Mayor sets up foundation to protect airport’s future

A new foundation will safeguard Teesside International Airport for future generations, says Tees Valley mayor Ben Houchen.

In the future, before the airport could be sold, a referendum would have to be held across Teesside, Darlington and Hartlepool to secure permission from local people.

And to provide that protection, Mr Houchen is establishing The Teesside Airport Foundation – a new, independent charitable trust that, along with safeguarding the future of the airport, will focus on education, employment, welfare and regeneration across the region.

The foundation will hold the 25 per cent stake in the airport that will be transferred back to the airport, at no cost, from Esken – previously known as Stobart Group.

It will consist of an independent board of trustees made up of local people who meet the qualifying criteria, with applications for those interested in joining now open.

Funds will initially be set aside to support the trust, with these increasing as the airport moves into profit in line with its 10-Year Turnaround Plan.

The trust will deliver financial support and assistance to charities running projects, schemes and initiatives to improve the lives of people across the region.

Mr Houchen said: “When I pledged to bring our airport back into public ownership and save it from closure, I said I would secure it for the future. That means making sure the great progress we’re making can’t be undone by rogue politicians.

“The importance of this became all the more apparent to me during my re-election in May when my Labour opponents looked to defund the airport, which would have sent Teesside Airport right back to square one.

“With the requirement of a referendum, never again will our airport face the prospect of being sold off without the express permission of local people. This is the people’s airport run for local people by local people, so it’s only right that local people should decide its future.

“Establishing the Airport Foundation goes even further in making our airport give back to the people of Teesside, Darlington and Hartlepool. When in profit it will provide support to local people, helping them get into work or education or back projects that will transform our area.

“It will be made up of local champions with a strong desire to see our airport and the Tees Valley succeed and, to make it free from political bias, we have put in place rules so politicians like me aren’t allowed near it!

“Stobart Group, now Esken, played a key role in supporting Teesside Airport with the transition back into public ownership. Their hard work has been an important part of getting us to this point. As we enter a new phase in the airport’s transformation and development, I’d like to thank them for the role they have played helping us get ahead of schedule in delivering our 10-year plan for our airport.

“Europe’s biggest airline, Ryanair, has returned to our airport, we’ve secured the return of TUI next year and a new comprehensive domestic schedule with Loganair.

“Now, with the airport having undergone a massive transformation to get it ready for increased passenger numbers coming with our summer holiday flight schedule, we can deliver an airport Teesside can be proud of once more.”

The aviation sector, like others, has been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic, with Esken concentrating on its London Southend airport and undergoing a major rebrand.

During this period, Teesside Airport has established an experienced leadership team to take the airport forward, including appointing a managing director, with the oversight of the Tees Valley Mayor and Combined Authority.

Esken Executive Chairman David Shearer said: “We are pleased to have had the opportunity to play a role in supporting Teesside International Airport’s return to public ownership and help it on the start of a journey that is now under way with a multi-million pound overhaul of the terminal.”

Brian Robinson, chairman of Friends of Teesside International Airport, said: “This is a huge step forward for Teesside International, involving local people in its operations and future and, with this new foundation, giving them control over how it can benefit local communities like never before.

“I know first-hand the huge difference these organisations can make in people’s lives, as I work very closely with Boro’s MFC Foundation. I also know the huge enthusiasm people here have for the airport and both the news of the trust and its total local ownership shows how far it has come in just a few short months, against a background of huge challenges.”

For information on applying to be on the board of trustees for Teesside Airport Foundation, visit www.teessideinternational.com/foundation