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13/07/2020

Manston Airport to reopen following DCO approval

Words: Laura Edgar
Andrew Stephenson

Transport minister Andrew Stephenson has granted a development consent order (DCO) for the transformation of Manston Airport, Kent, into an international air freight hub and passenger airfield, against the advice of the examining authority.

The decision on the Nationally Significant Infrastructure Project (NSIP) was originally due in January but it was deferred until May, when it was deferred again. The Planning Inspectorate (PINS) made its recommendation to the transport secretary in October 2019.

Applicant RiverOak Strategic Partners (RSP) will see the airport reopen and become a dedicated air freight facility with the capacity to handle at least 10,000 air cargo movements per year. It will also offer passenger, executive travel, and aircraft engineering services. 

The proposals include use of existing airport infrastructure and the introduction of new facilities. The development proposal also included:

  • Upgrading the runways.
  • Construction of 65,500m² of cargo facilities.
  • Construction of a new air traffic control tower.
  • Construction of a new airport fuel farm.
  • Construction of a new airport rescue and firefighting service station.
  • An aircraft maintenance, repair and overhaul facility and end-of-life recycling facilities.
  • A flight training school.

The environment statement details that the development would also include the safeguarding of existing facilities for museums on the site.

The decision was made by Stephenson rather than transport secretary Grant Shapps due to a conflict of interest. Shapps had made statements of support prior to his appointment as transport secretary.

The examining authority - PINS - had recommended that the DCO not be granted. The four inspectors, who held a public inquiry last year, consider that the levels of freight that the airport would be expected to handle to be “modest” and could be accommodated by existing airports, such as Heathrow, Stansted and East Midlands Airport (EMA).

They considered that the “development appears to offer no obvious advantages to outweigh the strong competition that such airports offer. The ExA has therefore concluded that the applicant has failed to demonstrate sufficient need for the development, additional to (or different from) the need which is met by the provision of existing airports.”

Stephenson disagreed. He concluded that there "is a clear case of need for the development which existing airports (Heathrow, Stansted, EMA and others able to handle freight) would not bring about to the same extent or at all". 

He also found there to be "significant" economic and socioeconomic benefits that would "flow from the development to Thanet and East Kent as well as more widely including employment creation, education and training, leisure and tourism, benefits to general aviation2 and regeneration benefits". 

Tony Freudmann, director of RSP said: “Once built, Manston will be one of the most modern, efficient and environmentally friendly freight hubs in the world, able to cater for traditional freight as well as the rapidly expanding international e-commerce sector that the UK has so heavily relied upon during the period of lock down.

“It is not lost on RSP how much support we have received from the Thanet and East Kent community and, in particular, from our two dedicated local MPs, Sir Roger Gale and Craig Mackinlay, since the start of the DCO process.

“Alongside the work needed to return Manston to operational status, we will now be accelerating both our local procurement programme and the work of the Manston Skills and Employment Board, in partnership with a wide range of business, education, training and local authority organisations, to ensure local people have the skills and experience needed to benefit from a wide variety of airport jobs."

The decision letter and other documents related to the development can be found on the Planning Inspectorate website.

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