Airport closed as tycoon 'broke funds pledge'

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The Independent Online

The new owners of Manston Airport promised to fund it for another 12 months just weeks before announcing its closure, it emerged yesterday, to the anger of unions and local campaigners fighting to keep the site operating.

The historic airport in Kent, which played a key role in the Battle of Britain, was bought by the Stagecoach co-founder, Ann Gloag, for a £1 in November. This week, she rejected a £5m offer from the US private-equity investor Riveroak to keep the airport going. It is due to close on Thursday.

The airport's company accounts, signed off on 25 February, state that Manston's owners indicated that "for at least 12 months from the date of the approval of these statements, it will continue to make available such funds as are needed by the company".

Ian McCoulough, of the Unite union, said yesterday: "Unite has a meeting with the owners of Manston airport next Tuesday. We will be raising questions on why they have gone back on a decision to fund the airport until the beginning of next year. It is vital to the local economy."

The airport, near Canterbury, is losing £10,000 a day but has about 150 staff and supports another 400 local jobs. It began consulting on the possible closure in March and KLM, the last airline to operate passenger flights from Manston, pulled out in April. Campaigners, including the local MP Sir Roger Gale, fear the site will end up in the hands of property developers.

It has only cargo operators flying in and out to keep slots open. Supporters note that Manston, however, has one of the longest runways in the UK, capable of taking aircraft such as the Airbus A380 superjumbo. They are urging the Government to consider allowing in to handle freight from Gatwick and Heathrow.

A spokesperson for Manston airport said Riveroak's offer was rejected because "some of those associated have approached shareholders previously and consistently failed to substantiate their proposals", but emphasised the company's "willingness to consider credible and viable offers".

Sir Roger, the Tory MP for North Thanet, said: "[I am] disappointed that Ms Gloag told me she wanted to make a major investment and, after less than four months, she pulls the plug. I find it unacceptable that she is now unwilling to negotiate."

Riveroak, which is working with the airport's former manager Tony Freudmann, is still understood to be interested in a deal.

Pilots are planning a final flypast with a USAF Mustang on Wednesday.