Council ‘not walking away’ from airport
By Lee Trewhela LDRS Reporter
7th Sep 2023 | Local News
Following concerns aired last week by some of her fellow councillors, Cornwall Council leader Linda Taylor has stressed that the council is "not walking away" from Newquay airport.
Several opposition councillors felt they were being left in the dark last week when the council's Conservative cabinet started proceedings to invoke "special urgent decisions" to take a "timely investment proposition to the market" concerning the airport.
The council decided, in private, at the end of last year that the "optimal solution" for the future of the airport was a partnership, with Cornwall Council retaining a "small stake", which some councillors have equated to privatisation. The council stated it would still have a "seat at the table" allowing a degree of control.
A number of opposition councillors believe any decisions about the future of the airport should be discussed by the entire chamber and not just the ten cabinet members.
In an email sent to all councillors yesterday (Wednesday, September 6), Cllr Taylor said: "Cornwall Airport Newquay is a crucial part of our regional infrastructure and our local economy, helping residents and businesses alike connect with the rest of the UK through a growing number of routes. It is also home to hundreds of jobs and high-value aerospace businesses.
"The last economic assessment suggested the economic impact of the airport was over £60m a year and is seen as vital by the business community. However, there is currently approximately a circa £3m subsidy which falls on the taxpayer and we are investigating new models of activity which could deliver better value money, safeguard the future of the airport, and ensure it goes from strength to strength.
"That is why yesterday we issued an urgent individual decision to start the work to identify potential investment partners for the airport. We believe that starting this work now could lead to budget savings in the future and the timeline for assessing possible savings before next financial year is important, as are the related operational implications for the airport.
"I want to be very clear, this is about seeking additional investment in the airport and identifying a partner to work with the council. It is not about the council walking away or looking to close the airport. We've been trying to attract growth, jobs and businesses to be located at the airport for over ten years and whilst we've had some success, it hasn't happened as quickly as we would have liked. This is about trying new ways to deliver what the council has already been trying to achieve for some time."
The council leader added: "There has been some misinformation that we are about enter into a partnership imminently or sell the airport. That isn't correct. We are just starting the process of seeing if there is a private partner who shares our vision for the airport estate. That process will take some months. In terms of transparency – the principle of trying a new approach has been discussed at the relevant scrutiny committee and any decision to enter into a partnership will come to cabinet for a decision in the usual way. It is already on the work programme of the relevant scrutiny committee, so they will have the opportunity to discuss it again if they choose."
However, opposition councillors aren't convinced by Cllr Taylor's statement and are still concerned any business partnership could lead to loss of control of the airport by the council and endanger its future as a result.
Cllr Tim Dwelly, of the council's Independent Group, said: "There's no mention by Linda Taylor of the council's own consultants proposing a 'small stake' to be kept for the council, which would mean control of the airport is lost. If that happens Cornwall Council loses the ability to guarantee the future of the airport.
"Most councillors believe the so-called special urgency is bogus and appears to relate more to the Conservatives' budget proposals, which include ending the airport subsidy. The urgency for them is to find someone to take it on and to save some money without due consideration of the long-term future of an essential asset for a remote place like Cornwall. We only have to look to Plymouth losing its airport to see what the risks are here."
The Penzance councillor added: "The Independent Group's proposal remains that we consider a small airport development fee that contributes to the reduction of carbon at the airport and ends the subsidy.
"What's most shocking of all is Linda Taylor's statement that the cabinet will make the decision on the future of the airport, not all councillors. Has she learned nothing from the mayor disaster? A decision like this has to be made by all councillors and I don't doubt Conservative councillors will want a vote before control of the airport is handed over."
In her statement, Cllr Taylor said that Cornwall Airport Newquay is reassuring staff who currently work at the airport, and those tenants who operate on the land around it, that the work to find an investment partner for the airport will not affect them. "This is the start of a process and the safeguarding and continued operation of the airport and its partners is our shared priority," she stressed.