Written Evidence to the Transport Select Committee

From Why Not Manston?
Written Evidence to the Transport Select Committee
For its Inquiry into Smaller Airports

Who we are

Why Not Manston? is a voluntary organisation based in East Kent. It was established in July 2012, primarily to encourage greater use of Manston Airport. We have over 500 supporters, and our website is www.whynotmanston.org.

How Manston was operating before closure in March 2014

In 2012 Manston Airport in East Kent was already running a highly successful cargo business, and late in 2012 announced that KLM would be running two return flights a day to Schiphol, Amsterdam. These flights started in April 2013, and ran successfully until March 2014, when KLM were forced to withdraw the service, once the new owner of the airport announced she intended to close it.

The Closure of Manston

In December 2013, a new owner, Mrs Ann Gloag, bought the Airport, and gave assurances that she was intending to run it for two years, to put it back into profit. Just two months later, in March 2014, she announced she was thinking of closing the airport, and so began the necessary consultation process before doing this. She then closed the airport in May 2014. This resulted in the loss of 147 jobs, and an estimated 400 to 600 jobs in related businesses.

The Importance of Manston

Manston is not just of local importance. It is also of national importance, in part because of its history during WW2, but more especially because it could be immensely important in the next two decades. If a major new runway is announced by the Davies Commission next year, it will still take 15-20 years for this to be completed. In the meantime, Manston would provide an immediate and short term solution, by providing additional airport capacity in the SE of England at minimal cost.

Runway Facilities

Manston’s runway is 2748 metres long by 60 metres wide. It is double the width of most runways, and was nominated as the emergency runway if needed to be used by Concorde, and the Space Shuttle. It also became the official diversion airport for British Airways. From these facts, it is obvious that aircraft of any size can take off or land at Manston.

Connectivity with the SE

Manston has very good connectivity with London. From London, there is already a major motorway, the M2, which connects with the A229 dual carriageway to within a mile of the Airport, in about an hour. Likewise, the Rail High-Speed line gets to Ramsgate in just over an hour, from which there is a five-minute taxi-ride to the airport. Kent County Council has said it will going ahead with a railway terminal built directly into Manston, for which the money has already been set aside.

Speed of Departure for Passengers

While operating, Manston had two major advantages over Heathrow and Gatwick. There was no need to use the heavily congested M25, which normally meant one had to allow an extra hour to reach the airport. For those living in Kent, there were no traffic jams whatever to reach Manston. But when passengers reached Manston, they could normally guarantee to be flying within an hour of their arrival. This compares favourably with the compulsory three hour wait imposed on passengers who take off from Gatwick or Heathrow.

Freight Operations

While still operating, Manston had an outstanding record as a freight terminal: indeed, it was able to turn freight around more quickly than any other freight terminal in the country. Till it closed, it was the fifth largest freight airport in the UK. Cargolux, among others, said they preferred Manston, and would return if the airport were reopened. So just by reopening and taking freight, it could free up slots for more passenger planes to get into Heathrow or Gatwick, and so immediately alleviate some of the pressure on those two airports.

Its geographical position

Unlike most of the major airports in SE England, there has never been stacking of planes arriving at Manston, and this is highly unlikely to occur. Rather, if the airport were reopened, most planes from Manston would, as before, take straight out over the sea, after a short flight over agricultural land. If by some mischance a plane were to crash on take-off or landing, the most likely casualties would be a sheep or a cow.

The Benefits of Aviation

Back in August 2014, the Aviation Minister Grant Shapps said that the latest research undertaken into Aviation showed that it adds around £1.4 billion to the UK Economy, and supports up to 50,000 jobs directly and indirectly. Although further research is being undertaken into these figures, it was good to hear from the Minister (who is himself an experienced pilot) that “Decisions about creating a more protective planning environment for existing airfields will be taken.” (General Aviation News, 21st August 2014)

The closure of airfields: Recommendations for Action

a)    Whatever may be the case for Manston, there is a strong case for a 12 month moratorium on the closure of any airfield, whoever it is owned by, to ensure that a priceless local asset is not being closed down owing to a short-term wish to make a profit out of the land, or for any other reason. 

b)    The Aviation Minister should also have the power to call in any announced intention to close an airport.

c)     Once an airport has closed, the Minister should also have the power to freeze the disposal of any assets of an airport, until he or she can assess whether it would be worthwhile trying to save that particular airport.

The Reasons for these Recommendations

Since May 2014, there has been widespread auctioning of the infrastructure of the Airport, possibly in a deliberate attempt to frustrate its reopening, in the hope that housing might be allowed to replace it. In practice, it is extremely unlikely that permission would be given for such additional housing. This is an area with the worst employment levels in Kent: it does not need even more housing for even more unemployed. Such a closure of an airport should never be allowed without a widespread and detailed consultation in any area likely to be affected by such a decision.

A Compulsory Purchase?

Manston comes under the authority of Thanet Council. It is the lack of any action by the government, possibly because it has no power to act, which has resulted in Thanet Council itself starting the procedure for a possible Compulsory Purchase Order for them to acquire the airport. But that is a lengthy and expensive procedure, while the airport site stays empty.

 

Nicholas Reed

Chairman

Why Not Manston?

3rd October 2014