Wednesday 17 December 2014

Manston airport, last nights extraordinary council meeting webcast and a possible ramble about what it may all mean.

First here is the council’s webcast of the meeting    

I should point out here that this is the official council produced webcast  

Anyway I thought I had better put it up on the blog as soon as I saw it was available and will endeavour to add to this post and try to make some sense of what it all means and where we are with Manston if I get the time.  

First my own position on Manston, this can be summarised as being when the airport closed I was for efforts to get it reopened as a regional airport with a greater leaning towards the museums on the site. My hope was that the councils TDC and KCC could pursue this with heritage and regional economic funding.

I am and always have been against Manston becoming a freight hub that we can’t fly from, it has always appeared to me and no one has come up with any convincing argument against this, that for a freight hub to be economically viable the noise and air pollution would exceed the levels that the environment agency would allow.

For this reason I have always seen the freight hub as a ruse which has an alternate goal.  

My contention is that it only by there being some element of publicly funded investment in Manston that continued aviation use can be ensured. 

Although I think much of last night’s antics at the council were predetermined and staged for political reasons relating to the forthcoming elections, what underlies this and allows these antics is the secrecy under which the council operates.

My own feelings are that when companies whish to business with the council they should either sign an agreement allowing all of the documentation to be published on the council’s website as it is generated, or pay a fee to cover the expense of keeping it secret.

In simple terms the council have decided that they have no indemnity partner that fulfils the criteria for them to engage in a cpo.

To arrive at this the council used their own legal team and took advice from Guy Williams of Landmark Chambers, a leading barrister specialising in Planning, Environmental, Transport and Infrastructure, Compulsory Purchase and Rating Law.  

Now the walkout last night seems to centre on the council wishing to discuss whether the cabinet had made the right decision, when they decided that the only contender to be indemnity partner RiverOak didn’t fulfil the criteria.

The problem here is that the council officers made this decision and it was endorsed the cabinet who had all seen the secret documents showing why RiverOak were deemed unacceptable. However RiverOak are in the position where they can keep there documents secret, and the leader of the council has stated that RiverOak will not allow the documents to be made public so all the members of the council can see them and discuss them in an open council meeting.

Theoretically one option the council had was to hold yesterdays council meeting as a closed session, excluding the public and the press, theoretically this would have meant that all of the councillors there could have seen the secret documents.

In practice however, with the Manston issue the council has got itself into the position where it appears to be acting as I direct result of public opinion, this is quantified by the around 100 protestors who turn up to Manston related meetings and protest and around 3,000 UK residents who signed the online petition to keep Manston open

As the prayer for this petition wasn’t for an airfreight hub, it is very difficult to say how many people in the whole of the UK support what RiverOak say they want to do.

It has been my contention for a considerable time now that if the council are going to act as a direct result of perceived public opinion then the first stage is for the council to hold some sort of public consultation.

I would say a major concern for the council at the moment would be if they hand out the confidential information that RiverOak want them to keep secret and that information leaks out then RiverOak may sue the council.     

There is a sense in which the support for any aviation activity, regardless of it’s nature, at Manston is becoming self defeating. Some activities of the various pro Manston groups would seem to have reached the point where they have become counter productive.

This is a quote from the leader of the council on one of the pro Manston FaceBook pages.

“Iris Johnston People who have been involved in SMA from the outset will know there were was a time when I had to convene a meeting so that all supporters of the airport really worked together for their common aim to get the airport reopened.

I also spoke to and met Mrs Gloag who was adamant she could not reopen and had already had conversations with RiverOak and rejected working with them.

My hope that the new owners even with the shared ownership with Mrs Gloag might revisit.

This was a possibility but the very serious attacks on their integrity has completely alienated them.

RiverOak did not get through the soft market testing and are very clear that they do not want TDC to allow their paperwork with us in the public domain. Commercial sensitivity was always going to be an issue.

The dossier they say they are sending to Government is a step in the right direction but as yet TDC have not had their formal release from our confidentiality agreement.

Sent from my iPad”  

I guess there is always the possibility that supporting a freight hub instead of a passenger airport may eventually be seen as a major reason why Manston wasn’t rejuvenated with some aviation aspect.

Whatever the situation this is much more about rejecting the indemnity partner than supporting the airport.

The basic questions are something like:

Do they have a good three year track record in business?

Have they made a concerted effort to buy the site from the current owners for a reasonable price?

Can the prove they have the money to see through the whole cpo?

Does their business plan produce an overriding public interest, above the existing owners business plan, to such an extent that government would override the current owners human rights and deprive them of their property?

Do their finances comply with UK money laundering legislation?

back to the video:

I think the first real breaking news in video of the council meeting comes at about 23.07 when Iris says the new owners have put in some planning applications. Or at least I guess that is what she means by “move forward with some planning applications”.  

