A BATTLE to buy a controversy-hit airport has intensified after a leading politician dismissed its owner's 'hands-off' warning and claimed “every man has his price”.

Tees Valley mayor Ben Houchen last night reiterated an election pledge to buy Durham Tees Valley Airport after questioning the investment the firm has put into the site.

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Peel Airports, which operates the former RAF station, based at Middleton St George, near Darlington, said it was “not inclined to sell”.

Bosses added they remained committed to the long-term future of the base, promising to pump all proceeds from the sale of soon-to-be residential land into the airport.

But Mr Houchen, who swept to election victory earlier this year after vowing to use part of his £15m-a-year budget to return the airport to public ownership, said talks were planned in the coming days to thrash out a deal.

He said: “I was elected to buy our airport and that is what I’ll do.
“Peel are working closely with me, and I look forward to my next meeting with them in a fortnight’s time where we will go into further detail.

“Peel sold our airport in 2011. They’ve done it before, and with the right deal they’ll do it again. Every man has his price.”

However, Robert Hough, the airport’s chairman, said Peel had its own vision for the site.

He said its outlook was based upon a masterplan that aimed to create up to 3,800 jobs and add £350m to the regional economy by securing existing routes and developing potential domestic and European services.

Speaking yesterday at the launch of its Flying for the Future campaign, which Peel hopes will attract more business use at the site, Mr Hough said: “This is a start of a new beginning for Durham Tees Valley Airport.
“We have a plan and Mr Houchen has a proposal, but we are not inclined to sell. This is unfinished business for us. We are passionately committed to this airport.”

Mr Hough added the site will continue focusing on its flagship KLM services to Amsterdam, revealing rival operator’s flights to Aberdeen and Norwich, which serve the offshore energy sector, will remain equally essential to its future.