The firm now driving a Development Consent Order for the Manston airport site has received no “substantive” response to a threat of legal action against Thanet council leader Chris Wells.
The action centres on an email which RiverOak Strategic Partners Ltd (RSP) say Cllr Wells sent to 35 members of the authority and which, they say, contained defamatory allegations against RSP and its funding vehicle M.I.O Investments.
RSP acquired the rights to progress a Development Consent Order for the Manston site from original proposing company Riveroak Investment Corporation.
The new company
The company is 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 first behind the DCO to acquire the Manston site.
The firm established M.I.O Investments, which was registered in Belize in October 2016 by RiverOak investors, as a funding vehicle for the investment in the Manston project. Details of the company were submitted to Companies House.
RSP says it remains a UK company and will pay UK corporation tax on its UK profits.
In response to the email, which is said to have contained allegations about the Belize status, RSP launched the threat of legal action, demanding Cllr Wells issue an unqualified withdrawal of the allegations with an apology and an undertaking not to repeat those or similar allegations; a charitable donation and the payment of RSP legal costs.
In a statement on the RSP website it says: “We are also seeking confirmation that Councillor Chris Wells will recuse himself from any involvement or decision by Thanet District Council relating to the Manston airport site.”
Cllr Wells was given until 5pm on 11 April and then an extension to 5pm today, (13 April), to respond.
RSP says it is ‘disappointed’ that Cllr Wells has not “substantively” responded.
Cllr Wells has yet to comment.
Land access denied
In a second wrangle RSP has been denied access to the Manston site to carry out survey work as part of the DCO process.
Current landowners Stone Hill Park, which lodged a planning application to create 2,500 homes, a business park and leisure and heritage space with Thanet council last year, say that following legal advice they informed RSP of their intention to deny ‘s53 authorisation.’
The authorisation is granted by the Secretary of State and gives powers to an applicant to forcibly allow them access onto land they do not own to carry out surveys in preparation for making a DCO application.
DCOs are used to authorise certain types of Infrastructure projects deemed to be nationally significant. RSP says a functioning airport at Manston qualifies as this.If granted, the DCO may include powers forcing the sale of land to the promoter of the project.
Ray Mallon, spokesman for Stone Hill Park, said: “In the weeks leading up to this access, Stone Hill Park asked RSP on several occasions to clarify they had the necessary authority to access our land and RSP was either unable or unwilling to do so.
“The initial reason for Stone Hill Park’s request was the fact that the original applicant under the DCO process was not RSP but RiverOak Investment Corporation (ROIC) and we are now aware that on the 15th December last year, ROIC withdrew their support from the DCO process in its entirety.
“In addition, we now know that when the Secretary of State granted rights under the s53 licence to ROIC it was on the 16th December after ROIC no longer had a legal interest in the DCO process.
“It is our view, and that of our legal advisor, that the s53 authorisation was not lawfully granted as the applicant had withdrawn from the process by the date of grant.”
SHP also said they were concerned about the registration in Belize.
RSP has applied to the Secretary of State via the Planning Inspectorate for a new s53 order to access the land so it can gather data for an Environmental Statement as part of the DCO process.
These will form part of a report which will be made available during the process of statutory consultation, expected later this year.