In a covering letter to its response to the Arup Assessor’s report, as part of the redetermination process for the Manston Airport DCO, RiverOak Strategic Partners has set out concerns over not only the content of the Arup Report, but also the “untimetabled and protracted” process of redetermination that the Secretary of State for Transport has presided over – signalling that, had RSP known earlier how poorly the process would be run, it would not have consented to the Secretary of State’s decision to concede.   

In the letter, submitted on behalf of RSP by its lawyers BDB Pitmans, RSP also expresses its concern that, having withheld the basis on which Arup was commissioned, the Government only revealed the terms of reference under which Arup worked when forced to do so – following a Member of Parliament making a Freedom of Information request.

In the main body of the response, RSP sets out its concerns that, instead of addressing the issue of ‘need,’ Arup produced a narrowly focused demand study, which only considers changes to demand in relation to Covid-19, Brexit and other factors. The unknown authors of the report have focused on issues entirely unconnected to the Judicial Review and redetermination – such as e-commerce, changes to aircraft design, impacts on GDP and national resilience – and have also attempted to consider the issue of ‘viability’ which, in addition to not being an appropriate consideration in this redetermination would have required interrogating RSP’s  business model to do so effectively, which was not done.

The RSP submission argues – and provides evidence to substantiate these arguments – that the Arup report should be given little weight due to a number of other concerning factors too, including:

  • ·         The report’s authors and their qualifications not being identified
  • ·         the inclusion of unsupported assertions and disproven data
  • ·         the report prejudicially dismissing the Applicant’s expert evidence
  • ·         where they agree with RSP, the authors gives the relevant issue little weight
  • ·         the authors unquestioningly accepting opponents’ unevidenced submissions
  • ·         the authors bemoaning a lack of forecasts but then concluding against RSP

Tony Freudmann, Director of RSP, said: “Something about this report and this redetermination process simply isn’t right. Our growing concern is that someone, somewhere is throwing up delays and obstacles while they scratch around for evidence as to why this fully-funded, evidence-based economic regeneration project should not proceed.

“We consented to the Secretary of State’s decision  to concede on the basis that the redetermination process would be efficient and focused on the factors set out in the Secretary of State’s letter. However, the process has taken far too long, has gone far beyond the terms set out in statute and has not been directed to the conceded  issue. Had we known this would happen, we would not have consented to Secretary of State’s decision to concede.

“The re-opening of Manston Airport relies on no public funding and will represent considerable private, inward investment in existing UK  infrastructure, consistent with the vision of an independent Global Britain. We’ve already invested more than £40 million in this project and the entire risk relating to its  success is borne by RSP and our investors.

“Despite all of this, we are still here and we remain confident that the reopening of Manston will succeed and will be of measurable benefit to the nation – and, importantly, to the deprived East Kent region.”

In the letter, BDB Pitmans also points out the real world implications of the Government’s protracted handling of the process, stating:

“This delay is not taking place in a vacuum, it has real world effects and is prejudicial to the Applicant and the UK economy. It is deterring and confusing investors, particularly from overseas, who had embarked upon their proposal to invest in the UK because of the certainty of timings of the DCO regime but can no longer rely upon it. In general, further, delays mean that responses have to be updated to take into account changes in policy in this field. With every passing day evidence and commentary are published, especially within the trade press for the aviation industry, which further strengthens the Applicant’s position. In addition, even the Department for Transport can be seen to be promoting the UK aviation industry in the trade press.

“Given the current economic uncertainty, the government is surely keener than ever for inward investment into the UK, but through its own actions is making this less likely to happen. The delay also causes an unnecessary harmful local impact. Employment is more precarious than ever, and has been exacerbated by the end of the furlough scheme, and yet there is undue delay to this development which would bring thousands of high quality construction jobs and more permanent jobs.

“Through no fault of the Applicant, almost two years have passed since the decision was initially due to be taken on 9 January 2020. The application is now in an indefinite decision stage with the prospect of many months more before the decision is retaken. The above points should be given serious consideration and responded to accordingly so as to maintain confidence in this regime, particularly among private inward investors into the UK such as RSP. The supposed certainty of timing of the Planning Act 2008 regime is one of its main strengths for investors and this should not be undermined.”

RSP is now calling on the Secretary of State for Transport to publish a timetable for the redetermination process, as this will at least provide some certainty that a decision will be made shortly. It is assumed that this will be welcomed by both supporters and opponents of the proposals as it will provide much needed certainty for a deprived part of England in desperate need of economic and employment opportunity one way or another.