Parish Letters from local newspapers

Friday May 5 2017

The time has come to pull the plug on failing airport

IT’S about time our councillors took a leaf out of the referendum book and listened to the will of the people.

First it was Theodoulou and Co playing entrepreneur with taxpayers’ money and committing to a £500m incinerator without first asking the neighbours or the planners if it was wanted or even allowable and now we have Gloucester and Chetenham councils pouring money into a failed and failing business enterprise the airport.

I’ve been flagging up the airport’s shortcoming for years and thankfully, recently the calls for commonsense over this millstone are reaching siren levels.

The public sentiment is fast becoming public outrage.

Monday’s article tried to paint a rosy glow on a broken anachronism.

The airport has lost money for years and can’t repay its loans, but somehow it has the local authorities in its thrall and they keep pouring taxpayers’ pounds into what is demonstrably a dead duck.

It’s notable that the airport management turns to the councils for these loans, clearly indicating that the airport perceives the councils to be the soft target they are.

The airport would not dare approach a bank with such a flimsy business model as they know they’d be turned down without an eye-blink. It’s about time our councils stopped playing god with our money, there are far better good causes.

The airport can’t repay its existing loan, without increasing its borrowing by 50 per cent.

Monday’s article airbrushes the fact the airport is contracted to pay the councils a dividend on its profits. The only problem with that piece of blue sky is that it hasn’t made a profit in years.

At £1,000 a week, the rent for the vast site is almost a peppercorn and despite all the claptrap that surroun- ded the business case for extending the runway in 2009, the number of passengers has fallen annually since.

Now standing at a shade over 14,000 annually, I’d like our councils to state why it is seen to be good judgement to lend £2.25m to effectively subsidise each passenger to the tune of £160? The time has come to pull the plug on this failed enterprise.

Bob Newby

Friday May 5 2017

Our council would gain from sell-off

RECENT letters have explained how millions of pounds from the council tax payers of Cheltenham and Gloucester have propped up Gloucestershire airport. This is a shocking state of affairs when councillors should be prioritising our public services.

Business flights have declined for three years to 1,200, against its target of 2,000. The 80,000 movements a year which actually happen are mostly training circuits by planes, helicopters and microlights, all at a cheap rate, underwritten by us locals.

The airport employs around 45 people at the airfield, but there are claims it supports many more jobs and businesses. This is a gross exaggeration — the local business parks mostly contain businesses which have nothing to do with aviation or the airport; Beyond the business parks, the big aviation employers in the area have no dependency on the airport.

Councillor Graham Bocking proposes a Garden Village at the current airfield site with central park, and a light rail between Cheltenham and Gloucester. This would directly benefit local people and the economy, and release funds to all three councils, Gloucester, Cheltenham and Tewkesbury. Existing enterprises at the business parks would remain. The airport's aviation activities could move to Kemble or wherever is best placed to help them become viable.

Cotswold airport at Kemble recently stated on Radio Gloucestershire that it could take more activity if necessary. This is good news all round. The airport activities would get saved and merged elsewhere.

Our councils would gain from the airfield land rather than have a constant financial drain. And the people of Cheltenham and Gloucester would get housing at a potentially sustainable site, supporting modern public transport and a major recreational green space.

Alison Parfitt
Up Hatherley
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~Thursday May 4 2017

Where is all the cash for airport?

WHILE the airport has not been trading profitably, despite some misguided protestations to the contrary, the one thing that it has had is plenty of cash. According to its last published accounts, it apparently had £1,279,477 of 'cash at bank and in hand' as at March 31 2016.

This mainly comprised the £1,040,000 premium payment from the granting of a 99-year property lease.

In the airport’s three-year business plan for the period 2015 to 2018, two further substantial payments in respect of property transactions were expected to be received in the period to March 31 2017.

This should have increased the amount of cash held by the airport between March 31 2016, and now.

So why the need for an emergency loan of £750,000 from its two shareholders? Where has all the cash gone?

Down Hatherley

Thursday April 27 2017

Airport at Staverton is massively under-performing

REGARDING the article (Echo, Wednesday April 19) under the heading ‘Airport wants to land £750k growth loan from councils’ with a subheading of ‘Staverton profitable company has big plans for expansion’.

I do not mean to be rude but somebody really should look at the Gloucestershire Airport Limited’s actual accounts and not just accept at face value the usual self-serving statements put out by airport management.

The profit figures quoted for the years ending March 31 2015 and 2016 of £159,571 and £678,836 are correct but include some £450,000 of property rental income in both years.

And “profits rocketed” in the year ending March 31, 2016, because it included an exceptional one-off profit of £960,603 from the sale of a long lease.

