15 FEBRUARY 2016
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Brian Donohoe was the Labour MP for Central Ayrshire from 1992 to 2015, with Prestwick airport on the boundary. During that time he was a member of the Transport Select Committee and chairman of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Aviation, the latter producing a well-received report on Air Passenger Duty and Aviation Policy. Since his retirement he has maintained an interest in air transport and helping the development of Prestwick.
In December 2003, responding to a report on 'Regional Air Services' from the Transport Select Committee, on which I sat, the Labour Government produced a comprehensive Policy on 'The Future of Air Transport'. After five years of comprehensive study and analysis that policy firmly recommended the development of a third runway at Heathrow to allow for growth at the UK's only viable hub airport and allow those regions of the UK that had lost their Heathrow connections to be re-connected.
The subsequent Conservative-led Government stupidly in my opinion rejected that policy but promised an independent review of air transport policy priorities via the Davies Airports Commission. The Government said it would act on the Commission’s recommendations by the end of 2015. After two years work and £20m spent, the Commission recommended that a third runway should be developed at Heathrow as the economic case was overwhelming and that the environmental impact could be addressed.
So after a further unnecessary 12 years delay, another detailed independent study of UK air transport came to the same conclusion as the previous Labour Government and most leaders of UK industry and commerce and many politicians, that development at Heathrow must be the priority.
The irony is that had the Labour policy re Heathrow been accepted, Heathrow Runway 3 would be opening in 2018, before the end of this Parliament!
Yet just before Christmas, the Prime Minister delayed the decision by a further six months, saying more work was needed on emissions and meeting EU regulations (that at least appeased his Eurosceptic MPs including bizarrely the Chairman of the Treasury Select Committee).
Why after two years work by an erudite commission and £20m spent was more work required, many asked? The cynics are correct to think that it had more to do with deferring the decision beyond the London Mayoral elections in May 2016.
Yet we have the Secretary of State for Transport speaking at the recent BATA dinner stressing that the Government was committed to making a decision on new runway capacity and that UK regional connectivity to the hub was a key driver. And repeating the statement to the Select Committee last week.
So my question remains, “what are you going to do about securing that vital regional connectivity Secretary of State, particularly in the interim 15 years until Heathrow R3 (assuming you still recognise that to be the priority) is available”?
Thankfully, the Government owns an interim solution, allowing RAF Northolt to be developed to take UK regional services and thereby provide links to the Heathrow hub some 5 miles to the South. It’s a solution I have consistently supported, not least as it would allow renewed links from Prestwick and other regional airports to Heathrow.
I was pleased to see that after the promotion of the Northolt concept by the Transport Select Committee and APPGA which I chaired and by media such as Business Travel News, some equally focussed individuals, Heathrow Airport and the Regional Task Force, that Flybe announced its intention to start services there, subject to Government (MOD ) approval.
But since Flybe’s announcement last autumn, there has been silence from them and sadly the Government.
The Government owns Northolt, it controls aviation policy and flight safety via DfT oversight of CAA and the PSO funds. It holds all four aces to deliver regional connectivity by opening up and promoting Northolt and with less noise than current civil operations whilst making a contribution to the Treasury. Northolt must be opened up very quickly if we are to remain the major hub in Europe.
I am sure that if the Government responded positively to this initiative vital regional links would be restored and their local and the UK overall economy benefit significantly.
Unlike Andrew Tyrie, the Conservative chairman of the Treasury Select Committee, I do not believe the economic case put forward by the Airports Commission, and its unanimous recommendation in favour of a third runway at Heathrow, as “opaque in a number of important respects”.
If Mr Tyrie is so incensed by the Commission's recommendations following two years detailed study and spending the millions, why has he waited nearly a year to comment or not initiated an enquiry by his Committee? It sounds like political posturing and not what he should be doing to promote robustly analysed UK Plc infrastructure development to support the economy and employment. That should start by opening up Northolt.
I look forward to being on the first Flybe service from Prestwick to Northolt to catch my flight from Heathrow to the rest of the world!
It is after all the ONLY solution to UK Plc retaining its dominance in aviation!!
See also BTN 19 OCTOBER 2015 COMMENT: London Northolt (IATA NHT) ready for take-off
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