Paper's victory role in fight to protect airport

A Western Morning News campaign has convinced Devon County Council to reconsider the sale of Exeter airport.

The paper first highlighted pitfalls in the estimated £70 million deal in April.

The
WMN pointed out that the council’s main bidder, South West Airports
Consortium, owned a majority share in nearby Bristol Airport. Many in
the Devon and Cornwall community feared that Exeter airport would be
treated as second best and given little opportunity to expand.

Industry
experts, MPs and business leaders insisted that the deal should be open
to public scrutiny, while the council persisted in not revealing
details about the bidders’ plans for the airport.

The WMN pressed
the council to reconsider other bidders that might not have had so much
money to offer, but had the region’s interests at heart.

In June,
Euro MPs Caroline Jackson and Giles Chichester wrote to the European
Competition Commissioner asking her to look at whether the proposed
sale might breach European competition laws.

The commission said
the deal had potential to “threaten to affect, significantly,
competition in the Southwest”, and handed the case back to the Office
of Fair Trading.

The OFT referred the deal to the Competition
Commission and business leaders pushed the council to allow failed
bidders to gain access to the documentation of the sale.

Airline Flybe, a major user of the airport, called for the main bidder to “gracefully withdraw”, which it has now done.

Assistant
editor Mark Hughes said: “The WMN’s campaign to make the sale process
more open and accountable was instrumental in making Devon and Cornwall
county council reach its decision and to ensure it was in the best
interests of Devon and Cornwall.”

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