Whisper it… this column is solely focused on the difficult topic of Manston! I’m not sure if I should immediately don a tin helmet and duck for cover, but I’ve long thought there’s a need for a balanced piece. I’m trying to do that in this article, so please bear with me.
On Friday 22nd September we heard that the latest attempt at a Judicial Review failed – the 41 page response from Judge Mr Justice Dove concluded, ‘6. For all of the reasons set out above I am not persuaded that either of the claimant’s grounds are made out in substance and therefore this application for judicial review must be dismissed.’
You’ll recall the ExA in 2019 essentially saying that the idea was a non-starter as ‘sufficient need wasn’t demonstrated’ and freight need could easily be absorbed by existing airports…here we are still debating it.
Cue uproar on both sides of this long standing and intense local debate. Happiness and pleasure from those who are pro airport. Dismay and disbelief from those who are opposed. It seems to me that there are very few locals in the middle. Views and opinions on both sides are strongly held and fiercely defended.
*Full disclosure. My long standing opposition is principally based on the negative impact on our health and our tourism offer. And of course the environmental impact is worrying. But more of that further on…
Understanding the pros
I do understand the ‘pros’! There’s no doubt that Thanet urgently needs economic regeneration to provide much needed employment. Decent steady jobs, with good pay, and work that provides training and development opportunities. An airport can provide these. Look at Gatwick or Heathrow, both employing thousands of people, from security staff, to baggage handlers to those working in airside concessions – who can resist a cheeky purchase of their favourite perfume or a cut price tipple?
It would be nice – in a purely fantasy sort of a way – to have a passenger airport on Manston. Flying to, say, Malaga, Paphos, Crete and other sunshine destinations. Would I use it? If I could convince myself to be less concerned about the climate emergency – you bet!
We’ve had repeated attempts at a passenger service from Manston haven’t we? This little corner of England, bordered by sea on three sides, simply doesn’t have a enough population to make a passenger airport financially viable. If you are traveling anywhere from the other side of Canterbury Gatwick is easy to get too. So If Manston is not financially viable then investors will not be found. Investors only invest for a return of their investment, not to provide me – or you – with a convenient gateway to the Med.
The current proposals don’t include any real detail on passenger flights but anticipate 1.4M people traveling by year 20 of operation. Allowing for the build out, Manston won’t start operations until ‘late 2027’ so probably 2028, there’s no clear indication of when passenger flights can be expected. Will there really be sufficient demand to make passenger flights viable when there never has been before? Given that we simply don’t have a large enough population base I think this is unlikely. Is it possible the inclusion of the promise of passenger flights (with no detail) is simply there to make the air cargo hub a tad more appealing?
For those people who flew from Manston in the past and enjoyed the time-saving simplicity of having a passenger airport on our doorstep – I get you. I was actually on one of the very last Amsterdam flights – it was great to rock up, park and fly. But it wasn’t viable and KLM quit after losing a great deal of money.
Manston is clearly being developed as a freight hub. I wouldn’t bet on any air passenger services.
The starting point for this business proposal and actually the biggest hurdle RSP now have to overcome is securing the necessary funding. Someone, somewhere is going to have to have very deep pockets to fund Manston. We’re looking at a price tag of half a billion, and it’s likely to grow. As they say in business, this project will have to demonstrate that it can wash its face! That it will provide a profitable return for the investors. I doubt there’ll be any deviation trying to factor in passenger flights unless and until that cast iron return is nailed down.
Many of those concerned about the flights over our heads, are deeply and sincerely worried about particulates, noise and disturbed sleep. Unlike other airports such as Gatwick, built at a time when the impact of pollution and noise wasn’t fully understood. We know now – these factors are killers.
The issue that bothers me most is this impact on health, it’s a huge downside. The health and well-being of Thanet’s population is extremely concerning – and has been pre Covid, NHS staff shortages, and industrial action. Thanet’s health bumps along in the bottom of many league tables and action is required to level up the health outcomes of our population.
A summary from 2019 concludes ‘the health of people in Thanet is generally worse than the England average. Thanet is one of the 20% most deprived districts/unitary authorities in England and about 24% (6,155) children live in low income families.’ It’s 44% and growing in Newington. ‘Life expectancy for both men and women is lower than the England average at 8.5 years lower for men and 10.2 years lower for women in the most deprived areas of Thanet compared to the better areas.’ And of course this is much worse than compared to elsewhere in Kent, in-fact life expectancy is 23 years less for Thanet women compared to women in Tunbridge Wells – from memory. Importantly ‘In Year 6, 20.4% of children are classified as obese.’ And ‘under 75 mortality rate from cardiovascular diseases [is] worse than the England average.’ Obesity is impacted and worsened by sleep disruptions as are cardiovascular conditions impacted by pollution.
In December ‘22 I put the following question to KCC full council.
