Appendix 8C : The Future of Manchester Airport in 1953

Extracts from Chairman’s report – 31/3/53 – “Future of Ringway Airport” (Source: Council minutes 1952/53 Vol 2. p 1248) on the issue of whether to allow it to be taken over by the Government or try to keep it as a municipal airport.

“Manchester was the first municipality in Great Britain to provide an aerodrome. It was licensed by the Ministry 25 years ago on 19th April 1929. Land at Chat Moss in Wythenshawe was converted into Barton aerodrome and opened in January 1930 The council acquired 660 acres of land at Ringway by compulsory purchase order and opened the new airport in June 1938.

“1939 – 1945 continued to be managed by the Corporation and used by the RAF. Runways were constructed by the Ministry of Aircraft Production and it was agreed that the Corporation would pay the Ministry after the war.

“1945 – 1949 there continued to be increased numbers of aircraft and passengers.

“1946 Civil Aviation Act conferred power upon the Ministry of Civil Aviation to establish and maintain aerodromes and the power to acquire land (including by compulsory purchase order). A new terminal was built at Ringway at a cost of £23,500 which was met by the Ministry of Civil Aviation. The Corporation contributed £12,627 for additional furnishing.

“On 2nd December 1949, the Ministry indicated its intention to acquire Ringway.

“The council asked for a deputation to meet the Minister (Lord Pakenham) to persuade him that it was not necessarily in the interests of civil aviation to take over Ringway Airport and to ask him to consider terms for the Corporation to retain ownership without imposing prohibitive charges on the General Rate Fund. This meeting took place on 13th June 1950 – the Chairman of the Airport (Cllr Lionel Biggs) and the Deputy Chairman and the Town Clerk.

“They proposed that the capital works already carried out by the Government should become the property of the Corporation (at no cost); that future capital costs would be borne by the Corporation; that recurring expenditure (including runway maintenance) would be borne by the Corporation; that all income would be retained by the Corporation. Reference was made to the necessity of immediate extension and upgrading (and lighting) of the main runway – costs to be borne by the Ministry, but apportioned, if it was agreed that the Corporation would continue to own the airport.

“The Minister was impressed by the arguments put forward and undertook to examine the proposals carefully.

“In July 1950 it was agreed that the cost of the works (on the runway) would not be taken into account when assessing the capital value of the Airport. The total cost of the work would be considered as if it was done after the conclusion of an agreement. The Ministry then carried out the work.

“In October 1950, Ministry officials were authorised to discuss arrangements.

“By Autumn 1952 the negotiations had advanced. The new Minister for Civil Aviation was Mr Lennox Boyd. The plan was to upgrade Ringway to a class B (International) Airport from a class C. It would be the third largest in the country (after Heathrow and Prestwick).

“The negotiations included capital grants for a new terminal building, a new apron, new fire station, runway extension and strengthening. To date, the capital costs to the Corporation are £493,250. The rate borne expenditure from 1935 – 1953 (18 years) is estimated at £202,000.

“It was assumed that the income would increase, but couldn’t give an accurate estimate of how much over ten years. 25% increase in passengers was predicted and an increase in the freight handled. There was also a plan for charging visitors for observing aeroplanes. It was expected that the Airport would make a contribution to the rates rather than being an expenditure.”

At the end of his report, the Airport Chairman made a plea to the Council to invest in order to gain. He insisted that the terms offered by the Ministry were such that it was in the interests of the City Council to retain ownership. At that point in time, there was no overall political control of the Council. The Council Leader was a Tory (Richard Harper) and the Leader of the Labour Group was Tom Nally.

The Airport Chairman put forward the advantages of municipal ownership – including the transport advantages to the whole region and said that if the Airport was state owned it would be only one of many and would (suffer from) the lack of special knowledge of the area and local trade.

“There is only one way in which a satisfactory blend of practical experience in operating an aerodrome and the meeting of requirements of a highly developed industrial and commercial area can be achieved, and that is by the Authority in the best position to appreciate the commercial and industrial requirements themselves being responsible for the operation of the Airport, with the power and ability to make changes and adjustments as circumstances necessitate without constant reference to higher authority… Continued prosperity of the area served by Ringway can only be maintained by the application of up to date methods and techniques and forms of transport… Believe it will become profit-making…”

The Finance Committee Chairman (John Cobon) recommended disapproval of the proposal. On 31st March 1953, the issue was debated and then adjourned. On 29th April 1953 the Chairman’s proposal was approved (no named vote) and the Airport remained in municipal control. In May 1953, Labour gained control of the Council and Tom Nally became Leader.

Editor’s Comments

This text is taken straight from the document written by Kath. This Appendix relates to Chapter 8.

Chapter 8 Contents List