Government won't step in to save Plymouth City Airport
THE Government has refused pleas to rescue the closed Plymouth City Airport, says council leader Tudor Evans.
Transport Minister Simon Burns has told city chiefs there is no need for an airport in Plymouth and people should make the most of Exeter Airport, Mr Evans told a meeting of the full city council yesterday.
Mr Evans and council chief executive Tracey Lee met Mr Burns in London last week to make the case for government intervention to save the airport, which was closed in December 2011 by its operator, Sutton Harbour Holdings.
The meeting came in the wake of last September's city council vote backing a petition by the airport group Viable, and a subsequent Herald-led campaign.
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Nearly 38,000 people signed a petition calling on the Government to intervene in the airport.
The bundle also contained nearly 400 letters and emails, all calling on Prime Minister David Cameron to intervene and help the now-closed facility.
But Mr Evans said he and Mrs Lee were disappointed when they met Mr Burns. "We met Mr Burns to discuss our wish to keep the airport open and to ask the Government to take it into State ownership.
"The response was very disappointing. Mr Burns made it very clear that there was no chance the Government would nationalise the airport and that this would require a change in legislation.
"He said there was only limited scope available to help, which he said in the case of Plymouth City Airport was in any case irrelevant."
Mr Evans said the minister told him that Plymouth should use Exeter Airport, saying: "There is not enough demand for a Plymouth airport as borne out by the low passenger numbers."
Mr Evans said the council would continue to safeguard the airport land through the planning system and look to work with the private sector to bring the airport back into use, testing any proposal against the "five tests" he laid down last year. Mr Evans said they asked the minister to add Plymouth to the strategic rail network.
"We used the lobbying opportunity to the maximum. Whether we get the maximum out of it remains to be seen. The recent rain and flooding played havoc with the transport infrastructure."
Mr Evans said he also raised the issue with Transport Secretary, Patrick McLoughlin.
He said government transport spending was heavily biased against the South West, with annual spending of just £212 a head compared with £774 in London.
"It is simply not acceptable in the 21st Century that if it rains there are no trains.
"I have received a response from the Transport Secretary that he fully sympathises and he has sought assurances from Network Rail."
A Department for Transport spokeswoman said: "We understand that Plymouth Airport's closure has been a matter of regret for the people and business community of Plymouth.
"In the UK airports and airlines operate in a competitive, commercial environment and it is for individual airlines, and airports, to decide what services they operate based on their assessment of commercial and market conditions.
"The closure of Plymouth airport was a commercial decision for the airport's operator."
Rail cash bypasses Plymouth– Page 8; Comment, Page 11