A decision by the Secretary of State in the long running saga over the development consent order application to create a cargo hub at the Manston airport site has been delayed yet again.
The decision was initially due on January 18 but this was delayed until May 18. A written statement to Parliament was made by Nusrat Ghani, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Transport, just two days prior to reveal that news.
However, no announcement was made on Monday (May 18) leaving residents, both those in favour and those opposed, frustrated as they awaited an outcome.
Now it has been revealed there will be no decision announcement until July 10.
In a written statement from Transport Minister Andrew Stephenson today (May 20) it says: “I have been asked by my Right Honourable Friend, the Secretary of State, to make this Written Ministerial Statement. This statement concerns the application of July 17, 2018, made by RiverOak Strategic Partners Ltd (“the Applicant”) under the Planning Act 2008 for the proposed reopening and development of Manston Airport in Kent.
“Under sub-section 107(1) of the Planning Act 2008, the Secretary of State must make his decision within 3 months of receipt of the Examining Authority’s report unless exercising the power under sub-section 107(3) to extend the deadline and make a Statement to the House of Parliament announcing the new deadline.
“The Secretary of State received the Examining Authority’s report on the Manston Airport Development Consent Order application on October 18, 2019, and, following an earlier extension of 4 months, the current deadline for a decision is May 18 2020.
“The deadline for the decision is now to be extended to July 10, 2020, to enable further work to be carried out before determination of the application. The decision to set a new deadline is without prejudice to the decision on whether to grant development consent.”
The airport was bought by Stagecoach tycoon in November 2013 and closed in May 2014 with the loss of 144 jobs.
In the six years since the site has been the focus of dispute with the community split over its future use.
RiverOak Strategic Partners submitted a DCO application in July 2018 in a bid to gain compulsory buy-out powers over the Manston airport site. The firm, which had withdrawn its initial application in May of that year, wants to revive aviation at the site with a cargo hub and associated business.
The DCO seeks development consent and compulsory buy-out powers over the land. It is the means of obtaining permission for developments categorised as Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects (NSIP). This includes energy, transport, water and waste projects.
But the Manston airport site was owned by Stone Hill Park which had lodged an application to develop housing, leisure and business on the land.
The DCO application was accepted for the pre-examination stage by the Planning Inspectorate in August 2018.
More than 2,000 representations were made by residents, businesses and organisations. Among these were the Ministry of Defence, Historic England, Highways England, Dover and Thanet district councils, Kent County Council and a document from law firm Pinsent Masons on behalf of Stone Hill Park.
The Planning Inspectorate examining panel, led by Kelvin McDonald, examined the bid last year, with hearings and site visits running between January and July. These covered a number of contentious issues surrounding the application, including night flights, noise and noise compensation, land values, funding and funders and the question of whether the project is needed.
However, shortly before the hearings concluded SHP sold the site to RSP subsidiary RiverOak MSE Ltd for £16.5 million.
One casualty of the airport land row was Thanet’s UKIP administration which was destroyed by the disagreement over the site’s designation in the Draft Thanet Local Plan.
Thanet UKIP leader Chris Wells suffered a humiliating blow when, in January 2018, 12 of his party aligned with the Conservatives and three Independents to vote down taking the Local Plan to the publication stage.
An amendment to defer for two years the mixed-use designation at the Manston site pending the resolution of the DCO process was not enough to persuade the majority of councillors to back the plan.
That vote, and the subsequent formation of a new independent group by the UKIP ‘rebels’ helped to sink the administration with Chris Wells resigning in February 2018 and the Conservatives then taking the helm.
A spokesperson for RSP said the delay was ‘disappointing, adding: “While this further delay is perhaps understandable, due to the Government’s workload during the current pandemic – and is only a matter of weeks – it is nevertheless disappointing, as this pandemic has starkly demonstrated the urgent need to address the fragility and inflexibility of the UK’s air cargo network, which currently relies almost exclusively on passenger aircraft to carry freight.
“We remain committed to spending £300 million on reopening Manston as a global freight hub, which would enable the airport to help the UK trade across the globe and import vital and time-sensitive goods as the nation seeks to rebuild after Coronavirus.
“The case for Manston has bever been stronger. It is widely accepted that demand for passenger air travel will take a number of years to return to pre-pandemic levels, if ever, whereas resilient cargo capacity has become even more urgent.
“As the global economy starts to re-energise and the UK, separated from the EU, negotiates trade deals around the world, Manston could be in a position to address this gap in the UK’s trading infrastructure – providing dedicated air freight capacity adjacent to the London Airports System, free of the uncertainties that face airports reliant solely, or predominantly, on the income from passenger traffic.
