DO THE WRITE THING TO SAVE 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."