Riveroak Strategic Partners (RSP) have been granted permission to develop an air cargo hub on the former Manston Airport site. When the announcement was made, many Ramsgate residents had new questions about the revised proposals. As county councillor for Ramsgate, I have been seeking answers from the man at the top, Tony Freudmann.
I’ve held back, until now, from providing a report, as I was awaiting documents which Tony Freudmann, director at Riveroak Strategic Partners, volunteered to send me, specifically on job creation in Ramsgate. I met with him along with Anne-Marie Nixey on Monday 5th September in the back room of Churchill’s pub. To date I haven’t received that document. That tells me something…
My initial questions were drawn up overnight, immediately after the announcement of the go ahead, and Tony Freudmann’s responses to them are in full below.
Let’s think of this first part of my report as an executive summary.
In the course of my long career as a trade union official, I’ve held many similar meetings. It’s a background that provides me with a useful degree of experience, and being elected twice as the County Councillor for Ramsgate provides a platform to engage. Let me be clear. Full disclosure – I live under the proposed flight path. I also ‘enjoy’ flying (although I’ve reduced this and replaced it, where possible with rail travel). I thought Stone Hill Park‘s proposal was a strong one with real merit. Consider also that we’re getting house building whether or not they are built on Manston, and whether we like it or not. Most of us know that. I believed Stone Hill Park’s offer of 400 council homes was generous and would’ve helped take the pressure off our council housing waiting list. It would’ve also involved jobs, including the creation of local employment.
It’s jobs that concern me most. That doesn’t mean the other issues under consideration are any less important. It appears to me, that a significant number of people are prepared to trade noise and pollution for economic opportunity. Who can blame them – given our appalling labour market? Who doesn’t want a heathy jobs market and to see all that cash spent in Ramsgate, boosting our communal fortunes?
Had Stone Hill Park got the go ahead, I would have interrogated their plans in exactly the same way as I have done in my attempt to dig into and understand Tony Freudmann’s ambitions and proposals.
My ambition in meeting Tony Freudmann was therefore to focus on the job opportunities, and to hold him to his public agreement to have community scrutiny. Who doesn’t love a bit of scrutiny? By this I mean real close analysis – most of us do that everyday. We’re always weighing up our decisions based on evidence. The bigger the decision the more consideration we give it. On that basis, this proposal for an air cargo hub over our heads required scrutiny – additional community scrutiny. If it’s going to be worth it, how will we measure it? I knew from the outset that it was unreasonable to expect any information that could be considered commercial in confidence. I’m no aviation expert but I also know green air cargo planes aren’t a reality. I also know there’s cargo capacity elsewhere.
What I didn’t know, and what I believed that Tony Freudmann could reasonably be expected to flesh out, was RSP’s anticipating and ‘scoping’ of employment opportunities.
On the topic of “what jobs and when?”, Tony Freudmann prevaricated massively. Evasively. I pressed him hard, “surely his investors wanted to know that there was a workforce? The air cargo hub would be dependent on its employee’s, wouldn’t it?”
“Did he think we would potentially have issues with people being work ready?” I used Planet Thanet’s numerous difficulties and attempts at recruiting a local workforce. (Yes I have had conversations with them in the past, so I’m speaking from a first hand perspective.) He agreed, and I’m paraphrasing – it was a huge challenge but assured me hundreds of people are ready to work and that we might have the ‘oldest workforce,’ ever. Draw your own conclusion.
We spoke about training people. An area I’m particularly keen and interested in. Tony Freudmann described East Kent College as ‘precious.’ My interpretation is that perhaps the training provider might not be our local college. Or perhaps Graham Razey and his team can really only plan on the basis of know facts, and actual demand, the solid basis of evidence used to leverage funding. Maybe they felt unable to indulge his might be’s and may be’s…
The meeting was almost over.
I turned to the matter of the community scrutiny group. I asked him bluntly if he was going to keep his word as he has said on BBC Radio Kent that he would agree to a community scrutiny group… this is how I recall the conversation continuing,
TF: What, a group of people from both sides to discuss it?
KC: Yes. Balanced. Say five or six people who are pro and anti. No politicians.
TF: We’re doing that.
KC: No you’re not, I’m asking for an additional committee. People who represent the community.
TF: What would they discuss? What metrics do you mean?
KC: They can decide.
Then TF committed a cardinal sin. He mansplained to me what I thought I had said… I knew the meeting would be halted soon.
TF: What you meant to say was…
KC: I know what I meant. Are you saying you won’t keep your word? You agreed on air to a community scrutiny panel.
Needless to say. We didn’t agree and no such panel will be instigated. Which I think is a shame, because why not discuss these matters? Why not clarify? Let’s separate fact from fiction. I’m a big believer in dialogue.
This is a transcript of what Tony Freudmann said on air to BBC reporter Anna Cookson, on 19th August when she interviewed him.
Anna Cookson: “As you know as you’ve heard vociferously Karen Constantine is not in favour [of the air cargo hub]. She’s asked you to set up a community scrutiny group. I wonder whether that’s something you could commit to so that local voices could be heard?
Tony Fruedmann: “We’d be very happy to do that.”
Hello! We’d be very happy to do that! Turns out Tony is anything but happy.
Emails between Tony Freudmann and myself
I sent my first on 19th August. Tony Freudmann responds a few days later.
