Manston Airport's future hinges on DfT review

Thanet District Council is to reconsider plans for the airport site ahead of PwC report due at the end of the month.

Manston Airport before closure.

The row over the closure and sale of Manston Airport on the Isle of Thanet in the Thames Estuary in Kent, was revived last week with the decision by the new UKIP led Thanet District Council to reconsider pursuing a compulsory purchase order for the site.

The previous administration, which was then controlled by Labour, voted in December not to implement a compulsory purchase order after it claimed prospective indemnity partner RiverOak, which had wanted to keep the airport open, had not passed due diligence.

The decision had left the developer, regeneration specialists Trevor Carter and Chris Musgrave, who purchased the land last year from the previous airport operator, free to press ahead with a housing and business park development until the Department for Transport stepped in last March to order a review of the council's decision, led by PwC.

According to the Isle of Thanet Gazette, councillor Iris Johnston said at last week’s council meeting that at the time the CPO decision was made in December,  three years of accounts and records had not been made available to the Council. Since then, she said, this critical information had been made available.

“In the following months, RiverOak made available to the Minister of State for Transport John Hayes further financial information which led to an independent report tasked to auditor PwC - the results of the this are due this month,” the paper reported.

It continued: “Newly elected Council leader Chris Wells said: ‘I think it's fair to say that sufficient changes in circumstance has taken place for this council to recommend that Cabinet do perhaps look once again to the indemnity partner status and to do so as the first action of this newly elected council.”

The developers remain adamant however that talk of a CPO by the UKIP led council is a “red herring” and that development is the best option for benefiting the area.

Reopening and development of Manston Airport was included as a pledge in the UKIP 2015 Election manifesto which stated: “We firmly believe that part of the solution to address the lack of airport capacity in the South East is to re-open Manston Airport,” pointing out that it "is ideally placed to take low-cost airlines and freight-only aircraft."

The history of the site is well documented in the Commons Transport Committee’s Smaller Airports report, published in March.

It records that the airport had been sold last year to Trevor Carter and Chris Musgrave by Manston Skyport, which had itself purchased the facility in 2013 for £1. The plan was to keep the airport closed and redevelop the site for housing and business facilities.

However, airport operator RiverOak had also wanted to buy the airport for £7M and use it as a cargo facility.

Manston Skyport told the Commons Transport Committe that it decided to close Manston because Ryanair withdrew from discussions to operate from Manston, because British Airways decided not to relocate its cargo operation to Manston and because the Airports Commission concluded that hub capacity should be expanded in the south-east.

Options for a CPO to maintain Manston as an airport were rejected by Thanet District Council and Kent County Council.  But Department for Transport interceded in the Manston case following Thanet District Council’s decision not to proceed with a compulsory purchase order.

In December 2014, then DfT minister John Hayes chaired a meeting with interested parties and agreed to co-ordinate work across Government to explore all options to secure the airport's future.

On 5 March, the DfT announced that it will "appoint a consultant (PWC) to review the process so far on decisions about the future of Manston airport." That report is now due.

In the Infrastrucuture Intelligence/Deltek Pulse survey this month 20% of those surveyed thought a Thames Estuary airport was one option for solving the south east’s airport capacity crisis.

One respondent commented: “I would really like to know why Manston in Kent is not being considered: not much further out than the (Boris Island) estuary airport; a long enough runway; loads of space for development and an easy link to HS1.”

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Excellent article, thank you. One point, KCC unanimously offered support to TDC to re-open Manston, only leader Paul Carter has since spoken out against this. On Thursday 17th July Kent County Council (KCC) held a Council Meeting, and unanimously supported : “Kent County Council supports the actions taken so far by Thanet District Council to retain Manston as a regional airport. We recognise the value that a regional airport brings to East Kent and are disappointed at its closure. Kent County Council will explore with Thanet District Council ways in which it can support proposals to retain Manston as an airport.”
It's a bit bizarre. The council leader says that there have been changes in circumstances. But it's only been a few months since the council decided not to go ahead with this, and nothing has changed at all. Bearing in mind the chief reason they decided to go ahead was that the potential indemnity partner, Riveroak, failed to pass the due diligence tests, you have to wonder what the council is planning to do. If they are planning to ignore the due diligence, the CPO process could bankrupt the council.
At the House of Commons Select Committee Inquiry into Manston Airport on Feb 2nd 2015 it was concluded that the Thanet District Council at that time was not competent enough to deal with the CPO without assistance. The results of the PWC report commissioned by the DfT will determine the suitability of Riveroak as an indemnity partner for the newly elected Thanet District Council. Riveroak has pledged to cover all the CPO costs so no expense to TDC or local taxpayers.
A statement from Riveroak Investments, April 9th 2015 said.....'Riveroak warmly welcomes the news, that following the PWC Review of our documentation Minister of State John Hayes has today told Thanet District Council that he is 'satisfied by the Indemnity offered by Riveroak to protect the Council against the costs of the CPO'. We are equally delighted to hear of the one year deal struck with Bristow which paves the way for Search and Rescue helicopters to return to Manston once the Airport re-opens.'
Interesting that subsequently "that following the PWC Review of our documentation Minister of State John Hayes has today told Thanet District Council that he is 'satisfied by the Indemnity offered by Riveroak to protect the Council against the costs of the CPO" proved to be utter fantasy, much like most of the rest of the claims and BS of the SMA.
I beg to differ with the accusation of 'fantasy'. The statement I quoted regarding Minister John Hayes assurances in respect of Riveroak and the CPO, is from a letter signed by Riveroak's Stephen DeNardo and can be found in full on Riveroak's website.
The statement from John Hayes was as follows (I paraphrase for clarity). "I have had a letter from RiverOak, in which they state everything is fine. So.... I think everything is fine. PS no need to mention the thorough due diligence carried out by the Local Authority"