A piece of my mind
Julie Wassmer, TV writer, author and local campaigner
Transport Minister at anniversary turn out
ON MARCH 19, I joined a rally to mark the anniversary of the announcement of Manston Airport’s closure. Organisers had asked that we bring along “whistles, flags, everything you have” so that Ann Gloag could “hear us from Scotland”. It was a bitterly cold evening, but still hundreds of supporters compiled. Ms Gloag is the former Stagecoach magnate who bought the airport for a nominal £1 in October 2013 and announced her intention to close it after only four months of ownership. When Manston duly closed in May last year. It did so with a loss of some 140 jobs and in spite of offers from the US company RiverOak to buy it. Instead, in September, the majority stake went to property developers who are seeking to turn the site into a ‘mixed-use’ area. One might now consider that the matter is closed. Far from it. Just two weeks ago (on March 15), the House of Commons Transport Committee issued a report that was highly critical of both Ms Gloag and Kent County Council, casting doubts over the ownership and decision-making power on the site, as well as highlighting KCC’s failure to deploy its legal and financial resources to assess the case to make a Compulsory Purchase Order (CPO) of the site.
Campaigner Oscar Maynard confirmed that the report was “warmly welcomed by supporters of the Manston campaign” and reminded me that the local Conservative MR Sir Roger Gale. is on record as stating that he believes he was “completely misled” and that Ms Gloag had “no intention whatsoever of running.. an airport. and every intention of seeking to turn it into an asset-stripping property development”. Certainly one might ask why Ms Gloag would have refused a £7 million offer from RiverOak if she had ever been serious about running Manston as an airport. On Thursday, however, the presence at the rally of Transport Minister John Hayes brought renewed hope to campaigners with his reminder that Manston is still designated as an airport and news that the company PriceWaterhouseCoopers had “now been appointed on the government’s behalf to study the facts and to establish and test the viability” of Manston Airport. Significantly, a representative from RiverOak was also present at the rally to reassert the company’s continued interest and its commItment to help with any CPO process.
Whatever your views on Manston Airport, this is clearly an inspiring campaign. The perimeter fence remains emblazoned with yellow ribbon and the issue has been raised from a local agenda to gain national and international attention. Moreover, Manston’s future looks set to play centre stage in the upcoming general and local elections in which many local supporters are standing and opposing what they see as corporate and/or political interests working against those of local people. If politicians are most likely to take notice of a community before an election, I believe they must now listen to the thousands of people who wish to maintain this historic airport for the area and who will continue to fight long, hard and heroically for that aim.
• Visit www.facebook.com and search Manston Airport or www.supportmanstonairport.org
Herne Bay Times, April 1st 2015