QUESTIONS have been asked about an American company which is likely to take over the running of Cornwall’s Newquay airport if a partnership deal is agreed with Cornwall Council. The local authority’s Conservative administration is supporting a strategy to hand over the majority of the control of the airport and its 650-acre estate in a bid to save around £4m of taxpayers’ money each year.

Cornwall Council owns and operates Cornwall Airport Newquay and manages the wider estate, which includes Aerohub Business Park, the Spaceport, Kernow Solar Park and 200 acres of undeveloped land. The airport served 440,000 passengers in 2023/24 and brings in around £72-million to the Cornish economy annually.

However, it has continually run at a loss in the 20 years the council has been in charge, due to operational costs. The 2024/25 subsidy is likely to be in the region of £4.8-million – £4.5-million of which is the cost of regulation, including air traffic control and the airport’s fire service.

Cllr Tim Dwelly (Independent, Penzance East) is one of several opposition councillors who have been pressing for the partnership to be discussed by every member of Cornwall Council rather than just its Conservative cabinet. He has now written to all Cornwall Council members with his concerns about the deal.

Cllr Dwelly has asked a series of questions which he hopes the cabinet will answer when it is due to rubber stamp an airport strategy and “investment partner” deal this Wednesday (June 12).

The partner would benefit from taking a stake in the airport estate with a share of income (depending on the percentage agreed within the partnership deal) from the airport, Kernow Solar Farm, Aerohub Business Park, the Spaceport and the development of land, which is likely to be a mix of housing and commercial.

The name of the company has not been released to the public, but we understand it is Westcore, an American property investment business with a European wing. In 2014/15 the company purchased Fairoaks, a small airport outside London.

In his email to all councillors, Cllr Dwelly said: “You may or may not have seen details of the preferred buyer of the majority of Newquay Airport, associated buildings and a large 650 acres of land. I am copying in all members to these questions because I am concerned that this huge strategic decision is not being properly debated and appears to be being rushed through before next year’s Cornwall Council elections without a debate in full council.”

He raised concerns about the council’s preferred partner: “The American company that is being proposed for a Cabinet rubber stamp has no apparent experience in running UK airports, beyond a small private jet facility for wealthy individuals in Surrey. They are not airport people. Why are we even considering handing majority control of our airport to such a company?”

Other questions he wants answered include:

“The Tory administration is hoping the move will take financial pressure off the council and taxpayers, who subsidise the airport to the tune of around £4-million each year.”

“Why were the consultants CBRE offered a £200,000 bonus if they found an ‘investor’. How on earth can Cornwall Council afford such spending in the current climate? Doesn’t this bonus constitute an incentive to transfer rather than explore other options such as bringing in airport experts to improve the airport performance, consider fees (which did work before), while separately exploring land deals on the 650-acre site?”

“Why is the joint venture not drawn up to have a majority council stake? In many regional airports the public sector has control.”

“Why has there been no independent review of the airport itself? Given that the aviation sector is expecting to be back at 2019 figures next year, with Newquay Airport headed towards 500,000 passengers pa, the airport should be starting to make money in its own right. Why has there been no consideration of onsite increased facilities to include more shopping, eating, drinking and more? Where is the airport’s five-to-ten year plan for consideration by councillors?”

“Where is the due diligence? What is the airport experience and track record of this company? Do we really feel that a private ‘Lear Jet’ small airport is good enough experience for running our airport?”

“Has the business community been consulted on this? If not why not?”

“Is Cornwall Council being proposed ‘jam tomorrow’ with no certainty of immediate revenue? How can this company cover off the subsidy before it has developed the housing (this site is mixed use), commercial buildings, hotels/leisure, etc, with a revenue stream to do so?”

“Is Cornwall Council capable of doing a deal like this successfully? Have we learned lessons from the now defunct BT partnership or the Egyptian investor in the ecotown which didn’t then happen? Just two examples. Does our track record on joint ventures give councillors confidence in this one and therefore in the airport’s future?”

A decision on whether to proceed with the preferred partner and the associated partnership documents will come to cabinet for a final decision in the autumn. Cabinet members are due to approve the latest steps in the deal at a meeting at County Hall / Lys Kernow in Truro this week.

It is also been recommended to jointly commission a “land utilisation blueprint” with the American company for an agreement on the scope and phasing of development on the airport estate.