Gale`s View – 23rd May 2012
I met, a couple of weeks ago, with the Minister of State for Aviation. We discussed, as you might expect, the potential for Manston Airport to assist, in the short term, with the provision of airport capacity during the Olympic and Paralympic Games. We also explored the very real potential for Manston to play a significant role in the developing solutions needed to meet the needs of aviation in the South East for the short and medium term and while longer-term solutions are generated to ensure that Britain retains its supremacy, vital to our economy, as the major interlining location for long-haul aircraft serving Western Europe, the United States and the Far East.
It is clear to me that the Department of Transport has developed an understanding that, given appropriate investment in rail infrastructure, the facilities at Manston can and should be utilised in the national interest to take traffic from Gatwick that will in turn release urgently needed slots at London Heathrow. The potential side effect of such a development, of course, would be the generation of hundreds if not thousands of skilled, semi-skilled and non-skilled jobs for the far too many unemployed people living in East Kent in general and in Herne Bay and Thanet in particular.
The timing, therefore, of the no night flying” decision indicated by the currently controlling Labour Group on Thanet Council could not have been worse. Further, for the interim Leader of that local authority, Cllr. Hart, to try to suggest that Thanet is supportive of the development of the airfield while completely ignoring the recommendations, based upon harsh commercial reality, of the Council`s own consultants, is cynically disingenuous.
Thanet Council appears to be saying, effectively, said we do not want the development of Manston Airport, or the jobs that that investment would generate, or the attendant investment in the upgrading of the rail service between Ashford and Thanet”. Is that seriously what those seeking work in the area and, most particularly, the young local unemployed, really want? I do not think so.
I have not represented North Thanet since the creation of this parliamentary seat without understanding that there have always been, and always will be, people who having bought houses on the edge of the airfield or on the flight path now want the airport to fail and close. I also appreciate that there are a number of residents, including some in Herne Bay and in Monkton in my own constituency, whose homes are particularly affected by overflying and I share a desire to preserve and protect as much of the tranquillity of our natural environment as possible. That, certainly, means responsible control over night flying of the kind that Thanet`s two MPs sought to secure when Manston was transferred from military to civilian use and it means a determined effort to attract passenger as well as air cargo traffic.
I am not, though, prepared to see the national interest and local employment opportunity sacrificed to satisfy a party-political imperative designed to keep in power a minority administration dependent upon a rag-bag of Councillors who, having jumped from the ship under whose flag they were elected, now seek to exercise a control out of all proportion to their significance.
It would, of course, be possible for those Councillors that do not enjoy an electoral mandate to resign and to put their policies and their popularity to the test. While I cannot see them having the political courage to do that, the Councils of East Kent – Canterbury and Dover as well as Thanet – have a duty to act in the national as well as in the local interest and to seek to ensure that the assets that we enjoy are utilised to the fullest possible advantage.