Is there more to the closure of the Doncaster/Sheffield Airport?
After weeks of negotiations, it was announced a few days ago that the financially stricken airport was going to close.
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Its future had been up in the air (pardon the pun) for a while, after the owners, The Peel Group put it up for sale. A couple of offers were made by interested parties; however, none were accepted as they weren’t close to the figure Peel purportedly wanted.
More recently, local leaders and organisations tried all they could to keep the airport going. Doncaster Council even offered to pay the airport’s running costs until 31 October 2023—which it believed would give local stakeholders the time they needed to get their finances and plans together. Though this plan was feasible and would have kept alive what is a clear asset to the residents of South Yorkshire, it was rejected by Peel.
Some locals have suggested that the closure of the airport was Peel’s plan all along. The land, prior to the airport being built, was off the beaten track, so to speak. Now that infrastructure has been put in place—such as waste removal, electrics, water supply, road access, etc. (some of it paid for through grants and public funding)—it can easily be turned into housing or commercial units, or whatever Peel might have had in mind from the outset.
That’s not to say that Doncaster hasn’t benefitted from the airport being there over the last seventeen years. Numerous residents have been able to fly to sunnier shores without having to tackle the traffic that clogs up Leeds/Bradford and Manchester airports. Having an airport also arguably influenced Her Majesty’s Crown Office to apportion city status to Doncaster in May.
Doncaster/Sheffield Airport (DSA) has been dealt a number of blows since its incarnation in 2005. The pandemic had a huge impact on the entire travel industry. Two of the airport’s three airlines—Flybe and Wizz Air—bowed out (Flybe went bust and Wizz Air stopped flying from DSA); this left only TUI flying in and out, which impacted any fledgling profits the airport may have been able to make after Covid restrictions lifted. The local council has been between a rock and a hard place…if it had used taxpayers’ money to purchase DSA outright and the airport continued to make a loss, it would have been heavily criticised. If it did nothing to save it, however, this too would have brought it under fire. It’s stance, to cover the airport’s running costs until the local consortium got their ducks in a row, was fair to both the taxpayer and Peel; however, the latter clearly doesn’t agree.
The consultation period was initially six weeks, which was extended by a further three weeks after locals campaigned for more time. Ros Jones, Mayor of Doncaster, deemed this futile; she said, ‘I would have wanted more time, as this is a complex issue.’ Indeed. As one resident pointed out, ‘You can’t buy a house in nine weeks, let alone an airport!’
Another point was made on social media, that Peel possibly priced larger airlines out of the DSA picture. The fees that they reportedly proffered to such as Virgin and British Airways represented such low margins that no business would have seen DSA as an attractive opportunity. If the suggestion is true, that the winding up of the airport was always part of Peel’s plan, this is no surprise.
As part of the Gateway East project, Peel has always had a sizeable profit in their sights. Already agreed plans included a number of hotels, houses, retail units and community facilities, all feeding into and from the international gateway. This project relied on the airport remaining.
That’s not to say the surrounding development can’t still go ahead—perhaps Peel plans to build more hotels, houses, retail and community facilities on the land the airport currently occupies, if it was flattened and redeveloped.
It certainly seems as if Peel will come up smelling of roses regardless.