Community groups say they do not believe allowing the flights would bring any economic benefit to the residents of Thanet, and may in fact bring harm to the area due to the impact of noise and air pollution.
Many also say that if the proposed operations went ahead, they could actually deter people who might be planning to move their businesses to the area or thinking of buying a home there. Dr Hilary Newport, of Protect Kent, the county arm of the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) said:
“Night flights will not be the airport’s salvation. Manston cannot sell all of its daytime slots, and disturbing the sleep of residents in Ramsgate and beyond is not the way forward.”
A report into the contentious issue – authored on behalf of Thanet District Council by Parsons Brinkerhoff, a leading transport consultancy – has just been published. CPRE casts doubt on the claim of airport operator Infratil that 3,000 jobs will be created if night flights go ahead and says that the impact of noise levels has been underestimated.
Andrew Ogden, campaigns manager for Protect Kent, said:
“This report, which is based on an examination of the documents submitted by Infratil, clearly brings into doubt many of their claims. Parsons Brinkerhoff indicates that Infratil’s views of the economic benefits are wildly over-optimistic, while the impacts of noise – the major concern of residents in the area – have been seriously understated. These two points alone vindicate the local opposition groups, whose concerns have been regarded by some as backward-looking and ‘nimbyism’.
The fact that Flybe are pulling out in March because they cannot fill planes is damning proof of the lack of demand for flights out of Manston. We simply cannot see how allowing night flights will help Manston grow as a passenger airport, and therefore generate both jobs and economic sustainability for the area.”
In light of this recent report, Protect Kent is asking for full public consultation before any night flights are allowed. It says this should be open and transparent, with all the facts available. Mr Ogden said:
“This will enable the people of East Kent to weigh up the benefits and disadvantages of night flights and lobby Thanet District Council accordingly. It is only right they be given this opportunity, as it is their communities and environment that will be significantly affected by the implementation of night flights.”
However, a report last year commissioned by Infratil said the flights would be beneficial. The first part of the Economic Impact Report, produced by York Aviation and published in May, suggested that the airport would directly employ 2,070 people and support a further 1,035 indirect jobs by 2018 if a level of night flights was allowed. It also estimated that the Kent airport would deliver almost £65 million a year to the local economy by 2018 if its Master Plan development was realised.
Today (25th Jan 2012), Clive Hart, leader of Thanet District Council, signed a decision notice, which states the council’s intention to carry out a focused consultation in-house for 28 days for isle residents and in particular for those directly affected by the airport’s proposals.
The decision follows clarification that the proposal submitted by Infratil is for consultation only and so does not require a planning application at this stage. The council says this means its role is therefore as a ‘consultee’ and it is not in a position to make a binding decision in respect of the night-time flying policy.
It is seeking advice as to whether the proposed night-flying policy could result in an “intensification or change in operation at the airport”. This could then require a planning application at some point in the future. Cllr Hart said:
“We’re committed to listening to our residents and will still provide the opportunity for people to comment on the proposals before we draft our response from the council, as well as people being able to provide their views directly to the airport. We’ve promised that we will seek residents’ views, and we’re standing by this commitment but on a more appropriate scale. This issue needs to be drawn to a conclusion for the sake of the community, the council and the airport.”
The public consultation is proposed to launch on Friday, February 3, for 28 days and will be open to all residents in Thanet. Responses to the proposals must be submitted in writing to Consultation, Thanet District Council, PO Box 9, Margate CT9 1XZ, or by email to email@example.com Full names and addresses must be provided with each response. To view the proposals, and for more information about the public consultation, visit www.thanet.gov.uk, where information will be available to view from Thursday, January 26.