Well, it can hardly be said that the new Prime Minister is fighting shy of controversial and big strategic issues – like grammar schools, nuclear power, Brexit and now airport capacity in the south east of England, the latter being hugely contentious. This week, the decision on airport capacity has been made (at long last) and announced in the House of Commons: One of the most difficult political choices in my near 12 years in Parliament for any government.
Thomas Cook is a major employer in Peterborough and as such I have always taken an interest in airport capacity and tourism issues, especially tax matters like the Air Passenger Duty. The aviation industry supports one million jobs and contributes £22 billion to the UK economy each year.
Infrastructure improvements are vital for new jobs and a growing economy across the whole of the UK and of course I’m delighted that we are investing funds in upgrading the A47, A14, the Thameslink programme and the East Coast Mainline but we can’t ignore how integral a world class airport is to our future economic prospects.
That’s why I will be supporting the decision to endorse the Airport Commission’s recommendation to expand Heathrow airport with a new north-west runway, as the least worst option, in a hugely complex debate. The economic value of the project is massive – in the region of £30-45 billion - and we just can’t sit on our hands any longer, as other European hubs expand and prosper, especially in the post Brexit period, with the need to exploit growing world markets and new long haul destinations. Heathrow is already at capacity and within the next fifteen years all the south east international airports will also be at full capacity and Heathrow is the busiest two-runway airport in the world, handling 250 million passengers in 2015. The wider business impact of delaying even further, runs into the tens of billions of pounds.
It’s estimated that by 2040, an extra 580,000 passengers will make one way trips to or from the East of England using direct international connections offered by an expanded Heathrow, around 190,000 for business purposes.
That said, it’s a tough call and for me, I would only be supporting the project if most of the financial burden falls not on the passenger or taxpayers but on the airlines and airport operators and that we can properly safeguard the environment too. It is important that there is a proper package of mitigation and insulation and compensation, a proper night flight ban, stringent noise restrictions which are legally binding and quieter, fuel-efficient and cleaner planes and that the project – which will last ten years – is absolutely compatible with UK air quality requirements and that this is built in to the planning permission if granted. And that what is built is constructed by (largely) British workers and with British steel!
Parliament will vote on the issue in a year’s time after a full public consultation and I would urge constituents to let me know your views. Delay is no longer an option. The UK must prove to the world with the expansion at Heathrow, that it remains a successful global trading nation and is most assuredly open for business.