The following speech was created and read by Nicholas Reed, chairman of the ‘Why Not Manston?’ group at our public meeting on 26th April at the Margate Winter Gardens.
“I’m Nicholas Reed, and I’m the Chairman of ‘ Why Not Manston?’ I set up the group nearly two years ago, simply to counter the myth that most people in East Kent were worried about Manston being used more. And since we were set up, we have realised that the vast majority of Thanet residents would love to see more airlines flying from Manston to more countries. That would enable us to go abroad on holiday in comfort, and without spending three hours on M25 and three hours waiting for the privilege of being allowed to board our plane. With Manston, it’s just an hour and a half from leaving home, to landing on the continent. Local people realise this, and they don’t want to lose that alternative to Heathrow.
They also realise that the employment created by the airport could be a major answer to the problems of unemployment in East Kent. 150 people were required to service the KLM flights to and from Manston. They did an excellent job, but they have now gone.
If one of the major short-haul carriers could be persuaded to operate from Manston, thousands more people would be employed in the area. And not just at the airport. East Kent is full of major tourist attractions, along its east and north coast, as well as Canterbury Cathedral. Most are within half an hour’s drive from Manston. But since passenger flights stopped at Manston, people flying in from the continent now have to land on the opposite side of London, which makes them far less likely to visit East Kent. This is bound to reduce the employment rate in our tourist attractions.
Those are some of the reasons why Manston must be saved. How can we do it? Well, our two organisations have different strengths. Why Not Manston? has been going for nearly two years, and we send out regular email newsletters to our 400 supporters. The Save Manston Airport group has been outstandingly successful, in acquiring 15000 supporters in a month, and in getting far more publicity than my own group. The Save Manston petition has clearly shown there is absolutely massive support for keeping Manston as an airport. In fact, it needs many more flights than those which were offered by KLM. That expansion of flights nearly happened, when Ryanair were seriously looking at moving here. But they then had to issue a profits warning, and that put paid to any expansion from their present base.
As to how our organisations work, we rely on an email newsletter, and on keeping our website up to date. However, when it comes to discussing issues among the membership, your organisation, using Facebook, has got the ideal way of discussing everything under the sun!
A month ago, our two MPs kindly arranged a meeting at Acol, which I chaired. One striking fact which emerged from that meeting, was that both our memberships have got large numbers of ideas of things the airport could do, or ways of keeping it as an airport. Most of those ideas are well worth checking out. There is a lot of knowledge and experience among our members.
Now, the two MPs have called the first meeting of their working group for next Monday. As I understand it, the Working Group is to be made up of the two MPs, councillors from KCC and local Councils, and paid officers from those Councils. No mention, so far, of any contribution from the 15000 local people who signed the Petition. Might I suggest, therefore, that at least one officer from Why Not Manston, and one officer from the Petitioners, should be invited to join the new Working Group? And why shouldn’t that Working Group hold its meetings in public? Then those of us who feel strongly could at least see what progress is being made.
This campaign is not over, by a long chalk! When the Davies Commission gave its interim report last year, it suggested three main possibilities: doubling the size of Heathrow, doubling the size of Gatwick, or building a monster new airport on the Isle of Grain, and probably closing Heathrow. There is already considerable opposition to any of these possibilities. But if any of them becomes a serious proposition next year, the size of the audience here today will be nothing compared to the massive opposition which will be shown to the new proposal.
In any case, it’s going to take 20 years to build any of those proposals. In the meantime, there is Manston, sitting there woefully underused, and with virtually no opposition to its wider use. Why Not Manston? Surely common sense must prevail? Watch this space. It might be a bumpy ride, but it could be quite exciting!”