The High Court has quashed the UK Government’s plans to reopen Manston Airport as a freight hub due to a “lack of adequate reasons” for the ambitious project.

The Transport Secretary’s decision

Landowners, RiverOak Strategic Partners (RSP), want to reopen the runway as a cargo base to provide an alternative airport to other South East runways already working at full capacity.

However, the High Court’s decision has blocked the Development Consent Order (DCO) given to the Kent airport by Transport Secretary Grant Shapps last year. A DCO is a piece of legislation by the Secretary of State that gives consent to develop nationally significant infrastructure projects.

It means now the airport will need to have the DCO renewed by The Secretary of State in the next three months. However, this time frame can be extended.

Manston Airport in Kent
Manston Airport in Kent © Wiki Commons

The judicial review of Manston Airport

Since the DCO was approved last year, campaigners have raised nearly £90,000 to hold a judicial review in an attempt to reverse the plans. The page was set up by Jenny Dawes, Chair of the Ramsgate Coastal Community Team and has received over 1000 pledges. The site says, “the development at Manston will handle the noisiest and most polluting type of aircraft with planes not even allowed at Heathrow.”

In July last year, the DCO was given to the airport despite an investigation from the Examining Authority that stated: “it failed to demonstrate sufficient need for the proposed development.”

On Monday, an official consent order was issued from the court saying the DCO was quashed and that the Secretary of State and RSP will have to pay the claimant the legal costs.

Anne-Marie Nixey, Chair or Ramsgate Town Council and supporter of the Judicial Review said: “It is crucial that people are made aware what the prospect is and the effect it will have on their lives and surrounding area. Cargo planes tend to be the heavier older planes, used for freight before being put out to pasture, the impact of this onto schools, peoples lives and health are critical to consider before you glibly pass a decision. The planning inspectorate did. We always wanted to know why the Secretary of State over ruled that.”

She added: “We await the next part of the process where the Secretary of State asks for evidence of need, especially as he has conceded in that area. If he still says the DCO stands, we continue to fight. The Judicial Review also took on board the Carbon Zero aspect of the scheme and found it very much wanting. Isn’t that something that any council should be concerned about for their residents? We would therefore continue to back Ms Dawes against this proposal for the benefit of the town and its residents.”

Cargo planes at Manston Airport in Kent
Saudia Cargo at Manston Airport © Wiki Commons

What the future holds

If the plans do go ahead, RSP’s multimillion redevelopment will build new cargo facilities and aircraft stands, improve the passenger terminal and road access and invest in the RAF Manston & Hurricane Spitfire Museums. It would strive to open in 2023.

Despite Manston Airport serving in both world wars and operating 50 years of commercial flights, the airport closed in 2014 due to financial difficulties.  The dormant space is now used as a post-Brexit lorry park whilst it awaits a decision.

What do you think about the future of Manston Airport reopening as a freight hub? Do you think it is needed, and would it be a success considering its proximity to Heathrow and Gatwick? Let us know below.

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22 comments
  1. Thank you for reporting on this important story. The quashing of the DCO by the High Court is an excellent step in the right direction for the rebuilding of post-Covid Britain with climate change at the heart of all decisions made. Even before the pandemic, the opening of a cargo hub in an inaccessible corner of East Kent made no sense. After extensive investigation, the Govt’s own Planning Inspectors advised that the new incarnation of the airport should not go ahead. The environmental effect and pollution of those a few hundred feet under the flight path would have been catastrophic. The cargo operation would have borne no relation to the small airport of before and even that repeatedly went bust. No need for a freight airport at Manston, no benefit, no good for the planet, no sense – no brainer!

  2. Yet another example of this government trying to ignore expert advice. 4 experienced planning experts took many months to consider evidence submitted from thousands of interested parties and having held a detailed examination concluded there was no need proven for an airport at Manston as supported by the governments own aviation consultants York Aviation amongst others. In addition the inspectors concluded that the development would also prevent the UK from achieving climate change targets. It’s a complete mystery as to why, given all the evidence and the examiners conclusion that the DCO should be refused that the Secretary of State ignored it all. Let’s hope that the SoS now respects the examiners decision and refuses the DCO.

