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Manston Airport site near Ramsgate to become freight cargo air hub

Plans to transform Manston Airport into a freight cargo air hub have today been given the green light - paving the way for hundreds of jobs to be created and a £300 million boost to east Kent.

Transport ministers were due to rule on the future of the site back in January and then May, but both times the decision was delayed.

KMTV reports on the announcement

But the government has now granted a Development Consent Order enabling the airport, owned by RiverOak Strategic Partners (RSP), to reopen.

It will become a dedicated air freight facility, able to handle at least 10,000 air cargo movements per year whilst also offering passenger, executive travel, and aircraft engineering services.

The planning inspectorate had recommended the government should not grant consent to the DCO.

But the Secretary of State's approval letter published today says there is "a clear case of need for the development".

The former Manston Airport. Picture: Chris Davey
The former Manston Airport. Picture: Chris Davey

It adds: "The development would support the government’s policy objective to make the UK one of the best-connected countries in the world and for the aviation sector to make a significant contribution to economic growth of the UK".

The letter continues: "The Secretary of State accepts that there is the potential for short term congestion and delays on the local road system caused by the Development to occur before appropriate mitigation is delivered; however, he considers that the residual cumulative impacts would not be severe and gives limited weight to these effects.

"He concludes that the need and public benefits that would result from the development clearly outweigh the heritage harm and the harm that may be caused to the tourist industry in Ramsgate."

Sarah Richards, chief executive of the planning inspectorate, said: “The planning inspectorate is committed to giving local communities the opportunity of being involved in the examination of projects that may affect them.

"Local people, the local authority and other interested parties were able to participate in a six-month long examination. The examining authority listened and gave full consideration to local views before making their recommendation.”

RSP, which first applied for the DCO in 2018, hopes to create hundreds of jobs at the site and potentially thousands within the supply chain.

But the proposal had been met with fierce opposition from some, with opponents voicing fears about its viability, air pollution and noisy night flights, among a host of other concerns.

North Thanet MP Sir Roger Gale
North Thanet MP Sir Roger Gale

North Thanet MP Sir Roger Gale welcomed today's announcement.

He said: “This decision reflects the wishes of the majority of the people of Thanet.

"I applaud the determination of those who have worked so hard in support of this cause and the commitment of RiverOak who, since the airport was closed, have not wavered in their determination to see Manston re-opened as a freight hub and, subsequently, as a passenger and general aviation airfield again.

"I hope that Kent County Council and, particularly, Thanet District Council will now unreservedly throw their weight behind this job-creating project.

"£300 million of inward investment is a sum that East Kent has never seen before.

"The capacity to create good, long term employment is colossal.

"This would be good news for Thanet and good news for the country at any time but in the middle of an economically devastating pandemic is a shot in the arm for the nation.

"We know that there is a long haul ahead and that it will be at least a couple of years before we see wheels landing on tarmac again but the starting gun has been fired and now we can get on with the real task of creating a state-of-the-art zero-carbon airport.

"When it re-opens, Manston is planned to be the most environmentally friendly airfieldin the world and that will send a clear signal that a new Britain is very much open for business.

"Manston has been at the front line of the Battle for Britain in the past and I look forward to seeing an inaugural Spitfire landing on that famous runway again within my parliamentary lifetime.”

Craig Mackinlay, MP for South Thanet
Craig Mackinlay, MP for South Thanet

South Thanet MP Craig Mackinlay expressed his delight with the decision.

He said: "We can now get Manston up and flying again providing post-Brexit Britain with the additional airfreight and passenger capacity we need.

“The re-opening of Manston will generate a substantial number of jobs in a relatively short period of time. East Kent stands out as an area of high unemployment compared to South East norms; we have an asset in Manston that can play a key role in improving the economic strength of our area.

“The reality is that high value global trade will continue to be transported by aircraft. Manston has been an airport for more than a hundred years, is designated an airport in the Local Plan and provides a ‘spade ready’ and rapid solution to assist in the country’s new global position outside the EU.

“I look forward to working with RSP, Sir Roger Gale MP, as well as our local authorities and central government to deliver on the promises I made at successive elections to support the re-opening of Manston Airport.

“After what has been a very challenging time for everyone, this is news that should put a spring in our step. A great day for Thanet.”

Manston closed for business in 2014 and has since found itself at the centre of a tug-of-war over its future.

RSP hopes cargo flights will resume at the site, but the possibility of passenger flights operating from Manston is less certain, with the firm saying it is not ruling out the idea, but stating its focus is initially on developing the site near Ramsgate for freight.

Prior to the delay of the decision in January, RSP had hoped, if approved, the hub could reopen by 2022.

TURBULENT HISTORY OF MANSTON

The airport closed in 2014, with owner Ann Gloag deciding to pull down the shutters in a move that seemed to sound the death knell for Manston.

A service to Amsterdam run by Dutch airline KLM, looked as though it would earn a footnote in Manston’s history as the last to operate out of the airport.

It was then sold to developers Stone Hill Park, who set out ambitious plans to redevelop the huge site for thousands of homes and businesses.

But in a late twist to the long-running saga, in July 2019 the two partners in Stone Hill Park announced they had sold the site to RSP.

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The former owners formally withdrew their opposition to the DCO application being made by what had been their rivals.

As a result, the planning inspectorate was no longer required to consider the case for a Compulsory Purchase Order. However, under the process they were required to consider other representations from other parties and have had to take into account the financial viability of RSP’s plans.

RSP had argued the site could sustain a cargo hub, saying the air freight market is "ripe for an alternative to the overcrowded London airports system".

After several delays, the DCO was finally approved today.

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