New favourite for airport buy-out

The company behind a major Scottish airport has emerged as the new favourite to buy a multi-million pound majority stake in Norwich International, the EDP has learned.

PAUL HILL

The company behind a major Scottish airport has emerged as the new favourite to buy a multi-million pound majority stake in Norwich International, the EDP has learned.

It is understood that city and county officials may be poised to start "exclusive" talks with Omniport over plans to part-privatise the Norwich airport and secure a major investment in its future. Omniport already owns a 10pc stake in the consortium that bought Glasgow Prestwick in January 2001 for £33m.

The number of passengers using Prestwick each year is predicted to reach 2.2m by the end of this year – compared to the record 431,420 passengers who passed through Norwich airport between April 2002 and March 2003.


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Low-fares carrier Ryanair is one of a number of airlines operating out of Prestwick, which offers flights to major European cities like Paris, Brussels and Barcelona, as well as flights to Las Vegas and the Spanish tourist hotspots.

The emergence of Omniport comes just two months after talks over a £20m deal for Norwich International with TBI – the owner of Luton, Cardiff and Belfast airports – collapsed at the eleventh hour.

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It was unclear last night how much money was being offered for the airport.

The two councils jointly own the airport and agreed last year to sell up to a 75pc stake – and retain a 25pc minority shareholding – in it.

The decision was prompted by a report by consultants Ernst and Young which concluded that Norwich International would need about £30m of investment over the next decade to "underpin its financial and commercial viability".

Senior county councillors have already hinted that a major proportion of the money County Hall receives from any airport deal will be reinvested in services and transport improvements. But city and county officials are also understood to be looking closely at the progress through Parliament of a new local government Bill – which could ease restrictions on councils borrowing money to invest in infrastructure projects.

The Bill, in its final stages, could see councils being given the power as early as 2004 to determine locally what is "prudent" to borrow – although ministers would retain the power to over-rule them if the decision was seen as "inadvisable" for the overall economy.

Under the current system, councils are told what they can borrow each year by the Government. But it is also understood that the city and county councils have received a "separate expression of interest" in Norwich International from a UK investment group through its agent Roger Gawn – the former property developer behind Norwich's Colegate, Melton Constable Hall and the 300-year-old Custom House at King's Lynn.

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