Manston report: airport hopes dealt another grim blow

If nothing else, the saga of Manston airport has had enough twists and turns to hold the attention

Is it the final blow for Manston as an airport?
An independent report has concluded there is no national need for the Thanet site to reopen as a freight hub.
Its long and convoluted saga since closure in 2014 included the granting in July 2020 of a Development Consent Order to RiverOak Strategic Partners to reopen the airport.
The decision was made by Andrew Stephenson, Minister of State for Transport, who effectively dismissed the conclusions of the four-man Planning Inspectorate’s Examining Authority, which had been clear the DCO should not be granted.
Mr Stephenson’s move was slated by Dr Hilary Newport, director of CPRE Kent, who said: “It is shocking that four inspectors spent some nine months preparing a report and concluded very strongly that the DCO should be refused.
“The developer was not able to demonstrate need, there were adverse impacts on traffic and transport and there were concerns over noise pollution.
“Most importantly, though, the Examining Authority recommended the Secretary of State refuse the DCO due to conservation of habitats and species regulations.
“In short, the inspectors’ conclusions were ignored.
“This decision flies in the face of the Heathrow third-runway judgement where the Court of Appeal ruled that proposals had failed to consider this country’s commitment to reduce carbon emissions.”
The developer’s delight, however, did not last long as in February this year the granting of the DCO was quashed, the Department for Transport accepting that the approval letter from Mr Stephenson had not contained enough detail on why the conclusions of the Planning Inspectorate’s Examining Authority were pushed aside.
After that turn of events, Grant Shapps, Secretary of State for Transport, demanded further evidence from interested parties while also commissioning the independent report before the DCO decision could be redetermined.
And that report, by Ove Arup & Partners and released on Thursday, October 21, concluded that any potential increase in demand for air freight could be met by other airports such as Heathrow.
It stated: “The Examination Authority recommended there was no need case for the proposed development.
“Overall, the independent assessor concludes that there have not been any significant or material changes to policy or the quantitative need case for the proposed development since July 2019 that would lead to different conclusions being reached with respect to the Manston development.”

It set outs the principal reasons for its verdict:

  • The changes to policy, notably the withdrawal and reinstatement of the Airports National Policy Statement and adoption of the Thanet Local Plan, do not significantly change the policy context that was in place at the time of the Examination
  • The recent growth in e-commerce sales is not driving a demand for additional runway capacity for dedicated air freighters in the South East
  • Although there have been short-term changes in the balance between belly hold freight and dedicated freighter activity during the Covid-19 pandemic, these changes are not expected to be permanent, notwithstanding growth in e-commerce and changes to the UK’s trading patterns post-Brexit
  • There is unlikely to be a significant reduction in belly hold freight capacity (once the passenger market recovers) due to the introduction of narrow-bodied twin-engine aircraft
  • Despite the uncertainty concerning the timescale for the Heathrow Airport third runway, changes since July 2019 as described do not lead the Independent Assessor to reach a different conclusion on the need case for Manston Airport. East Midlands Airport has sufficient capacity to handle additional dedicated freighter services should the market demand them, while the planning determination at Stansted confirms that significant freight capacity remains available
  • There is no new evidence to suggest a different conclusion should be drawn in respect of the locational performance of Manston compared to East Midlands Airport, and to a lesser extent Stansted, to that of the Examination Authority report

Mr Shapps has written to RSP and interested parties, asking for comments on the report by Friday (November 19) before making his final decision.

For (yet) more on the tale of Manston, see here

Monday, November 15, 2021