Stone Hill Park shares update on the way ahead

Stone Hill Park have released this statement from director Trevor Cartner bringing people up to date on its planning application and wider issues connected to the former airport:

“Over the past months, I have received a number of questions and comments from members of the public, which indicates that there may be a certain amount of misunderstanding as to the present plans and intentions of Stone Hill Park Limited (SHPL). I therefore hope that the following commentary will help to clarify our position and explain our rationale in dealing with the different elements of the Planning process over the coming months.

Firstly, the Stone Hill Park site is not straightforward and has been a subject for public debate for over four years, with some people in favour of the return to aviation use and others in support of housing, business and community development. The planning process is very complex and involves the following issues, which are intrinsically linked:

1) Outline Planning Application (OPA) for the former Manston Airport site, which includes up to 3,700 new homes and associated community facilities, together with a Business Park and other sporting and leisure areas.

2) Development Consent Order (DCO), being advanced by River Oak Strategic Partners (RSP), so that the former Manston Airport site can be secured by them for the return of aviation use.

3) Draft Local Plan (DLP) of Thanet District Council (TDC), which does not include the former Manston Airport site for housing.

I will now deal with the above one by one.

SPHL are committed to the OPA for the site, which was submitted on 4th May 2018 to TDC, and was validated by them a week later. In essence, TDC are obliged to hear the application within 16 weeks of the submission date and a failure to ‘determine’ the application by the TDC Planning Committee, entitles SHPL to ‘appeal’ the application to the Planning Inspectorate.

In theory, the TDC Planning Committee should have considered our application by the 15th August 2018, but in practice this has not been possible, due to the complexity of the OPA. This is a big application for the Council Officers to consider and they have a duty to ensure that they have examined every detail of the application, which includes an analysis of our environmental, archaeological, transport, and other survey reports and appraisals, the detail of which cannot be expected to be completed within a 16-week period.

The TDC Officers are in close contact with the SHPL planning team, which is normal for a planning application of this magnitude and the OPA is a work in progress. SHPL cannot expect the Council Officers to place the OPA before the Planning Committee without the fullest information, as this would be unprofessional on their part and raise lots of questions by the Planning Committee members.

SHPL will therefore, continue to work with the Council Officers over the coming months and ensure that we deal with every query, so that the OPA is compelling and has the best chance of being approved by the Planning Committee. To that end, SHPL and TDC have now agreed a new expiry date of the 31st December 2018, for the OPA to be determined.

This is not an application for one house but is an application for up to 3,700 new homes and all of the other integral parts which make up the application. Indeed, I am under the impression, that this is the biggest single Planning Application of its type in the history of the area.

Due to my comments on this subject, any suggestion that SHPL should ‘appeal’ the ‘non determination’ now is premature. We will consider our options further down the line, but certainly not until the 31st December 2018, when a decision is made by the Council’s Planning Committee or otherwise.

Turning to the DCO, I should point out from the outset, that we will fight the DCO being progressed by RSP with absolute vigour and will continue to defend our position. However, we respect the decision of the Planning Inspectorate to allow the application by RSP to be taken forward and we will not disrupt the process by arguing our case within the public domain or by any inappropriate use of the mainstream media or social media.

The DCO enquiry process is a ‘quasi judicial’ procedure, which in simple terms mean it is an arbitration or tribunal board which has powers resembling those of a court of law or judge. In the case of the DCO proceedings, the Planning Inspector is obliged to determine the facts objectively and draw conclusions from them, so as to provide the basis of a judgment. I believe, that the Planning Inspector will do exactly that - listen to the evidence from SHPL and RSP and form an objective judgment based on the evidence.

In addition, we also take the view that a civil court can review any decision, which is another reason why we should abide by the spirit of laws of evidence and procedure.

I therefore intend to ensure that SHPL defend the DCO with vigour, within the hearing, rather than the public domain, which in the circumstances is right and proper.

The Examination in Public (EIP) isn’t much different, as this is also a ‘quasi judicial’ proceeding, which allows interested parties to tender evidence before the presiding Planning Inspector.

SHP intend to advance a compelling case at the EIP, with the intention of convincing the Planning Inspector that SHP should be included within the Local Plan so that we can build between 2,500 and 4,000 new homes [taking in the whole of the site], together with the other key facilities, which will bring the site back to life.

I can understand the frustration of the public, with some wishing to see plans of SHPL become a reality and with others preferring the plans of RSP for the return of Aviation.

SHPL and RSP fighting this out in the public domain, with their respective supporters weighing in will not win or lose a DCO, EIP or an OPA. It will actually be the evidence heard by the Planning Inspector(s) which will determine all three.

The Planning Inspectorate and their Planning Inspectors have a job to do and Stone Hill Park Limited intend to let them do it, without any interference or grandstanding within the public domain. Others should follow our lead.

I still believe and have confidence in this Country’s laws and I also believe that the Planning Inspectorate is properly prepared and will be thoroughly professional in its work. They’ll attend to the task in hand and so will we by respecting the process and by saying nothing until we walk through the door of the hearing(s). I hope that will be understood by everyone.”