  3. Kent International Airport closed in 2014 after repeated failures to achieve profitability. Its isolated position, lack of piped aviation fuel, small customer base and proximity to nearby population all rendered it unfeasible. None of these fundamentals has changed. Instead a vanity project supported by the two local MPs and supposedly funded by unknown investors has divided the community, on the one hand promising many thousands of jobs (the number regularly downgraded and the catchment widened) and on the other promising the destruction of the burgeoning leisure industries, health and welfare of Thanet. The Planning Inspectorate, after detailed consideration of a huge volume of submissions, correctly decided the airport was not viable, not necessary and should not be approved. For reasons known only to himself the Secretary of State ignored this advice and gave the go-ahead. This has been rightly quashed by the court, and 7 years of wasted opportunity to turn Manston into something better than a polluting and unwelcome airport continues. The MPs involved should hang their heads in shame.

  4. Nowhere in the world is there a town of 40,000 1 mile from the end of a runway, long since required for military defense purposes. Ramsgate has been held hostage to the threat of RSP for too long, and thousands of people remember the misery of night flights and training flights and are now horrified at the prospect of a DCO application requiring flight movements hugely in excess of the old low numbers which were bad enough. What we cannot understand is the ongoing obsessive support of Roger Gale MP and how he is allowed to be the self confessed PR Marketing department for RSP. Between Roger and Craig Mackinlay, the MP for Thanet South and the owner of his own airline, there is nothing but contempt for those with legitimate concerns about horrific noise and pollution. In fact, their anti outsider anti development rhetoric drives a stake through community relations and creates a backward looking and offensive environment for those choosing to move to the sea. We are sick of being bullied into somehow this cargo hub misery being our own fault, we’re told to move, we’re told we’re stupid for moving to an area with a knackered up old closed airport run repeatedly bust by a struck off solicitor. Somehow, a small minority of plane spotters are allowed to ride roughshod over a community of people forced to pay for their own flight path analytics because RSP continued to submit poor quality content. We were grateful and impressed by the thorough examination which concluded iltj9s cargo hub was a very bad idea, especially impact on Ramsgate and that no proven need was documented or found. And yet what? The SoS for Transport said yes. Shocking treatment of a wonderful community torn apart by a failed aviator and his small merry band of followers claiming amateur unsubstantiated local enthusiast polls as a mandate.

  5. RSP plus our two MPs are trying to inflick on forty thousand residents a severe health threat from the particulates produced by the burning of a gallon of kerosene a second plus the horrendous noise that large low aircraft bring to heavily populated areas. These bad threats have been highlighted by qualified medical experts who have undertaken many investigations world wide. The residents do not want this, and will not put up with it.

  6. Thank for the opportunity to talk to this subject. Might I emphasise however, that the opening paragraph is slightly misleading. It states ‘the Government’s plans to re-open’.

    Let’s make no mistake here, this DCO was brought to the Planning Inspectorate by a commercial enterprise with their financial information firmly off shore. Headed by a man, who not only is a struck off solicitor, for misappropriation of clients finds… 27 times! But one with a legacy of failed airports behind him, please look up Lahr and others, and indeed ran Manston at a loss twice. This is not a Government initiative for the good of the country, this is a business venture, where the need to approve it was found wanting by the detailed research of the Planning Inspectorate. The Government allowed it to be passed, after that (error) they have no part in it.

    It’s information like this that needs to be addressed.

