Ukip leader Paul Nuttall insists ‘anything is possible’ as he hints at future for Manston Airport on visit to Kent
PUBLISHED: 11:06 12 April 2017 | UPDATED: 11:06 12 April 2017
His comments came as Thanet District Council leader Chris Wells revealed a third party had stepped up its interest in getting planes flying once again
Ukip leader Paul Nutall has hinted Manston Airport could yet have a future after claiming “anything is possible” on a visit to the county this week.
Addressing members and supporters in Margate to drum up support for the party ahead of next month’s county council elections, Mr Nuttall told crowds Kent was “the heart of Ukip” and urged voters not to be dismayed by the Manston saga in recent months.
The party swept to victory in 2015 as it claimed control of its first ever council in Thanet, largely, many believe, on an election pledge to re-open the airport.
Council leader Chris Wells has denied making any such promise, however, as a number of controversies have followed Ukip’s surge to power two years ago, putting the future of aviation-only activities on the site very much at risk.
A number of councillors defected from the party just months after it won a majority in the chamber, before an independent report last year concluded airport operations at Manston were “very unlikely to be financially viable in the longer term and almost certainly not possible in the period to 2031 [when the council’s local plan ends]”.
The report was considered by plenty to be a potentially fatal blow to plans to get planes flying once again, and Tory MP for South Thanet Craig Mackinlay called for Cllr Wells to resign over the row.
Those fighting to save the airport have slammed the report’s integrity, but Cllr Wells has repeatedly thrown his weight behind it.
In the meantime, the site’s current owners, 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 - claim work on its own plans could begin as early as this year - a suggestion laughed off by Thanet North MP Sir Roger Gale.
Speaking exclusively to Kent News on the matter, Mr Nuttall denied claims voters had been misled over Manston and, while keeping his cards close to his chest, suggested the battle for aviation-only use at Manston was far from over.
“I’m not sure where we are with it but I listen to my local councillors on the ground like Chris Wells and we’ll have to see where we go with that one,” he said.
“What I will say is that anything is possible.”
Pressed on whether he could reveal what he has been told about the project, he simply repeated: “Anything is possible”.
Mr Nuttall’s coy comments followed speeches by both himself and Cllr Wells, in which the latter revealed a third party was now coming forward with proof of funds, in a bid to re-open the airport.
It follows ongoing efforts by UK-based pension fund investor Edi Truell and RiverOak Strategic Partners.
This is a new UK-operating company launched last month, funded by Belize-registered firm MIO Investments Limited, which purchased all rights and interests in the Manston project from RiverOak Investment Corp, which has since ended its involvement in obtaining a compulsory purchase order (CPO) for the site.
Cllr Wells refused to disclose the identity of the third party when quizzed by Kent News.
He told members: “[RiverOak’s] current chosen method to get a CPO of the airport is through a development consent order (DCO), a government vehicle to override local decision.
“That requires a signifcant number of flights to justify its projection as a national infrastructure project.
“At its height, Manston supported 1.5 per cent of the UK air freight market.
“Let’s suppose that was understated - which is quite likely - that takes you to three per cent.
“Let’s say they all bring a mate, that’s six per cent, and that’s a pretty healthy slice of the air freight market.
“To justify the flights needed for this DCO, they need to prove they can occupy or take up 30 per cent of the entire UK freight market.
“In the wings we have a UK-based pension fund investor, negotiating, ready to step into the space that others are going to leave empty.
“More than that, there’s a third group now coming forward, who are looking to bring proof of funds, which we ask for first now.”