Plymouth business leader says plan to scrap airport land is premature
THE city airport might not be viable now, but in a few years Plymouth could be screaming out for it, says a leading businessman.
Plans by Sutton Harbour Holdings to bulldoze the airport and replace it with a new estate are premature, Charles Howeson, chairman of the Plymouth Area Business Council, said.
Mr Howeson was one of hundreds of people who reacted to news of the Sutton Harbour plans, revealed in The Herald yesterday. The company, which closed down the airport last December saying it was no longer viable, has submitted the masterplan to the city council. Sutton Harbour said the plan was part of a consultation on the Derriford and Seaton area action plan and not a planning application. Earlier this year the new Labour-led city council said it was removing the airport land from the area action plan and would consider its fate separately as part of the wider Plymouth Plan.
Mr Howeson said: "The masterplan took me somewhat by surprise as it's my understanding that the airport land remains protected. I can identify with the comments by Tudor Evans, the council leader, that this is premature. While the airport might not be viable now, in say six years the city could be screaming out for precisely this asset.
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"Against the background of our growth aspirations, it is essential that a longer term view is taken about this strategic asset."
Mr Howeson said that with the competition for scarce public money, it would be necessary for the private sector to take the leading role.
"The airport land and assets belong to every Plymouth citizen, and it is that perspective that needs to be protected, notwithstanding today's situation which has much to do with the national recession.
"I am really pleased that there is a debate. The Herald is speaking with great clarity on this."
Chris Arscott, chairman of the Plymouth Waterfront Partnership, said: "A vibrant airport would be very useful for Plymouth, but if it is not commercially viable it would be difficult to get an operator to come in and run it.
"It is very unfortunate – but it is fortunate that we have got a three-hour rail journey to London and reasonably good rail links.
"With all the discussions going on it seems a bit premature for Sutton Harbour Holdings to be putting in plans looking at alternative uses for the land."
Oliver Colvile, the MP for Plymouth Sutton and Devonport, said: "I have written to the chief executive of Sutton Harbour Holdings asking what value the company is putting on the airport land.
"In the best of all worlds we all want the airport to continue, but in the end it's about money. We need to ensure we have good transport links in general – road, rail and air.
"We also need a good bus or train link to Exeter Airport.
"This is about what's in the best interests of Plymouth."
Sheryll Murray, MP for South East Cornwall, said: "I am disappointed at the loss of the airport because it has implications for businesses and private individuals in my constituency."