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Aviation minister unclear on Manston airport site ownership

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Aviation minister Robert Goodwill, (left) and government deputy aviation policy adviser Ben Smith

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AVIATION minister Robert Goodwill MP has told the Transport Select Committee he is not clear who owns the Manston airport site.

The minister gave evidence at a hearing today (Monday) alongside the Department for Transport’s deputy aviation policy adviser Ben Smith.

Committee members grilled the pair on Manston for more than 20 minutes of the session, which was intended to cover factors affecting growth of regional airports.

When Labour MP for Blackley and Broughton Graham Stringer asked Mr Goodwill who owns the airport, the minister turned to Mr Smith and said: “Do we know who owns the airport?”

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Mr Smith replied: “Not absolutely clearly”, which Mr Goodwill confirmed.

Mr Stringer then asked: “Have you tried to find out?”, to which Mr Goodwill said: “No, I have not tried to find out because a compulsory purchase operation would not be dependent on who actually owns the airport.

“But is certainly clear that whoever the owners are at the moment does not see the option of recommencing aviation operations.”

Mr Goodwill refused to be drawn on the likelihood of Manston reopening, saying the department would first need to review documentation submitted by RiverOak Investment.

The American firm was rejected by Thanet council as a potential indemnity partner for a compulsory purchase of the site after the local authority said it had not met due diligence requirements.

Committee chairman Louise Ellman MP asked: “Will it [the reopening of Manston airport] happen?

“I’m not clear that the government has sufficient powers to make it happen unless you were going to buy this airport and do it yourself.”

Mr Goodwill replied: “Nobody would thank us for backing a rescue package which were to run into the sand very quickly and in hindsight was seen as a bad decision.

“I think now we have the documentation ourselves the next step is for us to decide in the department where we should go with that.

“We are working to come forward with some proposals there.”

The evidence session was the last of three hearings held during the select committee’s inquiry into smaller airports. Members will now draw up and report back on its findings.

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