Government grants Development Consent Order for Manston Airport

Manston airport Photo Frank Leppard

A Development Consent Order for an air freight hub at the Manston airport site has been redetermined and granted by government, again, today (August 18).

A Development Consent Order granting approval for the air freight hub was initially granted in July 2020 but  quashed in February 2021 following a Judicial Review challenge by Ramsgate resident Jenny Dawes.

A new decision then had to be issued after a re-examination of the Planning Inspectorate evidence.

The DCO application was accepted for examination in August 2018 and it was completed on 9 July 2019. The examination was conducted on the basis of written and oral submissions submitted to the Examining panel and by eight issue-specific hearings, two compulsory acquisition hearings and four open floor hearings held in Margate and Sandwich.

The panel also conducted one unaccompanied site inspection in January 2019 and one accompanied site inspection in March 2019.

The examining panel recommendation was for refusal. This was overturned by the Secretary of State when granting the original DCO.

Now fresh approval has been issued by Transport Minister, Karl McCartney MP, and the DCO will come into force from September 8.

Manston airport site Photo Paul Wells

The order, published today, says: “The application was examined by a Panel of four members. The Panel, having examined the application with the documents that accompanied the application, and the representations made and not withdrawn, has, in accordance with section 74(2) of the 2008 Act, made a report and recommendation to the Secretary of State.

“The Secretary of State, having considered the representations made and not withdrawn, and the report of the Panel, has decided to make an Order granting development consent for the development described in the application with modifications which in the opinion of the Secretary of State, do not make any substantial changes to the proposals comprised in the application.”

The site is in ownership of RSP after a £16million buy out from previous owners Stone Hill Park who had hoped to gain permission for a multi-use housing, business and leisure development.

RSP aims to create aviation at the site with a cargo hub and associated business. Plans for construction will be phased over 15 years and will include 19 freight stands and four passenger stands for aircraft as well as warehousing and fuel storage.

Tony Freudmann of RSP

RSP director Tony Freudmann said: “Today is a day to celebrate the culmination of years of campaigning. I would like to pay tribute to the extraordinary army of Manston Airport supporters who have never given up hope of seeing new life breathed into this historic aviation asset.

“And I would also like to thank our two dedicated local MPs, Sir Roger Gale and Craig Mackinlay, as well as the thousands of supporters who have supported us from the start of the DCO process and have long shared our bold and ambitious vision for the airport.”

Surveys, detailed master planning and design work will begin in the next few weeks. Construction will start later next year, with RSP saying the airport will operate its first cargo services in early 2025.

RSP says Manston will be built to be Carbon Net Zero from scratch and will provide much needed economic and employment stimulus to the area.

Alongside the work needed to return Manston to operational status, RSP says it will now accelerate its local procurement programme and partnership work with a range of business, education, training and local authority organisations.

Find the decision letter here


Save Manston Airport association

“The SMAa committee is proud to announce that after 4 years of hard work and dedication from all its members, and especially RSP, the Development Consent Order (DCO) has finally been granted by the Secretary of State for Transport.

“This go-ahead from the government now enables RSP to invest over £300m into rebuilding a state-of-the-art 21st century airport at Manston, which includes an air freight hub and passenger terminal, as well as proposals to develop aircraft maintenance, repair and overhaul facilities and end-of-life recycling facilities; a flight training school; a fixed base operation for executive travel and business facilities for aviation related organisations.

“We hope for the airport to re-open sometime in 2025. This will create many much needed jobs for the Thanet and east Kent area, and will enable rejuvenation of the local economy. As well as jobs, SMAa and RSP have worked closely with local schools, colleges and universities to promote and advertise STEM and aviation-related studies, in the form of apprenticeships, the construction of an onsite-aviation college and collaboration with local educational establishments to create opportunity and experience.

“We would like to thank our many thousands of members and all local people that took part in the examination for the DCO, and would like to pay a very special thanks to RSP, who have been in the fight with us from the very beginning, well over 8 years.

