Where’s my evidence? Back in early 2013, before Infratril sold Manston Airport to Ann Gloag, officers of Kent County Council began work drafting a document called Unlocking the Potential: Going for Growth. This document was destined to become an important strategic guide for the work of the newly formed Kent and Medway Economic Partnership (KMEP).
KMEP describes itself as an organisation responsible for developing and driving forward plans for the economic development and regeneration on the Kent and Medway area. Its board is made up of representatives of Kent and Medway businesses, especially developers, financiers, house builders and interestingly Discovery Park’s external PR consultancy company, Pillory Barn. From the public sector is Paul Carter leader of KCC, the leader of Medway Council and the leaders of 6 Kent District Councils. Thanet and Dover District Councils share one seat on the board and, I believe, attend alternate meetings. The chief executives of the Kent District councils sometimes turn for meetings of the KMEP.
KMEP feeds its ideas and suggestions into another economic development organisation called the South East Local Economic Partnership (SELEP) which covers the Kent, Sussex and Surrey areas. Like KMEP the SELEP is made up of representatives from the business world and the public sector. Kent’s public sector is represented at SELEP level by Paul Carter. The job of the SELEP is to apply to central government for funds to pay for major economic and regeneration projects. In 2014 it successfully secured £46 million for projects in the south east including money to build the Ramsgate Parkway Station at Cliffsend.
Returning to “Unlocking the Potential: Going for Growth” the 71 page document includes lots of exciting and interesting ideas to develop and regenerate Kent and Medway’s economy. Clearly a lot of hard work and thinking had gone into its production. But interestingly, for a document focused entirely on developing business, creating jobs and generating wealth, it doesn’t mention Manston Airport once! There lots about the importance of HS1, Dover Harbour, Ramsgate Port, Parkway station, Discovery Park and road infrastructure, to the East
Kent economy, but not a word about Manston Airport. The only mention of Manston (not the airport mind) in the entire 71 page document is that the Manston/Thanet Central Island area had been designated as a strategic “place for growth” for Kent and Medway. This is quite remarkable because every single economic development document produced by Kent County Council until the publication of “Unlocking the Potential” had stressed the strategic importance of Manston Airport to the economic well-being and development of the county. But in early to mid 2013 it was unceremoniously relegated to the dustbin of history. So how did this happen?
Well this is what I think. “Unlocking the Potential” is a major piece of economic planning by anyone’s standard. Months and months of work must have gone into preparing it. As part of its preparation there would have been extensive discussion and consultation with senior politicians and managers from the 12 Kent District Councils and Kent County Council. This would almost certainly have included senior members of Thanet Council’s Labour controlled Cabinet and its top officers. It’s utterly inconceivable that during these consultations and discussions these extremely powerful people didn’t talk about Manston Airport. Likewise the authors of “Unlocking the Potential” would also have consulted with Kent’s business community including the then Airport owners, Infratril. There’s little doubt in my mind that between them, the businesses, the council managers and the politicians, including Thanet’s top officers and Labour Cabinet members, agreed that Manston Airport was no longer a strategically important economic asset for Kent, hence its utterly remarkable airbrushing out of Unlocking the Potential” and the designation instead of Manston/ Thanet Central Island as strategic Kent growth area. My version of Unlocking the Potential” is dated 19 December 2013. So it’s reasonable to assume that sometime toward the end of summer Kent’s political and business power brokers had all agreed that there was no future for Manston Airport and that along with the surrounding land it should become the Manston. / Thanet Central Island strategic Growth area. I guess that knowing about this new thinking and strategic re-designation would have been interesting and exciting news for any potential purchaser of the airport.
And surprise, surprise, just as “Unlocking the Potential” said, proposals for large commercial and industrial developments, a new railway station and thousands of new homes on or around the former Manston site and surrounding Thanet Central Island area are now an important feature of Thanet’s Draft Local Plan. And the political bosses who were privy to discussions about “Unlocking the Potential”, and the drafting of the Thanet Local Plan are the same politicians who in April and May 2015 sought votes on the basis of saving the airport, when they knew damn well that it was finished. And there’s little doubt in my mind that the new boys on the political block, UKIP, were not unaware of this too. After all they are the second largest political group at Kent County Council and had 7 councillors elected for the Thanet area in May 2103. It’s simply not possible that UKIP KCC councillors were not consulted or briefed about “Unlocking the Potential” and the future of Manston Airport because KCC and Paul Carter were the driving force behind its production.
So there you have it. In my opinion the people of Thanet have been lied to and cynically deceived by Labour, the Tories and UKIP about saving Manston Airport when these parties knew all along it simply wasn’t going to happen. And to make matters worse Thanet Council has spent hundreds of thousands in taxpayer’s money, on officer’s wages, legal advice, and consultant’s reports in order to create the misleading impression that they were actually trying to progress what is turning out to be a fantasy CPO.
I have written on my blog recently about bad and abusive governance at Thanet Council and how we need to fundamentally change the council to root this out. But the abuse of power, the deceit, manipulation and lies don’t stop at Cecil Square. It’s clear that Kent County Council has played a disreputable role in the Manston Airport affair. This is why Thanet should break away from KCC and become a unitary council in its own right. It’s also very clear to me that strategic economic planning should not be left to secretive, unaccountable organisations like the KMEP and SELEP, but devolved down to a local level where plans and strategies can be decidedly democratically with the fullest community involvement. Although I don’t support the Manston CPO I do support democracy, accountability, openness and honesty especially when it comes to developing plans about our, and our children’s economic future in Thanet.
Ohh I almost forgot - its nice to have some music to accompany a dull blog posting so never mind the Manston Bollox here's Johnny Rotten of the Sex Pistols suggesting you might have been cheated