THE BLOG

Heathrow Is Not Only the Right Technical Solution - It's the Only Politically Deliverable Solution

08/01/2016 17:16 | Updated 08 January 2016

The next chapter in the aviation saga has been written. The Government want to do more work to shore up the environmental case for Heathrow. This is right and proper. An extra few months to ensure that we have got the best possible deal out of Heathrow with the best possible mitigation in place. Successive governments have avoided this difficult decision, the issue has been passed from pillar to post for far too long, but being in government is about difficult decisions. The next few months will show whether this government is prepared to show leadership and make the right decision on Heathrow.

There is reason to be hopeful. Heathrow are confident that they can reassure us of their plans to deliver a new runway within environmental limits. It is vital that this is done as soon as possible.

But the reason that we keep circling back to Heathrow is not just because it is the right technical solution. But because it is the only politically deliverable solution. No other UK airport offers value to every nation and region of the UK. Which, incidentally, is also why it is the only UK airport which is full - and it has been for a decade now.

There are many airports which are vital to their local economy. Cardiff airport serves South Wales. Manchester is going from strength to strength. Gatwick does a great job for Croydon and Kent. But only Heathrow complements these local airports. That's why over 35 other UK airports support Heathrow expansion.

It is the only UK airport with the range of long haul destinations necessary to support British business. Because of this network of routes, and the facilities available at the airport, Heathrow today carries over a quarter of all British exports by value - more than every other UK airport combined. But it needs to expand if great exporters across the country are going to take advantage of all the new emerging markets around the globe. And expansion would also allow the nations and regions of the UK to be better connected to this great gateway to the world. There would be more domestic air connections as well as new rail links to Scotland, the North, East London and of course, South Wales.

Wales is, in fact, a great example of why Heathrow has so much political and business support. With the best will in the world, Cardiff airport is never going to have a direct connection to Caracas or Wuhan. In the UK, it is only Heathrow that has sufficient demand and the facilities to pool passengers to make these flights viable. It does this with connecting flights and extensive surface transport options from across the UK. And this is only set to improve. Electrification of the Great Western Mainline and a new spur from Reading into Heathrow will put South Wales within 2 hours of Heathrow. For high value tourists landing at Heathrow it will soon be as easy to 'turn left' and find yourself in the Brecon Beacons as it will be to 'turn right' and experience the delights of London. For international investors, Cardiff will be as attractive as East London.

The story is the same across the UK. HS2 will improve access to Heathrow from the Midlands Engine, the Northern Powerhouse and Scotland. Crossrail will connect East London and the City directly. New domestic air connections from the likes of EasyJet and Flybe could connect Liverpool, Newquay, Inverness and Humberside. But only if there is new capacity at Heathrow. Which is why, according to a Dods poll, 69% of MPs support expanding Heathrow. It is the only option which commands political support across the country. If the Government satisfy themselves of Heathrow's environmental mitigations and put it to the House of Commons, expansion will be approved.

There is much doom and damnation about this delay. For much of the business community, the Government has already had its last chance. We should not underestimate the strength and breadth of their frustration. Britain is undoubtedly falling behind our European competitors. But democracy is about balancing competing interests. The Government will now do the detailed work on Heathrow's environmental proposals and then - for the sake of Wales, and the whole of the UK - we urge them to take a firm and final decision to expand Heathrow.

Stephen Kinnock is the Labour MP for Aberavon
Craig Williams is the Conservative MP for Cardiff North

Comments

CONVERSATIONS