RiverOak gets the go-ahead for Manston cargo hub

By Damian Brett

Manston Terminal 2023

The UK’s Department for Transport has granted permission for Manston Airport to be transformed into an international airfreight hub.

The project developer, RiverOak Strategic Partners (RSP), said it was delighted to have been granted a Development Consent Order (DCO) and announced that construction will begin in 2021, with cargo services expected to start in the first quarter of 2023.

RSP has committed to an investment of £300m to rebuild Manston, which closed in 2014 when it failed as a short-haul airport catering for the local area.

The airport is located around 100 km east of London and will be capable of handling at least 10,000 air cargo movements annually.

Manston will offer 19 stands capable of handling widebody freighters, but also larger types, and will also include a 65,500 sq m cargo facility and a control tower.

RSP has pitched the project on catering for all-cargo aircraft that cannot be catered for at the UK’s congested main airports.

In February, the UK’s court of appeal has ruled that plans for a third runway at London Heathrow airport are unlawful because they do not take into account government commitments relating to climate change – dashing hopes of extra capacity being created at the west London airport.

Tony Freudmann, director of RSP, said: “Once built, Manston will be one of the most modern, efficient and environmentally friendly freight hubs in the world, able to cater for traditional freight as well as the rapidly expanding international e-commerce sector that the UK has so heavily relied upon during the period of lock down.

“After two years of detailed scrutiny of our plans by the Planning Inspectorate and Department for Transport, it is wonderful to have Government support. We can now focus on investing in Thanet and East Kent, creating jobs, and inspiring new generations through our active support for training, education and careers advice for all age groups.”

RSP added that the Covid-19 outbreak had “demonstrated the fragility and inflexibility of the UK’s air cargo network”, which it said “relies almost exclusively on passenger aircraft to carry freight”.

“It is widely accepted that demand for passenger air travel will take a number of years to return to pre-pandemic levels, if it ever does, and so building the UK’s specialist freight capacity has become even more vital,” the developer said.

North Thanet MP, Roger Gale, added: “I am delighted that the Government has given the go-ahead to the redevelopment and reopening of Manston Airport.  This national asset has been closed for far too long but it can now play a critical role in delivering jobs and investment to Thanet, and the wider Kent and UK economy.  Manston has been an airport for more than a hundred years and this decision unlocks many millions of pounds of investment.

“I would like to thank RSP, their investors and my constituents who have campaigned tirelessly since the Airport was closed in 2014 to get it re-opened and who have demonstrated courage and tenacity in their determination to realise Manston’s ‘front line potential’ once again. Post-Brexit Britain is going to need additional airfreight capacity and Manston can offer this swiftly.”

However, the project is likely to face continued opposition from local campaigners that are concerned about the environmental and noise impact of the project.

They point out that the approval goes against the recommendation of the planning inspectorate, which said that the development would affect the UK government’s ability to meet its climate targets.

A spokesperson for the local No Night Flights campaign group told the Guardian newspaper: “We are incredulous that the secretary of state would override a recommendation from the planning inspectorate. We will be reviewing our options to challenge this and protect our town from this horrible blight.”

They fear that RSP “do not want to bring back the small, local airport that people remember fondly – they want a massive cargo hub that is equal to operations at East Midlands Airport”.

Others in the local community welcome the development, hoping that it will bring jobs to the area.

RSP estimates that the airport will create as many as 23,000 jobs.

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