29 JULY 2019

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Article from BTNews 29 JULY 2019

COMMENT: Time for take-off, Mr Shapps

Nobody said it was easy, but Grant Shapps, our incoming secretary of state for transport to give him his full title, is probably better placed than most to confront what is heading down the runway toward him.

His arrival follows the diplomatic resignation of Chris Grayling, whose tenure was beginning to look increasingly at risk and subject to growing criticism from his political enemies, among others. The breath of fresh air the new prime minister’s Cabinet reshuffle seems to have ushered in is sorely needed.

As we were saying (BTN 15 July), Shapps has a full in-tray to deal with but the key will be what he selects as his first task. BTN’s view is that Crossrail is the most urgent priority but just this week the waters have been muddied again. Boris Johnson’s pledge to create a new Manchester – Leeds high-speed rail line inevitably summons the spectre of HS2 and what effect the new plan might have on that. The HS2 “review” promised for the autumn could turn out to be something completely different. (See Manchester Airports Group backs rail line pledge in this issue)

And rail is far from the only item on Shapps’ list. Again just this week, the furious debate over airport expansion has reared its head anew with Heathrow Hub, the independent proposal for expanding the airport via an extension to the existing Northern Runway, winning a key court case.

The group has been granted permission to appeal the High Court judgement handed down on 1 May which effectively gave the go-ahead to the government’s decision to proceed with the North West Runway scheme by way of the Airports National Policy Statement.  (See Heathrow Hub wins expansion appeal in this issue.)

Shapps, who is MP for Welwyn Hatfield in prime commuter territory in Hertfordshire, is popular in the industry as an enthusiastic private pilot bringing his own aircraft to lesser known airports (at his expense). He has served as the chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on general aviation, a post he must now leave on becoming a minister.

He is a regular user of Govia Great Northern and has already made it clear he will be looking at all areas. On the day of his appointment, he described himself on his Twitter page as “a very frustrated six trains-per-day commuter for the past few years”.

He added he was delighted to be appointed and while it would take time, he wanted the system to work for passengers. “Road, rail, sea and air – we need green transport tech to get this country moving!” he said.

Aviation’s view was summed up by Airlines UK chief executive Tim Alderslade, who said Britain was lucky to have a secretary of state “who buys into and supports the value of aviation”.

He added: “[Aviation has] too frequently been the poor relation of rail and this needs to change, and we need someone at the heart of it who will give aviation the attention it deserves.”

Airlines UK’s priorities were clear, he went on: “Crack on with R3 at Heathrow provided the cost is not prohibitive, ensure aviation is ready for all Brexit scenarios, and cut through the general feeling within DfT that aviation is a sector that can manage itself, rather than one that needs and requests government leadership to maintain its world class international status.

“This means investing in sustainable aviation fuels, delivering airspace modernisation, and clamping down on cost increases that make it so hard for airlines to maintain routes, both domestically and to new and established markets overseas.”

Plenty there to get your teeth into, Mr Shapps.

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