The North East is served by two airports which seem to be enjoying contrasting fortunes.
Newcastle International Airport recently reported an increase in turnover to £48.9m and strong year-on-year growth in the business. Durham Tees Valley Airport has been dealt a blow by the rejection of a £4.65m bid for Regional Growth Fund cash to support expansion plans.
Durham Tees Valley’s owner, Peel Holdings, and the six DTVA local authority shareholders had hoped the grant funding would help the construction of a new link road and servicing infrastructure to open up the Southside Business Park as well as other development potential.
The airport provides vital access to international markets for companies in the Tees Valley area and beyond and there is a need to invest in new infrastructure to improve facilities at the airport.
Peel Holdings, along with their local authority shareholders and local MPs, are extremely disappointed that the £4.65m bid has again been rejected. The Regional Growth Fund assistance could have pump primed a further £46.5m investment with the potential to create 1400 new jobs.
Newcastle International Airport (NIA) has seen considerable new investment in the terminal, air side facilities and services, most notably the daily flights to Dubai on the upgraded Boeing 777 aircraft, opening up business opportunities for North East companies in the Gulf region, Asia and Australasia. Air freight from Newcastle has quadrupled since the introduction of the Emirates service to Dubai. Last week NIA unveiled a masterplan to grow its business and more than double its worth to the regional economy to £1.3bn by 2030. The plans foresee extensive further development, with potential for the terminal to be extended, more car parking and further development of office and commercial space.
The North East has a strong tradition in manufacturing and is the only region in the UK with a positive trade balance of around ï¿½5bn. Improved air services to key airport hubs and additional direct flights can certainly aid the economic recovery in the region.
It is encouraging –following upon the Heseltine report, No Stone Unturned, and Lord Adonis’s regional economic review – that all of the key bodies in the North East including the North East Local Enterprise Partnership (NELEP), North East Chamber of Commerce (NECC), CBI, and the Combined Authority (LA7) appear to be singing from the same hymn sheet.
They all recognise the contribution which regional airports can play in offering improved connectivity to North East-based companies seeking to exploit overseas markets.
Perhaps the single greatest priority now is to establish a new direct flight to a major North American air hub such as New York to open up new business opportunities in the USA.
The Government recognises that the North East has a very strong track record in exporting.
The development of a direct transatlantic connection from Newcastle International Airport is an established priority for the NE LEP and a key component of Newcastle’s economic growth strategy.
The Government needs to ensure that taxation and investment are geared to encouraging strong regional airports.
Hopefully, further growth at Newcastle International Airport will be maintained and a solution will be forthcoming to fund the key new infrastructure required at Durham Tees Valley Airport.
Both airports can provide vital access to international markets for North East businesses.