Tory Euro-MP attacks plans for business park at failed airport

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A EURO-MP has threatened to call for a public inquiry unless council chiefs halt “scandalous” plans to plough up an airport runway to make way for a business park.

Tory Timothy Kirkhope has consistently opposed development plans for the Sheffield City Airport site, in Tinsley, which are due to be examined by planners today.

In an e-mail to Sheffield Council chief executive John Mothersole, Mr Kirkhope has called for the decision to be deferred.

He also raises questions about the authority’s recent handling of the issue, and says he may call in Government watchdogs over its “dereliction of duty”.

Sheffield City Airport opened in 1997, but scheduled flights ended less than five years later, the site finally closing to all air traffic in 2008.

An independent report commissioned by Sheffield Council has since concluded the site was not viable, paving the way for alternative uses.

Fresh controversy over the airport was sparked last week when its owners Peel Airports lodged a new application over their business park plans.

Previous applications for an office and industrial park have been submitted to the council but were opposed by protesters, who say the airport should not be lost forever.

Campaigners have argued the site could be made viable and would find a customer base among Sheffield’s business people who want to make short-haul flights.

In his e-mail, Mr Kirkhope, a former pilot and airport director, stresses this point and says he has had “deep concerns over a long period” about the council’s policies.

He adds: “Sheffield City Airport received large sums of money from Europe on the basis that it would develop over a period of time. The owners appeared to show little appetite to develop it.

“The closure of the airport after such a short time, and the apparent refusal to consider new owners or operators is a serious matter.

“I have been in close touch with the European Commission over this and, depending on what Sheffield Council does next, may wish to involve the Local Government Ombudsman and the District Auditor.

“The business park around the site has been massively developed and grown since the airport was built.

“Frankly, with names like Siemens it is obvious that even if the economic case for operating this airport was difficult at the beginning, that can surely not be the case now?”

It has been claimed that Peel Airports, which also owns part of Doncaster’s Robin Hood Airport, deliberately ran down operations in Sheffield in favour of its other site.

But the firm has denied such accusations, saying a variety of factors, including the September 11 attacks in 2001, led to the site’s ultimate unpopularity and demise.

The airport was developed under an agreement drawn up by the now defunct Sheffield Development Corporation and received £3.5m in European Funding for infrastructure improvements.

When the corporation was wound up, its responsibilities passed to Sheffield Council, but executives have refused to become involved in arguments about the site. In his e-mail, Mr Kirkhope says that is not acceptable and says: “Destroying the runway as you are now proposing is not only a scandalous dereliction of duty by Sheffield Council but is also incredibly short sighted.

“It also sends to me and my colleagues in the European Commission, and in the UK Government that Sheffield and the area around it no longer needs any more state or EU assistance.”

In a statement Sheffield Council said: “Our only role was to inherit the situation from Sheffield Development Corporation.

“We all regret that Sheffield City Airport was not viable but it was not created by, nor was it operated, by Sheffield Council.”