18 JULY 2016

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Article from BTNews 18 JULY 2016

COMMENT: May we have a decision

Brexit means just one thing. The UK will become even more dependent on global trade, and that means getting our future South East runway (ie port capacity – Heathrow is Britain’s largest by value) needs sorted out. And quickly, before the ruthless competitors latch on to what is happening. With London’s air capacity full, how are our salesmen going to get to all the new markets in the rest of the world, and how are these customers going to come to us?

Just prior to David Cameron becoming prime minister, Heathrow was set to expand, the incoming PM forced to delay the final go-ahead due to politicisation by the Liberal Democrats. In true ‘Yes Minister’ style, a committee was created. The Airports Commission came down firmly in favour of the west London hub. Sadly, this was not good enough for 10 Downing Street, who then appointed a Cabinet quango to discuss the matter, advised by the civil service. The noise and pollution problems are something of a red herring. The air transport industry has moved on from the earlier Airbus and Boeing products.

It is rumoured that the Department for Transport and the managers for parliamentary business were all set to announce a Heathrow decision in the second week of July. The unexpected Leave vote and the PM’s quick resignation changed the course of events.

After the resignation of David Cameron, the then transport secretary, Patrick McLoughlin, said no decision on airport runways could be announced until a new prime minister was in place. She is now!

The House of Commons rises for the summer on 21 July. The government has many things on its plate, but the South East runway decision has to take priority after the announcement on Trident today (18 July).

Davies came to its decision acknowledging that Gatwick is a fine airport but is in the wrong geographical position, with only a single motorway connection, and that being to the already over-congested M25, and no quick access east and west. Likewise with the rail links, easy to London but poor elsewhere. In a sense, British Airways has acknowledged Gatwick’s weakness by moving all its operations this year to the South Terminal, leaving easyJet to concentrate on Europe from its new home in Gatwick North. 

Heathrow may not be perfect but the UK’s two major trunk motorways, the M4 and M1, are both easily accessible and a new rail link gives entry for the west, south west and Wales. These are virtually inaccessible to alternative UK international airports (including Gatwick). The M4 corridor itself is a vital part of Britain’s commercial infrastructure, which cannot be said of the M23. Crossrail, nearly ready, is a bonus and so will be HS2 in time.

Please Mrs May, stop the political infighting and allow the Davies report to stand. Europe is vital for Britain’s future, but the rest of the globe even more so. And at the same time, and as a quick simple interim measure, she should move the private jets out of Northolt (there are plenty of alternative airports) and allow regional services in. Less noise for the residents, more income for the Treasury and a boost for the Provinces.  Even the local MP must agree the benefits!

Theresa May has already shown her strength very early, with the Cabinet reshuffle widely considered nothing short of ruthless. Both she and Chris Grayling, her new transport secretary, are considered perfectly strong enough to face down the hostile reaction that approving Heathrow’s extension will inevitably provoke in various quarters. May we have a decision?

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