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Manston Airport – Select Committee Report.  13th March 2015

An Appraisal – Sir Roger Gale MP

The Transport Select Committee has been thorough in its consideration of Manston Airport as a case study, which I requested at Easter 2014, relating to its Smaller Airports Inquiry.

First, I am gratified that, in acknowledging the suitability, as the only sufficiently long and available runway in the South East, of Manston as a diversion airfield, the Committee has recognised the importance of Manston as a strategic national asset that should be protected as such.

Second, the Committee has agreed that Thanet District Council was correct in taking an approach that has sought to protect the financial interests of Council taxpayers although it has not, as some have sought to suggest, confirmed that TDC was right in reaching the conclusion not to proceed to a Compulsory Purchase Order. The Committee has indicated correctly that TDC has neither the expertise nor the resources to fully and properly assess the RiverOak proposition.

In that context the Committee is equally correct to identify Kent County Council as a strategic and responsible Transport Authority and to criticise the Leader, Paul Carter, for unilaterally failing to comply with the expressed wish of the County Council to support Thanet in its efforts to examine the possibility of a CPO. The Committee further notes that, to the contrary, Mr. Carter gave support to an alternative use of Manston as a housing and industrial development with no authority to do so from KCC.

The Committee further notes that the Department of Transport could and should have examined the TDC/RiverOak papers more speedily although there are sound reasons why some time was taken to obtain the necessary Treasury authorisation for public funds to commission an independent assessment. The Committee does, though, acknowledge that such an assessment is desirable.

The Committee clearly shares expressed concerns about the nature of the ownership and control, of Manston Airport which have yet to be clarified. It has undertaken to receive and publish as part of its evidence details of the Joint Venture Partnership between Mmes. Gloag and Bradley and Messrs. Cartner and Musgrave should these be made available.

Looking forward

It is vital, in the national interest, that Government now immediately secures the appointment of an independent contractor, working with DfT, to swiftly evaluate the terms of indemnity offered to Thanet District Council. By RiverOak. If this is found to be satisfactory then the perceived impediment will be removed and TDC should proceed to instigate the compulsory purchase process immediately. If aspects of the indemnity offer are found wanting then RiverOak will need to address these to the satisfaction of the Independent Assessor before the latter recommends to TDC that it is safe and proper, taking account of the need to protect the interests of the council taxpayer, to proceed. Once this process is under way the Independent Assessor may be invited to further examine aspects of the RiverOak business plan and funding although that will, inevitably, form part of an anticipated public inquiry also.

It is in the public interest and in the interests of all stakeholders in Manston Airport that this issue is brought to a swift and satisfactory conclusion.

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