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Gale’s new opinion: part 2

In this section, Roger fails to grasp why Manston is failing, and then grasps at straws. (Emails are already winging their way to our glorious leader, David Cameron, asking whether he can condone Gale’s conduct. Do feel free to join in – if you get any meaningful replies, please send them in to be posted here.)

The harsh economic fact is that for the foreseeable future Manston cannot survive without freight traffic and the competition for a dwindling share of that freight market is fierce. Long-haul passenger flights into Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted carry considerable amounts of belly cargo and other regional airports, such as Ostend, are able to offer highly advantageous terms, conditions, costs and hours of movement. Remove the flexibility from Manston and the essential services – Air Traffic Control, Fire vehicles, Revenue and Customs, Re-fuelling and even catering, become unsustainable. Without those services the airfield will close.

What Roger lacks the honesty to point out is that Infratil has failed to attract this apparently vital freight business for the past five years, despite their best efforts. Manston is almost empty throughout the daytime – there would be no queuing delays for incoming freight traffic. Manston repeatedly boasts of its rapid turnaround for unloading aircraft. So why isn’t Manston coining it from the daytime freight traffic? Because the freight operators don’t want to fly there, because it’s in the wrong place. (Manston is tucked away in one corner of Britain, as are Lands End and John o’ Groats.) As Roger’s ex-mistress Margaret Thatcher said “You can’t buck the market” and the market says No to Manston.

There is, of course, no guarantee that the present operators will prove any more successful than predecessors dating back to the original civilian proprietors, Seabourne Aviation. Current passenger trends using Flybe services to Edinburgh and Manchester are modestly encouraging and the prospect of some Sunshine Destination tour operators is, as always, on the cards. The possibility of bringing aircraft carrying the overseas 2012 Olympic and Paralympic teams directly into Kent is enticing also. These are too few swallows, though, to make a summer and it is clear that the need to attract and retain freight operators is vital to Manston’s survival.

There is no guarantee that the present operators have any intention of staying any longer than they absolutely have to. Infratil have spent the last five years trying to persuade major holiday operators to use Manston and have failed – because Manston’s in the wrong place, so its catchment area is too small to be commercially viable (you can’t buck the market, and you can’t change geography). Roger is being disingenuous to suggest that the 2012 Olympians will be flying in to Manston – they’re more likely to use London City, Stansted, Luton, Gatwick and Heathrow which have the proven ability and capacity to do the job, and are already prepared.

We also have to recognise that without Manston not only will the airfield’s job creating potential disappear but so, also, will any serious justification for a parkway station or the extension of the fast rail link from Ashford through to Thanet. That prospect may please those whose self-interest reflects only a demand for tranquillity but it would not bode well for future generations seeking to work and raise families in East Kent.

If Manston airport closes, that is absolutely NOT the end of the airfield’s job creating potential. The 160 acre site, and the 1.7 miles of runway are freed up for brownfield development – eco-housing, farmers’ markets, solar power plant, light industrial workshops, all-weather holiday park, Thanet Earth extension, etc.

Is this the same Roger who rails (ho, ho) against the current high speed link’s effect on Herne Bay? Because that Roger points out that Herne Bay commuters are unwillingly subsidising the high speed service, and getting a degraded service into London in exchange. However, he is now singing the praises of more high speed links, so that more people can be disadvantaged as Herne Bay has been.

Incidentally, Roger, you write of “self-interest” as if it’s a bad thing, like selfishness. It bloody well isn’t.

Click here to email Roger Gale


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