THANET council leader Iris Johnston has welcomed a Transport Select Committee report which criticised KCC for a lack of action to help save Manston airport.
The report, released yesterday, said KCC holds responsibility for aviation in the county but, despite passing a motion to support Thanet council in efforts to retain the airport, it failed to do so.
The report stated: “Kent County Council has the legal and financial resources to assess complex CPO cases.
“Despite having agreed a motion to support Thanet District Council, it failed to deploy those assets.
“In failing to support Thanet District Council’s scrutiny of the proposed CPO at Manston, Kent County Council also failed to fulfil its strategic oversight function as the local transport authority.”
The select committee suggested by intervening in the situation, the Department for Transport showed: “the extent to which Kent County Council failed to fulfil its strategic oversight role.”
Findings welcomed Thanet council leader Iris Johnston’s commitment to due diligence, but questioned whether a district council had the funds, legal or financial expertise to handle the case.
KCC leader Paul Carter claimed the authority had supported TDC but Cllr Johnston disputed this.
Cllr Johnston said: “I was surprised to hear him mention on Radio Kent his offer of support to me personally.
“My records show no evidence of a written offer by the higher tier authority and take over the CPO process or indeed underwrite the financial demands that TDC would have to meet. Labour members at KCC brought a strong resolution last July and then all went quiet.”
The TDC leader said she was pleased the report acknowledged work done by TDC in regards to the airport.
She said: “I welcome the Select Committee’s considered opinion and in particular their acknowledgement of Thanet District Council’s need for strong due diligence as a small district Council. I am especially grateful for their positive comments about my personal efforts.
“Our submission to the Select Committee in September led to our attendance. We identified the strategic importance of the airport but we are very mindful of the history and the need for a long term fully funded solution.
“I continue to stress that all sides should meet and have consistently asked Sir Roger to reconvene his Taskforce. It met once last March and I feel if all of us had met in round table discussions Mr Carter at KCC might have properly stepped in to help.
“Since my election as Leader last May and day in day out since I have had to deal with matters related to Manston from following up on asset removal to questioning if there has been any planning or building control breaches . The police and our own TDC staff have been an enormous help throughout and Trevor Cartner (from new majority shareholders of Manston at based Discovery Park) has always got back to me immediately with information and explanations.
“I have ensured I worked cross party and now we must await Mr John Hayes’ independent review of the papers sent after Christmas to the Department of Transport. “
The report also concluded, despite her minority shareholding in Lothian Shelf 718, the company which owns the site, Stagecoach bus tycoon Ann Gloag still holds equal decision making power with majority shareholders Trevor Cartner and Chris Musgrave.
The committee advised: “Ann Gloag places the joint venture agreement between herself, Chris Musgrave and Trevor Cartner to redevelop Manston in the public domain to make it clear who would benefit from the proposed redevelopment of Manston and to repudiate allegations of asset-stripping.”
The committee agreed there was no case for the government to purchase airport, but the Department for Transport should review what powers it has to intervene in cases where strategic transport assets are at risk.
MP Roger Gale said he was ‘gratified’ that the committee has recognised the importance of Manston as a strategic national asset that should be protected as such.
He added: “The committee has agreed that Thanet District Council was correct in taking an approach that has sought to protect the financial interests of council taxpayers although it has not, as some have sought to suggest, confirmed that TDC was right in reaching the conclusion not to proceed to a Compulsory Purchase Order. ThecCommittee has indicated correctly that TDC has neither the expertise nor the resources to fully and properly assess the RiverOak proposition.
“In that context the committee is equally correct to identify Kent County Council as a strategic and responsible Transport Authority and to criticise the Leader, Paul Carter, for unilaterally failing to comply with the expressed wish of the county council to support Thanet in its efforts to examine the possibility of a CPO. The committee further notes that, to the contrary, Mr. Carter gave support to an alternative use of Manston as a housing and industrial development with no authority to do so from KCC.
“The committee further notes that the Department of Transport could and should have examined the TDC/RiverOak papers more speedily although there are sound reasons why some time was taken to obtain the necessary Treasury authorisation for public funds to commission an independent assessment. The committee does, though, acknowledge that such an assessment is desirable.
“The Committee clearly shares expressed concerns about the nature of the ownership and control, of Manston Airport which have yet to be clarified. It has undertaken to receive and publish as part of its evidence details of the Joint Venture Partnership between Mmes. Gloag and Bradley and Messrs. Cartner and Musgrave should these be made available.
“It is vital, in the national interest, that Government now immediately secures the appointment of an independent contractor, working with DfT, to swiftly evaluate the terms of indemnity offered to Thanet District Council by RiverOak. If this is found to be satisfactory then the perceived impediment will be removed and TDC should proceed to instigate the compulsory purchase process immediately. If aspects of the indemnity offer are found wanting then RiverOak will need to address these to the satisfaction of the Independent Assessor before the latter recommends to TDC that it is safe and proper, taking account of the need to protect the interests of the council taxpayer, to proceed. Once this process is under way the Independent Assessor may be invited to further examine aspects of the RiverOak business plan and funding although that will, inevitably, form part of an anticipated public inquiry also.”
Kent County Council was asked for a response from leader Paul Carter on the report but this has not yet been received.