Published: 12:51, 03 July 2019
| Updated: 23:02, 03 July 2019
The owners of the former Manston Airport have sensationally agreed to sell the site to a group who want to turn it back into a hub for cargo flights.
A letter published on the Planning Inspectorate website today revealed Stone Hill Park - which currently owns the site - has agreed to sell the land to a subsidary company of RiverOak Strategic Partners (RSP).
RSP have applied to government planning inspectors to make a compulsory purchase of the site to reopen it as an airport after the final flight took off in 2014.
The document reveals contracts were exchanged yesterday and is expected to be completed by July 11.
It adds: "The applicant will provide a fuller summary of its overall case in the light of this significant development, which may not be until completion has taken place.
"Any submissions made after July 9 will be made to the Secretary of State for Transport."
Manston's owners Stone Hill Park had planned to turn the site into about 4,000 homes and business and commercial space.
It was bought by property entrepreneurs Trevor Cartner and Chris Musgrave in September 2014, who revived the former Pfizer headquarters in Sandwich into the Discovery Park business estate.
They purchased the airport from Scottish businesswoman and Stagecoach founder Ann Gloag, who controversially closed the airport in April 2014.
They had long argued the site would be commercially unviable as an airport and hired former Mayor of Middlesbrough Ray Mallon as a high-powered spokesman to hammer home the message.
They have submitted several planning applications for the site, which have all been stalled by a bid by RiverOak Strategic Partners to secure a development consent order from the Planning Inspectorate, which would give them power to take control of the site.
Trevor Cartner, chairman of Stone Hill Park, said: “I can confirm that Stone Hill Park and RiverOak Strategic Partners (RSP) have agreed terms for the sale of the former Manston Airport site. Final negotiations were swift and handled professionally. Contracts have now been exchanged with completion to follow shortly.
“The site has been the subject of considerable debate over the past five years of our ownership and we have invested a substantial seven figure sum in pursuing a planning application for our vision for the site but that has been met with little support from Thanet District Council.
“Having now been made what we consider to be a very good offer for the site we have decided to sell.
"We wish RSP good luck in their own aspirations for the future of the airport. At some point in the near future we will restructure our company and invest the capital released into other major regeneration projects throughout the UK.”
George Yerrall, a director of RSP said: “It has been a long process with SHP and we felt the time had come for the parties to come together to negotiate a settlement of the ownership issues.
"We now look forward to focusing on securing development consent and making rapid progress towards the re-opening of Manston with all the economic and other benefits we believe it will bring to Thanet and east Kent.
“Since the acceptance of our DCO application for examination we have had immense interest from interested parties, not only airlines and freight operators, but also a wide range of other organisations that will benefit from the airport reopening, including local colleges and employers.
"Now that we have secured the land, it will allow us to develop those relationships as far as we can whilst we wait to receive development consent.”
North Thanet MP Sir Roger Gale has campaigned for the site to remain an airport from the moment it was announced it was due to close in 2014.
He said: "I have today been advised that the RiverOak Strategic Partnership has exchanged contracts for the purchase of all of the land that is Manston Airport.
"I have been kept aware of the fact that negotiations have been progressing steadily since the beginning of the year and I am pleased that they are reaching a satisfactory conclusion.
"While the development consent order will proceed for planning purposes this is another significant step towards the refurbishment and re-opening of Manston as a fully-operational airport."
Cllr Bob Bayford, the Conservative leader of Thanet council, said: "As someone who has been a long-term supporter of returning Manston for aviation, I am delighted and I think it will prove good news for Thanet."
Cllr Rick Everitt, opposition Labour group leader on Thanet council, sounded a note of caution. "I still think we are some distance from being able to operate an airport and in terms of the DCO process, I do not think it will any easier but we will wait to see how things play out."
He said the Labour group maintained its opposition to the site being used for aviation use and backed plans for it to be used for some kind of housing development.