I’m sorry to have to tell you that Night Flights are back on the agenda, and it’s worse than ever.
This is not scare-mongering or alarmism – in their latest official statement on night flights, the people who want to run Manston as a cargo hub said that they view the threshold for “significant adverse effects” from night flights as being more than 18 flights a night… on average.
Three parts to this post:
- a quick précis of the last few years, in case you need it;
- a hard stare at where we are now;
- how you can prevent night flights.
1. Recent history: how the hell did we get into this stupid mess?
Manston Airport failed to turn a profit as a commercial airport, most recently when owned by Infratil, a New Zealand infrastructure investment company. After five years of pain, Infratil put the airport up for sale, and the whole world ignored it for the best part of 2 years.
Eventually, Ann Gloag bought Manston for a nominal £1 in November 2013, when it was losing about £10,000 a day. Her plans for kick-starting both the freight and passenger operations came to nothing, and she closed the airport in May 2014.
Since then, she has sold an interest to Trevor Cartner and Chris Musgrave, the guys who took over the Pfizer site (now Discovery Park) when Pfizer left Sandwich. Cartner and Musgrave are planning a “mixed use development” on the Manston site, i.e. business, and retail, and residential, and recreational, and open space, and so on – not just houses, or just warehouses.
The 720 acres that was once home to a lemon of an airport that peaked at 150 jobs could now be home to a range of (business rates paying) businesses, and thousands of jobs, and thousands of (council tax paying) homes and hundreds of acres of previously inaccessible open space. Anywhere else in the country, this turn of events would have been welcomed with open arms. But… Thanet.
The UKIP majority on Thanet District Council (TDC) had been elected on a manifesto pledge to re-open Manston Airport, and felt duty-bound to explore every possibility, no matter how remote. They have been through two rounds of “soft market testing” – looking for a commercial partner to shoulder the financial risks associated with compulsorily purchasing the site (by a CPO) from the current legal owners. Both times, they drew a blank.
In July 2014, they commissioned a report from Falcon Consultancy into the prospects for the viable development of Manston Airport. Falcon concluded it was basically a no-hoper. TDC have now commissioned another report into Manston’s viability from Avia Consulting, who are expected to report in September.
(It’s sensible to take specialist advice on complex matters, but I think there’s a certain amount of “covering your arse with paper” going on as well. Politically, UKIP need to be able to demonstrate that they tried their best, which may be why they are duplicating their own efforts.)
Meanwhile, there’s RiverOak. They are US-based property speculators and developers, registered in the LLC. They have never owned or run an airport. They have never owned or run anything in the UK. Which leaves a lot of people puzzled as to why they would suddenly decide to branch out into owning and running an airport in the UK.
RiverOak were rejected as a potential indemnity partner by TDC in both rounds of soft market testing for a number of good reasons, like not having the money required. Undeterred, they are now trying to grab the land through a DCO (Development Consent Order).
A DCO is like a CPO on steroids, and is meant to be used for “Nationally Significant Infrastructure Projects” (NSIPs), which are usually large scale governmental or civil engineering projects relating to energy, transport, water, or waste. For a cargo airport to qualify as an NSIP, it has to be able to demonstrate the ability to handle an increase of 10,000 cargo flights per year above its current level.
2. Where are we now?
Cartner and Musgrave have renamed the site Stone Hill Park and submitted their planning application for a mixed use development to TDC. On a separate planning issue, they are awaiting a date for a public inquiry into their change of use application for some of the existing buildings on the ex-airport site. If they win, that effectively “breaks the spell”, freeing up any and all of the site for non-airport uses, i.e. their mixed use development.
RiverOak and the Planning Inspectorate (PI) are still in the “preamble stage”. RiverOak were going to make their formal DCO application in Q4 this year, but that has now slipped to the first quarter of 2017. The PI will decide within 28 days of receipt whether to accept or reject their application.
Until now, we’ve had to rely on press releases and hearsay reports from RiverOak’s presentations to small crowds of well-wishers (like Save Manston Airport – SMA) to find out about RiverOak’s plans for night flights. RiverOak always said they neither wanted nor needed night flights. George Yerrall, their Chief Investment Officer, now says that they “have moved on from that position”.
The Scoping Document that RiverOak recently produced for the PI is the fullest description of their plans that anyone has yet seen. It’s not surprising that the Scoping Document refers to night flights – every airport needs to cater for a sprinkling of delays and strays.
The problem, dear reader, lies in RiverOak’s idea of what counts as nuisance. They are using a yardstick for night noise nuisance that is based on a threshold of 18 flights a night (on average). Anything less than 18 is, by their definition, not a problem. Any more than 18 (on average), and that counts as “significant adverse effects”.
Of all the available yardsticks for night noise, they chose this one. Clearly, it’s is an insanely high threshold, far higher than previously. It’s a crazy number, but at the moment, it’s the only number out there.
RiverOak’s business plan is based on shifting 500,000-600,000 tonnes of freight on 10,000-20,000 cargo flights per year. That’s more than the combined tonnage of Stansted and East Midlands (the UK’s only dedicated cargo hub).
All that traffic could fit comfortably into daytime hours (7am-11pm) but it doesn’t look like RiverOak are expecting it to – the terms of their proposal would allow a huge amount of night traffic. RiverOak have said they want to create a cargo hub like East Midlands (dozens of night cargo flights) or Leipzig (source of their mad night noise yardstick, which also has dozens of night flights).
3. What to do?
The easiest thing to do is to sign up to our “COUNT ME IN!” mailing list. We’ll send you all sorts of goodies (posters, fact sheets, and suchlike) and let you know when there’s a particular opportunity to make a difference – like consultations and applications. Here’s some of the stuff we’ll be keeping an eye on:
Stone Hill Park
- October/November: likely date for public inquiry into rejection of change of use application from SHP
- December: SHP likely to appeal if planning application is refused
- 5th September 2016: RiverOak informal consultation feedback deadline – if you went to any of their presentations and have any feedback for them, don’t be shy, you can email them at: email@example.com
- November: RiverOak formal consultations –these consultations will matter in the DCO process, and are our best chance to stop night flights from happening
- January – April 2017: RiverOak might put in their formal application to PI for DCO
- End of September: TDC should receive the Avia Report
- End of September: TDC should respond to SHP planning application
NoNightFlights is getting ready to make sure that RiverOak listen to us about night flights.
We need people to work with us. We’ll need people to leaflet, write letters, raise funds and attend public meetings.
If you can help us to do any of these things, or if you have ideas that will help,
please get in touch, right now:
Email us: NoNightFlights@gmail.com
Join the COUNT ME IN! mailing list
You can contact your Thanet Councillor here:
You can also write to your councillor(s), and your MP, here: