We have watched with interest the unedifying spectacle of politicians falling over themselves to be the biggest, bestest, shiniest hope for “saving” Manston. Of course, had they really given a monkey’s about the airport rather than just pre-election vote-catching, they would have had a better chance of “saving” this commercial crock had they encouraged their legions of supporters to use the thing when it was still an operational airport.
Anyway, in the light of the ridiculous promises being made, we thought it time for a little reminder of what actually would need to happen before TDC could successfully wrest the airport site from its rightful owners under a CPO.1TDC would need to find a partner who could reliably (key word) pony up the dosh for the entire transaction. Just having the money to compensate the owners and any residents who can demonstrate potential loss is not the end of the matter. TDC’s partner would need to demonstrate that it has a viable business plan and a credible investment plan to do what needs to be done to operate the site as an airport. The Secretary of State will need to be persuaded that the money that will be needed for the entire scheme is available BEFORE he/she will confirm a CPO. If we were in TDC’s shoes, we would also be looking for a partner with experience of turning around failed airports… which RiverOak demonstrably is not. Interestingly, while we’re on the subject of potential partners, what has been missing over the last year of shouting and pontificating about a CPO is the appearance of any other investor but RiverOak. Surely if the airport is such a good prospect, others would want to get their paws on it? 2Let’s assume that we’ve dealt with point one and that TDC finds an experienced, credible, money-clad partner. TDC would also have to demonstrate that it has had exhaustive negotiations with the owners with a view to acquiring the site by agreement rather than by CPO. “Exhaustive”, that’s the operative word. So, where are we on this point? Exactly nowhere. Nada. Not even started. Interesting, innit? 3Ok, so let’s boldly ignore hurdles one and two. The next requirement is that TDC demonstrates that there is a compelling case in the public interest for the site to be taken away from its legal owners. Now this really is a tricky one. You see, it’s not just RiverOak’s fantasies that are assessed here. What is also assessed is the existence of alternative proposals for the land. In a situation where the land’s owners already have tenants lined up to offer 550 jobs and the would-be land grabbers are suggesting just 39 jobs with a bit of luck and a following wind, there’s no contest. None. The Inspector will not interfere with the rights of the current owners and hand the land over to our American cousins. It’s just not in the interests of the public and nor is there enough public gain for it to be worth slashing through the property rights of the owners. End of. 4Additionally, the CPO will not be entertained if TDC and RiverOak go for more land than they need for their scheme. Now this really is interesting. We know that RiverOak’s MD, Tony Freudmann, does not think that the Northern Grass is needed for aviation activities – he’s already tried to get the nod from TDC that he could cover it with houses. If TDC tries to CPO more land than is strictly necessary for an airport, the CPO will be rejected. If we were in the owners’ shoes, we would trim out of the CPO every acre of land that isn’t needed for an airport. This, of course, makes the idea of an airport even less viable. Mr Freudmann has always been of the view that it’s the development of the additional land that makes old military airports a commercial runner. Without that, it’s very very hard to make money. We bet that he and his pals won’t want the airport if Messrs Cartner & Musgrave keep hold of the Northern Grass and any other supernumerary bits of land, leaving the RiverOak team trying to make money out of, well, just a cargo airport.
Given the above, anyone with an eye in their head can see that the CPO will never go through. So, all this “ooh, I’m more Manston than you” posturing is nothing but electioneering. Now, the trouble with electioneering is that it doesn’t turn into post-election deliverables. Do you remember Sir Rodge’s smart 180º about-turn last time around from his pre-election airport stance to his post-election airport stance? We do.
Don’t be kidded, you anti-jobs, pro-cargo people. The CPO isn’t going to happen and your current heroes know that full well. Press them on the “compelling case in the public interest”. Go on, do. Press them on what the full scheme will really cost. We dare you. Press RiverOak on what they would do if big chunks of development land were carved out of any CPO and Cartner & Musgrave kept ’em. We think you’ll find that your favourite frequent flyers’ll be off to Lahr sooner than you can say “yellow ribbon”.
Courtesy of Manston Pickle