The loss of Manston Airport is tragic and I sympathise with those likely to become redundant following its closure. I have gone through redundancy and know just how devastating this can be. I hope that airport staff find new employment soon and I pay tribute to MPs Laura Sandys and Roger Gale for laying on special surgeries to help the staff. Well done!
But we can’t avoid the facts. Manston’s future has been shaky for years. Its sale to Anne Gloag for £1 and the Airport Commission’s exclusion of Manston from its airport capacity expansion plans should have rang alarm bells. But no. Thanet Council and Kent County Council have buried their hands in the sand and preferred to talk up the airport’s prospects, despite strong evidence to the contrary. Less than 4 months ago Council Leader Cllr Hart launched TDCs Economic Growth and Regeneration Strategy which claimed “Manston Airport provides a major growth opportunity for Thanet (with) the potential to develop significant airport-related activities (and) develop our competitive position”
Anyone with a basic understanding of economics, would have realised that betting on the airport as Thanet’s ticket to recovery was an unrealistic gamble. Instead TDC and KCC should have been working with the airport owners, the Government, businesses and the local community to develop a Plan B for the airport site in preparation for the possible failure of the business. They should have been discussing the possibility of leisure, industrial and service industry options which would create new sustainable jobs for Thanet. And, instead of waiting until after the disaster happened TDC and KCC should have been lobbying a long time ago for the extension of the Discovery Park Enterprise Zone to Thanet to encourage new business start-ups to locate in our district. But they sat back and did nothing.
In all likelihood airport owner, Anne Gloag was simply going through the motions of trying to make Manston a success. She is a very astute business woman who was fully aware at the time she bought the airport that it did not have a long-term future. I am sure that she will now apply for permission to build houses on the site. This will add to the 2,350 new houses already in the pipeline to be built on sites within a mile of the airport. This will add considerably to the traffic congestion and polluting emissions which are already an unpleasant feature of this part of Thanet. This is something which I will strongly oppose and this is something which could probably have been avoided had TDC and KCC engaged in developing a Manston Plan B.
One saving grace could be that the ill-conceived plans for the Manston Parkway Station might now be dropped and the money spent instead on developing a full high speed rail link between Ashford and Thanet. This would reduce journey times to London to less than a hour and provide a major boost to Thanet's economy. In the meantime I do hope that the huge public outcry and the petition which is now almost at 9,000 signatures might help postpone closure. But at the same time, plans urgently need to be developed for alternative uses for the site which will create jobs for Thanet