Montage image of an air freight Boing 747 and the Ramsgate skyline.

Do we need Manston Airport?

Campaigners against the redevelopment of Manston into an air cargo hub have won the right to appeal an earlier decision that gave the green light to developers. The Court of Appeal will hear the case relating to whether there is a need for the airport, but will not consider the argument on climate change grounds.

The issue of an air freight hub at Manston and whether it’s viable, let alone economically or environmentally sound, seems to roll around every year. It’s become a perennial dividing line during any Thanet election. So I guess there must be an election due soon?

Jenny Dawes – the indefatigable campaigner against the opening of an air freight hub at Manston is again applying to the to Courts to ensure all the facts are properly considered. In this case, the key question is what is the real need in the UK for a new air freight hub?

The Government’s own DfT report from 2022, said that the ExA, Examining Authority, concluded that RSP had failed to demonstrate sufficient need for the proposed development. That air freight need can be met through the provision of existing airports, and that this consideration outweighs against the Manston air freight hub proposal.

The ExA concluded that the proposal for freight can be better met by Heathrow, Stansted and East Midlands Airports who already have all the necessary infrastructure in place and are able to meet additional air freight need. The report concludes Manston offers no obvious advantages to outweigh the strong competition.

So the court of appeal will need to examine if anything has changed. I sincerely doubt this.

It was somewhat galling to hear Sir Roger Gale, MP for North Thanet, liken the opening of a new air freight hub over the heads of residents of Ramsgate as similar to opening a toy factory! Indeed, both he and South Thanet MP Craig McKinley seem to have done very little to encourage new businesses – let alone new factories producing toys – into Thanet. Instead they would like us all to believe that thousands of jobs will be created for locals at Manston and that we should wait and be patient. Otherwise known as ‘Jam Tomorrow.’ That simply isn’t good enough, because it’s beginning to look more certain that Manston Airport isn’t viable as an air freight hub and will never take off.

The question then becomes ‘what to do with a vast brown field site…’

BBC Radio Kent invited me to discuss the court’s decision and give opinion on comments made earlier by Sir Roger Gale, a keen supporter of the air freight hub.

Broadcast on 8th February 2024.

Aircraft image by Jez on Flickr