The Secretary of State for the North, Karen Bradley, has said she would love to to see more flights coming in and out of City of Derry Airport.
But she has refused to comment on whether or not civil servants should release £2.5m in route development funding Derry City and Strabane District Council has said is critical to the future of Derry’s airborne link with London.
DC&SDC has been conducting crunch negotiations over the past several months with senior civil servants over the release of the £2.5m promised for new route development by the last Northern Ireland Executive but never released to CoDA.
The Council has said the money is urgently needed so it can continue to fund CoDA’s London route, which is the subject of a Public Service Obligation (PSO) subsidy.
The situation has now been raised by the DUP MP Gregory Campbell during the second reading of the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation and Exercise of Functions) Bill in the House of Commons.
Mr. Campbell asked if the bill, designed to give civil servants more power to make decisions in the absence of a ministerial power-sharing Executive at Stormont, might help CoDA’s cause.
“On enacting existing provisions, would the Secretary of State be able to explain something to me? The Londonderry airport, which is owned by a municipal authority, has got money for public service obligation expansions.
“It is owed £2.5 million from a previous Executive decision, which was not drawn down last year. Is that the sort of provision, which has already been made, that could be decided under this legislation, and the money paid over?” he asked.
Mrs. Bradley professed herself sympathetic to the Derry airport’s plight but said it would be inappropriate to air an opinion on a matter that must ultimately be decided either by a departmental head or a devolved minister in Belfast.
“It would not be right for me to answer definitively on any decision that a civil servant may make when this legislation receives Royal Assent, on the basis of the guidance, but the hon. Gentleman makes a very good point about the kind of decision that they may make,” said the Secretary of State.
“I have used Londonderry airport. It is a great airport, and it would be great to see more flights coming into it - and out, of course,” she added.
Tony Lloyd, the Labour Shadow Secretary, said that he believed the CoDA situation could be dealt with under the provisions of the new legislation, which is currently proceeding through the British House of Lords.
“People have already asked the Secretary of State about matters that they hold dear in their constituencies, such as the airport in Londonderry, the York Street interchange, the dualling of the A5 and the A6, and the introduction of proper broadband connections across Northern Ireland,” he said.
“Those are important issues, and I agree with her that they could be delivered through the capacity of the Northern Ireland civil service under the bill,” he said.
Meanwhile, in his budget this week, the British Chancellor Philip Hammond, said the Government will not be reducing Air Passenger Duty (APD), a move local airport managers have long been campaigning for.
He confirmed: “There will be no changes to the VAT or APD regimes in Northern Ireland at this time.
“The government will continue to explore ways to support a successful and growing tourism industry.
“In particular, establishing a technical working group to consider the practical and legal challenges to changing short-haul APD in Northern Ireland.”