You either believe in the development of Manston as a regional airport or you do not. I have been absolutely consistent in my own view during my entire time as the Member of Parliament for North Thanet. I do. I believe that Manston has a significant role to play in maintaining the United Kingdom’s competitive place in the aviation industry and I believe in the capacity of Manston to contribute significantly through job creation to the local and national economies.
I do not share the opinions of the present Member of Parliament for Thanet South over very many issues but on this we have been, and so far as I am aware remain, united.
Where we part company is over our attitude to the proposal to build a Thanet Parkway rail station to carry passengers using the fast link and to serve the airport. Dr. Ladyman believes that our existing local stations and particularly Ramsgate are sufficient to serve the need. I believe that only the upgrading of the track and signalling between Ashford and Thanet, coupled with a new Parkway halt will adequately serve the needs of both commuters seeking to take advantage of genuinely (1-hour) high speed trains between Thanet and London and travellers from further airfield taking flights from Manston. That is a perfectly respectable and honourable difference of opinion.
What those who preach green travel and want to see rail used instead of road have to recognise, I think, is that without the development of the airport there will be little or no economic case for the extension of the fast rail link and that without that economic case the investment is unlikely to be made in the foreseeable future. We may be between a rock and a hard place but I made my decision long ago and I stand by it.
I have been slightly pedantically accused of inaccuracy in stating in the Commons that flights approaching and leaving Manston do so over the sea. Very largely, they do. Compared with the approaches to Heathrow, Gatwick, Luton, Stansted and so far as I am aware every other significant airfield in the UK (including locations such as Bournemouth and Southampton) the amount of overflying of land and property before landing and after takeoff is small.
That does not mean that I have no concern for the environmental effects of the development of the airport upon residents’ lives. Again, I do. Those living in South Thanet and my own constituents living in the Thanet villages and Herne Bay on the flight paths have a right to due consideration and to the greatest achievable protection from noise and disturbance that is achievable and compatible with the lawful use of the airfield. That is why, for instance, I have again consistently opposed any extension of night flying at Manston and that is why I meet regularly with the Environment Agency and have, within only the last week, discussed with them the potential effects of airport development upon water supplies and sewage disposal.
I also recognise the wishes of those of my constituents living in Thanet and Herne Bay who have in the past enjoyed the ease and convenience (in some cases dating back to Silver City days) of flights to and from Manston. They were delighted with the service provided by EUJet, deeply saddened when that venture collapsed and are keen to see a restoration of package holiday travel from their local airport.
We have, now, as I said in the Commons, an opportunity. Given investment in the fast rail link and in perimeter security Manston is better placed that any other airfield to become “London’s Olympic Airport” for the duration of the 2012 Games. We have the potential to provide a one-stop shop for the reception, processing and accreditation of worldwide athletes, officials and visitors and I believe that we should seize that opportunity in the interests of our local economy and of the UK. The legacy value of such investment, particularly in terms of the high speed rail link, would, of course, be dramatic.
Let me be clear before I am mischievously mis-represented: Heathrow is the World’s number one hub airport. Gatwick, Stansted and Luton are not hub airports and never will be and neither will Manston. The development of Manston has the capability, however, to take some of the pressure off Gatwick and, in turn, release capacity at Heathrow and, taken with my party’s plans to build high-speed rail throughout the Midlands and Northern England, help to obviate the need for a third runway at Heathrow.
I do not believe that ‘Boris Island’ is either desirable or politically achievable but unless we want to see UK jobs lost to Schiphol and Charles de Gaulle, with a cost to our economy and no benefit to the global environment, then to do nothing is not an option. Properly handled, the promotion of Manston as a regional airport is entirely compatible with a “Green Isle of Thanet” policy and it deserves support.
Roger Gale M.P. (February 4th 2009)