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It's time for this Government to belt up and take off on airport expansion

It's time for this Government to belt up and take off on airport expansion
4 min read

The Labour MP for Newcastle upon Tyne North argues ahead of her Westminster Hall debate today that the best way to support regional airports is to increase UK airport capacity and calls on the Government to make a clear decision now.

It's a little over seven years since the then Labour Transport Secretary  announced to Parliament that the Government would build extra airport capacity and deliver key infrastructure that this country needs.

Yet, since then, we've had a Prime Minister who first cancelled that decision and then kicked it into the long grass.

Whilst the Government seems to recognise the need to expand capacity, it still cannot decide where – this despite spending £20 million on an independent Airports Commission, to answer this very question. This ongoing uncertainty is the last thing that regional economies like the North East need.

At the same time, the Scotland Bill, currently going through Parliament, will devolve Air Passenger Duty (APD) – a tax on air travel – to the Scottish Government.  The SNP has pledged to halve and ultimately abolish it altogether if they win in May. There are also discussions ongoing about further devolution to Wales.

Labour has been clear from the outset about the potential damage that unfair tax competition within the UK could do to regional airports like Newcastle. 

Indeed, a recent Government study found that Newcastle’s annual passenger count could fall by 10% if APD is halved in Scotland. Yet concerns seem to have fallen on deaf ears.

David Cameron  admitted himself during the General Election that adverse effects would be unacceptable and promised he would “do what’s necessary” to support regional airports.

But, twelve months on and seemingly no closer to seeing a solution from Government, these words look disappointingly like yet more broken campaign promises.

Regional airports like Newcastle International, in my constituency, are very often the backbone of regional economies, supporting jobs and facilitating the movement of goods and people.

The airport makes an invaluable contribution to the North East region’s proud claim to be the only consistent net exporting region in England, supporting over 12,000 jobs in the region and facilitating over £300 million worth of exports a year to the rest of the world. 

But all this is being put at risk by a Government which has repeatedly failed to take the big decisions the industry needs to support the future of regional airports, despite the demonstrable economic benefits they bring not just to their locality, but the UK more widely.

Take Newcastle International Airport as a prime example: why would any Government risk jeopardising its success, most particularly in a region that still faces the highest levels of unemployment of anywhere in the UK, and by some margin?

Yet, while all the focus seems to be on the South East, the reality is that this constant prevarication and indecision from Ministers on both airport capacity and APD is risking real damage to our regional airports and to the growth of our regional economies.

That is why I have called for a debate on these issues in Parliament today.

I want to ensure Ministers hear loud and clear the voices from every corner of the country who want to see these decisions being taken – and taken in the whole country's interest.

The Government has spent long enough browsing in the duty free – if it doesn't get on board and belt up for take off soon, it'll find it has lost its UK departure slot and will have to make its way to Schiphol instead...

Catherine McKinnell is the Labour MP for Newcastle upon Tyne North

A Heathrow spokesperson said in response:

“We fully agree with Catherine McKinnell MP that the North East and indeed the whole of the UK must reap the benefits of airport expansion. Only Heathrow can connect Britain to the world, delivering up to £211bn in economic benefit with a third runway,  up to £114bn of which will be spread outside London and the South East to Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and England."

"That’s why we’re backed by more than  30 Chambers of Commerce in every region and nation,  over 30 British airports and a majority of MPs. We stand ready to deliver this privately funded infrastructure project as soon as we get the green light.”

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