Sunday, 7 August 2016

Manston DCO CPO update from the DFT, and a bit of sketching down from me.

As some of you may remember I attended the RiverOak consultations related to turning the closed Manston airport in to an airfreight hub.

For anyone not up to speed on this one Manston Airport is situated on The Isle of Thanet which lies in the southeast most corner of the UK, it started out as a WW1 airbase, was used as RAF airbase during WW2 and later both by the RAF and the Americans during the cold war.

From the mid 1960s it has been used as a civilian airport, first under RAF ownership i.e. shared military and commercial use and later as just a civilian airport.

Manston’s main snags as an airport are first that it is mainly surrounded by water meaning that it has a limited catchment area and secondly that the town of Ramsgate is very close to the end of the runway, with the flight path going over the town.

Various civilian operators have tried to make a go of Manston since the mid 1960s, all have failed with the majority going bankrupt.

I think the main reason has been Manston’s isolated location compared to the main UK airports in southern England, where the main transport conduit is the M25, with Gatwick and Heathrow airports both situated on the M25.

In recent years Manston has some foreign investment the last being the major Austrailian and New Zealand transport company Infratil. My own take is that they couldn’t believe that Manston’s 75 miles from London was seen in the UK as a long way, my guess is that they based their reasoning on 75 miles being just around the corner.

Anyway the last airport operator was too big to go bankrupt and put Manston Airport on the market where it failed to sell for several for several years, eventually like many loss making operations it was finally sold as a going concern with liabilities for a nominal figure.

The new owner who has a considerable interest in UK transport gave Manston a go for a bit but couldn’t find enough airlines, passenger or freight that were prepared to fly from Manston.    

Manston was put back on the market as a going concern.

One of the companies that tried to buy the site was the American real estate hedge fund operator RiverOak, for one reason or another their offers were rejected, my own guess is that this was because the are a fund management company that thry would have to get external investors to come up with the money.

I think had a major company with the funds available to by the airport come forward at this point the airport would have survived as an airport.

Manston was closed, most of the assets were sold, the staff made redundant and the site was sold for a non-aviation use, light industry and housing.

RiverOak then tried to get the local council to buy the site using compulsory purchase powers, the idea was the council would try to by it and that RiverOak would try to fund the purchase.

In the end the council failed to accept RiverOak, probably for much the same reasons the previous owner wouldn’t sell to them, a bird in the hand.

Now we have a situation where plans for the housing and light industry have been submitted and RiverOak are still trying to acquire the site for an airfreight hub. 

This time they are trying to get the UK government to acquire the site with RiverOak putting up the money, this is basically another compulsory purchase, using the governments Development Consent Order legislation, which is what the government uses to acquire land for major infrastructure projects, like roads, railways and airports.

The absolute minimum size for a Development Consent Order is 10,000 airfreight movements a year, here is the published remit for RiverOak’s palans:-

“The upgrade and reopening of Manston Airport primarily as a cargo airport, with some passenger services, with a capacity of at least 12,000 air cargo movements per year.”

I have simplified the summery above as much as I can and I expect there are some errors because of this, so any corrections either as comments or by email are welcome.

Now we come to recent events, I went to RiverOaks presentation in Canterbury and came away with mixed feelings, here are the two blog posts I did about this.

Now to be honest all of the messing around trying to make sure we don’t get involved in another Thanet disaster like Pleasurama, where a company registered in a tax haven, that doesn’t have to publish regulated accounts or who actually owns the company, gets hold of a major local asset and fails to develop it. Well it’s time consuming and I would rather not bother if the company involved don’t have the resources to proceed. 

So after going to the consultation and coming away with the feeling that something was not quite right because of what the RiverOak representative said I wrote to the DFT and asked them the position.

The main things that the RiverOak rep said that worried me were:-

That RiverOak are a private company and don’t have to publish company details.

That any compensation paid by RiverOak would be minimal, either for the 700 acre Manston site or to those suffering blight because of their proximity to an airfreight hub with 12,000 aircraft movements a year and no fuel pipeline. So all of the associated fright lorry movements freight and fuel, generating the associated air and noise pollution.

That the Manston Green planning approval, both wasn’t near the runway and wouldn’t affect the running of an airfreight hub at Manston.

That the discrepancies between the US and UK RiverOak websites and the removal of the information about their substantial involvement with aviation from their US website was due to a website update.

As I said in my previous posts, I went to the consultation interested in the balance between the economic upside and the environmental downside coming out in a positive way for Thanet. I left the consultation because it became clear that the RiverOak rep was trying to take me into a fantasy world. I have a background as a scientist and engineer as do a lot of my friends and family, so I am used to lively and technical debate, however I have a considerable weakness, which is that I find it very difficult to converse with people who think the earth is flat or that the sun rotates around the earth. 
I guess what I should have done after the consultation was to write to RiverOak asking them to confirm or deny what I had been told at the consultation, I do have considerable difficulty with this sort of thing. How do I start? So you don’t think Manston Green is next to the end of the runway. So you think the earth is the centre of the universe with the sun and all of the stars rotating around it.

