Sunderland councillors agree motion over renaming of Newcastle Airport

A campaign to rename Newcastle International Airport has passed its first hurdle following a vote by councillors.

Thursday, 24th June 2021, 1:00 pm
Sunderland councillors agree motion over renaming of Newcastle Airport
Sunderland councillors agree motion over renaming of Newcastle Airport

Sunderland City Council’s Liberal Democrat group launched a motion calling for the local authority to write to airport directors to urge them to rename the site.

The new name proposed was ‘Newcastle Sunderland International Airport’ aiming to reflect both cities it serves in Tyne and Wear.

Liberal Democrat councillor Paul Edgeworth said the move would “put Sunderland on the map” while supporting and promoting the university and aiding regeneration in the city.

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Cllr Paul Edgeworth

Noting airports such as Leeds Bradford and Doncaster Sheffield, opposition councillors added the new name would reflect Sunderland’s status as a local authority shareholder in Newcastle International.

The motion was debated at Wednesday’s (June 23) full council meeting, which saw a socially-distanced council chamber assembled within the Montgomery Suite at the Stadium of Light.

However, an amendment proposed by the ruling Labour group called for reference to the name ‘Newcastle Sunderland International Airport’ to be deleted.

Instead, councillors were asked to urge airport directors to “consider suitable options” around renaming the airport to “best reflect the area it serves.”

Although the amendment won unanimous support, many councillors questioned the reasons for bringing the original motion to council and its relevance to local issues on Wearside.

Labour’s Paul Stewart, the council’s cabinet secretary, described it as a “gimmick” and said it downplayed the council’s current ambitions for the city – including regeneration plans at Riverside Sunderland, becoming a social landlord again and attracting investment from Legal & General.

Councillor Stewart added the council was serious about attracting jobs, business and investment and was rolling out major plans for 5G, which would “leave Newcastle in the slow lane.”

Conservative councillor James Doyle added the Lib Dem motion was a “media stunt” and suggested that the majority of residents care more about local issues such as council tax, highways and back lanes.

The idea of renaming the airport ‘Newcastle Sunderland International’ on the other hand, he explained, had been met with “overwhelming indifference” judging by the majority of online comments.

Labour councillor Karen Noble also questioned the worth of the motion in the context of people struggling during the Covid-19 pandemic – adding recent media coverage had made the council a “laughing stock” in online comments.

But the councillor added that other options could be explored for renaming the airport in future.

This included the seven councils in the North-East, known as the ‘LA7,’ consulting on renaming the airport after a public figure – as has been done with Liverpool John Lennon Airport.

Following debate, councillors voted unanimously to approve Labour’s amended motion to “consider suitable options” for renaming the airport.

The agreed motion reads: "This council resolves to write to Newcastle International Airport to urge its directors to consider suitable options for renaming the airport that will best reflect the area it serves.”

Councillor Niall Hodson, leader of the Liberal Democrat group, accepted the changes and said the council could “rely on the Liberal Democrats to provide some entertainment.”

“Some party has to provide the light relief in British Politics and Sunderland Politics and I’m more than happy for that to be the Liberal Democrats,” he said.

“And I wouldn’t be a Liberal Democrat if I didn’t accept a really crappy compromise.

“Why have proportional representation and electoral reform when you can have a referendum on the alternative vote.

“Likewise, why have a definitive statement when you can have a wishy-washy commitment to do nothing.”

The council is one of seven local authorities which jointly own 51% of the airport’s operation.

The others are Durham, Gateshead, Newcastle, North Tyneside, Northumberland and South Tyneside.

Newcastle International Airport’s remaining shareholder, with a 49% stake, is AMP Capital. The airport is run as a Public Private Partnership.

Cllr Paul Edgeworth, speaking after the meeting, said Lib Dems were clear any new name for the airport should include Sunderland.

“Sunderland Council owns the airport just as much as Newcastle, so it’s absolutely right that we are reflected in its name,” he said.

“A name change would help show the world that Sunderland is a great North-East city just as much as Newcastle – and attract more businesses, jobs, investment and students to Wearside in the process.”