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Tuesday, 30 September 2014

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Farmer who's grounded Carlisle Airport plans says he's fighting for equality

A farmer whose legal challenge saw plans to revamp Carlisle Airport quashed says his battle has been one to ensure equality.

Gordon Brown photo
Gordon Brown

Gordon Brown argues Carlisle City Council must stick rigidly to rules with Stobart Group and its plans to overhaul the airfield.

A senior judge’s decision to kick out the latest redevelopment plans is the second that the Irthington farmer has successfully had through judicial review at the High Court.

The ruling is, however, unlikely to be the end of the long-running saga, with Stobart already planning to table another planning application.

Mr Brown, who lives opposite the airport, said it would be premature to comment on an application not already lodged. But he told the News & Star: “I don’t think Carlisle City Council should have one planning system for Stobart and another for the rest of us.”

The court ruling to reject the latest multi-million pound proposals has reignited fierce debate over the airport’s future.

In February last year, the council granted Stobart Group planning permission for a 394,000sq ft freight distribution centre and to resurface the runway in readiness for scheduled passenger flights.

Mr Justice Collins overturned that consent on the grounds of an objection put forward by Mr Brown that there was a defect in viability forecasts of the expansion plans.

He said the decision to grant planning consent could be justified only if the council’s development committee could conclude there was a reasonable prospect of achieving commercial use of the airport.

But a key issue involving a subsidy was “not properly dealt with” by the council’s planning committee, the judge ruled. He rejected the other grounds of appeal put forward, describing the decision made by the council as “borderline”.

Mr Brown doesn’t believe anyone is interested in developing the airport as an airport – describing such a move as “commercial suicide”. He described the judge’s ruling as “in line with expectation”, adding: “The main area of concern was that Carlisle City Council was misrepresenting the entire decision-making process.

“In this situation they took a decision which perhaps they felt was a politically expedient one, rather than one that was based on planning policy.”

Both the city council and Stobart were disappointed by the judge’s ruling.

The council has not said whether it intends to appeal. Stobart has, however, said it was “encouraged” that the “vast majority” of arguments put forward by Mr Brown were rejected, saying its plans would have created “huge opportunity” with a daily flight to Dublin – and via customs clearance in Dublin to the US – and two daily flights to London and the south east through London Southend Airport, which the transport giant also owns.

A spokeswoman said the company still believed a thriving Carlisle Lake District Airport would provide economic growth.

Support has already been voiced for the firm to make another bid at redevelopment.

Cumbria Tourism chairman Eric Robson said: “I think it’s a great shame but the heartening thing is that Stobart have now said they are going to retry. Given that all but one of Mr Brown’s points were thrown out, I am pretty certain that next time around it will get the approval. The benefits to Carlisle, the Lake District and the Scottish Borders would be tremendous, there is no doubt about that.”

He added that a connecting flight from Dublin would allow tourists from North America to clear customs before arriving in Cumbria, giving the county an opportunity to exploit that market.

In Irthington, near the airport, views on the airport redevelopment remain mixed. Giving her own view, parish council chairman Margaret Ogden said: “We are just happy that it has come to some sort of resolution.”

Stobart Group had argued that rental income from a freight distribution centre would turn around the fortunes of the loss-making airport.

Although there was the prospect of daily flights two aviation consultants – commissioned by the council and Mr Brown – cast doubt as to whether passenger services would be viable.

Stobart has a fall-back scheme in place in anticipation that the council might lose the judicial review proceedings. It secured planning permission in December to build 310,000sq ft of warehousing and 9,200sq ft of office accommodation at Kingmoor Park on the northern edge of Carlisle.

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