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Aberdeen airport bosses accused of ‘not wanting competition’ as rival car park expansion is approved

Management at the Dyce facility argued the plans went against environmental policies - but councillors said passengers were unlikely to "put their suitcases on the back of their bikes".

Airparks Express has been given permission to extend its new car park at Aberdeen airport.
Airparks Express has been given permission to extend its new car park at Aberdeen airport. Image: Ben Hendry/DC Thomson

Aberdeen airport bosses have been accused of “not wanting competition” after trying to block the expansion of a rival car park.

Airparks Express operates a 462-space facility 500m from the airport at a neighbouring business park.

With passenger numbers bouncing back after the pandemic, the firm recently sought permission to expand onto adjacent land.

But the move to create 193 extra spaces came as Aberdeen International Airport prepares to reopen its own 530-space “park and depart” car park, since it’s no longer used for Covid testing.

The NHS drive-thru testing centre in Dyce at the height of the pandemic. Image: Paul Glendell/DC Thomson

And as the scheme was debated by councillors, the state of the city’s public transport system came under fire…

Why the need for the car park extension at Aberdeen airport?

Airparks Express filled a gap in the market following the closure of 750-space Aberdeen Airpark at the start of lockdown.

And since opening next to the Crowne Plaza hotel last summer, the firm has watched passenger numbers take off.

Figures are now said to be nearing their pre-Covid levels.

The land earmarked for the expansion of the Aberdeen airport car park. Image: Ben Hendry/DC Thomson

In its second month, it had already achieved a 94% occupancy rate and staff say it’s usually 90% full.

Planning consultants from Halliday Fraser Munro say the average stay is just over seven days, with Airparks Express the only alternative to airport-owned parking.

They added: “The extension would help to satisfy demand, and continue to support the airport by providing a better supply of accessible parking.”

Why did Aberdeen International Airport object to car park plans?

Airport bosses wrote to the council asking them to make sure the expansion scheme didn’t get off the ground.

In an email to the authority days before Christmas, its head of planning and development Ross Nimmo pushed for the plans to be knocked back.

The scheme at International Gate came in for criticism from airport top brass. Image: Ben Hendry/DC Thomson

He said people driving to catch flights is “one of the greatest sources of airport related carbon emissions”.

Mr Nimmo argued that it’s “vitally important” to ensure customers can reach the venue by more “sustainable modes” of transport.

And he said the application went against local and national eco policies, such as the Scottish Government Climate Change Plan.

Airport bosses said the car park expansion would go against the sort of aims being driven forward by First Minister Nicola Sturgeon (centre) and climate activists Greta Thunberg (left) and Vanessa Nakate (right). Image: PA

Mr Nimmo also accused Airparks Express of “using a diesel 4×4 to transport passengers from the car park to airport”, describing it as a “rudimentary shuttle service”.

But the meeting later heard this claim was denied by the company.

Why weren’t councillors persuaded?

The planning committee also learned that the airport’s own “park and depart” site on Wellheads Drive will reopen on April 1.

And this caused some to cast doubt on Aberdeen International Airport’s motives.

Councillor Jennifer Stewart is requesting colleagues refer to her as Councillor Mrs Stewart - in an effort to "protect her gender". Image: Heather Fowlie/DC Thomson.
Councillor Jennifer Stewart said investment in Aberdeen should be encouraged. Image: Heather Fowlie/DC Thomson.

Councillor Jennifer Stewart put it bluntly: “It’s about not wanting competition.

“It’s all very well to say, from ivory towers, that we should all support public transport… But the infrastructure isn’t there.

“And I understand from basic economics that you need to have competition.”

Brand new car park just opened July 2022. Why not give us a call for your next trip

Posted by Airparks Express Aberdeen on Thursday, 15 December 2022

‘I can’t see people putting suitcases on the back of a bike’

And Marie Boulton stressed that many using the Airparks site come from outwith Aberdeen.

She added: “I can’t see many people putting suitcases on the back of a bike, or carrying them along the AWPR.

“We have to be realistic if we want our airport to thrive.

“We have only had one objection to this, and it’s from a competitor.”

Others pointed out that many passengers would need to venture into Aberdeen city centre from afar to get the only bus to the airport.

The 727 bus makes its way from the city centre through places like Kittybrewster and along Great Northern Road before dropping passengers off at the terminal.

What is the state of public transport to Aberdeen airport?

The SNP’s Neil Copland agreed that “public transport options to the airport are very very limited”.

Party colleague John Cooke referenced well-documented taxi shortages that can leave people stranded for long spells awaiting a lift home after landing.

The taxi rank at Aberdeen International Airport. Image: Darrell Benns/DC Thomson

Conservative Emma Farquhar said people would only be encouraged to use public transport if it was improved.

She said the current system means people “can be left waiting in cold weather for some time”, with women experiencing a “huge deal of anxiety” around their safety late at night.

“This isn’t something we should take away just to push public transport,” she added.

Councillor Emma Farquhar has responded to proposed plans which would ban parking on key Aberdeen roads. Supplied by Aberdeen Conservatives.
Councillor Emma Farquhar backed the Aberdeen airport car park expansion. Image: Aberdeen Conservatives

And officers said a proposed “rapid transit” scheme for the city was too far off to be taken into consideration.

Is Aberdeen ‘a dump’?

Taking a wider look at the north-east’s fortunes, Jennifer Stewart said the council “should be doing things to improve this city”.

She went on: “Aberdeen is not in a great place… It doesn’t make me feel good as an elected member to stand here and say Aberdeen is a dump some of the time.

“Look at Union Street!”

Can Union Street sometimes feel like “a dump”? Image: Ben Hendry/DC Thomson

The Hazlehead, Queen’s Cross and Countesswells independent added: “We need to be doing everything we can to encourage enterprise.

“So let’s keep Aberdeen on the move, and not bring it to a standstill because we want people to get on an irregular bus.”

Should the car park plans have been approved? Let us know in our comments section below

What happened in the end?

Planning chiefs said the “exceptional case” should be rubber-stamped despite conflicting with green policies.

The matter divided the leading SNP group, with committee convener Dell Henrickson seeing his plea to reject the plans ignored by colleague Mr Copland.

Councillors eventually voted 8-5 in favour of the expansion plans, which were revealed in our Planning Ahead round-up in December.

You can watch the meeting here and read the planning application here.