RiverOak urges TDC to ‘tear apart’ report

This evening RiverOak Investment Corp. have released a rebuttal to the Thanet District Council report that recommends against a CPO of the airport.

Within the report RiverOak mention their belief that the report ‘misinterprets’ their position and is ‘unsafe’ to be relied upon by councillors at the upcoming vote. RiverOak urger councillors to ‘tear apart’ the report ahead of next week’s extraordinary council meeting.

RiverOak say they have spent £600,000 so far on building a case for the compulsory purchase of Manston Airport.

The full report can be read on the RiverOak website here.

RiverOak say that the Council’s report is “misleading, full of inaccuracies and omissions and misrepresents [their] submission…” RiverOak, based on extensive legal advise, also say they believe that TDC have misrepresented the way CPOs are actually carried out and the applicable CPO rules.

RiverOak have set up an investment fund specifically for “developing and promoting a viable business proposition for Manston Airport” and they have “begun negotiations to restore commercial cargo services to Manston.” RiverOak say they have so far spent £600,000 in doing all this.

The Council’s report states their aim is “to ensure that a viable airport comes into sustainable long-term operation as quickly as reasonably possible without any residual cost to the Council.” To all us supporters, it seems that the Council is not going as quickly as they’d like to make us believe and their commitment is certainly shaky. RiverOak state once again they are fully committed to this objective.

RiverOak explain the basics of the CPO process as set out in the Government Circular “Compulsory Purchase and the Crichel Down Rules” if you’re interested in further reading. Broadly, the local-planning authority (TDC) makes the CPO, which only comes into force when the Secretary of State has confirmed it. We have had reassurances from government that the government stages of the CPO would be expedited and Manston held as a top priority. The land is then not actually acquired until notices have been served or a “General Vesting Declaration” made.

RiverOak say that “as the journey progress through these stages… initial equity is supplemented with further investment, business plans are worked up in greater detail…” and that this is “fully reflected in the way the CPO rules, as set out in the Government Circular work.”

Two quotes provided by RiverOak from the Government Circular clearly show that the “rules envisage CPOs being made and promoted in advance of all the funding being available…” Therefore, RiverOak believe that the TDC’s requirement that “RiverOak prove, as of today, [they] have all the funding to cover the costs of a CPO, acquire the airport and bring it back into use therefore has no basis in the CPO rules – it has all just been fabricated.”

RiverOak find it “very unfortunate” that TDC’s report characterises RiverOak’s proposal as “inconsistent with the requirements of the Circular” as they believe their “proposals are entirely consistent….”

RiverOak believe that the Council should have considered RiverOak’s “capacity and expertise” to carry out the project with a credible business plan and investment. RiverOak have provided “a cogent and detailed business plan with 5 year financial projections…” RiverOak talk about the “20 year business plan” that TDC officers “have persuaded themselves” is necessary. RiverOak have tried to explain the “absurdity” of the request to no avail. RiverOak also believe that TDC’s comment that “revenue items in the plan appear over optimistic and unwarranted are groundless.”

RiverOak say they have “confirmed the amount of funds (in cash and on call) established for the Manston CPO.”

RiverOak have requested to see the Council’s legal advice and have also suggested that the Council speak to RiverOak’s advisers “to no avail.” RiverOak “doubt that the Council’s legal advice in reality supports the line that they are now taking.”

RiverOak make it completely clear that “the Council would not be obliged to take any steps to make or pursue the CPO or to acquire any land until it is first placed in funds by RiverOak” and that “at every stage of the process the Council would be protected from financial exposure.” RiverOak’s agreement would also provide for a “contingency to be provided in the form of an insurance policy or bank bond.” RiverOak say they “indicated” that they were “prepared to negotiate terms… so that the Council could be sure that all its financial risk were covered…” and RiverOak also “offered to pay for the Council to take advice from an independent firm of solicitors…” Once again, the Council “did not engage with [RiverOak] at any point in relation to the draft agreement.”

RiverOak believe that TDC report calling RiverOak’s proposal as “high risk” is “plainly wrong and betrays a complete misunderstanding of the draft agreement as well as the CPO process overall.” RiverOak say they “wonder whether the Council’s officers have even read it…”

RiverOak also learnt “with great disappointment” that the TDC Labour group approved a resolution “that the Labour Group on Thanet Council should oppose all moves to acquire Manston Airport by compulsory purchase, irrespective of whether a suitable indemnity partner could be found” on 14 October 2014. RiverOak “sincerely hope that the Cabinet’s decision on this matter will not transpire to have been pre-judged” and we strongly agree with this statement.

RiverOak end by calling upon TDC to “take an appropriate, non-partisan, approach in making their decision… founded securely on a proper understanding of the CPO rules and a realistic appreciation of the way in which development projects are funded and delivered.” RiverOak say that “above all, [they] hope that [TDC] will do what is in the best interests of the future of Manston Airport.”