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Air wars: Glasgow set to back new bid for city airport

Glasgow is set to launch an audacious bid to buy the city's airport.

The city council's pension fund - the Strathclyde Pension Fund - is part of a bid consortium which includes Partners Group and Zurich Airport.

Partners Group is a global private markets investment management firm with more than 30 billion Euros in investment programmes under management in private equity, private debt, private real estate and private infrastructure.

Spanish firm Ferrovial is also keen on snapping up Glasgow. It owns London Heathrow Airport as well as 25% of Heathrow Airport Holdings, which owns Glasgow, Aberdeen and Southampton Airports.

A decision by the Strathclyde Pension Fund group to try and buy Glasgow could spark a bidding war.

Insiders say the consortium regard the West of Scotland airport as a good investment.

The move to buy Glasgow is supported by city council leader Gordon Matheson and Renfrewshire council leader Mark Macmillan.

They regard the airport as a vitally important asset to the West of Scotland in general but to Glasgow and Renfrewshire in particular.

If their bid was successful, public involvement in a takeover for Glasgow would place it in direct competition with Prestwick, which was acquired by the Scottish Government last year. That could mean a political conflict between Labour-run Glasgow and the SNP administration at Holyrood.

Room for Prestwick as well as Glasgow as airport competition intensifies

Strathclyde Pension Fund has assets of £13.5bn, making it the wealthiest council pension fund in the UK. Its members include the 12 local authorities which made up the former Strathclyde Regional Council.

However, the fund has around 200,000 members including present and former council staff and a number of private companies like bus giant First.

The pension fund has spread its investments across a wide range of areas and has a stake in some of the biggest companies in the world including Samsung and Apple.

It also has a property portfolio which includes a Wolverhampton shopping centre and an office block in Hong Kong.

Glasgow Airport was owned by the former Glasgow Corporation but in 1975 an agreement was reached to transfer its ownership to the British Airports Authority.

Manchester Airport is one of only a few airports in the UK still in the ownership of local councils. It is owned and managed by Manchester Airports Group, a holding company owned by the 10 metropolitan councils of Greater Manchester.

Last year, the consortium decided to buy Stansted Airport and 35.5% of the group went to Australian investment fund Industry Funds Management.

In the battle to win the bid, pension fund managers face a major battle in their attempts to wrestle control of the west coast hub.

They could be caught up in a bidding war after Madrid-based Ferrovial reportedly tabled an opening offer of £800million earlier this week for Glasgow and the airports at Aberdeen and Southampton.

Ferrovial is the world's largest transportation infrastructure company and is cash rich. Technically, it already owns Glasgow which is part of Heathrow Airport Holdings (HAH) which also owns the other two airports.

The Spanish firm have a 25% stake in HAH and is its biggest single shareholder. But it's looking to expand business interests in the UK and reports suggest it wants outright control of Glasgow Airport and the others.

Ferrovial took control of what was BAA in June, 2006, at a time when officials in Glasgow were celebrating the hub's 40th anniversary.

The Spanish conglomerate has so far refused to comment on reports of a bid although sources insist the speculation is true. That would suggest Glasgow Airport could shortly be the centre of a bidding war and if the price is right analysts say the Spaniards will withdraw and approve a deal.

The sale price for Glasgow is likely to generate a lot of haggling. Edinburgh Airport, which snatched Glasgow's crown as Scotland's busiest airport years ago was sold off recently. The agreed price was £800m.

It's thought likely that Ferrovial executives could be looking for something similar if they opt to drop their interest in having outright control to a new position of a sell-off.

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