Manston Airport Frequently Asked Questions

What is the current status of the Manston Airport site?

The airport closed in May 2014. Since September 2014 different proposals for the site have been put forward by regeneration specialists, Trevor Cartner and Chris Musgrave – part of the Discovery Park consortium responsible for developing the Pfizer site in Sandwich. These proposals include renaming the site as Stone Hill Park. The owners’ proposal to develop the site into a mixed-use area comprised of homes and business premises is currently going through the planning process.

What is the current status of the Stone Hill Park planning application?

The application is currently being assessed by the council, but there is a significant amount of additional information to be submitted to support the application. Once received, further consultation will be undertaken.

Why did the council commission a report on the viability of Manston Airport?

The council must set out planning policies within its Local Plan that are based on evidence. Within the current Local Plan the Manston Airport site is designated for ‘aviation use only’. To continue with this designation in its new Local Plan, the council would have to provide evidence to the independent planning inspector appointed by the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, that a future airport could be viable. The council needed independent aviation industry experts to conduct this study on its behalf.

Who undertook the report?

AviaSolutions is an aviation management consultancy appointed to provide an independent assessment of the prospects for Manston Airport. Avia provides specialised aviation advisory services to a wide range of airports, airlines, governments and financial investors. Their expert team is made up of ex-airport, airline, financial services and OEM (original equipment manufacturer) professionals, and they have a global client base, including Deutsche Bank, Department for Transport, HSBC, British Airways, Flybe, EasyJet, and many others.

What did AviaSolutions do?

They produced a report on the financial feasibility of operating Manston Airport as a standalone entity. As part of producing the report, Avia discussed the re-opening of Manston Airport with a number of organisations and individuals and carried out a detailed assessment of the air transport market and the potential financial performance of a re-opened airport. The report focuses solely on the airport’s commercial aspects rather than providing any legal, environmental or socio-economic advice or comment. Financial assessments within the report were based on relatively favourable assumptions of passenger and freight volume and the potential revenue of a re-opened airport.

How were AviaSolutions selected to undertake the report?

AviaSolutions were selected in accordance with Thanet District Council’s contract standing orders. This means, invitations for quotations to undertake the report were sent to five companies known to be working in this field. Two quotations were received and both companies were interviewed to establish which would be the most suitable.

What did the report say?

AviaSolutions concluded that ‘airport operations at Manston are very unlikely to be financially viable in the longer term and almost certainly not possible in the period to 2031.’ Even applying assumptions favourable to Manston Airport, the report concluded that it is most unlikely that Manston Airport would attract private investors, nor represent a viable investment opportunity both in the longer-term – after 2040 – and certainly not during the period of the council’s Local Plan (up to 2031). The full report can be viewed here.

What does this mean?

It means that the council does not have sufficient evidence to continue to designate the site ‘for aviation use only’ within its Local Plan. Officers will now recommend within the new Local Plan that the Manston Airport site is designated for mixed-use development.

Couldn’t the council ignore this advice and still choose to designate it as an airport anyway?

The council’s Local Plan has to be approved by a Planning Inspector - an independent planning inspector appointed by the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government. The Planning Inspector will only approve a Local Plan which is based on evidence. If the Local Plan is not approved, this would further delay the Local Plan process. This would leave the district open to significant risk, without the ability to control development or ensure the provision of infrastructure and services alongside development.

Would other aviation experts come to a different, more favourable conclusion for Manston?

AviaSolutions are industry experts. They based their assumptions on industry standards and were as favourable in their analysis as possible. Despite this, they were unable to conclude that Manston Airport had realistic prospects of becoming a financially viable airport.

How will the Avia report be considered by the council? Will there be an opportunity for members of the public to comment on it?

The Local Plan will be considered by Councillors at Overview and Scrutiny Committee on Monday 21 November and by Cabinet on Thursday 8 December. Cabinet can then propose that the Local Plan goes to public consultation for a period of six weeks in the New Year. The Avia report is part of the evidence of the Local Plan.

Does the recent announcement of the third runway at Heathrow change the situation at Manston?

The study found that the airport was not viable under any of the likely scenarios including a new runway at Heathrow. The most viable scenario in the report was no new runway at either Heathrow or Gatwick. The recent Heathrow announcement simply confirms the government’s thinking in relation to the Davies Commission.

What is a CPO?

A CPO or Compulsory Purchase Order is a legal method for public organisations, such as Thanet District Council to obtain land or property from its owners if it is deemed to be in the public interest. Thanet District Council has been clear that it would only apply for a CPO for Manston Airport if all associated costs would be covered by a third party and that there was evidence that an airport could be a viable business.

Is the council considering a CPO of the site?

No. In July 2014, a petition was presented to Thanet District Council calling for it to compulsory purchase the privately-owned site. The council was clear that a decision to compulsory purchase the airport would depend on: • Identifying a suitable indemnity partner - a third party to cover all costs of a CPO; • Evidence of the economic viability of the airport. The council would then need to go through a rigorous process to demonstrate that compulsory purchase was right for the site, which would be subject to the approval of the Secretary of State. After embarking on two soft market testing exercises, the council was unable to identify a suitable indemnity partner. Nor has it been able to source evidence of the viability of the airport. On these grounds it will not pursue a CPO.

Why weren’t RiverOak selected as an Indemnity Partner?

American investment firm, RiverOak failed to provide adequate financial evidence in order to demonstrate that they could become an Indemnity Partner for the council.

What is a DCO?

A DCO or Development Consent Order is the means of obtaining permission for developments categorised as Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects (NSIP). The process is administered by the Planning Inspectorate (PINS).

What was the council’s reaction to the closure of the airport?

At the time the council confirmed that the closure of the airport and the loss of jobs represented a significant blow to Thanet’s economic position. Despite the lack of sustained growth over the last few years the airport was consistently acknowledged as an important economic asset. The council supported the airport directly by the provision of a Designated Port of Entry service and recognised the potential wider economic benefits an airport could bring to the district.

What happens now?

Thanet District Council will continue to prepare its Local Plan which sets out policies and proposals that will be used to guide decisions and investment on development and regeneration. It will help make sure the district is developed in the right way. The process for producing a Local Plan is set out in national law and regulations. The Local Plan has to be submitted to the Secretary of State for approval. A public examination will be held by an independent Planning Inspector appointed by the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government.

Have the Council been approached by Riveroak about their proposed Development Consent order?

The Council has received no formal response to the letter sent out by the Chief Executive to Riveroak’s solicitors, Bircham Dyson Bell, on the 2nd November 2016. We were notified in August 2016 that a Statement of Community Consultation (SOCC) for the proposed Development Consent Order (DCO) was being developed by Riveroak’s planning consultants RPS Group. The Council were sent a draft of the SOCC on the 10th February 2017 by Bircham Dyson Bell, and the Council responded with its comments on the 9th March 2017.