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Financial backers of RiverOak plans to reopen Manston airport to be revealed

The financial backers of plans to reopen Manston airport could be revealed after planning chiefs rejected a request to withhold their details.

Lawyers acting for RiverOak Strategic Partners (RSP) had submitted a request to the Planning Inspectorate asking that the identity of investors not to be put into the public domain during the on-going inquiry examining its case to take control of the site.

The group is pursuing a development consent order (DCO), which would given them the power to buy the site from its present owners to turn it back into an airport.

The last passenger flight from Manston airport takes off in 2014. Picture: Tony Flashman
The last passenger flight from Manston airport takes off in 2014. Picture: Tony Flashman

RSP is trying to secure the site for a cargo freight hub from the current owner Stone Hill Park, which wants to turn the site into 4,000 homes and space for businesses.

In a letter published on Friday, inspectors said they could not give any assurances that the details of backers would be kept under wraps.

The issue of the financial backers is a key consideration in the inquiry as planners need to be satisfied the plan for a cargo hub airport would be commercially viable.

The letter, by Kelvin MacDonald, lead member of the examining authority, referred to a request by lawyers for RSP.

It asked “whether it would agree to receive information on the companies that are interested in investing in the airport, including their names and also correspondence that had been exchanged with them, in unredacted and redacted form on the understanding that only the redacted form would be published.”

Stone Hill Park has submitted a planning application to turn the former Manston airport into homes and business space
Stone Hill Park has submitted a planning application to turn the former Manston airport into homes and business space

In its response, inspectors said they could not commit in advance to take evidence or consider submissions about potential investors and not publish their details.

The letter explained it did have the authority to “redact submissions in certain circumstances".

"This is done, for example, to protect the identity of a minor, to seek to avoid identity fraud and to avoid placing personal contact or other details in the public domain,” the letter said.

However, “the need for and merits of redaction of submissions” could only be made on a case by case basis and it was unable to provide assurances before receiving information.

It added that a commitment to openness, transparency and impartiality were “fundamental values” of the Planning Inspectorate.

The letter concluded: “Given this, the Planning Inspectorate cannot commit in advance to redacting specific information as requested by any party.

"For this reason, the ExA (Examining Authority) in this case cannot agree to examine evidence sent to it on the basis that the unredacted version of that evidence will not be published.”

In January, RSP notified the Planning Inspectorate it was restructuring its financial arrangements in response to concerns about its funding vehicle M.I.O Investments Limited, which holds 90% of shares in thecompany but is registered in Belize.

A funding statement for RSP said: “The intention is that RSP’s parent company will be registered in the UK with full transparency as to its directors and shareholders.

"The restructuring is currently in process and is subject to commercial confidentiality.”

It added the restructuring would be completed by February.

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