I’ve said all along that its highly likely that the airport land will be used for housing. There’s lots of circumstantial evidence to support this . First Gloag’s planning consultants held exploratory discussions with Thanet Council earlier this year about building 1,000 houses on airport land. Second, other planning applications for housing in close proximity to the airport are already in the process of being approved.Next week we have East Kent Opportunities planning appeal hearing for permission to build 550 houses on prime agricultural land at the New Haine Road, which I’m pretty sure will be granted. It also looks as though the massive 1,000 house Permission’s greenfield development behind Marks and Spencer at Westwood Cross, is gearing up for its next phase of building . In September/ October the 850 house Manston Green development, again on prime agricultural land at the bottom of the Manston Airport runway, will come up for approval before Thanet’s Planning Committee. Again I suspect permission will be granted. So within a square a mile of Manston Airport we already have plans for the building of 2,400 new houses.
I believe that these developments, so close to the airport land, will persuade airport owner Gloag to submit her own plans for housing on the site. This means that within the next 5 years we are likely to have a ‘Gloagsville’ garden city of 6-8,000 houses developed by stealth on the open spaces and agricultural land in Thanet’s rural hinterland.
Finally the Government, through its Growth Fund scheme, recently awarded 10million for the development of a Parkway station near Cliffsend in 2015-16. Originally seen as life-line for the airport, Parkway is now being touted by the South East England Local Economic Partnership (which won the Parkway funding and about which I will write more later), not as a link to Manston Airport but as a transport hub which will ‘open up access to major new sites for housing and business development’ and which ‘would make commuting to the Capital feasible – and attract higher earners to our coastal towns’.So there you have it an extremely powerful regeneration focused organisation which is supported by the Government, Kent County Council and all the Kent District Councils, is openly backing what is likely to become a Gloasgsville garden city on and around the Manston airport site which will be served by a Parkway station.
Apart from a few select politicians chatting over lunch at secret regeneration meetings, has anyone living in Thanet ever been asked if they would like a massive housing development, served by a purpose built railway station, to be located on greenfield agricultural land and former airport open land in Thanet’s beautiful rural hinterland? I suspect not. Does it make sense? Certainly not.
There are almost 1000 long-term empty residential properties available for refurbishment and plenty of previously developed brownfield land available within Thanet’s urban areas to meet the need for all the new homes we might require over the next 5-10 years. There is absolutely no need to concrete over our valuable countryside and destroy farmland.But we must also ask whether the target of building 12,000 new homes in Thanet over the next 10-15 years is realistic and sustainable. Will there be enough jobs, sufficient infrastructure and support services to manage a rapid growth in Thanet’s population associated with building so many new homes? How we will manage the growing demand on our already stressed water supply and aquifers? How we will mange the pressure on our sewers system which is already at breaking point? And how we will cope with the congestions and pollution caused by the massive increase in car ownership?
There is also a much bigger question which few people are talking about – why should Kent and Thanet increasingly have to support the consequences (good and bad) of London’s unique and powerful juggernaut economy? Surely Mayor of London, Boris Jonson, should be doing a lot more to ensure that London is a sustainable city which does not need to rely on Kent, Surrey and Essex to manage the conflicts and problems associated with it economic success?
Personally I am opposed to building new homes on our agricultural land and rural open spaces. But I am not opposed to utilising the airport land for sustainable developments which would create jobs. For example educational use of the site for East Kent College, the University of Kent or Canterbury Christ Church University, or perhaps the building of a state of the art new hospital to replace to QEQM. Such developments would also have the advantage of freeing up additional brownfield sites in our town for use as housing. The site could also be used for leisure developments, the generation of renewable energy, or growing food.
Although the loss of the airport has had a massive impact on Thanet and its people, its time to begin thinking about the future without it and like the SME campaigners did so brilliantly well – take control of the discussion before it gets into the hands of secretive, unaccountable organisations like the Thanet Regeneration Board, the Kent and Medway Economic Partnership, and the South East Local Economic Partnership which serve the interest of greedy developers, financiers and unscrupulous political bosses instead of the people of Thanet and Kent.