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Help South West airports counter London "draining life" from regions, MP tells Government

By GDemianyk  |  Posted: December 19, 2013

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The Government has been urged to help halt the "decline" of  airports in the South West after Vince Cable warned London is "a giant suction machine draining the life" from other regions.

Stephen Gilbert, Liberal Democrat Cornwall MP, today pressed ministers for assurances over a state subsidy to rescue struggling Newquay Airport.

Newquay, Cornwall's only airport, is due to lose direct flights to the capital next year unless ministers grant it a Public Service Obligation.

Meanwhile, Plymouth City Airport was closed in 2011, starving the region's biggest urban area of air links, and Exeter-based Flybe has proposed closing six bases, including flights to its city headquarters, as part of its cost-cutting plan.

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Mr Gilbert's intervention in the House of Commons came as Mr Cable, the Liberal Democrat Business Secretary, said the issue of regional capacity had not been sufficiently addressed by a Whitehall-commissioned review of airport provision.

The Secretary of State renewed his opposition to a third runway at Heathrow and said  more use should be made of regional airports.

"One of the big problems we have at the moment – which I don't think the report sufficiently addresses – is that London is becoming a kind of giant suction machine, draining the life out of the rest of the country, and I think more balance in that respect would be helpful," he told BBC Radio 4's Today.

Mr Gilbert, Liberal Democrat MP for St Austell, welcomed Mr Cable's view.

He told the Western Morning News: "For too long airports across the South West have been in decline while areas like London reap the benefits of better infrastructure and international air links.

"I would urge the Business Secretary to do all he can to help airports like Newquay in my consituency to attract new routes and expand.

"Securing the Public Service Obligation for the Newquay-Gatwick route is the first step in turning around the airport's fortunes and I hope it will eventually lead to it becoming a thriving regional hub going forward."

During Transport Questions in the House of Commons today, Mr Gilbert asked for assurances from ministers the subsidy will be available for the full four years.

The Government confirmed last month that the air link to the capital is eligible for a state-funded subsidy, but has yet to confirm the hand-out which is likely to be worth several millions.

In response, Transport Minister Robert Goodwill said: "As Newquay is more than three hours from London and has a current operator, it is a potential applicant that would almost certainly be seen in a positive light." 

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