My problem here is I think I know I am right, so the issues are not open to debate, so how do I start this debate.

Anyway I shied away from this and put my concerns to the DFT instead, below is their reply.

Dear Mr Child

Apologies for the delay in responding to your emails of 29 July and 22 July 2016.

In your email of 22 July 2016 you raise some queries in respect of access to information about RiverOak, what checks are carried out by The Planning Inspectorate during the Pre-Application stage into applicants and noted an outline planning application in the vicinity of the Manston Airport site.

In respect of the first point, The Inspectorate do not hold any undisclosed information about this company or its financial dealings.  There is no legal requirement for an applicant to share such information with The Inspectorate at the Pre-Application stage.  However, where an application involves any compulsory acquisition of land, which RiverOak would do as part of their proposals for Manston Airport, the applicant would need to submit a Funding Statement with the application documents. 

A Funding Statement should provide as much information as possible about the resource implications of both acquiring the land and implementing the project for which the land is required.  Applicants should be able to demonstrate that adequate funding is likely to be available to enable them to carry out the compulsory acquisition within a statutory period following a Development Consent Order being made, and that the resource implications of a possible acquisition resulting from a blight notice has also been taken into account. Unless an Examining Authority is satisfied that funding will be available both for the carrying out of the project within the statutory period and for the payment of compensation claims the compelling case in the public interest test required by section 122(3) of the Planning Act will not be met and the compulsory acquisition powers cannot be granted.

From your email it appears that you have verbally discussed these matters with RiverOak.  If you have not done so already, and noting your point about limited acknowledgement or feedback to queries, I would strongly encourage you to put your queries in writing to the company itself.

In respect of the “Manston Green” proposals, Thanet District Council have been aware of the situation at Manston Airport in coming to their decision to grant outline planning permission for this scheme.  Now the scheme has outline permission, RiverOak must consider any future development on that site as part of their environmental assessment.

In your later email you make some further observations about a recent consultation event held by RiverOak.  I would encourage you to make these comments known to RiverOak if you have not done so already to enable them to consider the points in advance of any statutory consultation.  Before that statutory consultation occurs, the relevant authorities (Thanet District Council and Kent County Council) must be consulted by RiverOak on the content of their Statement of Community Consultation. The role of the local authority at this stage is to provide expertise about the make-up of its area, including whether people in the area might have particular needs or requirements, whether the authority has identified any groups as difficult to reach and what techniques might be appropriate to overcome barriers to communication. The local authority may also provide advice on the appropriateness of the developer’s suggested consultation techniques and methods. The local authority’s aim in such discussions should be to ensure that the people affected by the development can take part in a thorough, accessible and effective consultation exercise about the proposed project.  You may also wish to send any observations to Thanet District Council in respect of consultation activity.

Kind regards

On to the sketching, sitting upstairs in Canterbury’s Chocolate Café today it occurred to me that there must be a way of drawing people so it looks like you are looking down on them.

In the first instance the face is roughly egg shaped, so assuming for an initial practice perfectly round would be good enough I decided that looking down from an angle of 45 degrees the face would become flattened so that it would be twice as wide as it is long.

After a bit I realised that the whole head is spherical and so what you see would remain spherical, but the features particularly the hair would move around the sphere.

In practice nothing works properly, the problems associated with drawing heads is a complex one as the mind has a very strong priori concept of what a head and particularly what a face should look like. As you see moving the hair round, even putting a large crow on the head doesn’t work, the rest of the face i.e the bit under the hair sort of straightens itself out.

You can put large heads on small bodies and vice versa and the brain makes this look normal, even a squiggle that looks like a person soon becomes a person.  

You can push the Debenhamsness of Debenhams a pretty long way and it still looks like Debenhams, a bit more practice and I should be able to accept that the sun goes round the earth. 


  1. Michael, You have a dictionary in your shop. Please remind yourself of the definition of the word 'impartial'.

    I see that DFT did not give you the answer you were hoping for. Susannah has not advanced your cause.

  2. John sorry you thought that the post wasn’t impartial, but as you haven’t said what you thought was wrong with it and I tried to cram the commercial history of Manston into a very short space, I don’t see there is much I say on that subject.

    On the subject of the DFT advancing my case, well to be honest I would rather spend this morning sketching than trying to frame my questions for RiverOak as the DFT ask.

    I don’t think questions like:-

    Is RiverOak a properly constituted company?

    Do they have access to sufficient funds to pull this thing off?

    Do they now accept that Manston Green impacts on their plans?

    Are of any less interest to those, for or against a freight hub or just generally concerned about local issues.

    My stance on Manston is pretty well recorded as I have been posting about it for many years, I would like to see the most beneficial outcome for Thanet from the site, particularly in terms of the balance between economic growth and environmental damage.

    Perhaps at some time in the future it will be possible to get one without the other there, but not now and probably not in our lifetimes, of course this makes it easy to criticise any plans for the site, but I am trying to be as impartial as I can.

    I am not for instance saying that aviation fuel will be coming out of our water taps and we will all die as a result, nor am I saying the world is flat, but if some of the things that the RiverOak rep said don’t make any sense then I will try to find time to pursue the issue.


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