Airport planners have been accused of using out of date facts to ground Manston’s chances of easing the looming capacity crisis. They dismissed Thanet’s aviation jewel in a couple of paragraphs in the SERAS report that included a controversial airport at Cliffe marshes in a list of options.
But Wiggins Group has told the Government that its advisers overlooked the huge potential of Manston. In its official response to an inquiry into the future development of air transport, Wiggins said the consultants only visited the airport in 1999. Wiggins claimed they took no account of the expert study by Arthur D Little in 2001 suggesting that Manston had the potential to grow into a “sizeable” airport.
Manston, already strong in cargo, expects passenger numbers to grow to between four and six million over the next 10 years. This could rise to 15 million by 2020, the study said. Paul Tipple, Wiggins’ head of strategy and development, dismissed SERAS claims that Manston was too remote to attract sizeable volumes of traffic. He said this ignored the Channel Tunnel Rail Link and the “very real prospect” of domestic services reducing journey times between London and East Kent to “just under the hour” by 2007. The report also “betrays an apparent ignorance of the relatively low cost of the necessary rail upgrades and improvements,” he added.
Manston had fast road links and quick road access to Ramsgate, Dover and the Channel Tunnel terminal, reinforcing the airport’s “attractiveness as a gateway to Europe”. He also rejected claims that airport development was constrained by noise impact on Ramsgate.
“That aircraft noise is and will remain an important issue for any airport’s operation is a reality that has somehow to be managed to the point that it is acceptable in relation to the wider benefits that an airport brings to the local and regional economies. At Manston, the airport and its Consultative Committee continue to work closely in identifying new noise management techniques (for example, noise abatement routes) that minimise the impact of aircraft noise over nearby villages and towns, including Ramsgate.”
Extending the runway would also reduce noise levels, he said. Mr Tipple told ministers that its plans had the “unanimous” support of local villages and councils, as well as the East Kent Triangle Area Strategic Partnership. He ended his submission by saying that events had moved on since 1999 when the airport was:
“… in its infancy and having to manage on the basis of an outdated infrastructure. Whilst the potential that Manston currently has could not offer the solution to the capacity crisis in the South East, the airport already has the ability to make a major contribution to easing congestion at the main South East airports.”
Manston already handles 40,000 tonnes of air freight a year, has the capacity to handle 200,000 tonnes, and the potential to boost that to 400,000 tonnes by 2020. Thanet council has already said it expects the airport to handle 250,000 tonnes of air freight by 2010. Trevor Herron, Thanet council director of planning, agreed that experts had dismissed Manston too lightly.
“They hadn’t really given Manston the attention it should have had. We were relegated to one of the minor airports and minor considerations.”
He said Manston had the sixth longest runway in the country and, railways apart, a good transport infrastructure. It was also outside the problem areas for air traffic control. While experts envisaged a maximum of about three million passengers by 2030, the council thought a more realistic figure was between six and 10 million. Manston could never become a fourth London airport, Mr Herron said, but it could contribute to taking the pressure off London and the need for a new hub.
“We’re very keen that Manston should play an important role in the future of air passenger movements in the London area. That’s not just optimism. We really do think it has the potential to do it.”
kentonline 14th Jan 2003