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Cameron’s ‘reverse ferret’ on Heathrow just might be a great opportunity for Birmingham

Cameron’s ‘reverse ferret’ on Heathrow just might be a great opportunity for Birmingham

🕔05.Sep 2012

The Government’s newly announced independent commission to review the UK’s aviation strategy is both a lifeline and a threat to the hopes of those campaigners fighting to move the centre of gravity from the South East to Birmingham and other regional airports.

While the review can justifiably be characterised as a ‘reverse ferret’ to get the Government out of a political bind, it does at least give BHX boss Paul Kehoe and his supporters the opportunity to restate their case within a formal policy development framework.

Some in Government no doubt have in mind what they believe is the ‘right’ answer, and are hoping the review will give independent backing to a Heathrow expansion. Within the same administration, though, others believe the ‘Boris Island’ option is the best solution.

Therein lies the threat. Viewed from within the Westminster bubble, this is just an issue for the South East. London-centric politicos and media are scrapping over WHERE in the South East any new capacity should go, rather than WHETHER the South East is the only region that holds a solution to a national problem.

And it’s a circular argument which states that because the South East is where most of the international slots are currently, that’s where any future ones should go. This forgets the simple fact that Birmingham’s current and future spare capacity can facilitate a redistribution of slots that takes services closer to more of the UK population while freeing up opportunities in the South East for more lucrative routes to the emerging global markets.

In many other countries, Birmingham’s proximity to the capital would make it a crucial and obvious component of a network of airports. A transfer time of little more than an hour to the capital city or another major airport barely registers for the international business person planning their itinerary. When HS2 is plugged in, Birmingham will be more accessible than ever.

A failure to recognise this is a little Englander attitude that needs to be robustly challenged by everyone who cares about the long term economic health of this region and the whole of the UK. It seems precious few voices are being raised within the South East, so it’s down to businesses, citizens and politicians in the rest of the country to rise to the challenge.

Birmingham and the West Midlands have the most to gain, but we shouldn’t be embarrassed to use regional self interest to argue for what should be a national cause.

After all, London has been getting away with it for years.

Marc Reeves is a partner in RJF Public Affairs, publishers of The Chamberlain Files.

  • To download RJF’s latest briefing paper, ‘At the Crossroads – Which way now for transport in the West Midlands?’, click here.

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