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What next for Durham Tees Valley Airport?
IN December last year, Prime Minister David Cameron called Durham Tees Valley Airport a vital transport link and said its long-term success was a question of “is it being invested in, is it being expanded, is it working well?”
Yesterday, Mr Cameron was accused of turning his back on the airport after the Government’s flagship enterprise fund rejected its request for support.
Peter Nears, strategic planning director at Durham Tees Valley, was last night waiting for confirmation that the Government had failed to back an ambitious plan to create 1,500 jobs through a massive new freight operation.
“We will clearly need to review the news if, and when, it is confirmed, but it would be a great disappointment because it was a scheme that was well advanced with occupier interest and it would have produced much-needed activity at the airport, as well as create jobs,” he said. “We remain committed to the delivery of the scheme, which is important for the long-term prosperity of the airport.”
Nearly 12 months ago, when a proposed sale of the airport was raised at Prime Minister’s Questions in the Commons, Mr Cameron said: “The key thing about the future of Durham Tees Airport – which is a vital airport – is not necessarily who owns it, but is it being invested in, is it being expanded, is it working well?”
In the House of Commons yesterday, Sedgefield MP Phil Wilson demanded that Business Secretary Vince Cable explain why the bid had been rejected. Mr Cable is expected to give a written response within a week.
Alex Cunningham, MP for Stockton North, wanted to know why the pledge of support for the airport given by the Prime Minister at the despatch box only a few months ago counts for absolutely nothing? He said: “The Prime Minister, answering a question from one of his own MPs, wished our airport well and spoke of how important regional airports were.
Now, he has turned his back on the Tees Valley.
“We are used to the Government putting the boot in on the Tees Valley, but we have now got all the more reason to pull together with local authorities, Tees Valley Unlimited, business, MPs and everyone else working with Peel to help them realise the vision they have to sustain and develop our local airport.
“I’m sure Peel didn’t come to our airport just because they thought they might secure a grant for development.
We all need to get behind the company and ensure we do everything to support them to develop and sustain it.”
Stockton South MP James Wharton and Councillor Doris Jones, who represents Middleton-St-George on Darlington Borough Council, said the funding blow would not prove fatal.
“While it is disappointing, the future of our airport will not be decided by this, but by Peel, which has the financial might to make it a success,”
said Mr Wharton. “People want more passenger routes to better destinations and that is what they should concentrate on. Additional investment would, of course, have been welcome, but it does not take away from what needs to be the real focus.
“The Regional Growth Fund has put millions of pounds into our local economy and, while it is a shame this bid was not successful, the scheme as a whole has made a big difference and is helping to deliver the economic rebalancing we need.”
Coun Jones said: “It’s crucial for this part of the North- East to have a local airport and I was keeping my fingers crossed that this funding would be granted.”
Despite the failure of the bid, Coun Jones said she hoped the freight operation would still go ahead. She said: “I think Peel could do it without Government backing.”
Passengers’ dismayed over potential closure
CARL ASHBURNER, 26, from Redcar, east Cleveland, an offshore oil worker for BP, said: “I use the airport every week and the Aberdeen flight is always full. It’s often hard to get a seat on it, it’s that popular. If there were more planes going in and out of the airport they would still be full.
It would be terrible if it closed. A lot of oil rig workers use this airport and we would have to go to Newcastle or get the train instead, which takes about five hours.”
BRIAN TOKELL, 62, from Darlington, who works in Aberdeen, said: “I use the airport every three weeks. It would be devastating for the area if it closed.”
TOM LUMB, 24, a chemical engineer from Redcar, who was picking up a friend on the Aberdeen flight, said: “It is important for the area and takes a lot of people to and from work. My friend works in Aberdeen, so it is very important for him to get to work. The problem is they don’t have enough flights going out.
It’s gone downhill recently though.”
GRAEME MINTO, 37, an offshore oil rig worker from Norton, near Stockton, said: “It is very sad what’s happened to this airport.
If it closed, it would definitely be bad for the area. I use this airport every five weeks and the flight is full every time.”
BARRY EARL, 59, a hydrographic surveyor from Kirkbymoorside, North Yorkshire, uses the airport about 12 times a year.
He said: “It is my local airport and it is a shame what’s happened to it – it’s like a ghost town now. We have to pay a £6 fee just to use the airport, which, we were told, was to keep it going. But, if it shuts, will we get our money back?
“I have used the airport for eight years and have almost never seen the Aberdeen flight with an empty seat. This is the most handy airport for me, but if it shut I would have to go to Newcastle.”