Airport could create South Yorkshire's answer to 'Golden Triangle' says boss

Robert Hough
Robert Hough

Developing Doncaster's airport could create  South Yorkshire's answer the Oxford-Cambridge-London 'golden triangle', believes one if its bosses.

And the challenge now is to get the rest of country to see the benefits of the scheme which has been set out for the site in its masterplan, he told fellow borough businesses leaders.

Peel Airport's chief executive Robert Hough told the Doncaster Chamber Doncaster Business Conference that Doncaster Sheffield Airport's master plan for the site would develop the airport and could create a regional accelerator for the economy.

He said the plans, which involve creating a parkway station at Finningley using the East Cost Mainline and developing an 'aerotropolis' would build up an economic centre and base around the airport.

"We are looking at an airport for freight, passengers and economic growth, catalysing right along the corridor from Doncaster to Sheffield. Coming out of the airport we can have global innovation to rival the golden triangle in Oxford and Cambridge. It is within our reach."

He said the airport could have the capacity to operate a 25 million passenger a year airport, which would make it the size of Stansted in London.

A feasibility study had shown a 7km piece of track would being 10 million people into the airport's catchment area, within 90 minutes travel time, opening it up to people on the east of the Pennines and relieving congestion in the South East.

"It has the prospect of being a simple scheme with a dramatic impact," he said. "The price would be around £170 million, plus contingencies, which is highly affordable when you consider Cross Rail in London cost much more and had a £500 million overspend."

He raised concerns over the disparity between Government spending in the South East compared to the north, and said the plans had the backing of Transport for the North and Network Rail.

"It is practical and deliverable," he said. "But we need to build greater awareness outside this region, so that people realise the advantage for the nation as a whole. This is not a pipe dream, it is deliverable."

He said he was keen to make sure people living locally used the airport, which next year will operate long haul flights to Florida, in America.

He said two out of three people living in Yorkshire where taking their flights from outside the county, "That's not good for the economy here or the airport," he said. "The leakage is extraordinary, and we need to reverse that trend."

Mr Hough was the keynote speaker at the event.

Doncaster Chamber chief executive Dan Fell said the railway station for the airport topped its wishlist for infrastructure projects, but proposals for a planned University Technology College topped its skills list.

He told the conference the borough's hopes to open a UTC this year had been dashed, with the soonest now likely to be 2020.

Mr Fell, who has been working on the UTC bid, said: "It disappoints me that I am still unable to tell you that we have had Government approval for this project; this is despite our concerted efforts to engage with ministers and force a decision. It is now a staggering 28 months since our initial application to open a UTC went to the Department for Education. The real-time impact of this is that we have, regrettably, had to move the opening date of the UTC back from September 2018 to get a first class technical education here in Doncaster."

However he also had a positive message. He said: "From where I stand, Doncaster is on the cusp of doing great things. Over the last decade, we have delivered a wealth of major infrastructure projects that have transformed our skyline but, more importantly, transformed the feel of the borough. I believe that we have moved from being a borough that characterises itself by disadvantage, to one that characterises its by opportunity."

A number of experts shared their views on the biggest challenges and opportunities the borough faces.

Karen Finlayson, a partner at the accountants PWC said the challenge was building confidence and resilience so that people realised how much they could achieve.

Anne Tyrrell, chief executive at DN College Group, which runs Doncaster College, said the most important thing was for people to realise that they could make a difference. She said she had been really impressed since coming to Doncaster with the way people worked in partnership. "Don't believe it if someone says you can't do something ," she said. "It is about finding the spark. If people have that belief, they can achieve things they never expected,"

Doncaster College chief executive Jo Miller said the borough had the seventh largest economy in Yorkshire and the fifth best growth in the region, but one of the worst rates of school attendance in the country.

"If you're not there, you don't get the skills," she said: "All sorts of reasons have been put forward, but its something that we can change. You can say the Government has not done this, someone's not done that, but I think we just have to crack on and change what we can."

Mark Smith, commercial director at Wabtec Faiveley UK, said other parts of the country had a tendency to pick staff away from Doncaster, and one of the challenges was to improve the town's images. He said he thought plans to improve the station area of the town would be a good start on this.

Doncaster MP North Ed Miliband said projects like the airport were great opportunities, but the main challenge was bringing in high quality jobs paying good wages.

Don Valley MP Caroline Flint said there many things going on that people did not know about, and one of the challenges was to change perceptions of Doncaster away from a stereotype idea of northern back-to-back houses.

Doncaster Central MP Rosie Winterton said she thought one of the big issues was Doncaster businesses making it clear that what they wanted from Brexit, so that Yorkshire firms could make that clear to the Government.