‘Impossible’ to assess benefits of Tees Valley airport buyout without all facts, Darlington BC leader says

Evaluating the new buyout of Durham Tees Valley Airport is “impossible” without all details being given to local councillors and residents, Darlington Borough Council’s leader has told PSE.

Cllr Steve Harker, who took over from retiring leader Cllr Bill Dixon in July, said he and the leaders of the four other councils that make up the Tees Valley Combined Authority (TVCA) have not been consulted on the £40m deal to bring the airport back into public ownership— adding that vital issues such as the airport operator, nor the airlines that will fly in and out of the airport, have yet to be discussed with the council leaders.

Earlier this month, the leaders of the five councils — Redcar and Cleveland Borough Council, Darlington Borough Council, Hartlepool Borough Council, Middlesbrough Borough Council, and Stockton-on-Tees Borough Council — described the purchase, driven by TVCA mayor Ben Houchen, as a “vanity project.” However, the mayor has gone ahead with the purchase, receiving support from major business leaders in the region.

In an interview with PSE, Cllr Harker said it is “impossible” to give a view on the buyout without being given the details.

“What we’re all saying is that we think it would be wonderful if the airport was thriving; it would be a huge benefit to Tees Valley,” Cllr Harker said.

“But we don’t know the detail of what Ben’s suggesting, so it’s impossible to give a view about whether it makes sense, financially and commercially, on whether it’s the right the thing to do.

“Ben hasn’t said since then who the operator is that we will get in to actually run the airport; he hasn’t told us anything about what airlines would run from the airport; and the additional costs – he hasn’t said anything about. At the moment, the airport makes a loss of £2-3m per year.

“Nothing has been said about who would pay for that: would it be the operator? Would it be the combined authority?”

Cllr Harker noted that major areas of improvement including the airport buildings and baggage collection area may also need to be upgraded, costing millions of pounds in costs, with little detail given as to where the funding is coming from.

During the announcement, mayor Houchen said the move was a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity” to buy the airport and 819 acres of land from the current owners, Peel Holdings Ltd, as part of a “dramatic overhaul” of the region.

The purchase has yet to be fully completed, with the combined authority due to vote on the proposals next month.

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Image credit: iStock images


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