Thanet District Council and Infratil, the owners of Manston Airport, have been warned they could end up in the High Court if the night-flights consultation process is botched. The warning has come from Paul Twyman, the chairman of airport watchdog the Kent International Airport Consultative Committee (KIACC).
An application from Infratil is expected to be placed in under two weeks and will detail the number of planes the company wants to be allowed to fly in and out of the airport between 11pm and 7am. There are concerns that any consultation will be undermined by lack of noise-monitoring data, an unclear policy about the routes that planes can take approaching and departing the airport, and the robustness of the consultation procedure.
The results of a noise-assesment report being prepared by consultancy Bickerdike Allen Partners, and commissioned by Infratil, should also be made available to the public before the consultation starts, many people are arguing. They say that any report is assessed and reviewed before a consultation starts – not during it. Mr Twyman said:
“I urge the council to think very carefully about they way in which they handle this consultation. If you go ahead with a half-baked process, if you make a hash of it, then I’m sure there will be people out there who would take a dim view of that – and I suspect there will be people who seek a judicial review. KIACC has spotted a pretty big hole here. It’s clear that in the last seven years a lot of nettles have not been grasped and now the time has come for KIACC to start to help the council to grasp those nettles. If the council go off half-cocked on this consultation, it could find itself in the High Courts. The night noise consultation could be starting in about 14 days and there are big issues around it.”
The Section 106 agreement, a document that governs flight times and routes, is also out of date and needs to be revised, says Mr Twyman. The consultation will take place over a 12-week period and will involve meetings, phone polls, roadshow sessions and questionnaires. However, delays while reports are digested and analysed could mean that the process runs into Christmas. Brian White, Thanet council’s director of regeneration, said the local authority had not seen Infratil’s figures for the quota-count system, despite claims that people at the council had already seen them. When asked by Steve Higgins of the No Night Flights campaign if he had seen the proposed quota-count number, Mr White said:
“The Freedom of Information Act requires that anything the council holds it releases, but we haven’t got anything.”
Nick Cole, of Monkton Parish Council, said: “It strikes me that there is probably a lot more work being done than we are being led to believe here:
“If the consultation is about to start in a matter of weeks, then I think it would be fair that some of the figures be given tonight. We must have an indication about how many flights we are talking about during night-time.”
Charles Buchanan, the airport’s chief executive, responded by saying:
“I am not in a position to give a final number. You do not release half the specification in advance – you launch the whole thing when people can see the whole picture. They can see the benefits on one hand and the problems of the other. It would be misleading and diverting to look at just one part of it and that’s where we are.”
At the meeting in public at the airport terminal on Friday last week, KIACC members voted against holding a meeting at the “other end of the runway” for villagers in places such as Monkton, Minster and St Nicholas-at-Wade. After a request for more information to be made available to more people, Mr Twyman proposed a series of meetings to inform the public in the villages and Herne Bay, but it was voted down. Conservative councillor Roger Latchford, Thanet council’s cabinet member who deals with the airport, voted against such meetings. However, a meeting on the application will take place in Ramsgate.
During the meeting it also emerged that the council’s mobile noise-monitor, which should be used to monitor the noise made by aircraft overflying areas such as St Nicholas, is still out of operation. Chris Wells, the council’s Conservative cabinet member for the environment, said it should be back in use – and in an airport employee’s garden – very soon as it had taken longer than expected to be fixed.
The airport’s application for a secondary radar tower has received planning consent. It will be built after the contract has been put out to tender. Four objections to the application had been received, but Mr White said that there were “no material reasons” why the application could not be approved, on Friday, August 6.