Group tells Plymouth City Council it wants to buy airport and reopen it
THE group set up to revive Plymouth's airport has told the council it wants to buy the site so it can reopen it.
Viable also said it wants to contribute to the building of a berth at Millbay for luxury cruise liners.
The group, now a company, has written to council leader Tudor Evans with an expression of interest in acquiring the freehold from the council.
But Cllr Evans last night wrote back to Viable saying it should talk to airport lease-holder Sutton Harbour Holdings (SHH) first.
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He said it would be "presumptuous and inappropriate" for the council to negotiate on "an interest it does not currently own".
SHH chose not to comment.
However, Cllr Evans said the council would be keen to hear Viable's plans to "create a viable and sustainable airport".
Viable's plans envisages setting up an airline to service the airport, and extending the runway.
The group says it has been in talks with financial institutions and is confident of securing funds.
However, any plan would require SHH to relinquish its 150-year lease on the land. Discussions about this – and about the price tag – would have to take place at a later date.
But in the letter, Viable's newly-appointed chief executive David Keegan told the council the group would like to reopen the site "as expediently as possible".
The letter says the group can meet the "five tests" Cllr Evans has laid down for any private sector operator intent on acquiring the airport.
Mr Keegan also said Viable has a supporting business model and business plan.
In the letter he asks the council to agree heads of terms (HOTs), usually a non-binding agreement on details of a deal, which Viable envisages containing the agreed cost of the purchase, settlement with SHH, and any covenants and timescales.
The letter says once HOTs are agreed, Viable will demonstrate its capacity for procuring and operating the airport. Mr Keegan's letter also asks the council to allow access to the site for Viable and its associates so it can finalise its offer.
And it reveals Viable would be willing to contribute to any cruise liner berth built at Millbay. This is something Associated British Ports has long advocated, but for which there are currently no firm plans.
Viable's letter has been copied to leading councillors and officers at Plymouth City Council, Plymouth's MPs, the Chamber of Commerce, and business leaders.
The letter was written in the week in which The Herald revealed Sutton Harbour Holdings' "masterplan" for the 113-acre site, which sees it covered in houses, shops, offices and student flats.
The company closed the airport last December. However, Viable last month handed Cllr Evans a petition of 37,860 names, calling for the authority to protect the Derriford site from redevelopment.
Mr Keegan said: "We have been working on our own masterplan. We can meet the five credibility points laid down by Tudor Evans."
These include having the wherewithal to acquire the airport, operate it without public cash, commit to running ongoing air services, have a funded long-term business plan, and showing evidence of demand for, and provision of, flights.
Mr Keegan said Viable envisages creating an airline and added: "Can we sustain it as a business? Yes we can. We believe there is enough footfall coming through."
Viable's plan also envisages an early extension of the runway. Mr Keegan said investors were more likely to put their money in if Viable had the freehold. Covenants could protect the council's interest, including a claw-back clause.
Sutton Harbour Holdings' BBC building plan latest – Page 8
Comment – Page 11