Kent

Manston Airport's former owner 'misled Thanet MP'

Manston Airport Image copyright PA
Image caption Manston Airport closed last May with the loss of 150 jobs

The former owner of Manston Airport has been accused of misleading a Kent MP over her true intentions as to the future of the site which shut last May.

North Thanet MP Sir Roger Gale told the Commons Transport Select Committee that he believed Ann Gloag had "no intention" of running it as an airport.

The airport was closed by Mrs Gloag, whose company Manston Skyport Ltd bought it for £1 the previous October.

Pauline Bradley, co-director, said they had intended to run it as an airport.

A spokeswoman for the Gloag Foundation said Mrs Gloag did not give evidence to the select committee and was not doing interviews before or afterwards.

She added: "Regarding future plans for Manston, as announced in September last year... you would need to contact [the new owners] about their future plans."

'Understood risks'

Mr Gale told MPs that he believed Mrs Gloag, co-founder of the Stagecoach Group, had had "every intention of seeking to turn it into an asset-stripping property development".

The businesswoman later sold the site - which closed with the loss of 150 jobs - to regeneration experts Mr Cartner and Mr Musgrave, after rejecting several bids to buy the airport from US investment firm RiverOak.

But Ms Bradley said that talks were held with Ryanair about increasing passenger numbers; that Manston Skyport had "spent a lot of time and money" in looking at how to turn the airport around; and that it had also put forward plans for a new terminal building.

She said: "We knew that there would be problems and challenges, we understood the risks and we made the decision to acquire it on that basis."

But she also told the committee: "By the time we took the decision to close the airport, the losses that had been racked up in the period that we had owned it were £4.5m.

"This was an airport that was losing between £10,000 and £12,000 a day."

Image copyright BBC news grab
Image caption Sir Roger Gale wants government support for a compulsory purchase order

In December Thanet District Council rejected a compulsory purchase of the airport.

Council leader Iris Johnston told the committee why the council had felt it was unable to move forward with a CPO with RiverOak, describing how it would have been "a leap of faith".

But Sir Roger told MPs that he wanted the Department for Transport to assess whether the council was right to be cautious about buying the site.

He asked whether potential partner RiverOak should be asked for more information, or whether the council already had enough details and should simply "get on with a compulsory purchase order".

About 40 local campaigners unhappy with the closure of the airport travelled to Westminster to protest outside the meeting.

Dr Beau Webber, chairman of Save Manston Airport, who also gave evidence to the committee, said he hoped MPs would agree that it should remain an airport.

"It has been an airport for 100 years... Manston is a national asset," he said.

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