Cornwall Council’s deputy leader has said that any suggestion the local authority is selling Newquay airport is “tosh”.

Cllr David Harris made the emphatic comment while the council’s Conservative Cabinet signed off the latest stage of a partnership deal to develop the 650-acre airport estate.

Cornwall Council owns and operates Cornwall Airport Newquay and manages the wider estate, which includes Aerohub Business Park, the Spaceport, Kernow Solar Park and 200 acres of undeveloped land. The airport served 440,000 passengers in 2023/24 and brings in around £72m to the Cornish economy annually.

However, it has continually run at a loss in the 20 years the council has been in charge, due to operational costs. The 2024/25 subsidy is likely to be in the region of £4.8m – £4.5m of which is the cost of regulation, including air traffic control and the airport’s fire service. The council has started the process of finding a financial partner to develop the land and also take the financial pressure off the council and taxpayers when it comes to running the airport.

The name of the company which the council could partner with has not been released to the public, but is understood to be Westcore, an American property investment business with a European wing.

During a Cabinet meeting at County Hall / Lys Kernow in Truro today (Wednesday, June 12), the council’s portfolio holder for economy Cllr Louis Gardner stated that a partnership would not see the closure of the airport.

Not closing

He said: “I know from talking to the business community in Cornwall that the airport is regarded as a vital link, not only to London but to the rest of the UK and Europe. The numbers highlight this with passenger numbers up to 440,000 last year. That represents a recovery to almost pre-pandemic levels. The economic impact of the airport is £72m a year – that’s a huge contribution to both the economy of Cornwall and the success of the aerospace sector, which pays higher wages than both the Cornish average and wages in that particular area.

“But the airport could be doing even more for the economy and this is what this is about. It is not – and I will be clear – it is not about closing the airport as some have suggested, and it is not about Cornwall Council somehow washing its hands of the airport – nothing could be further from the truth. The reality is that the council by itself does not have the capability or the capacity to develop out the 650-acre airport estate.”

He said the progress of managing the separate assets on the estate had been much slower than hoped despite over 15 years and four different council administrations “literally everything has been tried”. Cllr Gardner added that the £4m airport subsidy is money the council could invest in other statutory priorities.


The council’s deputy leader Cllr David Harris stressed that due diligence had been carried out on the preferred partner and he had made his own “very discreet enquiries”. He said: “One important point to make is this is not an airport deal, it is an asset transaction so to try and compare this deal with any sort of regular airport deal anywhere else in the UK would be like comparing chalk and cheese. Here we are talking about a large estate which contains an airport as one of its parts.

“This is why we have looked at the preferred partner’s real estate abilities whilst obviously being cognisant of their airport experience as well. Some have said this is a disguised sale of the airport estate – tosh! It’s a transfer into a partnership where we will have a clear interest, where we will have the protections provided in a partnership agreement and where we have an absolute duty to get full value from what we put in.”

Cllr Harris said senior Tory councillors had met three representatives from the company last week and came away “very impressed with how they are taking a long-term view and their clear recognition that the airport is an integral part of the deal. As they said, an airport is like a magnet for new ventures, and I look forward on working very hard along with officers over the next few months to get a proper deal in place, signed off, working and moving”.


Newquay Cornwall Airport (Image: Wikimedia Commons)

Newquay Cornwall Airport (Image: Wikimedia Commons)


Council leader Cllr Linda Taylor said she was surprised by comments from opposition councillors around a “veil of secrecy” as there had been thorough engagement with all parties and public consultation.

Independent councillor Julian German pointed out the council is in purdah – the pre-election period of political sensitivity – and the airport deal was “politically contentious”, so he questioned why the item was being discussed. Monitoring officer Henry Gordon-Lennox said it was considered “business as usual” as it was a step in the journey on the partnership agreement.

Labour councillor Stephen Barnes asked why such an important matter wasn’t being discussed by all members at full council. He said a decision shouldn’t be made by the “select few”. Mr Gordon-Lennox replied that legally, the decision was the function of the Cabinet.

Commercial sensitivities

Cllr Jayne Kirkham, another Labour councillor and the party’s candidate for the Truro and Falmouth seat at the election, said: “I’ve asked many times what will happen over the ownership of the 650 acres. Will any transfer of ownership include the airport, the spaceport, the solar farm?” She asked if there will be any expense to the council and any charges at the airport following the deal.

Cllr Kirkham was told that those questions would be discussed in part of the meeting held in private due to commercial sensitivities.

Independent councillor Tim Dwelly – who earlier in the week wrote to all councillors raising concerns about the deal – said that members of the Cornwall Chamber of Commerce board had told him there had been no business consultation over the partnership. He asked if there would be penalty costs if the next administration decided to go down a different path with the airport, a matter which, he was told, would be discussed in private.

A final report about all aspects of the deal will be presented to the Cabinet in the autumn, which will have more details about what could be built on the airport land.