Accusations fly after consultation on developing Manston Airport as a cargo hub

The war of words over the future of Manston Airport in the UK south east has escalated with the current majority owner of the site claiming that results of an informal consultation were as “reliable as an election in North Korea”.
On Tuesday, developer RiverOak Investments, a US hedge fund, said an informal consultation it had carried out with around 800 residents in the Manston area showed that 90% supported its proposal to revive the airport as an airfreight hub, while 8% said they opposed the plan and 2% said they were not yet sure.
The results of the survey, carried out by lawfirm Bircham Dyson Bell, were dismissed by current majority owner of the site, Stone Hill Park, that said the informal consultation does not meet the standard required for a government development consent order (DCO).
It also said the consultation had been carried out by supporters of the scheme.
Stone Hill Park spokesperson Ray Mallon said: “In planning terms there is only one type of consultation that matters and that’s formal consultation.
“RiverOak should have done that in the first place and met the deadline they set instead of wasting people’s time.
“Any organisation seeking to genuinely consult with the public would engage only qualified professionals to carry out this consultation. Instead RiverOak have admitted that they also used activists from a pro-airport group.
“It has now emerged that not all feedback provided by local residents at these events has been included in the final assessment, which renders the results about as reliable as an election in North Korea.”
Stone Hill Park aims to turn the airport into a housing, business and leisure estate.
However, RiverOak has since hit back saying the comments made by Stone Hill are “innacurate and misleading”.
“We felt we had no option but to respond to their deliberate misinterpretation of our approach to community engagement, which is one of the largest and most comprehensive seen in this part of the country,” RiverOak said.
“We recently held a non-statutory consultation so that we could get feedback from all interested parties to help inform the development of our plans. 
“Several supporters of our project provided voluntary services during the events allowing us to engage with members of the local community.
“We received more than 800 responses, with the vast majority supporting our proposals.   We are, however, taking all the feedback into account as our plans progress and take it all, supportive or otherwise, very seriously.
“Stone Hill Park’s assertion that not all responses were included in the feedback figures is completely without foundation.”
However, it did admit that the law firm said one response that a local resident claimed had been submitted could not be traced.
“To ensure this resident’s views are included, we offered to accept a further response from them and treat it as if it was submitted during the consultation period, and we await this,” RiverOak said.
RiverOak also said it planned to carry out a statutory consultation and that the deadline of September 5, which Stone Hill said the developer had missed, applied to the non-statutory consultation.
“This followed advice from the Planning Inspectorate at a meeting in April that we should avoid overlap in the timing of the non-statutory, statutory and scoping report consultation activities and so help make it clear to the community what was happening and when.”
There is also a dispute over access to the site with RiverOak claiming Stone Hill is not allowing it to enter.
Stone Hill Park say this is because parts of the site are owned by the government and no one is allowed access.
In July, River Oak submitted its plans for the airport, which will feature an airfreight and cargo facility with the capacity to handle more than 10,000 air transport movements of cargo aircraft per year.

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