As I have been saying since the TDC cpo was first mooted the council pursuing a cpo also being the planning authority for the site will present some difficulties when or if it comes to determining the compensation paid to the current owners. 

Anyway as far as I can see any decision now is in the hands of the UK government perhaps the results will be like this one


Anonymous said...

What awful AV quality.

God help us said...

I see Pickle has posted this:
Well, well, well, Cllr Jo Gideon, outspoken and consistent supporter of the airport (any airport?) at Manston, has finally seen fit to mention that she is related to a spokesperson at RiverOak. That'll be THE RiverOak - the company that is trying to twist TDC's arm into grabbing the airport site for them via a CPO. This Pickler's money is on that relative being Mr Tony Freudmann, but take that with a pinch of salt - it's just a guess. Fancy coming completely clean, Cllr, and telling us who it is?

Michael Child said...

Just got to that bit Barry, I am having difficulties as I am only watching bits when my bookshop is empty of customers.

Anonymous said...

From twitter at about 6pm today:
Paul Francis ‏@PaulOnPolitics 33m33 minutes ago
#thanet council leader says she only gave 'small beer' to #manston campaign group 2 contribute hiring halls for meeting. 'It was a max £25'

Anonymous said...

It doesn't matter if she gave 50p or £500, she did it, and what was worse bragged about it in the chamber. She has been partisan all along, she is now going to pretend that it was nothing. Too late Iris Johnston, you have compromised yourself and only under legal pressure owning up publicly about your affiliations to the point of paying donations to a lobby group. This is outrageous and unnacceptable conduct by any councillor let alone a leader who apparently has been making commercially sensitive decisions on behalf of ALL the people of Thanet. Who needs brown envelopes when this level of stupidity exists?

Anonymous said...

hi everyone, there's a massive housing shortage in the country, the economics of london are forcing professionals to leave the capital, often to move to seaside towns to commute into work. err… there's a high speed rail link into london here and a large site ripe for development. do the maths.

Anonymous said...

I was in the public gallery and saw political grandstanding on a gigantic scale from many who only have the May elections on their mind.

The elephant in the room is that there isn't one councillor (or MP) of any party truly believes that a CPO decision is achievable without great risk, is financially prudent or would be beneficial to the people of Thanet.

Do the Save Manston group truly believe that this US development company will wave a magic wand and conjure up a thriving passenger airport?

The truth is River Oak can see a large profit whether they can get their hands on the land or not and at best have promised a freight hub which would have to include night flights and hundreds of lorries on the roads.

I seem to think we have all been here before.

Anonymous said...

OK 19:23, I'll do the maths as you suggest. With your argument the maths are that 2 + 2 = 5

Chris Wells said...

I am afraid your account is flawed Michael. The Leader stated she had asked Riveroak about releasing the information to Cllrs; however they had responded this was her call, and should still remain confidential. Iris then later admitted some of the paperwork had only been seen by her alone, not even by her Cabinet. It seems Riveroak re far less concerned about confidentiality than good old 'transparent' Iris herself. Your spin distorts the truth. Moreover, the campaigners were originally told by Rick Everitt that Iris had called an extraordinary meeting for the 16 the to discuss the soft market testing. Iris later confirmed it was about the local plan; and last night stated it was about giving her permission she did not need to talk to the new part owners. It is no wonder everyone was angry at the multiple layers of deceit, with Labour members turning up with pre written speeches. Worse, this disgraceful attempt to dupe protestors and cllrs could only have been achieved with the un protesting compliance of senior officers, who seem more dedicated to creating policy to maintain some sort of unity in the Labour group, fractured as it is, than give and enforce truly independent advice.

Anonymous said...

19.23 youforgot to add the new parkway station which will be built with the new mansion estate that will be built at subsidized costs

Anonymous said...

EU waste on airports

Go figure.

Anonymous said...

So Chris bearing in mind the damning LGA Peer's TDC report don't you think that the walkout has further damaged TDC? Councillors should grow up.

Maybe Chris can also tell us what research and financail information he and his UKIP party have that enables them to promise a CPO should they get into power?

Anonymous said...

Chris and Latchford proved disasyrous as Tories on Manston.....hardly more trustworthy as ukip turncoats

Michael Child said...

Hi Chris, I see you are the only councillor to comment here under your own name. As you know I wasn’t at the meeting so all I did was write the post as I watched the video of the meeting, which is embedded in the post.

So most of it is a case of blowed if I know what to make of the council meeting.

Perhaps RiverOak are happy for the documents to go into the public domain and is so then I guess that eventually thy will. I had another go at Googling "RiverOak Investment Corp" and only came up with about 2,000 web pages compared with around 13,000 for "st peters village shop" and around 42,000 for "michaels bookshop" "british airways" bring up around 42 million.