COUNTY COUNCIL – Thursday 15th December 2022
Question by Ms Constantine to The Leader of the Council, Roger Gough
At the last meeting, I asked about future CO2 emissions from the planned Manston Air Freight Hub and how this related to KCC’s Net Zero activity. In addition to the climate impact, increases in emissions, air pollutants and noise from Manston and other largescale developments, and the related traffic increase in the Kent area, represent a risk to the long-term health of Kent residents, such as respiratory problems and other illnesses caused by sleep deprivation. As this Council has already committed, via its Strategic Statement, to work with partners to support the prevention of chronic respiratory disease, can the Leader of the Council please explain how air quality and other relevant health implications of large-scale developments like Manston are taken into account by KCC and partners on the Integrated Care System? In answering the question, can the Leader clarify as part of the Council’s commitment to ‘improving the health of Kent’s population and narrowing health inequalities’, what action is already being undertaken to address this issue?
Firstly, I can assure you that the Council is strongly committed to improving the health of Kent’s population and narrowing health inequalities. As a County Council we can only work within the responsibilities within the legislation that are set out for us. As an Upper Tier Local Authority, since April 2013 we have been responsible for improving the health of our local population and for public health services. The Secretary of State continues to have overall responsibility for improving health with national public health functions delegated to the Office for Health Improvement and Disparities and the UK Health Security Agency.
Specifically, with regards to Manston, in KCC’s response on the 21st July 2017 to the Preliminary Environmental Information Report we placed an expectation on River Oak Strategic Partners to conduct a participatory Health Impact Assessment (HIA) with local communities. Whilst undertaking a HIA is seen as good practice as part of major developments, it is not a requirement of the Aviation Policy Framework. In July 2018 the HIA was completed as part of the Environmental Statement. The then Kent Director of Public Health was consulted in November 2017 on this HIA and inputted into the HIA Scoping Statement. The HIA identified several impacts on health and wellbeing both positive and negative and included a number of mitigation measures for those health impacts plus further recommendations.
The health implications mentioned, would be considered by the Planning Inspectorate when they determine the proposal. Therefore, whilst we can be involved in the process and make comments, we are not the decision maker and cannot influence specific issues. I can assure you that we have been involved where we can, and we will continue to try to influence the Health Impacts of the proposal.
In addition to the above, the air quality impact of the airport’s road traffic on Kent’s highway network will be included as part of the development work for Kent County Council’s new Local Transport Plan. The new Local Transport Plan will consider traffic on the local road network from the reopened Manston Airport, along with other existing and planned developments. A public consultation on a draft new Local Transport Plan is being planned for next year. We will also ensure that we work with the airport operator and local transport providers to encourage greater uptake of sustainable travel options to the airport, including the use of the new Thanet Parkway Railway Station which is due to open next year.
I also thought it was important to mention that following the Secretary of State’s decision on 18th August 2022 to grant development consent for the reopening of Manston Airport to operate as a dedicated freight Facility, a Ramsgate resident, has applied for a Judicial review against this decision. The Court still has to decide whether to allow the appeal. It is for the courts to decide the outcome of this appeal and there is therefore nothing at the current time we can do to influence this decision. (Ends.)
Will River Oak Strategic Partners now conduct a participatory Health Impact Assessment (HIA) with local communities?
What mitigation against air and road pollution in Thanet are contained in the Local Transport Plan?
Now the case has been heard, what actions can be expected by KCC to improve the health of Thanet’s population and to narrow our health inequalities?
Something must be done to look after all our health. I shall be putting these questions to Roger Gough Conservative leader at KCC, you can be assured!
That’s the health downside – what’s the upside? Well we can remove the upside of access to passenger flights… because it remains to be seen what, if any passenger flights there will be. But let’s assume profitability is an upside we can all benefit from. Let’s assume Manston air cargo hub is financially viable and will make money. Where does that profit go? Of course we don’t know, and can’t know, because of the commercial sensitivity, who the investors are prior to any deal being struck. So we can’t know who the investors and shareholders will be. But I bet my house (under the flight path) they won’t be living in, or spending money in Thanet.
That renders the benefit of Manston down to potential large scale employment. Can Thanet residents really expect to see the much needed employment opportunities? For certain there will be jobs during the build phase. How many of these temporary jobs in the build phase will go to locals? When I met with Tony Freudmann he was very vague about this and never provided the details he promised he would. I’ve drawn an inference from that broken promise. Post build and assuming full capacity of 21,000 ATMs per year is reached we’ll certainly see an enormous warehousing operation.
Traditionally an operation that provides large numbers of jobs, pickers and packers, logistics, contract managers etc. Warehousing is now an industry that will be hugely automated. Indeed it is already hugely automated. Investors will of course expect to see this degree of automation built into the business plan, as it offsets the costs of hiring and training ‘costly’ and sometimes ‘pesky’ human beings. Robots don’t take sick leave or have holidays! Robotisation boosts the bottom line – providing shareholders with higher profits. The most expensive part of any business is the headcount. I’m certain investors will want to see as few people employed as possible to maximise profit.
