SMALL businesses in the region are making a last-ditch attempt to save Sheffield City Airport.
Even though the airport at Tinsley Park closed four years ago, and its runway is due to be ripped up to make way for an extension to Sheffield Business Park, they say a local airport is needed more than ever because of the growing business community between the city and Rotherham.
Once the runway is lost and the site redeveloped, “all hope of a facility in Sheffield for reaching the major European centres, giving access to the strategically important customers, suppliers and partners of western Europe, will be lost”, said Gordon Millward, regional chairman of the Federation of Small Businesses.
Business Secretary Vince Cable is being urged by the Federation to put on hold any redevelopment until an independent public enquiry is held to examine the public interest and to explore the potential use for commercial aviation. The rest of the local business community is being asked to write to MPs and councillors.
Sheffield City Airport opened in 1997 but the last scheduled flights were in 2002. It was finally closed in 2008, with owners Peel saying they could not attract enough commercial flights.
An independent review commissioned by Sheffield City Council in 2005 found the airport was not financially viable due to its short runway precluding most types of passenger planes.
The runway is now designated part of a Government-backed Enterprise Zone, which will attract business rate relief. It already has planning permission for redevelopment, and the site is being pitched as ideal for firms supplying factories on the nearby Advanced Manufacturing Park. Up to 3,000 jobs are envisaged.
However, it is developments such as the Advanced Manufacturing Park and other high-tech businesses “that are springing up along the Sheffield / Rotherham border” that is spurring the business organisation to call for a rethink over the future of the runway before it is too late.
The Advanced Manufacturing Park is less than ten minutes walk from the dormant airport, which was built to emulate the highly successful London City Airport, said Mr Millward.
Sheffield City Airport is only four miles from the centre of Sheffield and three miles from Rotherham, with a combined population of nearly one million. Within a 60-minute drive, the total is over 9m.
“When it first opened, an independent report into the operation of Sheffield City Airport concluded that the airport would assist in achieving the vision of a step change in the performance of the sub-region economy, help attract and nurture companies in a number of high technology, high skills and high value-added target growth areas and assist the area in attracting inward investment.
“We fail to see that anything has changed. In fact, the need for a City Airport is even greater now than in those far off, pre-Sheffield City Airport days. Its supposed replacement, Robin Hood Airport Doncaster Sheffield, has focused its operating strategy solely on international leisure tourism and delivers none of the benefits so vital to the growing high-tech business community. Even a cursory glance at its destination lists confirms that none of the major European centres of commerce and technology are served.”