“This delay does not affect the current CAA airspace change consultation process – which is entirely separate from the DCO – and although we will strive to meet our planned opening date, this delay is likely to result in it being pushed back.”
North Thanet`s MP, Sir Roger Gale, has this morning welcomed the announcement of the new date for the determination of the DCO on Manston Airport.
He said: “While the delay was frustrating, if necessary, the confirmation of a Ministerial Statement in early July is a considerable improvement upon the three-month “guesstimate” that I had feared we might find ourselves faced with.
“I continue to look for a positive outcome that will confirm investor confidence and facilitate the commitment of £300 million of job-creating funds to the development of an environmentally world-leading International freight hub and passenger facility. This will send a clear signal that a post-Covid, post-Brexit Britain will be very much back in business.”
A spokesperson for the No Night Flight campaign group said: “No Night Flights is disappointed at the delay in the decision for the DCO of Manston Airport. It leaves yet more uncertainty about Ramsgate, Herne Bay and the area’s future. We therefore await the announcement in July.”
Save Manston Airport association said: “SMAa are appalled that RiverOak and their investors have been kept in the dark, and kept waiting again. We urge SMAa members to hang in there, we will still await the recreation of Manston Airport.”
Thanet District Council leader Cllr Rick Everitt said: “The continued uncertainty caused by this delay is damaging for Ramsgate, worrying for residents and frustrating for the council, making it difficult to plan for the future. It is also difficult to understand why the government allowed the media to believe a decision was imminent this week. If further work is genuinely needed it seems hard to believe that this was discovered at the last minute.”
October 2013: Infratil announce the sale of Manston airport to Stagecoach tycoon Ann Gloag for a nominal £1, plus accrued debts.
November 2013: Ann Gloag’s Manston Skyport takes over the airport
March 2014: Ann Gloag announces plans to close the airport
April 9, 2014: The last Dutch airline KLM flight leaves Manston
April 2014: Newmarket Holidays said its Verona and Naples seasonal charter flights would move to the expanding Lydd Airport
May 15, 2014: The airport closes with the loss of 144 jobs. An offer of the £7million asking price for the site by US firm RiverOak Corporation is refused. The payment was offered in a deal where Ann Gloag was asked to leave Skyport’s £2million in the bank account making a net £5million offer.
June 2014: A petition with about 7,700 signatures, to support a compulsory purchase order to preserve Manston airport for aviation purposes, was presented to Thanet District Council
July 2014: Flying school TG Aviation lose a High Court battle to use the runway despite still having 50 years to run on their lease. The company is forced to move to Lydd
July 2014: Thanet District Council (TDC) agrees to investigate raising a Compulsory Purchase Order (CPO) on Manston airport.
July 2014: A petition with 26,524 signatures protesting against the closure of Manston is handed to 10 Downing Street by MPs Sir Roger Gale and Laura Sandys and campaigners
July 2014: US company RiverOak writes to Thanet council offering to buy and run the airport and say they will fully cover all costs, including the CPO.
July 2014: There is a fire sale of Manston assets
August 2014: TDC issue a formal notice and the process of finding an indemnity partner for the Manston CPO begins
September 2014: The site has new owners – Chris Musgrave and Trevor Cartner of Discovery Park. A second sale is held.
December 2014: The Labour controlled council decide not to proceed with a CPO stating there was not a suitable indemnity partner
February and March 2015: Transport Select Committee looks at the Manston airport issue as part of its examination of smaller UK airports. Pauline Bradley, Director, Manston Skyport Limited and Alastair Welch, Interim Director, Kent Airport Limited, are grilled about the ownership of the Manston airport site but the question is never fully answered.
June 2015: An Independent review by PwC, on behalf of the Department for Transport, into the process on decisions about the future of Manston Airport is completed. The report is critical of Thanet council’s approach to the CPO indemnity process.
June 2015: Planning application received by TDC for change of use of Building 870 followed by applications for change of use of four hangars on the site to non-aviation use.
The same month a presentation is given and the name Stone Hill Park is revealed for the site by Mr Cartner and Mr Musgrave.
July 2015: It was announced that the site may be used to house overflow lorries from Operation Stack. This did not take place
October 2015: The planning application for change of use of airport buildings is refused.
The same month TDC Cabinet agree to take no further CPO action on Manston saying RiverOak do not meet the indemnity requirements.
