The Plymouth Herald carried a piece this week on Plymouth Airport in the wake of the Planning Inspector’s post hearing advice which was first reported on FlyPlymouth's Facebook page. The article was modestly worded in appropriate terms quoting FlyPlymouth as ‘welcoming’ the Inspector’s advice with ‘cautious optimism’. Nothing to be concerned about there.
But the headline writer – whose job is of course to sell stories – managed to confuse things with the dramatic sounding: ‘Airport campaigners claim victory in battle to keep dream alive’.
Nothing could be further from the truth. So, here are a few correctives for the record:
1. FlyPlymouth has not been involved in a battle in this planning process. The lines were drawn rather, between Plymouth City Council’s unanimous policies to safeguard the airport site for future aviation use in the Local Plan and the leaseholder’s attempts to overturn those policies so it could dispose of the land for residential development. FlyPlymouth has been a third party – clearly with a strong interest – not a principal actor. If there has been a win, it has been by Plymouth City Council. And council members of all sides are to be applauded for their consistent and unified position on this matter. In the words of Tudor Evans from an earlier article in the Herald, ‘ “There was not a cigarette paper” between the Labour and Conservative positions on supporting the airport.’ Readers of this article may wish to write to their local councillors and/or the party leaders and express their appreciation for what the Council has achieved so far.
2. This is no dream. The airport’s safeguarding is a rapidly hardening fact of local planning policy and that policy appears now to be on its way into the Joint Local Plan when that is adopted early next year. That means that the airport is a firm reality with the force of law behind it. There are commercial stages to progress through to seeing the airport reopened, but those stages will be based on the reality of planning policy which is supported by continually growing aviation and general aviation policy from central government finding its way into the Aviation Policy Framework and National Planning Policy Framework.
3. FlyPlymouth is not a campaign group but an airport operator in waiting. The campaign stage of work was carried out by its predecessor, Viable, resulting in the policy positions adopted by the City Council in 2014 at which point FlyPlymouth was created. All businesses campaign from time to time but FlyPlymouth has barely campaigned since it was created apart from Crowdfunding activities. It is however, ready with the experienced and competent team, the business plans, the customers and the resources required to deliver on Council policy.
4. FlyPlymouth has not claimed a victory here. We have welcomed the news with cautious optimism but made clear that this is a procedural stage within an ongoing process and any such claims would be precipitous. Change is unlikely but it is possible.
In any case, there is little to celebrate in that Plymouth airport has been closed for almost seven years now, valuable jobs have been lost, businesses evicted and the local economy has suffered from the lack of connectivity and the uncertainty created as a result. This entire episode has been a damaging and regrettable act of self-harm for Plymouth and one we should look to put behind us as quickly as possible.
Perhaps on the day when the airport reopens, new jobs are created and connectivity is resumed we can allow ourselves a moment of celebration, but not before.