The criticism by both the Conservatives and the Lib Dems of the lack of any clear direction on the part of the government as to what it intends to do with the airport has a little more validity – but only a little. In fairness (?) to the Labour government in Cardiff, I don’t think they’ve ever claimed that the decision to purchase was part of any grand plan or strategy; it was a purely pragmatic and opportunistic response to the situation which developed. They purchased an airport with no clear idea of what they were going to do with it; and it seems that they haven’t inherited any real plan from the previous owners either.
Given that background, the assertion by the government that that the purchase will lead to a turnaround is, at this stage, probably as baseless as the opposition’s criticism. It owes more to aspiration than to any concrete plan. But my concern is more about the language being used and what that reveals about the underlying attitudes of all concerned to the Welsh economy.
Referring to the airport as the “National Airport of Wales” as seems to be increasingly common, is one of those concerns. It is in Wales, certainly, and is now owned by the nation; so in a purely semantic sense the description is true. The idea however that an airport in the south-east corner of Wales ever can or will serve the whole of Wales in any meaningful way is patently nonsense.
At one level that may not actually matter too much. To the extent that air connections are important (and that’s another argument entirely), what matters is that they’re available and accessible – not which side of the border they happen to sit. The north of Wales will continue to be better served by airports to the east of Offa’s Dyke than the one in Cardiff; short of improvements to North-South communications in Wales on a scale which the government does not even seem to be contemplating, that will continue to be the case for the foreseeable future.
But at another level, it does matter. Government spokespersons have talked about the airport being central to the “Welsh” economy; and about overseas investors not taking seriously any “nation” which does not have good air connections. In both cases, the context suggests that the "nation" is "Greater Cardiff" rather than Wales as a whole. It betrays yet again an obsession with growth in that corner of Wales rather than any attempt to distribute wealth more evenly across the nation.
It mirrors the attitude of the UK Government, which is quite happy to see growth and wealth concentrated in the South East corner of these islands. It’s an attitude which most Welsh politicians rightly criticise. But why are they then so keen to replicate it on a Welsh level?