Seeing Red story header image

Seeing Red: Flight of fantasy is not the answer to Thanet’s plight

Seeing Red is my regular column in The Isle of Thanet News. This opinion piece was first published on July 12 2020.

We really need jobs, jobs, jobs! Decent and secure employment is top of my wish list for Thanet. I know many others feel the same way. Decent work is the foundation for a fulfilling life for many.

To tackle the rising tide of poverty in our area and reverse the decline of our emptying high streets we have to move from a reliance on precarious employment to providing rewarding and secure job opportunities for the long term.

Post-covid, we will require a settlement to help us recover from the economic pressure and strains that the pandemic and austerity have placed on us all. They say we are heading into the worst recession in our history. Making cogent plans to secure full and decent employment should be ‘the goal’ that brings our communities together in common cause.

Manston has long been an issue that divides us. It’s no secret that I’ve campaigned on an anti cargo hub and no night flights manifesto, yet I have sympathy with both the ‘fors’ and ‘againsts’.

Over the years I’ve listened to thousands of people outlining their concerns and hopes. It almost always comes down to the need for fulfilling employment opportunities. People don’t want zero hour or temporary contracts. They don’t want to work in jobs below their skill level. They resent working for minimum wages and they don’t go to work for no satisfaction. But that’s often what’s on offer.

‘The wrong decision’

I wish I could feel excitement and optimism about the green light for an air freight hub at Manston, but given the extraordinary circumstances in which permission has been granted, I can’t quite suspend my disbelief. This is a wholly political and a wholly wrong decision. The Expert Inspectorate (ExA) who spent considerable time and cost writing a report, didn’t recommend the air freight hub. They could not see benefit in the proposal that the Manston plan be given a DCO as a Nationally Significant Infrastructure Project (NSIP).

Why has the Secretary of State decided, in the face of all evidence to the contrary, to give it the go ahead? The Government’s own advisors say this plan risks the UK carbon targets being missed. Can there be anything more important than tackling the climate emergency?

Not long ago, the plans for the the Heathrow expansion were ruled illegal by the Court of Appeal. That scheme “did not adequately take into account the Government’s own commitments to tackle the climate crisis”. The Government is set to repeat that folly here in Manston. The Secretary of State has blithely ignored the evidence of their own experts.

Whilst this is wholly political decision it’s also one that effectively passes the buck and leaves the markets to decide whether there are sufficient bullish investors who have £300m to get the project off the ground. Freight capacity currently exists at other UK airports, already operational and with major infrastructure in place, including roads, railways, warehousing and the pre-existing skilled workforce.

Legal challenges

We need cool heads now. I strongly suspect that legal challenges will be brought, given the environmental stakes are sky high. This will cause inevitable lengthy delays. The judicial process is very time consuming, For instance, I’m still waiting to go to appeal with Marion Kepple in respect of the closure of the acute stroke unit at QEQM.

The legal challenges against Manston air freight hub will be mounted. The research conducted and assembled by the ExA and others will be scrutinised. The impact on the environment and our health will be examined in detail.

The impact on the environment and our health will be examined in detail. Research confirms that exposure to regular aircraft noise dramatically increases the risk of dying from a heart attack. In addition, exposure to carbon monoxide from planes also impacts respiratory conditions like Asthma, causing increased hospitalisation.

Some think Manston is vital to imports and will be a boon to exports. Think again. The weaker pound makes imports more costly. Air freighted goods more-so. We are in uncharted territory. Post Brexit, UK goods are likely to become more expensive to export. Tariffs negotiated on a country by country basis will make it it difficult for companies to export efficiently. We can take nothing for granted.

We simply don’t know how Brexit and Covid will impact our markets.

Where will the mandatory house building be?

In addition, losing Manston as a potential brown-field housing site means, without doubt, we will see thousand’s more homes crammed into unsuitable green spaces and green wedges. Again, this is imposed upon us by central Government. We won’t get the 400 social (council) homes that Stone Hill Park promised, nor the other amenities including an advanced manufacturing business park creating high quality jobs, nor ‘tourism magnet’ leisure facilities which included a surf lake and Kent’s first Olympic-standard swimming pool. These came as part of a package of 4000 homes.

Also take into consideration that Heathrow’s Terminal 5, cost £4.3b to build. Will £300m actually be enough cash to get Manston going? I have my doubts. Especially when you consider the escalating costs of the Parkway railway station.

The ExA reached the right conclusion. That the Secretary of State overrides them is unacceptable and sets dangerously low standards. The Government isn’t acting in the public interest but their own. It’s a narrow, fettered, self-interested decision and aims to hoodwink us all into believing in the unbelievable. It denies a public discussion about what Thanet really needs, and what we should be demanding from our Government.

Jobs, jobs, jobs.

We may continue to disagree. However, we should agree that, as a minimum, regardless of what happens (or doesn’t) at Manston, and regardless of our own personal preferences, that we need our senior politicians to urgently secure an immediate economic recovery plan for

Thanet, the poor relation in Kent.

Thanet has vibrant potential, with very many talented and highly qualified young people. We are not currently harnessing, utilising and developing their skills and talents. Nor do we have a strategy in place to develop work in new green technologies or the creative industries where we can expect expansion of opportunities.

Government must underwrite a plan to ensure the provision of decent, sustaining work that we all need. Not tomorrow, nor contingent on private sector investors but NOW!

Can we agree on that?.