A disagreement over how £500,000 should be spent in relation to Durham Tees Valley Airport has held up Tees Valley CA’s budget-setting process.
Tees Valley mayor Ben Houchen (Con) wants to use the money, of which £46,000 has already been spent, to commission legal and financial assessments in relation to bringing the airport back into public ownership – a key manifesto pledge. The money will also be used to develop a long-term plan for the airport.
However, at a meeting of the CA last week the five local authority leaders, who are all Labour members, proposed an amendment to spend the money on helping the airport’s current owners, Peel Holdings, with “route support, marketing and enhanced airport services” including improvements to retail facilities. This follows a request made by Peel Holdings in a letter to the mayor and CA on 2 February.
A report due to go before members on Friday, when this matter will need to be resolved in order to set the CA’s budget for 2018-19, said Mr Houchen “is disappointed” that the proposals from the airport’s owners were submitted just three days before the initial meeting to discuss the matter. As a result Mr Houchen said it was “not appropriate for cabinet to commit resources without analysis of the proposal”.
“His view is that Peel Holdings should first demonstrate that [it has] plans for the re-investment of resources secured from housing development at the airport site, before requesting financial support from the taxpayer,” the report said. “He notes that proposals for the combined authority to support the growth of Durham Tees Valley Airport can already be accommodated within the proposed budget without the need for [an] amendment, through uncommitted allocations to transport and infrastructure set aside under the agreed investment plan.”
The report set out the fact that the money can only be spent “if the mayor supports it” and that Mr Houchen “can veto any project” that is presented to cabinet on this matter.
“Given this position, the mayor continues to oppose the amendment,” the report said.
Since local councils sold 75% of their stake in the airport in 2002 passenger numbers have plummeted.