Dialogue with owner Peel is ongoing, similarly the search for a new operator. Credit: SYMCA

SYMCA: way forward for airport beckons

An outline business case has been published, to be signed off by the Combined Authority next week, setting out how Doncaster Sheffield Airport’s reopening can spearhead a 10-year economic growth plan.

South Yorkshire’s Mayor, Oliver Coppard, said that a decision by the Combined Authority’s board next week can bring to a close a year of negotiations over the airport’s future.

It is now 15 months since owner Peel Group closed DSA, since which time Coppard, City of Doncaster Council and the Mayoral Combined Authority have been working to find a viable way to reopen it: in April legal action was taken to prevent Peel opening the site out for other uses, and negotiations have continued since.

Last summer, the MCA awarded City of Doncaster Council £3.1m to prepare an outline business case to take control of the airport through a leasing arrangement, re-establish operations under a new business model, and use the asset as an anchor for growth of the wider Gateway East site.

That OBC, published this week, states that reopening the airport provides the best opportunity to secure economic growth and wellbeing not just in Doncaster but will have wider benefits for South Yorkshire as a whole.

According to a report prepared by officers for the SYMCA board meeting, Prior to its closure DSA supported an estimated 2,700 jobs in the regional economy, contributed an annual net GVA of £108.4m, and created an annual welfare gain of approximately £49.5m.

City of Doncaster Council will have £138m made available by the MCA via Gainshare, part of the devolution deal, to support its economic ambitions.

Elements of activity could also be supported from other MCA funding that has been set aside to support this project.

The case is built on creating a sustainable airport hub with the airport anchoring a sector specific focus on aviation-related advanced manufacturing, advanced engineering and the growing jet-zero and decarbonisation industries.

SYMCA said that applied research is one of South Yorkshire’s core strengths as evidenced through McLaren, Boeing, Rolls-Royce, and Hybrid Air Vehicles choosing to locate in the region, adding that an airport to link to global markets is a logical requirement.

On top of that, SYMCA said that linking the return of aviation to the UK’s first Investment Zone worth £160m with a focus on advance manufacturing, could present significant opportunities for businesses and communities throughout South Yorkshire.

The MCA board is now being asked to approve the recommendation to work up a full business case which could be completed as soon as spring. If this happens and a suitable operator is found, South Yorkshire could be well on its way to seeing DSA re-open.

City of Doncaster Council will continue to lead on the negotiation with Peel and the procurement exercise to attract a new operator and public investment remains contingent on the successful completion of those negotiations.

The MCA will continue to provide strategic advice and support to the council in relation to the wider regeneration of the development of the Gateway East site to support a reopened airport.

South Yorkshire’s Mayor, Oliver Coppard, said: “These proposals represent a major step towards re-opening our airport and delivering a 10-year plan for South Yorkshire Airport City at Gateway East; not only re-opening our airport but creating an internationally significant, sustainable aviation and advanced manufacturing hub in Doncaster.

“This is part of our plan for growth across our whole region, delivering long term benefits for Doncaster and the whole of South Yorkshire, with a thriving regional airport at its heart.

“Getting to this point has not been easy. I’ve always said reopening our airport would take time and huge amounts of hard work. But the plans we are putting forward at next week’s MCA meeting are a significant step in the process of reopening DSA.

“No ambitious plan is without risks, but alongside the other leaders in South Yorkshire, I believe the economic case is compelling. That cannot mean a blank cheque or a bad deal, so we are rightly following a process that is underpinned by robust governance. We’ve seen in other parts of the country what can go wrong if we don’t put transparency, accountability and the interests of taxpayers at the forefront of our thinking.

“I’m determined to get a good deal for our community, to do this work properly no matter the hurdles, so we can deliver a long-term plan for our airport and South Yorkshire Airport City. That’s exactly what this next step allows us to do.”

In January, a political row erupted over the airport, with Coppard and others raising questions over how prepared the Department for Transport was to provide support for the area, a specific point being £30m for a railway station to service Gateway East.

Coppard and others believe the money, timer-limited as most funding is, should be reallocated – essentially arguing that there’s no point having a rail link without a revived airport. Local MP Nick Fletcher accused the Mayor of being “disingenuous” and said Gainshare is the most effective way forward.

On the wider matter of the business case coming together, Ros Jones, Mayor of City of Doncaster Council, said: “Saving and reopening our airport is my number one priority, I am pleased to say that lease negotiations continue to progress positively, and I am confident that we can agree a deal, but we are not over the line yet.

“Our airport represents incredible opportunities for Doncaster and South Yorkshire. City of Doncaster Council have entered the next stage of the procurement process, which is progressing as planned, with the aim of appointing an operator in the Spring.

“I never wanted our airport to close, it did not have to be this way, as a council we did all within our power, including offering to purchase the airport from the current landowners which was rejected.

“We are following our carefully managed plan; this is yet another step in the right direction for us to see planes flying again from our airport.”

The local authority pushed forward plans to take control of the airport and SYAC in autumn last year. The quest for an airport operator partner started in summer.

Explaining Gainshare

Gainshare funding refers to the money committed to South Yorkshire through the devolution deal agreed by the MCA, South Yorkshire local authorities and government.

The devolution financial settlement totals £900m to be released by government to the MCA in £30m annual allocations over thirty years. The money is received in capital and revenue allocations on a 60:40 ratio. This means that each year the MCA receives £18m of capital and £12m of revenue funding. The MCA received its first allocation of funding in 2020.

Funding was earmarked to each plan on a per-capita basis, with £138m earmarked to Doncaster, to be released in twenty-six annual instalments of around £5.3m each year as funding was received by the MCA from financial year 2024/25 onwards.

In June 2022 the Doncaster Place Investment Plan was submitted and endorsed by the MCA board. This plan set out the broad growth ambitions for Doncaster, covering requirements to invest in the city, its towns, villages, and key employment sites – South Yorkshire Airport City featuring prominently.

Timeline of South Yorkshire Mayoral Combined Authority’s involvement in DSA

2017 – Award of £1.24m grant to DSA to support increased cargo capacity, funded from the MCA’s Business Investment Fund
2018 – Opening of the Great Yorkshire Way airport link road, part funded from the MCA’s City Region Investment Fund (£13m)
2019 – Advance of a £3.5m loan to support airport growth, funded through the MCA’s Business Investment Fund
2020 – Advance of a further £5m loan to support new airport growth activity, funded through the MCA’s Business Investment Fund
2021 – Recognition of the importance of the airport in the MCA’s 20-year strategic economic plan
2022 March – Earmarking of £138m of MCA Gainshare funding to support Doncaster’s economic growth, to be made available in annual instalments of £5.3m from 2024/25 for 26 years
2022 July – Peel undertakes a ‘strategic review’ on the future of DSA
2022 September – MCA offer bridging financial support to Peel Group to enable operations to continue at DSA whilst a buyer was found
2022 October – Airport closed
2022 October – MCA provides financial support to enable the judicial challenge on the decision to close the airport
2023 June – MCA endorsement of the Doncaster Place Investment Plan in which DSA featured prominently
2023 June – Agreement to award £3.1m of grant to Doncaster to prepare a business case to support the reestablishment of the airport
2023 December – Receipt of the OBC for South Yorkshire Airport City and submission into assessment processes
2024 February – Consideration of the OBC by the MCA board.

The SYMCA board meets on 13 February.

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