Supporters of the re-birth of Manston Airport held their breath on Friday afternoon waiting for 2.00 pm to arrive, when the decision of the High Court was due to be released to say whether the plans for Manston Airport to reopen as a substantial air cargo hub could go ahead or not. Cheers were to be heard around the café at Manston where the lead figures in the Save Manston movement had met to hear the result. The judgement was totally in the airport’s favour.
This means that the £500 million development proposed by the new owners of the site, Riveroak Strategic Partners (RSP), can proceed. The plans include 19 cargo aircraft stands, new taxiways, four stands for passenger aircraft, eight aviation hangers and a new passenger terminal building. RSP forecast that the airport will provide 2,150 jobs on the airport site and 13,100 indirect jobs by year five of operation.
Strong local support
Unusually, there has been strong local support for the airport’s development plans. The airport was closed in 2014 by its then owner Anne Gloag, which many believe was to allow her to sell the site off for property development. Since then there has been a strong activist group which attracted the support of over 4,000 members that has been campaigning for the reopening of Manston. When asked the reason for the level of local support the Chair of the Save Manston Association (SMA), Dr Beau Webber said, “For many it’s jobs, they want jobs, they want their children to have jobs and their grandchildren to have jobs.”
Thanet North MP, Sir Roger Gale, welcomed the decision, posting, “I am naturally pleased that after an inordinate amount of delay, Manston Airport can now prepare for take off. There is a vast sum of money waiting to be invested in East Kent.”
Although SMA claims huge local support, there is also a much smaller anti-airport movement. A dedicated opponent, Jenny Dawes, has proven to be a thorn in the side of RSP and its supporters. Mrs Dawes is the person who has brought legal actions against the Government’s planning decisions in favour of the airport. She was the claimant who brought the judicial reviews which have, in the view of RSP, delayed the project which would otherwise have started construction in 2020 and by now “there would have been about 650 construction workers on the site getting the airport to the point where it was ready to open in 2024.”
Mrs Dawes has paid for her legal actions through crowdfunding and £10,000 contributed by the local town council who, although not being the planning authority for the area, have taken an anti-airport stance arguably against the majority local opinion.
In his 40-page judgement, Mr Justice Dove gave what has been described as a “very robust” judgement on all points.
Possible appeal against the judgement
Despite the apparent strength of the judgement, airport supporters were dismayed to hear that, within hours of the judgement being issued, Mrs Dawes had posted on her crowdfunding site, “However, I remain firmly of the view that the government’s decision to proceed with Manston Airport, in the face of expert evidence to the contrary and in the context of the worsening climate crisis, is nonsensical, and the procedure followed by the Secretary of State was deeply flawed.” And she finished by saying, “I will therefore be appealing today’s ruling.”
The legal position will develop over the next few days. It is thought that Mrs Dawes has seven days to apply for permission to appeal. Dr Webber of SMA says, “We have great difficulty in seeing anything in Mr Justice Dove’s judgement that can be appealed against” and believes that the decision on whether to grant an appeal will be quite quick. He goes on to say that, “After that it gets extremely expensive.” There is a view among airport supporters that Mrs Dawes has now got to the stage of being a vexatious claimant and a hope that the court will also take that view if she progresses her further appeal.
So, despite the ruling, it looks like the airport supporters will have to put the celebratory champagne back into the fridge for a little while longer.