Clive Memmott, Chief Executive of Greater Manchester Chamber of Commerce, looks at what the expansion of Heathrow will mean for the UK economy.
After 50 years of indecision, the government last week endorsed airport expansion in the South East with the announcement that a new £14 billion runway will/may be built in the next eight years. Does this mean that one of the longest-running disputes in British politics is finally coming to an end?
A Parliamentary process has been kick-started to give planning permission for the two-mile runway. The airport’s national policy statement sets out the conditions that the scheme has to meet, and MPs will vote on the plan within 21 days.
The policy statement does not spell out how much taxpayers’ money will have to be spent on expanding road and rail access to cope with the enormous increase to 740,000 flights a year (currently 480,000 per year).
Clearly this is wonderful, long overdue news – although we’re not over the line yet! It is beholden on everyone that wants this to happen to keep lobbying and campaigning. The important point to make here is that it’s great news for the whole country NOT just London and the South East.
Last week was therefore a great time to have the Heathrow Business Summit for the North West. We held a summit a couple of years ago and it was a real success. The idea is simple, to match the airport’s supply chain with SMEs who can provide top quality products and services. Heathrow is a national asset, not just for the South, and it’s great that they want to open opportunities to business in the North West.
Manchester Airport is the epicentre of the whole Northern Powerhouse concept – it flies to 220 destinations now, which makes it one of the world’s biggest airports. In the last few weeks, it has announced key new routes to India and Africa. It’s investing £1bn in transforming its facilities and unlocking spare capacity on its existing two full-length runways.
Heathrow and Manchester don’t compete. Hub airport or point-to-point – it doesn’t matter – the country urgently needs more airport capacity. Government must now match its support for a 3rd runway at Heathrow with specific and practical proposals to maximise the potential of key airports like Manchester. This is the national airport strategy this country desperately needs – never more so than on the cusp of Brexit.
This includes support for “Crossrail North” (this is a far better brand than Northern Powerhouse rail), which will dramatically improve access to the North’s primary international gateway and help secure more direct long-haul services to key destinations.
The government says it wants to make the best use of existing airport capacity throughout the country. We must hold them accountable for this and ensure this country has the best possible international connections.
This is also not a North v South issue – I have actively campaigned with my colleagues at the London Chamber to support Heathrow runway 3 and Crossrail 2. In turn they have supported me in relation to Crossrail North.
The original Northern Powerhouse concept was all about a radical but simple strategy – to join up a cluster of cities centred on Manchester and Manchester Airport with the scale to create a better economic balance and match larger cities elsewhere.
Again, this is not a North v South issue – it’s about long overdue, sustained investment in the infrastructure this country desperately needs and creating a more balanced approach to economic development. Infrastructure that’s modern, efficient, great value and joined up. If you expand airport capacity you have to correspondingly expand the supporting infrastructure that feeds it. The scale of the disruption on our rail network in the last few weeks has been truly awful. How can this happen? But it did, and it does! An efficient transportation system needs everything to be co-ordinated to work.
The way we “do” infrastructure in this country remains antiquated and its absurd that it’s taken us 50 years to get to this point with regards to Heathrow Runway 3. Transport for the North now has statutory authority, but the National Infrastructure Commission doesn’t – how does this make sense? Don’t moan about poor productivity outside of the South East if the transport infrastructure doesn’t match that of the South’s – this is what enabled London to grow. One of the best ways to address skills shortages is to grow labour markets by providing top class connectivity to major centres of employment.
Brexit is an all-consuming issue for Government, for society, for business. However, whatever the outcome of these negotiations trade and investment will continue. It is a huge challenge to broaden and diversify our international markets and it’s clear that expanded airport capacity is pivotal to this. The news on Heathrow is long-overdue and we can’t dither for another 50 years with regards to further expansion of our airports and other transportation systems.
Expansion brings new opportunities. I hope last week’s summit marks the beginning of lots of new relationships that are good for Heathrow and good for our companies in the North West.