CAMPAIGNERS are calling for six councils which sold Durham Tees Valley Airport for just £590 an acre to reveal full details of the deal which has remained shrouded in secrecy for 15 years.

The call follows the first details of the deal being released by Hartlepool Borough Council on a judge’s orders as Darlington Borough Council battles to keep other information secret.

Darlington, Durham, Middlesbrough, Stockton, Redcar and Cleveland and Hartlepool councils sold a 75 per cent share in the 951-acre site to airport operators Peel for £500,000 in 2003, which was later increased to 89 per cent at no extra cost.

Campaigners say even if Peel has invested £27.5m in the airport as was suggested it would in 2003, it cost the firm £33,000 an acre, at a time industrial land in the area cost about £100,000 an acre.

They said the authorities needed to answer:

  •  Why the airport was sold so “cheaply” to Peel
  • What promises, commitments and undertakings were given by and to Peel
  • What would happen if the airport was no longer considered viable by Peel
  • How much of the promised investment has Peel made in the airport since 2003.

Campaigners Gerry Stapleton and Suzanne Foster, whose Save Teesside Airport Facebook page has 8,600 followers, said: “We believe the public should know the background to the deal, to know why it was given away so cheaply – it’s just a few hundred pounds an acre for the land.

“It’s all being kept completely in the dark, but there is no reason why the public should not know the terms of the deal to sell their airport to Peel.”

Stockton-based campaigner John Latimer said the authorities had been fighting “tooth and nail” to prevent details of its deal being published, but the Hartlepool council had lost one first tier tribunal and its Darlington counterpart had appealed to another after the Information Commissioner ruled public interest overrode commercial sensitivities.

The Darlington council tribunal centres around an alleged agreement between Peel and the authorities that the airport operator would keep the airport open until April 2021, which was raised as Darlington council granted Peel’s plans to build 350 homes near the airport’s terminal last year.

Mr Latimer said there would be questions over the planning process if it emerged the agreement had been attached to the decision.

Campaigners said one of the newly-released papers raised questions over whether the councils imposed or enforced a key part of the deal.

One of the documents released by Hartlepool council states: “Peel regard the Southside [of the airport area] as a key aspect of their investment. They are therefore willing to commit to entering into a development agreement within three years and if this did not happen the Southside land would revert to the councils at no cost.”

Mr Stapleton said the details simply raised further questions over whether the development agreement was part of the final deal and whether it was enforced by the councils.

A spokesman for the councils said: “Durham Tees Valley Airport is a key asset to the area and though the six local authority shareholders collectively own only 11 per cent of the airport company shareholding, compared with Peel’s 89 per cent stake, we are doing all we can to support the airport because we want it to stay open for business.

“Peel has set out a masterplan with the aim of supporting it to be a viable business in the longer-term. The local authority shareholders are supportive of the masterplan and in 2016, secured agreement from Peel to keep the airport open until at least 2026, subject to a review of its financial performance in 2021.”

Campaigners have questioned if “covering operating losses” should be included as being part of Peel’s investment in the airport, but a Peel spokesman said covering losses and capital improvements were included in the £40m it had invested since becoming the majority shareholder.

The Peel spokesman added the firm had made a further commitment to the local authorities to maintain airport operations, which differed from the approach taken by many other private companies.

He said: “Much has changed since the original agreement between Peel Airports and the local authorities—not least the impact of the world economic recession which severely impacted on the air industry, undermining many of the previous assumptions on passenger levels.”