Back in business: An artist’s impression of how Carlisle Airport could look
Carlisle City Council yesterday gave planning permission to allow Eddie Stobart and Stobart Rail to move their operations at Kingstown to the airfield at Crosby-on-Eden.
As a condition, airport owner Andrew Tinkler will sign a binding agreement to upgrade the runway and passenger terminal, raising hopes that scheduled passenger flights will start next year.
But objectors have vowed to fight on and may apply for a judicial review.
And Mr Tinkler faces tricky negotiations with a tenant farmer before work on the warehousing can begin.
He welcomed the decision, which followed a special two-and-a-half hour session of the development control committee.
"Now they have approved it we will get on and build it," Mr Tinkler said.
"This safeguards the jobs at Kingstown and will create others, which is good news.
"We are committed to upgrading the runway and passenger facilities and we’ve been in talks with potential operators.
"The intention is to have flights to Southend Airport which, when a new [railway] station opens next year, will be 50 minutes from London."
Councillors arriving at the Civic Centre were greeted by uniformed Stobart staff and a banner saying "Keep Stobarts in Cumbria". There had been fears that, if the plan was turned down, the haulage group would move its HQ to Cheshire.
Earlier proposals from Mr Tinkler’s company, Stobart Air, were passed by the council in April only for him to drop them when Communities Secretary Hazel Blears called a public inquiry.
This time, planning officers said, the scheme was not a "departure" from the local plan and therefore there was no need to refer it for a possible public inquiry. But they have insisted that Stobart Air signs a binding agreement to:
Resurface the runway and provide a passenger terminal
Replace 27 acres of wildlife habitat
Take steps to reduce noise from lorry movements
Provide a bus service to discourage car use
The scheme is for a 387,500sq ft warehouse for road haulier Eddie Stobart, a four-storey office block shared by Eddie Stobart and Stobart Rail, a chilled dock, gatehouse, canteen and parking for 339 cars, 46 lorry cabs and 96 trailers.
The council received 661 letters and emails in support, 103 against and three letters of comment. Nine objectors spoke at the meeting.
They questioned whether scheduled flights would ever be viable and argued warehousing and office space would be better located at Kingmoor Park.
Peter Elliott, an aviation consultant once employed by Mr Tinkler, claimed that the intention was to set up an air freight operation for Tesco using Boeing 737-600 jets.
He argued that the runway should be realigned to take the flight path away from Irthington village.
Irthington resident Ian Gray was horrified by the scale of the development.
He said: "It is 11 hectares, which is equivalent to 27 football pitches."
"The storage and distribution centre is equivalent to the footprint of the Lanes shopping centre.
"The building is clearly industrial in its form and function and will be the largest and tallest for miles around.
"By any standards it will be a gross discordant feature in the rural landscape. It will introduce an overwhelming level of light pollution."
Councillors were sent a letter from Newcastle solicitor Dickinson Dees, acting for the objectors, which claimed the planning officers’ report was flawed and that passing the application could give rise to a judicial review.
Gordon Brown, who farms land needed for the scheme, said that under the terms of a lease granted to his father in 1962 he could not be evicted until March 2011.
Mr Tinkler confirmed afterwards that he would start negotiations. He said: "We were waiting to see if we got planning permission before we talk to Mr Brown."
But councillors were unmoved by the objectors’ arguments, voting unanimously to approve the plan.
There were no dissenting voices when committee chairman Doreen Parsons asked: "Is the application approved?"
Botcherby Labour councillor Terry Scarborough said: "This is an opportunity which must not be missed. The opportunity is only there because of Stobart Air and Andrew Tinkler. I want us to go forward with optimism."
And Belah Conservative David Morton said: "The bottom line is that we’re looking at the economic prosperity and future of this city.
"I understand the concerns of the objectors but a lot of those objections were grossly misplaced."
Speaking after the meeting, city council leader Mike Mitchelson was jubilant.
He said: "It’s fantastic news, a major step forward. It sends out the message that Carlisle means business.
"What Carlisle needs is a viable working airport, and I am hopeful that that is what we are going to get."
Rob Johnston, chief executive of Cumbria Chamber of Commerce, also welcomed the decision saying there was "overwhelming support" among businesses.
He added: "This is great news for Cumbria and Cumbrian businesses.
"It demonstrates that Cumbria is open for business and shows what can be achieved if we all work together and make our voices heard."