By Peter Tremayne
It has cost more than £700,000 of taxpayers’ money, and (until now) Cornwall’s taxpayers have not been allowed to see it.
The “confidential” sales prospectus for Newquay airport makes a number of claims which potential investors might find questionable.
The document has been leaked to Cornwall Reports and you can download it here: Cornwall Airport Newquay & Estate Partnership Prospectus
There is nothing in its 46 pages which could reasonably be described as “confidential” other than to hide potential political embarrassment should the marketing exercise fail.
The prospectus has however immediately cleared up one mystery – the curious codename “Project Corduroy.”
Project Corduroy has been used as a budget heading at County Hall. If you did not know, you might wonder why the council is spending hundreds of thousands of pounds on it.
It turns out that Project Corduroy is nothing more than a shorthand for the various elements contained within the airport.
These are the aviation activities, the aerohub business park, the spaceport, the solar farm and the 200 acres of land. “Project Corduroy” has presumably stitched them together for ease and convenience when it comes to marketing.
It is not known how much of the estate agents’ £705,814.30 fee has gone on this particular piece of creative genius.
Prospective investors will be delighted to discover that Newquay airport enjoys good road and public transport links. Newquay railway station, apparently, is “nearby.”
Investors will be particularly excited to read about the spaceport. The sales’ prospectus says the council “expects a partner to appreciate the rarity and track record of this element of the site.”
The document claims the spaceport earns £50,000 a year, which might come as a surprise to councillors whose budget vote next month will include a further £260,000 to pay the spaceport’s wages’ bill up to the next council elections.
The only income-generating part of the spaceport, as far as can be ascertained from its public activities, is the sale of novelty socks and its occasional hire as a disco or Eurovision song contest party venue.
One of the most valuable parts of the airport operation appears to be its café, with a claimed income of £780,000 per year through food and beverage sales.
Among the more interesting aspects of the prospectus is its discussion of the council’s “red lines” – designed to deter potential investors whose ideas are contrary to those which prevail at County Hall.
These describe the need to create a new “entity” into which the asset would be transferred. Students of the council’s adventures with its housebuilding company, Treveth, will be familiar with the scenario.
Treveth was also supposed to leverage millions of pounds from the private sector. That has still not happened and the economic circumstances which might allow it to happen remain elusive.
One of the “red lines” describes the council’s ambition to receive rent, or a dividend, from the successful operation of the airport. The council also wants a big say over future decision-making.
The sales’ prospectus downplays the airport’s need for an annual subsidy of more than £3.5 million – indeed, the word “loss” does not feature anywhere in the document. The subsidy is actually misrepresented as only £3 million.
In 2022 the airport saw around 250,000 passengers. The sales’ brochure claims “predicted passenger traffic (is) forecast to reach 450,000 by the end of 2023” but does not say where the extra 200,000 passengers will come from.
Prospective partners had until 13th October to register their interest with bids due to be evaluated during November and December.
Perhaps the single most important passage in the brochure is the bit which says: “CC reserves the right not to select a partner in the event that a suitable candidate cannot be identified.”