Contracts have been exchanged agreeing the sale of the Manston airport site to RiverOak Strategic Partners subsidiary RiverOak MSE Ltd, which wants to create a cargo/freight hub and associated aviation on the land.
The sale has been revealed in the submission of a letter to the Planning Inspectorate, published today (July 3), which states: “A subsidiary company of the Applicant for the Development Consent Order, RiverOak MSE Ltd, has today exchanged contracts with Stone Hill Park Limited for the purchase of all of the land it owns at Manston Airport.
“Completion of the transaction is expected by July 11 at the latest. The Applicant will provide a fuller summary of its overall case in the light of this significant development, which may not be until completion has taken place. Any submissions made after 9 July 2019 will be made to the Secretary of State for Transport.”
The Planning Inspectorate examining panel, led by Kelvin McDonald, has been examining the bid being made by RiverOak Strategic Partners (RSP) to acquire the site and create the cargo hub.
However, the land was owned by Stone Hill Park which had submitted a planning application to create up to 3,700 homes, business and leisure and associated infrastructure.
During the examination RSP said compensation payable for the compulsory take over of the Manston airport site would be “no more than £7.5 million.”
However Stone Hill Park told examiners their valuation was nearer to a level of £20 million and, with relevant consent in place for development a benchmark figure of £38 million had been identified.
SHP own 742 acres of the site which totals around 770 acres with plots belonging to other interested parties.
It is not yet known what price has been agreed for the sale of the land although a document submitted by SHP would suggest an amount above £15 million. SHP state: “In recent days the Applicant has sent an email making a revised offer of £15 million for SHP’s land (with restrictions on uses), a level that is unacceptable and which falls well short of the price it had previously committed, but failed to, deliver on.”
The DCO examination concludes on July 9. The DCO is still needed for the cargo hub project with a decision from the Secretary of State expected by January 2020. However, the compulsory purchase part of the application for the SHP owned land – equating to 98% of the site – is now defunct, although other landowners will still need to be compensated.
Issues surrounding night flights and noise and blight compensation still need to be considered under the DCO process.
As the new owners of the site, RSP will be able to carry out survey work needed for the conclusion of the DCO examination process with immediate effect.
SHP has agreed that, on completion, it will withdraw its objection to the DCO. It will also withdraw its two outstanding planning applications for housing and mixed use on Manston and will no longer participate in the Local Plan Enquiry.
George Yerrall, a director of RSP, said, “It has been a long process with SHP and we felt the time had come for the parties to come together to negotiate a settlement of the ownership issues. We now look forward to focusing on securing development consent and making rapid progress towards the re-opening of Manston with all the economic and other benefits we believe it will bring to Thanet and East Kent.
“Since the acceptance of our DCO application for examination we have had immense interest from interested parties, not only airlines and freight operators, but also a wide range of other organisations that will benefit from the airport reopening, including local colleges and employers. Now that we have secured the land, it will allow us to develop those relationships as far as we can whilst we wait to receive development consent.”
Stone Hill Park
Trevor Cartner, Chairman of Stone Hill Park Ltd, said: “I can confirm that Stone Hill Park and RiverOak Strategic Partners (RSP) have agreed terms for the sale of the former Manston Airport site. Final negotiations were swift and handled professionally. Contracts have now been exchanged with completion to follow shortly.
“The site has been the subject of considerable debate over the past five years of our ownership and we have invested a substantial seven figure sum in pursuing a planning application for our vision for the site but that has been met with little support from Thanet District Council.
“Having now been made what we consider to be a very good offer for the site we have decided to sell. We wish RSP good luck in their own aspirations for the future of the airport. At some point in the near future we will restructure our company and invest the capital released into other major regeneration projects throughout the UK.”
Campaigners in favour
Save Manston Airport association chairman Dr Beau Webber said: “We believe that late on Tuesday RSP lawyers BDB and presumably Ann Gloag’s lawyers exchanged contracts agreeing the sale of Manston Airport to RiverOak Strategic Partners.
The first step was for RiverOak to inform the DCO Planning Inspectorate. The Inspectorate’s questioning to ensure that RiverOak have the necessary finance to pay for the airport is rendered unnecessary. They could still wish to know if RiverOak have the finances to develop the airport, but the official DCO documentation is not at all stringent in regard to that requirement.
“Subject to the necessity to work with the Department for Transport concerning the Operation Stack / Brock permissions on Manston Airport, RiverOak may now access Manston Airport to at the very least continue their environmental surveys and to carry out other surveys to facilitate the re-construction of Manston Airport.
“They can now start archaeology digs on the Northern Grass. The DCO is still necessary. The Development Consent Order is an order to put in place the necessary Government consent for the significant amount of development that Manston Airport needs in order to be a viable commercial airport.
“SMAa congratulate RiverOak on their protracted but eventually successful purchase of Manston Airport, and wish them all the very best for the future regarding reinstating Manston Airport for Aviation. SMAa look forward to the very many jobs that this will bring to the people of Thanet and East Kent.”
North Thanet MP Sir Roger Gale, who has been supporting the cargo hub proposal, said: “I have today been advised that the RiverOak Strategic Partnership has exchanged contracts for the purchase of all of the land that is Manston Airport.
“I have been kept aware of the fact that negotiations have been progressing steadily since the beginning of the year and I am pleased that they are reaching a satisfactory conclusion.
“While the Development Consent Order will proceed for planning purposes this is another significant step towards the refurbishment and re-opening of Manston as a fully operational airport.”
Save Manston Airport founder Dan Light said: “It has come as a nice surprise to hear RSP have exchanged contracts to gain control of Manston Airport. We at the Save Manston Airport group are happy that progress has been made. It has been five years hard work and the end goal was to get a result and this is what we have been fighting for.
