Tuesday, 8 May 2018

Race for Manston takes another twist

Maxim’s Andrew Metcalf considers the latest news to emerge about Manston Airport and what it might mean in terms of who’s leading the race to redevelop the former RAF base in Thanet

On the day Stone Hill Park delivers its ‘enhanced’ plans for the redevelopment of Manston Airport to Thanet District Council, their challenger for the site – RiverOak Strategic Partners – has withdrawn its 1,100-page application for a Development Consent Order (DCO), and the expansion of nearby Discovery Park is on the starting blocks. RiverOak says this is only a temporary delay and hopes to resubmit its DCO in a couple of weeks. However, in the meantime, Stone Hill Park has submitted its own outline plans for a new settlement to transform the former airport site.

Stone Hill Park’s vision, which is the culmination of a three-year process, includes:

  • Up to 3,700 high quality homes from executive homes to starter and micro homes, built over a 15-20-year period.
  • Modern, flexible 46,000m2 of advanced/hi-tech employment space which will provide up to 2,000 direct jobs with at least 9,000 further jobs created over the course of the project, including construction and supply chain for the wider area.
  • Thousands of jobs and training opportunities with the potential for smaller workshops and offices through to high-tech manufacturing that links directly to the existing Manston Business Park. Sectors to be targeted include: advanced manufacturing, engineering, research and development, low carbon economy and agritech.
  • A heritage airport with an operational runway suitable for classic, vintage and potentially light aviation, involving the relocation of The Spitfire and Hurricane Museum and RAF Museum
  • A series of major new public parks for Thanet at the heart of the development, including the retention of the non-operational part of the former main runway as an exciting, recreational and community event space. In all 45 per cent (133 hectares) of the total site area would be kept as green or open space.
  • The creation of East Kent Sports Village with facilities of regional significance, including Kent’s first 50m Olympic-sized swimming pool and a WaveGarden surf lake.
  • Completion of the first part of a strategic link road through the site to allow for future connections to Westwood Cross

According to Stone Hill Park’s press release, the mixed-use scheme will include a range of supporting facilities including schools, food store, cafes/restaurants, a 120-bed hotel and health centre. Space for a small-scale campus for higher/further education is planned, located in close proximity to the employment hub.

Much is also made by Stone Hill Park of the direct financial benefit to Thanet District Council in the form of New Homes Bonus (£41.9m) and annual tax receipts (£7m), as well as community and infrastructure benefits through a future S106 agreement.

Nearby Discovery Park has also announced to Property Week that it will submit an application for a further 500,000ft2 of new space to neighbouring Dover District Council this year – which might lead some in the local area to question: where are all the jobs going to come from? And with 500 new homes already granted permission for Discovery Park, and a further 750 at nearby Manston Green, some may question the level of housing being brought forward.

A similar question could also be asked of Stone Hill Park’s ambitious 11,000 new jobs target. However, the team behind Stone Hill Park, who are the previous owners of Discovery Park, successfully turned the one million ft2 Pfizer campus around, so there is a track record.

So, if you were a betting man, where would you money be now?

I think it depends upon a few factors:
The planning ‘ask’ of Stone Hill Park has been increased from the region of 2,500 homes to 3,700, which will be difficult for some in power and local residents to swallow.
The Local Plan is some way off being approved and with no five-year land supply it’s open season in Thanet for housebuilders
UKIP as a political force in Thanet is spent and the Conservatives are back in power but they voted to oppose their draft Local Plan which recommended 2,500 new homes for Manston, rather than aviation.
KCC, also Conservative, appears to support the Stone Hill Park proposals and is keen to see the Thanet Parkway railway station a reality.

As with all things, it often comes down to confidence – and looking at it impartially from Kentcentric Towers – Stone Hill Park appears to be in the ascendency at the moment. But as we all know, when it comes to Thanet, always expect the unexpected.

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