Admittedly, this year Cornwall Council proudly announced it had reduced the subsidy to the airport by a piffling £112,000. But let’s put that into perspective. The Council is cutting £170,000,000 from its budget and this includes £10,000,000 on front line services like the libraries and adult care. Yet, amazingly, year in year out it can still afford to squander £3,400,000 on subsidising the travel plans of second home owners and well-heeled holidaymakers.
To understand why the political classes are so keen on frittering away huge amounts of public money on this white elephant in the Cornish economic room we have to understand its history. Since 2007 Newquay Airport has been run by Cornwall Airport Ltd. But Cornwall Airport Ltd is wholly owned by Cornwall Council.
In one of the many flights of fancy that madly orbit this scheme the airport claims to be the
greenest airport in the UKYet in reality the Airport ‘Masterplan’ of 2008 forecast an almost four-fold increase in carbon emissions in less than 25 years.
And to what purpose? Why, to help accommodate Cornwall’s population growth and boost up-market tourism (not forgetting the knock-on encouragement of second-home ownership). To their everlasting shame, the pathetic Lib Dem administration, presumably attracted by the idea of running some mini-Heathrow, deliberately shredded their green pretensions by supporting this grey scheme. Furthermore, they offered to subsidise the environmental folly by funding it by up to £5 million a year of our money.
In reality, the carbon costs of satisfying Liberal Democrat hubris has not been as horrific as was feared. But this is because the passenger numbers have fallen from 431,000 in 2008 to just 282,000 in 2010. Performance has not just been rubbish in absolute terms but relatively too. In 2010 Newquay came 297th out of 300 European airports in terms of passenger growth!
The airport needs 950,000 passengers to break even. They are a very long way from this, let alone the over one million passengers by 2015 they were confidently forecasting back in 2008. A pity the local corporate press don’t care to remember this abysmal level of forecasting accuracy when they uncritically trumpet the latest pie in the sky assertion that there will be 1,100 jobs created by the Enterprise Zone by 2015.
The number of destinations offered from Newquay has steadily shrunk from 23 at its peak in 2008 to just 16 now. Ten of those are accessible by rail and one of the others is the Scillies, which has a perfectly decent helicopter service from Penzance. Even Kevin Lavery in 2010 was forced to admit that
the original business plan was over-confident. The airport will always remain a small regional facility and on its own will probably never make a profit.But the corollary of this is that the Council must go on pouring money into this black hole. But for how long? Especially when they’re cutting bus services to the bone.
Despite all this in February of this year the Council suddenly produced out of its hat a new report. What a shock for those green whingers. Despite the depressing picture of declining passenger numbers and reduced services this amazingly concluded that
Dracula’s twin brother Tim Jones of the Devonwall Business Council said the report was
massively encouraging. The airport is Cornwall’s greatest asset for income generation in the long-term. It will be one of the biggest economic drivers in Cornwall.Tim was presumably blinded by the light as this was transparent hogwash. Such a stupendously stupid reaction only proves that Cornwall Council and elements of the business ‘community’ have the ability to make ostriches look like paragons of forward planning.
The evidence for the economic benefits of airports is ambiguous and unproven to say the least. Even the RDA concluded that
the relationship between high growth sectors in the region and air travel appears to be weak.Cue rising panic and a change in direction. Desperate to diversify, Newquay Airport is now being rebranded as the Newquay Aerospace Hub. True to form
- Lib Dem Lord Teverson thought that the Enterprise Zone bid was ‘ a quality bid’
- ConLib Government supporter of austerity for the poor and air travel for the better off Steve Gilbert MP, says it will ‘build on success’ (?!)
- Tory MP George Eustice claims it’s ‘very good news which will benefit the whole county [sic] and create new jobs around a new industry’
Which all goes to prove how easily some people are fooled.
Chancellor George Osborne was in Cornwall this week rather contradictorily flaunting this latest misuse of public money. He gave the game away by suggesting that the Newquay EZ could become another Canary Wharf. Expect therefore that when this turns out to be another failure and several more £millions have been misused the real interest in Newquay Airport will resurface – and tourist and housing schemes bubble back up to the surface.
The undisclosed Plan for Newquay??
Make no mistake. The airport is intrinsically linked to Cornwall Council’s growth agenda. That agenda is insanely unsustainable. And so is this airport. In spades.