The chairman of Durham Tees Valley Airport has confirmed in a statement that if the Tees Valley mayor’s plan to bring the airport back into public ownership is voted down in a crunch vote on January 24, then the airport could close.
Robert Hough CBE – who also chairs Peel Airports Group – argued that “the future operations of the airport are extremely uncertain after 2021” if the five Tees Valley council leaders vote down the bid to return the airport to public ownership later this month.
A ‘Keep Open Commitment’ up until 2021 was agreed between Peel Group and the local authority shareholders in Durham Tees Valley Airport in 2016.
It was agreed as part of a package of measures to secure the airport’s future, which included a decision that Tees councils would take on the pension liabilities of airport workers from Peel.
Mr Hough went on to say that “these are clearly uncertain and challenging times for the future of the airport” and that he has been working with the Mayor “to ensure a smooth transition should a deal be concluded.”
Responding to the statement, Houchen said: “Since I announced that I had reached a deal with Peel, I have been inundated with questions from local people asking what will happen to our airport if the Labour leaders reject the deal. It is no secret that beyond 2021 – just 24 months away – Peel have no obligation to keep our airport open.
“The sobering reality is that the vote on the 24th January is a vote to either keep the airport open, or to close it. It’s as simple as that and there is no other option.”
The news comes as Darlington-based DeepOcean UK has warned that if the airport closes, the company may need to relocate out of the area – putting 180 jobs at risk.
In a letter to the mayor and Tees council leaders in December, the company’s managing director Pierre Boyde argued that “without a secure long-term presence of a local airport, DeepOcean may need to revaluate our decision to stay in the Darlington area.”
Mr Boyde went on to say that the proximity to Durham Tees Valley Airport was a “determining factor to stay in Darlington”.
In 2018 alone, the company – which provides subsea services related to offshore construction – purchased 250 return flights from the airport.
Houchen added: “Taking back control of our airport has always been so much more than getting flights back to Alicante. Regional airports are important catalysts to attract and retain economic growth.
“They enhance the performance of local industry and connect people, products and services to global opportunities.
“Inward investment doesn’t come on a bus, it comes through an airport terminal. So to see a major employer like DeepOcean threaten to leave the area if our airport closes is heart-breaking.
“Failure to secure the future of this airport will deprive the region of a significant economic asset.
“History will not be kind to those who let emotions and personal politics get in the way of what the people voted for and rightly demand.”
Mayor Houchen’s £40m plan to acquire Peel Group’s 89% shareholding in Durham Tees Valley Airport and 819 acres of land – including the site with planning permission for 350 homes – will require the approval of the Tees Valley Combined Authority Cabinet at a special meeting on January 24.
The cabinet, chaired by the mayor, is also made up of the Labour leaders of the five Tees Valley local authorities – Middlesbrough, Redcar and Cleveland, Hartlepool, Darlington and Stockton.
The full business case will be published on Wednesday January 16.
Mayor Houchen has consistently argued that his plan to for public ownership will be fully-funded through the money devolved to the Tees Valley from central government, meaning there will be 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.
Mayor Houchen added: “We have this money from central government to invest in our local economic priorities, and saving our airport is a local economic priority.
“Under my plan, the people will own the airport to prevent it from closing, and it will be operated by a company who knows what they’re doing, and actually wants to make this airport a success.
“We have a plan to attract more airlines, more flights, and then we will have a full commercial redevelopment of the 819 acres which will bring more investment, more jobs and really see this airport take-off.
“With a new plan, new leadership and a new vision, the People’s Airport will pay for itself.
“If the council leaders vote for my plan on January 24, we will secure our airport’s future for generations to come.
“If they reject my plan, our airport could close in 2021 – it’s as simple as that. There is no alternative.”