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Wednesday, May 22, 2024

Renewed dispute over Teesside Airport name rights sparks political clash

A five-year-old dispute over the rights to the name of Teesside International Airport has been reignited with a war of words between Ben Houchen and Alex Cunnigham

Ben Houchen, who was elected to a third term as Conservative Tees Valley Mayor last week, posted criticisms of Stockton North Labour MP Alex Cunningham for writing to the government about a claim to the airport name. Mr Cunningham replied he simply wrote seeking some advice for a constituent.

Businessman Chris Joseph outside Teesside International Airport. Image: Daniel Storey.

As reported previously, businessman Chris Joseph had asked the Tees Valley Combined Authority (TVCA) to pay £250,000 for the intellectual property rights to “Teesside Airport” which he bought up in 2015. Mr Houchen then accused him of “holding Teessiders to ransom”.

The wrangle seemingly came to an end in 2019 when Mr Joseph said he would withdraw and “relinquish the ‘Teesside Airport’ intellectual property suit with immediate effect” for the good of his own health following online abuse. The name change, which drew 93% support from a poll of 14,000 people, went ahead in July 2019.

But Mr Joseph, a Labour Party member who posted a video online in the run-up in the election saying “bin Ben”, says he was offered £1 for the rights and never signed anything. Now he has delivered a letter saying he would settle his claims on payment of £45,000, which he says he would put into his human rights organisation Right Against Might, and a letter of apology from Mr Houchen and the TVCA.

The issue sparked a clash between Mr Houchen and Mr Cunningham shortly before the Tees Valley mayoral election, where the airport was an issue of debate. It emerged Mr Cunningham wrote to Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Secretary Michael Gove.

The letter to the government sought help and advice about Mr Joseph’s ownership of intellectual property over the airport name, saying it still remained with him and there had been no transfer of titles, payment or transaction to acquire the rights. It requested Mr Gove’s intervention to get Mr Houchen and the TVCA to settle the matter with “an appropriate fee and an apology” rather than a civil lawsuit.

Mr Houchen criticised Mr Cunningham in a video post to Facebook last Tuesday (April 30). He said: “It seems to be that the Labour Party are at it again when it comes to our airport.

“Clearly it is absolute nonsense. But the fact that the Labour Party have now written to the government asking the government to intervene… is absolutely bonkers.

“These people don’t get it. If you want an airport, if you want it to be a success and you want to make sure it doesn’t close… what’s very clear is that you cannot trust Labour.”

Mr Cunningham said in response: “Houchen is just being very silly yet again – none of us want to see the airport fail but if it does, it will be because of his mismanagement.

“In relation to Mr Joseph, it is correct that I have written to the government seeking some advice for my constituent who claims that he still retains ownership of some of the intellectual property including the name ‘Teesside International Airport’ and hasn’t been paid by the Mayor’s office for the use of it.

“I can confirm I’ve written to Michael Gove seeking some advice for Mr Joseph who I have known since he worked with my predecessor. In the context of the letter, he is a constituent.

“Interesting that Houchen doesn’t deny Mr Joseph’s claims choosing instead to take against him and making ridiculous statements in relation to myself. It’s time he got himself a dose of maturity and stopped behaving like a silly child.”

Mr Houchen added: “It is sad to see that the Labour Party are yet again trying to tear down everything positive we have done at Teesside Airport. This is another attempt to hold our airport to ransom and stop us using its rightful name.”

Mr Joseph responded: “That’s never been the case. I was the one who proposed it in the first place, why on earth would I not want them to use the name? It is intellectual property.”

In response to the £45,000 offer, Mr Houchen said: “For as long as I’m mayor, this Labour member supported by a local Labour MP will not get any money from our airport.”

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