The spokesman for a US logistics company that has expressed an interest in Manston airport says reactivating aviation operations at the site will benefit the region.
Dale Crawford, of DTD Consult, says the American investment group is entering discussions with Thanet council and expects that all parties interested in the site will be ‘treated equally.’
The potential investors are proposing an injection of £100m at the site, aim to relocate 12 aircraft currently in Europe to the Manston site and plan to gain a compulsory purchase order for the 750-acre plot.
Mr Crawford, who has a background in military engineering and aviation, said: “There is a clear commercial need for additional airport capacity in the South East. Compared to all the difficulties involved in building extra runways at Gatwick or Heathrow, Manston offers some clear advantages to ambitious operators looking for a speedy solution to their logistical needs.”
Mr Crawford said links have already been established with potential commercial partners and that he will be entering discussions with Thanet District Council about providing the necessary guarantees to ensure a successful conclusion to negotiations.
He added: “I am in constant contact with Councillor Rusiecki and he is providing all necessary information whilst also making us aware that there are no favourites in this process and all interested parties are being treated equally.
“I genuinely am convinced that the most beneficial option for the local communities will be chosen as the indemnity partner for the CPO process.
“It really is down to what sustainable benefit the region will achieve in the re-activation of the airport for aviation operations.”
Campaign group Supporters of Manston Airport (Suma) says Mr Crawford contacted the group last year and has since met with members.
A Suma spokesman said: “It was clear from our initial meeting that the options being considered would suit the airport and the area as a whole. Mr Crawford demonstrated a genuine and passionate desire to bring Manston back into operation.
“Mr Crawford believes that Manston is in an ideal location with a lot of potential and has expressed disappointment that the UK Government does not seem to see the potential that many others do.
“He has some very exciting and heavyweight connections and, whilst we will keep those names confidential for now as we have done to date, we are confident that they will be very advantageous to a reopened Manston airport.
“This further interest clearly shows that there is both a need, and a resolve, in the market to retain Manston for full aviation use. The logistics company’s statement of intent to base a dozen aircraft at Manston gives a clear indication that they believe there are benefits from utilising the site as an airport over any alternative plans.”
But North Thanet MP Roger Gale, who has been backing the bid by RSP and their predecessors, the US RiverOak corporation, to process a Development Consent Order through Government in a bid to take over the site and create an aviation cargo hub, has questioned the timing of the announcement being so close to the county county elections.
He added: “ A small group of people, of whom I am one, have consistently sought to see Manston re-opened, as an operational freight , passenger and general aviation airport in the national interest.
“I personally believe that Manston is an asset that cannot and should not be squandered as, once built over, it can never of course be restored to aviation use.
“I have been willing, and remain willing, to talk with anyone seriously interested in re-opening Manston as a centre for freight, passengers and aviation-related industries but to date only RiverOak Strategic Partnership has staunchly and with determination pursued that objective and has demonstrated to my satisfaction that they have access to the funds necessary to do the job properly.
“Thanet`s UKIP-controlled council, elected on a pledge to re-open Manston airport and under the leadership of Cllr Wells, has in contrast spent £50,000 of taxpayers money commissioning a report suggesting that the airfield is not viable, has withdrawn its objection to planning applications for change of use on airside buildings on the airfield and has, via the draft local plan, sought to give the green light to housing and industrial development on the airfield.
“If there is indeed another serious player on the field then I would strongly advise that they make contact with me and, more importantly, that they seek to make common cause with RiverOak Strategic Partnership as the company that has already carried out the necessary Environmental Impact Assessment and has the development consent order process in hand.”
Stone Hill Park
The land is owned by Stone Hill Park which has submitted a masterplan to Thanet District Council for 2,500 homes; an advanced manufacturing focused business park; sports and recreational facilities, with the former runway becoming the focal point for a network of parkland, trails and outdoor space, and a ‘heritage hub’ at the site.
SHP spokesman Ray Mallon said the firm was aware of the new interested party but remained firm that the company would not be selling the Manston airport site.
He said: “I am aware that interest has been shown by another company with a view to progressing a second compulsory purchase order (CPO) to seize land owned by Stone Hill Park.
“Clearly this would have to occur in conjunction with Thanet District Council and I doubt very much that the council would want to advance such a proposal when the greatest need of the area is private sector investment that ensures the long-term future of Thanet as a whole.
“Stone Hill Park will continue with its plans and I’m absolutely confident that this new company’s proposal will end up going nowhere just like the previous attempt by the US outfit RiverOak.
“However, the prerequisite to any CPO is for the company to engage Stone Hill Park so that they can attempt to purchase the land. We therefore look forward to meeting them in the near future, but our position is clear – We will not be selling and will not be walking away for anyone in any circumstances.
“We remain committed to making this site work; to building 2,500 houses, all the community facilities to make this development something special and an advanced manufacturing park that will bring at least 2,000 jobs.”
Manston airport was closed on May 15, 2014 less than six months after it was bought by Stagecoach tycoon Ann Gloag from Infratil for a nominal £1.