Published: 11:00, 20 May 2020
| Updated: 12:09, 20 May 2020
A decision on the future of Manston Airport has been delayed until July 10, it has been confirmed.
However, no announcement was made, with North Thanet MP Sir Roger Gale revealing delays caused by the pandemic meant those awaiting the decision would have to remain patient.
The planning inspectorate had passed its recommendations to transport ministers in October 2019 for a final decision on whether to grant RiverOak Strategic Partners (RSP) a Development Consent Order - giving the green light for RSP to push ahead with plans to reopen the airport as a cargo hub.
Now transport minister Andrew Stephenson has said: "The Secretary of State received the examining authority’s report on the Manston Airport DCO application on October 18, 2019 and, following an earlier extension of four months, the current deadline for a decision was May 18.
"The deadline for the decision is now to be extended to July 10, 2020 to enable further work to be carried out before determination of the application.
"The decision to set a new deadline is without prejudice to the decision on whether to grant development consent."
Sir Roger Gale, who has long campaigned for the airport to reopen, said: "While the delay was frustrating, if necessary, the confirmation of a ministerial statement in early July is a considerable improvement upon the three-month 'guesstimate'that I had feared we might find ourselves faced with.
"I continue to look for a positive outcome that will confirm investor confidence and facilitate the commitment of £300 million of job-creating funds to the development of an environmentally world-leading international freight hub and passenger facility. This will send a clear signal that a post-Covid, post-Brexit Britain will be very much back in business”
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.
More by this authorChris Britcher