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22.01.19

All five Tees Valley councils to support mayor Houchen’s airport takeover plan despite being combined authority’s ‘single biggest risk’

All five Tees Valley councils have confirmed they are backing mayor Ben Houchen’s £40m plan to buy Durham Tees Valley Airport and bring it back under public ownership.

The controversial deal to buy the airport using funds devolved to the combined authority needs the approval of all five council leaders in Tees Valley to be passed, but until now had faced heavy criticism.

Authority leaders have criticised the lack of information and consultations on the plan. Sue Jeffrey, of Redcar and Cleveland Council, called the takeover of the airport, which reportedly loses £2m a year, a “vanity project.”

But Middlesbrough mayor Dave Budd has now confirmed that he intends to vote in support of Houchen’s deal, following in the footsteps of Jeffrey and the leaders of Stockton, Darlington and Hartlepool in publicly supporting the proposals.

He declared: “The airport is hugely important to this area and we all want it to succeed – but it is also the single biggest risk the combined authority has, and one which will not be a source of profit for many years.”

The Tees Valley Investment Plan will, if approved, see the airport purchased from owners Peel for £40m, and the former steelworks site at Redcar redeveloped.

The takeover will see the combined authority use money devolved from central government to acquire Peel’s shareholding in the airport and 819 acres of land, and Houchen has also promised to change its name back to its pre-2004 title.

Peel Group said it welcomed Houchen’s plan, but warned that if the takeover was rejected by council leaders then the airport’s future was “extremely uncertain” past 2021 and would likely close.

Announcing his support, as reported by the Northern Echo, mayor Budd stressed the importance of the combined authority’s investment plan and said it contained many essential and transformative projects and investment proposals.

He said: “That does not mean, however, that I am happy with every aspect of it, and I know my concerns are shared by many members of the public.

“Of course, we have raised very real concerns over the airport deal in particular, in the face of a serious and worrying lack of information and an unwillingness to involve the leaders of the five authorities as equal partners.”

Budd said the deal would realistically cost around £75m, considerably more than stated, but that he hoped lessons had been learned about how to head an organisation.

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