    Anne-Marie Nixey

  7. I think another area where caution needs to be exercised is the belief in assertions by RSP and their champions that this will be a “net carbon zero” airport. Examination of the business plan, which is frankly “back of an envelope” stuff makes no mention of this, and it is highly unlikley that an airport which will need not only its cargo, but also its fuel, freighted in by lorry, can aspire to such a target. Glorious talk of hydrogen electric airplanes and aviation biofuels abound, but we must remember that these technologies are in their infancy. Furthermore, both hydrogen extraction and biofuel manufacture are far from being “green” practices. 95% of Hydrogen extraction worldwide uses fossil fuels at present. Worldwide, forests and woodlands are being destroyed to plant crops for biofuels, and farmland is being turned away from food production, affecting some of the World’s most vulnerable and impoverished communities. It is not only the well-being of Thanet which matters here, it is the planet, and time is running out. Aviation is working hard to improve its image and to be seen to be walking the walk when it comes to greening up, and this is good news for everyone, not least the aviation industry. However, dreams must be kept in check, feet kept on the ground. Important steps forward being made in Cranleigh, for example, with small hydrogen electric passenger planes, are unlikely to find their way to a regional cargo hub for many years, where the old profile of repurposed passenger aircraft, heavily polluting and fuel inefficient, will prevail, no matter how much Sir Roger Gale asserts to the contrary. “Carbon neutral flights are a long way off” wrote aerospace expert Steve Wright from the University of the West of England in “Professional Engineering” earlier this year; “without an absolutely astonishing physics breakthrough, we can’t expect even a regional electric jet until about 2035. I don’t expect the first electric transatlantic passenger flight until about #8221;

    1. Green Hydrogen is already being produced in Thanet using Solar and Windfarm electricity.
      The plan is also to use Electric/Hydrogen barges from Ramsgate Port to the Port of London on the Thames Estuary. It will be fantastic to have the Port used again. It is hoped to be using Hydrogen on Manston Airport by 2030, to supplement the initial solar power from roof-top solar arrays. A major tree-planting process will also be started in Thanet, as soon as the Manston Airport development is confirmed.

      1. New Scientist 5th February 2021.
        An article by Adam Vaughan entitled Hope or Hype. Hydrogen aviation: Gas has been used for aviation for decades. ‘Blau gas’ was used as a buoyancy compensation fuel on the LZ127 Graf Zeppelin in the interwar years and of course she used cu ft of hydrogen as a lifting agent. Recently Hydrogen has been proposed as the wonder fuel for aviation to cut its carbon emissions. So far Airbus has an aircraft design which might be in production by + Whitney are testing a new design of engine in Florida, but there is nothing on the market now. Of course, airships might return and carry air cargo, using hydrogen for lift and fuel, but the market would have to send buying signals for investment to take place, and of course airships do not need long runways. They can deliver cargo where it is needed, without requiring much infrastructure. Then there is the hydrogen itself. Grey hydrogen is the current product derived from hydrocarbons in oil refineries and plastic production facilities, so the carbon footprint is significant. Blue hydrogen is the same with carbon capture but has not been done on an industrial scale yet. Green hydrogen uses electrolysis but requires 50-55 kilowatt hours per kg of Hydrogen. Your house will typically use 8kw hour of energy in a day. It can be done, and we have the WindPower to do it, but not now. So, any individual suggesting that the airport will be green or could use hydrogen, is full of hot air.

  8. This is great news on so many levels; residents of Ramsgate, Thanet and futher into East Kent will be spared the damaging effects of this grim project. The UK will have a better chance of of achieving environmental sustainability, assuming it genuinely wishes to. And this sort of positive lead can have an impact with global reach.
    It has already been mentioned in these comments that this is not a government project and this is true as far as the public facing representation of the plans is concerned. But you do have to wonder whether there is more going on. Why have both local (conservative) MPs been so supportive of the applicants? And why did the secretary of state take the surprising step of setting aside the extremely professional and well researched work of the team of planning inspectors? I am not always a fan of the judiciary but this is the correct decision. And it is very good to see that the government is now finding that it is not so easy to ignore the work of inspectors in DCOs. This is not an isolated example.

