The Manston ‘change of use’ Public Inquiry has opened

The inquiry

A Public Inquiry into the change of use of four buildings at Manston airport has opened today (March 14)

The inquiry follows the refusal of one application and the non-determination by Thanet council of three others.

Lothian Shelf (718) Ltd have appealed:

  • Non-determination of an application for temporary change of use – of 3 years – of Building 1 (referred to by the LPA as Building South of Terminal 1 (Hangar 1))
  • Refusal of an application for the proposed change of use of Building 2 (referred to by the LPA as Building 870)
  • Non-determination of an application for change of use of Building 3 (referred to by the LPA as Manston Airport Cargo Centre & Responding Vehicle Point)
  • Non-determination of an application for change of use Building 4

The inquiry is being conducted by government inspector Matthew Nunn and is expected to conclude on Thursday.

This morning saw opening submissions from Neil King QC, for developers Stone Hill Park (Lothian Shelf); Suzanne Ornsby QC for RiverOak Strategic Partners and a statement from Iain Livingstone, Thanet council planning applications manager.

Submissions were also given by Dr Beau Webber, on behalf of Save Manston Airport association, Roz McIntyre for No Night Flights and  aviation expert Christopher Cain.

More submission were due this afternoon. The hearing will listen to Dr  Sally Dixon  and George Yerrall on behalf of RiverOak – the company applying for a Development Consent Order from the government in order to compulsory purchase the site and return it to aviation use – and  planning expert Nick Alston for SHP – the landowner with proposals to develop the site for housing and business space.

Objections withdrawn

The inquiry heard that Thanet council has withdrawn its objection to the applications following a report by Avia Solutions into the site’s viability to continue as an airport.

The report, commissioned by Thanet council, concluded that it was “very unlikely to be financially viable long term and almost certainly not possible in the period to 2031.”

Mr Livingston told the inquiry that in the light of this information it was decided refusal was not reasonable and that a policy covering the site (EC4) to retain it for aviation use only now held “less weight.”

‘Incontrovertible’

This was the view of Mr King QC, for SHP, who said the policy was outdated and drawn up when the airport was operational before its closure by Ann Gloag’s Manston Skyport company in 2014.

He added: “The policy in the Thanet Local Plan for 2006 was set up when Kent International Airport was operational. That plan expired in 2011 and the airport is now closed. These are essential and incontrovertible facts.”

He said RiverOak would have to present “compelling evidence” that a return to aviation – primarily cargo – use was in the public interest before a DCO or compulsory purchase would succeed.

He added: “It needs to be shown that the RiverOak project is financially viable and has the necessary funding to proceed with a DCO.”

Mr King said the Civil Aviation Authority has raised no objections to the four buildings in question being taken out of aviation-related use.

He added: “The reuse of those four buildings will create around 300 jobs for local people.”

National policy

However, Suzanne Ornsby QC, for RiverOak, said the decision must be made in line with the EC4 policy that protects aviation use at the site.

She told the inquiry that to agree to other uses was against national policy as there is a reasonable prospect of the airport reopening.

Photo Dean Spinks

She said the policy “attracts full weight” in the light of RiverOak’s proposals and actions so far in relation to the land.

She also said the Avia report, which Thanet council based its decision to include the airport site for mixed use development in the local plan, was flawed, adding: “The conclusions will be tested through the emerging local plan process and will be found wanting.”

She also highlighted issues of not having vacant possession of the buildings were the DCO granted and the re-implementation of aircraft operations carried out.

No Night Flights

Public submissions came from  Roz McIntyre, from No Night Flights, who said the group backed SHP’s appeal.

She said the airport policy is outdated and had been based, in 2011, on Manston serving 1million passengers and 250,000 tonnes of freight.

She added: “By 2013 it achieved just 4% of the hoped for passengers and 12% of the freight so TDC’s local plan was based on evidence that was proved to be wrong.”

Ms McIntyre said freight demand was flat and that even at its peak Manston only carried 1.95% of the UK’s cargo market.

She pointed to the failures of previous operators and the rejection of Manston as a reliever airport by the Davies Commission.

She said: “There is no reasonable proposal of airport development and so no reason to retain policy protecting airport use.”

‘No longer needed’

Further submission came from  Dr Beau Webber, from Save Manston Airport association, who stated that polls showed between “74% and 98%” of people in Thanet backed an airport at Manston.

He told the inquiry that the change of use for the building was no longer required as arms company Instro Precision – which had planned to move into the building – was now moving those operations to a site at Discovery Park in Sandwich.

Avia report

The Avia report was, however, slammed as ‘misleading’ and ‘predetermined’ by RiverOak witness Chris Cain, of  Northpoint Aviation Services Ltd.

Mr Cain, who was director for Newquay airport and worked on airport policy for the Department of Transport,  said the report did not take factors into account including the promised £300m investment from RiverOak, the need for recycling, maintenance and aerospace facilities and the most up-to-date market forecasts.

He disputed that the freight industry was flat, saying the growth projections issued just yesterday stood at 3.7% across Europe and that year on year growth was at more than 8%.

He said Avia had not interviewed relevant industry people and had not taken into account previous owners’ lack of investment in the site, especially during the 2008 economic crash.

He pointed to the troubles that Brexit will present freight being carried by lorry – such as border controls and costs – and said there would be a need for speciality airports.

Mr Cain also questioned the cargo predictions in the Avia report which suggested there could be movement of 30,000 tonnes from Manston by 2030. This compared to prediction made by himself and, independently, Dr Sally Dixon, of 230,000 tonnes and 223,000 tonnes respectively.

Photo John Horton

In conclusion he said the Avia report was “at best misinformed” and, at worst was a  “predetermined answer that there was no longer viability (at Manston) as an airport.”

He added: “Manston can successfully be developed as a mixed use airport underpinned by a cargo operation and will contribute to the local, regional and national economy.”

It was also revealed that RiverOak Strategic Partners – which is not associated with the US RiverOak Investments firm originally involved with the process and has bought the rights to carry forward DCO application – plan to make the DCO application this Summer and expect a decision by the end of 2018.

Submissions this afternoon have been made by Mr Yerall and Ms Schlembri  for RiverOak and Simon Crow in favour of SHP.

North Thanet MP Roger Gale is expected to speak on Thursday.

The hearing will continue tomorrow.

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