You mention that the airport pays an annual rent of around £52,000 — actually just under £50,000 in the year ending March 31, 2016 — to the councils, Gloucester City Council and Cheltenham Borough Council.

This is not strictly true as that £52,000 in fact represents 10 per cent of the property rental income from property on the airport and in Meteor Business Park.

The airport retains the other 90 per cent, some £450,000 per annum as mentioned above.

Why this arrangement was concluded is not entirely clear.

It doesn’t matter What you call it but the property rental income is in effect a subsidy to the airport because both the annual rental income and the one off profits could/should be paid to the councils.

You also mention that the airport pays a dividend from any profits. Regrettably the airport has not actually paid a dividend since 2010, because it has not made sufficient profit to be able to do this.

There continues to be a ‘conspiracy of optimism’ around Gloucestershire Airport Limited which has not been justified by its actual trading performance. If the property rental income and the profit from fuels sales were excluded from its last accounts it is not unreasonable to suggest that Gloucestershire Airport Limited lost close to £1million on other airport activities in the year to March 31 2016. That is more than £10 for every flight made from the airport.

Where Gloucestershire Airport Limited has been very lucky is that nobody seems to have been really reviewing its financial non-performance.
The airport does have positive local economic impact, after all Gloucestershire Airport Limited itself directly employs some 50 people.

In summary the airport site of some 170 hectares is a massively under-performing asset for the councils given its potential if used for other purposes. There really needs to be a proper debate about the use of the airport site.

Philip Drew
Down Hatherley

Tuesday April 25 2017

Stop financial farce of giving money to airport

CAN I ask councillors to stop spending more of our Council Tax money on Gloucestershire Airport, Staverton.

It now wants a £750,000 loan, on top of the £500,000 annual subsidy it gets from the business park rents.

In the previous financial year it received the £500,000 business park subsidy plus an incredible windfall of £960,000 from a long-lease payment at the business park.

We are literally spending millions on the airport and it still can’t survive.

Its business flights are going down each year and are now just 1,200.

The main airport activity is flying schools doing circuits — they can offer bargain basement rates because we subsidise them.

On April 19 you reported the airport’s claim that its “profits rocketed from £159,000 to £678,000 in the past year”.

No, the airport has not made a profit, it’s simply grasped very large amounts of our councils’ money to underwrite its activities.

I am sure the business community takes a dim view of the airport’s relentless subsidy troughing and claims that it has “turned its fortunes around” when it simply pocketed the windfall of £960,000 from the business parks.

The airport’s requested loan of £750,000, plus its £500,000 annual subsidy would mean £1.25million of council funds propping up the airport which has an annual turnover of just £4million.
Previous loans are still being paid back, the airport has a significant deficit in its pension scheme and the asset value of the airport continues to decline despite the years of ongoing subsidies.

Giving the airport another large dose of public funds will rob council services
and add to this financial farce.

Councillors must not give in to yet more special pleading from these subsidised flyers.

Councillor Ken Watson
Twigworth Parish Council

Tuesday April 18 2017

It is time to relocate this struggling airport?

RECENT press reports have mentioned Gloucestershire Airport, Staverton’s 80,000 flights in the last year.

Yes, the airport is artificially busy, allowing all of this subsidised flying.

The business flights which the airport wishes to attract are declining every year, and dropped to 1,200 last year.

The target of 2,000 business flights per year in the airport’s business plan is slipping further away.

The bulk of the flights are from flying clubs, including microlights. Much of the activity is circuits, which includes the heavy vibrations we get from helicopters.

The latest available airport accounts show an operating loss of £78,483.

If you deduct the property rental income and the profit from fuel sales, then it appears the airport lost between £800,000 and £1million on ‘other airport activity’. In other words the airport lost over £10 on every one of those 80,000 flights

It is high time to relocate the struggling airport as Councillor Graham Bocking and others suggest.
A garden village and central park on the airport site will have many benefits.

It will avoid Churchdown and neighbouring north Gloucester areas being swamped by developments from the JCS plans and gridlocked by the resulting traffic.

It would also allow the £300million airport land value to be released back to the Cheltenham and Gloucester council owners.

Tewkesbury Borough Council would benefit greatly from the new homes bonus and the Council Tax and business rates.

Sarah Yates

Saturday April 15 2017

How long will councils keep subsidising airport?

GLOUCESTERSHIRE Airport accounts to March 31, 2016 indicate that the loss on airport activities was close to £1million.

In addition, Cheltenham Borough Council and Gloucester City Council continue to subsidise the airport annually with foregone rent from their business parks. The current level of this subsidy is half a million pounds a year.

