Friday, 13 May 2016

Manston, correct me if I’m wrong – another update, perhaps.

As most people are probably aware the largest single Thanet issue that is likely to affect the future of those of us who live here is what happens to the closed Manston Airport site.

In terms of social media sites discussion on the internet about the future of Manston has degenerated to point where most people have left and all that remain seem to be those who think:-

All airports are good

All airports are bad

All housing is good

All housing is bad

All business parks are good

All business parks are bad.

As pretty much all of us live in housing, ultimately derive our income from what we manufacture, fly when we travel long distances and consume commodities imported by aircraft. Then I guess we have names for these people.   

As for running down the main local employer, not exactly the best way to make friends and influence people here in Thanet. 

There are several possible futures for the Manston site, which I will detail here first as several people I have spoken to seem to have confused one with another.

The first and probably the most likely to happen are the plans of the current owners who already operate Discovery Park at Sandwich. Discovery Park is where most people are employed locally. If I say they are the largest local employer I am most likely to encounter a pedant, so. Discovery Park at Sandwich comprises more than 130 companies employing over 2,400 people from established organisations to emerging start-ups in the fields of life science, pharmaceuticals, biotechnology, science and technology.  

Their plans are for a mixed use development about 2,500 homes and a business park employing about 4,000 people.

Here is the Sandwich. Discovery Park website

And here is their website for the Manston development

The Q and As go roughly like this.

Can they deliver it? I would think the answer to this one is basically yes based on what they have already delivered at Sandwich.

What are the snags? Mainly environmental, particularly as the site is on top of one of the drinking water reservoirs called a chalk aquifer. We have pretty much resolved the issues associated with putting homes on the aquifer but putting light industry on top of them is more difficult, involves complex and expensive drainage systems and in some areas has lead to contamination so bad that the water from them can’t be used.

Another possible contender for developing the site is an American real estate hedge fund broker RiverOak Investments.

Their plans are for cargo airport, with some passenger services, with a capacity of at least 12,000 air cargo movements per year.

As the don’t own the site and the current owners don’t want to sell it they would have to go down the road of getting some part of government to compulsory purchase the site from the current owners before they could turn the site into a cargo airport. 

The tried this first with Thanet District Council, the plan being that the council would buy the site using cpo powers and that RiverOak would fund the purchase, this fell through I think mainly because RiverOak weren’t able to comply with the strict criteria for funding with which local councils have to operate. The other factors seemed to be that as a funding company (one that puts together the majority of their funding from third parties) they weren’t able to put together sufficient funds in a UK bank account and the council didn’t seem to think that there was a compelling enough case for a cpo to be granted.

RiverOak are now trying a different level of government (national) to achieve a cpo this is “National Infrastructure Planning” which is how the government acquire land for roads, railways, ports and indeed airports. When a private company wants to build something that is or maybe considered as a national asset, providing that they can convince the civil servants that it is significant enough economically (with airports this means millions of passengers or thousands of freight aircraft movements a year) then the DFT (Department for Transport) may consider an application for a DCO (Development Consent Order).    

The idea of a DCO is to bypass a lot of the red tape and different levels and departments of government so we can get major infrastructure projects like roads, railways, ports and indeed airports build relatively quickly.

The DFT have considerable powers under a DCO, they can use a cpo to take land from the owners, they can overrule aspects of the planning process and an extent they can limit the compensation paid to people affected by the pollution generated by projects like roads, railways, ports and indeed airports.

Weighed against this is that the bar for the DFT even accepting an application for a DCO is fairly high. The applicant would need to prove that they could achieve what they say they want to achieve fairly conclusively and that they have the resources to achieve this in terms of money and experience.   

Here is RiverOak’s main (parent company’s) website

Here is RiverOak’s UK website

Here is the part of the DFT website where information about the Manston DCO application is published use the tabs to view the information.

The Q and As go roughly like this.

Have RiverOak applied for a DCO with respect to Manston? The answer here is No they can’t do this until they have put together plans for exactly what they want to do and held a public consultation about them.

Is there anything you or me, as interested members of the public can or should do, either in terms of supporting, objecting or just taking some sort of informed part in RiverOak’s plans and the DCO process? Or to put it another way, can us local do anything much to shape the nature of any airport we do eventually get, both in terms of its benefits and in terms its disadvantages? To be honest in terms going down the road of either saving the airport or stopping any airport being built, I don’t think there is anything much useful that can be said within the strict confines of responding to the DCO. The answer here is Yes, what we can and should do according to the DFT is engaging with RiverOak in the pre consultation stage. What the DFT say is. “We will not accept an application unless we are satisfied that the Applicant has undertaken pre-application consultation and has had regard to responses that they have received. It is strongly advised that you write to the Applicant for your representation to be considered while they are still forming the scheme, since this is the most effective way to influence the form of the proposed scheme and highlight the potential impacts that should be assessed. This front-loaded emphasis of consultation is designed to ensure a more transparent and efficient examination process.”

Can they deliver it? I think the answer here is very difficult to arrive at because it is very difficult to connect them with any similar business activity. In fact it is very difficult to connect RiverOak with any recent commercial activity of any sort, the last and only mention of commercial activity on their own website is and suggests a relatively small investment in 2013.

Do the have the money? Once again the answer has to be no, their own website says that they put together schemes for clients to invest in and not that they already have substantial funds to invest. To an extent of course this apples to pretty much all businesses embarking on a large project but also the amount a business can raise for a project is very much related to the business’s related existing business. This is a bit of a no brainer really inasmuch as if I went to the bank asking for a loan to open a bookshop in Canterbury I would be much more likely to get a positive response that if I went to the bank asking for a loan to do something I hadn’t already got a business doing. I think this makes information about their aviation business activities elsewhere vital.

What are the snags? Mainly environmental, being on top of the aquifer, noise pollution and most of all I would think particulate air pollution.

Anyway some new documents on the DFT website at many of them say contact RiverOk at this stage, however I have tried this and RiverOak don’t reply.

Finally as rank outsider there is TDC trying to get another company to finance a cpo.


  1. That's if Riveroak actually bother to reply to any email sent

  2. That's if Riveroak actually bother to reply to any email sent

  3. It's a difficult one that symbolism I think I will cc my next communication to the DFT, at least that way trying to have some impact on the consultation as recommended by the DFT gets recorded.

  4. Thank you, Michael. An excelent digest of the current situation

  5. I am pretty sure I left quite a bit out Stuart and am hoping for some corrective input and some additional information


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