Bidder in last-ditch attempt to save airport

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News: Sheffield Telegraph online 24-hours a day.

CAMPAIGNERS behind a last-ditch attempt to prevent Sheffield City Airport being lost for ever said this week that a potential buyer had emerged who offered the hope of it being reopened.

As well as contracting with airlines to operate scheduled flights to UK and European cities, the bidder was looking to offer flight training, air taxi and business charter services.

In addition, there were plans for a restaurant and other leisure facilities in a redeveloped terminal, said the Federation of Small Businesses, which urged the council to support the scheme “as a matter of urgency”.

But there was no sign of any official change of direction, with the runway due to be dug up for an extension to Sheffield Business Park. The council, which does not own the land, said “tens of millions” of pounds would be needed to return the site to a functioning and commercially viable airport.

The FSB has been driving a campaign to defer the development of the former airport site pending an independent public enquiry to look into the future of commercial aviation in the Region.

With a petition with more than 1,300 names, it believes there is scope for both the reopening of the airport at Tinsley and Robin Hood Airport at Finningley, which is operated by Peel Holdings, which used to run the Sheffield venture.

FSB regional chairman Gordon Millward said: “Throughout the FSB’s campaign to save the airport site from redevelopment there has been a myth put about that the former airport was closed because it was not commercially viable. We have vigorously refuted this view consistently and our stance has now been vindicated with the entry of a serious bidder into the frame.

“It is our considered opinion that a regional airport will be of infinitely greater value than yet another business park to the future development of the City Region.

“There is business property everywhere standing vacant and acres of land all around the region to build more if we need it. What the region needs more than anything else at this time is an urban airport to bring in the businesses and investment to drive the regeneration. This development will complement the continued operation of the Robin Hood Airport, as the two address totally different markets.

“Manchester has two airports and the South Lancashire region has four. We need to be able to compete with other regions or we’ll be left even further behind in attracting new businesses to this region. The challenge now is for the local authorities to take the bull by the horns and do its part to make it happen. I have written to the council to recommend that it pursues this matter with urgency.”

Mr Millward said the potential buyer was locally-based but had other aviation interests within the UK.

The bid would be subject to the full support of the council, which would need to give planning consents, and a realistic price being agreed for the site and terminal building, with all existing infrastructure intact.

Coun Leigh Bramall, cabinet member for business, said: “Sheffield Council is not in a position to determine the future of the former Sheffield Airport site. It belongs to Sheffield Business Park and the check-in building was converted to offices years ago. The council has no grounds whatsoever, or indeed enforceable powers, to attempt to seek to inhibit or delay the redevelopment of the site.

“It is also important to note that the former airport land is now within an Enterprise Zone and has the potential to create up to 3,000 new jobs in the city.

“To return the site to a functioning and commercially viable airport would require a huge investment of tens of millions.

“Any private sector investment proposal would need to approach the landowners about this first, not the council. The council’s involvement would only be that of planning authority should revised plans for the site be submitted.”