Manston Airport's closure is sad, but we can't subsidise it

June 19, 2014 4:42 PM

Thanet District Council in Kent has come under pressure to issue a compulsory purchase order (CPO) for local Manston Airport, which closed on 15th May, with the loss of 144 jobs. This marks a low point in the airport’s recent turbulent history, which had seen it host a James Bond movie and target 6 million passengers a year.

Manston Airport’s closure has proved contentious. A petition launched by Roger Gale MP has already attracted attention, and even Nigel Farage has waded in, describing the closure as “economic vandalism”.  This support for the reopening of Manston Airport has culminated in the council’s consideration of a CPO.

That Manston Airport has closed is disappointing, not least for those who worked there. But it isn’t surprising. The airport has seen a series of owners, and none succeeded in making it viable. It is reported that Manston Airport had been losing £10,000 a day before its closure. Thanet taxpayers would therefore face a bill for £3.65 million a year if it were to reopen – and that’s before factoring in its price tag and necessary investment.

It would not be the first public body to purchase an airport with taxpayers’ money. Prestwick and Cardiff airports were bought by the Scottish and Welsh Governments respectively. Both have gone on to eat up millions of pounds. These examples should serve as a warning to Thanet District Council – a local authority not known for its aviation expertise – to focus on essential services.

If that’s not enough, then it should remember its other bad investments. Dreamland, a derelict theme park, was subject to a CPO in 2011. £6.8 million of taxpayers’ money has since been ploughed into the site without generating a single penny in return. The port at Ramsgate, meanwhile, has seen its revenue plummet under council ownership – yet still consumes millions of pounds in investment.

Central Government learnt the hard way in the 1970s that ‘picking winners’ becomes a game of subsidising losers. Thanet District Council, unfortunately, is yet to accept this. Losing Manston Airport would be sad, but throwing millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money at a white elephant would be tragic.

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