Exasperated bosses at Manston Airport have described as “incredible” and “completely inexplicable” a decision in the Court of Appeal this week which will further delay its ambitious plans to reopen.
It said the latest pothole in its road to take-off was “like Groundhog Day”.
Closed in 2014, the site has stood pretty much abandoned ever since.
But it has rarely been far from the headlines.
Given Nationally Significant Infrastructure Project (NSIP) status – which means planning decisions are taken by Whitehall, rather than the local authority – the airport was granted the all-important Development Consent Order by the Secretary of State for Transport to reopen in 2020 as a cargo hub.
It was then quashed but resubmitted and granted again.
Since then, publicity-shy Ramsgate resident Jenny Dawes – who has always refused to talk to the press - has crowdfunded to raise the funds to legally challenge the decision.
Ramsgate will lie under the airport’s flight path and is where the bulk of the opposition to the plans reside.
This week she was granted the right to appeal, by the Court of Appeal, after her latest bid for a judicial review, in September, was rejected. Her latest success applies to the judicial review rejection, not the DCO itself.
However, while this rumbles on, it means the brakes are firmly applied to any plans by RiverOak Strategic Partners (RSP) – the company which owns the airport site – to progress.
RSP says it has spent more than £200,000 on legal fees so far – a figure which will now only increase.
However, Tony Freudmann, director of RSP, told KentOnline this morning he remains confident and that the investors, who are set to now plough £800 million into the site, remain committed.
The identity of those international investors have, as yet, to be revealed.
Mr Freudmann said: “We find it just incredible that one of the Lord Justices of Appeal believes there's enough in this case, in terms of serious law, to go to the highest appeal court in the land.
“It’s just completely inexplicable.
“I'm dealing with international investors who are wanting to invest probably £800 million in this project.
“They say to me ‘what the hell is going on? You've got permission from the government in August 2022 why can't we proceed on that basis? It just doesn't make sense’, and you say, well, there was a challenge and then they say ‘yes, but the challenge was dismissed’. It’s like Groundhog Day.
“But they remain committed.”
Airport chiefs had been confident the appeal would be rejected – signalling take-off for its ambitious plans. It had hoped work would begin on transforming the airfield this year and take around two years to complete.
The site will be extensively overhauled with many of the few existing buildings demolished to make way for the cargo facility.
It has hinted that, if the cargo operation it plans proves a success, passenger flights could be considered some years later.
Jenny Dawes, meanwhile has insisted “the re-opening of Manston Airport would result in irreparable harm to the people, the economy, the natural environment and the heritage of the towns and villages of east Kent”.
RSP says it will bring jobs – at least 2,000 - and economic vitality to the whole of east Kent.
Outlining the latest legal twist, the Court of Appeals Rt Hon Lord Justice Warby granted permission to appeal on the ‘need’ grounds for the airport, but refused permission to appeal on the ‘climate change’ issue.
Mr Freudmann said: “It doesn't mean they're challenging the need for the place. They're challenging the way in which the Secretary of State applied the evidence that was in front of him relating to need.
“We're now in February 2024, we'll be heading this week to the second anniversary of the Secretary of State's decision, and the case is in limbo.”
It is not yet known how long this latest twist in the saga will take – but seems destined to drag the Manston saga on for weeks, if not months, to come.
On Ms Dawes’ crowdfunding web page, she explained: “Mr Justice Dove's ruling [in September] was not on whether the decision to grant a DCO for Manston was ‘correct’ but on whether it was lawful.
“Judges cannot look at the merits of a decision and whether it is the right or wrong decision, only its legality. The decision can be the wrong decision, and even be harmful to an area and its inhabitants, but still be lawful.
“The application for permission to appeal Mr Justice Dove's ruling...matters because this campaign is funded, not by faceless investors with deep pockets, but by individuals who care about our collective future.”