Council To Proceed With Airport Refurbishment Plan

Plans include increasing passenger space in the terminal

Councillors have agreed to move forward with an ambitious plan to upgrade St Mary’s airport.

This follows a report to members that said the runway could close in September without resurfacing, at a cost of £1m.

It’s hoped that can be done as part of a larger £5m project to refurbish the airport but that will depend on being able to access European Development money. And the clock is ticking, as they’d need to complete the work by December next year.

The Council’s Strategic Investment Manager, Diana Mompoloki, said rebuilding the runway will take 18 months “and we need to start planning now.”

She said money could be found to make those repairs, but that would require the Council to either borrow money or sell some of their property assets, as there’s insufficient money in the airport reserves.

The airport has been running at a loss for several years.

Councillor Robert Dorrien Smith said there are so many uncertainties about the transport at the moment that, if possible, it should be supported.

He said the improvements in the passenger experience through reconfiguring the terminal will be vital, although Councillor Marian Bennett said the cost of fares was the biggest factor for most passengers. She said no matter how comfortable the facilities were, bringing down the cost had to be a priority.

Councillor Richard McCarthy was concerned that members had only recently been informed of the state of the runway. He said no report was brought to the General Purposes committee, which looks after the airport, and it was only discussed in the senior management team. And he felt the delay could have cost them vital time in moving forward with repairs.

Runway will need repairs soon

Diana says the biggest risk to accessing the EU funding is that decisions start to slip. She said the project has to be completed by December 2013 and there’s absolutely no flexibility.

Councillor Fred Ticehurst said in order to do the “great deal of work” needed to move the project forward, a working party was needed with access to the necessary resources.

But Councillor Chris Savill informed him that one had been in place since January – the one that had produced the report. That consisted of herself, as well as Councillors Mumford, Lowen and Bennett.

Chris said time was of the essence and decisions need to be made quickly, and there will be occasions when executive decisions will be required.

She said the report was very good and was equally important for the things it rules out, such as ending the myth that extending the runway and bringing in bigger planes is a good way forward.

But Councillors were also warned by Diana that, in the long term, the airport needs to return to the black. That will mean cutting costs as well as making more money. She said it’s not just about putting up landing charges but other things like how they sell fuel or renting out hangars.

After some debate over what constituted a working party, members finally agreed to stick with the existing one with the addition of Robert Dorrien Smith. They also agreed to move forward with the proposals for the airport and seek the funding required.

 



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