A motion to have the future of Newquay Airport discussed by all Cornwall Council members has been refused to the annoyance of many opposition councillors. The council’s economic growth and development overview and scrutiny committee (EGDOSC) will discuss plans to find an investment partner for the airport and its 650-acre estate today (Tuesday, November 21).

However, a number of councillors had tabled a motion for the full council to discuss “such an important matter of the future of one of Cornwall’s major publicly owned assets”. Concern has previously been raised that any business partnership could lead to loss of control of the airport by the council and endanger its future as a result.

Council leader Cllr Linda Taylor has stressed the move “is not about the council walking away or looking to close the airport”.

The economic scrutiny committee will discuss an ‘airport strategic review’ report at today’s meeting which details the key criteria behind the council’s approach to seeking an investment partner in the airport estate.

The operation of the airport requires a significant subsidy from Cornwall Council – around £4m last year. An independent report suggests that the way forward for a more financially sustainable operating model for the whole estate, which takes the pressure off taxpayers, is to attract a joint venture partner.

Cllr Jayne Kirkham – Labour’s prospective parliamentary candidate for the Truro and Falmouth seat at the next election – tabled a motion for the matter to be discussed at full council, seconded by Cllr Julian German and supported by a number of other councillors, including Kate Ewert, Stephen Barnes, Laurie Magowan, Dorothy Kirk, Loic Rich, John Fitter, Mike Thomas, Dominic Fairman and Tim Dwelly.

On hearing it had been refused, an opposition councillor told us: “The Tories have stopped the airport debate.”

Cllr Kirkham said: “My motion requested that full council advise cabinet on setting some potential ‘red lines’ for any deal to change the control and ownership of the airport and the 650 acres that surround it (a fair chunk of Cornwall). This would have meant that all members could have suggested recommendations and voted.”

She has urged all members to attend and participate in today’s economic scrutiny meeting, adding: “I have copied in the chair and vice-chair of the EGDOSC in case their committee would consider making some recommendations to advise cabinet on setting ‘red lines’ over things like ownership, control, the stake the council retains, development on the site, keeping the airport and spaceport open, etc.

"Obviously, only EGD committee members will get to propose and vote on any recommendations to cabinet, whereas my motion would have meant that all councillors could have proposed and voted on recommendations.”

She has also asked if all councillors will be able to see the ‘market facing partnership prospectus’. Cllr Kirkham said: “I know that the intention is to keep the airport open and breathe new life into the estate, but we have seen in the past how circumstances can thwart intentions. GLL committed to keeping all of our leisure centres open six years ago, for example, and then asked to change the contract so they could shut four when circumstances changed.”

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Cllr Jordan Rowse, vice-chairman of Cornwall Council, responded to Cllrs Kirkham and German’s motion, stating that after consulting with the council’s monitoring officer, it was being rejected because it “both undermines the purpose of the Constitution and is inappropriate for the particular meeting”.

He added: “While the motion recognises that ultimately the decision on the airport is an executive function, it does seek a council debate on the airport to ‘advise’ cabinet ahead of its decision in the matter. The law is quite clear, as reflected in the Constitution, about the role of overview and scrutiny committees in supporting executive policy formulation / decision making as well as holding the executive to account.”

He stressed that the economic scrutiny committee has recently visited the airport for an informal briefing and that Cllr David Harris, the council’s deputy leader, has met group leaders to keep them appraised and engaged in the airport process.