“A special thanks goes out to our excellent MP Sir Roger Gale, for his tireless and relentless hard work during the campaign – keeping the government, all 3 administrations since this fight began, on its toes and informed as to the latest in our campaign.”

No Night Flights

“It is incredible that time and time again independent expert advice is ignored over the feasibility of Manston as a cargo hub. We are disappointed in the news and await to see what happens next for our beautiful, historic seaside town.”

Thanet Labour Party

Thanet council Labour leader Cllr Rick Everitt said: “It is disappointing that once again the Conservative government has decided it knows better than the independent examiners. We will take the time to digest the latest decision but we anticipate it will be challenged legally.

“The Labour group at TDC stands with residents of Ramsgate and elsewhere who fear the consequences for their town and their quality of life. We remain unconvinced that the claimed benefits for local people are real or significant. This decision is a slap in the face for all of us who are concerned about the climate emergency and exposes the hypocrisy of the Conservatives on that vital issue.”

Craig Mackinlay, South Thanet MP (Con)

“It’s fantastic news that – finally – the redetermined DCO for Manston has been granted.

“I’ve been saying for as long as anyone will listen that Thanet with Manston for aviation is a wholly different Thanet from one without. This positive DCO for Manston is a gamechanger and the turn-key to prosperity in East Kent.

“We perpetually have unemployment rates and average salaries behind South East norms. But airports bring huge investment and Manston is expected to receive hundreds of millions of pounds. This means new industries and a huge number of jobs in a relatively short period of time.

“My thanks to RiverOak for their investment and patience after eight years of false starts, set-backs and frustration.

“Manston can fly!”

Sir Roger Gale, North Thanet MP (Con)

“The DCO has been granted for Manston This is the good news that we have been awaiting for so long.

“There will no doubt be additional hurdles to tackle but I look forward to seeing wheels on tarmac at Manston again and all of the job creation and economic benefits that a revitalised freight and passenger airport will bring to East Kent and to the whole of the UK.

“Huge thanks to all of those who have kept the faith.”

County Councillor Karen Constantine (Lab)

“I’m all in favour of a plan for industry that will actually bring quality, sustainable jobs to our area. Thanet is marred by a poor labour market – the worst in the South East. Too many people who work are in jobs that don’t pay enough to live on, and don’t offer decent prospects. No wonder our poverty rates are shockingly high. Good work – with decent wage rates – is the only way to level up our communities.

“Both our local MPs, Conservatives Sir Roger Gale and Craig Mackinlay have abjectly failed to secure any large scale and decent inward investment or economic regeneration in Thanet. Both blithely citing an air cargo hub at Manston as the (only) route forward, and little do they care for how that will blight lives and health.

“Manston Air Cargo hub has yet to clear major obstacles in its way. Firstly – and I’ve visited the site for myself – there’s no infrastructure remaining in place. Who, how and when will that be found? What business efficacy is there in the plan for an Air Cargo hub? Where are the customers? The cost of U.K. products is going through the roof, with rampant inflation and a possible (likely) recession looming. Who are we shipping too? Where is the actual demand for Air Cargo imports and why would any business bear the increased costs of shipping into Manston? Compared to those places with existing provision.

“Will Manston get permission from the CAA? What about the pollution and climate emergency? We should be focused on minimising our carbon emissions not increasing them. This proposal with sink both TDC and KCC’s carbon reduction targets. They will remain pipe dreams.

“The bald truth is, Grant Shapps the Secretary of State for Transport has made a wholly political decision. It smacks of ‘Dead Cat’, don’t look at the state of the county. It smacks political chicanery. It’s a promise, again, of ‘Jam Tomorrow’ – whilst doing nothing to tackle the urgent economic issues, appalling labour market, the crisis in the NHS, and the crippling housing issues.”

Thanet Conservative Group

Thanet Conservative group leader Cllr Ash Ashbee said: “I am delighted that the Secretary of State for Transport has granted the DCO for Manston Airport.

“As Leader of the Conservative Group, I am proud of the fact that we have always supported the re-opening of Manston Airport, I am also proud as the Leader of Thanet District Council that private investors have the confidence and belief to invest major sums in our district.

