Manston, a pragmatic view.

The following from the Thanet Gazette.

Well written and thoughtful…….for a change.

Why has Manston closed?

Because not enough airlines, either passenger or cargo, want to use it.

Over the last 15 years, Wiggins, PlaneStation and Infratil have all lost millions every year.

All of them were doing their best to make money.

The airport was then on the open market for 18 months, but nobody wanted to buy a money pit – that’s why Ann Gloag could buy it for just £1, only to then lose £10,000 a day trying to make a go of it.

Were the previous owners competent?

Infratil run a successful international airport in New Zealand. They gave the job of running Manston to Charles Buchanan, who had overseen London City Airport’s strategy during a time of successful expansion.

Ann Gloag bought, built, and sold an airline (ScotAir), and bought, ran and sold an airport (Prestwick).

At Manston she brought in Alistair Welch, fresh from his role leading Southend Airport to success.

The companies and the people who have managed Manston have a track record of success but even they couldn’t make Manston succeed.

Can RiverOak succeed?

There is no sign that RiverOak has any experience of managing or running an airport.

The closest they’ve come is some behind-the-scenes bean-counting for an airport in Texas.

RiverOak says it will organise a back-to-back finance deal to cover the cost of the suggested compulsory purchase order (CPO). However, nobody has valued this 720-acre brownfield site, and therefore nobody knows what the CPO might cost.

Surely no credible company would offer to write a blank cheque like this?

Can Manston succeed as an airport?

Independent industry experts Falcon Consulting concluded that if a fifth attempt at making a go of Manston is to succeed, it would need more than £100million of investment, full political backing and new transport infrastructure.

It would also be very helpful to have something like a car assembly plant nearby to create local demand for freight. They calculate that Manston would need at least 20 years to have a chance of success.

Even with that “perfect storm” of good fortune, the consultants are clear that there would still be no guarantee of success. This is hardly an overwhelming endorsement of the airport’s prospects.

Is an airport good for jobs?

Manston has always made big promises on jobs, and has always failed to deliver.

Over the past 15 years, this 720-acre brownfield site has had tens of millions of pounds of investment. The net result was “144 mostly part-time jobs” according to the BBC.

This is a pitiful return by any standards, but particularly so when compared with other repurposed brownfield sites.

S&A Foods was a company started by one woman making takeaway curries in her kitchen. It now employs thousands of staff in its factories, which began on a brownfield site left by a colliery.

In Essex, Earls Colne Business Park is located on the site of a former USAAF airfield. More than 1,000 people are now employed there.

Maybe the answer lies in not coming up with one big idea, but in creating the conditions where lots of small ideas can flourish.

Do we all want jobs in Thanet?

Apparently not. It’s clear from the previous examples that alternative uses for airports can be more effective as job creators.

However, SMA supporters have started a petition aiming to block any alternative use of the site, regardless of the employment benefits that a new use of that land might bring.

They think that an airport matters more than jobs in Thanet. We disagree.

What about the CPO?

Manston has already cost hundreds of thousands of pounds of public money, and is costing us even more with the CPO-related work.

All the time there’s doubt over the site’s future ownership, no entrepreneur will approach the owner with an investment idea.

If Thanet District Council (TDC) insists on grimly hanging on to the idea that Manston can only be an airport, and tries to use a CPO to take it from its legal owner, it will be betting on the “perfect storm” of good fortune coming true.

It’s a very long shot. In the meantime, we’re losing new job creation opportunities, as we have been for the last 15 years.

At Thurleigh Airfield Business Park near Bedford, more than 400 jobs have been created on the site of a former airfield acquired from the MoD in 2006.

Where councils make it clear that they are interested in innovative and exciting proposals, those job generation ideas have a habit of appearing. In Swanscombe, on a 870-acre brownfield site (just 20 per cent bigger than Manston), Paramount has committed to generating 27,000 jobs from 2017.

That’s 27,000 possible jobs against the 144 created over 15 unsuccessful years at Manston. Which would you rather investigate for Thanet?

What about housing proposals?

To date, the only person to have suggested housing on the Manston site is Tony Freudmann who is offering consultancy advice to Riveroak – a company whose business, let’s not forget, is real estate.

We don’t know what Ann Gloag’s proposals are or what the possibilities might be – which is why it makes sense to talk to her and to be genuinely open to listening to her ideas for creating jobs for Thanet.

So what next?

TDC appears to be involved in a commercial dispute between the owner of the site and Riveroak.

The council is spending increasingly large sums of public money doing things it shouldn’t be doing, eg, commissioning a commercial viability study and preparing a high-level business plan for an airport that it doesn’t own. It certainly feels to many local residents as if the council is being rushed into making a CPO for the site.

The CPO route is fraught with legal difficulties and has a very small chance of success.

The interview with Ms Gloag suggests that she has already had credible proposals from others about the site and that new opportunities – ones that could bring sustainable jobs – are presenting themselves.

The council needs to abandon the idea of a CPO now and make it clear to the world that it is prepared to do business with the owner of the site in the interests of securing a brighter future in terms of jobs.

Are these the views of local people?

Yes. Of course, there are a variety of views held by residents but there is a growing body of local people, including many elected representatives, who have very grave reservations about the current course of action.

The whole pro-airport campaign has been hijacked by individuals who don’t live in the area and who appear to have an agenda other than jobs.

If the Save Manston Airport group are not prepared to listen to Ann Gloag’s proposals, and are actively opposing the creation of new jobs on the site, then it would appear that they do not have the regeneration and prosperity of the area truly at heart.

In contrast, most local people want a bright future for Thanet, and are ready to talk about different ways of using the former airport site to create employment for us and our kids for years to come.

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About allatsea

Sixty year old master-mariner. Absolutely gorgeous. Well wedged.....when compared to a Nairobi street urchin. Sorted, in that I haven't been in court recently. Hopelessly optimistic, terminally disappointed. Good with cats and other fluffy things. No musical talent. Generous to a fault provided it's someone else's round. Political centreist with far right and left viewpoints. A green activist from the hydrocarbon position with nuclear leanings. Averse to avarice but always happy to receive lottery wins, gifts, windfalls, legacies, prizes and wet sloppy kisses.
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