Full Council Meeting Rejects 15% Increase In Airport Landing Fees
Scilly’s Full Council has rejected a 15% increase in landing fees at St Mary’s Airport and has sent the proposal back to the Transport, Economic Development and Infrastructure Committee for more discussion.
The TEDI Committee, which is the only Council body that can set the airport charges, made the recommendation to increase them by 15% at their meeting last week.
Five members voted in favour of the rise, while three voted against.
The decision provoked an angry response from Steamship Company Chief Executive, Rob Goldsmith, who said the rise was “totally unacceptable” and that the Council had refused to engage in any consultation with the company over the increases.
But at Tuesday’s Full Council meeting, Cllr Marian Bennett proposed rejecting the hike in fees.
Marian wanted a “full round table discussion” chaired by an independent person, to decide the increase.
She suggested the islands’ former MEP and expert in economic development, Lord Teverson.
Marian said it was “unthinkable” that such an important matter was not open to consultation with our sole transport operator and that discussions “should have taken place months ago.”
The Vice Chairman of the TEDI Committee, Cllr Ted Moulson, agreed. Ted couldn’t make last week’s meeting because of transport problems, but he stated he was “strongly against” the proposed increase.
Cllr Moulson said they were, “sending the wrong signals entirely to the community and to our sole provider of transport.”
“We have to work with them,” said Ted, “not drive a wedge between the Council and the Steamship Company.
Cllr James Francis, another member of the TEDI Committee who couldn’t attend because of transport issues, also wanted the charges rejected.
James said transport was one of the foremost concerns of islanders and the Council had to acknowledge that.
Council Chairman Amanda Martin warned members five times that if they rejected the increase, the Council would not be able to “balance the budget” by the required date of the 11th March.
However, when councillors finally asked Senior Finance Officer Ben Barrett whether that was the case, he told them it was not correct.
The airport is a ring-fenced trading account and the increase in landing charges were designed to replenish the facility’s reserves. This didn’t affect the revenue budget, he said.
“So the argument of balancing the budget is spurious?” asked Cllr Moulson.
“Yes,” replied Mr Barrett.
Nine councillors voted in favour of rejecting the 15% increase, while four voted against.
Steamship Chief Executive Rob Goldsmith has told ScillyToday: “We are very pleased that the full Council has voted to refer this matter back to the TEDI committee for reconsideration as the proposed huge increase in charges was not only unjustifiable but had been reached without any consultation with us as the Airport’s main customer.
“We now hope we will be given the opportunity to work in partnership with the Council through a process of consultation and engagement so that Members can make an informed decision that meets the needs of the Airport and the best interests of the islands’ economy.”