This planning lark! The airport pressure groups like to tell everyone that Cartner & Musgrave’s Manston site is an airport, has always been an airport, and can only ever be an airport. Well, that’s not strictly true, is it?
Here are some facts.
The old Thanet Local Plan ran out of life years ago. TDC then applied to the Secretary of State to have a number of policies “saved” while the Council got on with writing its new Local Plan. That Local Plan is still being written. So, what do those “saved” policies say about the old airport site?
Policy EC2 says that proposals that would support the airport’s development are subject to a number of conditions. Interestingly, it doesn’t say that the former airport can only be an airport.
Policy EC4 says that, in order to provide for the operational development of the airport, development proposals north of the runway will need specific justification to demonstrate that an airside location is essential. Not impossible, you note, just requiring justification. Of course, there’s no longer any “airside”.
Policy EC5 says that land at, and east of, the terminal building, will be reserved for terminal-related purposes.
Policy EC6 says that, if the MoD’s use of the Fire Training School ceases, a range of new land uses on an airport theme might be supported there, such as an educational establishment, car parking, hotels etc.
Para 2.57 says that:
“When planning consent for development at the airport is sought by the owner, the Council will judge the proposals against the airport operator’s success in meeting the requirements of the relevant Section 106 Agreement and against the following criteria:
The level and quality of job creation resulting from the proposed development;
The implications of the development in respect of its likely impact on the road network and in particular in respect of how the development complies with the Green Transport Strategy agreed between the Council and the owners; and
The potential impact of the development on the surrounding environment in terms of noise, air quality, ground-water protection etc.”
Well, we know that the old airport had significantly underperformed on its S106 obligations. We also know that the airport had a rubbish track record of job creation. In contrast, we know that Cartner & Musgrave intend to produce lots of jobs and some good quality ones. So, it would appear that any planning consent sought for airport-related development would be on the back foot from the outset, whereas the door is not shut in the face of any non-aviation development proposal that plans to deliver real jobs.
Moving on, para 2.59 says that:
“The Local Plan policy framework should neither hold back the growth of the airport, nor inhibit inward investment. Neither should it result in allocating land unnecessarily to the extent that planned development is not achieved, or investment in infrastructure to support development being made prematurely.”
Do you see that bit about not allocating land unnecessarily to development that has never been achieved? We do. The airport failed to meet every target that it set itself. It was a crashing failure and a remarkably wasteful use of prime land. Given that, TDC is under no obligation to carry on protecting the land for airport purposes.
It was made clear to TDC that the Council should not assume that, just because it had been allowed to save these policies in June 2009, they would be accepted by the Secretary of State should they be presented to him/her at a later stage as part of a new Plan. And here’s the really important bit. The letter goes on to say:
“Where policies were adopted some time ago, it is likely that material considerations, in particular the emergence of new national and regional policy and the emergence of new evidence, will be afforded considerable weight in decisions.”
Well, since that letter was written we’ve been given a new National Planning Policy Framework which heralds in a blanket presumption in favour of sustainable development. That loads the dice in Cartner & Musgrave’s favour, unless there are specific land uses set aside in a current Local Plan that would suggest that the NPPF can be ignored. And there isn’t a current, valid Local Plan that does that. There are just these old saved policies. And they’re demonstrably out of date.
The old Plan and the saved policies are based on old evidence. Here’s what TDC said it expected the airport to deliver by 2011:
“… the Council takes the position that it should plan for 1 million passengers, and 250,000 tonnes of freight per annum by the end of the Plan period.”
With the wisdom of hindsight, we can see that those 2006 “saved” policies are based on rubbish evidence. The airport never achieved anything like the level of business that TDC planned for and it is now closed. Remember what the Secretary of State said?
“… the emergence of new national and regional policy and the emergence of new evidence, will be afforded considerable weight in [planning] decisions.”
In the years of airport operation since the old Plan was written, there has been lots of new evidence that demonstrates that the old Plan was built on faulty assumptions. This hard new evidence will top the faulty predictions that the saved policies are based on, hands down.
So, the site is not safeguarded as an airport in a current Plan. The relevant saved policies from the old Plan are out of date and based on predictions that were later proved to be wrong.
There is hard evidence that TDC’s former aspirations for an airport on that site are neither deliverable nor sustainable. This new evidence will be afforded considerable weight in any planning decision about land use allocation. Also, land should not be set aside unnecessarily for a use that is not going to come good.
Given all this, we await the planning applications from Messrs Cartner & Musgrave with interest. From what we can see, there’s no way that TDC will be able to use the old Local Plan to protect their site for aviation use only.
Courtesy of Manston Pickle