Now shadow transport secretary demands answers on bid for Manston Airport
Shadow transport secretary Andy McDonald has questioned transport secretary Chris Grayling’s decision to initially support ...
Startling similarities are beginning to emerge between the disastrous Seaborne Freight saga and a potential purchase of Manston Airport by US developer Riveroak Strategic Partners (RSP).
Besieged UK transport secretary Chris Grayling last week scrapped the deal with the would-be ferry operator after concerns over a lack of due diligence.
Questions are now mounting over his decision to accept a development consent order (DCO) examination for RSP’s proposed acquisition of the Kent air cargo gateway.
Chief among these concerns is the use of data in a report written for the Department for Transport by consultant York Aviation. RSP claimed it backed-up the company’s claims that it could turn Manston into a fully functioning full-freighter airport.
York managing partner Louise Congdon claims RSP “misrepresented” one of its assessments in the report to justify its proposals.
“I’d equate RSP’s use of our work to someone getting halfway through a detective novel and saying ‘he did it’, based on circumstantial evidence and not reading to the end,” she said.
“Despite this, the only quantative demand for air freight in RSP’s proposals are those figures plucked, wrongly, from our report.”
In particular, York Aviation pointed to RSP’s “inappropriate” use of York’s global forecasts, rather than UK-specific data, to suggest there was a move away from bellyhold to full-freighter.
She said this had somehow got past officials, despite a 2017 DfT report which pointed to a decade-long decline in full-freighter activity and expectations for no growth in the next 20-25 years.
“When you look at full-freighter activity in the UK, most of it is at East Midlands [Airport] and most of this is integrator traffic,” Ms Congdon continued.
“The reason for this is if you look at freight distribution in the UK, the whole emphasis is on moving north, with freight clustered around distribution centres near the M1 and M6.”
Among other claims made by RSP in its application is that it would ultimately handle 17,170 air traffic movements (ATMs), with 10,000 by its fifth year of operation, despite being limited to operating during daytime hours.
Ms Congdon rebutted this claim, suggesting that, based on York’s figures – as well as those from several other aviation consultancies – the figures would be far lower.
“There’s no transparency on how they got these projections, but based on our most realistic forecasts, Manston would be able to recapture what it had before,” she said.“If that market grew, it might meet 2,000 movements in 2040, but this is nowhere near enough to justify a DCO application.”
This was echoed by a solicitor source who yesterday told The Loadstar that, for a DCO to be employed, the DfT would need to show that the land in question was of strategic and national importance.
“Nowhere, in any of the DfT’s reports or national policy statements on the UK’s aviation future is Manston acknowledged or recognised.”
The source added: “While an airports national policy statement exists, it does not provide policy support to Manston… indeed, no planning policy, national or local, supports reopening the airport. In fact, the most recent evidence compiled by Thanet District Council for its local plan review confirmed it was highly unlikely for any viable operations to return to the airport.”
Ms Congdon said any “reasonable” forecast indicated the use of Manston would be no more viable than it was in the past, with previous operations leading to losses of £100m.
Furthermore, she slammed the “myth” freight could be moved during the day and not at night: “Pure freight has to move at night, it’s the nature of demand from global markets, like China, where most of the goods are coming from.”
A spokesperson for the DfT told The Loadstar: “Plans to develop the [Manston] site for housing and/or aviation will take time to be developed and having it on standby should not impede the progress of those plans.
“Manston Airport has stood dormant since it ceased to operate as a commercial airport in 2014. It is the only site of its size in Kent and its owners are content to have it on standby for use if there is serious travel disruption, and will provide extra capacity to ensure any disruption to the county’s roads is kept to a minimum.
“The last time the DCO was used was for Manston, so there is precedent. We have also consulted the relevant authorities about the plans.”
An RSP spokesperson told The Loadstar: “The claims being made are so inaccurate that we will not dignify them with a response.”