Government grants Manston DCO to allow the airport to re-open, against Planning Inspectorate recommendation



Kent airport gets green light to reopen as international hub

Ministers overrule planners on Manston airport as critics point to noise and emissions impact

Developers have been given permission to rebuild Manston airport as an international cargo and passenger hub, after ministers overruled the planning inspectorate’s recommendation to reject the scheme.

The airport in Kent could open by 2023, handling up to 10,000 cargo flights a year as well as passenger services, with construction starting as early as next year.

The plans have divided local communities, with some welcoming the promise of additional jobs, but others dismayed at the noise and pollution airport expansion will bring.

The decision to grant a development consent order for the scheme against the recommendations of inspectors was officially taken by the transport minister Andrew Stephenson, with the secretary of state, Grant Shapps, recused to avoid any conflict of interest.

Inspectors warned that the plans “will have a material impact on the ability of government to meet its carbon reduction targets, including carbon budgets”, and that climate change was another factor that “weighs against the granting of development consent”.

Opponents have argued that it is incompatible with emissions targets, and could create a precedent for more expansion. It comes in spite of the Heathrow third runway scheme being thrown out by courts, because the government’s airport policy failed to properly take into account Britain’s climate change commitments.

The decision was released the day after the government launched its Net Zero board to advise on its transport decarbonisation plan.

The reopening of Manston Airport has been a policy championed by UKIP as well as local Conservative MPs since it closed in 2014. Manston had been bought for a nominal £1 a year earlier by Stagecoach co-founder Ann Gloag, and was later sold to rival developers and earmarked for housing.

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.”

North Thanet MP Sir Roger Gale said: “This national asset has been closed for far too long but it can now play a critical role in delivering jobs and investment… Post-Brexit Britain is going to need additional air freight capacity and Manston can offer this swiftly.”

A spokesperson for the local No Night Flights campaign group said there was no evidence that the airport would bring jobs: “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.”

Green Party transport spokesperson Caroline Russell said members would continue to campaign to “try and prevent this senseless act, which places the economic benefit of a small number of people ahead of the wellbeing of everybody else”.


The Development Consent Order, approved by the Government – Grant Shapps, the Secretary of State for Transport


The recommendation by the Planning Inspectorate in October 2019

Summary of recommendation: The Examining Authority recommends that the Secretary of State should not grant development consent. If however the Secretary of State decides to give consent, then the Examining Authority recommends that the Order should be in the form attached at Appendix D to this report, subject to the Secretary of State’s consideration of the recommended actions listed in Annex E.

Manston Airport site near Ramsgate to become freight cargo air hub

Plans to transform Manston Airport into a freight cargo air hub have today been given the green light – paving the way for hundreds of jobs to be created and a £300 million boost to east Kent.

Transport ministers were due to rule on the future of the site back in January and then May, but both times the decision was delayed.

But the government has now granted a Development Consent Order enabling the airport, owned by RiverOak Strategic Partners (RSP), to reopen.

It will become 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 planning inspectorate had recommended the government should not grant consent to the DCO.

But the Secretary of State’s approval letter published today says there is “a clear case of need for the development”.

The former Manston Airport. Picture: Chris Davey
The former Manston Airport. Picture: Chris Davey

It adds: “The development would support the government’s policy objective to make the UK one of the best-connected countries in the world and for the aviation sector to make a significant contribution to economic growth of the UK”.

The letter continues: “The Secretary of State accepts that there is the potential for short term congestion and delays on the local road system caused by the Development to occur before appropriate mitigation is delivered; however, he considers that the residual cumulative impacts would not be severe and gives limited weight to these effects.

“He concludes that the need and public benefits that would result from the development clearly outweigh the heritage harm and the harm that may be caused to the tourist industry in Ramsgate.”

Sarah Richards, chief executive of the planning inspectorate, said: “The planning inspectorate is committed to giving local communities the opportunity of being involved in the examination of projects that may affect them.

“Local people, the local authority and other interested parties were able to participate in a six-month long examination. The examining authority listened and gave full consideration to local views before making their recommendation.”

