Statement regarding s53 access for RSP to Stone Hill Park development site

Following legal advice, Stone Hill Park recently informed RiverOak Strategic Partners (RSP), through its solicitors that they intended to deny the company access to their site to carry out survey work as part of what is known as a s53 authorisation.

This authorisation is granted by the Secretary of State and gives powers to an applicant to forcibly allow them access onto land they do not own for the purpose of carrying out surveys in preparation for making a Development Consent Order (DCO) application. DCOs are used to authorise certain types of Infrastructure project deemed to be nationally significant. If granted, they may include powers forcing the sale of land to the promoter of the project.

This refusal to allow access – which had been scheduled for Monday, 3 April – has resulted in RSP taking the decision to apply to the Secretary of State via the Planning Inspectorate for a new s53 order. Stone Hill Park was informed of this decision by RSP’s legal team the following day (Tuesday, 4 April).

Explaining the decision, Ray Mallon, spokesman for Stone Hill Park, said:

“In the weeks leading up to this access, Stone Hill Park asked RSP on several occasions to clarify they had the necessary authority to access our land and RSP was either unable or unwilling to do so.

“The initial reason for Stone Hill Park’s request was the fact that the original applicant under the DCO process was not RSP but RiverOak Investment Corporation (ROIC) and we are now aware that on the 15th December last year, ROIC withdrew their support from the DCO process in its entirety.

“In addition, we now know that when the Secretary of State granted rights under the s53 licence to ROIC it was on the 16th December after ROIC no longer had a legal interest in the DCO process.

“It is our view and that of our legal advisor that the s53 authorisation was not lawfully granted as the applicant had withdrawn from the process by the date of grant.

As a result, if RSP wish to pursue a DCO application in relation to the land owned by SHP then our advice was they now needed to apply in their own name, which they have now done.

“More recently, we have been made aware that 90% of RSP is owned by an entity that is registered in Belize. Belize is an offshore tax haven where, unlike the UK and most other reputable jurisdictions, you cannot find out who is behind a company as the authorities will not release that information.

“In our view, it is a highly unusual choice of jurisdiction and raises significant questions about why RSP have a 90% owner registered in a jurisdiction that is far from transparent.”

Stone Hill Park’s planning application to transform the redundant airport site with heritage and leisure features, homes and a business park have been lodged with Thanet District council.

Mr Mallon added:

“We are a UK-registered company with a proven track record in regeneration, the funding in place to deliver and a planning application that has been open to public consultation and scrutiny.

“Successive previous owners failed to make an airport a success and successive reports have concluded an airport is not viable.”