RiverOak insists Manston airport could be solution to post-Brexit Stack fears as it pledges 30,000 jobs over 20 years

PUBLISHED: 15:46 18 May 2017 | UPDATED: 15:46 18 May 2017




Site owners say the firm has been “exposed” in its own report over a night flights pledge

Re-opening Manston airport will offer a solution to fears of Operation Stack rearing its head post-Brexit and would create 30,000 jobs over the next two decades, a report has claimed.

RiverOak Strategic Partners (RSP) announced last month it is launching a public consultation into its plans to obtain a compulsory purchase order for the site through a development consent order (DCO), shortly after the general election in June.

Ahead of that consultation, it has published its final report in a four volume set, considering the socio-economic impact of re-opening the airport, which closed in 2014.

The site is currently owned by bosses behind the Stone Hill Park project - which aims to deliver 2,500 homes and leisure facilities, while insisting the area’s history and heritage will be respected and maintained - and have recently claimed work on their own plans could begin as early as this year.

RSP says the report it commissioned, prepared by aviation academic Dr Sally Dixon of Azimuth Associates, includes business modelling, interviews with airlines, freight forwarders and integrators.

It also suggests pent-up demand for air freight is currently costing the UK economy more than £2 billion in lost income.

It comes just over six months after a Thanet District Council-commissioned report by Avia Solutions concluded that aviation operations on the site were very unlikely to be financially viable.

While council leader Chris Wells has stood by that report, it was largely dismissed by campaigners fighting to re-open the airport.

RSP chiefs claim more than 4,200 people would be employed directly at the airport site within 20 years of operation, with a further 26,000 jobs created in the wider economy.

It is said employment at the airport would be a mix of role types, with posts made available in freight services, passenger services, rescue and fire fighting services, airport operations, maintenance, site and freight security, administration and air traffic services.

Director George Yerrall said: “From the date that the airport reopens, almost 6,000 jobs would be created - around 850 jobs on the airport site itself and a further 5,000 indirect and catalytic jobs in the wider economy, in associated industries or businesses.

“The positive economic impact grows each year along with the airport.

“We have forecast up until the twentieth year of operation, by which time 30,000 people in Thanet and east Kent would be able to trace their job to the revival of the airport.

“We have a real opportunity to tap into a proven demand for air freight that other south-east airports simply can’t meet.

The £2bn lost to the UK economy each year is set to almost double by 2050, even with an additional runway at Heathrow.

“Manston Airport is ideally placed to help recapture this traffic, which is being displaced to northern Europe.

“In meeting this demand, we create huge employment potential for Thanet and provide a powerful economic boost for the nation.

“We are in the process of discussing with local colleges and businesses how best to maximize career and supply chain opportunities in Manston.”

Dr Dixon is an academic attached to Cranfield University and is described as a specialist in stakeholder involvement with major airport infrastructure, lecturing on stakeholder influences on airport master planning to Cranfield MSc students.

She holds a PhD from Cranfield and an MBA from Kent University and is a member of the Royal Aeronautical Society.

“Thanet District Council’s economic development plan is ambitious,” she said.

“The council is starting from a challenging situation, given that local employment, productivity and wages are generally lower than in other parts of Kent.

“My research evidences that a vibrant air freight hub at Manston will be vitally important in stimulating thousands of high quality jobs at the airport and in the local area, helping the council to deliver an economic output that puts Thanet on a par with rest of Kent.”

Freight bosses last week called on Theresa May to hold crunch talks with newly-elected French president Emmanuel Macron over fears he could tear up the agreement on cross-Channel border controls.

The prospect of a changing relationship with France, as well as the need for Britain to negotiate free trade agreements with the European Union after Brexit, has sparked concern that there could be delays on a regular basis at Kent’s ports, which could in turn lead to a return of Stack, which blighted the county in the summer of 2015.

The RSP report nods to the possibility that higher tariffs and non-tariff barriers will affect trade and increase the time taken to cross borders and suggests re-opening the airport could offer a solution.

“This will particularly affect the Channel crossings where increased security checks and ensuring tariffs are paid where necessary may cause congestion and delays,” it says.

“Operation Stack has demonstrated the impact on the surrounding area and has caused considerable problems for transporters of perishable goods.

“Businesses may decide to switch from trucking to air freight and Manston Airport would provide the much needed capacity in the south east.”

RSP is not the only party working to re-open the airport, however, as an unnamed US investor was revealed to be in contact with the council earlier this month, and pensions fund investor Edi Truell is also understood to still be at the negotiating table.

While RiverOak has previously moved to quash “myths” suggesting it would introduce a significant number of night flights, Stone Hill Park bosses said in response the firm had been “exposed” in its own report, claiming there would be an average of some 85 flights every 24 hours, taking into account suggested growth in both freight and passengers services.

“What this report does, in devastating terms, is expose the claims that RSP’s plans would not require night flights,” said spokesperson Ray Mallon.

“This blows a hole in the assurances given by [Tory candidate] Sir Roger Gale and others that there would be no need for any flights during anti-social hours.

“It would devastate the quality of life for local residents in terms of noise and air pollution.

“I also note that the matter of HGV movements, which would be generated by a busy cargo airport, hasn’t even been mentioned by RSP – their silence speaks volumes.

“Other consultants have produced forecasts that make clear an airport is not viable and that is also the real world experience of operators on this site.

“RSP rely on speculation and conjecture to arrive at these figures, the people behind SHP rely on a proven track record of turning round failing sites and delivering real homes and real jobs.”

Cllr Wells was also contacted for comment.

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