Welsh Lib Dems call for end to Cardiff Airport £210m black hole

The Welsh Liberal Democrats have called on the Welsh Labour Government to outline plans to end what it describes as Cardiff Airport’s blackhole on taxpayers’ money.

Figures released by the Welsh Government yesterday show that passenger numbers at the airport continued to decline in 2021 from 2022, despite less travel restriction being in place. According to the data released, passenger numbers declined by 44 per cent in 2021 to 123,000.

The Welsh Government bought Cardiff Airport in 2013, despite former Assembly Member Eluned Parrott and the Welsh Liberal Democrats warning of the massive risk the purchase posed to Welsh taxpayers.

Since then, passenger numbers have never met the Welsh Government’s own targets and the airport was valued as just £15 million despite being purchased for £52 million in 2013.

Overall, over £210 million of Welsh taxpayers’ money has now been spent on the airport with various Government loans, cash injections and debt forgiveness being introduced. The airport’s high expenditure has caused the Welsh Liberal Democrats to label the project Welsh Labour’s biggest white elephant. The party also argues that the Welsh Government owning and subsidising an airport is incompatible with its climate goals.

Welsh Liberal Democrat Leader Jane Dodds:

We urgently need the Labour Government to outline their plans for ending this blackhole that has already wasted far too much of taxpayer’s money.

Almost ten years on from the purchase the Welsh Liberal Democrats warned against we have been more than vindicated. The airport continues to make massive losses and is now worth only a fraction of its purchase price.

Imagine what £210 million in taxpayers’ money could have done for public transport across Wales had it not been squandered on this project?

It is also worth mentioning that the Welsh Government owning and subsidising an airport, alongside subsidising domestic flights, is not compatible with its climate goals.

We are clear that the airport should eventually be returned to the private sector. While the airport does remain under Government ownership, they need to prioritise securing new routes, especially to more short-haul EU destinations, in addition to securing long-haul routes which currently don’t exist after Qatar Airways exit from the airport.

We also need to see better marketing and public transport access to the airport put in place.

We have had 10 years of what must be Welsh Labour’s biggest white elephant, it is long past time we demand better from the Welsh Government on this issue.

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9 Comments

  • It’s a funny old world…… especially when looking for consistency. In theory, it’s difficult to understand why Cardiff Airport should be subsidised from the public purse to the tune of £ 210 million given the implications for global warming.

    And yet, £ 210 million is a drop in the ocean compared to the £ 20 billion (of UK taxpayers money including those in Wales/Scotland/the North) just spent on London’s Queen Elizabeth line, and the near £ 100 billion on HS2 (London only to Birmingham) –so strongly supported by the Lib Dem Transport Spokesperson Baroness Randerson (ironically, a former MP in Cardiff).

    Perhaps it’s too much to expect consistency (let alone a ‘big idea) from any political party in the funny old world that passes for sound-bite politics these days.

  • George Thomas 9th Jun '22 - 3:47pm

    In 2012 Bristol Airport was against allowing the Welsh Government to cut air passenger duty despite this being recommended by Silk Report and quoted i) EU state aid rules and ii) creating an unlevel playing field. In 2019 the UK government said it wouldn’t devolve air passenger duty because it would hurt Bristol Airport.

    The Welsh Government, which has owned Cardiff Airport since 2013, has been asking for control of the tax for years. Flight duty has already been devolved to Scotland and for long-haul flights from Northern Ireland. Cardiff Airport CEO Debra Barber insisted there would be enough passengers to provide custom to both airports.

    The UK government’s anti-devolution stance is the elephant in the room here.

  • The location of Cardiff Airport is the really big problem. Public transport options are thin, to say the least. And road access is along miles of country lanes. Got stuck for ages behind two tractors once, taking a friend to catch a flight!
    That’s when you can get a flight to somewhere you want to go: ‘Cardiff ‘has non-stop passenger flights scheduled to 14 destinations in 8 countries.’
    And within that: ‘On average, there are 6 direct flights PER WEEK travelling from Cardiff to Belfast.’

  • Brad Barrows 9th Jun '22 - 6:48pm

    So the Welsh Liberal Democrats believe that Cardiff Airport should ..”prioritise securing new routes.” I don’t see how this ties in with the Party demanding less flying.

  • David Raw states:
    “And yet, £ 210 million is a drop in the ocean compared to the £ 20 billion (of UK taxpayers money including those in Wales/Scotland/the North) just spent on London’s Queen Elizabeth line”

    This is not correct.

    Firstly the Elizabeth Line extends far beyond London. Most importantly it is not a project funded solely from national taxpayers – in fact significant contributions have been made from businesses. The full details of its funding package can be seen here:
    https://www.crossrail.co.uk/about-us/funding

  • I’m grateful to Mark for this information.

    Yes, indeed, the Queen Elizabeth line (when fully completed at further cost) will eventually run horizontally from Reading to Shenfield (350 miles south of Berwick and 110 miles from Cardiff) and yes indeed some proportionally small contributions have been made by some London based groups, but clearly the largest single proportion still comes from UK Central Government DFT funds.

    I’ve no objection to the project itself, it’s a great bit of engineering. What I object to is the myopic focus of so many politicians on London and the Home Counties to the neglect of issues and areas outside their thinking zone.

  • A modern nation needs an international airport near its capital city preferably within easy reach.
    We as a Welsh nation have few airports, the West Wales airport near Aberporth is effectively mothballed.
    The problem is that Cardiff International Airport has only 1 direct transport link to Cardiff city centre and that is the T9 TrawsCymru bus.
    We could build a rail link, If only Wales actually owned its Rail network (It is still controlled from Westminster).
    A new tax regime is needed where a flight duty is applied per aircraft rather than per passenger to give incentive for airlines to fill their planes with passengers.
    Wales needs an airport as it would put Wales on the the international map towards
    building a successful self-sufficient economy for Wales in the medium to long term.

    It is really sad that many good ideas cannot be put into policy because the Welsh government and parliament does not have the power to do it in the way Scotland and Ireland can.
    It just shows that the UK government does not treat Wales as a modern Country in its own right and certainly does not give Wales any respect as shown over the rail funding and proceeds from the Crown Estates that Scotland receives.

    Perhaps, if Westminster still refuses to give us the power, or even the same devolved power as Scotland that the only option for Wales is for full Independence and join the EU.

  • GWYN Williams 11th Jun '22 - 10:25pm

    @Ernest “A modern nation needs an international airport near its capital city preferably within easy reach.” For a million people in North and Mid Wales the nearest international airports are Liverpool, Manchester and Birmingham. Cardiff airport serves South Wales and South East Wales in particular. Bristol is a competitor. At the moment there is a level playing field in Air Passenger Duty. If Cardiff Airport were to close it would mean an extra hour on the road (over the Severn Bridge) or by rail to reach Bristol Airport. I doubt that the economic damage to the South Wales economy from losing Cardiff Airport would be as great as the continued public subsidy.

  • It is interesting to hear from Ernest that there is only one direct transport link to Cardiff city centre from the Airport. That is an appalling situtation.

    However there is Rhoose/Cardiff Airport station on the Vale line which is only about 2 miles by road from the Airport itself and a spur of less than a mile and a half would do the job.

    The fact that the Welsh Railways are not owned by the Welsh government is a bit of a red herring though. The cost should be around £50m max, and if the Welsh government had put real plans together along with a robust financing package, it could have been done years ago.

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