Manston's deserted airport is a sad sight. The runway that once carried the Spitfires and Hurricanes that saved our nation in the Second World War, now bears only stray leaves dancing in the wind across wide empty expanses. Here the roar of passenger jets signalled the start of foreign travel for thousands of passengers headed for sunnier warmer countries.
Standing by the airport's gates, we can look and listen, imagining those ghosts of aircraft past.
But there comes a time when we need to come back to earth, and that time is now. Faced with the risk of incurring huge legal and other costs, Thanet Council has understandably decided not to go ahead with RiverOak in pursuing a compulsory purchase order for the airport. But bound by its election promise to keep the airport functioning, the UKIP council says it is seeking a new partner.
This effort looks little more than just window dressing for the inevitable conclusion that there is no viable future for the airport. In recent years three private owners had suffered an estimated £100 million losses, KLM moved its operations elsewhere, and the Scott commission on airport expansion did not give Manston serious consideration. Surely, now is the time for supporters and opponents of the airport to look to a new future for a site that could provide much more than a landing strip for planes bringing goods we could probably do without.
If planned imaginatively, the 800 acres that the airport covers could become a great green lung for Thanet, with wooded areas, ponds and grassland, providing a place for people and wildlife. There is also space here for sport and leisure, commerce and industry, and much needed social housing. Rarely has an area like Thanet had such an opportunity to mould its environment into a place that will serve needs for work, homes, and leisure with such positive affects.
The owners,Trevor Cartner and Chris Musgrave, have already presented ideas for the site which they claim would cost £1 billion and eventually generate 4,000 jobs compared to the 150 which the airport supported. These plans look ambitious, but everyone should now turn their thoughts to what they would want to see on this historic site, which has the prospect of providing more jobs and economic benefits to the area than the airport ever could.
The American company, RiverOak, which wanted to take over the airport, said that their business would rely mainly on freight air traffic. Would Thanet residents really want the constant roar of aircraft overhead and the increasing number of heavy lorries on our roads that this would imply? You have to be careful what you wish for.
There is a better vision. Thanet has magnificent wide sandy beaches but it lacks wild and wooded countryside enjoyed in many other parts of the county. On a site the size of more than 600 football pitches, most of the Manston airport land could be reserved for a country park with nature trails and cycle tracks threading through trees and dotted with ponds.
Inspiring healthier lifestyles and promoting greater respect for the natural environment, such an area would provide a habitat for plants, wildlife and birds-- habitat now sadly lacking on our open farmland.
One leisure proposal is for an artificial surfing lake. Small and large waves are generated in these lakes giving novice and experienced surfers the chance to learn and to practice. It is claimed that one hour's practice in a surfing lake is equivalent to eight hours in the sea. Surf Snowdonia in North Wales cost £12 million and has just opened, expecting 75,000 visitors a year and employing about 100 people -- only 50 fewer than the airport did before it was closed. The Wave Bristol costing about £6 million has had 900 people wanting to pre-book membership. Using the latest wave creating technology, it is expected to open in 2016. High numbers of people visiting The Wave Thanet could also be expected because of our proximity to London and the high-speed train service. Many of these visitors will need places to stay, will visit our towns, shop in our stores, boosting the local economy. The site itself would need cafes, restaurants and shops providing sports equipment and educational publications.
Another idea is for an bowl-shaped amphitheatre which could be used for classical and pop concerts in the summer. An area for camping would be available for the many young people who wanted to surf or visit a mini pop festival. Other people might want to come from London and the south east for a classical concert and stay in a hotel on the site. Again developments and events like these have the potential to greatly boost visitor numbers.
The Eden Project has been tremendously successful in attracting visitors to Cornwall and bringing economic benefits (estimated at £1.1 billion) to the local area. While a project of this scale would be impractical or too expensive (the Eden project cost £140 million) at Manston, geo-halls on a smaller scale would be possible and another attraction for local people and visitors.
One of the main reasons why people are unwilling to spend their holidays in Britain is the uncertainty of the weather. Covered and heated areas can provide pools for swimming and areas for relaxing and have cafes and restaurants. Center Parcs have what they call a subtropical swimming pool at Whinfell Forest. Why couldn't Manston have something similar? And if one proved successful, then others could be built. Even if sub-tropical pools are not viable, then natural outdoor pools could be created alongside small lakes for fishing or boating. A natural swimming pool and ponds are being created at The Wave Bristol.
The airport site now gives the owners the opportunity to provide eco-friendly homes in a leading example of a sustainable living community on what is essentially a brown-field site. A development of about 2500 homes could contain a mix of low-rise flats and small and medium-size homes attractive to range of buyers and big enough to sustain local shops, transport and other services.
Described as the UK's first eco-town, a planned development in NW Bicester, in Oxfordshire, offers a pioneering example of sustainable design. The first Exemplar stage of 393 homes has received BioRegional's One Planet Living status -- one of only seven developments in the world to achieve this award. Housing at Manston and in Thanet should aspire to similar standards.
The number of jobs that the site will generate in areas designated for industry and commerce is difficult to predict and, as critics point out, Thanet's existing business parks are already under-used. But even if the site did not attract the hoped-for demand from businesses, the areas would still be available for public leisure use. Land designated for commercial use could expand or contract to match the demand.
One other idea which would have a direct affect on the three towns of Margate, Ramsgate and Broadstairs and their surroundings, is for a park-and-ride scheme based at the airport. Increasingly, our towns suffer from congestion, parking and pollution, particularly during the summer season. A park-and-ride scheme linked to the Loop bus service could free our areas of a great deal of traffic and offer visitors and safe and easy access to the main towns in the Thanet. Residents would also gain by having a bus service to and from the new leisure park.
All these ideas promoting health, education and leisure are worth exploring and should be part of the on-going consultation that should take place between Thanet Council, the owners and the public. With cooperation from all sides, Manston Airport could become a place of leisure and pleasure for the people of Thanet and and a source of economic growth for the area.
Ideas for Manston
• A green leisure park with wooded areas, ponds, small lakes, nature and cycling trails, and natural swimming pools.
•A garden of British horticulture
•A fruit-tree maze – pick your way through
•A "Thanet Wave" artificial lake for novice and experienced surfers
•An amphitheatre for pop and classic concerts
• Covered and heated mini-domes for swimming and leisure
• A park-and-ride scheme easing traffic problems and linking the site with the towns through the Loop service.
•Sustainable housing-- Passivhaus building can reduce household heating bills to about £100 a year
Read more: http://www.thanetgazette.co.uk/vision-Manston/story-28427706-detail/story.html#ixzz3vdeOnkF2