South Thanet MP says Heathrow expansion vote does not affect backing for Manston airport

The government vote backs plans for a third runway at Heathrow Photo Sebastian Grochowicz

South Thanet MP Craig Mackinlay says his vote on Monday (June 25) in favour of a third runway at Heathrow does not impact on his support for the return of aviation at Manston.

Mr Mackinlay was one of 415 MPs who backed plans for the third runway, 119 voted against. The government says the runway development will result in 100,000 jobs and mean internal flights for the rest of the UK.

Heathrow is currently operating at 98% capacity and backers say competitor hubs in Europe are already expanding – and taking trade that could be served by the UK.

If proposals go to plan the runway is predicted to be open by 2026.

South Thanet parliamentary candidate for Labour Rebecca Gordon Nesbitt

South Thanet Parliamentary hopeful for Labour, Rebecca Gordon-Nesbitt, branded the vote in favour as a broken promise.

She said: “South Thanet’s MP, Craig Mackinlay, voted in favour of a third runway at Heathrow, showing blatant disregard for the environment. Mr Mackinlay also broke a promise made to his constituents that he would do all he could to ensure the reopening of Manston airport. This extra capacity in West London further invalidates the need for Manston.”

Craig Mackinlay

But Mr Mackinlay insisted it was no reflection on his pledge for Manston.

He said: “The plans for a new northwest runway at Heathrow Airport is a significant move for Britain. Arguably this is a decision that should have been made a decade ago. In the time that we dither on much needed infrastructure projects, be they airports or roads, our international competitors and trading partners have got on and completed the job. Expanding Heathrow will connect us to the world, create tens of thousands of jobs in the South East, including an economic boost of up to £74 billion to the wider economy.

“In addition, I continue to support an aviation future for Manston as it has the potential to generate a substantial number of jobs in a relatively short period of time, and could be in operation long before building even commences on Heathrow expansion. Manston has a strong future as a freight hub with passenger and high value engineering services, and is the turn-key to prosperity in East Kent.”

Sir Roger Gale, who has also promoted the return of aviation to the Manston airport site, was not present at the vote. He is currently in Strasbourg.

He said: “Few MPs have been more supportive of the case for additional runway capacity in the South East- both at Heathrow and Manston.

“However, given the parliamentary numbers the business managers felt that I am better employed fulfilling my duty as the Leader of the UK delegation to the PACE and batting for Britain in Strasbourg rather than contributing one more to the Government majority!”

Amendments on the Manston airport site are expected to be agreed by councillors

The status of the Manston site will be decided when Thanet council votes on whether to progress a newly updated Thanet Local Plan next month.

The draft plan – which is a 20 year blueprint for housing, business and infrastructure on the isle – was voted down in January by Conservative and ‘rebel’ UKIP councillors  with 35 against and 20 in favour.

The vote, which led to the collapse of the UKIP administration, was prompted by a change of status for Manston from aviation-only to a mixed-use designation to include 2,500 homes. An amendment to defer for two years the mixed-use designation pending the resolution of a Development Consent Order process was not sufficient to persuade the majority of councillors.

A DCO is the means of obtaining permission for developments categorised as Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects (NSIP). This includes energy, transport, water and waste projects.

Riveroak Strategic Partners hope to bring aviation back to the Manston site. However, their submission of a DCO, made in April, was withdrawn in May in light of issues raised by the Planning Inspectorate. It is yet to be resubmitted.

The failure to put through the local plan led to the government stepping in to speed up the process. A fresh call for housing sites was made following the vote.

Thanet District Council is now in ‘intervention’ with the Government closely monitoring progress.  If Thanet District Council fails to publish a new plan, there is a risk of further direct intervention.

Council leader Bob Bayford asked officers to provide two local plan options for consideration by Cabinet. The first is the original plan, which was rejected in January 2018.

The second is an option which does not seek to change the existing ‘lawful’ aviation-only use of Manston and transfers the housing originally proposed for the site to other parts of the district.

RSP plan

However campaigners say they are not happy with the wording of option 2 which actually strikes out aviation only policies SP05 and EC4 and replaces them with ‘text’ that “recognises the existing use of the airport and acknowledges the current Development Consent Order (DCO) process for the site.”

Members of Save Manston Airport association say the text will carry little, if any, weight in planning law and suggest a third option based on a decision made in Crawley which would mean the Manston airport houses do not need to be reallocated.

In Crawley’s case it was agreed as long as there is not a definite decision to build a second runway at Gatwick, the houses that might be built on there do not have to be built elsewhere, because if there is a decision not to build a second runway, they would then be built on that land.

Campaigners say the equivalent for Manston is that until such a time as the DCO is finally decided one way or another, the 2,500 houses originally proposed for the site can be safely left in limbo – as long as policies SP05 and EC4  are maintained.

The SHP plans

The content of option two has also been criticised by those in favour of development plans for homes, business and leisure at the site from landowners Stone Hill Park.

They say EC4’s removal shows there is no evidence to keep it in place. It has also been suggested that adoption of this option could effectively mothball the Manston site until the local plan runs out in 2031 but will mean villages bearing the brunt of more housing.

Cabinet will vote on the proposals on July 2. It will go before full council on July 19.

Read here: Extra houses plan for villages, Margate and Westwood in council bid to retain aviation-use only at Manston