North Thanet MP Sir Roger Gale appears at Manston inquiry

North Thanet MP Sir Roger Gale has spoken at the inquiry into the change of use of four buildings at Manston airport.

The veteran MP branded the attempt to bring the building out of aviation use as “mischievous” saying he believed the aim was to frustrate the attempts of RiverOak Strategic Partners to reopen the airport for primarily cargo use in the event of a successful Development Consent Order  application to Central Government.

Sir Roger told the inquiry: “Manston airport site is of national strategic importance, very important locally and to Kent.”

Sir Roger pointed to the growth in freight traffic over the previous year and added: “There is nowhere for new freight to go in the south east other than Manston.

“It is absolutely vital, and I believe this view is shared by the government, to see Manston reopened and developed, initially for freight and then for passengers.”

Sir Roger said RiverOak was the only party that had come forward with a viable plan to bring Manston back into aviation use.

UK registered company

The hearing also heard that this is now being done by UK registered RiverOak Strategic Partners Ltd – a company not associated with the US RiverOak corporation originally involved in dealings to become an indemnity partner with Thanet council and then, when rejected, the firm behind the DCO to acquire the Manston site.

The UK company has bought  financial, strategic and operational responsibility for the redevelopment of Manston and seeing through the DCO.

Directors of RSP are Niall Lawlor, Tony Freudmann, George Yerrall, Nick Rothwell, Rico Seitz and Gerard Heusler.

Niall, Tony and George have day-to-day operational control of the project.

Sir Roger said the new company has resources to carry out the plan.

He told the inquiry: “The new business plan put forward for the airport is very different from those that have been tried before. The investment needed, and secured, is very much greater than anything put into Manston before, somewhere north of £150m I believe.

“The alternative is blue sky plans that will create a few construction jobs and not much else.”

Sir Roger said he believed the change of use applications were: “designed to frustrate redevelopment and reopening of Manston because the four applications are for non-aviation use and it is proposed that two buildings will be demolished.”

Neil King QC, for SHP, said demolition plans did not form part of the appeal and were for the longer term strategy at the site.

He added: “It seems to me that these applications are not necessary and add no real value but are rather to frustrate the proposal to reopen the airport.”

Sir Roger said there was adequate employment space at Discovery Park. He said  the isle has 17 hectares of available business space, double the projected need, and some of this space was directly adjacent to the airport site.

Photo by Dean Spinks

He also highlighted that no environmental impact studies had been done, apart from one by RiverOak, and claimed business and housing development at the site would disrupt the aquifers.

He said: “If a full industrial and housing development is allowed to take place I think it is very likely to damage the water supplies for the whole of Thanet.”

Avia Solutions

Sir Roger criticised the Avia Solutions report which deemed aviation at Manston to be unviable in the future saying they had worked from a fixed conclusion and had little knowledge of the airfield or its history.

He said: “I was not impressed by the strength of their case or the intellect behind it.”

Cross examined by Neil King QC, for site owners Stone Hill Park, Sir Roger said the setting up of a new company to handle a large project was “standard practice.”

Retire as MP

At the close of his questioning the MP, who has held his seat for over 30 years, reiterated a statement that if the DCO was rejected and Manston was not reopened as an airport he would retire – despite already being selected to stand at the next General Election.

He said if the DCO or subsequent plans to reopen the airport were rejected  he “would retire as MP.”

He added: “Once a facility like Manston is gone it can never be recreated again.

“We have a once in a lifetime opportunity to create facilities needed in the UK to serve our business interests post-Brexit.”

The inquiry also heard from Manston parish councillor Rex Goodban, opposing the appeal, and Nick Alston, for SHP.