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Countdown to Plymouth City Airport debate: The council leader's view

By Plymouth Herald  |  Posted: September 20, 2012

Tudor Evans

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In the third part of our debate, City Council leader Tudor Evans gives his views on the city airport.

When I was a fresh-faced chair of the Employment and Economic Development Committee back in 1993 my responsibilities included Plymouth City Airport.

Back then I used to go to public meetings in Derriford where I was booed for supporting the development of the airport operation by people who didn’t want planes taking off and landing near their homes.

Twenty years later as leader of the Council I’m still getting booed by some people – but this time because the airport has been closed by its owners after being declared as unviable, a decision made possible last year by the Council’s previous Conservative administration.

I want Plymouth to have an airport now every bit as much as I did in the early nineties and over the years I have fought hard to support the airport and keep it open. As leader of the Council in 2003/4 I helped ensure the airport remained open after British Airways pulled out and Sutton Harbour approached us to help with their rescue package to ensure air services continued. The Council not only saved the airport but helped start an airline, too. This action helped keep the airport open for almost eight more years.

The Council later supported the release of land to enable further investment in the airport. As well as support from the Council, the airport received around £8 million of public subsidy through one-off payments.

Despite this help the airport struggled. Unfortunately, falling passenger numbers in recent years, compounded by competition on the London route, and then its loss, spelt the end of scheduled services from Plymouth and the eventual closure of the airport.

Sutton Harbour Holdings now retain a long lease on the airport site and while it may wish to develop the site for other purposes, it is currently protected for use as an airport under the Core Strategy, the strategic plan for how land should be used in the city.

The recent petition shows the level of support for a new airport for Plymouth. I fully understand the strength of feeling in Plymouth about the airport and welcome the efforts of those who have been campaigning for one. As much as we would all like to see a new airport open, good intentions need to translate into sustainable plans. The five criteria we have set out for any potential operator provide a basic check that any company wanting to run a business would expect to answer. Put simply, the questions for potential operators are: can you secure the airport from the current leaseholder, do you have planes to fly and have you got destinations that people want to fly to?

Unfortunately, at a time when the Government is slashing funding for local services and we are having to make tough decisions about what services we can and can’t provide, the Council is not in a position to be able to subsidise a commercial operation.

However, I have instructed Council officers to meet with all interested parties and try as hard as possible to enable and support plans to open an airport.

In the meantime, the site remains protected as an airport under the Council’s Core Strategy for the next nine years.

It is important that as the debate continues we do not let the closure of the airport hold back our ambitions for Plymouth. We are continuing to work on improving both rail and internet connectivity and to build on our city’s qualities, which far outstrip those of many other cities. We are determined to ensure that airport or no airport, Plymouth continues to drive forward its ambitions for growth and future economic prosperity.

The airport debate is at 2pm on Monday at the Civic Centre.

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  • b_mused  |  September 20 2012, 10:53PM

    I can't get to London by internet.

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  • PJWONeill  |  September 20 2012, 4:39PM

    A lot of political spin and very little substance from Mr. Evans. Funny how his commitment to the airport appears to have dwindled when compared to his pre-election opinion!

    |   8
  • fiest1406  |  September 20 2012, 12:38PM

    We really do need a warts and all debate on the airport....This includes answers to what may prove awkward questions for the leader ....Rather then political mischief and fire-fighting...How did the Armageddon clause came about etc. Also whilst i agree with the Core Strategy this in itself is not going to protect the airport as strategies change day by day....We need a triple lock to include the airport in the the Area Action Plan and Local Development Framework. The financial questions regarding S106 monies has to be answered together with clawback money from the current ongoing Development needs to be ring-fenced for future Airport development...One needs not to forget 16 million plus of tax payers money was used to re-align the George Junction to provide for its future...Other questions regarding Drakes Island heritage and future must rest for another day.

    |   8
  • SeepyBee  |  September 20 2012, 11:23AM

    * ... it's the People of Plymouth's decision *? Hardly. If a business can't get the airport up and running successfully then there'll be no airport, whether or not the people decide there should be. The only way we can support it is to use it - and we haven't been doing that enough!

    |   3
  • notamistake  |  September 20 2012, 10:59AM

    Who suggested the Armageddon clause? Who agreed to it? Actions as always...speak louder than words... Time will tell what will happen... but its the People of Plymouth's decision...not just one man or one corporation...

    |   17
  • timplymouth  |  September 20 2012, 10:48AM

    The 9 years protection is just the default amount of time the current area plan lasts. The council can remove the protection at any time they chose. I predict they will do so in a couple of years. Mr Evans has clearly made his mind up already.

    |   14
  • blogtodi  |  September 20 2012, 10:18AM

    Not just positive but realistic. I think we can reliably look forward to an unused airfield for the next 9 years. Perhaps the economic climate will change in that time? Everywhere but Plymouth, I suspect.

    |   -6
  • Oncemore4  |  September 20 2012, 9:55AM

    "A positive statement from Tudor Evans" lol Don't turn your back sheeple, this guy has more cut-lery than Lawsons.

    |   3
  • rationaldog  |  September 20 2012, 9:17AM

    A positive statement from Tudor Evans.

    |   -8