Thursday, March 23, 2023

Peel Group’s airport decision prompts South Yorkshire infrastructure inquiry

South Yorkshire’s Mayor Oliver Coppard has announced plans for an independent inquiry to help protect strategic infrastructure in South Yorkshire.

The Inquiry was triggered by the decision of Peel Group to close Doncaster Sheffield Airport last year and follows an unsuccessful appeal for judicial review of their decision by Doncaster Council.

The Inquiry will look at whether new powers, policies or laws are needed to protect similar and new infrastructure projects in the future, at the local, national, and regional level – including through our devolution settlement.  Its findings are expected to hold lessons for places outside of South Yorkshire, feeding into the national conversation about regional economies and powers.

It will be chaired by respected lawyer, business, civic leader and a former High Sheriff of South Yorkshire, Martin McKervey.

Mayor Oliver Coppard said: “What happened to our airport should never have been allowed, and yet we did not have the ability to stop it from happening. We were at the mercy of a private company over whom we had no control, and a government in London who refused to intervene. That simply can’t be allowed to happen again.

“Increasingly, we are talking about how proper devolution might work in this country. For me, proper devolution has to mean putting power in the hands of our communities so we can build the type of economy we want for our region and have proper democratic control over the infrastructure we all rely on.

“South Yorkshire has lost two airports in ten years. Despite the millions of investments and the years of support our region poured into DSA, when push came to shove we simply didn’t have the powers, money or control we needed to stop it from being closed and mothballed.

“We need to urgently look at how we shift the balance of power back into the hands of our communities, so we can protect economically essential assets and infrastructure now and into the future. That’s why I welcome this inquiry and look forward to its recommendations.”

Doncaster Council has announced that they are pursuing a Compulsory Purchase Order for the Airport.  The Inquiry’s scope will be defined so as to prevent its work being in any way prejudicial to ongoing legal action surrounding the Airport.  The Inquiry’s recommendations should ensure that any future airport’s operations are more secure than those that have come before.

Inquiry chair Martin McKervey said: “The strong feelings of business and the local community over Doncaster Sheffield Airport’s closure show that – whilst due process is of course to be respected – it is clearly not enough in itself to ensure private decisions and regional ambitions are aligned.

“It is therefore right that independent experts – trusted by business, the community and a wide range of stakeholders – come together to review what more can be done to protect our critical infrastructure and economic assets.”

The Inquiry will be led by the independent chair, with a secretariat provided by the South Yorkshire Mayoral Combined Authority at arm’s length to maintain independence, in line with the model of a central government Inquiry.

The review will be impartial, transparent, and will take evidence from community groups, businesses, business organisations, stakeholders, institutions, and members of the public including political leaders.  A full Terms of Reference document will be agreed by the chair and members of the Inquiry team and published in due course.

The review is expected to consider: the policy context shaping commercial decision-making over assets identified as of regional strategic significance, like Doncaster Sheffield Airport; the division of powers across different tiers of government to support such assets; and recommendations to local, regional, and national government on how to prevent the abrupt closure of such assets in the future.

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