Published: 06:00, 22 October 2019
| Updated: 07:25, 22 October 2019
A new cargo aviation hub at Manston could be open by spring 2022 if the controversial plans are given the green light.
Government planners have now decided if a bid to reopen the airport site should be backed, but their views have yet to be made public.
The Planning Inspectorate has sent its recommendations on the proposal to transport secretary Grant Shapps, who will make the final decision on the move.
Mr Shapps now has three months to decide whether to grant planning permission to site owners RiverOak Strategic Partners (RSP) in the form of a Development Consent Order (DCO).
The decision rests with him as the airport bid is considered a Nationally Significant Infrastructure Project.
If approved, RSP will push forward with its plans to reopen Manston as an airport primarily focusing on cargo freight.
Director of RSP Tony Freudman says he is “cautiously optimistic” it will go through.
“If so, it will mean the airport would have formal planning permission and full developmental approval for the cargo hub,” he said.
“We now own the airport so we no longer have to ask the secretary of state to give us a compulsory purchase order, which we originally wanted.”
He says the site might still be used for Operation Brock, which would see lorries parked there in the event of travel problems at Channel ports post-Brexit, until December 2020.
“Our plan is to start construction in 2021 and be open for business, once the licence is approved by the Civil Aviation Authority, in spring 2022.”
Mr Freudman says there has been continuing growth in the air freight cargo market, driven chiefly by the increase in e-commerce and what is known as e-fulfillment - the growing demand for warehousing and storage.
But the proposal has been met with fierce opposition from some quarters, with opponents voicing fears about its viability, air pollution and noisy night flights, among a host of other concerns.
The Planning Inspectorate examined the DCO application during a lengthy enquiry over the summer, with a number of public hearings held.
Initially it also had to consider whether to allow RSP to compulsory purchase the site from former owners Stone Hill Park, which wanted to build up to 3,700 homes on the land.
But in July Stone Hill agreed to sell it to RSP for £16.5m, leaving the Inspectorate only to decide whether to back the airport bid.
Its recommendations were given to the transport secretary on Friday, but will only be published at the same time as the final decision.