In an extraordinary meeting held last night Thanet District Council (TDC), the first authority in the country to be controlled by UKIP, took a significant step towards fulfilling the party’s key election manifesto pledge to reopen Manston airport following its closure last May. Councillors took just 15 minutes to vote in favour of reviewing the compulsory purchase order (CPO) rejected by the previous Labour administration.
All 33 UKIP councillors voted in favour of the first action of the newly-elected council as did all 18 Conservatives, but Labour, reduced by 22 seats to just four at the recent election, abstained. Ruth Bailey, events coordinator of Supporters of Manston Airport, described the recent election as “effectively a referendum on the future of Manston as an airport…the council was returned with 51/56 seats of pro-Manston councillors.”
UKIP’s manifesto stated “part of the solution to address the lack of airport capacity in the south east is to re-open Manston Airport… Manston is ideally placed to take low-cost airlines and freight only aircraft; it is close to the railway network, enjoys good connections to Ashford International; will release additional capacity in the region and take pressure off other airports.”
The party believes that improvements to Manston, an airport with a history of operations in both World Wars and the Cold War, could provide 20,000 jobs in Thanet. According to financial projections commissioned by Manston’s previous owners and seen by the BBC, it would have lost about £2.5m a year if it stayed open. Conservative MP for North Thanet Sir Roger Gale dismissed the former owners’ figures, saying: “Bear in mind that this document was produced by people who failed to produce a profit who clearly intended to close the airport.”
Council leader Chris Wells has warned that although UKIP is “committed to carrying forward on [its] election pledge” it will not be a quick process as he expects legal challenges from the property developers who currently own the site.
Kent County Council (KCC) leader, Conservative Paul Carter, has expressed doubts about Thanet Council’s proposed CPO of Manston. He recently rejected a request from KCC’s UKIP opposition leader Roger Latchford to lend the county council’s weight to the buyout, saying there was no credible plan to re-open it as an airport. In doing so he finds himself at odds with both the Conservative MPs in Thanet and his party’s local councillors.