‘Can’t we just buy the airport?’ – South Yorkshire mayor Oliver Coppard answers recurring questions on future of Doncaster Sheffield Airport
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Owners Peel said last month that DSA was ‘commercially unviable’. They blamed Covid-19 and the Wizz Air moving their northern base away from the airport earlier this year.
There are now less than three weeks until the ‘strategic review’ comes to an end and calls have been made to extend the process for 12 months.
Currently, 800 jobs are at risk with many more in the supply chain if DSA shuts for good.
Here, Mayor Coppard answers questions from residents on social media.
Why is the review period so short?
Peel has set a very short timetable for the negotiations about the future of the airport, but I’m pushing for them to extend that as quickly as we can, for as long as we can. I’ve asked for 12 months, so we have enough time to properly examine every option. In my discussions with the government’s Aviation Minister (Robert Courts MP) last week, he said Peel had made clear to him that they would be extending the negotiation timetable, and I have asked him to write to Peel to confirm they will be following through on that commitment.
Are Peel prepared to sell the airport?
We’re pushing them on this point. They’ve made some more encouraging noises over the last two weeks, but they have not communicated a firm decision to either keep DSA open or sell it. We’re in a negotiation, so we’re working through all the options, but we have been clear with Peel that our goal is to keep the airport open and operational. My view is that if Peel isn’t prepared or able to make DSA a success, then I want an owner or operator who can.
What happens if they don’t want to sell it?
Doncaster Council is the Planning Authority and has been explicit with Peel that the airport is at the heart of their plan. But ultimately, Peel are the owners of the airport, so if they refuse to sell, close it down and mothball the site then under the current rules there’s nothing I, the council, the government, or anyone else can do to stop them.
I’m really frustrated by that, but I don’t have any powers to force them into either selling the airport as a going concern or keeping it open and running it themselves.
Can’t we just buy the airport?
We’re not ruling anything out. The Mayor of Tees Valley – Ben Houchen – bought Teesside airport and all the land around it from Peel for £40 million. Unfortunately, Teesside has lost a fairly large amount of public money since then (most recently posting losses of £12 million and £14 million over the last two years) as well as losing their Heathrow route. To a certain extent, the development and sale of the land around their airport can be used to offset those losses.
DSA is a bigger airport than Teesside and likely worth much more than, and yet there is much less available land around it.
That doesn’t make it impossible, but my first preference is for a private sector company or consortium with a proven track record to take on the airport if Peel isn’t prepared to keep it going. That’s because the right private sector partner will have the expertise, connections, and access to funding to secure the long-term future of DSA.
I’m also acutely conscious that we’re in a negotiation with Peel and if the public sector were to commit to buying the airport ‘no-matter what’ (as some have advocated) it would wholly undermine our position and essentially mean we were offering to write Peel a blank cheque.
Some people have talked about ‘Compulsory Purchase Orders’. Again, we’re keeping all options on the table. But my priority is saving peoples’ jobs, and a CPO wouldn’t solve the immediate problem of keeping operations going at the airport and maintaining confidence in DSA because it can take years to enforce.
Does the petition we’ve all signed mean there will be a debate in Parliament?
The Change.Org petition is really important because it shows the strength of the support in the community. But it’s not the same thing as an official parliamentary petition. An official parliamentary petition triggers a debate in parliament once 100,000 people have signed it. The change.org petition won’t automatically trigger a debate in parliament although our local MPs can ask for an ‘adjournment debate’ about DSA to happen once parliament returns from their summer recess in September.
Is there a rail link going into the airport?
The organisation I lead – SYMCA – and Doncaster Council have been pushing the government to put a rail link into the airport for years. My predecessor as Mayor – Dan Jarvis – asked the government to extend the East Coast Mainline (ECML) to the airport, which would have cost around £300 million. That request was turned down by the government in 2020.
More recently, after months of negotiations, the government has finally agreed to begin the feasibility work for a more modest scheme – a £30 million extension to the Lincoln Line – through something called CRSTS funding. It’s still a good thing to do, but it won’t have the same benefits the ECML scheme would have had.