Leader meeting with Save Manston Airport Committee – 12 June 2014
Cllrs: Iris Johnston (Leader), Richard Nicholson (Deputy Leader) and D Green (Cabinet member)
Save Manston Airport Committee (detailed as SMA for the purpose of these notes): Paul Smith, Keith Churcher, Reg Roberts, Chris Stuart, Wendy Fraser, Dan Light and Ruth Bailey
TDC Officers: Madeline Homer (Director of Community Services) and Steven Boyle (Interim Legal Services Manager)
Dot Favell and Oscar Maynard
IJ welcomed everyone to the meeting and introductions were given around the table.
IJ explained that brief meeting notes, not detailed minutes, would be taken at this meeting and would be agreed with Paul Smith and Keith Churcher.
IJ also explained that there had only been time to quickly look at the list of questions submitted by the SMA that morning but would try to answer them in this meeting. IJ stated that she had always tried to keep the Committee updated.
IJ explained that before being Leader she had initially been delighted when Ann Gloag (AG) purchased the airport as she thought it would be made into a success. IJ stated her strong support for the airport, how she had used it on numerous occasions and therefore she had been expecting good news so was shocked when the decision made by AG to close.
IJ said she was keen to do all she could as in her view the airport was vital to the economic regeneration of the area and from a tourism perspective too.
IJ said she fully appreciated the shock it must have been for staff and understood that the Committee would of course wish to know what TDC could do next.
IJ detailed a brief history of the airport.
IJ explained that when she received concerns about the buildings being pulled down and the runways being ripped up, she had immediately contacted TDC planning and was assured that no submissions had been received so in turn had contacted the Police.
Regarding the question concerning AG being blocked from selling assets it was explained that an injunction could not be submitted before any sale.
Regarding the question concerning the time taken for the Council to react, RN advised that quick action had been taken by him, as advised by the Leader who was at conference, and that he had instructed MH to prepare a position statement on the possibility of a Compulsory Purchase Order. TDC were now seeking expert legal advice on whether a CPO was feasible and if so under what circumstances.
IJ advised of her activities to date, that she was in regular contact with Sir Roger Gale, had spoken informally with Laura Sandys and met with Roger Latchford – KCC member.
Regarding the question concerning the intention to engage with AG, IJ detailed the efforts that she had gone to in order to talk with AG and advised that when the conversation had taken place it had been a full, frank discussion. IJ raised questions with AG about number of job losses and the expiry of the airport licence upon which AG had come back to her. IJ added she had detailed the deprivation of the area but said that the issue of housing at Manston had not been mentioned at all by AG.
Regarding the question concerning securing a face to face meeting, IJ said it has been a priority for her to meet with AG, which had been agreed during the conversation and was now arranged; adding that she would be accompanied by MH. IJ advised that at that meeting she would also raise a number of matters including the article in the Times about a ‘Garden City’
The Local Plan was discussed and how Manston was detailed as an airport therein; the emerging Local Plan process was explained and how it would be going out to consultation in due course.
Discussion took place around the question raised of the CPO being for the whole site including the Northern Grass. DG stated that in response to a call for potential housing sites in relation to the new local development plan, many local land owners had responded. The owners of Manston had submitted the area known as the Northern Grass. Planning officers were assessing the potential of this site along with many others. Early indications were that it would require substantial work to meet sustainability criteria.
Regarding the question concerning a joint venture, IJ advised that TDC had not heard from any other authorities in this respect.
Kent County Council (KCC) and contact with Paul Carter (PC) was discussed in detail with both IJ and the SMA advising of their actions in this respect. The Committee expressed their disappointment at what they felt was a lack of support from Kent County Council (KCC).
IJ detailed the contact she’d made with KCC to date and that recently a follow up letter had been sent to KCC concerning the extension of the Enterprise Zone.
MH added that she was meeting with Officers at KCC the following day so would discuss these issues and the wider impact on Thanet of the closure of the airport.
DG emphasised the need to press the district KCC councillors as KCC have a legitimate interest in the economic future of the airport.
SMA confirmed that they were indeed lobbying KCC members, also that many communications had been sent to PC from the beginning, but only standard responses had been received to date.
SMA also detailed conversations held with PC who had stated that he supported Manston Airport but if it was not viable as an airport then other options would need to be looked at.
Mention was made too of KCC making up the deficit for a potential investor in the form of a rebate for a two year period and that PC had emphasised that an investor would have to be serious and be backed by a Business Plan.
IJ questioned SMA on their Business Plan and they advised that they were working closely with David Foley (Chamber of Commerce) in this respect.