RSP, which first applied for the DCO in 2018, hopes to create hundreds of jobs at the site and potentially thousands within the supply chain.

But the proposal had been met with fierce opposition from some, with opponents voicing fears about its viability, air pollution and noisy night flights, among a host of other concerns.

North Thanet MP Sir Roger Gale welcomed today’s announcement.

He said: “This decision reflects the wishes of the majority of the people of Thanet.

“I applaud the determination of those who have worked so hard in support of this cause and the commitment of RiverOak who, since the airport was closed, have not wavered in their determination to see Manston re-opened as a freight hub and, subsequently, as a passenger and general aviation airfield again.

“I hope that Kent County Council and, particularly, Thanet District Council will now unreservedly throw their weight behind this job-creating project.

“£300 million of inward investment is a sum that East Kent has never seen before.

“The capacity to create good, long term employment is colossal.

“This would be good news for Thanet and good news for the country at any time but in the middle of an economically devastating pandemic is a shot in the arm for the nation.

“We know that there is a long haul ahead and that it will be at least a couple of years before we see wheels landing on tarmac again but the starting gun has been fired and now we can get on with the real task of creating a state-of-the-art zero-carbon airport.

“When it re-opens, Manston is planned to be the most environmentally friendly airfieldin the world and that will send a clear signal that a new Britain is very much open for business.

“Manston has been at the front line of the Battle for Britain in the past and I look forward to seeing an inaugural Spitfire landing on that famous runway again within my parliamentary lifetime.”

South Thanet MP Craig Mackinlay expressed his delight with the decision.

He said: “We can now get Manston up and flying again providing post-Brexit Britain with the additional airfreight and passenger capacity we need.

“The re-opening of Manston will generate a substantial number of jobs in a relatively short period of time. East Kent stands out as an area of high unemployment compared to South East norms; we have an asset in Manston that can play a key role in improving the economic strength of our area.

“The reality is that high value global trade will continue to be transported by aircraft. Manston has been an airport for more than a hundred years, is designated an airport in the Local Plan and provides a ‘spade ready’ and rapid solution to assist in the country’s new global position outside the EU.

“I look forward to working with RSP, Sir Roger Gale MP, as well as our local authorities and central government to deliver on the promises I made at successive elections to support the re-opening of Manston Airport.

“After what has been a very challenging time for everyone, this is news that should put a spring in our step. A great day for Thanet.”

Manston closed for business in 2014 and has since found itself at the centre of a tug-of-war over its future.

RSP hopes cargo flights will resume at the site, but the possibility of passenger flights operating from Manston is less certain, with the firm saying it is not ruling out the idea, but stating its focus is initially on developing the site near Ramsgate for freight.

Prior to the delay of the decision in January, RSP had hoped, if approved, the hub could reopen by 2022.


The airport closed in 2014, with owner Ann Gloag deciding to pull down the shutters in a move that seemed to sound the death knell for Manston.

A service to Amsterdam run by Dutch airline KLM, looked as though it would earn a footnote in Manston’s history as the last to operate out of the airport.

It was then sold to developers Stone Hill Park, who set out ambitious plans to redevelop the huge site for thousands of homes and businesses.

But in a late twist to the long-running saga, in July 2019 the two partners in Stone Hill Park announced they had sold the site to RSP.


The former owners formally withdrew their opposition to the DCO application being made by what had been their rivals.

As a result, the planning inspectorate was no longer required to consider the case for a Compulsory Purchase Order. However, under the process they were required to consider other representations from other parties and have had to take into account the financial viability of RSP’s plans.

RSP had argued the site could sustain a cargo hub, saying the air freight market is “ripe for an alternative to the overcrowded London airports system”.

After several delays, the DCO was finally approved today.