The airport also receives long-lease payments at the councils’ Staverton based business parks.
In 2015 the airport profited by £960,000 for a 99-year lease payment.
Further substantial payments of a similar nature were expected in the year to March 31, 2017.

In addition to the recent poor trading performance a significant pension deficit looms over the airport company.

The small dividend expected to the shareholder councils, of £50,000 each, has not been paid since 2010 and there is an ongoing heavy loan repayment.

The airport’s subsidy dependence is nothing new. In a 1957 article in FlightMagazine, referring to the Staverton industrial estate, we get the following quote: “The flourishing industrial estate - which in fact subsidises the flying activities - has room for several more tenants.”

lf the airport is kept afloat we could be underwriting the airport in this way for decades more - subsidising people to fly while the two councils have to constantly worry which services to cut.
And all this is only half the matter. The airport’s use of this land denies the councils a much greater financial return.

The latest suggestion of a new sustainable village, central park and modern rail system is very timely. It would make a far bigger contribution to the area’s economy.

A Nicol

Thursday March 23 2017

Selling airport could fund light railway system

THANK you to Councillor Graham Bocking for highlighting the airport’s troubled finances.

He is right — it would be kinder to relocate the airport, or any parts that could be economic if merged elsewhere.

We should stop punishing ourselves with an uneconomic airport that the councils underwrite, and that benefits so few of us.

A garden village on this land is far preferable to the massed housing planned elsewhere around Churchdown which would choke the north of Gloucester and Severn Vale with traffic.

It’s good news that the airport site would yield £300million or more for Gloucester and for Cheltenham councils.

I’ve heard that part of this income could fund a light rail service between Gloucester and Cheltenham.

Can everyone report more on this please?

We need modern public transport to ease our chronic traffic problems.

Churchdown station is still there to re- open, and both Gloucester and Cheltenham would get many benefits from a light rail system.

The current JCS plan is all about traffic-clogged routes between outdated concepts of suburbia.

It is a backwards-looking plan that will drag the area down.

A garden village and a light rail is exactly the bold planning we need — for our quality of life, our transport, and our councils’ sound economic future.

Concerned Local Resident

Tuesday March 21 2017

Time for a serious look at the future viability of the airport

THE airport is here to stay, say the airport directors. If they genuinely think that, they haven’t read their own accounts.

The accounts show an aviation business which is grossly unprofitable every year and beset with problems like a pensions liability and a declining asset.

The airport limps on because the councils let it have rental income from the next-door trading estates, sometimes over a million pounds a year’s worth.

The airport directors cannot bring themselves to call this a subsidy, but to the Council Tax payers that’s exactly what it is — money due to the councils being siphoned off at source by the airport.

By being kept afloat like this the airport can allow cheap landing fees, so it seems to be busy — but this is all artificial, subsidised by us local people. We suffer the noise, and incredibly, we have to pay for it. Any responsible council leaders would rectify this rather than duck the problem.

No wonder the airport directors are scared of a local councillor’s proposal for better use of the land. The councillor suggests a sustain- able settlement with core green land and modern public transport. This would solve all the failings of the current Joint Core Strategy plan, and bring the councils money they desperately need.

It is an insult to call the airport land green belt, especially when the airport wants to build huge hangars on it anyway. Meanwhile the coun- cils propose that real green belt in the Severn Vale such as Twigworth should be sacrificed for the housing targets. A millstone like the airport needs a fundamental rethink — Councillor Booking is right, now’s the chance.

The ultimate. lesson here is simple — look at the airport’s accounts, not the endless ‘jam tomorrow’ quotes coming from the airport. It’s time for our council leaders to do just that.

Sarah Yates

Monday 20 March 2017

Airport site would be ideal for new houses

YOUR headline on, the airfield new settlement proposal states it is “closing the gap” between Gloucester and Cheltenham.

No — your reporter seems to have invented this, because as I read the proposals, they do not involve closing a gap.

It’s been explained that the garden village proposal would be located on the land presently used by the airport.

The open landscape between Gloucester and Cheltenham immediately south isn’t proposed for development.

Even on the new settlement where the airport currently is, there would be a large green space park in the centre.

Plenty of new housing is planned in this general area anyway, so to reallocate some of it makes sense, especially if it would benefit the councils so much.

Gloucester and Cheltenham would both receive the land sale value, and Tewkesbury would get the rateable values. They would save on the loss-making airport.

So, yes I welcome a green new settlement with parkland convenient to me and other local people. A rethink on the airport is long overdue.

This land is too valuable in many ways, to remain in the hands of subsidy-sapping exercise that the councils have turned a blind eye to.

Ken Watson
Councillor, Twigworth PC.