Regarding the CPO including the land, building and equipment, IJ confirmed that a CPO would; RN raised the question would disposal of equipment reduce the value of the airport but SMA advised that a lot of equipment was overdue for replacement and that the radar would remain.
Regarding the question how long it would take a CPO to come into effect, IJ advised of the long timeline to undertake a CPO and emphasised the cost, detailing Dreamland as an example, also mentioning the funding already set aside by TDC in respect of seeking legal advice concerning the CPO.
Regarding the question concerning any appeal to a CPO by AG, RN said that if there were one any funding for it would be sought from the purchaser as the buyer would be required to enter into a back to back agreement.
The question regarding the airport being a community asset under the localism act was raised and MH had concerns that the airport would not fit the required criteria. SMA questioned if there would be some leverage in relation to employment/jobs and MH agreed check the definition of a community asset. In relation to the question of the possibility of this being a parallel process run alongside any CPO; SB said he could not see a reason why not.
Regarding the question concerning the Search and Rescue function at the airport, this was discussed and its importance to Manston agreed; MH advised she would discuss with Alistair Welch.
Regarding the question regards securing planning permission for the site, IJ said she would discuss this AG when they meet as housing had not been mentioned during their previous conversation.
Again regarding the question concerning time taken by TDC to act, IJ emphasised that TDC were doing their best but it was not their business. In addition RN detailed the actions undertaken by the previous Leader regarding the call to extend the Enterprise Zone and his meeting with the MP’s in London in relation to the Task Force.
IJ congratulated SMA on their efforts to date and emphasised that TDC do not want to lose the airport.
The Group then went on to discuss the questions that hadn’t been covered in the earlier discussion.
In relation to the question regards a final decision upon the CPO being made by Cabinet – IJ detailed the Council’s procedures and MH agreed to check TDC constitutional process.
Regarding the question concerning engaging with AG, IJ stressed that AG would be made aware of the effect that the closure had upon the community and went on to detail the threats of legal action that she had personally received if the airport were bought without a referendum being undertaken.
RN stressed that the Council would not be buying the airport and only if appropriate consideration would be given to a partner in a back to back agreement; IJ emphasised it would have to be a water tight arrangement.
SMA asked if other than a CPO, were there any other avenues to explore to encourage AG to sell the airport? IJ said she would encourage AG to realise there are other options.
IJ detailed the need to respond to the Local Plan consultation when it was out. MH detailed the process but advised that there was still work to be done in this respect but that the process would be forthcoming.
SMA said in that case what else could they do? IJ advised them to ensure people were aware of what was being done. IJ detailed the support for Manston Airport that had been in their Group’s Manifesto but that they had not been in favour of night flights. The Section 106 agreement was detailed and IJ emphasised that AG had not given night flights as a reason for the Airports closure.
Regarding the question of transparency, IJ reiterated that she was talking to as many people as possible, had met with the other Group leaders, with KCC member – Roger Latchford and was looking to further meet with the MP’s. The next step was to consider the legal advice when it was available.
Question regards failure of a CPO was discussed and MH advised thereon.
Regarding the question of encouraging early disposal to another commercial entity, IJ emphasised that it was necessary for the Council to stand back in respect of any potential investors. SMA advised that there were 2 firm offers now for the airport and the Riveroak offer was mentioned.
The question concerning the 106 agreement was discussed and RN said that if a CPO were entered into with a back to back agreement then the 106 agreement would be reviewed at that stage.
Regarding the question concerning shares being pledged by members of the public, this was discussed and MH advised that this would not be something the Council would be involved in.
Regarding the question concerning the petition, IJ advised that the SMA on line petition was the main one but that paper copies would be noted too. SMA were also advised that the wording of their proposal must be the same as the petition.
The question concerning environmental issues was discussed and the environmental study mentioned that had been previously undertaken at the airport.
IJ summarised the meeting, detailing the current situation and advised again that legal advice was awaited before the way forward could be considered.
SMA asked if there was anything else that they could do as a group to support the Community that they were representing.
IJ said that to advise that a constructive meeting had taken place and that TDC were in regular communication with the Committee.
RN advised the Committee to tell people what the Council are doing as it was a lot and although it was appreciated the wish for things be done as quickly as possible, it was vital for the Council to get legal advice.
DG and IJ both encouraged the Committee again to lobby KCC and also advised them to talk directly to Roger Latchford.
IJ thanked everyone for attending adding that TDC were doing their best and using every opportunity to give support.
Meeting concluded at 12.30pm