See earlier:

Manston DCO decision postponed to May – but would be the first since the Appeal Court ruling on climate impact

Though it has not had much publicity outside east Kent, the application to turn Manston  (which has been closed as an airport since May 2014) into a freight airport could be an important case. It was the first airport to have to take its plans through the DCO (Development Consent Order) process, dependant on the Airports National Policy Statement (ANPS). Manston is a crazy place to have a freight airport, being at the north eastern tip of Kent, miles from anywhere. It always failed as an airport in the past, largely due to its location. The Heathrow runway has been blocked by the Court of Appeal, which ruled (27th March)  the ANPS is illegal, as it did not take carbon emissions into account properly. That has implications for Manston’s plans. Already before the Court judgment, the Manston DCO had been delayed from 18th January, to 18th May.  The initial DCO application had nothing on carbon emissions. Something was finally added, because of pressure from local campaigners. Now lawyers say the decision about Manston’s DCO could have implications for other airport DCOs in future including Gatwick and Luton, as well as Heathrow.

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Delay till May for Shapps to decide whether to allow Manston Development Consent Order (“DCO”)

The decision by the DfT on whether to re-open Manston as an airport again for air cargo has been delayed for four months. It had been expected on 18th January.  The airport has been closed since 2014. RiverOak Strategic Partners, the consortium behind the scheme, had applied for the airport to be considered as a nationally significant infrastructure project. Having had 3 months to digest the Planning Inspectorates’ report, the DfT now want more information from RiverOak by 31 January. The Secretary of State (SoS) Grant Shapps has set a new deadline of 18 May 2020 for the decision to be made. The Aviation Strategy is expected before summer recess, with the DfT consultation on climate imminent, so the DfT are giving themselves until May to avoid shooting themselves in the foot on carbon, as they did with Flybe.  RiverOak are trying to argue that Manston could be successful on cargo, as “the air freight market is ripe for an alternative to the overcrowded London airports system”. Some people in the area are hoping Manston could provide jobs; others are deeply concerned about the noise from old freighter aircraft during the night, flying over residential areas (the approach path is right over Ramsgate).

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Manston airport decision before long, after Planning Inspectorate sends recommendation to Grant Shapps

Government planners, the Planning Inspectorate (PINS) , have made their decision on whether a bid to reopen Manston Airport as a cargo hub should be backed. The recommendations have been sent to Transport Secretary of State (SoS) Grant Shapps, who  has 3 months to decide whether to grant planning permission to site owners RiverOak Strategic Partners (RSP) in the form of a Development Consent Order (DCO). The decision is made the SoS because the airport re-opening is considered a Nationally Significant Infrastructure Project (NSIP) which is not decided by a local authority. It the SoS approves the plans, the owners RSP will probably use the airport primarily for air cargo.  In July Stone Hill, the site’s previous owners, agreed to sell the land to RSP for £16.5m, instead of their plan to build up to 3,700 homes on it.  The tonnage of air freight has risen by only 11% in the UK in the past 10 years, with most going through Heathrow. But RSP says “there has been continuing growth in the air freight cargo market, driven chiefly by the increase in e-commerce and … e-fulfillment…”  Manston re-opening will be strenuously opposed by local people, largely to noise over Ramsgate, from old, noisy freighters, often at night.

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Manston airport has another possible chance to take cargo planes in future

Manston, once named as Kent International, was shut down four years ago. Plans to turn it into a cargo airport will be subjected to a public inquiry.  An application to upgrade the airfield and reopen it primarily as a cargo airport was accepted by the government’s Planning Inspectorate.  Its ambitions to be a cargo airport come from the days when it was touted as a viable alternative to Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted when, for a time, it traded under the name Kent International Airport. It was used by old, noisy and often clapped-out planes, that caused serious noise nuisance to residents of Ramsgate, where houses are situated on the approach path, almost up to the airport – and planes flew at night. The plans put forward by Riveroak Strategic Partners, Manston’s proposed operator, must first be subjected to a public inquiry in which local people can express their views. Cargo could perhaps be transferred onto the road system, from the airport. But its location, so far out to the north east of Kent, is far from ideal for any sort of airport.  In 2012, Flybe and KLM launched services from Manston in the mistaken belief that it could be a passenger airport.

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