Published: 09:00, 07 April 2014
With the future of Manston Airport uncertain, many developers believe the site is destined to become a housing estate.
It was just 10 weeks ago that the future seemed rosy for Manston Airport.
A month after Scottish businesswoman Ann Gloag took over, chief executive Charles Buchanan declared it was “business as usual” as the new owners got to know the site.
In an interview with Kent Business, Mr Buchanan said Ms Gloag was “getting familiar” with the company after taking over in November.
The Stagecoach founder brought in former Southend Airport managing director Alastair Welch on the day her firm – Lothian Shelf – bought the Thanet business for £1.
Then, shortly bef ore George Osborne delivered his Budget speech in Westminster last month, airport staff were told a 45-day consultation was being launched on its closure, putting 150 jobs at risk.
It appears initial optimism about the airport’s future was dampened when talks with Ryanair fell through after the company issued a profit warning, although no one would officially confirm this.
A Manston spokesman said: “Following a meeting with staff, we can confirm we have commenced a process of consultation over the possible orderly closure of the airport.
“No further comment will be made until the consultation period has been concluded.”
Since then, there has been much speculation on what will happen to the site, with many believing it is set to become a housing estate.
Thanet council tabled an emergency motion to look at the viability of extending the Enterprise Zone status held by Discovery Park to the airport, bringing with it business rate relief.
Thanet North MP Sir Roger Gale offered a glimmer of hope after finding a potential buyer for the site, who submitted a formal offer to the owners to keep the airport.
The anonymous buyer withdrew that offer last week although news emerged the owners have been talking to two other interested parties.
Yet none of this matters if Scottish businesswoman Ms Gloag is preparing to cash in on her investment and sell the site to developers.
With freight airline Saudi Cargo and Dutch passenger operator KLM both announcing they are suspending flights, the site’s future as an airport remains uncertain.
“It would be a suitable site for housing but that’s obviously not what it was designed for,” said Mark Quinn, director of Canterbury-based property developer Quinn Estates.
“If it can’t work as an airport then it becomes a brownfield site and there is an argument that it should be used for mixed-use development.
“It shouldn’t be just housing. You need to mitigate the loss of employment.
“It is a great shame for the area that it loses a significant piece of aviation infrastructure. It is also bad for Kent, as Lydd Airport is nowhere near as well located.
“It wouldn’t surprise me if it became houses.”
Many in the county would welcome that.
Kent Developers Group chairman Nick Fenton said: “Any development there would be fantastic and should be encouraged.
“Like all these things, it will need to be a broad spectrum of development, with residential and commercial arms. People in houses need jobs.
“We would welcome development in that area.”
That option is hard to stomach for those who have tried to support the site through thick and thin. Sir Roger Gale MP also gave a warning to developers.
He said: “I’m not entertaining that at all. I’m concentrating on Manston being kept open as an operating airport.
“I have a willing buyer, and it depends whether the owner wishes to strike a deal.
“But anyone who thinks they are just going to buy Manston and develop it into a big housing estate has another thing coming.
“There is a lot of contamination on the land, and there is a significant archaeological site underneath, which will need to be excavated.
“It is as not straightforward as one or two clowns think it is.”
Who is Ann Gloag
The Scottish businesswoman was educated at Perth high School and qualified as a nurse, working as a burns unit sister during a 20 year career.
Using redundancy money awarded to her father, she established Stagecoach Group in 1980, running buses from Dundee to London.
Working with her brother Sir Brian Souter and her husband Robin Gloag, the firm expanded throughout the 1990s, floating on the London Stock Exchange in 1993 after being valued at £134m.
Her involvement in the firm has since diminished but she remains a non-executive director.
Her other business interests include property and chain of petrol stations through a shareholding in Moncrieffe Holdings.
She was an investor in Cambridge-based Scot Airways but sold her share in 2006.
She now devotes much of her time to charity work, largely in African countries, and was appointed an OBE in 2004.