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Thanet North MP Sir Roger Gale vows to fight for future of Manston airport site following closure announcement

20 March 2014
by KentOnline reporter

Thanet MP Sir Roger Gale has vowed to fight for workers and the future of Manston Airport's site - after it was announced it's due to close.

Speaking after hearing the shock announcement during the Budget announcement yesterday, Sir Roger said he believed the failure of the airport was down to a number of factors.

These included the failure to win business from Ryanair following that company's profits warning, and the lack of new freight traffic from British Airways.  
Thanet North MP Sir Roger Gale at Manston Airport

Thanet North MP Sir Roger Gale at Manston Airport

It comes after airport staff were called to a meeting yesterday to be told new owners had decided the airport did not have a long-term future and was losing substantial sums of money on a daily basis.
As many as 150 jobs are at risk under the shock proposals amid rumours the site could be redeveloped for housing.

He said in a statement issued today: "Nobody should pretend that this is anything other than unwelcome news.

"The airport has been under the control of Anne Gloag for a relatively short time and the expectation was that the new owner would give the operation at least two years in which to seek to attract new business and investment."

He felt the airfield was a national, not just a local, asset.

With the fourth largest runway in the country, Manston should be used to ease the shortage of capacity while long-term decisions are made to solve the issue of runway capacity, the North Thanet MP claimed.

A consultation has begun into the closure of Manston Airport

A consultation has begun into the closure of Manston Airport

His first objective, he said, was to work with Laura Sandys, MP for South Thanet, to ensure those employed at Manston were given a fair deal.

He added: "Next, Laura and I are establishing a working group to seek to secure a future for the site. 

"My own next objective is to try to ensure that Manston continues to operate as an airport and I hope and expect that in this I shall have the support of Thanet District Council and Kent County Council.

"I have already raised my concerns with both the Secretary of State for Transport and the Minister of State for Aviation in parliament."

But, if it was found the airport was not viable it was vital to find the right solution for east Kent.

"Nobody should pretend that this is anything other than unwelcome news..." - Sir Roger Gale

The MP said "simply smothering the area" in housing or industrial sheds was not an option.

He said he wouldn't support any proposed development that didn't accommodate the environmental needs and heritage of Thanet.

Sir Roger added: "In archaeological terms alone Manston is historic and valuable and due attention will have to be paid, in undertaking any alternative development, to the excavation and preservation of  what lies beneath the airfield. That will come at a very considerable price in itself."

While the closure of the airport would be a disappointment, Sir Roger said it would be viewed - in the same way as the closure of Pfizer at Sandwich - as an exciting challenge and opportunity.

Kent County Council leader Cllr Paul Carter

Kent County Council leader Cllr Paul Carter

Meanwhile, the leader of Kent County Council said ministers must act quickly if the government wants to secure the future of Manston Airport.
Cllr Paul Carter said the airport's fate was "going down to the wire" and its prospects of remaining open depended on whether the government was prepared to help out.
What do you think? Join the debate by adding your comments belowBut he stopped short of joining calls for a task force to be set up, saying he was prepared to back any efforts by the area's two MPs, who have both indicated they intend to fight to keep Manston open.
Mr Carter said: "We are down to the wire. Unless there some good news over the next few weeks, the conclusion is inevitable. The only hope of a lifeline is if Roger Gale and Laura Sandys can persuade ministers that Manston is of strategic importance - such as continuing to be a diversion airport for emergencies."
He added: "If there is a deal to be done [with the government], then it had better act quickly and make up its mind."
But he was circumspect about whether Manston could operate as a commercially successful airport as speculation continued that it might eventually be sold off for housing development. 
Mr Carter said: "That conversation is for another day but it is a unique location and well connected by rail and road and therefore does have potential for other uses."

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