Thanet council’s public consultation on Manston airport’s night flight proposals has attracted 700 responses. The views given will help the council form its response to plans by airport operators Infratil to host an average of eight flights a night at Manston.
The authority’s consultation was scaled back from plans to engage market research experts MORI and ask for views from other districts when Thanet council took legal advice that it was only a “consultee” on the plans and had no legally binding say in the matter.
Thanet council advertised the consultation on its website and in the press, wrote directly to 500 organisations and e-mailed its own database of contacts. The response represents less than one per cent of the population of Thanet. Leader of the council, Clive Hart, who took the decision to run a smaller consultation, said:
“It’s encouraging to see that so many people have taken the time to tell us what they think. Before we draft our own response, it’s vital that we clearly understand how our residents feel about these proposals.”
Conservative group leader Bob Bayford said:
“I don’t think 700 represents a good response at all. The problem with this consultation is that the respondents are self-selected.If we had used a private market-research company we would have had a reliable random sample but with this consultation we have the No Night Flights lobby encouraging people to write in and, to my mind, that means the results will be skewed.”
[What about all those 4-page leaflets that the airport sent out, Cllr Bayford – won’t those also “skew” the result?]
The feedback received from this consultation will be used, alongside the findings of the Parson Brinkerhoff environmental and economic impact report, to draft the council’s response to Infratil. Mr Hart said:
“I think it should give us a good cross section. For people actually putting pen to paper, I think it is a good response. I don’t know what percentage of the population it is, I couldn’t comment on that, the main thing is we have a very good cross section. The decision to hold an in-house consultation is based on what is reasonable and what is practical.”
Mr Hart said respondents’ comments will be categorised based on their postcode, adding that greater consideration would given to the comments of those living under the flight path but would stop short of a formal “weighting” of responses. He said:
“It is not quantative data, it is qualitative data. You can’t weight words. I think that is more useful. The bottom line is that we get people’s opinions.”
Phil Rose from the No Night Flights campaign said:
“It is a shame the consultation has been so short. It would have been better if it had been a more informed consultation.This is where TDC missed a trick and possibly missed out. However, there has been a strong reaction against night flights, which is not surprising.”
Airport chief executive, Charles Buchanan, said the consultation was hindered by a misinterpretation of Parson Brinkerhoff report, which he feels was supportive of the airport’s own impact assessment regarding night flights. He said:
“The independent report overall recognised that what we have said is, overall, satisfactory and that message isn’t getting through. The legal position is that what we are doing at the moment does not require a planning application. The view that this might require a planning application in the future is to be debated. The key thing here is allowing the airport to compete on an equal basis with other airports so it can attract business to the area and generate economic activity so badly needed in Thanet and east Kent. It seems perverse we should be trying to stop the development of one of the biggest facilities in east Kent that could be capable of creating local jobs.”
Mr Bayford said:
“My impression is that Infratil would not be asking for a relaxation in night time flying restrictions unless they believed it was necessary for the airport to survive in the short term and thrive in the long term.”
He said the issue of night flights was a matter of balancing the needs of the many with the needs of the few, adding:
“I understand people are concerned about losing sleep at night but what about the guy who can’t get a job, how much does he sleep at night?”
The consultation will close on Friday, March 2. To view the proposals and independent assessment go to thanet.gov.uk or visit Thanet’s Gateway Plus in Margate or the council’s district office in York Street, Ramsgate. To take part, residents must submit their comments in writing to Consultation, Thanet District Council, PO Box 9, Margate CT9 1XZ or by e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org
Responses must include a full name and address, clearly stating a postcode.