Kent

Manston Airport campaign gets 'double boost' from government

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

The fight to reopen Kent's Manston Airport has received a double boost.

Transport Minister John Hayes said he was satisfied the local council would be financially protected in a proposed Compulsory Purchase Order.

And he has paved the way for a search and rescue helicopter service to return to the airport - which closed last year - "when" it opens.

But the airport's new owners, Trevor Cartner and Chris Musgrave, claim his statements breached election rules.

After 30 March, the general election pending period prevents the government from making announcements about new or controversial matters.

'Taking legal advice'

Mr Cartner and Mr Musgrave said the timing of his statement was "a disgrace" and Mr Hayes as Transport Minister "should have exercised an element of impartiality and objectivity".

"We are now taking legal advice with a view to making a formal complaint to the Electoral Commission," they added.

Mr Hayes described his announcements as "huge steps towards securing Manston's future as a working airport".

Dr Beau Webber, of the Save Manston Airport Campaign, said: "This means Manston has a chance... we have good people who want to put good jobs in place for Thanet."

The airport closed in May 2014, seven months after being bought by Stagecoach Group co-founder Ann Gloag.

A majority stake was sold to Mr Cartner and Mr Musgrave for redevelopment several months later but the nature of the sale and the true ownership of the airport was called into question by a recent Commons Transport Select Committee.

Financial risk

The government has supported a "five point plan" to reopen the airport, including compulsory purchase of the site.

However, there has been concern about the financial indemnities offered by RiverOak - the US firm interested in buying and running the airport.

But Mr Hayes said on Thursday that he was "satisfied by the indemnity offered by RiverOak to protect the council against the costs of the Compulsory Purchase Order".

RiverOak's Stephen DeNardo welcomed the news and said it remained "absolutely committed to reviving Manston as an operational airport".

Bristow, the company that provides search-and-rescue services for the Maritime and Coastguard Agency, had originally planned to base two helicopters at Manston.

The government has now announced that instead of agreeing a long-term contract for Bristow to base its helicopters elsewhere, it has agreed a one-year deal to temporarily base them at Lydd Airport, also in Kent.

Labour, the Liberal Democrats and UKIP also support the reopening of Manston Airport but have criticised the way the Conservatives have handled the issue.

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