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Monday, 19 October 2009

Telling it like it is

As an antidote to the heavily skewed, unfounded and wishful PR prattle that the ever-supportive Brazier presented to Louise Ellman (chair of the Transport Committee), we sent her the following:
Julian Brazier has written to you claiming that there is widespread public support for more use to be made of Manston airport (Kent International Airport). There isn’t.

Thanet County Council supports the airport and so does Kent County Council. Canterbury City Council, who represents a large constituency under the flight path, has significant concerns about the way in which the airport is regulated and monitored now, let alone what the impact might be were it to expand.
The last public consultation about Manston was carried out by MORI in Thanet in 2005. Focus groups included those most affected by the flight path, i.e. Ramsgate residents. Of those:
  • 67% opposed airport expansion;
  • 78% thought noise and air pollution would be big problems;
  • 90% wanted night flying hours to be restricted.
Thanet District Council says more recent public consultation shows support for the airport. However, they have declined to release the report that would demonstrate this, even when requested to do so by the statutory body set up to lead consultation on Manston, i.e. the Kent International Airport Consultative Committee. Claims that there is widespread support can not be substantiated. Claims that there is widespread opposition can.

Roger Gale MP and Paul Carter (Leader of Kent County Council) are fond of saying that Manston has one of the longest runways in the UK (it hasn’t, thirteen other airports outstrip it) and that it is surrounded on three sides by sea so the impact on people is minimal. A quick look at the map will show you that the runway runs almost exactly East to West. Depending on the wind, planes come in on a straight line either over Ramsgate (pop. 39,600) or Herne Bay (pop. 35,200). That’s a lot of unhappy people on the flight path.

In a recent meeting of Herne Bay councillors, there was unanimous cross-party support for the proposal to get a more balanced debate going about the pros and cons of Manston and to prevent the impact of the airport on Herne Bay from getting worse. This agreement transcended the normal party political divide and can not in any way be described as support for Manston to expand. Local opposition is in response to a number of issues:
  • Manston operates in an unregulated and unmonitored way, with sub standard noise monitoring; a willingness to allow unscheduled flights to land any time day or night; and an unwillingness to levy fines for planes that land outside the S.106 agreement because the Chief Executive does not want the airport to get a reputation as being “difficult”. I can substantiate all this with emails from the airport itself should you need to see more
  • Neither Ramsgate nor Herne Bay is successful. They are both slightly shabby seaside towns whose most sustainable hope for a more prosperous future is tourism. Nobody will visit and spend money in a town or on a beach under a flight path
  • Manston’s PR machine talks about the hundreds to thousands of jobs that will be created if the airport expands. Close inspection shows the vast majority of these jobs to be indirect jobs – jobs that already exist elsewhere in the UK which Manston will notionally be supporting by purchasing fuel etc. The number of real jobs that could be created is tiny. So, we have an airport whose growth plans will blight many lives whilst possibly creating a small number of jobs. As an economic decision about the best thing to do for an area, the airport makes no sense
  • The airport is built right on top of an important aquifer. Whilst the Environment Agency has recognised how critical it is to preserve this aquifer (you will be aware that the South East is the UK area with the biggest mismatch between population size and available water), the airport’s owners have done nothing to ensure that the correct measures are in place to protect it from pollution. It is already contaminated and an expanded airport will worsen the situation considerably
  • None of the infrastructure exists to support expansion. A single carriageway road comes out of the airport and the nearest public transport is three miles’ drive away
  • The airport has been in private ownership for years. Two previous owners have failed to make a go of it. Infratil are still losing money there after four years of ownership. It’s just not a sensible place to have an airport.
So, there is no widespread local support for this airport. What you are hearing is the view of the few that have access to the media - MPs and the airport’s PR consultants. If you tap into the world to which ordinary members of the public have access - blogs; parish councils; local environmental groups – you will see massive opposition to the airport. I would love to see a more balanced debate on the airport’s future instead of being told by politicians who have not consulted the public that we all support the airport. Anything you can do to encourage this would be great.

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