  9. Many polls, elections and Council votes over some decades have shown that 80% to 90% of the people of East Kent and Thanet are desperate for Manston Airport to reopen.
    Why ? Many reasons, but chiefly they are desperate for the many thousands of jobs Manston Airport will bring. Thanet is a highly deprived area. There is also the fact that we have to allow 3 hours to drive round the M25 to Heathrow, vs 35 minutes to Amsterdam hub, when KLM was flying from Manston Airport.
    The alternative to Manston being an Airport (and it is only zoned for Aviation) is 10,000 more houses and 25,000 more cars.

    1. The claimed support for this project continues to be ludicrously overstated. The last time it failed, the couple of flights a day were attracting fewer than 50 passengers. Voters in Ramsgate, which would suffer the most, returned at the last local election candidates who opposed the freight hub proposal. It is now nearly seven years since Manston closed and, apart from the fewer than 150 jobs lost at the time, the only effect on the area has been less pollution. The inspectors’ recommendation to reject the DCO was measured and reasonable. The Secretary of State’s refusal to accept their findings was perverse and has been rightly challenged.

  10. The Manston DCO and acceptance letter have only been withdrawn temporarily, so the Secretary of State can give more comprehensive reasons for the need. The decision to approve a unique, state of the art cargo hub, hasn’t changed.
    The majority of Thanet residents want and desperately need the jobs and prosperity the airport will bring. An understandable and very small but loud minority under the flight path don’t want it.
    The freight side of Manston has always been successful, so the prospect for RSP to be given the chance to invest heavily in a brand new, modern, eco-friendly cargo hub at Manston Airport, is thrilling for Kent and the UK.

    1. Let us focus on facts. It has been quashed, not temporarily withdrawn. The SoS now either needs to redo his decision for a yes or a no, chuck it all in, or delay it. The majority of residents do not want a cargo hub, unemployment has declined since the last time it went bust. Freight was never successful. RSP investors are overseas and shrouded in secrecy and nobody knows who they are. These are the facts.

  11. Indeed Manston Airport is back in the news, it is still an Airport, albeit dormant . The owners RiverOak Strategic Partners have excellent plans to redevelop the site into probably the the “greenest “ airport in the world…They have the advantage of starting with a blank
    Technology is key, every possible innovation is to be incorporated, from LED lighting, use of electric vehicles onsite, using power generated by wind, solar, and buildings will have aesthetic and sound deadening features inbuilt, keeping the profile low, and as unintrusive as possible.
    The area of East Kent within which Manston is situated is an acknowledged area of deprivation and high unemployment…The airport will create jobs with prospects, training facilities created, engineering apprenticeships, and many other ancillary jobs related to the Aviation and freight handling business both on and off site.
    Whilst the current pandemic has caused havoc in the world of air passenger travel, freight movements have increased worldwide.
    As normality returns to the world Air Freight will continue to grow, and “slots” for cargo will again become reduced due to increasing passenger traffic, so showing the need for Manston as a dedicated cargo hub.
    Those opposed to the airport reopening have been very vocal, and have resorted to the low tactics of mud slinging, the Judicial Review has NOT been tested in Court, as they Crown Lawyers withdrew, thus putting the onus on the Secretary of State to rewrite sections of his Letter setting out his reasons to Grant the DCO for Manstons redevelopment….
    This will soon be done, Doubtless far more robus and comprehensive than before…
    Somehow I can’t see any further attempt at a JR being
    Let’s hope when the current use as a Border Checkpoint for HGVs ceases in June, that the earth movers can begin the task of getting Manston to a fully operational and profitable Airport.

    1. The greenest airport in the world is hot air and unsubstantiated. There is also no mention of these green credentials in the DCO application. As a reminder, RSP also chose not to defend their position in the court at JR alongside the DoT. Jobs figures are also hot air and unsubstantiated, as too are these vocal claims to speak on behalf of the unemployed. Last time it went bust, it employed less than 150. You can’t just wish an airport.