November 2015: Thanet council announces a further soft marketing exercise for Manston airport
December 2015: It was announced that RiverOak would undertake a Development Consent Order (DCO) process to acquire permission from central government to reopen the airport
January 2016: Lothian Shelf (718) appeal the decision of the Planning Committee over Building 870 and the non-determination of the other three applications.
February 2016: Thanet District Council announced a total of five expressions of interest had been received, with three being carried forward to the next stage of the CPO process
June 2016: SHP submit 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.
October 2016: It is reported SHP received payments totalling £3.539 million from the Department for Transport to keep Manston airport on standby as a lorry park
October 2016: AviaSolutions publishes its report, commissioned by Thanet council at a cost of £50,000, into the viability of Manston’s future. The conclusion of the report was ‘airport operations at Manston are very unlikely to be financially viable in the longer term and almost certainly not possible in the period to 2031’.
Thanet council say the report means the authority does not have sufficient evidence to continue to designate the site ‘for aviation use only’ within its Local Plan.
MP Sir Roger Gale says he will quit politics if Manston does not reopen as an airport.
The same month Lib Dem Russ Timpson suggests Manston could be used for aircraft salvage or the development of a space port.
June 2016: A report to Thanet council Cabinet members on the latest round of soft market testing concludes: “Cabinet note the results of the soft market testing assessment and take no further action in respect of the interested parties.”
November 2016: Mr Cartner and Mr Musgrave sell Discovery Park to an investment company to concentrate on their plans as majority shareholders, with partner Ann Gloag, for Stone Hill Park.
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 US firm is no longer involved with the Manston project.
January 2017: Plans to axe the aviation-use only designation at Manston airport go out to public consultation as part of the draft Local Plan.
February 2017: Disruptive Capital, with financier Edi Truell as chairman, say they will commission a report on their plans for aviation use at Manston airport
March 2017: A public inquiry hearing into the refusal of change of use applications for four buildings on the airport site is held.
The hearing also leads to questions about RSP’s funding vehicle M.I.O Investments, which is registered in Belize.
The same month SHP unveils heritage plans for the Manston site
April 2017: RSP threatens legal action over 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 M.I.O Investments.
The same month RSP publishes three parts of a four part report outlining its future proposals and criticising a previous airport viability study commissioned by Thanet council.
The study on behalf of Riveroak Strategic Partners forms part of the Development Consent Order process.
May 2017: An unnamed US logistics firm announces its interest in taking ownership of Manston and plans to put £100m into the site. Represented by Dale Crawford of DTD Consult the firm says the aim is to relocate 12 aircraft currently in Europe to the Manston site and plan to gain a compulsory purchase order for the 750-acre plot.
SHP say they have no interest in selling the site.
May 2017: Following meetings with Thanet council Dale Crawford says the American firm is looking at options for a direct purchase. A deal does not come to fruition.
July 2017: The decision of a Public Inquiry over Lothian Shelf ‘s (718) appeal to allow the re-designation of buildings on Manston Airport for non-aviation use is released.
Government Inspector Matthew Nunn dismisses all four appeals. He said to grant the appeals “would be likely to compromise any future aviation use of the airport.” The outcome meant TDC Policy EC4 remained, reserving aviation only use for the Manston airport site.
November 2017: The government announces the deal to extend the arrangement to use the Manston site for Operation Stack if needed.
January 2018: Thanet’s Draft Local Plan is voted down by councillors who object to the aviation only clause for the site being removed. The vote leads to a split in the Thanet UKIP group and the eventual demise of the party being in control of TDC. It also results in government intervention aimed at getting a plan in place.
April 2018: RSP lodges the DCO with the Planning Inspectorate
May 2018: SHP submits enhanced plans to Thanet council for development at the site
May 2018: The same day it is announced that RSP has ‘temporarily’ withdrawn the DCO
May 2018: The Planning Inspectorate publishes a response to questions from Ramsgate Town Councillor Susan Kennedy over the withdrawn submission. PINS outline their ‘concerns’ with the current application.
June 2018: Stone Hill Park (SHP) announces it is in talks with Homes England to support the redevelopment of the airport site at Manston through the £3billion Home Building Fund.
July 2018: Thanet council Cabinet members voted to move forward with a new option on the Thanet Draft Local Plan for 2,500 homes allocated to the villages, Margate and Westwood instead of the Manston airport site – but also striking out both the policies (SP05 and EC4) in place to protect aviation.
July 2018: Kent County Council urges the Government to make use of lorry parking facilities at the Manston airport site as part of preparations for Brexit.
Then-leader of KCC Paul Carter said contingency plans needed to be put in place to minimise disruption on strategic routes through the county and that an alternative to Operation Stack had to be found before new border and customs arrangements are introduced for the UK withdrawal from the European Union.
