As Zero Hour approaches with regard to Plymouth airport we have to ask ourselves some very important questions.
Are present communications by road and rail so good and secure that we can still thrive by relying on them alone?
Are we confident that Captains of Industry thinking of establishing great centres of work will not dismiss us instantly because they cannot access us in the shortest time possible; maybe even think that because we have no air link there is something odd about us?
Are we confident that in a rapidly changing world nobody in the future will step forward with a plan which will work?
Is the prospect of foreclosing on an option which can never be reversed something that we can live with?
In today’s world large numbers of tuppenny ha’penny places have airports. They are regarded almost as a mark of the community’s virility. For myself it is a resounding NO to every one of these questions and I will tell you why.
Plymouth is the only big city in a peninsula 200 miles long, which commands the Western Approaches and with the largest naval dockyard in Europe is an important regional centre.
Are we not peculiarly at risk by rail and by road? When the Victorians drove through their rail link they were anxious to make the journey (experience) a memorable one; quite rightly so.
In some places they did brave things, like when they challenged the ocean waves by running so perilously close to them as they did in places like Dawlish.
They could not be expected to know that man made emissions would alter the world’s climate so that extremes of weather would become a regular feature of life.
It is entirely possible that, as a result, that line may be broken if not washed away at some point in the future. What then do we do?
That marvel for its time, the almost 170 year old Brunel suspension rail bridge must surely be coming to the end of its life so that Cornwall becomes no longer accessible by rail.
May not the private operator, faced also with a storm lashed, perilous and collapsing Dawlish line, then decide to cut his losses and end the rail link at Exeter?
I remember well the storm of protest that met the decision to end the M5 at Exeter. Nothing would move them.
It was almost as though they’d got it in for Plymouth. They gave us a quite superior A 38 for the remaining 40 miles and tried to console us by calling it the Devon Expressway.
But nobody was fooled. At the end of the day it remained at best a dual carriage way. When accidents, resurfacing and other repairs happen we are doomed to single lane traffic. Imagine your Captain of Industry who on being told he could not fly then asking for a first Class rail ticket only to be told that isn’t possible either.
He then takes to the road and ends up in nose to tail single lane traffic. Nice one Plymouth City! This may all sound bizarre and it is. But it entirely within the bounds of possibility. These thoughts and other should be pressing on the minds of those who are charged with looking to the future of our city.
No one blames Sutton Harbour Development Company for seeking to coin a buck – millions of them by off-loading non profitable airport land to make themselves a fortune – with all sorts of other developments. Their duty is to their shareholders not the people of Plymouth.
I do blame a desperate city, though, for granting them such a preposterous lease as 150 years. They may as well have sold it to them freehold, but perhaps as well they didn’t, they might have let it go for silly money.
So strongly do I believe many people view this issue that it would not surprise me in the least to see protesters sitting on the runway on the day the bulldozers were told to move in.
Our city seems obsessed with short term considerations. Of course it is right not to burden itself with loss making operations, but its priorities seem very skewed when it rushes off to build theatres, Pavilions, Domes, Life Centres and even Aquariums.
Some may say this is all very wonderful while others might to say it is self indulgent.
All I know is that Plymouth must keep its lungs and arteries open while being ready at the same time to receive the world. Business should trump all other considerations. From that comes the wherewithal to do all these other no doubt commendable things.
It is not, even now, too late to hold back from an irrevocable decision. While it is impossible to predict what the future holds, what seems foolhardy in the extreme is to do this thing; like close down the argument forever.
Who would want to be the man or council who very possibly doomed this city to permanent mediocrity? What a sad epitaph to have to say that it happened on my watch.