There will also be a negative impact leading to job losses in our tourism industry. So we may gain some local jobs… but we’ll certainly lose employment too…has that been calculated anywhere?
So far, no guaranteed passenger flights, no direct investment into Thanet, and in all likelihood precious few jobs. Some yes. But it’s certainly not an employment Klondike! Nor is it a quick fix for our flagging economy.
That leaves houses. This issue aggravates local people so much. It’s certainly true that Thanet has a desperate housing crisis. I notice Manston supporters stating that if Manston isn’t an airport then it’ll be housing. This isn’t correct – it’s not actually a binary decision.
It’s most definitely not – An airport or Housing
Central Government predict population growth and change. They then decide how much land local authorities have to provide so that a prescribed number of homes can be built. This is the same process right across the Country. Currently, precisely because Manston, which is after all a huge brown field site, cannot be used for housing means other land (better land in fact) has to be provided by TDC. So we’re getting the additional homes in any event. And as planning is ‘permissive’ – which means so long as planning regulations are adhered to developers will get planning permission. House building in Thanet will continue to be squeezed into small sites, greens wedges and our productive fields.
My perspective is that given the terrible impact on our health – particularly those under and near to the flight path, given that realistically this won’t bring a significant number of jobs – at some point in the future, and given the climate emergency, the proposition of Manston as an air cargo hub, it seems clear to me that the positives do not outweigh the negatives.
Last but not least, how do we hit our carbon target? My formal questions to KCC revealed a dearth of concern for Thanet by KCC.
COUNTY COUNCIL – Thursday 20 October 2022
Question by Karen Constantine to Susan Carey, Cabinet Member for Environment
‘On 18th August 2022, the Government granted permission for Manston Airport to be turned into an air freight hub, overturning a ruling made by the High Court last year which ordered the Department for Transport to reconsider its decision to grant permission for the works. As a result of this decision, an extra 2.2 million tonnes of CO2 emissions will be released into the atmosphere every year, which is equivalent to the annual emissions of 420,000 UK residents. Additionally, it is anticipated that at least 12,000 air traffic movements will occur annually, which in turn will result in a phenomenal increase in road haulage traffic throughout Kent.
In light of this decision, can the Cabinet Member please explain what steps the Council is taking to ensure that we remain on track to deliver our net zero targets, taking account of the increased air traffic and the expected additional pressure on the surrounding road network?
Carbon emissions from airports are considered on a national basis by Government and in this context the Secretary of State considered that Manston airport’s future emissions would be neutral both nationally and for Kent as a whole.
Similarly, the impact of motorways and trunk roads is also considered nationally and with the focus on freight at a reopened Manston, we would expect much of the resulting road traffic to remain on the motorways and trunk roads. The impact of Manston directly on Kent County Council’s commitment to Net Zero is therefore the traffic and transport on our local roads. This includes the A299 Thanet Way which freight traffic would be expected to use to connect to the M2 for strategic road network connections to the rest of the country.
The carbon impact of the airport’s road traffic on Kent’s highway network will be included as part of the development work for Kent County Council’s new Local Transport Plan 5, which requires a quantitative carbon assessment. The new Local Transport Plan will therefore contain proposals to move us towards net-zero carbon and will take account of the traffic on the local road network from the reopened Manston Airport.’ (End)
I’m not reassured! In the submission to the courts the detail of carbon emissions was stated as follows. ‘The conclusions of the environmental statement were that by year 20 the proposed development would give rise to 730.1 KtCO2 per annum but that such emissions only represented 1.9% of the total UK aviation carbon allowance of 37.5 MtCO2 for 2050. Further mitigation was required in order to reduce the carbon footprint of the proposed development as a whole focusing on other areas of its operation. The overall conclusion of the environmental statement was that the effect of the greenhouse gas emissions from the proposed development on the climate was properly to be regarded as “not significant”.’
Ah I see! The carbon emissions in Thanet only represent 1.9% of the total U.K. aviation. I can’t think of another area where this is being allowed to happen. Where an area is essentially being blighted by huge (preventable) carbon emissions.
I cannot understand why this isn’t deemed significant? I note that ‘further mitigation is necessary.’ As my question to full council revealed, KCC are content to leave the matter of pollution, and its impact on our health to the Government. I wonder if this means in future should the mitigation be unsatisfactory will we need to resort to a JR to try to protect our health? I think it does.
In conclusion, I still maintain Thanet residents are being hung out to dry and our health will undoubtedly suffer, on the promise of a few flights abroad, and jobs which may never materialise in the number’s currently being promised.
Any comments posted will be welcome – provided they are provided with facts and evidence.