“There has been many ups and downs with the campaign, at times it looked like it was lost but RSP have stuck to their guns and proved many wrong to come out of this with a deal. The DCO examination concludes on July 9 and a final decision made by the Secretary of State in January 2020. We at SMA will be keeping a close eye on proceedings and would like to thank everyone for their support over the years.”
South Thanet MP Craig Mackinlay said: “This is an extremely positive and essential move forward on the road to bringing back Manston Airport. It creates real certainty that an aviation future for Manston is clearly in sight.
“I have been saying for as long as anyone would listen that a clean sale and purchase would be the eventual outcome and I am pleased that common sense has prevailed between the parties. This has also proved that RSP have had the wherewithal and access to funding throughout to turn their plans into reality.
“Manston has the potential to generate a substantial number of jobs in a relatively short period of time. Areas of the country with successful airports have next to zero unemployment; they become magnets for inward investment and business activity.
“Thanet Conservatives have, for many years, always kept the faith on the Manston issue and so I’m delighted that another significant milestone has been reached.
“I will continue to use my practical business experience to work with all involved, including Manston’s local MP Roger Gale, to ensure the airport re-opens and that new aviation operations can work together with Thanet residents for mutual benefit.”
Campaigners not in favour of the RSP proposal
Labour Party leader at Thanet council, Rick Everitt, said: “The fact that RiverOak have acquired the land does not mean they can proceed with a cargo hub and our concerns about the impact of their proposed operation on Ramsgate residents remain.
“We will seek to engage constructively with whoever owns the Manston site and that includes looking to maximise employment opportunities for local people, but not at the expense of the living conditions of residents on the flight path. Our view is that this saga has some way to go.”
Ramsgate county and district councillor Karen Constantine has written to RSP director Mr Yerrall to request a meeting.
She said: “Going forward there are obviously many issues to be dealt with about the future and use of the Manston area. There are many different perspectives. It’s clear that a great deal of dialogue and clear communication going forward is called for.
“My concern is to request an early meeting with (RSP) to discuss the economic needs of Ramsgate residents. Thanet has a chronic housing shortage and some of the highest levels of deprivation, including 52% child poverty in neighbouring Newington.
“I hope (the RSP) business plan might include a clear policy on corporate social responsibility, to the direct benefit of Newington and Ramsgate residents. I note the website states RSP wish to deliver ‘economic prosperity and employment across Kent’. I like to find out more about how that aspiration can benefit Ramsgate and Newington directly.”
Campaign group No Night Flights said: “We regret at the loss of Stone Hill Park plans with potential jobs and investment from regeneration experts with a track record. However, our position on the airport remains the same.
“The airport isn’t operationally and commercially viable, deliverable, or environmentally sustainable. RSP may now own the land – assuming completion does go ahead – but they still have to get the airport development past the planning inspectors.
“From what we’ve seen so far, there are more questions being asked by PINS than are actually being answered.”
Five10Twelve and LoveRamsgate
Campaigners Five10Twelve and LoveRamsgate, who have opposed freight plans for the site, said: “This was never about Riveroak vs Stonehill Park. This has always been about RiverOak versus the residents of Ramsgate, Herne Bay and the Thanet Villages.
“RiverOak has tried to sweep under the carpet and scope out the damage their proposals will do to our towns and villages.
“They’ve cut any mitigation and compensation costs for our homes, schools and communities down to the absolute minimum and our local MPs have supported them in doing this. Now RiverOak has the land, the question is: will they continue with the DCO? Whatever their plans may now be, our fight goes on to stand up for our communities.
“Anyone who has been following the DCO process knows RiverOak are really in the weeds with significant objections from the MoD, Highways England, Kent County Council, TDC, Historic England, the Manston Green developers, (Cogent), and the majority of local residents.
“Our concern is that RiverOak has made it clear any further discussions will now be directly with the Secretary of State for Transport. So whatever their real plans are for the site, these discussions will be behind closed doors and far less transparent than the DCO examination process has been so far.
“This should be of concern to everyone. The local press, campaign groups, MPs and councillors all have a duty to make sure local people are kept well informed about what’s really going on and what happens next.”
A long road
The closure of Manston airport in 2014 resulted in the loss of 144 jobs and led to a five year battle of competing visions for the site.
Infratil announced the sale of Manston airport to Stagecoach tycoon Ann Gloag for a nominal £1, plus accrued debts, in October 2013. Ann Gloag announced plans to close the airport the following March. The last Dutch airline KLM flight left Manston in April 2014 and the airport closed in the May.
The same month an offer of the full £7million asking price for the site was made by US firm RiverOak Corporation but was refused.
In December 2014 the Labour controlled council decide not to proceed with a CPO stating there was not a suitable indemnity partner.
In December 2015 it was announced that RiverOak – the American firm which began the process- would undertake a Development Consent Order (DCO) process to acquire permission from central government to reopen the airport.
In June 2016 SHP submitted a masterplan planning application to Thanet District Council, seeking permission for 2,500 homes, commercial sectors and public parkland, under the name Stone Hill Park.
In December 2016 UK registered RiverOak Strategic Partners Ltd buys the financial, strategic and operational responsibility for the redevelopment of Manston and seeing through the DCO from the US RiverOak corporation.
The Planning Inspectorate hearings for the DCO open in January 2019 and are due to conclude this month (July).
The future for the Manston airport site has been hotly contested, and deeply divisive, across the isle. Night Flights, and a workable 106 agreement, will still need to be resolved as will the issue of noise levels and the question of how many households should qualify for compensation.