Kent

Manston Airport: Transport secretary backs reopening plan

Craig Mackinlay, Patrick McLoughlin and Sir Roger Gale at Manston Airport
Image caption The Conservatives said their plan to save Manston was "thought through and viable"

The transport secretary has given his support to campaigners and local politicians fighting to save Kent's Manston Airport.

Patrick McLoughlin has backed a five-point plan from Thanet Conservative candidates to halt its redevelopment.

UKIP said it wanted a viable airport but attacked the Tories' track record.

Labour and the Liberal Democrats, who both support the reopening of Manston, said the Tories had been "complacent and tardy" and "asleep at the wheel".

The Kent airport closed last May, seven months after being bought by Ann Gloag, co-founder of the Stagecoach Group.

She subsequently sold a majority stake of the site to regeneration specialists for redevelopment, although the airport's ownership status was called into question at a recent Commons Transport Select Committee hearing.

The five-point plan outlined by North Thanet and South Thanet Conservative candidates Sir Roger Gale and Craig Mackinlay involves:

•Appointing PriceWaterhouseCoopers to report on the future of Manston

•Blocking planning consent for the proposed development

•Compulsorily purchasing the airport

•Delivering the certification needed for the airport to reopen

•Enlisting commercial partners for the future

'Always committed'

Mr Mackinlay said "thought through and viable" plan was supported by the government.

"I have long been determined to secure Manston's future as a working airport. In fact, in 2001 I tried to launch a low-cost airline that would mainly fly between Manston and Malaga, so I've always been committed to Manston Airport," he said.

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

Frances Rehal, Labour candidate for North Thanet, said: "The reality of the situation is that the airport has been closed for one year.

"This was during a Conservative-led government, a Conservative Kent County Council with strategic responsibility for transport in the county and two local Conservative MPs."

Ms Rehal and Will Scobie, who is the Labour candidate for South Thanet, said a working airport was important to the people of Thanet.

'Vague promises'

Nigel Farage and Piers Wauchope, who are standing for UKIP in South and North Thanet respectively, said they would push for a compulsory purchase order with an indemnity partner such as RiverOak.

"For the Conservative Party to suddenly be registering support for Manston Airport during an election campaign is a bit like a late April Fool's Day joke, " a UKIP spokeswoman said.

"In fact, the Conservatives have been the key blockers in this entire process."

In a joint statement, Liberal Democrat candidates for North and South Thanet, George Cunningham and Russ Timpson, said the Conservative plan was full of "vague promises".

"Back last December, Russ Timpson and I issued a 10-point plan which laid out a wider vision for getting the airport operational again.

"In that 10-point plan, we called for a referendum to coincide with the 7th May election which would give a popular moral mandate to the TDC (Thanet District Council) to refuse housing development on Manston."

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