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Leaked emails hint Thanet council support is waning for a compulsory purchase order of Manston airport as US group RiverOak meet councillors

By Paul Francis

Leaked e-mails have raised a question mark over a council’s support for taking over Manston airport ahead of a meeting with potential US bidders.

The emails exchanged by Labour councillors in Thanet suggest there are reservations among senior members of the ruling administration about pursuing a compulsory purchase order (CPO) for the airport.

It comes as council officials are due to meet representatives from US consortium RiverOak this morning to discuss a potential deal to save the airfield.

A plane landing at Manston airport before its closure. Picture: Simon Burchett
A plane landing at Manston airport before its closure. Picture: Simon Burchett

The meeting will include RiverOak chief executive Steve DeNardo, who has flown in from the group's base in Connecticut.

The investment company, which had tried to buy the airport before it closed, is among those who have bid to act as the council’s CPO partner and says it would cover all the costs.

However, campaigners will be worried by the leaked email exchanges, which raise fears the council might step back from a CPO.

In the emails, Cllr Alan Poole - who lost his place on the cabinet when Iris Johnson took over as leader - said: “The difference this time is the CPO will lose us the election as opposed to opposing night flights last time winning the election.

Ground grew taxi a plane at Manston airport. Picture: Simon Burchett
Ground grew taxi a plane at Manston airport. Picture: Simon Burchett

"There is more than enough evidence already to show the airport is not viable and the CPO proposal is merely ‘show boating’ - it will bite us in the butt if we don’t start being honest with the voters.”

The e-mail was sent to Cllr Mike Harrison, who is cabinet member for operational services.

The emails also include correspondence between Cllr Poole and council leader Iris Johnson.

She acknowledges a CPO would be problematic and require a “massive amount of money banked.”

While she underlines the council would only go ahead with a third party, she says: “I was never happy with any I have ever seen before including Dreamland.

RiverOak boss Stephen DeNardo
RiverOak boss Stephen DeNardo

"They are fraught with difficulties...a CPO is only possible if we have strict guarantees and a massive amount of money banked that supports a probable twenty year plan.”

In another leaked email, Cllr Mike Harrison, the cabinet member for operational services, said: “I for one will not decide on whether or not to support a CPO until we have all the facts, legal advice and other information.

"I would like to think comrades would do the same and not base their decision on emotion or perceived threats from pressure groups.”

"There is more than enough evidence already to show the airport is not viable and the CPO proposal is merely ‘show boating’ - it will bite us in the butt if we don’t start being honest with the voters...” - Cllr Alan Poole

Green Thanet councillor Ian Driver, who received the emails, says they are evidence that the ruling Labour group was “hopelessly divided.”

Thanet council said in a statement it was reviewing whether compulsory purchase of the airport would be viable.

“Thanet council has been clear a CPO will not go ahead unless there is evidence of the economic viability of the site operating as an airport and a suitable investor could be identified to cover all of the associated costs.”

“The council has also carried out a soft market testing exercise to identify whether there are any suitable indemnity partners to cover the costs a CPO would involve. The council is now seeking additional information to clarify further details from the submissions received.”

The revelations come as a government minister is also due to visit Manston today on a fact-finding visit.

Grant Shapps - minister without portfolio and Conservative party chairman - will be at the airport to listen to views from the local community.

It was closed in May by owner Ann Gloag, who said it was not commercially viable.

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