Kent’s Manston Airport in the UK southeast has been sold for redevelopment to regeneration specialists Trevor Cartner and Chris Musgrave.
The airport closed in May this year, just four months after it was bought for £1 ($1.64) by Scottish Transport millionairess Ann Gloag. Cartner and Musgrave met with her recently and “swiftly reached agreement to acquire a majority interest,” they said in statement.
The two new owners are part of the Discovery Park consortium that is transforming the former Pfizer research facility in Sandwich, Kent into a business park. They have similar plans for Manston and envisage a £1 billion redevelopment of the 800-acre site, over a 20-year period, into a mixed-use scheme helping to create more than 4,000 jobs.
Plans are likely to include production and warehousing space, addressing a current shortage in the Thanet region, aimed at attracting a wide range of businesses as well as housing, shops, schools and community facilities. The redeveloped site will not, however, include an airport.
Musgrave said: “Whilst it is too early to be specific about our plans, we will be looking to comprehensively redevelop the whole site to create a mixed-use community. This is in light of the fact that the airport has closed, the equipment has been sold and it will not reopen. We are aware that there were a number of job losses when the airport closed and a far greater number will replace these, and that the benefits will reach the whole of east Kent.”
In response to a petition presented in July this year, Thanet District Council is part-way through a process to review whether compulsory purchase of the site is a viable option. The outcome of soft-market testing to identify suitable indemnity partners to cover the costs of a CPO will be presented to cabinet Oct. 16, with a final decision on compulsory purchase of the privately owned site to be made at a later Full Council meeting.
Government Minister Grant Shapps visited the airport site last week and committed to work with the district council as it explores the compulsory purchase option. He said: “I’m here from government to say we back you and we are on your side.”
Thanet District Council said it had consistently “been clear that a CPO will not go ahead unless there is evidence of the economic viability of the site operating as an airport and a suitable investor identified to cover all of the costs required.”
US investment firm RiverOak, which had made an eleventh hour bid to rescue the airport before it was finally closed, insisted it would continue to push for a CPO and urged Thanet District Council “to maintain its resolve to compulsorily purchase the site.” Gloag did not disclose why she rejected the RiverOak bid to buy the airport, but in a statement the US company said: “Our commitment to underwriting the costs of the CPO remains firm, as does our long-term plan to invest in the airport, redeveloping it in a sustainable way for the community.”
RiverOak said “Given Manston’s strategic location and the urgent need for additional runway capacity in the southeast, it remains important to reopen Manston as an airport as soon as possible.”
RiverOak said its own long-term plans to own and manage Manston primarily as a cargo hub and aviation engineering base would “ensure Manston cannot only play its part in reviving the East Kent economy, but also support the thousands of current jobs, in airport-related firms around Manston, that have been left in limbo by Ms Gloag’s abrupt closure of the airport.”