SENIOR politicians have this week sparked new discussions about the future of Leeds Bradford airport, suggesting it could be relocated and expanded to fit in with the HS2 high speed rail link and the region’s wider transport visions.
However according to one expert, the location of LBIA is a debate which is as old as the runway itself, and one where a complete move is far from the most “sensible” solution.
LBIA started life in 1931 , when it was known as Yeadon Aerodrome and was effectively the dream of a few passionate businessman with a love of flying and good connections. Eventually, 60 acres of moorland north of Yeadon village was bought by a joint committee from Leeds and Bradford for use as a municipal airport. It really became a proper airport after World War II, when further development of the site meant that bigger aircraft could land there.
The airport’s key stakeholders were, until recently, West Yorkshire’s five district councils. Leeds and Bradford councils held 40 per cent of the shares each, and Calderdale, Kirklees and Wakefield held the remaining 20 per cent between them.
However the authorities sold off the airport in 2007 for £145m to private firm Bridgepoint.
Ken Cothliff, a lifelong aviation enthusiast who has written a book about the history of Leeds Bradford airport, explained that location had been a talking point almost since the day of the airport’s inception.
“It’s been speculated on for years that LBIA was in the wrong location,” he said.
“It was put there because it was open moor and it was not surrounded by housing at the time.”
He explained that other locations HAD been considered. But Whinmoor was ruled out because it was too far from Bradford and land in Pudsey, at what is now Dawson’s Corner, was deemed too close to the city centre and to existing housing.
“The problem was always geography,” Mr Cothliff said.
“Now people are talking about moving it, but just like London, the question is: Where is it going to go?”
“The reasonable alternative is what the airport has already suggested, a rail line from LBIA to Leeds, and not moving the airport,” he added.
“That’s the only sensible and practical way to link HS2 to the airport. It’s a good little airport, the best provincial airport in the country, but it’s a feeder airport and we have to accept it will never have big jumbo jets flying in and out every day.”
Despite speculation about its future, supporters of the airport are keen to emphasise its value to the region’s economy.
Gary Verity, chief executive of Welcome to Yorkshire, said: “The airport has for many years played a vital role in tourism and over the years improved its offer for customers, and we would watch any developments with interest.”
As the debate raged on today, airport bosses were also keen to stress ongoing development and the airport’s own long-term plans for improvements.
Tony Hallwood, aviation development and marketing director at Leeds Bradford airport, said: “Leeds Bradford Airport will continue to grow to meet local and regional demand for business and leisure travel. We will continue to introduce new airlines and expand our international destination choice to support inward investment, drive inbound tourism and deliver international connectivity for businesses across the region.
“Leeds Bradford Airport will continue to invest in our airport infrastructure to provide a range of facilities that our customers demand. In addition we will continue to strive for improvements to road and rail connections to the airport for our passengers and are happy to work with stakeholders across the region to achieve better access to the airport.”
Yesterday, leader of Leeds city council Keith Wakefield told the YEP that although the current airport had a “very good” record, there were “limitations on the existing location”.
“If you are looking 20, 30, 40 years ahead, there might be a better location so it can link with HS2 and create a transport hub,” he said. “We want Leeds and Yorkshire to be as ambitious as any other region.”