Ok it isn’t the best indicator of past business activities but really it’s all I have available. To me this suggests that the indemnity partner just isn’t in the airport financing league.

I am a bit hazy about where you and other UKIP councillors stand on this issue. Did you all walk out of the meeting? Are you for or against the discovery park plans? Are you for or against trying to get the airport reopened? Are you for or against a freight hub? Do you think the airport matter should be the subject of local consultation? Of course I will quite understand if you don’t want to answer any of those questions.

I guess my main concern is that when the council start acting on perceived public opinion, without first discovering what the public opinion actually is then we get into this tangle. Obviously without the public opinion then the councillors could look at the financial information about RiverOak at a closed meeting, but with all of the pressure particularly from internet groups I wonder if the could realistically do this now.

We have just seen the secret information held by the cabinet resulting in a cabinet decision followed by councillors saying show us the information, don’t you think it would be reasonable to assume that if the council see the information and make a decision based on the information this is only going to result in the public asking to see the information.

Anonymous said...

Like all politicians, Chris Wells and his UKIP colleagues are making policy up on the hoof over Manston. This week they are all for reopening the airport. Next week, if Cartner and Musgrave come up with some half-decent proposals they will be accepting that it's over. It really is time politicians of all colours butted out of this and allowed the legal owners of the site to get on with their legal business. If Riveroak want it they need to speak to Cartner and Musgrave, and they need to go to the meeting with a barrowful of money.

God help us said...

Watching the monumental mess surrounding Manston Airport has been sad and I haven’t commented on it thus far. I probably should. My position is simple and no doubt deeply unpopular. I think the very idea of a compulsory purchase order by Thanet District Council is/was bonkers given the economic realities, doomed to failure in the courts and liable to end up costing the taxpayer millions.

Some politicians, like Sir Roger Gale, have been promoting Manston for years with apparent—if in my mind misguided—genuine passion. Fair play to them. I’ve personally never been convinced that it was going to take off commercially, but at least they have been consistent. Watching politicians of every stripe jump on the Save Manston bandwagon for self-serving purposes however has been a pretty bile-inducing sight.

In my eyes, the notion that an American fund specialising in “distressed real estate” and a dysfunctional district council between them could run a profitable airport that no experienced commercial aviation operator has been able to turn a profit on in recent memory is incomprehensible, as is the notion that it should be pried from the hands of someone who bought it on the open market after it had been up for sale for quite some time with no approach by a viable airport operator.

I know it’s an emotive topic, as a historic asset and one that for years local politicians and polished airport PRs—unfailingly supported by the local press—have been flagging up as the ultimate savior of Thanet’s economy, but it’s never come good and the numbers have spoken for themselves.

“You’re not going to get far, running down a local business” I’ve been told when I’ve expressed this view. Perhaps not, but I value honesty more than vote-winning sycophancy. The airport’s dead. It’s gone. Weep a tear, but it’s not coming back to life. I don’t relish this: My opposition to a CPO has been based on economic, not environmental factors. (I’d hold my nose and support pretty much any business right now that could genuinely bring desperately needed jobs and investment to the area.)

My position is that it’s time to engage with the new owners, see how their plans for the site can maximise job creation and see if it can’t incorporate some sustainability aspects too and some green space to go with the manufacturing jobs.

Last month I read and blogged about Hull’s new £310 million wind turbine factory, which is creating 1,000 direct jobs up in the north east. If facilities and investment of that kind of scale across any sector can be brought to the site—and I think British manufacturing can and will enjoy a resurgence—that would be a great win for the area and personally I’d like to try and help make that happen.

I look at the tens of thousands of Facebook likes for the Save Manston pages, have friends who have lost their jobs there and know the passion that it engenders; as a result, frankly voicing an opinion that few will share and that will likely attract a lot of opprobrium is not easy, but needs to be done.

The political grandstanding has to stop. Investors trying to create jobs and look forwards in a changing economy should be supported I think and I’m going to do that. I’ll start by continuing writing—as I started to this year—to manufacturing and R&D companies nationally and internationally, starting in the energy sector, trying to get them to relocate to Thanet. It’s time to look forward and engage with the new owners.

Best of luck to them and I hope they create the jobs Thanet so desperately needs.

RIP Manston.
Words from the N Thanet PPC Mr Targett

Anonymous said...

A good summary Barry

Anonymous said...

Who can see the irony of this from people that want a huge freight hub that would need huge numbers of flights and lorries if Riveroak expect to break even within 18 months.....

"Dot Favell - "“We want to create Kent’s biggest business park" - quote from Chris Musgrave. Oh my God can you imagine what the bloody place will look like? A huge blot on the Thanet landscape, traffic congestion like we've never experienced."