Surveys for construction work at the Manston airport site begin this month with the aim of reaching final costings for building work and infrastructure improvements, say new owners RiverOak Strategic Partners.
Environmental studies will also take place, specifically looking at nesting and whether species such as bats may need relocating.
The work is to take place following the £16.5 million purchase of the site by RSP, who aim to create a cargo hub, aviation businesses and short haul passenger flights, from former landowners Stone Hill Park.
The deal was reached as a Development Consent Order application, made by RSP, reached the end of a fraught six month examination by the Planning Inspectorate.
The application was hotly contested by SHP, which had its own proposal for housing, business and infrastructure on the site. Opposition has also come from groups including No Night Flights which says night flights, noise and pollution will all impact on tourism and residents under the flight path.
But as the examination closed SHP and RSP clinched the sale, with SHP agreeing to withdraw its DCO and Local Plan submissions. Caveats on the sale will not be known until the Land Registry entry is published. SHP retains its contract, and payments, with the Department for Transport for use of the Manston site as a ‘Brexit’ lorry park and would be responsible for providing equipment if the site is used for the parking up of HGVs.
RSP director Tony Freudmann said tenders for the construction will take place next year, if the DCO is agreed, with work expected during 2021 and the start of 2022 leading up to the opening.
A consultation in Ramsgate and Herne Bay on changes to flight paths is also due to take place next year.
The buy out of the land means the compulsory purchase part of the DCO application for SHP’s holding – equating to around 98% of the site – is no longer necessary. However, there are still parcels of land belonging to the Ministry of Defence and other organisations and individuals. The site also borders the proposed Manston Green development. Issues have been raised over the siting of the MoD’s High Resolution Direction Finder aerials and whether a planned move may encroach on the Manston Green site.
Mr Freudmann says talks are ongoing about the ‘alternative site.’
Campaign group No Night Flights says members will take a break until the Secretary of State makes a decision but insist “the fight is not over.”
Concerns include night flights. Mr Freudmann said: “ There will be no flights between 11pm and 6am other than emergency, relief and late arrivals. There will be no departures.
“If you have a Ryan Air flight in Majorca (See note at end of article) running two hours late, with staff who are living here and passengers, then you have to let it come to Manston. People need to get home and the plane needs to be here to be outbound for the morning. There’s no secret plan to bring planes in at night but if a plane is delayed you can’t tell them to divert, that’s just not acceptable. Look at Southend airport and you can see that it does not happen often but it does happen.”
But Anne Marie Nixey, from No Night Flights and Ramsgate Town Council, said: “There will be night flights, RSP want flights from 6am, legally that’s night flights. Even the examining authority said there was not a night flight ban.
“Late arrivals are not in the ATM (air traffic movement) allocation or the night quota so they come under the radar. Infratil (previous airport operators) had 15%-20% of planes as late arrivals every night.”
Compensation for residents affected by noise has also been under the spotlight. RSP is offering up to £10,000 for noise insulation for those that fall in the 63 decibel contour, affecting around 275 homes.
Cllr Nixey and the NNF campaign say this level is not adequate and compensation should be paid for homes in the 57db contour, as is the case for London City Airport and Heathrow. Contour maps paid for by NNF show this would take in some 6,500 properties.
Mr Freudmann says the level is based on government guidance but Cllr Nixey says it is “playing with figures.”
She added: “We need to demystify this idea that it is houses vs airport. It’s not, it is people’s lives that are going to be ruined.
“RSP own the site and people assume they are getting an airport back but it does not yet have the planning permission and is yet to resolve issues with the MoD, Kent County Council and Cogent (Manston Green developers).”
Mr Freudmann says RSP is reasonably confident, but not complacent, that the DCO will be granted. He said no plans have as yet been made for if the bid fails.
He added: “We have already invested more than £34million. The airport will be £300-400 million to develop. We have made a huge investment in this and have a number of potential investors who will be funding us long term.
“Easy Jet and Ryan Air have said to us they know where Manston is and if we can give early morning flights that is of great interest to them.
“The core business will be cargo but there could be passenger flights. That means inbound passengers to east Kent.”
Ryan Air has since announced some 900 job cuts.
Museums and Northern Grass
Mr Freudmann said fears over the future of the two Manston museums would be allayed by the gifting of freeholds on larger sites by the Northern Grass
Questions have been raised over the future of the Northern Grass and whether it is earmarked for residential development.
Mr Freudmann said the site will be used for airport related development such as warehousing and offices, border control and catering.
Job figures have also come under scrutiny. RSP say the air field will create 9,568 local jobs by year 20 of operation – 3,417 direct jobs and 6,151 indirect and ‘induced’ jobs.
No Night Flights say this is “extremely unlikely” adding “as it’s a state of the art 24/7 cargo hub they are planning then most of their operations will undoubtedly be automated.”
The 90 minute commute definition has been highly criticised as being far from local and not providing Thanet jobs.
Mr Freudmann said: “90 minutes is the statutory definition. We are looking at local employment in east Kent.”
A decision on the DCO is expected to be made by January 9,2020. If given the green light RSP say they expect the airport to be operational in Spring 2022 with short haul and cargo flights.
*A transcript of this interview had New York as the late running example flight. We are informed that Mr Freudmann said Majorca. Apologies for the confusion.