15th July 2020
It should by now be common knowledge that the Department for transport has approved the Development Consent Order for the reconstruction and re-opening of Manston Airport. That the decision was announced on the eve of the 80th Anniversary of the Battle of Britain is perhaps a fitting tribute to a front-line airfield that has given service to this Country for more than a hundred years and that will know be able to continue to serve the nation in a new and re-vitalised capacity in an hour of different need.
I am aware that the decision will have disappointed those people who took a punt on the assertion that Manston would be turned into a massive dormitory estate for the London Boroughs to exploit but the clue is in the fact that Manston has been designated as an airfield in the local plan and remains designated as an airfield in the local plan voted through last Thursday evening after the Minister`s decision had been announced and with the overwhelming support of all parties. That vote for Manston Airport represents a reflection of the democratic wish of the people of Thanet as demonstrated in two local Council elections, two County Council elections and three General Elections in each of which platforms the future of Manston was a key plank.
There is absolutely no doubt in my mind that the post-Brexit and post-Covid requirement for additional runway and handling capacity has been foremost in the Minister`s mind when taking his decision. There is also the small matter of more than £300 million of inward investment now confirmed at a time when the economy is in the rough and unemployment is inevitably bound to rise. That money is a sum the like of which has never before been seen in East Kent and its long-term job creating potential for future generations of local young people will be colossal.
The process to date , albeit expensive, has been the prelude. Now the real task starts. There is a considerable amount of detailed design work to be undertaken in short order and then contracts to be advertised and let before a single turf will be cut. That inevitable delay will be frustrating for us all but it is essential.. There is only a handful of companies in the country capable of managing a project of this scale but we are promised that part of the deal will be that as much of the work as possible will be sub-contracted to local firms and that employment of local labour is a priority for the developers, The RiverOak Strategic Partnership. Indeed, the Development Consent Order that the Minister has grated and which has the force of law requires that an education, , skills and employment plan which must include a local hiring policy must be established.
We are now looking at wheels on runway tarmac in 2023 with employment during construction and then in aviation- related industries and freight handling facilities rising steadily. We are also promised a world-class net zero carbon airport that will be as environmentally friendly as is achievable and that will help to blaze a trail for the aviation of the future. The terms of the DCO stipulate clearly that night flights, save for the landing of late passenger aircraft on rare occasions, will not be permitted which kicks that false allegation into touch. It is also untrue to suggest, as a few have done, that Manston will be a freight-only airport. Passenger traffic is, of course, in a parlous state for obvious reason but it will recover. By the time that the new Manston Airport is up and away the situation will be very different. It will then be possible to deliver a passenger-handling facility designed to meet the needs of tomorrow and to seek to have some short-haul “sunshine flight” aircraft based at the airfield. We should not overlook, either, the desire of TG Aviation to return to its natural home nor the potential, with a fast rail link, to attract General Aviation as well.. We shall, I believe, have before long and in Thanet a facility that we can be truly proud of.
It is six long years since some of us attended the first “Save Manston” meeting at an over-crowded Acol village hall. Sitting in the front row was a little girl whose Daddy was going to have to leave home in Thanet to find another job when the airport closed. We promised her that we would move heaven and earth to get her airfield open again and we all owe a huge debt of gratitude to those whose faith in our piece of history and its future have remained steadfast. Per Ardua Ad Astra.