City of Derry Airport future ‘at risk’ - no minister to sign off £2.5m funds
The political impasse at Stormont has put the future of City of Derry Airport at risk because there is no minister to sign off £2.5m in funding, it has been claimed.
However, it has also emerged that the funding had first been transferred to Derry and Strabane Council, which owns the airport, during the financial year 2016/17 - but it had to be handed back because the council couldn't make use of it.
NI Civil Service head David Sterling has now written to the council to make it clear that not only is the £2.5m funding not necessarily available anymore, but even if it was, there is no minister to give it the go-ahead.
Members of the airport's governance committee will be given an update on the disastrous financial situation faced by City of Derry today.
The UK Government is currently subsiding the route between Derry and London operated by BMI Regional. When the funding runs out next year, the council wants to use money pledged by the Executive.
But Mr Sterling said the funding may not be available for that use.
His letter, seen by the Belfast Telegraph, points out to airport chief executive John Kelpie that his request for a portion of the £2.5m to be used to safeguard the route to London Stansted falls outside the terms of what the funding can be used for.
Mr Sterling wrote: "As you are aware the previously announced £2.5m route development element of the NI Executive's support package for the airport was intended to support the establishment of new routes rather than to extend routes from the airport."
A spokeswoman for the Department for the Economy said the Executive announced a £7m support package for the airport in October 2016, which included £2.5m for air route development.
"The Department for the Economy was subsequently allocated the funding for the air route development element of the support package for the 2016/17 financial year.
"However, following engagement with Derry City and Strabane District Council, this funding was surrendered as it could not be utilised in part or full in that financial year."
Independent councillor Paul Gallagher, who sits on the governance committee, said he had not been aware the council had handed back the money previously.
He said: "This is the first time I have been made aware council returned this £2.5m and it will be among a number of concerns I will raise at the meeting.
"There are tough questions to be asked about the future of the airport."
Economist Paul Gosling said the council was facing a potential crisis.
He explained: "The airport is an important part of our local economic infrastructure.
"It helps us make the case for inward investment and helps local businesses to be efficient by enabling their representatives to meet decision-makers in London and other cities.
"But there are clearly serious difficulties that could become a crisis."
A spokeswoman for Derry and Strabane Council said: "A detailed paper outlining the urgency of getting access to £2.5m route development fund money set aside by the NI Executive will come before members of the governance and strategic planning committee on Tuesday.
"The report will also discuss the future needs of the airport with regard to the management support of the facility and provide an update in relation to the annual funding operation subsidy of the airport."