Judge puts brake on Manston Airport reopening
A High Court judge has blocked the planned reopening of Manston Airport, in Kent. A ...
Controversy continues to surround Riveroak Strategic Partners (RSP) attempts to acquire Kent’s Manston Airport to run as a full-freighter gateway.
Concerns were voiced this week during Planning Inspectorate hearings for a Development Consent Order (DCO), that would allow RSP a compulsory purchase order to buy Manston.
Lead planning inspector Kelvin McDonald said during the hearings: “We have no evidence directly available to us that these funders have the resources to enable us to recommend that adequate funding is likely to be available to enable the compulsory acquisition.”
In particular, Mr McDonald pointed to a shortfall in the £13m put aside by RSP to cover compensation linked to the renovation and use of the airport.
A source told The Loadstar that the shortfall is the result of the company underestimating the size of land affected, suggesting that the true cost could be four times higher.
The company’s failure to provide conclusive proof of its financial backing appears to contradict a pledge on RSP’s website to provide all necessary information.
“We have provided all required details of our company ownership structure to Companies House and also informed the Planning Inspectorate of the creation of RiverOak,” it said.
“Additional, comprehensive details of our funding partners and investment arrangements will of course be provided to PINS as part of the DCO application.
“[This will provide] solid evidence of our ability to meet all of the financial obligations associated with the acquisition, reopening and operation of the airport.”
However, when asked over the company’s failure to provide the requisite information, a spokesperson told The Loadstar that its source was not “accurate”.
The spokesperson added that RSP had “already” provided a “considerable volume” of evidence on its funding.
“This is set out in our revised funding statement and will continue to do so to meet the needs of the Examining Authority,” she added.
“Some investors are individuals who wish to remain private, but have disclosed their identities to HMRC for the purpose of investing in this project under the Business Investment Relief scheme, which RSP believes to be sufficient assurance.
“As far as funding for the main project is concerned, in line with almost all projects this is not secured at present but will be if the DCO is granted, in this case through equity and debt financing.”
Furthermore, the spokesperson claimed RSP has shown it has the funds now to pay for compulsory acquisition compensation, and its noise mitigation proposals for insulation and relocation.
“Equally, we have not underestimated the scale of compensation required for the land… and we have set aside a figure that is higher than our expert’s valuation of the land.
“Just because another party believes that the land it owns has a higher value, that does not mean that the amount it has alleged is correct.”
However, the “other party” is not a land owner – but the lead inspector of the Planning Inspectorate.
On top of all this, sources have suggested a row has erupted between RSP and Kent County Council over the construction of a road near Manston.
Both parties reportedly agree that the road is necessary, but RSP is refusing to cover the costs of its development.
The spokesperson for RSP said: “The road has nothing to do with access to the airport and so does not form part of the examination.
“It’s a separate project being promoted by KCC as part of its wider transport strategy.”
Riveroak has attempted to buy the disused airport several times, with a compulsory purchase order rejected by Thanet District Council (TDC) in 2015.
This latest attempt follows its application for a development consent order (DCO) with the Department for Transport, which transport secretary Chris Grayling approved in August.
But questions over the merit of a DCO swiftly followed, with Pinsent Masons, solicitor for airport owner Stone Hill Park (SHP), describing it as a “government-sponsored land grab”.