Time to see the light over future of city airport land
I HAVE frequently resisted the urge to respond to letters to your paper by Steve Marketis, who seems to be the self-proclaimed chief spokesperson for Sutton Harbour Holdings Plc, but following his further correspondence (Your Say, December 1 and 7), now feel compelled to do so.
I can no longer bear the endless and tiresome anti-airport rhetoric and believe that it would be most refreshing for readers to actually learn why he does not personally want the airport to re-open, rather than continually seek to justify its permanent demise.
It is well documented that Plymouth has the poorest transport connectivity of any major city to London and the rest of the UK. With many major rail and road transport infrastructure improvements taking place, or planned in the near future, across the rest of the UK, Plymouth will become even more marginalised. It is therefore imperative that the airport land remains protected under the City's Core Strategy, not only to facilitate future inward investment but, equally important, to help safeguard existing business and employment opportunities.
In an ever-more global economy, research has shown that air connectivity to major hubs is a prerequisite for any city aspiring to future growth and prosperity. This could not be more relevant to a city like ours, which, because of geographical fate and decades of under investment in transport infrastructure by successive governments, is perceived by many as being on the outer periphery of the UK. Without improved transport connectivity, and I include both rail and air, there is a real danger that the local economy will go into irreversible decline.
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In recent years the surrender of airport landing slots at London's major airports, whether intentional or otherwise, has significantly contributed to the decline in the city's economic well-being with the relocation of 11 major employers and the loss of countless jobs. This again underlines the importance of safeguarding the airport land for future airport use. The recent weather-related disruption to the far South-West's rail and road transport links has, furthermore, served only to heighten awareness of poor transport connectivity.
Please Mr Marketis, do not try to convince readers that any future airport operation would be unviable, nor deceive yourself that, after 85 years of operation, the precipitous closure of the airport demonstrates 'non-viability'. Analysis of the accounts of Plymouth City Airport Ltd, a subsidiary of SHH, clearly shows otherwise. These accounts, together with those of SHH, are both in the public domain and make most interesting reading; the closure of the airport self-evidently resulted from poor management. It has, furthermore, now become apparent that the independent reports commissioned by the City Council into the viability of the airport, prior to acceptance of SHH's closure notice, are in fact flawed. Both the City Council and over 70 per cent of the local business community now support the re-opening of the airport; there is, indeed, a realistic prospect of a viable airport operation in the near future, subject to the agreement of all interested parties.
Fittingly, in this season of Advent I pray that Mr Marketis will see the light, (not so much the star in the east but the runway lights), and that he will see the bigger picture, be positive and look to the future.
Finally, both Mr Marketis and our fence-sitting politicians would do well to bear in mind that, even were a future subsidy ever required to ensure continued airport operations, this would be dwarfed by the ever-ongoing 'invisible costs' to the local economy of not having an airport. Indeed, it is not uncommon for airports across Europe to be subsidised because the attaching benefits to local economies are unequivocally greater.