THERE are fears Gloucestershire Airport could be “run down and sold off for housing” if it is sold without any covenants protecting the site’s aviation use.

An intention to sell the small airport in Staverton was confirmed last week by both owners Cheltenham Borough Council and Gloucester City Council.

News of plans to sell the 300-acre site came to light after City Council opposition group leader Jeremy Hilton (LD, Kingsholm and Wotton) told a meeting on November 27 he had been informed by a Cheltenham cabinet member of the sale.

When asked, City Council leaders said no formal discussions had taken place at cabinet level but the councils’ intention to market the airport to “bring in new investment” was confirmed the following day.

This sparked anger and frustration among opposition groups in Gloucester who say they have been kept completely in the dark over the move.

They raised concerns about the site possibly being run down and sold off for housing should after the sale is complete

Cllr Hilton asked Council Leader Richard Cook (C, Kingsway) at the cabinet meeting on December 6 what was being done to ensure this did not happen. “You say the shareholders would like the airport to continue,” he said.

“But you don’t say that you will insist that it will only be sold as a going concern and have protected covenants that guarantee the airport is run down like in other places and eventually sold off for housing.

“In view of the secrecy over the airport sale, how can we trust your administration tha the long term future of the airport will be protected?”

Cllr Cook reiterated that it was early days and they “have not had any significant discussions with potential buyers”.

He also said a lot more potential buyers “have come out of the woodwork” as a result of Cllr Hilton’s questions about the issue at the overview and scrutiny committee.

Cllr Cook said the shareholders would look at what future covenants are needed for the site when it becomes necessary.

The Liberal Democrat group leader also asked why opposition group leaders were not involved in thorough discussions about the rationale behind any decision to sell the site.

“Telling opposition members a few hours before the contents of a press release is about to be released isn’t a proper briefing and consultation.

“We should be having thorough discussions about the options and the rationale behind any decision.”

Cllr Cook said it had been his intention to inform group leaders before Cllr Hilton raised it in public last week.

“Cheltenham only discussed it with their group leaders the week before Cllr Hilton brought up at the overview and scrutiny committe,” he said.

“You can’t turn around and tell us we didn’t give you enough notice. You brought it up before we had a chance to.

“There was very little likelihood that I would have discussed it 24 hours before the press release. I would have discussed it with you last week had you not brought it up at overview and scrutiny.”

Councillor Declan Wilson (LD, Hucclecote) asked if Gloucester was being bounced into the decision “by somebody else” as council leaders said the decision is not being driven by the authority’s financial position.

Cllr Cook said he did not think so and said the authority would have been looking at alternative ways of disposing of the airport in the fullness of time.

“We took the opportunity of someone presenting themselves and asking if the airport was for sale,” he said.

“They went to the airport, asked that question and the airport referred them to shareholders of both Cheltenham and Gloucester councils and we subsequently had conversations with them about whether to proceed.

“That hasn’t proceeded at this point. Nothing has happened so far other than we are trying to assess the value of the airport before we can continue further discussions.”

And Cllr Angela Conder (LD, Kingsholm and Wotton) asked how the council can ensure they are achieving the best price for the residents of Gloucester without an open market sale.

Cllr Cook said that is always difficult but now there are many other companies interested in buying the airport. “We will have competition amongst them. Nothing has been set in stone yet,” he said.

The existing 300-acre Gloucestershire Airport site was formed in 1936 and originally named Staverton Airport, replacing its predecessor at Down Hatherley Airfield. In 1993 Gloucester City and Cheltenham Borough Councils formed Gloucestershire Airport Limited.

Today, Gloucestershire Airport is one of the UK’s busiest general aviation airports, ranking in the Civil Aviation Authority’s top 15 airports for aircraft movements. It has its own fire station and two business parks spanning a combined 700,000 square-foot, including the recently completed CGX Connect.