Cornwall business leader accuses council of lack of transparency

The new chief executive of Cornwall Chamber of Commerce has written to Cornwall Council calling for it to immediately suspend any plan for a partnership deal which would mean American company Westcore running the Duchy's airport.

In a strongly worded letter, John Brown slammed the council for not consulting the business community and making a decision on the future of Cornwall Airport Newquay and its 65-acre estate behind closed doors which is "both unacceptable and opaque". He added that it was "troubling" that Westcore has limited experience in running airports.

The local authority is currently in the process of securing a deal with a partner to develop the land and also take the financial pressure off the council when it comes to running the airport, which is subsidised by the taxpayer to the tune of around £4.8m each year. The wider Cornwall Airport Newquay estate includes Aerohub Business Park, the Spaceport, Kernow Solar Park and 200 acres of land, which is likely to be developed by the favoured new partner, Westcore.

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Mr Brown's letter states: "I am writing to express the Cornwall Chamber of Commerce's profound disappointment regarding the recent decision to select Westcore as the preferred partner to manage Newquay airport. This decision, made without consulting the business community and behind closed doors, is both unacceptable and opaque. It disregards the vital role that the private sector plays in our regional economy.

"It is particularly troubling that Westcore, the chosen partner, appears to have limited experience in managing airports. Proficiency in airport management should be the foremost criterion in selecting a partner for an asset as critical as Newquay airport, with property development being a secondary consideration.

"The Cornwall Chamber of Commerce stands ready to gather insights and opinions from leaders across business, higher education and charitable sectors to advise the council on what we believe to be essential in selecting an appropriate partner."

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He highlights a number of key requests:

  • Immediate suspension of current decision: Halt any further progress with Westcore until a thorough review and consultation process has been conducted.

  • Transparent consultation process: Engage in a transparent and inclusive consultation with the business community and other key stakeholders before finalising any decisions.

  • Criteria for partner selection: Ensure that the primary criterion for selecting a partner is demonstrated expertise in airport management.

  • Stakeholder advisory panel: Establish a panel comprising representatives from across the spectrum of Cornish industry to provide ongoing advice and insights on the selection process.

  • Public accountability: Commit to regular updates and open communication with the public and business community regarding the progress and decisions related to Newquay airport.

Mr Brown added: "Reliable and affordable transport infrastructure is the lifeblood of a thriving local economy. Decisions about the future of Newquay airport, which involves significant taxpayer investment, must be made through deep, meaningful and transparent consultation with all stakeholders who rely on its success."

The council's process of finding an airport partner has already been criticised by Mr Brown's predecessor, Kim Conchie, who said: "The airport is essential if we wish to have businesses like Pendennis Shipyard and Goonhilly headquartered in Cornwall. I have complained to [Cornwall Council chief executive] Kate Kennally and [strategic director for growth and development] Phil Mason as well as [service director for economy and skills] Glenn Caplin-Grey that businesses are feeling ‘left in the dark’ over plans for Newquay as we haven’t been consulted. I would be very happy to lead a group to review a plan and lobby council and the prosed bidder(s)."

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Miles Carden, chief executive of Falmouth Harbour and former Spaceport Cornwall boss, is also concerned. He wrote to councillor Julian German, leader of the opposition at the local authority, stating: "What about Cornwall Council peer reviewing any decision through a private sector leadership group? I fear for the future of the airport and need reassurance that the right decisions are being made, albeit I fully understand the complexities and challenges with the airport."

A final report about all aspects of the deal will be presented to Cornwall Council's Conservative Cabinet in the autumn which will include more details about what could be built on the airport land.