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Gale's View - 31/01/2018 Manston

January 31st 2018

This, some will be relieved to know, will be my last column relating to Manston Airport prior to the submission of an application for a Development Consent Order to be followed by a six-month examination process by an Inspector appointed by the Planning Inspectorate.

Following the completion, last week, of further consultation in the flight path- sensitive areas of Central Ramsgate and Reculver and Beltinge in Herne Bay, of which more in a moment, the findings will be written up and, as part of the largest Environmental Impact Assessment ever undertaken in East Kent, will then be submitted along with the business case, evidence supporting the national as well as the local case for Manston as a viable and necessary foresight hub and passenger airport and other relevant information for consideration as a case for a Development Consent Order.  The DCO, specifically, is designed to meet the needs of nationally important infrastructure projects like Hinckley Point Nuclear Power station, HS2, a third runway at Heathrow and, of course, Manston. 

Given the Inspector's comments in July last year when rejecting change of use on four current buildings on Manston and his recognition in his summary of the importance of Manston of a potential force for economic and employment development as an airport in the current local plan (which is why, of course, the Leader of Thanet Council and the minority opposed to the airport wanted to change the plan from Airport to mixed use) it is hard to see that the RiverOak application will not be accepted for examination.

The process is completely transparent. An Inspector is appointed to conduct a thorough examination which lasts for a fixed period of six months. During those six months all of the documents are made public and are open to scrutiny and witnesses for and against the project and those with a case to state on matters such as night flights will be able to make representations. The hearings in front of the Inspector are informal and much less intimidating than old-style public inquiries. There should be no reason for any person to be able to say, at the point when the Inspector closes his door and sits down to write his report, that they have not had the chance to have their say - although some no doubt will say exactly that! 

Having determined his findings, the Inspector will submit his conclusions, for or against, to the Secretary of State for Transport whose job it is to make the final decision. The Minister has the power to either accept or overturn the Inspector's recommendation. His decision is final and there is no further appeal.

Turning back to the flight path and noise issues discussed at the public exhibitions, it is worth remembering that there has been an airfield at Manston for a hundred years. It is not, as one who attended a public meeting has suggested, " just a quiet little Regional Airport.”  Manston has hosted the RAF cold- war Vulcan Bombers, American Air- Force Fast Jets, Concorde and the Dreamliner. It is three standard runways wide and is one of the longest and most secure runways in the land. Until closure Manston was also a national facility as a Major Diversion Field. In addition to Silver City Manston is not new to freight. The Civilian Transfer was made to Seabourne Aviation and MK and Cargolux, a major freight carrier that is likely to want to return, were regular users. 

There is nobody living who has bought a house in the Manston ' catchment area' without knowing that there was an operational airport or an airport that was likely to re- open there but that said, the concerns of those living under the flight path have to be understood.

Measures to mitigate environmental damage have to and will be taken.  Thankfully modern aircraft are quieter now than they were even when Manston closed and an examination of flight paths is revealing some creative ways of limiting the noise footprint still further.

RiverOak has included in its Environmental Impact Assessment for the sake of completeness and for the information of the Inspector a section on the impact of night flights. All significant airports in fact make provision for occasional delayed long- haul flights, emergency landings and mercy missions to disaster zones but the company has publicly declared - and this of course will also be open to examination - that it neither needs nor wants scheduled night flights that do not fit in with its business plan.

If successful, a Development Consent Order with accompanying Compulsory Purchase Order takes precedence over the Local plan or any other decision by the Local Planning Authority. If it fails the project is dead in the water and in the case of Manston this Member of Parliament has indicated that, although already selected to fight the next General election, he will retire from politics.

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