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Thursday, 27 November 2014

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Gordon Brown: ‘I’ve never been against Carlisle airport. This is about justice’

The farmer who has been the chief opponent of plans to redevelop Carlisle Airport says he may have had to sell his farm had his legal battle failed.

Gordon Brown photo
Gordon Brown

Loans secured against Lane End Farm at Irthington funded Gordon Brown’s successful High Court argument that there was no credible evidence that the airport could be commercially viable.

A judge, Mr Justice Collins, quashed the planning permission for the project granted by Carlisle City Council, which confirmed it was left with a legal bill of about £200,000.

Mr Brown said he had staked his farm, opposite the airport, on the legal battle because he was determined to achieve “justice”.

Stobart Group has long argued that its plans for a huge freight distribution centre at the site – which conflict with the area’s long-term planning strategy – would have to go ahead to safeguard the future of the airport and allow the development of passenger flights to London and Dublin.

Andrew Tinkler, its chief executive, insisted that the firm is capable of running commercial passenger flights from Carlisle.

It was that prospect and the resulting economic benefits that prompted Carlisle City Council to grant the scheme planning permission.

But that argument was rejected by a High Court judge.

He ruled that a city council planning official who recommended refusing planning permission in 2011 was right to conclude there was no evidence to show the passenger flights predicted by Stobart Group would ever materialise.

The city council has confirmed it will not challenge the High Court decision.

Reacting to the judgement, Mr Brown said that there was no truth in rumours that his legal campaign had been funded by a mystery financial backer.

He said: “I borrowed money to do it – loans which were backed by the farm. If it had gone horribly wrong, the farm could have been sold.”

Asked why he had involved himself in such a protracted, costly and complex legal dispute, he said: “I’ve never been against developing the airport. This is about justice.”

He insisted the Stobart planning application was not about the airport, but about the firm securing approval for a huge freight distribution centre on a greenfield site which in any other circumstance it would never stand any chance of getting.

He added: “I’m an economics graduate and when you look at all the evidence the idea of a commercial airport on this site is absolutely crackers. Stobart has sunk the best part of £25 million into this project. There must be a huge pressure to get some commercial return on that site.

“They’re not going to do that by developing an airport; they’ll want to do it by building a freight centre, and then letting the airport wither on the vine.”

Mr Tinkler rejected that claim and confirmed that Stobart will now submit a fresh planning application, saying that it would include clear evidence that commercial flights from the airport can be viable.

Weblink (new window): Download the full judgment (.pdf)

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