March 20th 2014
Following the announcement of the proposed closure of the Airport, Manston`s MP, Sir Roger Gale, has said:
“Nobody should pretend that this is anything other than unwelcome news. The airport has been under the control of Anne Gloag for a relatively short time and the expectation was that the new owner would give the operation at least two years in which to seek to attract new business and investment. It appears that the failure to win business from Ryanair, following that company`s profits warning, and the failure to secure new freight traffic from British Airways has led to losses that Ms. Gloag regards as unsustainable.
I have personally always regarded Manston Airfield, which has seen public service for getting on for a century, as not just a local but as a national asset. Manston has the fourth longest runway in the Country, is a major diversion field that is used not infrequently when Gatwick and Heathrow are affected by adverse weather conditions and it provides search-and-rescue facilities. There is a recognised and immediate shortage of runway capacity in the South East that is leading to a loss of business from the UK to Frankfurt, Schiphol and Charles de Gaulle airports on mainland Europe. Manston should have a role to play in providing capacity while long-term decisions are taken – a fact that I fear that Sir Howard Davies has failed to reflect in the interim report of his review. It is time that we recognised that in terms of a backside on a seat in Central London to that same backside on a seat on an aircraft Manston is “closer” to the city than Heathrow!
My first objective, working with Laura Sandys who also represents people working at the airport, is to seek to ensure that those employed at Manston receive a fair deal and I am assured by Charles Buchanan, who has so excellently managed the airport, that that will be the case.
Next, Laura and I are establishing a working group to seek to secure a future for the site. My own next objective is to try to ensure that Manston continues to operate as an airport and I hope and expect that in this I shall have the support of Thanet District Council and Kent County Council. I have already raised my concerns with both the Secretary of State for Transport and the Minister of State for Aviation in parliament.
I have, though, to recognise that Manston is in private ownership. If it becomes apparent that the operation really is not viable as an airfield then it is vital that we produce not just any solution but the right solution for East Kent. Simply smothering the area in housing or industrial sheds is not, for me, an option and I shall not support any proposed development that does not accommodate the environmental needs and the heritage of Thanet. In archaeological terms alone Manston is historic and valuable and due attention will have to be paid, in undertaking any alternative development, to the excavation and preservation of what lies beneath the airfield. That will come at a very considerable price in itself.
Notwithstanding yesterday`s announcement, news of which I first received while listening to the Chancellor`s budget speech in the House of Commons, I believe that the case for the completion of the fast rail link from Ashford through to Thanet and the Parkway station to serve the island and the Discovery Business Park, remains as vital as ever and again I hope and expect that Kent County Council will maintain its staunch and financial support needed to see this through to completion.
That the new owner of Manston has felt unable to realise the full potential of the airfield is a disappointment but rather than regard this as a disaster I believe that, as with the closure of Pfizer at Sandwich, we who represent the interests of East Kent have to see this as an exciting challenge and as an opportunity.”