Apologies for the delay in replying. I was on holiday when you first e-mailed me.
I have answered your questions as far as I am able below.
First, I should note that the independent expert did not conclude that the adverse impacts of the project outweighed the benefits, it explicitly avoided doing so, as mentioned in section 1.3 on page 2 of its final report.
Question 1: Costs. You have identified a £500m start-up cost. Given inflation is now running at 10% + (the highest rate for 40 years), and all materials and labour costs continue to escalate. Is that sufficient funding to build the Cargo hub? Are your investors sighted on that? Do you have contingency plans if private sector investment fails?
Our investors are of course well aware of the inflation rate as well as a number of other macroeconomic trends and developments and are still keen on investing in the project.
Question 2: Investors. As we have the worst performing economy in the EU, a cost of living crisis, increasing, uncontrolled inflation, political instability and credible warnings of a recession – are your investors contractually committed?
Despite the negative connotations of your question relating to the desirability of investing in the UK, our investors are rational, apolitical and are keenly aware of the opportunities. Typically, infrastructure investors are long-term investors and so tend to discount short term economic or political issues.
Question 3: Q. Carbon neutral build. What does this mean? You say the air cargo hub will be “Carbon Net Zero from scratch.” Materials of all kind’s will need to be freighted into Thanet. How will such transport be carbon neutral? Who will monitor this? Does this include RSP employees utilising electric vehicles? Carbon off-setting? Use of innovative materials? Can you share a detailed plan?
In RSP’s response to the Secretary of State’s first consultation during the original decision period, it offered to commit to its operations other than aircraft emissions being net zero within five years of the airport opening and reiterated this in its later response in July 2021. The government has chosen not to make this an obligation of the DCO.
Nevertheless, under requirement 6 of the DCO, RSP must produce a carbon minimisation action plan as part of its construction environmental management plan, which is signed off by Thanet District Council following consultation with various statutory bodies (including KCC in its role of highway authority), before it can start the development; a similar plan is required under the operational environmental management plan for the operational stage according to requirement 7.
These action plans will contain RSP’s commitments and the steps that it will take to achieving them, and TDC will have to be satisfied that they are sufficiently binding and robust.
Question 4: Domestic flights. We are informed of plans for 4 stands for domestic flights. When do you plan this service to go live? Which operators have expressed an interest? Which reports evidence the need and financial viability for domestic flights from Manston.
RSP is not planning any domestic flights. Assuming that you meant international flights, the masterplan submitted with the application, articulates that passenger facilities are expected to be part of phase 2 of the project. Obviously with the delays to consent, the precise timings of the phases are in the process of being recalculated.
Question 5: Job creation. As was successfully achieved with the London Olympics will jobs be ring fenced for those potential employees who live in Thanet postcodes? Will you apply that to all jobs? Can you guarantee payment of the living wage as a minimum? How many jobs will be direct RSP employees? How will you manage the supply chain to create local jobs, i.e. within a 10 mile radius. When will that start?
Requirement 20 of the DCO obliges RSP to develop an education, employment and skills plan that must be approved by TDC and must be in place before the development starts. Amongst other things this must contain a local hiring policy and must include establishment of a local employment partnership board to assist. The board, the MSE-Board has already been established and started meeting in October 2020.
Question 6: What is RSPs CSR contribution to the local community? What have you directly contributed to date to Ramsgate?
Even though the airport development has not yet started, RSP has invested in the local area during its association with the site, as can be seen in recent press releases, https://rsp.co.uk/news/
Question 7: Given that the Examining Authority did not find sufficient evidence to support RSP, what steps will you take to minimise negative impact’s? Noise, pollution, inconvenience, impact on health, depression of tourism, lost trade, etc?
The granted DCO is strictly controlled in terms of mitigating impacts, particularly noise and also air quality. ‘Inconvenience’ as a category doesn’t lend itself to statistical analysis, but traffic impacts will be significantly mitigated with road improvements that must be in place and restrictions on passenger flight times. We do not agree that tourism will be depressed and certainly disagree that trade will be lost. Increasing trade is one of the main drivers of the project.
Question 8: How will RSP meet the legal requirements of Civil Aviation Act 2006, Civil Aviation Act 2012, and The Environmental Noise (England) Regulations 2006 (as amended).
Apart from section 11 on the Air Travel Trust, the Civil Aviation Act 2006 only amends other acts, mainly the Civil Aviation Act 1982. The sections about noise control schemes are optional; the DCO already contains strict restrictions on noise in terms of an annual quota and a maximum noise contour size, so further controls are unlikely to be necessary.
If Manston is obliged to maintain a strategic noise map under the 2006 Regulations as a ‘major airport’, it will instruct competent experts to do so, just as it will comply with all applicable legislation.
Question 9: I’m calling for the formation of a balanced community scrutiny panel to oversee progress against a set of agreed metrics. Such as percentage of carbon neutral materials used? Number of local jobs created and attrition rates? Impact on the local economy? Noise reduction? CSR plan? Etc.
The DCO already requires a community consultative committee to be established under requirement 18, before the development can start. Together with the carbon reduction plan and the local employment partnership mentioned above, we believe that all the areas you are concerned about are already covered.
As stated above, I am now back from holiday and available to meet next week or the week after.