Tories attack plan to buy Cardiff airport
2:20pm Wednesday 9th January 2013 in Gwent news
THE Welsh Government has been challenged to prove its plan to buy Cardiff Airport will be a good use of taxpayers' money.
Over the past few weeks, officials from the administration led by First Minister Carwyn Jones have been locked in talks with the airport's current owners TBI.
Ministers expect a deal to be done in the coming months once the due diligence process has been carried out - with the price reportedly being "tens of millions of pounds’’.
Mr Jones has insisted the deal would help boost the Welsh economy as well as securing the long-term future of the airport.
But the Welsh Conservatives, the second largest party in the Senedd, have attacked what they call Labour's attempt to "nationalise’’ the airport.
Among those taking part in an opposition debate on the matter will be Tory AM Byron Davies.
He said: "The nationalisation of Cardiff Airport was a surprise to everyone but the Welsh Government, and that shroud of secrecy continues to define the issue.
"While finances must be studied, the airport buyers - essentially everyone in Wales - deserve answers.
"In the current financial climate and at a time when the NHS is facing record-breaking budget cuts, the casual acquisition of an airport appears wasteful at best.’’ Mr Jones, who had previously been critical of the airport's current owners, announced last month that the Welsh government plans the buyout.
It comes against a backdrop of declining passenger numbers.
The total was down 13% in 2011 to a little over 1.2 million.
Over the same period, passenger numbers at its nearest competitor, Bristol Airport, rose 1% to more than 5.7 million.
There was a further fall in the first half of 2012 to 440,000 from 558,000 - a decline the airport blamed on the departure of low-cost airline Bmibaby.
Although a price for the deal has not been announced, Mr Jones insists a commercial operator would be brought in to run the airport if the sale goes through.
But despite assurances that it will not receive subsidies or burden the taxpayer, there have been questions about whether public ownership will succeed in turning around the airport's fortunes.
In the Assembly's Siambr yesterday Mr Jones defended the move saying the Welsh Government was "proud of the fact we have secured the future of Cardiff Airport’’ and claimed the Conservatives were "out of touch with public opinion’’.
But the Tories aim to put ministers under more pressure in their opposition debate today.
They argue rail and bus services to the airport from Cardiff "pale in comparison’’ to links to Bristol airport.