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Wednesday, 23 July 2014

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Carlisle Airport plans poised for take off

A £25 million redevelopment of Carlisle Airport has come a step closer after city councillors reaffirmed their decision to grant planning permission.

Stobart Group wants to build a 394,000sq ft freight-distribution centre and resurface the runway in readiness for air freight and passenger flights to London Southend and Dublin.

Councillors approved the scheme in principle last August. But formal consent was never given because of unresolved legal and planning issues.

Planning officers brought the application back before councillors yesterday (Thursday) to consider “new information”.

Irthington farmer Gordon Brown, who persuaded the Court of Appeal to quash an earlier consent, had claimed that granting permission might breach European ‘state aid’ rules.

These apply when a public body gives assistance to a business, which might distort trade and competition. Councillors were presented with two conflicting legal opinions.

The council’s counsel, Denis Edwards, argued there was no breach while barristers for Mr Brown said that, “at the very least”, the council should check with the European Commission before granting permission.

But Mark Lambert, the council’s director of governance, advised councillors: “The clear advice from Mr Edwards is that the state-aid rules are not engaged. Therefore no reference to the commission is required.”

Mr Brown had also argued that one of the proposed planning conditions was unenforceable.

This requires Stobart to keep the airport open unless the company can show it is unviable, even with rental income from the freight-distribution centre.

However, the council’s lawyer, Eversheds, says Mr Brown’s argument is “without basis”. Planning consent will now be confirmed once Stobart signs a legally-binding agreement with the council and that could happen as soon as next week.

Speaking afterwards, Mr Brown would not say whether he would seek another judicial review.

He said: “The council’s decision was in line with expectations. I’m taking stock of the situation.”

If there is no legal challenge, Stobart could start work almost immediately.

Chief executive Andrew Tinkler said: “Now that approval has been granted, we look forward to getting the airport development underway and to concentrate on delivering this project.”

Council leader Joe Hendry believes that a revamped airport will boost the city.

He said: “I’m relieved that we have a decision and I hope we can go forward in a spirit of goodwill for the benefit of Carlisle. This sends out a very strong message that Carlisle is open for business.”

The outcome has been welcomed by businesses.

John Grainger, managing director of Invest in Cumbria, said: “I think the decision is good for democracy. The debate has been very long and thorough.

“There are three things Carlisle needs to be taken seriously as a city – as opposed to a town – a Football League team, a university and an airport. It looks like we’ve got all three.”

Cumbria Chamber of Commerce had also lobbied hard to get Stobart’s plans approved.

Councillors had been due to vote on Stobart’s plan last Friday but the item was adjourned so councillors could be given up-to-date legal advice.

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