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Manston Airport development planning inspectors 'will not commission any new evidence'

By Matt Leclere

Thanet residents will have to bear the 'burden' of providing their own expert opinion to decide the future of Manston Airport.

A panel from the Planning Inspectorate (PINs) will spend the next six months examining whether to allow an order paving the way for the site to reopen as a cargo airport.

Lead examiner Kelvin MacDonald confirmed the PINs would not be commissioning any new independent studies at a meeting on Wednesday at Margate's Winter Gardens.

Around 150 people attended the outline hearing setting out the future of Manston Airport as planning inspectors begin their examination of an application for compulsory purchase powers to reopen the site as a freight airport. Margate Winter Gardens (6427295)
Around 150 people attended the outline hearing setting out the future of Manston Airport as planning inspectors begin their examination of an application for compulsory purchase powers to reopen the site as a freight airport. Margate Winter Gardens (6427295)

RiverOak - the company hoping to reopen Manston Airport - has applied for compulsory purchase powers.

Mr MacDonald and his colleagues on the four-man panel will now decide if that application should be granted.

The first public hearings will take place at the same venue tomorrow (Thursday) and Friday.

An issue-specific meeting will be held at 10am on Thursday ahead of a public hearing at 7pm, followed by a second meeting when members of the public can address the panel at 10am on Friday.

But residents have raised concerns at a lack of independent research being included in the process.

Mr MacDonald said: "It’s not our intention to use either existing reports not submitted or to commission our own research or studies.

"There will be a range of evidence submitted by a range of bodies.

"Any party in the examination will be able to look at other people’s evidence."

The site of Manston Airport (6158320)
The site of Manston Airport (6158320)

If RiverOak's application to reopen Manston fails, the most likely future outcome for the site will be handed over to the Stone Hill development.

The company wants to build 4,000 homes combined with leisure facilities, heritage runway and business uses set to create 2,000 new jobs.

Ramsgate resident, Grahame Birchall, questioned the panel’s expectation for residents and groups to provide the evidence themselves.

The issue was later taken up in the meeting by Susan Kennedy, a member of the No Night Flights group and Ramsgate town councillor.

Cllr Kennedy said: “You’ve said you are not going to commission expertise. That is of grave concern to us.

"It’s throwing back the burden to residents that don’t have the resources, money or time to commission the research.

"We feel further expertise is needed to be brought forward.

"It’s throwing back the burden to residents that don’t have the resources, money or time to commission the research." Cllr Susan Kennedy, Ramsgate Town Council

"We want you as the examining authority to get to the heart of what a worst case scenario would be.

"As residents we would want the local authority to provide the independent expertise. For a variety of reasons we believe that isn’t available.

"There’s a need for expert opinion and that we need to be put forward.

"I thought it [the Planning Inspectorate’s examination] was to call expert opinion. “Can you compel statutory authorities to complete expert opinion?”

Mr MacDonald replied: “I should stress that we don’t just sit back and wait for evidence to arrive and take it at face value.

The layout of Stone Hill's mixed use residential, business and leisure development at Manston
The layout of Stone Hill's mixed use residential, business and leisure development at Manston

"We are proactive in putting searching questions to all bodies providing evidence.

"We will be devilling in to the evidence given and if we find it to be inadequate, will be requesting further information.

"We recognise the burden particularly in groups and individuals."

More than 2,050 representations from groups, individuals and businesses have been lodged with the PINs.

Mr MacDonald added: "We are aware this application has generated a large amount of interest, concern and support.

"We had 2,052 representations which is an almost unprecedented number for a national infrastructure application."

Full details of the panel's examination can be found on the Planning Inspectorate Manston website.

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