Sir Roger Gale
Member of Parliament for North Thanet (Margate, Herne Bay & The Villages)
Gale's View - Manston Sale
March 26th 2014
There are, of course, those in both Thanet and Herne Bay who will have welcomed the prospect of the closure of Manston, were such an event to take place, as an operational airport. The self interest of those affected by overflying is understandable and, to some extent reasonable although there is not a single living person who has bought a house adjacent to the airfield or underneath the flightpath who cannot or should not have known that there has been an airbase in East Kent for getting on for a hundred years.
The overwhelming majority of the communications that I have received since last Wednesday’s announcement of a consultation period have, however, been wholeheartedly in support of Manston and of dismay at the prospect that our local airport might shut. With good reason.
Manston has not only a proud history but ought to have an optimistic future. It is a national as well as a local asset. There is a shortage of runway capacity in the South East and it is because of that that UK Limited is losing aviation and associated business to mainland Europe at a rate that we cannot afford if we are to maintain our trading superiority. Manston, with one of the longest and widest runways in the country is a safe and significant diversion landing strip and has also been re-designated as a Search and Rescue base. Plans are moving ahead to create the sub 1 –hour rail link between London and a Manston Parkway station and Discovery Park and other local business interests throughout East Kent are still looking forward to the enhanced communications that road, rail, air and sea should be able to offer at an almost unparalleled level.
That there have been too many setbacks is undeniable. But the present owner has been in possession of the asset for barely four months of an anticipated two-year development plan and Manston needs further time and investment if it is to be allowed to realise its true potential. Time is short and events are moving at a pace. Should Manston cease operations and should the airport lose its operating license then the likelihood is that it will have shut forever. The alternative ill- thought- through proposals for the use of the site have not, to date, taken account of matters such as planning, infrastructure, land contamination or archaeological demands. Any alternative would require months if not years of painstaking work and still further and massive investment in order to bring about not an “anything goes” but a viable and right solution.
For hard-nosed commercial reasons, therefore, as well as sentimental and emotional attachment to magnificent men and their flying machines, I hold to the view that the best option for Manston is to remain open for business, in the national interest, as an airport. At the time of writing there is a willing buyer with, I believe, the resources to acquire and operate the business. We have to hope that there will, also, be a willing seller.