July 2018: RiverOak Strategic Partners (RSP) re-submits its application for a Development Consent Order (DCO) for the Manston airport site.
The DCO seeks development consent and compulsory acquisition powers over the land. 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.
August 2018: The Development Consent Order application is accepted for the pre-examination stage by the Planning Inspectorate.
September 2018: The decision on Stone Hill Park’s application to build houses, business and leisure facilities on the Manston airport site should have been considered by Thanet council’s planning committee by August 15 but ‘the complexity’ of the situation leads to an agreed extension of December 31.
December 2018: PINs publishes the timetable for hearings and deadlines for information to be submitted during the examination of the DCO application.
January 2019: The first ‘issue specific’ hearing into the Development Consent Order application by firm RiverOak Strategic Partners (RSP) begins at Margate Winter Gardens.
January 2019: A special development order designating the Manston airport site for use as a lorry park to cope with possible post-Brexit jams at the Port of Dover comes into effect.
The order ‘augmented’ the deal to use Manston as a short-term solution for Operation Stack which was first struck with then-site owners Stone Hill Park in August 2015 following a Summer of disruption due to French strikes and growing migrant camps in Calais.
January 2019: A cover letter from RSP to the Planning Inspectorate says it is restructuring in response to concerns about its funding vehicle M.I.O Investments Limited, which holds 90% of shares in the company but is registered in Belize. The remaining 10% of its shares are held by RiverOak Manston Ltd
M.I.O Investments Limited ultimate beneficial owners are resident in Switzerland and the UK. It is managed and administered by Helix Fiduciary AG, a Swiss registered and regulated fiduciary company.
March 2019: An unexploded wartime bomb uncovered on the Manston airport site on March 14) is detonated by an Army bomb squad.
A Royal Logistic Corps Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) team was called in yesterday morning to help Kent Police deal with the device.
March 2019: Works well underway at the Manston airport site in preparation to stack up to 6,000 lorries for the anticipated UK exit from the European Union.
May 2019: The Manston airport site is stood down from immediate readiness as a ‘No Deal Brexit’ lorry park.
May 2019: Ramsgate Town Council sponsors a public meeting to discuss the proposed Development Consent Order to reopen and develop the former airfield at Manston, by RiverOak Strategic Partners.
January-July 2019: The PINs Examination hearings for the DCO take place, led by Kelvin McDonald, and cover a number of contentious issues surrounding the application, including night flights, noise and noise compensation, land values, funding and funders and the question of whether the project is needed.
Other areas raised are job creation, infrastructure investment and potential economic boost for Thanet and east kent.
Representations are made by a wide variety of organisations, including Thanet council and Historic England, campaign groups including Save Manston Airport association, Supporters of Manston Airport, No Night Flights and Nethercourt Action Group, numerous individuals and both Manston museums.
Further questions are raised about business plan forecasts, road networks and the proposed use of the Northern Grass.
The question of land contamination was also been raised with the likely presence of firefighting foam residual chemical PFOA (perfluorooctanoic acid ) in the land and water.
July 2019: Contracts exchanged agreeing the sale of the Manston airport site to RiverOak Strategic Partners subsidiary RiverOak MSE Ltd, by sellers Stone Hill Park. RiverOak Strategic Partners reportedly paid £16.5 million. SHP owned 742 acres of the site, which totals around 770 acres, with the remaining plots belonging to other interested parties.
Stone Hill Park withdraws enhanced planning proposals for homes, business and leisure on the Manston airport site.
October 2019: A report by the Planning Inspectorate to submit a recommendation over the development consent order for the Manston airport site is delayed because a final fee is yet to be processed. A week later the recommendation report is sent to the Secretary of State
January 2020: The decision by the Secretary of State over the development consent order to create a cargo hub at the Manston airport site is pushed back by four months.
The decision had been due on January 18 but a written statement to Parliament made by Nusrat Ghani, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Transport, says the latest delay means the outcome will be announced on May 18.
January 2020: Submission of yet another round of comments and further information is requested by the Secretary of State for Transport before a decision over the development consent order will be made.
February 2020: Controversial plans for a third runway at Heathrow airport are deemed unlawful because climate commitments were not taken into account.
The Court of Appeal judgement follows a case launched by environmental campaigners. Judges said for the third runway to go ahead it would have to fit with UK climate policy.
February 2020: Submissions made to PINs in January are published.
May 2020: The May 18 deadline comes and goes with no decision announcement. On May 20 it is revealed that the decision has been pushed back again until July 10, 2020.