Mayor set to reveal details of airport buy-back plan

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Tees Valley mayor Ben Houchen has revealed when he will announce details of the “turnaround plan” for the region’s airport if he is successful in his bid to take it back into public control.

Conservative Houchen made taking back control of the airport his long-term aim and recently announced that he had reached a deal with current operators Peel to buy it back for £40m.

To allow the buy-back to go ahead, however, local Labour council leaders for Middlesbrough, Stockton, Redcar and Cleveland, Hartlepool and Darlington must vote in favour of the plan to take the airport back into public ownership.

They will vote on the plan at a “crunch” meeting on January 24 – with Houchen warning that a negative result will see the airport close after Peel Group’s keep-open commitment expires in 2021.

Houchen has revealed that council leaders received a “full and confidential briefing” about his plans, including details about the proposed operator, on December 20.

And he has promised to publish full details of the “full and comprehensive turnaround plan” for the public to see by January 17 – including details of the experienced operator he says have agreed to run the airport should the plan receive the go-ahead.

“The public will see everything we have seen when the operator is able to announce in early January 2019,” said Houchen.

“By law, we have to publish everything one week before the crunch vote on January 24. That means by January 17, the public will see every shred of information possible.

He added: “While public ownership guarantees the airport’s long-term future, nobody is suggesting I’m better at running an airport than Peel – because I’m not. I’m a commercial solicitor by trade, and before being elected I ran my own sportswear business.

“I don’t know the first thing about running an airport terminal – but I know a team who do.

“In early January, I’ll be announcing the name of the new well-established, UK airport operator who will work with me to turn Teesside International into the success we know it can be.

“They have the experience, the track record and the relationships with major airlines to bring our airport back into the black.

“They see what we have always seen, and they see everything working in our favour: a growing economy, a huge catchment area, a high concentration of global businesses, passenger demand for European flights, and businesses looking to invest in commercial property on the 819 acres of land we will acquire.

“Once we announce our new operator, we can also publish the full business case, full turnaround plan and full valuation report for all to see – including all the necessary legal, risk and due diligence work.”

Houchen also recently announced that Durham Tees Valley Airport will revert to its previous name of Teesside International Airport if the plan to acquire the airport is approved by council leaders.

Of the 14,000 people who completed an online name change poll, 93% said they wanted to change the airport’s name back to what it was.

Houchen added that taking back control of the airport was crucial to the region’s future.

He said: “If you thought 2018 was manic, the stakes are even higher when you look at what’s coming up in 2019. For the Tees Valley, the next few months really will be make or break year.

“As we look to a positive future outside the European Union, the Tees Valley won’t just be competing with Newcastle, Leeds or Birmingham. Our success depends on our ability to work, trade and collaborate with old friends and new allies around the world.

“Taking back control of our airport – Teesside International Airport – presents a once in a generation opportunity for our area to find its voice again. To be truly global, outward-looking, more confident and more visible on the international stage.”

In an email to those who took part in the poll about the airport’s future, Houchen also answered a number of other questions. The questions and his answers are below:

Where is the money coming from?
We have over £500m from central government to invest in our local economic priorities, and saving our airport is a local economic priority. In the years ahead, I will secure even more money from government. We can’t spend this money on schools, hospitals, potholes, libraries or adult social care – as much as I’d like to. This money can only be spent on promoting economic growth, and having a thriving international airport will lead to economic growth.

What does this mean for Council Tax or public services?
Zilch. Because we are using funds from central government, my plan to buy our airport will have zero impact on people’s council tax bills, zero impact on local authority budgets, zero impact on public services, and zero impact on local businesses. Losses will be shared with the operator, and also won’t impact council tax, local authority budgets or public services. Everyone will be insulated.

What happens if the airport fails?
Firstly, I won’t let it fail. For as long as I’m Mayor, this airport is staying open. But if – for whatever reason – the airport has to close, we won’t lose £40m. The land the airport sits on, once fully developed, is worth much, much more. This is a win-win situation.

What happens if the Labour leaders block this plan?
The airport’s current owners, Peel Group, have a keep-open commitment until 2021. After that, they can close the airport. I have every reason to believe this airport will close unless we agree this deal. And once an airport is closed, it is closed. It’ll be game over.


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