20 Dec 2008

Another shameful move re Staverton Airport

Following Gloucester City Council's Scrutiny Committee shameful decision earlier this month - see here - as we had then been expecting, the Glos City Council Cabinet voted to recommend that the Full Council support the Airport's plans.

Photo: Russ cartoon - not re airports but getting the blog in the mood for Christmas

Cllr Paul James, leader of the Council and chair of the Cabinet, explained that the 'green policy' being developed will initially cap CO2 emissions, and could provide a mechanism for reductions in the future. The current opening hours will also be maintained with not provision for extending them in the future. However already we have seen the proposal's for a 'green policy' make a mockery of the word 'green' - and indeed as I've shown here on the blog, year on year we have seen an increase in planes - more and bigger.

The matter is now likely to go to the next meeting of the full Council on the 15th Jan 2009. See press release I sent out today from lead Green Euro candidate Cllr Ricky Knight here.

Coincidently perhaps - but unlikely - the Bond Aviation Group, which has a specialist helicopter operating division based at the Staverton site, has engaged in initial talks with key shareholders Cheltenham Borough and Gloucester City councils for a takeover of the Airport.

Gloucestershire Airport is valued at more than £20 million, but the value of it’s 400 acres of land is unknown - indeed is likely to be very considerable. Neil Marshall, a member of our Gloucestershire Airport Action Group, warned there must be safeguards against expansion regardless of the $ of the airport and land. Below is what he submitted on behalf of the residents group to the Cabinet meeting following an independent report they commissioned looking at the economics of the project:

I understand that the Cabinet will be discussing the Airport's 'Runway Safety Project' on Wednesday and would like to provide some additional information for your consideration.

1. The airport complies with CAA requirements - there is no threat to the airport's status

The 'Runway Safety Project' (RSP) is designed to address the Airport's concerns that some business could be lost if the CAA withdraws license variations that allow them to operate their main runway in its current configuration. In his report (RMD200818, section 14) the City Councils's Chief Executive has now clarified the position of the CAA. They have stated that they are "currently satisfied", "that in the absence of significant changes to the operations at, or any developments of, the airport, they are likely to remain satisfied" and that there is "no immediate time imperative" to remove the variations. Additionally, the other issues addressed by the RSP, such as the Instrument Landing System and extended Runway End Safety Areas (RESA), have never been the subject of license variations

The clarification by the CAA directly contradicts statements made by the Airport; The Airport business plan states that "the CAA will inevitably require the declared landing distance available to be reduced" without the variations (p.17 of 5-year plan dated 11/12/2006). The same document then goes on to justify the RSP by exploring the consequences of the reduction of the landing distances, concluding that the Airport would have to adapt to remain profitable.

In the light of the clarification from the CAA I believe that there is no longer a case for implementing the RSP on safety grounds. The conclusions of both the Mott MacDonald report and the JASWG would undoubtedly have been influenced had the likelihood of loss of the variation not been so exaggerated.

2. Reference to the 'airport cluster' is misleading, and no jobs are at risk
The report by the Chief executive explains that 3,600 people are employed by companies based at or near the Airport, but with no operational links to the Airport. The report also explains that an additional 340 jobs at the Airport are directly related to aviation. In total these 3,940 jobs contribute 1.9% of the Gloucestershire economy. This means that the aviation related jobs contribute (pro-rata) a far smaller 0.16% of the economy. However the report produces no evidence that any of these jobs would be threatened if the RSP is not implemented. Indeed, I would suggest that even if the runway length were to be reduced none of the 3,600 jobs and a tiny proportion of the 340 jobs would be threatened. For example the flying schools, helicopter companies and by far the majority of the other aviation related businesses would not be effected.

The airport 'cluster', and the 3600 non-aviation related jobs it contains, is of course significant to the Gloucestershire economy. However, those 3,600 jobs are not dependent the Airport, and cannot be effected by the lack of the RSP. Indeed, if securing additional jobs is a priority the money required for the RSP could be better invested in expanding the Airport trading estates where the non-aviation businesses already account for more than ten times the number of jobs provided by aviation related businesses.

3. The business case has not had full scrutiny - and could be badly exposed if it did
The business case for implementing the RSP may be flawed, especially in the current economic climate. Concerned residents Against Staverton Expansion (CASE), of whom I am a member, commissioned an analysis of the business plan from a Chartered Accountant. A copy of Mr Steve Riddick's report is attached to this email.

The key conclusions of the analysis were :

- The Airport has historically been a marginal investment to shareholders (low dividends, few other demonstrable benefits)
- Financial case for "expansion" is marginal at best and may in fact be value-destructive
- The risks and alternatives to the RSP are essentially ignored

Should you wish to discuss any of these points I would be happy to meet with you at a time to suit your schedule. Mr Riddick would also be prepared to attend and explain his findings in more detail.

No comments: