Opinion: Town councillor David Green – Decision day for the Manston DCO is approaching

One of the many flight path plans RSP are proposing, showing overflying of Herne Bay, Westgate and Margate as well as Ramsgate

The decision on a development consent order for the Manston airport site is due, barring no more delays, on July 10.

RiverOak Strategic Partners submitted a DCO application in July 2018 in a bid to gain compulsory buy-out powers over the Manston airport site. This part of the application was later negated by a £16.5 million purchase of the majority of the site. The firm 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).

Here Ramsgate Town councillor David Green talks about his view of the application

On July 10, many in Ramsgate are braced yet again for a possible decision regarding RSP’s application for a DCO giving them permission to develop a nationally significant freight hub at Manston. With the Secretary of State for Transport recusing himself, it is not clear who will make the decision. What is certain though is that, if it is not deferred again, it will be a Conservative minister in the DoT that will put their name to it.

The decision will hopefully be informed by the detailed analysis conducted by the Planning Inspectorate which will be published alongside it. This analysis will have been with the DoT since 18 October 2019. The DCO regulations require a decision within three months unless an announcement to postpone is placed in the Commons. This was done in January 2020 for four months to May 18, and again the day before the May 18 decision date, until July 4. The reason given “was to enable further work to be carried out before determination of the application”.

Many of the more than 2,000 individuals, groups and organisations that contributed to the DCO examination are concerned that they are being offered no opportunity to contribute to “the further work being carried out”. This in sharp contrast to the openness of the DCO examination itself.

We all know what happens when Conservative DoT ministers are left to make decisions without proper scrutiny such as Grayling’s £13.8M fiasco over Seaborne Freight. More recently, and equally worrying is the Jenrick/Desmond case that appears to show that who you know in the Tories is more important than planning conditions.

We know that both Thanet’s MP’s have lobbied on behalf of RSP, indeed Sir Roger Gale has threatened to quit if the DCO is turned down, Craig Mackinlay owns a defunct aviation business and both are members of the HoC aviation group of MP’s. RSP has hosted receptions in the HoC and contributed financially to the aviation group.

The examination closed with several the questions regarding RSP’s bid unanswered, and several concerns unaddressed due to deficiencies in the DCO process. These include the opaque offshore sources of RSP’s finances and an apparent lack of compliance with money laundering regulations. The major deficiency is that the examiners could commission no independent research to cross check RSP’s many claims.

Several things have occurred since October 2019 when the DCO examination finished:

  • The Government’s pledge to be carbon neutral by 2040 and the increasingly significance of aviation to our carbon debt as that deadline approaches.
  • Increased awareness of the effects of noise and air pollution on health outcomes
  • The serious impact of COVID pandemic on the aviation industry meaning that the already surplus capacity in the air freight industry will increase considerably for many years to come
  • In parallel with the DCO application, RSP have applied to the Civil Aviation Authority to be allowed to use airspace above the airport for their preferred flightpaths. They have reached the second stage of this process where they are asked to put forward possible flight paths for comment. The next stage will be a formal consultation with the public. This process is useful because it means that RSP cannot obfuscate any longer concerning their intended flight paths and thus the impact on surrounding residences. Ramsgate Town Council, Thanet District Council, Canterbury City Council, Kent County Council have all raised serious concerns regarding the noise and health impacts of the proposed flight paths.

To justify a DCO decision, RSP have had to argue that the country needs another aviation freight hub of nationally significant size, and many of us believe they have exaggerated the economic benefits locally. At the same time, they have tried to minimise the likely impact the freight hub on the local built and natural environment. I believe that during the examination, they failed on both counts. Developments since the examination have all been detrimental to their case.

I hope on July 10 or before we will get a decision, the blight of threatened night flights has hung of Ramsgate for too long. Justice would dictate a decision against RSP’s DCO, but who knows with the current government?

Opinion: SMAa and KNMA Manston airport supporter groups – Decision day for the DCO