Council wants you to write a letter to save Plymouth City Airport
A MASS letter-writing campaign takes off today in a bid to guarantee the future of Plymouth City Airport.
The Herald is joining council leader Tudor Evans in urging people to put pen to paper and call on the Prime Minister to help protect the airport from housing development.
Mr Evans pledged yesterday that the land would be protected from development for at least the next nine years.
And he called on The Herald to organise a campaign to encourage residents, employees and businesses to join him in writing to the Prime Minister to express their support.
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Mr Evans also told a meeting of the full city council that protection of the airport could be extended to 2031 if the public make their views known as part of Plymouth Plan consultation, which is just beginning.
He was responding to a petition signed by nearly 38,000 people, calling for the airport to be saved. The petition, organised by the campaign group Viable, triggered a debate by the full city council.
Airport campaigner Maddi Bridgeman, one of the petition organisers, launched the debate in the council chamber with an impassioned speech, telling councillors: “Once the airport has gone, our prospects have gone.”
Mr Evans said: “We recognise that it is not possible to protect the airport land for ever, but we will use our planning powers to protect it from development for as long as legally possible.”
He said the private sector was unable to operate a commercially viable airport.
“We obviously need help,” Mr Evans added.
Cllr Ted Fry, deputy leader of the Tory group, said he was disappointed businesses had not used the airport as much as they might have.
“The airport is safeguarded until 2021 and I will be no party to a cheap deal which will lessen that,” he said. “We should not be in this position because a nameless former administration agreed to a 150-year lease for Sutton Harbour Holdings. That should never have happened.”
Cllr Ken Foster (Con, Plymstock Radford) said: “To my dying day I will be grateful that I wasn’t the person who agreed the 150-year lease.”
Mr Evans said he would publish a timeline of talks with the private sector over the airport so that the events leading up to the closure of the airport would become public knowledge.
Cllr Jean Nelder (Lab, Sutton and Mount Gould), a former Labour Cabinet member for transport, said its future was a strategic planning issue and should not be taken away by short-term commercial interests.
Cllr Dr David Salter (Con, Plympton Chaddlewood) praised The Herald’s coverage of the issue and said: “I am deeply ashamed that this city cannot manage to support an airport. We have a university, a medical school and a major theatre, but we cannot support an airport.”
He said it was not enough to write to the Prime Minister – “Plymouth airport is the responsibility of the city council.”
Cllr Patrick Nicholson (Con, Plympton St Mary) said it was inexcusable that Sutton Harbour Holdings had not allowed emergency flights and the Royal Navy to continue using the airport.
Cllr Ian Bowyer (Con, Eggbuckland), the former Cabinet member with responsibility for the airport, said its runway needed to be extended, but “we in the council don’t have resources”. However, he doubted that the Government would step in to nationalise it.
Cllr Jonathan Drean (Con, Budshead) said the 2010 Iceland volcanic ash cloud had badly hit regional carriers.
Cllr Bill Stevens (Lab, Devonport) said that letting the airport go would be letting down future generations. The petition called for State ownership – and Mr Stevens said: “The only people who can do that is central Government and the ball is in their court.”
Cabinet member Cllr Mark Lowry added: “Already Sutton Harbour Holdings has come forward with a preemptive strike, proposing to develop the land for housing. The last thing we want is development on the airport land.”
Cllr Richard Ball (Con, Compton) said: “Plymouth is out on a limb and our lifeline is the airport. Without it we will wither on the vine.”
THE MOTION PASSED BY PLYMOUTH CITY COUNCIL
PLYMOUTH City Council firmly believes that the residents and businesses of Plymouth deserve fast, efficient and reliable transport links with the rest of the country and beyond in order for Plymouth to prosper and for its residents to enjoy the freedom of movement enjoyed by most other cities of our size in the UK.
We therefore call on the Prime Minister and the Secretaries of State for Transport and Business Innovation and Skills to take action which would result in Plymouth Airport becoming a national asset providing a reliable and extensive commercial air network for the benefit of local residents and businesses.
We recognise that it is not possible to protect the airport land for ever, but we will use our planning powers to protect the airport from development for as long as legally possible.
We call on all Plymouth politicians inside and outside this chamber to support this resolution as well as the people of Plymouth and the Herald.
We wish to demonstrate to Government the deeply felt concerns of Plymouth residents and the support they feel for the Plymouth City Airport and call upon The Herald to organise a campaign to encourage residents, employees and businesses to join me in writing to the Prime Minister to express their support for what I have proposed today.
Transcript of the petition presented by Maddi Bridgeman
My Lord Mayor
Ladies and gentlemen of the Council
10 months ago, no one had heard of Maddi Bridgeman.
I was insignificant, unknown, just a mother working to support her family.
A mother who was horrified when she heard the news that the airport was to close.
I became involved because I worry about my children's future, their future employment.
Today I stand here to represent the people of Plymouth (and around the World) who took the time to sign a petition to Save Plymouth Airport.
I am here on behalf of 37,861 people, I am here because I love my city and I am doing this for the future generations of Plymouth. In the past few months whilst collecting signatures for this petition I have spoken to (face to face) thousands of Plymouth's citizens.
I have listened to their complaints and heard their stories on how the closure of our airport has affected their lives.
A disabled mother who cannot visit her daughter in Manchester because the journey by train or car is just too painful.
Off-shore workers who can take up to 24 hours to get home to their family following a month long shift.
A son who travelled to Plymouth from Hungary to visit his mother on Mothering Sunday and the journey took almost 48 hours.
A large employer who used to charter aircraft to fly his staff to Glasgow, this was both time and cost effective
In the 1990s I worked for BAE Systems. I used to chauffer important visitors, I saw first hand the overseas investors who flew into Plymouth, visited our factory and invested in the business. At that time the small plant in Southway employed over 2,000 staff. I look around Plymouth today and I see empty business units, run down vandalised factories that once employed hundreds of people. Empty shops in our city centre.
Yes we are in a recession, but recessions do not last forever.
Her Royal Highness Princess Anne visited Plymouth earlier this year; her helicopter had to land on a piece of waste ground, what impression does that give of our city?
The emergency services have been denied access to land at the airport when carrying casualties at night, how many lives have been put at risk because of this?
So, I am asking you today to protect the airport as an airport for the long term. Until an operator and investment can be found. We are hampered geographically by poor transport connectivity, there should be NO rush to redevelop the land for short term gain. Once it has gone, our prospects have gone.
This is about Plymouth' long term future. We need to put Plymouth back on the map - globally.
Your discussion and debate today should not be about lining share holder's pockets but securing the future of our city.
How many of you joined the Council to do something good for your constituents? Today you can show the 37,861 people who took a few minutes to sign this petition that you are here to do something good, so please agree - to secure the future of our airport and the future employment of our people and their children.
HOW TO WRITE YOUR LETTER
Cllr Tudor Evans
Plymouth City Council
Plymouth, PL1 2AA
Mark your envelope: Airport Campaign
Your letter should say:
Why you are calling on the council and the Government to ensure the airport land is protected from development – both now and in the long-term
Why the Government should take all action possible to maintain the city’s vital airport facility
Why you are demanding that the Government offers all support available to create a thriving air link to Plymouth
Why you are supporting the motion passed by Plymouth City Council
OUR COVERAGE OF THE MEETING