Monday, March 24, 2014

Manston's Final Fears

While the local paper carried several of my comments on the news of Manston's threatened closure, I've been a little reluctant to add much more, when I'm aware of so much effort going on in the background, to save both an important piece of local history and one of the few, unrealized and large potential economic opportunities that exists on the island outside of tourism.

The first I heard of the story was when the BBC called me on the high-speed train to London from Margate, characteristically crawling it's way towards Ashford behind a delayed Charing Cross-bound service from Ramsgate. As the holder of the 'Shadow; operations cabinet portfolio, this came as a big surprise and my Twitter followers will have seen me send of a quick 'Tweet' asking if anyone else knew of this.

Thanks to the immediacy of Twitter, I had my answer in minutes, which is of course what everyone else now knows after the event. It all seems to have happened in great secrecy; a 'Faites Accompli,' if you like and I'm not alone in being unhappy with the process, although if you look back on Thanet Life, and the many stories on the airport over ten years of blogging, you might see some level of predictability, following the last Council debate and vote on the airport.

Simon Moores - Thoughts on Manston Airport
I've read some comments from councillors on Facebook and elsewhere and quite frankly, I regard several as expressions of the problem rather than the solution; that's if we can find one. We know why we arrived at this point and we know that restricting the operations of the airport has been a pillar of Labour's policy.

I respect that many people feel strongly about the airport and would rather not have one and I've seen all kinds of suggestions, a Center Parc and a giant IKEA among them. I've also warned on many occasions that the existence of the airport protects Thanet from a significant housing development project in the middle of the island but already, an application is already in for these as predicted.

If I think of every similar case in the past, where the airports I knew once stood, there are now lines of neat Barratt Homes, spreading for acres.

I'm very impressed, that now the awful realisation has set in among the public, a petition of ten thousand signatures has been raised. However, regardless of the strength and feeling of public opinion, Mrs Gloag is seemingly holding all the cards at the moment; it's her airport and our two Members of Parliament are working very hard to try and identify a purchaser and potential source of rescue, - I had a chat with Sir Roger Gale on the subject - which might also allow it to become the Air Sea Rescue hub as reported last March.

Despite Labour's protestations, we arrived at this point for very narrow political reasons rather than economic ones. A strong pressure group, achieved the results it wanted and a poll of residents on the airport approach corridor, was offered as proof positive by Cllr Hart's minority Labour administration,that the people of Thanet were in favour of restricting Manston's operating hours.

Quoting from my blog entry at the time:

"Cllr Ian Driver of the Thanet Independent Group (TIG) suggested that the airport now be closed altogether and that in the near future, the aviation industry will cease to exist. It's worth noting that the survey of local opinion only took in less than 5% of Thanet's population directly under the flight path in Ramsgate and that Labour was already committed to this decision as part of their election manifesto."

This is a terrible situation for the two flying schools, TG Aviation and Polar helicopters to be in, as well as the many other businesses and families that rely on the airport for their income. I'm reassured by powerful desire of so many people to save Manston and allow it a chance to fulfill at least some of its potential as source of jobs and economic growth for Thanet. I do worry though, that we although Manston isn't going to go quietly and without a fight, we have been given so very little time to remedy a difficult situation and already, I'm told, that skilled staff are applying for jobs elsewhere.

For the majority of residents who wish to see Manston thrive, let's remember, we have been here once before and it's not over until we say so.


Michael Child said...

Simon while I have always supported a viable local airport, I have also always maintained that any night time flying allowance for Manston should be related to daytime flying activity.

I also maintain that the most damaging aspect of Manston Airport to the local economy in recent years was the uncertainty over the amount of night flying there would be and whether this would be in any way related to economic regeneration caused by airport expansion.

Can you clarify the TDC Conservative group’s position on night flights when they regain the balance of power. Would they grant what Infratil was asking for, roughly the same night flying allowance as the main London hub airports? Would they offer unlimited night flying? Would they leave the situation as it is now? Or would they do something else?

William Epps said...

This would seem to be a classic case of misrepresentation and asset stripping. How can a serious business person claim such a bright future for the field just five months ago and already throw in the towel. Clearly the bright future as an airport was never the business plan, just reassuring words to keep all the staff on board until the time was right for the real agenda.

Obviously the minority in Thanet who oppose the airfield are over the Moon, but then they never could see that the land at Manston offers nothing that is not available at other sites around the isle.

As for the no night flights brigade, it has always has puzzled me how the same people who claim the airport is a dead duck because of the few air movements, can then leap to unlimited nights flights if the 2300 hours restriction were lifted. Why, where would all the new flights come from.

Simon Moores said...

Conservatives have long held a more sympathetic view of the airport's position in the local economy but any statement would be meaningless, given the timeline and the fact that its future now lies firmly with Labour and Clive Hart's cabinet

Michael Child said...

Yep Simon I suppose the flaw in the Conservative plans for buying the airport at the moment is that it isn’t for sale. As far as I can see, given the brownfield status there really isn’t anything local government can do to prevent the present owner making millions out of developing the site in the most profitable way. Best climate in the UK and good road connections, a garden city perhaps.

I do however think that this business of Labour killing the airport over night flights may be stretching the local voters credibility a bit to far. I had assumed that if there was any part of government that could have stepped in and bought the airport from Infratil it was Conservative run KCC and they didn’t.

