All posts tagged 'aviation'

Grounded: is it the end for Manston airport?

by Paul on Politics, by political editor Paul Francis Wednesday, March 19 2014

When Manston Airport was sold for £1 last year, new owner Ann Cloag was optimistic about its prospects. In a statement issued at the time, she said:  “Whilst this is a loss making airport, I hope that with the co-operation of our neighbours and the wider community of Kent, the airport partners and staff, we can capitalise on the opportunities available to give Kent the best chance possible of having a successful and vibrant airport."

Manston Airport closure shock>>>

Just three months on comes an announcement that the airport is consulting on closure.

It is undeniably a big shock and appeared to come out of nowhere. Certainly, neither KCC or Thanet appeared to have had any prior notice. The 150 staff affected were told at a meeting this morning and were understandably dismayed. Thanet has an unenviable reputation as an economic blackspot and jobs are hard to come by.

Various factors contributed to the decision.

The most significant was that talks with Ryanair owner Michael O'Leary about bringing some routes to Manston had come to an end after the operator signalled it had its own financial difficulties. No airport can be sustained on a long-term basis without using its capacity and it is understood that even with the presence of KLM  and regular flights to Schipol, it was haemorraging money on a daily basis. There would have been no room for sentiment by  the consultants commissioned to investigate whether it had a future. 

Add in the uncertainty about what role Manston might have had in the aftermath of the Davies Commission and the ongoing issue about  the lack of good road connections and its peninsula location and Manston has been battling the odds for a long time.

And it is worth noting that Manston has also had to compete against the increasingly successful Southend Airport, whcih has become one of the fastest-growing airports in the UK.

This is not the first time Manston has, in its chequered history, faced the threat of closure. But you sense that this time, it is highly unlikely to survive. Given the hard-headed conclusions of the turnaround team brought in to assess its prospects, it is almost inconceivable that someone else could come in to give it a go.

The fact that the airport is consulting staff over closure - rather than putting it on the market - tells its own story. The airport insists that it is not ruling out that possibility but there is already speculation that developers are circling with an interest in developing it for houses, rather than for planes.

This time, it does feel like it is the end for Manston - at least as an airport.






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The government's indecision over a new airport is all politics. Plus: new democracy in action at County Hall

by Paul on Politics, by political editor Paul Francis Friday, July 13 2012

For all its efforts to spin the announcement over its latest consultation on aviation policy, nothing can hide the fact that the government has opted to kick the most controversial decision about how to address the capacity question into the long grass.

Justine Greening may have presented the two-stage process as one which will allow a more considered deliberation but no amount of window dressing about the importance of deciding what "future sustainable aviation growth" should be can disguise that this is a short-term political fix.

We all know the reasons why: each and every option that has been floated, from Boris Island to a third runway at Heathrow, has potentially damaging ramifications for the Conservatives with MPs in sensitive seats - not least in Kent - making no secret that they won't be rolled over if the option of a new hub airport gets government backing.

So, the separate 'call for evidence' due to happen later this Autumn - no doubt after the party conference season - is a fudge of the worst kind. It is illogical, too when you read the full document the DfT has released about the key questions it wants to address.

We are told the exercise is designed to assess the best way of balancing the need for more frequent flights to emerging markets with the need to reduce the impact of airports on local communities.

Precisely the key question that will need to be considered if the Thames Estuary hub airport was part of the equation.

Turn to the section "Air quality and other local environmental impacts" and the lack of logic is even more explicit, with the government telling us: "Loss of habitats, species, landscape and built heritage, and significant impacts on water resources and ecosystems would only be advocated where there are no feasible alternatives and the benefits of proposals clearly outweigh those impacts."

How anyone can respond to Part One of this consultation exercise without any reference to the Thames Estuary scheme of Boris Island - and to be fair, a third runway at Heathrow - is beyond me - if consultees make arguments around this issue, will the DfT disqualify their contributions?

Inevitably, there has been plenty of political mudslinging about delay and dither.

The government may have bought a bit of time but at what cost? Most people seem to think that rather than looking at the national interests, rather narrower parochial interests have prevailed.

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What do county councillors think of plans for what will be the single most significant development in Kent for decades? Ashford council has given the go ahead for a development of 5,750 houses at Chilmington Green which will create effectively a new town.

KCC understandably is a key player and consultee in the debate because it will fall to the authority to provide new schools, roads and other community services as and when it is built. And there has - hardly surprisingly - been quite a debate stirred up about the scheme.

But the views of county councillors - particularly the ones that represent the area - have been silenced.

KCC has decided what its response to the development and a report setting out its views, signed off by the cabinet member responsible - Cllr Bryan Sweetland - was recently presented to one of KCC's new "pre-cabinet" committees - set up specifically with the intention of allowing backbenchers input into the decision-making process before decisions are taken.

So, was there a discussion about whether KCC had got it right? Were backbenchers asked to give their views on the process? Er, no.

The report was an 'urgent' report that effectively relayed that the decision had already been made because KCC had to respond to the Ashford council's consultation timetable.

The committee was told in no uncertain terms by the Conservative chairman David Brazier that he would not countenance any debate because the constitutional process had been followed.

A decision had been made and that was that. When the mild-mannered councillor Elizabeth Tweed did venture an opinion, she got a mild ticking off from Mr Brazier.

A fine example of democracy in action.

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