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Political editor Paul Francis examines Manston airport twist and changes in Parliament since Sir David Amess' death

Trains, planes and a fleeting glimpse of a slightly less abrasive House of Commons.

Here's our political editor Paul Francis with a round-up of the week's events…

Manston Airport
Manston Airport

Grounded? There have been endless twists and turns in the bid to re-open Manston as a cargo freight hub airport in the seven years since it was closed.

But it seems the long-running saga could be coming to an end after a government-appointed investigator concluded there was no need for a cargo airport.

The report was fairly unequivocal in its findings, demolishing pretty much most of the arguments that were made by the owners RiverOak Strategic Partnerships and campaigners to justify their case.

The report was ordered by the transport secretary of state Grant Shapps, who had rejected the conclusions of a lengthy public inquiry that found the case for a freight cargo airport had not been proved.

Mr Shapps over-ruled the inquiry’s findings and granted a Development Consent Order.

Grant Shapps addresses the crowd during a visit to Manston Airport. Picture: Alan Langley
Grant Shapps addresses the crowd during a visit to Manston Airport. Picture: Alan Langley

But in the face of a legal challenge, the government withdrew that DCO and was required to commission an independent investigation into the plans.

It is that report that looks to have ended the hopes of campaigners and the owners of the site: it leaves little wriggle room for a different conclusion to the one that the independent inquiry came to.

The report from Ove Arup & Partners Ltd concludes there have been no significant changes since that recommendation in 2019 that “would lead to different conclusions being reached with respect to the need for the Manston development.”

Given the investment made by RSP into its plans, the company is likely to be disinclined to throw in the towel.

But the window of opportunity is closing. Under the formal procedures the government must follow, there will now be a brief consultation on the report before the minister has to decide what to do.

The airport has been closed for seven years
The airport has been closed for seven years

The odds seem stacked against the owners who have one last throw of the die to pursue their dream.

If they fail, then an equally contentious and divisive plan that could see hundreds of new homes built on the site looms.

AFTER the tragic death of Sir David Amess, there have been calls for our politicians to set a better example by being more respectful rather than engage in the playground politics we are usually treated to.

The first test of that came in Wednesday’s Prime Minister’s Questions and while naturally more sombre than usual featured exchanges that hardly instilled a great sense of optimism that things would change.

If it didn’t sink to the usual level of yah-boo antics we are accustomed to, you could almost sense the internal struggle that the Prime Minister was having to resist lobbing a few verbal hand grenades in the direction of Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer Picture: PA/Aaron Chown
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer Picture: PA/Aaron Chown

Starmer himself was assiduously striving to continue with the slightly-more-respectful approach, saying he wanted to be “collegiate” - a word we don’t often hear in the Commons, so he made up for it by uttering it as often as he could.

The PM got in on the act himself, declaring he too wanted to be “collegiate.”

It was a political consensus of sorts but for those looking for evidence of a kinder and gentler approach to politics enduring beyond a few weeks, there wasn’t that much to celebrate.

DID the government come close to a rescue package for Eurostar that might have enabled stopping services to be resumed from Ashford and Ebbsfleet stations?

A Eurostar train. Picture: Nathan Gallagher
A Eurostar train. Picture: Nathan Gallagher

We can’t say definitively, thanks to the limitations of Freedom of Information laws that allow public bodies not to disclose information where it might be detrimental to the commercial interests of other parties.

However, what we do know after the release of some relevant information by the Department for Transport that included a “read out” of a meeting held by the rail minister with the company and other industry chiefs.

Sadly, we can’t tell you what the minister said during the meeting as the read out unhelpfully redacted most of what he said, contending that the public interest was trumped by commercial interests.

Head to our politics page for expert analysis and all the latest news from your politicians and councils.

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