William I don’t really see where the misrepresentation comes in as the purchase deal was between the owners past and present, I don’t think there needed to be government approval at local or national level.

Simon Moores said...


I'm afraid KCC is in no position to buy anything and particularly an airport. The Conservative view is to encourage and attract business and it's rather difficult, voters' credibility aside, to ignore the statements on the airport that Labour have made and their position since taking the administration.

I had the benfit of attending the airport debate and listening to their arguments, where I don't think you did

Tim Clark said...

I return to what I have said elsewhere. Simon, you lecture us all about the need to face financial reality on a national scale But when, after numerous attempts have failed, a hard-nosed businesswoman and successful millionaire decides to take a business decision based on her judgement of financial reality locally, you immediately decide to take the opposite view to your national stance. Proximity of local elections maybe? Or just the usual political double-speak? I am sad that the airport may close, especially since I have flights booked later in the year which KLM will maybe have to rearrange, but possibly the time has come for some really imaginative thinking.

Simon Moores said...

No.. I simply wish to protect the single asset we have remaining in Thanet with the greatest potential in the 21st century for employment and growth, given the forecast needs of the aviation industry in the next decade.

Once it's gone it's gone for good!

William Epps said...

Michael, this misrepresentation was to the public via all the media releases made by the new owners at the time of purchase. Such claims to developing the business, if genuine, do not change in five months.

The point on night flights, despite your oft repeated proportion of day movements, was to have that flexibility to receive aircraft after the watershed. It could have increased the freight haulers usage, but we will never know thanks to Labour's cynical exploitation of the Ramsgate opposition. Add the several times when Clive Hart could have spoken out in support of the airport, yet failed to do so, and the message from Labour controlled TDC has not been encouraging to the owners. What we now see are crocodile tears from them at the loss of jobs.

As for the development of the brownfield site, just how many more houses do you think this corner of East Kent can handle in terms of jobs and infrastructure. Oh, and please spare us the industrial or commercially development when we already have hectares of such sites with no takers.

Your arguments seem to be about as logical as those of a frequent visitors to your own blog site.

Michael Child said...

William at the moment we have daily KLM flights in what is theoretically the night time period, no one including me seems to be making any fuss, I would say that there has been pretty much universal support for the KLM flights.

What I don’t think would get support locally is unrestricted night flights or a very large proportion of night flights to day flights, in other words Thanet taking all the business that no one wants, without getting the economic advantages of the increased daytime business.

Now for a considerable time the airport has been on the market very cheaply and there were no takers, mainly because of the losses £10,000 per day and now the Conservative group headed by Roger Gale say the have found an alternative operator who presumably think they can make it run at a profit.

Added to this we have the Conservative group saying that it was the Labour ban on night flying that finished the airport off.

Now it could be that the airport would run at a profit with completely unrestricted night flights, taking as it were all the commercial activity that no other airport wants, so my interest here is to try and find out what the Conservative group’s position would be on night flights were their alternative operator in place.

William Epps said...

Michael, the KLM flight is not in anti-social hours for a start, but the hard fact is that the present 106, at least on paper bans, night flights. A negative situation for any potential cargo user not helped by an apparent hostility towards such by the local authority..

Unrestricted nights flights was never an issue for where were they supposed to come from? That was simply scaremongering by the anti-airport people and something seized upon by Labour to gain votes.

At the moment, we seem to have more Conservative voices in support of the airport than Labour, although I do recall Mike Harrison writing on his blog about night flight hysteria, but this should not be a political issue. It is about East Kent and our desperate need for jobs and good communications.

I also find it interesting that Labour's PPC for Thanet South seems to have no view on the issue. Waiting for instructions from daddy perhaps?

Bemused of Birchington said...

If Boris gets his way, and a major hub airport is built in the Thames estuary, then air traffic at Manston will surely be restricted purely on shared airspace, with a constant stream of aircraft almost in the same circuit as Manston. But of course we are decades away from that situation aren't we?

1 o'clock Rob said...

If Boris builds his island then the aviation industry will be coming to terms with the decimation of Gatwick/Heathrow/Luton/Standstead and London City (if its able to operate at all).

I've heard, read and watched numerous industry people say that they don't want an airport in that location, what they want is expanded infrastructure to regional airports, incentives for regional airports to be used to operate existing routes/new routes to take the load of the existing hubs and finally to sort of duty/tax to make it more amenable to people wishing to fly.

Strangely enough on the day that this Government (who I trust very little) announced that they were looking at ways to increase regional airport usage the owner of Manston announced the 45 day consultation... now if I wanted to bring things to a head, get a bit of attention at central Government I'd be looking to stir things up and announcing closing a regional airport on the day that the government starts to say it wants to support them seems like a good day doesn't it?

Time will tell I suppose, would be a shame to see it go, although many WWII airfields have gone before.

Don Wood said...

The best way to stop the asset stripping would to declare it a no build zone or deem it for factory use and make the enterprise zone encompass Manston. That plus the Parkway may generate some jobs. I still shout for Manston to remain an airport and it could have had some help by the Government in the last budget but Thanet as usual is never helped by those in the portals of Westminster