The news was greeted with delight in the corridors of Kent County Council and Medway Council, and by many local residents and the environmental fraternity, who came together to oppose the plans, after successfully seeing off the earlier Cliffe Airport proposals. However some in the east of the county remain unhappy that Manston has not been given more consideration by the commission.
We will never now know whether it would have been a good thing for Kent and Medway, as any medium term expansion of runway capacity will now be directed towards Heathrow or Gatwick.
There will be those in the county’s development and construction industry who will be disappointed by the prospect of major contracts now not set to happen here.
Given the scale of the financial and political challenge it would have been to build such an estuary airport – and its undoubtedly significant impact on local communities and important bird habitats – it is understandable why Sir Howard Davies took the decision to rule it out as an option.
With a General Election on the horizon, the next challenge for the Airports Commission is how to convince the electorate, and their representatives, west of London either Heathrow or Gatwick is the right option. It’s a classic ‘turkeys don't vote for Christmas’ scenario.
Imagine it: David Cameron retains his position as PM after the next election; Boris Johnson wins the safe seat of MP for Uxbridge; and Davies eventually sides with Heathrow. The result will likely be David Cameron being forced to accept Davies’ recommendation and do a u-turn on his current manifesto pledge to block expansion at Heathrow, leading to a head-to-head clash with Boris in the House.
Given the political dimension associated with Heathrow fuelled by the likes of Boris Johnson and Zac Goldsmith, Gatwick may now feel it is closing the gap on its Heathrow rival. However, the communities on Gatwick approach and flight path, including many in West Kent, have other ideas and are already massing in ranks to fight the prospect of expansion at the West Sussex airport.
The result will be public outcry and stalemate, no doubt legal challenge followed by further legal challenge. And while we’re doing all this our international competitors will rub their hands with glee at our collective failure to rise to the challenge of how best to succeed in the global economy by delivering the much-needed runway capacity to serve London and the South East.