THE five Tees Valley council leaders have confirmed they are backing a mayor's ambitious plan to buy one of the region's airports.

Middlesbrough Mayor Dave Budd has announced he intends to vote in support of Tees Valley Mayor Ben Houchen's plan to bring Durham Tees Valley Airport into public ownership.

His announcement comes after Redcar and Cleveland Borough Council leader Sue Jeffrey and Stockton leader Bob Cook both confirmed this morning they would also vote in favour of the plans.

They join Darlington Borough Council's Stephen Harker and their fellow Labour council leader from Hartlepool, Cllr Christopher Akers-Belcher, in publicly supporting the £40m scheme.

Mr Houchen said: “I’m delighted that all five council leaders have decided to put party-politics aside and throw their weight behind my plan to save Teesside Airport.

“When I first pledged to take our airport back into public ownership, I was widely ridiculed and told it couldn’t be done.

"But thanks to the tens of thousands of you who put your faith in me, we are now within reaching distance of taking back control of our airport to secure its future for generations to come.

“If my 10 Year Rescue Plan is formally approved on Thursday, we will get to work on Friday to rebuild our airport. This will take time, but I’m ready for the challenge.

“I want to take this opportunity to thank the people of the Tees Valley for sticking with me over the past 18 months. This is your victory too.

“Together, this will be an airport owned by the people, for the people, that will work in the interests of Tees Valley residents and our local economy.”

The whole Tees Valley Investment Plan - which includes the £40m plus on the airport and the redevelopment of the former steelworks site at Redcar - goes before the five Tees council leaders next week.

The ambitious plan is to:

  • Buy the airport by the end of March 2019;
  • Recruit a commercial operator by March 2019;
  • Attract a low-cost carrier by 2022;
  • Attract ten additional routes by 2022, 50 per cent chartered and 50 per cent scheduled;
  • See a tenfold increase in passenger numbers by 2022, of which 25 per cent are business passengers;
  • Bring in £421m extra into the Tees Valley economy and create 7,682 jobs by 2027;
  • Increase freight tonnage by up to 500 tonnes each year by 2023;
  • Encourage Tees Valley residents to take up to the national average of 3.41 flights each year.

Mayor Budd said:"Politicians from across the spectrum have for decades worked closely with colleagues from the public and private sectors to advance the interests of the whole of Teesside.

"Those collective efforts led in 2016 to the creation of the Tees Valley Combined Authority, one of the first regional devolution deals negotiated with the Government.

"Our aim from the outset has been to secure and improve the economy of the Tees Valley and the lives of the people who live and work here.

"Collaborative working has been key to our achievements to date and it will be no less vital over the coming years as we continue to combat the effects of a decade of austerity and swingeing Government cuts.

"So the importance of the Combined Authority’s Investment Plan cannot be overstated – it contains many essential and transformative projects and investment proposals and it will have my support.

"That does not mean, however, that I am happy with every aspect of it, and I know my concerns are shared by many members of the public.

"For example, I am concerned that the Government is not fully supporting the aspirations of the South Tees Development Corporation - I believe they should be providing funding to purchase land, rather than us having to take scarce funding away from other possibilities.

"The amount of borrowing and its cost is another risk, and it is also disappointing that European funding may not be fully replaced by Government.

"And of course we have raised very real concerns over the airport deal in particular, in the face of a serious and worrying lack of information and an unwillingness to involve the leaders of the five authorities as equal partners.

"I hope that lessons have been learned about how to head an organisation which respects the collaborative ethos established over many years.

"There have been many press statements and much hype about the Mayor’s airport deal – a deal whose real cost is likely to be £75 million, considerably more than the much touted figure of £40m

"The operator is not signed up and there is no contract that we can examine, though there is no financial risk to the prospective operator. The clear evidence from aviation industry experts is that the airport will continue to need considerable subsidy for the foreseeable future.

"The airport IS hugely important to this area and we all want it to succeed – but it is also the single biggest risk the Combined Authority has, and one which will not be a source of profit for many years.

"It is essential that we – and the public – receive regular progress updates, and that this experience informs the way the Combined Authority is led in the months and years to come."

Councillor Christopher Akers-Belcher, the leader of Hartlepool Borough Council, said: “I fully support the proposed Tees Valley Combined Authority Investment Plan which outlines spending over the next ten years.

“As well as a proposal to purchase and develop Durham Tees Valley Airport, the plan also sets out a programme of significant additional investment across the Tees Valley that will help establish the area as a region of global significance.

“I will be supporting the plan at the Cabinet meeting on Thursday as I believe each of the five Local Authority areas across the Tees Valley will benefit and I am delighted my fellow Cabinet members will be doing the same.”