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Updated Aug 24, 2022

Development consent order granted for Manston Airport

Karl McCartney, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Transport, has granted a development consent order (DCO) for works to reopen Manston Airport, Kent, as an international freight airport primarily.

This is the second time that RiverOak Strategic Partners' (RSP) Nationally Significant Infrastructure Project (NSIP) application has been determined.

In July 2020, then transport minister Andrew Stephenson grated the DCO after two deferrals. In February 2021 this DCO was overturned by the High Court, and the application was sent back for redetermination. Transport secretary Grant Shapps excused himself from determining the application due to a conflict of interest.

RSP plans to reopen and develop Manston Airport into a "dedicated air freight facility able to handle at least 10,000 air cargo movements per year whilst also offering passenger, executive travel, and aircraft engineering services".

The proposals include the use of the existing infrastructure and the building of new facilities, including:

  • upgrading runways;
  • constructing 65,500 square metres of cargo facilities; and
  • construction of a new air traffic control tower.

The Planning Inspectorate concluded that RSP had "failed to demonstrate sufficient need for the proposed development, additional to (or different from) the need which is met by the provision of existing airports, and that is important and relevant against the case for development consent being given".

It found that the socio-economic benefits from the development weighed "moderately" in its favour and added "considerable weight" to its public benefits. The Planning Inspectorate considered its effect on air quality, biodiversity, ground conditions, landscape and visual impact, and water resources, as neutral when considering the application.

Climate change, heritage assets, and traffic and transport were considered to weigh against granting the development consent and overall the Planning Inspectorate concluded that the benefits of the development would not outweigh its impacts, and that the Secretary of State should not grant the DCO.

McCartney noted that the Planning Inspectorate decided that the levels of freight that Manston Airport would be expected to handle "are modest" and could be catered for at existing airports if demand existed.

RSP responded to the consultation on the statement of matters during the redetermination process, contending that need is mentioned only in the paragraph of the Airports National Policy Statement (ANPS) that states: "The government accepts that it may well be possible for existing airports to demonstrate sufficient need for their proposals, additional to (or different from) the need which is met by the provision of a Northwest Runway at Heathrow".

RSP said the ANPS gives no further explanation as to what "sufficient" means in this context and argued that the Planning Inspectorate's report "largely assumes that need is determinative as to whether the DCO should be granted, but does not agree that this should be the case".

McCartney agreed with RSP that the ANPS does not provide an explanation of "sufficient need" and also did not agree with the way in which the Planning Inspectorate attempted to establish whether there is a need for the development. Considering the expected benefits of job creation, and the potential negative impacts such as congestion and delays on the local road system, he is "of the view that the potential negative impacts do not outweigh the projected benefits".