Manston Airport – Statement – Sir Roger Gale MP - 5th August 2015
Commenting on the COBRA decision to use Manston Airport as a relief truck park for Operation Stack North Thanet`s MP, Sir Roger Gale has said:
“The Foreign Secretary, Philip Hammond, afforded me the courtesy of calling me personally at 11.00 this (Tuesday) morning to inform me that, based on professional advice from Kent County Constabulary, The Highways Agency and Kent County Council a decision had been taken by COBRA to use Manston Airport as the preferred diversionary park for freight traffic bound for Dover in the event of a re-introduction of Operation Stack.
I have made my own view plain to Downing Street, to The Home Office and to The Department for Transport: I believe this to be a profoundly bad and impractical proposal. You do not solve a problem by moving it from A to B, which is effectively what the Leader of Kent County Council and the Highways Agency are seeking to do. We need to remember that both the Chief Constable of Kent and the current owners of Manston Airport were, a few days of go, stating their very public opposition to this plan and I cannot see that much has changed since then.
To divert traffic across country roads at the height of the tourist season across twenty miles of Kent`s highways is, I believe, quite wrong when there are other alternatives such as the park at Ebbsfleet and Kent County Showground, which lies between the M20 and the M2, available.
Nevertheless, Manston Airport has served the nation well in the past and will, I believe, do so again both as an airport and Search and Rescue base in the future. In the interim, if the country needs Manston and if that is the decision that has been taken then whether I like it as the local MP or not – and I have made it plain that I do not – then I shall have to live with that.
I have, however, been given very clear assurances by the Foreign Secretary:
First, Manston will only be used if absolutely necessary.
Second, in order to gauge any disruption to holiday traffic any transfer of freight vehicles will be phased in and halted if it becomes apparent that our own domestic tourist traffic is being adversely affected.
Third, he has confirmed an assurance given to me by Downing Street that any damage done to the potential of Manston as an airfield will be rectified following the completion of the exercise.
While I am very concerned upon the effect, at the height of the season, upon the tourist industries in Margate and Herne Bay in my constituency and upon Broadstairs, Ramsgate and Sandwich in South Thanet I do not believe that this decision will, or should be allowed to, impact upon the Compulsory Purchase Process and ultimate re-instatement of Manston as an operational airfield. Indeed, I would hope that Government, recognising Manston`s contribution in an hour of need, will do everything in its power to ensure that planes are flying again from Manston Airport as soon as possible.