Recommendation to cease Manston Airport CPO process, but investors interested in direct purchase

Thanet District Council Officer’s recommendation will be to take no further action on Manston Airport CPO process, but two investors are still interested in a direct purchase.

“Thanet council is expected to take no further action in looking for an indemnity partner for the compulsory purchase of Manston airport – but has claimed two groups are interested in buying the site.

Thanet council carried out a soft market testing exercise to seek interest for a CPO partner after American firm RiverOak was rejected by the authority for a second time in October.

A Prior Information Notice calling for expressions of interest was opened on Friday, January 15.

Five were received by the deadline of February 9.

The interested parties were then given until February 12 to respond to a follow-up questionnaire.

Three of these were deemed valid.

But Thanet council did receive interest from other parties, prompted by the CPO soft market testing process.

One party is approaching the current owners, Stone Hill Park, to negotiate a purchase and so did not participate in the soft market testing process.

Thanet council says that group is backed by sovereign wealth funds and potentially public sector pension funds and is considering investing up to £150million. This would be subject to a feasibility study showing that investment in the airport makes economic sense.

Another party also wanted to express interest in acquiring the site and was also directed to talk to Stone Hill Park bosses

In a report due to go to Cabinet members on June 16 Director of Corporate Governance Tim Howes states: “Based on the assessment one can draw the conclusions that in terms of the key lines of enquiry, the market cannot deliver on the council’s requirements; there is no established market which is able to deliver, or an adequate number of operators; the market has no capacity to deliver the requirements and there is no cost or other benefits in taking this matter further.”

Mr Howes recommends Thanet council: “take no further action in respect of the interested parties.”

Council leader Chris Wells said: “The sovereign wealth fund group came to us through contact with SuMA (Supporters of Manston Airport) and that has been a very interesting development and one that we will continue to pursue – but not in the context of a CPO which they are not interested in.

“East Kent Chamber of Commerce have also been involved in engaging this potential new investor and the chamber and ourselves continue to engage with those who would make investments in Thanet.”

Cllr Wells said the outcome would be down to market negotiations between the would-be investor and Stone Hill Park.

The airport has been closed since May 2014 and majority shareholders Chris Musgrave and Trevor Cartner want to create a mixed use development at the site.

Stone Hill Park’s plans include 2,500 homes, a business park, the two current museums and a Spitfire Park capable of being used to land Spitfires on occasion.

American firm RiverOak, twice rejected by Thanet council as the indemnity partner, has submitted a pre-application Development Consent Order (DCO) to bypass the authority by taking their case to central government.

RiverOak’s intention for Manston airport is for it to be capable of providing over 10,000 additional freight movements by 2024/2025. There would also be low-cost and charter passenger flights.

MP Sir Roger Gale and Stone Hill Park have been approached for comment.”