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Thanet Council to make decision on Manston Airport homes plan

By Paul Francis

Controversial plans to redevelop the Manston airport site for thousands of homes and businesses are set to take a potentially important step forward today.

The site has been the subject of a long-running tussle between developers Stone Hill Park, who own it, and River Oak Strategic Partners, the company that wants to re-open it as a working airport.

Thanet council is poised to make a significant change to its strategic planning blueprint for the area by earmarking the site for mixed use development - meaning a combination of housing and businesses.

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Manston airport
Manston airport

The draft Local Plan is important as it sets out key over-arching policies against which all planning proposals will have to be determined.

The council’s Ukip administration is due to approve a revised plan for the Manston site, which no longer leaves open the option of it operating as an airport.

Instead, it will state the site is suitable for mixed residential and business development.

The move comes despite an attempt by River Oak Strategic Partners (RSP) to force the authority to relinquish the site through a Development Consent Order on the grounds that it is a national asset.

It claims Manston Airport could re-open as an air freight hub with associated business aviation and passenger services, creating almost 30,000 jobs by the airport’s 20th year of operation.

Council planners say it would be wrong to wait for the DCO to be resolved because without a Local Plan in place, the government could intervene and impose its own planning policies for the area.

The Ukip-run council has been accused of a U-turn on a key commitment it made in 2015 when it was elected to run the authority.

However, it has argued that an airport would not be commercially viable after consultants it commissioned to assess the prospects concluded there was little prospect of it doing so.

SHP joint owner, Trevor Cartner, said the move represented an important step in the company’s plans for the site.

“It is a victory for common sense and outlines in clear detail why developing this site for a mixed use new settlement is essential.

SHP joint owner, Trevor Cartner
SHP joint owner, Trevor Cartner

“Stone Hill Park will create an outstanding new community that meets the urgent local need for homes, schools and jobs while enhancing the social and leisure infrastructure across the county.

“It will also protect greenfield sites across the district.”

The company plans to build up to 4,000 homes on the site and claims it will attract new businesses capable of creating more than 2,000 permanent jobs in a hi-tech manufacturing business park.

But Riveroak questioned the amended policy that might ground its plans to re-open Manston. A statement from the company said:

“We continue to believe that Thanet’s revisions to the local plan are inconsistent with national planning policy, are not based on an objective assessment of development and infrastructure requirements – and are therefore neither justified, nor likely to be effective."

It added that there was no firm evidence that the site was needed for non-aviation uses.

"Our view remains that Manston is an aviation infrastructure asset and, as our Development Consent Order application will evidence, that there is a need and national planning policy support to retain it for aviation uses which would support thousands of jobs, grow the local economy and promote inward investment to achieve greater economic prosperity for the area consistent with local growth strategies."

Thanet council’s cabinet will sign off the revised draft plan tonight and there will then be a six-week long consultation.

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