Cllr Bob Bayford Responds on Manston Airport

Manston Airport - Open Letter from Bob Bayford, TDC Conservative Group
31 January 2012

Leader Clive Hart's latest press release concerning consultation on Infratil's night-time flying policy is simply breathtaking in its distance from the truth.

He claims that I had created 'a monster of a process', clearly ignoring the fact that the approach to consultation was determined by an in-house group of officers together with myself and (Labour) Councillor Mike Harrison, the then chair of the Airport Working Party. A draft process was then taken to that working party, where members made their contribution before final agreement. Hardly my process!

During the formative stages, a number of principles were established, with Cllr Harrison's full agreement. Amongst these were:-

1) That the substantive consultation had to be carried out by an independent, well-respected organisation. This was to remove any suggestion of TDC bias in the results.

2) That any reports produced by the airport in support of their proposals would be subjected to a rigorous 'peer review' to establish their veracity.

3) That the consultation should be 'zoned' to ensure that weighting was afforded to those most affected by night-time flying but that opinion had to be sought from not only the rest of Thanet but also those other residents and businesses in Kent who had an interest in Manston's expansion. To facilitate this wider consultation, KCC were contributing £40,000 towards the cost and Canterbury City Council £5000.

4) That getting the consultation right was more important than rushing to a conclusion.

As far as I am aware, these principles were all endorsed by the working party.

The timing of the consultation was always going to be determined by when the airport submitted its policy proposal and the subsequent submission of noise impact and economic impact reports. The peer review of the latter was published on 23rd of January, which clears the way for public consultation.

The only money spent by TDC to date is the cost of the peer reviews. In my opinion, whatever the future may hold with regard to Manston, it was vital that any reports produced for the airport should have been subjected to expert, independent scrutiny, to inform the Council's stance on the airport's activities.

I am frankly surprised by the present leader's stance on this issue. On the one hand, he suggests that there is no need for the Council to consult but then proposes a half-baked consultation, guaranteed to produce a biased outcome.

Whether the Council can, at this stage, make any binding decisions on the airport is irrelevant. TDC has a civic leadership responsibility to have a view on the airport's expansion and operational ambitions. It is a topic that elicits strong opinions on both sides of the argument. The eventual fate of the airport will have economic and environmental consequences for many. TDC must give a lead, having considered the public's views and Infratil's proposals.

Bob Bayford
Leader, TDC Conservative Group