The leader of the Conservative opposition on Blackpool Council has blasted the airport owners over its operation.
Coun Tony Williams said today the whole issue of the viability of Blackpool Airport had been “mismanaged” in the run-up to its closure last October.
He said owners Balfour Beatty and minority shareholder Blackpool Council were to blame for the airport’s woes citing a lack of vision for a strategy to grow its business.
He said the airport owners had flagged up the trading difficulties with Blackpool Council a year before the closure and that it was discussed at an outside bodies scrutiny committee meeting in February 2014.
At that meeting the owners had warned that losses were still running at around £1.5m a year and that “in order for the airport to continue to offer commercial services, it would be essential that local authorities and stakeholders could work with Balfour Beatty in delivering a ‘new vision’ for the airport.”
At the meeting it was reported that, “The airport directly employed up to 100 full time employees in peak season, that the airport site supported a number of small businesses that provided up to 200 jobs and that the airport contributed approximately £20m to the sub-regional Gross Value Added.”
The report stated that in 2007, Blackpool Airport handled in excess of 500,000 passengers. However, since then the industry had suffered a global decline and Ryanair had withdrawn from the airport, which had left Jet2.com as the principal carrier.
The recession and the increase in costs including Airport Passenger Duty led to the reluctance of operators to bring in more services which would have brought in more revenue and helped cut losses.
Tony Williams said: “Twelve months after Blackpool Airport stopped international flights can we really say that the closure has greatly affected the economics or fortunes of Blackpool?
“Apart from important job losses and the disruption for many of us who enjoyed boarding an aeroplane at the end of the Prom and jetting off to Lanzarote or mainland Spain the closure hasn’t really changed anything.
“That’s just my point – the fact that the impact of closing this important part of Blackpool’s history and its potential future has had little difference on the town supports my own thoughts that Balfour Beatty totally mismanaged and undermined this important asset from the very beginning of their involvement.
“It supports my own thoughts that Blackpool Council knew the difficulties the company claimed to be having earlier than anyone else, in fact Balfour Beatty had warned of the problems at a scrutiny meeting at the town hall twelve months before the closure announcement, and then the council disgracefully failed to step in to try and either pressure Balfour to improve their partner relations and business plan or seek to find a new individual or partner operator. “In fact to me their cowardly silence and impotence was embarrassing and insulting to the people of Blackpool.
“An airport is so much more than a quick gateway to Spain and Europe it’s a trade network hub, a place to build on retail and hotel accommodation, a centre for conference, commercial freight logistics, a convenient doorway to the north of England and a welcoming, local stop off for visitors from Ireland, Scotland and the south.
“It’s a place of vision and growth something that Balfour Beatty and this council didn’t deliver or even recognise the potential it had.
“After the closure was announced I attended a couple of meetings held by individuals who were passionate about the loss.
“Lots of lobbying was undertaken to every possible target but all to no avail.
“I personally contacted the chairman of Jet 2, representatives from Stobarts and also the senior operations manager from Thomas Cook – none of these operators were remotely interested in taking on Blackpool Airport.
“The fact that an important airport was allowed to deteriorate and rot to almost nothing by sheer mismanagement is unforgivable.
“Whether caused by total incompetence or working to a hidden agenda both Balfour Beatty and this council should be thoroughly ashamed of robbing this town of an important part of its future.
“I truly hope that an individual operator or company eventually sees the real potential in our airport and kicks out the current operator and builds us the airport we deserve but we may unfortunately be too late.” But Mark Smith, Blackpool Council’s cabinet member for business and economic development, said the airport had huge potential to boost the local economy now that its status was almost secured as an enterprise zone, for which the council had been a major campaigner.
He said: “This time last year the picture for the airport was very bleak.
“I was as disappointed as everyone else when the flights to Europe ceased.
“The situation is a lot more positive one year on, since the closure a number of flights have returned, in turn saving jobs and enabling local business to continue trading from the site.
“However, more can still be done, the airport site is vast and there is a huge amount of potential. Blackpool Council has a strategy to ensure that this potential can be realised, attracting new businesses and a thousand new jobs to this site.
“A key element of these plans that we have been pushing hard for is the designation of an enterprise zone, which would act as a catalyst for investment and we are hopeful that we will get final approval for this from the Government for this in the very near future.
“Throughout those discussions we have insisted on protecting key infrastructure at the airport including the main runway and in doing so we have secured the potential for larger commercial flights to return should they become viable once again.”