AN ENTERPRISE ZONE FOR THANET
Firstly, I want to make my commitment to Manston clear. As the former TDC leader I developed excellent working relations with Charles Buchanan (the airports last Chief Exec). I wholeheartedly supported the KLM service launch and many other positive promotional events during my leadership term. Most importantly, I stood shoulder to shoulder with our local MP’s as part of the Manston Airport Task Force. On a more personal note, my wife and I also thoroughly enjoyed flying from Manston.
Furthermore, during my time as leader I also developed a close working relationship with Dover District Council and Kent County Council. Paul Watkins of DDC, Mark Dance of KCC and I at TDC each agreed that party politics should play no part in economic development matters here in East Kent. A TDC director and I also met with Peter Jones, the Chair of the South East Local Enterprise Partnership, at our council offices.
So fortunately, a firm foundation for joint working on Manston issues was already in place when, back in March of 2014, the previous owners of Manston Airport suddenly announced their shock plans to consult staff on possible closure.
As TDC Leader at that time, I immediately tabled motions to two crucial high-level meetings concerning extension of the Enterprise Zone from Discovery Park to cover the airport. I pointed to the Robin Hood Airport - Sheffield City Region Enterprise Zone as a practical example (see picture below):
(Sheffield City Region Enterprise Zone)
Within two days Thanet Regeneration Board supported my proposals, which were also warmly welcomed by a dozen council leaders from across Kent. Taking advantage of the gathering momentum, I also had included in my emergency motion to both meetings, not just a bid to cover the airport, but to also to cover the Richborough corridor and Manston Business Park.
With multi -authority and cross-party political support attained, Government was consequently asked to extend the current enterprise zone to cover Thanet as part of the final draft of the Kent and Medway Growth Deal. The document called for Government to consider extending the Enterprise Zone precisely as per my original request. It also asked Government to permit Thanet District Council to retain 100% of business rate receipts within the Zone. It further proposed the allocation of £3.5 million in Local Growth Fund finance to support commercial development and additional SEFUND investment.
Through the LEP document KCC also propose a Thanet Parkway Station in the same area. Previously, Thanet had been asked to take the local infrastructure 'pain' for Sandwich Discovery Park's 'gain' in relation to a proposed parkway station. However, the real possibility of Enterprise Zone status being extended into Thanet means that a parkway station could now genuinely service our very own area here in Thanet.
Providing Thanet gets cast-iron assurances that our local town stations and associated services will remain, and that the local road network issues will be properly addressed, an additional station here in Thanet, servicing our very own Thanet Enterprise Zone, could now be a very exciting opportunity.
In summary, whether or not the airport can be saved, attaining Enterprise Zone status for Manston and further investment in the area have to be a key objectives for Thanet in 2015.