  12. – Poor Manston airport ! In an area of over 12% unemployment – a Secretary of State decision to turn it into a large air Freight Hub creating thousands of jobs had just been quashed by a group of nimbies saying it is not in the spirit of going green ! The land is needed for housing ! Housing in an area with no jobs ! Guess who scuppered the development plan – Rich second home Londoners with no need for work or jobs !majority of those against have only lived in Thanet this century and with poor eyesight !! as they failed to see the airport which has been here since 1916 !

    1. It matters not one jot who it was that launched the JR. Either the SoS’s actions were lawful, or they were not.
      He has accepted that his decision was unlawful (so much so that he withdrew before the court date, as did RSP).
      Much has been said about the popularity of the Manston project in Thanet. Some years ago the Thanet District Council held a consultation about night flights at Manston Airport. The majority of respondents said “No!”.
      Other than that, there has been no audited, credible poll. The much vaunted ones mentioned here were not verified: people from all over the world could post multiple times. One “poll” had such worthiness as Biggles, Nick D. Radar and R. Suppards making their voices heard.
      A trawl of the responses on the PINS website showed a majority against the opening of the airport.

  13. This airport plan should not have even made it to DCO level as their has been many professional viability reports made that do not give it a flying chance of success. The truth is that it is a multiple failed plan because of it’s location and lack of any credible support from any buisness involved with flying passengers or freight.
    The current owner and spokesman has a checkered history of trying to run an airport in several countries which all failed badly leaving them in debt. Mr Fraudeman is a failed solicitor also. This whole dream is just that, a dream that shouldn’t come true. It would destroy a beautiful environment in Thanet with it’s tourism trade on the coast. There would be few jobs that go with it for locals and it would cause an environmental catastrophe for the whole area.
    On top of the viability reports the Planning Inspectorate spent many months collecting evidence for the DCO and rejected it as a non starter. The Secretary of State Grant Shapps, who incidentally is an aeroplane owner himself, passed the decision making over to a minister in the office to take it and he would have been under preassure from lobbying from the MP for Thanet North Sir Roger Gale who is a very keen friend of the ex Manston airport owner and is himself in fact the president of the All Party Parliamentary Group on General Aviation. He has been pushing for this plan to materialise against the greater views of his constituents by telling the media that everyone wants this freight airport which is just not true. He has hoodwinked the local and national media to believe his biased view.
    Thanet is under pressure with this plan by a man with a pipe dream and two MP’s who are both heavily into aviation, the second Mr Craig Mackinlay for Thanet South also owning his own aeroplane. So you see, Thanet has not much hope to show it’s real views on an airport and get over to all that the residents mainly do not want or need a polluting freight airport in the middle of it destroying the peace and tranquillity of the residential area. The court order was the correct way to make the SOS think again about his actions on ignoring the recommendations of the government planning inspectorate (PINS).

  14. The DCO application was not a government initiative. It was launched by RiverOak Strategic Partners, a company set up specifically for this purpose. RSP is fronted by Tony Freudmann, an ex-solicitor struck off for embezzelling clients’ funds. Behind RSP is a mysterious company based in the tax haven of the British Virgin Islands.
    One has to wonder about the grasp on reality of someone who advocates the use of electric barges to move air freight. Consider: freight is flown into Manston, unloaded from the aircraft, loaded onto trucks, driven to Ramsgate Port a couple of miles away, offloaded from the trucks onto electric barges, navigated down the Thames to a wharf somewhere, offloaded from the barges onto trucks, then driven to its final destination.
    Or, you could just leave it on the plane, skip Manston, Ramsgate, electric barge etc and fly straight to EMA.

  15. To me the reopening of the airport would serve as an beacon of hope that thanet can prosper and once again be an area of respect not an joke. There are so many new quiter and non poluting aircraft in the air and on the ground due to covid and with technical advances ongoing there will be more. I hope that those who don’t want the airport will consider this.

    1. Carbon neutral cargo aviation is about 20 years away. Even then, noise remains huge. Ramsgate is now the largest economy in Thanet, fuelled by huge increases in the tourism and creative sectors. The inspectors concluded a cargo hub would kill more jobs than it creates. These are the realities of these plans.

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