Brokenshire Needs to Make Swift Decision Over Future of RAF Manston and the Thanet Local Plan

The documents for the DCO application.

The MHLG has taken over the Thanet Local Plan after the former UKIP minority council failed to agree a submission local plan with RAF Manston going for housing as proposed by the sites owners.

Now we have an epic stand off between:

River Oak who propose an Air Hub via the DCO process.  (temporary withdrawn yesterday over validity issues after discussion with the Planning Inspectorate),the first airport DCO application to have been made under the Planning Act 2008,

and the SIte Owner Stone Hill who yesterday submitted plans for 3,700 homes on the site. 

At the same time consultants have been appointed to further the local plan, with the SoS still hoping the County council might bite the bullet and take over.

Notwithstanding the applications – which need to be determined on their merits – the DCO process not subject to the presumption in favour of the plan and the planning application against the presumption in favour of development – the policy decision on the preferred land use stands above this.  It need not and should not wait the outcome of either process.

Of course if the DCO were approved it would require CPO, and Thanet DC have sought and found an indemnity partner, which River Oak now are proposing to guarantee (with CPO automatically available via the DCO process),  and if the planning application were approved the alternative use value of the land would rule out the CPO on viability grounds.  hence the parallel competitive nature of both applications.

The DCO would be determined by the Airports NPS, out for consultation since June, however this doesn’t answer at at the strategic question – how to handle the shortfall in airfreight capacity that would exist by 2030 even if an extra runway were built at Gatwick or Heathrow.

In one sense the consultants for the local plan are caught in the middle as it depends on ministerial decisions by the SoS transport and SoS MHLG that stand above the local plan process.

In one sense it shows the conflicts that can exist with the DCO regime, in the absence of proper strategic planning, as we have found with Ebbsfleet.

There are broadly two options to the SOS:

The first is to go with the submission local plan draft with minor amendments.  Which would be backed by the County who switched sides to the ‘plan b’ after the commercial failure of the previous airport operation.  The land use options were debated ad-nausem through the local plan process.  This need not be done again it needs a decision.  A startegic decision need not be delayed by the details of either consent process, which in any event would be guided by the decided policy.

The second is to accept that the site is rather good as a airfreight hub being close to the channel ports, especially if it had rail access, and this could increase capacity at passenger airports, and crucially that River Oak are finally the big boys with the specialist freight knowledge to make this happen.  However this would require another major housing site AND housing for the urbanisation effect of the new airport.  River Oak suggest it could be 30,000 jobs.

If the airfreight hub was viable another large site would have to be found in Thanet, with the coastal location, heavy urbanisation and flood risk the options are limited, though the village of Minster, just south of RAF Marston,  which has a  rail station could be expanded into a garden community.  Critically Stone Hill would need some kind of return and the area around the proposed Manston Parkway station could take 500 houses even with the airport.

The decision on this needs to be taken jointly by the two SoSs after a rapid review over the viability of the Freight proposal.  This should be announced prior to finalisation of the sumbission plan.   Then once the plan is announced the losing proposal would naturally withdraw.