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Flight or fright?

It's just not good enough, says Bob Waterhouse, after his bleak trip through John Lennnon Airport

Written by . Published on October 5th 2011.

Flight or fright?

I’VE been using Speke Airport on and off since it was a couple of huts between a bumpy runway and a huge council estate. I took flights to Douglas or Dublin without a second thought. You could park close by for next to nothing and stroll onto planes. The only downside was a need to go easy on the Guinness with the drive home in mind.

If Speke were run by a struggling
local authority I could accept its
current sad state. But it is not

When, 14 or so years ago, easyJet opened its Liverpool-Nice flight I benefited from low-cost travel to the Cote d’Azur to the point that I could afford to commute each month. Never mind that the cabin crew looked like Dutch all-in wrestlers, or that the pilots often believed they were heading for Luton.

Speke is my gateway of choice to the North West. Imagine my distress, then, to land there one day last month and find myself joining a queue into a barracks block which, zigzag by painful zigzag, slowly revealed itself as the UK Frontier.

By that time, I’d read all the warnings I could take about assaulting officials – and had to speak very firmly to myself not to do just that.

Having passed the test (no smiles please) I joined the throng awaiting bags – which seemed to have been subjected to their own frontier inspection.  Then an opportunity to pass water, and with it a reminder that cleanliness is not always next to godliness in UK public facilities.

Luggage retrieved, formalities achieved, I faced the arrivals concourse. Yes, all had changed since last time, and where to go for car hire? It took a couple of passes up and down to realise that the bleak multi-storey car park opposite was my destination. No cover from the sleeting rain. No friendly signs. Then the long trudge to find the car in an open stand by the runway (why not in the multi-storey?) and the tedious return to pick up luggage and passengers."

Well, you might say, what’s the problem in all this? The problem isn’t mine. I know and love Liverpool and the North West. The problem concerns visitors – business or tourist – arriving in the region for the first time, for instance those on the frequent KLM service from Amsterdam. A hearty welcome!

If Speke were run by a struggling local authority prevented by government legislation from using private-sector investment to improve facilities (as used to be the case at Manchester Airport) I could accept its current sad state. But it is not.

JL-StatueJSpeke - sorry, Liverpool John Lennon Airport - is owned by the Peel Group (in partnership with Vancouver Airport Services). Peel is that assertive private conglomerate masterminded by John Whittaker, the North West’s leading entrepreneur. It “delivered” (its word) the Trafford Centre and has just “delivered” Media City UK to Salford.

Peel assets blossomed when Whittaker controversially took control of the Manchester Ship Canal and its surrounds from Manchester City Council. The group has developed a well publicised masterplan for the North West called Ocean Gateway, a sort of private-sector version of the Mersey Basin Campaign. It is the region’s biggest property and environmental operator.

In the words of Steven Broomhead, chief executive of the Northwest Regional Development Agency (NWDA), quoted on the company website, “Peel has brought and continues to bring considerable added value, they have great vision and are prepared to take risks and remain both accessible and approachable. Other regions would love to have a developer of their calibre supporting the regional economic strategy and economic recovery” (their punctuation and grammar). 

PeeL, whose former deputy chairman Robert Hough, is now chairman of the NWDA, has a lofty view of its role in regional affairs. “Our vision is to create sustainable environments where people and businesses can thrive. The Peel Group is committed to achieving its vision through a pro-active approach to the principles of sustainable growth and development, working in partnership with all our stakeholders and engaging with our communities.”

Fine words. Setting aside the argument about whether airports are candidates for sustainable growth, the stakeholder (in this case the paying passenger) normally judges facilities by how welcoming, convenient, clean and efficient they prove. As a stakeholder-partner of Speke over the years I am dismayed by lack of progress, in fact by regression, on that front.

In Imagine John Lennon famously sang the line adopted as the airport’s motto: “Above us only sky”. To which I would counter, “You may say I’m a dreamer but I’m not the only one”.

My dream is to see a Speke uninvolved in Heaven or Hell, merely a credit to the people of Liverpool and their hinterland.


*Bob Waterhouse is a former Guardian journalist and has also been editor of North West Business Insider and the North West Enquirer. 

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25 comments so far, continue the conversation, write a comment.

Roger over and outOctober 7th 2011.