Saturday 18 March 2017

No special cases Our village is just as precious

I AM absolutely appalled by the comments recently made by Councillor Steve Jordan, leader of Cheltenham Borough Council.

He said and I quote: “The airport is in green belt and the intention of green belt is to prevent Cheltenham and Gloucester merging in to each other.

“The Joint Core Strategy takes the approach of supporting the overall concept of green belt.”

Please tell us why is the airport site is more important green belt land than that at Twigworth and Innsworth, which is prime agricultural land and is at risk of pluvial flooding year on year and also acts as a barrier for urban sprawl from Gloucester?

Each year it is farmed and crops grow in abundance which is something we may need when we as a country are more reliant on what we can grow than what we can import.

Please tell us why our green belt is less important when it houses wildlife, fauna and flora abundantly and why our green belt should be sacrificed?

Who makes these decisions? Why can’t we make a decision and say ‘no, keep off our green belt’ like you are able to?

Please explain to us all in Twigworth how Councillor Paul James, leader of Gloucester City Council (C, Longlevens) has previously said he wouldn’t want to see the two areas merge physically?

It seems that everyone within Cheltenham Borough Council and Gloucester City Council and a small majority within Tewkesbury Borough Council are very happy to see our beautiful village of Twigworth, not only submerge under water but also lose its whole identity by being merged into Gloucester by the proposed modifications suggested by Inspector Ord for the Joint Core Strategy.

As everyone must be aware, the Joint Core Strategy, at present, is not set in stone and is going through a consultation process.

It is a long way from being sound so why shouldn’t Councillor Bocking suggest the airport?

As it is, Tewkesbury Borough Council were told last year to find alternative sites to develop which have not come to fruition, so surely this is a very reasonable alternative to the precious green belt surrounding Twigworth and Innsworth.

Please someone explain to us in Twigworth exactly how we benefit from this airport and why we should sacrifice our green belt when there is an area close by that doesn’t flood, is in deficit every year and has fantastic access to the A40?

A perfectly reasonable alternative, well done Graham Bocking, I applaud you.

Helen Ford
Chairman, Twigworth Parish Council

Friday 17 March 2017

Virtual airline business model financially fragile

YOUR article on March 13 about the demise of Citywing, which flew out of Gloucestershire Airport and other places in the UK, missed something of an opportunity.

Instead of making it a typical piece about the airport with familiar hackneyed quotes from its spokesman Darren Lewington, it could have been an interesting item about virtual airlines.

For that is What Citywing was.

It did no flying itself and used chartered aircraft, pilots and cabin crew from an actual airline, Van Air Europe AS (a Czech registered company).

The UK Civil Aviation Authority did not regulate Citywing, which was no more than a Isle of Man-based ticket seller.

Citywing had no Air Operator’s Licence, no appointed Aviation Safety Officer and no Safety Department.

Citywing was formed in November 2012 following a management buyout of Manx 2, its predecessor on the Gloucester to Isle of Man route, and made’ its first flight on January 2 2013.

It is worth noting that Manx 2 was itself a virtual airline which started flying in 2006 and that business’s ultimate demise was perhaps precipitated by a crash in February 2011 when six people were killed. The collapse of Citywing in such a rapid fashion, after the UK Civil Aviation Authority suspended Van Air’s permission to fly in the UK following an incident on February 23, indicates the financial fragility of the virtual airline business model.

And it seems to have prompted calls from some aviation sources to end the concept of virtual airlines.

Philip Drew
Down Hatherley

Friday March 17 2017

Garden Village would be great

THE Cheltenham Borough Council leader Steve Jordan claims a Garden Village cannot “happen on the land occupied by Staverton Airport because it is green belt.

I presume then, that he thinks all the airport's proposed developments on that land should be refused planning permission?

The-airport’s proposed developments, for which they seek public and government funds, are more airport sheds, roads and hangars.

In the Joint Core Strategy the airport has requested special planning permissions for these 'developments' on green belt land.

The airport claims to have a wider worth to the local economy but this is special pleading and doesn’t consider the inevitable blight of an airport, which should be costed.

A mix of housing and employment on the land occupied by the airport would have far more economic value to the area, and the central park proposal is inspiring — a way of retaining green space in this area that everyone could access and enjoy.

So should we want a subsidised airport?

Or do we want a Garden Village, with green space, public parks, and a light rail connecting Cheltenham and Gloucester.

We could have all this as well as raising millions of pounds for Cheltenham Borough Council, Gloucester City Council, and Tewkesbury Borough Council.

Good for Councillor Graham Bocking who is promoting this.

He is clearly a man of vision — something sadly lacking in the Joint Core Strategy till now.

Alison Parfitt