A government minister says the need for an airport technology gateway should be ‘reassessed’.
Earmarked to cost the taxpayer £2.1 million, the plans introduced it as a ‘high-quality landscaped business park’ connecting Balthane, the Freeport and Ronaldsway Airport which should to attract businesses to set up bases there.
Currently, the final business case is now prepared to proceed, which will commit funds to the area as envisaged back in 2016, when the plans were first drawn up, in line with planning approval received last year.
However, Enterprise Minister Lawrie Hooper says the department should review the scheme before moving forward.
He told the House of Keys: ‘This project started in 2016 and that was six years ago, the world has changed quite a lot since then.
‘Tynwald approved a brand new economic strategy in November which has, I think, fundamentally changed the landscape of what the island is trying to achieve.
‘It’s now appropriate to review the scheme and ask if this is still going to deliver what was envisaged back in 2016. Does it need to be slightly refocused or re-aimed? There are areas which may need to be enhanced which were not included in the original plans so it is appropriate now, when you’re looking at spending considerable sums of taxpayers’ money, just to reassess before we decide the best way of moving this forward.’
This was in response to Arbory, Castletown and Malew MHK Tim Glover’s question asking for an update on the enabling works.
This first phase consists of work elements including landscaping and improved road access within the estate.
‘The works prioritise the enablement surrounding two empty plots and we have seen real interest come forward which could ultimately lead to new jobs in the area from tangible businesses on other areas of the ATG which could require further enabling works to ensure they’re able to proceed,’ he said.
The minister explained that a review into the airport technology gateway will be presented in the new year.
‘As the recently appointed minister for enterprise, I am very keen to ensure the proposals as originally drafted fully reflect the latest developments as outlined above before we commence work on site,’ Mr Hooper added.
‘As a consequence, I have asked the team to review the final proposals and for the department to reassess and recommit.
‘I have asked officers to assemble the review for early in the new year including relevant officers from across the departments and I would welcome input from any honourable member with an interest in the project.’
Previously, plans were delayed due to a range of issues, including the number of capital projects and the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.
However, delivery was accelerated again once the cross-departmental team had been put in place.
Mr Glover said members were ‘keen to be involved’ in any talks but expressed his frustration for the project’s slow progress.
He said: ‘Pigs might fly is the case with the airport technology gateway thus far.’
Following the sitting, Mr Glover told the Manx Independent that ‘nothing surprises’ him about further delays to the project.
He said: ‘We have had many promises of start dates for the enabling work – all of which have come to nothing.
‘I welcome the minister setting up a meeting early in the new year and I am pleased a new medicinal cannabis business is going to be based at the site.
‘I hope these events will act as a catalyst to getting this vital project up and running.
‘The approach needs to be positive. Rather than can we afford it – it should be can we afford not to invest in what I believe will be a vital asset for the Manx economy and create jobs within the constituency.’
The purpose of the airport technology gateway was ‘always to deliver jobs to the south’, the minister explained.
‘We are starting to see that happen now irrespective of fact that the ground works haven’t yet commenced,’ he said.
‘In some respects, there is a part of my mind thinking if we’re achieving what we set out to achieve without spending taxpayers’ money, surely that is a better outcome than spending the money to achieve those same aims.’
Mr Glover argued that it was envisaged this would be ‘a big boost for the island, rather than us spending needless money’. Mr Hooper agreed.
He added: ‘I definitely agree that this site could very much be a part of [the economic strategy’s] vision, it does definitely have potential, but I think we have to consider our plans and our schemes in line with that new Tynwald approved strategy.’