Firstly, the application has been unnecessarily rushed. A major airline will have contingency plans for when the runways they use are ever out of action. Manston Airport (kent international Airport) is used when there is fog elsewhere so the sense of rush is wrong. Then the Conservative leadership failed to share information for a week with opposition councillors giving only a week for public debate and consultation.
My observation is that when Thanet Council has to deal with any big development it is so desperate to do a deal that it negotiates poorly on the terms offered. Residents of Margate Road, in my Northwood ward and surrounding streets are still suffering years after Westwood Cross was opened because of hasty decisions, poor planning and an inability to negotiate hardball with the private sector.
Other thoughts from constituents are why are the charity flights always the late night ones? Are they genuinely so? Is there a register to demonstrate this? Why are details not provided as to why these flights have to travel at this time? Would it not be cheaper than airfreight for road freight for these charity flights? I do not know but some residents are suspicious that the word “charity” is used to avoid closer scrutiny.
There are a lot of people with maritime experience in Ramsgate. They tell me that frequently when planes could fly in/out away from Ramsgate they fly over the town. They know this because they are pretty clued up on wind speeds. I have started checking this as I live under the flight path. It seems pretty clear to me that the Airport has flights that unnecessarily take off or come in over Ramsgate. The reason for this is money. Most of the flights are heading out across Europe, so it costs extra money for fuel, and extra time, increasing staff costs for flights to take off away from Ramsgate; and to then have to effectively do a U turn to head back towards Europe. I think this is unacceptable and I would like to see this banned on Thursday night.
The late night and early morning flights are again about money. The longer an airplane is on the ground overnight the less money it makes, it’s a simple equation. Late night/early morning noise versus company profits. This is where with more time and a more rigorous, robust and realistic approach Thanet Council should be pinning down the applicant so that all our lives are made more bearable. Instead like some eager naive car buyer Thanet Council has gone for the first car it liked the colour of, and is now being sold all those extras it does not really need. This will cost the community in the long term.
A friend who knows more about aviation than me says that one of the key things we need to know is which airports will the planes be flying into Ramsgate from. If it is from low volume airports like Manston we can expect regular on time flights. Although it will be a pain we will know that once the 11pm flight has come over we can settle down for a night’s sleep. If the planes are coming in from busy airports like Frankfurt we could frequently have problems as freight will generally get lesser priority to take off than passenger flights. So when there are delays or bad weather, flights will back up one after another meaning we could have freight flights coming in at midnight, 1am or later. Running late will they take the long way in or will they come in over Ramsgate? It is not hard to see where the commercial pressures will drive decision making. All the more reason in my view to find out this information, and negotiate hard now, when Thanet Council is in a position to do so. Another option would be to grant the application but only for say a year, or to require regular reviews to continue the granting of permission to fly at night. Some monitoring and some checks and balances please.
Instead Councillors are hastily being asked to just trust. I do not think this is the right way forward.
However, depending on debate, fresh late information on the night, and amendments I will still be inclined to support the proposal. I have a number of concerns as listed above, but I am also a representative. I am quite clear from discussions with Northwood constituents since I was elected that the majority of my constituents support airport expansion even though know the effects of noise. I have been surprised at how few emails or letters I have had as a Councillor opposing the application, not even double figures yet.
The jobs argument resonates even more in the current economic circumstances. It also is an advert for the airport and what Thanet has to offer. Ideally we would tax airline fuel so that it was not as economic to have air freight, and would educate people away from wanting flowers and beans from Kenya in winter. That though is not the world we live in for the moment.
I am writing all these thoughts now because I would hope they can be considered at Thursday’s meeting. My work commitments mean that I may well not make the meeting, or will be late and I will not know until on the day whether I can attend because of the early 5.30 start. I have seen no reasonable explanation for this timing. My best guess is that with the Cabinet meeting scheduled at 7pm the same evening it has been timed for the convenience of Cabinet members.
Whilst I understand it is more convenient for them to spend one long evening at the Town Hall it does not serve local democracy well. I have written complaining and have had no explanation.
I know a number of councillors will be absent due to the short notice and the early start. Too often there seems to be an assumption that councillors are either not economically active, or have businesses allowing them to come and go as they please. See my previous blog on how unrepresentative this makes the Council.
In my view if the Airport decision could not wait until 26th February when there is a Council meeting already scheduled (and I have seen no evidence yet to see why this decision needs to be taken so urgently) then there should have been a Full Council at the normal time of 7pm, and not limited to 90 minutes for what may be a long debate.
The Cabinet could have met the previous or the following evening. The decision to meet with barely a week’s public notice at 5.30pm for only 90 minutes will weaken local faith in the democratic process.