Happy Days: Gloucestershire Airport – from unwanted child to hero of the hour
It is valued at £24 million, guaranteed to cause a good political argument in Gloucestershire, but amidst the storm clouds of covid-19 it is about to become a beacon of hope.
Those long in the tooth enough will know the turbulent adolescence of Gloucestershire Airport, a limited company ‘born’ to resolve an unlikely relationship between its parents and owners, two local authorities.
Arguments would rage up and down the Golden Valley over whether the land between Cheltenham and Gloucester should become houses, a business park, green space and who should decide.
The airport had in fact opened in 1931, named Down Hatherley, before having its name changed to Staverton when it shifted to its current site to be famously used for training RAF pilots during the Second World War.
Its history remained colourful for some years until the eve of Christmas, December 11, 1992, when its ‘guardians’, Gloucester City Council and Cheltenham Borough Council,shocked everyone and agreed on the creation of the limited company we know today as Gloucestershire Airport.
Turbulent best describes the relationship between the two local authorities until then.
Just over a decade ago the airport began to show serious ambition. It was granted planning permission for expansion, which put an end to another argument which had run since 2006 and, yes,proved divisive among the local authorities and the community.
Nevertheless, through the storm clouds the business flew on and in March 2015 it was at it again – it wanted to provide more flights which would provide more profits for its owners (the by now beleaguered, flack-damaged local authorities).
It was a business plan which would see the airport itself invest £6m between 2015 and 2025.
Which is a sketchy way of taking us through to the present day – where the airport, now capped on its North side by businesses and with plenty within its precincts too – reveals its latest scheme.
That being yesterday’s announcement that it has been backed by £1.885 million of GFirst LEP money to develop 8.5-hectares of its Staverton site into a new busines park which will ‘create 1,750 jobs’.
The mighty local enterprise partnership’s view of the asset is clear – it is “one of the UK’s premier business aviation airports".
It was back in January 2015 that GFirst LEP revealed it had won an additional £15m for the county, to add to the £62.5m confirmed in July 2014.
It was money won for six projects, one of which was the expansion of the airport.
At the time this was summed up as "growth of Gloucestershire Airport by improving key infrastructure at the site" and amounted to £550,000.
“The scheme has the potential to deliver £6.3 million of annual GVA impact and support 106 direct, indirect and induced jobs locally,” said then managing director, Mark Ryan, who surprised everyone with his departure on the eve of the pandemic this year. All adding to the airport’s rich narrative.
Plans for this new scheme have been submitted to Tewkesbury Borough Council, on whose land the airport lies – taking it out of the concern of Cheltenham and Gloucester’s political remit.
Those plans will see the expansion of “the airport’s employment sites with the scheme focusing on land between the existing Anson and Meteor business parks”, we are told.
A glance at Gloucestershire Airport’s last set of filed accounts, compiled by near neighbour Hazlewoods, which has its head office within a short walk of the site, show a company with equity of £24,517,201.
Filed in 2019, the document reveals turnover was £4,895,863 million, up from £4,581,973.
Profits for the financial year at £42,593, down from £185,616.
For those emotionally and financially invested in the site beside the Golden Valley in the shadow of Chosen Hill ‘debate’ it is unlikely debate will not continue.
For those acutely aware of the current climate and in need of news of investment, jobs, progress, a plan, a strategy, hope, this may be the equivalent of haute cuisine.