06 Mar 2014
Back in December I wrote to the Deputy First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, asking three questions about the Scottish Government's purchase of Prestwick Airport. Last week a Chamber delegation met with the DFM at Holyrood to discuss the answers in detail.
Our questions concentrated on the impact the Government's decision could have on the growth of Glasgow International Airport. The Chamber considers Glasgow Airport to be the most important transport asset we have for helping businesses get to and from their overseas markets. We need to see more direct flights to those markets as well as improved connections to the major airport hubs.
Now that the Government has a direct stake in an airport in Central Scotland and it has stated quite clearly that it must make a market return on its investment, how will this change its relationship with the privately owned airport in Glasgow sitting in the same geographical market as Prestwick?
Specifically we wanted to know just how the Government will handle air route marketing support, investment in surface access to Glasgow Airport and the management of commercially confidential information that the Glasgow team has traditionally made available to the Government's agencies?
What makes it doubly difficult to get a grasp of where the Government might go with Prestwick is the absence of an explicit national aviation strategy. We don't really know what the Government thinks about likely trends in air travel, how much growth is needed and feasible in business flight connections, where in Scotland they should go and what impact on economic development success or failure will have on different regions of the country.
At the Chamber we have no doubt that a growing airport at Glasgow helps grow business investment in West Central Scotland and beyond. Successful airports help to attract investment.
So we were pleased to spend time with the DFM exploring these issues and to receive from her some clear commitments to help answer the questions. Right now we don't know what the Government will do with Prestwick to achieve that market return and we won't know until a three month consultancy project to help develop the plan is completed. But we were pleased to agree a number of steps with the DFM to keep the dialogue open. So we welcome commitments to do the following:
On the day after our meeting with the DFM, Transport Minister Keith Brown announced his welcome of a tram/train proposal for tackling surface access.
We have yet to see the options report and, until such time as we do, we still consider a heavy rail connection alongside a commitment to Crossrail to be a better long term solution - with Crossrail helping connect the country west of Glasgow to the rest of Scotland.
However we want to see action on surface access. If tram/train turns out to be the best choice supported by the Government, let's see it done quickly.
Air strategy assurances welcome - but fast moves on airport trams needed.