Executive has no plans to sell loss-making airport to private sector

Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness pictured at City of Derry Airport with Paul Byrne, City of Derry, Airport Board Member and Frances Wilson, Company Secretary,after it was announced that the airport is to receive a support package of �7m form the Northern Ireland Executive. Picture Martin McKeown.
Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness pictured at City of Derry Airport with Paul Byrne, City of Derry, Airport Board Member and Frances Wilson, Company Secretary,after it was announced that the airport is to receive a support package of �7m form the Northern Ireland Executive. Picture Martin McKeown.
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Selling the loss-making City of Derry Airport to the private sector is not an option, the infrastructure minister has said.

Chris Hazzard told MLAs at Stormont: “It’s not something I had thought of, or (am) likely to give much consideration to in the near future.”

The issue was raised during Question Time at the Assembly, hours after details of a £7 million Executive bail-out package were made public.

Ulster Unionist Danny Kennedy questioned the value of the airport to local people.

He said: “Given the huge financial pressure experienced by both local ratepayers and taxpayers over many years in maintaining the City of Derry Airport at Eglinton, will the minister and the Executive consider the option of the airport being sold into the private sector where regional airports are normally placed?

“Surely any responsible minister and any responsible Executive should at least look at the option in order to include private management of that airport so that jobs can be protected in what is an essential sub-regional airport.”

The airport, which has been operating with annual losses of around £2 million, is owned by Derry and Strabane District Council.

In a statement, Green Party leader Steven Agnew MLA also outlined his concerns regarding the multi-million pound financial package. He said: “It is amazing the amount of money the Executive can find down the back of the sofa.

“Instead of developing a sustainable transport plan for Northern Ireland, the Executive has thrown money at this problem simply because it is in the deputy first minister’s back yard.

“The Executive should establish an air transport strategy that meets the wider needs of Northern Ireland society and our economy and establish once for all whether Northern Ireland really needs three airports.”

Meanwhile, John O’Connell, chief executive of the TaxPayers’ Alliance, warned that taxpayers would want answers as to why their money was being used to prop up the ailing facility, highlighting that the financial viability of the business has long been questioned.

He added: “Local authorities should be looking for savings and cutting out unnecessary waste and making sure they are delivering value for money.

“When belts are being tightened across the public sector, elected representatives have to make sure that every penny of taxpayers’ money is spent sensibly.”

However, Foyle DUP MLA Gary Middleton welcomed the £7m package, claiming it would provide a “significant boost” to the local economy.

“This money will go some way to securing jobs and providing further employment for the area,” he added.

Last night, a spokesperson for The Executive Office said: “The Executive will provide up to £7 million support for the north west to assist development and growth around the City of Derry Airport. This investment is part of the Executive’s overall plan to help create more and better jobs and deliver economic prosperity for all our people across all of Northern Ireland.”