Published: 11:27, 19 May 2020
| Updated: 11:49, 19 May 2020
The decision on the future of Manston Airport has been delayed yet again - dashing hopes of an end to the long-running saga.
Transport ministers had been expected to rule on whether to give the Thanet site the green light to reopen yesterday (Monday) - but it may now be another three months before a decision is made.
But after the deadline came and went on Monday, it quickly became apparent developers behind the scheme would be put on hold once again.
The reason is that the key planning inspectorate report has not yet been completed due to the pandemic - a process essential before any decision can be announced.
North Thanet MP Sir Roger Gale described the delay as "intensely frustrating" but described it as "another prisoner of the coronavirus". He remains confident the airport will eventually get approval.
He said: "There will be an official notice published later today extending the decision period.
"The problem is the work on the planning inspectorate report is not yet complete. The reason is that people are working from home and before a minister can make an announcement about a decision all of the documents have to be ready and published on the planning inspectorate's website.
"But the papers simply aren't ready yet.
"It is intensely frustrating, everybody's very cross about it, as I am, as to why we weren't told about this earlier, but the fact is I'm afraid coronavirus has taken a lot of prisoners and this is one of them.
"When will it be? My guess is that if asking for an extension they will probably ask for another three months although they may not need it.
"I would hope and expect the work will be done sooner rather than later.
"But if they wanted to knock it on the head, that would be the easy route, they could just say they're turning it down, so the fact they're doing all this work prior to an announcement I find encouraging.
"It's a positive not a negative sign."
RiverOaks Strategic Partners (RSP), which owns the site, is waiting on a decision on a Development Consent Order. A decision was referred to the government's planning inspectorate as it was considered a 'nationally significant infrastructure project'.
But while planners made a recommendation in October, ministers have yet to make an official decision. A decision had been due in January - but was then delayed until May as a result of December's General Election.
It means RSP must continue the waiting game before it can push ahead with plans to reopen the site as an air freight cargo hub.
RSP, fronted by Tony Freudmann, says it hopes reopening would create hundreds of jobs at the site and potentially thousands within the supply chain. Mr Freudmann declined to comment when contacted by KOL.
Manston closed for business in 2014 and found itself at the centre of a tug-of-war over its future, which spilled over into the political arena.
The airport had been bought in 2013 by Ann Gloag, the multi-millionaire Scottish co-founder of the Stagecoach travel company.
She purchased the loss-making airport from investment company Infratil in a deal worth just £1.
But despite a vow to bring it back to glory, she shut the airport a year later - putting 144 staff out of a job - saying the site had been losing thousands of pounds a day.
She subsequently sold fixtures and fittings in an auction.
The land was then sold by Mrs Gloag to property entrepreneurs Trevor Cartner and Chris Musgrave in September 2014. The duo had revived the former Pfizer headquarters in Sandwich into the Discovery Park business estate.
They wanted to build 4,000 homes, along with retail and commercial opportunities on the land.
But their plans divided public opinion and faced a challenge by RSP, which was determined to see it reopened for aviation use - a move seen as vital to the east Kent economy.
However, since it closed in 2014, the airport has remained empty.
Last year, however, in a shock twist, it was confirmed Stone Hill Park was being sold to RSP in a deal worth £16.5million.
That appeared to pave the way for RSP to push ahead, unopposed, with its plans to reopen a cargo facility at the site near Ramsgate; as long as the government gave its approval.
While the battle over its future was raged over the last six years, it even helped Ukip take control of its first ever local authority, in the shape of Thanet District Council in 2015, when the party promised to reopen the site after partnering with RSP.
However, once in power, the party was forced to row back on its promise after it failed to get financial reassurances needed to progress with the investment of public money.
While disputes raged over whether the site should host homes or an aiport, Ukip's power base disintegrated and leader Chris Wells was forced to resign.
The only activity it has seen in recent years was after it was earmarked as a lorry park in the event of a 'no deal' Brexit last year, which would have seen vehicles siphoned off the M20 and parked at the site as part of the Operation Brock contingency measures.
If it is granted permission eventually, the possibility of passenger flights operating from Manston is less sure, with RSP saying it is not ruling out the idea, but reiterating that its focus is initially on developing Manston for cargo freight.
Prior to the delay of the decision in January, it had hoped, if approved, it could reopen by 2022.