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Time for the Government to come off the fence on airport capacity

3 min read

Transport Select Committee member Mark Menzies MP argues that delays to a final decision on airport expansion are now 'adversely impacting the UK’s economic growth and costing jobs'.

In the Airports Commission report of July 2015, Sir Howard Davies stated that delaying a decision on approving additional airport capacity in the South East will be interpreted “as a sign that the UK is unwilling or unable to take the steps needed to maintain its position as a well-connected open trading economy in the twenty first century”.  The UK Government promised a quick decision following the publication of the Commission’s report and yet, as we approach the anniversary of the report, there is still no decision or even a suggested direction of travel.

The need for a decision to be made is felt across the political spectrum with the cross-party House of Commons Transport Committee, of which I am a member, earlier this month making clear its call for the Government to take a decision on airport expansion without further delay.

Now that the politically sensitive Mayor of London election is out of the way, it is vital that the Government finally takes a decision on airport expansion as indecision is adversely impacting on the UK’s economic growth and costing jobs.

While the concerns of residents and environmentalists have been to the fore in the debate to this point, there has been an absence of focus on the business travellers who are actually making the journeys that underpin our economy.  That is why I welcome today’s report from The GTMC, the representative body for corporate travel management companies, and Oxford Economics which has sought to quantify the impact on trade and foreign direct investment (FDI) of increased connectivity and inbound/outbound business travel.

Using a cross-country, cross-time model their analysis shows that a 1 per cent increase in international air business travel volumes would increase UK exports by £160m and £125m respectively each year. Furthermore, a 1 per cent increase in the flight connectivity from the UK hub airport would increase total trade by an estimated £600m each year.  In terms of FDI the report estimates a 1% increase in air connectivity was estimated to increase inward FDI by around 0.09%, or £600m in the UK.

These findings, together with numerous other economic studies, demonstrate how the UK is denying itself a much needed economic boost through our indecision on expanding capacity at our hub airport.

At present, too many business travellers are forced to use European or Middle Eastern hub airports in order to access the routes to growth for their businesses. For investors from non–traditional markets we are making ourselves harder to get to than our competitors. Outside of the South East, in areas such as my own constituency of Fylde, the problem is even more pronounced, as limited capacity means business travellers struggle to access Heathrow and the existing markets it connects to. These are very real issues facing our economy that it is in our gift to rectify.  

In order to enable real economic take off, it is vital for the Government to now come off the fence and to follow the recommendation of the Airports Commission. The concerns of residents in West London must be taken into account and mitigated, where possible, but should not be allowed to outweigh the national strategic benefit to the UK economy of Heathrow expansion. We must grasp the nettle and make a decision on airport capacity in order to free our business travellers to compete in a global market without an arm tied behind their back.

Mark Menzies is the Conservative MP for Fylde and a Member of the Transport Select Committee

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