or may not be RiverOak."

Of course for us, Joe public, Thanet council tax payers and business rates payers, there are still no real answers, just more signals that there is too big a gap between TDC and RiverOak.

David Green commenting on the FaceBook page We Love Ramsgate, see is probably the first inside indicator of where the gaps lie.

David isn’t a councillor now, but he was a member of the last Labour cabinet at TDC, so here is what he had to say today.

“Not achievable because, when I asked Riveroak face to face, whether

1. They would ever disclose the source of their funding, they said no.

2. Whether they would allow TDC to stop any CPO bid at any time during the process without penalty, they said no.

3. Whether they would accept an "airport uses only" covenant they said no.

Further, I don’t consider what I know of the Riveroak business case strong enough to convince an objective judge that economic, environmental and social benefit to Thanet would result from granting a CPO.”

My own feelings, back when the airport closed was that there was a strong case for getting it reopened as a regional airport, but there were several reason why TDC where the wrong organisation to attempt this. Mainly because the local authority attempting to acquire the site should cover the airport’s catchment area, i.e. KCC. In the case of a cpo the acquiring authority also being the planning authority is likely to cause all sorts of problems but I guess mainly that any cpo would have to involve considerable public funding to ensure the site remained an airport. Of course once the main local employer Discovery Park acquired the site, this was a major game changer and in my view made any thoughts of a cpo impossible.

Impossible, why? Because with a cpo there is an imperative so show public interest, and with a cpo this normally means taking away someone’s property to build a road or a railway, what it doesn’t mean is taking away land from one business to give it to another so they can engage in a different commercial activity on the site.

I do see that there would have been some case for a regional airport serving the air transport needs of East Kent, but I don’t see there is any way that a freight hub could be justified, particularly as Thanet isn’t in a central part of the country so it can’t be a transport hub of any kind.

There are limits to what local government can achieve and normally the business of creating major airports in the hands of central government, I think it may be possible for a county council with a will to create a regional airport, I think the limits of a district council would be pretty much a local airstrip.

Local councillors don’t really have that much power, nor do they have that much responsibility when things go wrong, power and responsibility are very much related. Such power as there is in local government is also related to experience, and as our UKIP councillors have very little experience they are still for the most part learning what power they do have and how to apply that power. There is an assumption that were the current UKIP administration to tell the council officers tomorrow to proceed with a cpo, then this is what would happen. In practice the council is bound by masses of rules and regulations that limit what the council can achieve. I guess this is the main reason that what the council does archive is broadly similar under all or any political party.

I don’t think what the various protest groups trying to get the council to cpo Manston tried to do was so very far from trying to get the council to cpo Homebase to build a Walmart store, based on the public interest that more people eat food than do DIY, using the due diligence that as Walmart are an American company they would be wealthier than a UK company.         

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