Published: 00:01, 16 September 2016
| Updated: 09:17, 16 September 2016
Transport Secretary Chris Grayling said the Government “would be perfectly supportive” of plans to reopen Manston airport as a cargo hub as he was quizzed in the House of Commons.
The minister did not completely endorse proposals to reopen the runway when answering a question by Sir Roger Gale, the MP for Thanet North, on Thursday.
Sir Roger had asked the Transport Secretary whether he supported proposals by US investment firm RiverOak to take control of the site and reopen it as a freight hub.
Mr Grayling said he understood the controversy surrounding the future of the site, which is awaiting the council’s verdict on a planning application by its present owners for 2,500 homes, offices and leisure facilities.
However, he said any decision on the future of the site was for the local community, the owners and the local authority to make.
Mr Grayling said: “I absolutely understand how strongly people in Thanet feel about the future of Manston.
“I can simply say to my hon. Friend that this Government would be perfectly supportive of proposals to develop a freight hub at Manston, but I am afraid that that has to be a matter for the local community, the owners and the local authority, and I hope that they reach the right decision in the interest of the nation.”
The comments come with some irony, given the RiverOak proposals are subject to the approval of a development consent order, which would be approved by ministers and give them power to take control of the site.
Afterwards, both Sir Roger and the site’s owners, Stone Hill Park, were claiming a victory from the Transport Secretary’s comments.
“I am pleased that the Secretary of State did not hesitate to reinforce the Government’s ongoing support for Manston as an airport,” said Sir Roger.
“It is clear that as we develop new markets to replace those that we shall lose within the EU and that as goods and personnel have to travel greater distances we are going to need much more capacity in the South East.
Whatever decision is taken about an additional runway at Gatwick or Heathrow we need capacity now if we are not to lose more business to mainland Europe. Manston Airport is available immediately and we must see this project through as soon as possible.”
Ray Mallon, spokesman for Stone Hill Park, said: “Repeated studies have shown that this site is not viable as an airport, something the aviation industry as a whole has known for many years.
“Clearly the Government realise this as well, which is why they are not prepared to commit a single penny of public funds to any madcap freight airport project. I
“It’s clear from the response of Chris Grayling that the Government do not regard RiverOak’s plans as essential for the nation, no matter how much Sir Roger tries to convince the public otherwise.
“I commend the Secretary of State for making it quite clear to Sir Roger that it is the owners of the site and the local community who will shape its future, not an American investment company.
“It is clear the Government is not prepared to publicly support RiverOak’s plans. In Parliamentary terms this is about as heavy a rebuttal as you will ever get from a Government Minister to a backbench MP.”