Storm gathers over airport leak

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COUNCIL chiefs are demanding urgent talks with ministers after reports that the Government is considering building a new airport for London on the north Kent marshes near Cliffe.

According to a report in the Financial Times, Transport Secretary Stephen Byers is weighing up the idea of an airport at Cliffe and the Isle of Grain to cope with additional air traffic over the next 20 years.

The leaders of both Medway and Kent County Council are furious at the prospect. KCC council leader Cllr Sandy Bruce-Lockhart said the reports would inevitably cast a shadow over the development of Manston airport in Thanet and could potentially blight east Kent.

He warned that the KCC would resist any plan and argued it was an unrealistic dream.

In a letter to Transport Minister John Spellar he complains that Kent should have been told of the plans. It says: "We place the highest priority on the regeneration of east Kent for which the development of London Manston is the key. Manston . . . is now being taken forward successfully by the private sector both for international freight and for the largest international passenger airplanes.

"The leak with no supporting evidence about an airport at Cliffe will cause serious blight to the development of Manston, which is now at a critical stage."

The Conservative leader of Medway Council Cllr Rodney Chambers said: "If there is a need for extra capacity that cannot be accommodated with existing airports serving London there is already a site in Kent. If improvements were made in rail and road communications between London and Manston, especially around Thanet, that would be the appropriate place."

Thanet South MP Dr Steve Ladyman, whose constituency includes Manston, said the report was "poppycock" and he did not expect the plan would come to fruition.

The Government is expected to issue a consultation paper in May.

AN INTERNATIONAL airport would undermine the complete regeneration of north Kent, former Tory minister Bob Dunn told Kent Thameside Executive, where he represents Dartford Borough Council.

"It could jeopardise the whole regeneration of north Kent, which could be cancelled at a stroke," he said. "Business people may well feel the need to go there in preference to Kent Thameside. Manston is the project we should support."

Gravesham council leader, Rosemary Leadley, said they would need to consider the environmental and economic facts when they considered the proposal.

"At first glance they are not met in this area, either at Cliffe or in Kent Thameside, but probably are at Manston to meet the needs of Thanet," she said.

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