The Government’s response to recommendations made by the Transport Select Committee on smaller airports in the UK has now been published. The full report can be read on the Parliament website here. The excerpt below is the government’s response to recommendations made by the Committee in relation to Manston Airport.
Whilst we understand that the Government’s position is that it would be inappropriate for the Government itself to perform a compulsory purchase on Manston Airport, we were disappointed to see that the Government felt Kent County Council had no role to play. County Councils have far more experience and resources for dealing with such large and complex issues.
It is clear that Ms. Gloag has no desire to place the joint-venture agreement into the public domain, and no desire to refute claims of asset stripping. With the current runway debate and airspace concerns, we find it bizarre that the Government seems to be perfectly happy to allow such an important national asset to be stripped and sold for personal greed.
“Recommendation 12. We recommend that Ann Gloag places the joint venture agreement between herself, Chris Musgrave and Trevor Cartner to redevelop Manston in the public domain to make it clear who would benefit from the proposed redevelopment of Manston and to repudiate allegations of asset-stripping. We would be happy to publish this document on our website. (Paragraph 46)
Response: This is a matter for Ms Gloag and Messrs Musgrave and Cartner.
Recommendation 13. We expect higher-tier local government bodies to fulfil their strategic oversight functions by supporting local planning authorities in resolving one-off, complex cases involving nationally significant transport assets. (Paragraph 48)
Recommendation 14. Kent County Council has the legal and financial resources to assess complex CPO cases. Despite having agreed a motion to support Thanet District Council, it failed to deploy those assets. In failing to support Thanet District Council’s scrutiny of the proposed CPO at Manston, Kent County Council also failed to fulfil its strategic oversight function as the local transport authority. (Paragraph 52)
Recommendation 15. That the DfT judged it necessary to intervene in the Manston case shows the extent to which Kent County Council failed to fulfil its strategic oversight role. (Paragraph 53)
Response: County Councils only have limited planning functions, mainly in relation to minerals, waste and planning applications for their own development. The Government does not therefore consider that a county council has a duty to provide strategic planning oversight for a district council. The primary responsibility for planning the future of strategically important assets, such as Manston Airport, rests with the local planning authority.
Recommendation 16. We welcome the DfT’s decision to appoint a consultant to examine the Manston case. The uncertainty faced by the public and other interested parties could have been reduced if it had not taken three months before the DfT acted. The DfT should set out clear terms of reference for the consultant who is contracted to examine the Manston decision-making process and place them in the public domain. Those terms of reference should include (a) an explicit requirement to assess whether RiverOak is an appropriate indemnity partner for Thanet District Council; (b) a deadline for the consultant to report back to the DfT; and (c) an expeditious timescale for subsequent DfT decision making. To ensure that similar cases are handled promptly and effectively in future, the Government should clarify precisely how (a) central Government and (b) higher-tier local authorities are responsible for supporting lower-tier planning authorities in cases where a strategic transport asset is subject to a proposed compulsory purchase order. (Paragraph 55)
Response: The Government wishes to clarify the Committee’s statement about the time the Department for Transport took to appoint an independent consultant to examine decisions with regard to Manston. Departmental Ministers asked the relevant parties in December to provide all the papers they held which related to the compulsory purchase due diligence process.
Following receipt of papers from the relevant parties in mid-January, the Department led detailed discussions across Government to determine the best way to take forward a review of the material. Following approval for an independent consultant’s review, the Department launched a competitive tender exercise in early March, and appointed consultants PwC on 23 March.
The National Planning Policy Framework refers to local planning authorities setting out strategic priorities in local plans for the provision of various things including jobs, commercial development and infrastructure. Furthermore district and county councils have a statutory duty to cooperate with each other in the preparations of plans by a local planning authority The National Planning Policy Framework also instructs local planning authorities to work with other authorities and providers to assess the quality and capacity of infrastructure for transport. . The Government expects local authorities within an area to work together in this, as in other contexts.
Recommendation 17. We agree that there is no general case for the Government to purchase airports, including Manston. (Paragraph 56)
Response: The Government welcomes the Committee’s conclusion on this point.
Recommendation 18. The DfT should review what powers it has to intervene in cases where strategic transport assets are at risk and whether those powers are fit for purpose. (Paragraph 56)
Response: As we advised the Committee, our view is that we have the powers that we need to intervene in cases where strategic aviation assets are at risk. With regard to strategic transport assets more generally, common law powers are generally available to Ministers in any department to take steps to promote and pursue government policy. These powers are always subject to any statutory and other constraints which may happen to apply in a specific context. We do not consider that there is evidence that a review of the scope and fitness of these powers is necessary. “