The UK needs a hub airport as we take up 'a new and more open position in the world'
Former Cabinet minister Andrew Mitchell expects a parliamentary vote on Heathrow expansion before the Summer recess and says 'the majority of colleagues across the House want to see Heathrow expand for the benefit of the whole country'.
Earlier this year, we saw yet another reminder of the need to expand Heathrow and get to work on a third runway.
In March, Heathrow discovered that six of their key trading routes – Shanghai, Tokyo, Mumbai, Delhi, Dubai and LAX - were operating at capacity in the cargo hold, stifling growth for British exporters to precisely the markets that the UK needs to trade with more. Many people are unaware that the airport is the country’s biggest port by value to non-EU markets, last year moving over 30% of British exports around the world. Evidently Heathrow is at the heart of our trade with the world but we need to support it to expand so it can continue to support our businesses and exporters.
These capacity constraints can’t be seen as a surprise. Heathrow has been operating over 98% full for a decade and as a result, our economy has been losing out to the likes of Amsterdam and Frankfurt where there they can accommodate the extra passengers, cargo and flights to emerging markets around the world. In fact, Amsterdam are so aware of how they are capitalising from the UK’s hub airport being full, that they send Heathrow cakes to mark each delayed decision, acknowledging that Schiphol’s runway – and the Dutch economy - is currently serving the extra demand which can’t fit in to the UK.
It is a poor reflection on the successive Governments that watched our national Hub airport grow ever more constrained, but we must act now to signal to the world that the UK is open for business. Reassuringly, it was this Government that set the process in motion and is now indicating that a vote is expected before the Summer recess to unlock benefits across the UK; which the Airports Commission forecast to be tens of billions of pounds in economic growth with tens of thousands of new jobs.
Alongside the national picture, we should be equally focused on the potential benefits for regions outside the South East. In reality, the third runway at Heathrow opens up the door for knock-on benefits to regions and airports across the country.
An expanded Heathrow, combined with HS2 access via Old Oak Common will make much-needed improvements to national connectivity. Journey times to the West Midlands could reduce by 60 minutes, significant time savings that will benefit my constituents in Sutton Coldfield and communities across the UK.
Aside from convenience, the West Midlands stands to benefit from up to £13bn in economic benefits and around 12,000 new jobs, building on the revitalising work of our brilliant new regional mayor, Andy Street.
In 2022, Birmingham will host the Commonwealth Games. I am passionate about this being a catalyst for the region to attract further major international events. I’m confident that the superb airport we have in Birmingham will do our city proud but Heathrow can complement this role, offering enhanced connections domestically and especially as an international gateway.
While the recent success of our region has been linked to the strong connections to the rest of the UK through the development of the M5, M6 and the West Coast Mainline link, international markets will play an ever-increasing role as the UK enters new markets following our exit from the EU next year. Improving our links to Heathrow has therefore never been more important.
In the West Midlands, our world-leading manufacturing and engineering sectors will look to build on their technological innovations, continuing to lead the world – and supply the UK too - and an expanded Heathrow must play a central role.
Like most parliamentarians and the public at large, I want to see a plan for expansion that prizes sustainability and looks after the environment. So we should take confidence that Heathrow has already set out in detail its air quality triple lock alongside plans to make their entire car fleet electric or hybrid by 2020, and to power the airport with 100% renewable energy. Heathrow has also made bold commitments to being a responsible transport gateway. I have spent a significant part of my political career on issues of aid and development – which is why I am particularly pleased to see these commitments on human and wildlife trafficking.
It is right that Parliamentary scrutiny is given to such major decisions but for some time it has been clear that the majority of colleagues across the House want to see Heathrow expand for the benefit of the whole country. The current airport capacity crisis has existed for too long and is putting us all at a disadvantage, whilst our European neighbours capitalise at our economy’s expense. As the UK takes up a new and more open position in the world, it needs a hub airport to support us. Let’s get on and build it.
Rt Hon Andrew Mitchell is the Conservative MP for Sutton Coldfield
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