I can't see that this is any different to any other airport really. I mean don't they all promise a train link which does not actually go to the airport but terminates miles away in the middle of nowhere and then you have to get a taxi, or worse, an Arriva bus to your destination.

It is certainly good for toning the buttocks as you look at your watch and wonder if you are going to make your flight because, on principle, you haven't paid your bribe to Peel Airports to jump you to the front of the queue.

AnonymousOctober 7th 2011.

At least they have an ATM now. Just a few years ago the helpful airport staff directed bemused passengers to the Asda in Hunts Cross which was the nearest

Absinthe & TurksOctober 7th 2011.

Is the bar area of the departure lounge still filled with loud, scruffy men drinking lager?

2 Responses: Reply To This...
GeorgemciverOctober 12th 2011.

Just like M.A.N

Absinthe & TurksOctober 13th 2011.

Manchester Airport has more space in which to lose lager-swilling louts. They don't dominate and intimidate normal passengers as much as they do at Liverpool Airport

Liverpool wagOctober 7th 2011.

That's just the easyjet pilots

1 Response: Reply To This...
GeorgemciverOctober 12th 2011.

Ho ho ho

AnonymousOctober 7th 2011.

I'm sure that last time went to pick someone up there I had to pay to get through a barrier just to drive to drive to arrivals and pick up people with heavy luggage! This happens at no other airport - I've NEVER been back!

1 Response: Reply To This...
GeorgemciverOctober 12th 2011.

Good Anonymous

Weary travellerOctober 7th 2011.

To be honest, sometimes it's just as quick to go to Manchester. At least the train goes to the airport and not to Hunts Cross, miles away, and they don't charge you to drop someone off

1 Response: Reply To This...
GeorgemciverOctober 12th 2011.

Well go....goodbye..smaller queues for me.

BigglesOctober 7th 2011.

Even from Wirral, Manchester Airport is easier to get to and cheaper to use.

My last flight into Speke was diverted to Manchester because of fog!
N.b. In 1968 Speke Airport became the world's first airport to be equipped with fully automatic radar landing facilities for aircraft to land in fog. Whatever happened to them?

1 Response: Reply To This...
GeorgemciverOctober 12th 2011.

Well use it then..just stop whingeing about LPL

John OakesOctober 13th 2011.

As one who has used both airports I can safely say that LJLA is no worse than Man--in fact Man was worse when it was being developed and up dated.
LJLA is on the up and passenger figures support this no wonder we are getting hatchet job attempts like this--they must be getting worried up the road.
NOT perfect and room to improve but certainly getting there-- passengers vote with their feet and an annual rise tells its own tale.
Keep up the good work and good luck to the best airport in the North West in my opinion.

1 Response: Reply To This...
GeorgemciverOctober 13th 2011.

And 5.62 million others...hope they build a bigger bar for all the Lager louts from Wirral...lol

P. Rank, GiggleswickOctober 13th 2011.

Aha - "J Oakes" - I thought you were being serious for a moment there!

Pun Soul ClubOctober 13th 2011.

"I might have known the Author was linked to the Gaudian!!!"

The Gaudian? NOT!

1 Response: Reply To This...
GeorgemciverOctober 13th 2011.


V. I. Lenin AirportOctober 13th 2011.

I can drive to Manchester Airport on a couple of 70mph motorways.

To drive to drive to the much nearer Speke Airport I have to negotiate many congested junctions, numerous traffic lights and it's all 30mph cart tracks with bus stops, speed bumps and idiots pottering up the middle of the road at 20mph. It actually takes longer to get to my local airport than to Manchester's.

1 Response: Reply To This...
GeorgemciverOctober 13th 2011.

Off you pop then more lager swilling room for me and quicker check out..bye bye

London RoadOctober 13th 2011.

Me too, sorry to say.

1 Response: Reply To This...
GeorgemciverOctober 13th 2011.

Dont be sorry..it doesnt become you.....

AnonymousOctober 24th 2011.

All i can is that we choose to drive over from Yorkshire at least twice a year to fly from LJLA, the cost of flights together with substancially cheaper on-site parking makes the extra journey time worth it.
I have 6 airports all within about an hours drive and Liverpool usually wins.
Yes the bar area could do with a coat of paint and new seating but generally since the re-furb all looks pretty good.
I do agree that if you are unlucky enough to arrive in the security cattle-shed at the same time as another flight then it can get a bit fraught.

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