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Last Updated: Monday, 24 October 2005, 11:01 GMT 12:01 UK
Top bidder for airport pulls out
Exeter Airport
Exeter Airport saw passenger numbers increase by 45% in 2004
The top bidder in the controversial proposed sale of Exeter Airport has withdrawn from the process.

The pull-out by the South West Airports Consortium (SWAC) follows the Office of Fair Trading's referral of the planned sale to the Competition Commission.

Critics of the plan said the move was anti-competitive because SWAC ran Bristol Airport.

SWAC said it was disappointed at the referral. Devon County Council said it understood SWAC's decision.

Support role

The council decided last year to sell most of its shares in the airport because it said it could not afford the investment needed to develop it.

It announced earlier this year it was selling its 75% stake and received a bid from Macquarie, a partner in SWAC.

But there were concerns that such a sale was anti-competitive because the company would have interests in both Exeter and Bristol airports. Critics added that it might have meant that Exeter would have been reduced to a support role to Bristol.

The Competition Commission's investigation was expected to last up to six months.

SWAC said the referral to the commission was the reason for the withdrawal of its bid.

Investment needs

A spokeswoman for SWAC said: "We were very disappointed with the referral.

"Basically the process would have taken quite some time and expend a lot of resources with no certainty of a positive outcome for us."

Devon County Council said it would take appropriate steps to ensure that its investment aims for the airport were achieved and consider what further action should be taken in the light of the withdrawal by SWAC.

Council Leader Brian Greenslade said: "The county council will continue to give it the support it deserves while the future longer term investment needs are resolved."

Exeter International Airport saw the biggest rise in number of aircraft handled by a regional airport in 2004, with passenger numbers up 45%.


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