“The Government has already shown this in Thanet by awarding two levelling up funds to both Margate and Ramsgate, along with the Margate Town Deal, giving us an economic foundation.

“Now, in addition, RiverOak Strategic Partners inward investment demonstrates this with the next vital step on the path to building a sound future of economic prosperity for Thanet.

“Manston Airport provides a much-needed opportunity to foster economic growth not just for Thanet but the wider East Kent area, complementing our growing tourism sector.

“It will create jobs for local people and through the Manston Skills and Education Board, of which my administration takes a keen interest in, local people will have access to training and re-skilling giving them wider opportunities of employment.

“We, the Conservative Group have always been the party that listened to the people of Thanet, many of whom wanted the return of Manston Airport and have done everything we could to support this happening.”

Thanet Green Party

“Thanet Green Party is deeply saddened by the Government’s inexplicable decision to grant a Development Consent Order for a cargo hub at Manston. This decision runs against the advice of the Government’s Planning Inspectorate after a rigorous examination of the proposals, and contrary to 15 of 16 recent independent expert reports which highlight that these plans are not viable.

“The airport has never employed more people than our local Wetherspoons and is unlikely to do so in future. This is a project based on an odd mix of last-century technology whose time has long gone, and aspirational future technology that will not exist in reliable form for some years yet. The fact that the Secretary of State has approved this in the teeth of an evident climate crisis, and at a time when simply affording to pay our energy bills through the winter is the major concern of most Thanet residents, shows how little regard the Government has for the experience of ordinary people.

“The saddest irony is that we have huge potential for the clean, green, 21st century jobs with training and prospects this disadvantaged area needs via our two windfarms – so we really don’t need the paltry numbers of jobs this will bring, if it happens at all.

“Sadly, we now appear to have little choice but to wait for the project to fail, as so many iterations of the airport have done in the past – but we deplore the waste of money and time, and the false promises of jobs and prosperity given to local people, meanwhile.”

Save Manston Airport founder Dan Light

“We are delighted to hear that the DCO is granted for Manston Airport and would like thank RSP for their continued hard work, also the planning inspectorate for seeing and understanding what a vital role this will play in the upturn of industry and jobs in Thanet. We also want to thank everyone across all groups for all the hard work put in.”


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.

By James Stewart from England (commons.wikimedia)

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.

Manston airport

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.”

Discovery Park

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

An appeal to change the use of 4 Manston buildings

March 2017A 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.

Councillors voted the plan down

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.

DCO documents

April 2018: RSP lodges the DCO with the Planning Inspectorate

Enhanced plans from SHP

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.

HGV trial at Manston Photo Frank Leppard

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.

Photo Swift Aerial Photography

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.

The RTC meeting at the Oddfellows

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.

Manston airport site Photo Frank Leppard

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.

Covid test centre Photo Frank Leppard
July 2020: The site is used as a Covid test centre. The Department for Transport grants the DCO.
October 2020: A Judicial Review bid of the DCO decision launched by resident Jenny Dawes is granted
Photo Frank Leppard

December 2020: Manston airport site is used as a Brexit lorry park

February 2021: The DCO is quashed and the redetermination process begins

April 2021: An air space change application fails to gain approval at the first ‘gateway assessment’. The Civil Aviation Authority flight path process has to be completed for a permanent change to airspace usage, such as a change of routes,

June 2021: The contract to use part of the Manston site as a lorry park comes to an end

August 2021: An air space change application being undertaken by Manston airport site owners RiverOak Strategic Partners (RSP) fails to gain approval for the ‘gateway assessment’ stage.

October 2021: An independent assessor’s report commissioned by the Secretary of State concludes the case of need for a freight hub at the Manston airport site is not proven.

The draft report, drawn up by Ove Arup & Partners Ltd, was commissioned as part of the process of re-determination after approval for the airport project was given but then quashed by a High Court order.

August 2022: Transport minister Karl McCartney MP grants the DCO once more.