Stone Hill Park boss hails ‘victory for common sense’ as council chiefs back proposals for homes and business on Manston Airport site in Thanet local plan
PUBLISHED: 12:01 26 October 2017
Copyright © Ian Pollen
RiverOak Strategic Partners, however, which aims to re-open the site as an airport, insists it is “still early days” in the long-running battle for the land
Plans for 2,500 homes and leisure facilities on the former Manston Airport site took a significant step forward on Wednesday when council chiefs met to discuss the blueprint for Thanet’s growth over the next 14 years.
The district council’s cabinet agreed to allocate the site for mixed-use development, and not purely aviation use, in its local plan, which aims to shape the area’s future development, guiding decisions on whether or not planning applications can be granted, until 2031.
The land, owned by bosses behind Stone Hill Park, which submitted a planning application last year, has also long been eyed up by RiverOak Strategic Partners, which wants to re-open the site for aviation use, and is currently looking to secure a Development Consent Order (DCO), claiming the project is one of national significance.
In a report issued to members ahead of the meeting, bosses pointed to a document published by Avia Solutions last year, which concluded airport operations were “unlikely to be financially viable”.
Ukip council leader Chris Wells has repeatedly said the local plan needs to be based on the evidence available, with the local authority insisting findings by “aviation consultants with a detailed knowledge of the industry” need to be put into action, despite criticism of the report by some campaigners.
The council report notes: “Following the evidence and government guidance, there is insufficient justification to retain the airport designation during the period of the local plan.”
SHP joint owner, Trevor Cartner, said: “I would urge anyone with an interest in the future of Thanet to read this report.
“It is a victory for common sense and outlines in clear detail why developing this site for a mixed use new settlement is essential.
“Stone Hill Park will create an outstanding new community that meets the urgent local need for homes, schools and jobs while enhancing the social and leisure infrastructure across the county.
“It will also protect greenfield sites across the district. We don’t want to see thousands of new homes in the countryside when we can regenerate a brownfield site and breathe new life into the area.
“We are continuing to progress our planning application to TDC, which meets these priorities and we are progressing an enhanced masterplan for the wider site. These plans include extensive community health, education and social facilities.
“We will also open up 800 acres of land for public use and we will transform key parts of the main runway into an exciting recreational and events space, which will be set alongside new and enhanced heritage attractions that will celebrate the rich history of Manston.
“Our aim is to bring the past to life, providing a great opportunity for visitors to learn about and experience this iconic site’s history.”
RSP, however, which claims its plans for a cargo hub could create up to 30,000 associated jobs over 20 years, maintains there is still a long way to go in the battle for the site.
Indeed, the council admits, if a DCO is granted with compulsory acquisition powers, this would effectively over-ride the local plan, meaning bosses would need to review the affected parts of the document.
Therefore, it claims, to progress the draft local plan on the basis set out in the report would not prejudice the DCO process or its outcomes.
Angela Schembri, planning director of RiverOak Strategic Partners’ planning consultant, RPS said: “We continue to believe that Thanet’s revisions to the local plan are inconsistent with national planning policy, are not based on an objective assessment of development and infrastructure requirements – and are therefore neither justified, nor likely to be effective.
“There is still no firm evidence that demonstrates that land at Manston Airport needs to be should be made available for any non-aviation uses and especially not for housing.
“It is still early days in the local plan process and there are still significant objections that need to be addressed.
“Our view remains that Manston is an aviation infrastructure asset and, as our Development Consent Order application will evidence, that there is a need and national planning policy support to retain it for aviation uses which would support thousands of jobs, grow the local economy and promote inward investment to achieve greater economic prosperity for the area consistent with local growth strategies.”
The saga took another twist back in July when SHP’s plans to change the use of four buildings on the site were rejected by a planning inspector, but have not been mentioned in the report to councillors this week.
Ms Schembri added: “The inspector concluded that the possibility of the airport site being used as an airport in the future could not be ruled out.
“He also stated that little weight could be attached to the emerging policy because there are various outstanding objections and polices might change.
“The appeal decision is material to the local plan process yet TDC officers have ignored it.”
The revised local plan will now be put before the full council for approval, and a six-week long consultation to invite public feedback on the changes will also be launched.