The AWP may be prepared to shoot itself in the foot, but it’s not preparing for much else.
In August this year – 5 months after the airport was put up for sale –
the Airport Working Party had one of their games of musical chairs,
when the membership and chairmanship changes. When the music stopped,
Cllr Jo Gideon had become chair of the Group, the rest of the merry crew
being Cllrs Alexandrou, Bruce, Gibson, Grove, Harrison, Marson and
At that meeting in August, the AWP laid out its action plan and
timetable for the foreseeable, starting with a review of the S106 and a
good hard look at the results of a number of research trips to airports
around Britain over the last few years.
Nothing like being prepared
The only members of the original cast to turn up for yesterday’s
meeting were Cllrs Alexandrou, Gideon and Marson, with Cllrs Campbell,
King and Wise there as understudies, substituting for some of the
absentees. It was one of those meetings where I found myself shaking my
head in disbelief and growing horror, hoping that I might wake up.
The first stumbling block identified by Cllr Gideon was that none of
them had the legal expertise necessary to make specific recommendations
for a new S106. Fair enough. Cllr Gideon went on to say that they could
instead look at why there had been so many concerns over the adequacy of
the document. Good idea – identifying the flaws and short-comings of
the current agreement would help when producing the next version.
However, Cllr Marson was concerned that they might just end up with a
wish list of things they might like to talk about at some point in the
future. Er, yes, that’s the point – that “wish list” would be TDC’s negotiating position, and that “point in the future” would be the negotiations.
Campbell pointed out that if the Council could come to a position on
what it would want from a S106 agreement, then it would be ready to
enter into negotiations with a new owner, should the opportunity arise.
Thus the Council would be ready for negotiations if there is a quick
sale, and it would be remiss of the Council not to have a starting
position for negotiations. (EXACTLY!) Cllr Alexandrou agreed, saying
that without an opening negotiating position, there is the risk that TDC
will be seen as having an “anything goes” attitude, so there is a clear need for some ground rules.
The next stumbling block to be discovered was that the airport is up
for sale. Er, we all knew that in August when the AWP’s terms of
reference were defined and the agenda for this meeting was set. Some of
the AWP viewed the fact that airport is up for sale as a reason for not
reviewing the S106 at all, but Cllr Alexandrou pointed out that there is currently someone to negotiate with – the current owners.
Nonetheless, Cllr Gideon concluded that the consensus was that this
is the wrong time to review the S106 agreement, and that it should be
revisited as and when the airport sale goes through, or a planning
application is received. It would be marvellous if the AWP adopted the
motto used by hundreds of thousands of scouts and guides across Britain –
It wouldn’t be very difficult or time-consuming or expensive to
produce an outline of TDC’s ideal S106, with “must have” and “nice to
have” elements listed in priority order.
- Right at the top of the list would have to be: the S106 must be attached to a planning permission – this would give TDC the leverage it is so woefully lacking at the moment.
- The new S106 must include an element of compulsion – it is absurd
that the airport operator can choose whether or not to discuss the terms
of its permission to operate on TDC’s patch.
- The new S106 must be completely unambiguous – the current version
has no clear definition of what counts as a scheduled night flight.
Do feel free to add your own ideas for what should be included in the new S106 in the comments section below.
Our attention was then turned to the reports produced by earlier AWP
outings to airports around the country. The intrepid councillors had
been to Prestwick (Glasgow), Southend, Norwich, Bristol, Bournemouth and
Luton. Cllr Gideon dismissed the papers as “reading a bit like someone’s diary – not an incisive or meaty comparison document the AWP could do something with”.
Oh dear. Perhaps it was just as well that none of the councillors who
spent all those days and nights away from their constituencies were
present to see their work being rubbished.
things went from bad to worse. Having decided that there was no way
they could force Infratil into a root-and-branch review of the S106, the
AWP thought it might be a good idea to go to Infratil with the
suggestion of making some “minimal amendments – bringing the agreement
up to date, data compliance and so on”.
This would be a disaster. The S106 stipulates re-negotiation every 3
years (although we all know this has not happened so far). Any
negotiation with Infratil to make minor tweaks to the S106 would
effectively reset the 3 year clock.
This would mean that the new owner of the airport (and Infratil for
as long as they continue to own the airport) would then be completely
within their rights to refuse to enter into any further S106
negotiations with TDC for the next 3 years.