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Heathrow’s loss could be Birmingham’s gain if third runway plan is rejected

Heathrow’s loss could be Birmingham’s gain if third runway plan is rejected

🕔14.Mar 2016

A Cabinet Minister has given the broadest hint yet that the Government will abandon plans to build a third runway at Heathrow Airport.

Justine Greening, the International Development Secretary, said she believed the prime minister would conclude expanding London’s main airport “was not a smart decision”.

Ms Greening, Tory MP for Putney, Roehampton and Southfields, is a long-time opponent of the third runway plan and she told the Sunday Telegraph she thought her fellow ministers would eventually support her views.

She called for a new “long term” strategy to be drawn up to decide on a “sensible” future airport policy for the UK. Ms Greening said:

I don’t believe that this government will proceed with a third runway decision. I just don’t think it is a smart decision.

Trying to expand Heathrow is like trying to build an eight bedroom mansion on the site of a terraced house. It is a hub airport that is just simply in the wrong place.

It was not clear whether Ms Greening has inside information about the Government’s Heathrow decision, which is not expected to be announced until the summer, or whether she was speaking in hope rather than expectation.

Her intervention will have alarmed senior civil servants who warned ministers not to speculate on a decision about the third runway while the issue is still under consideration for fear of inviting legal challenges.

Ms Greening’s comments are the latest twist in a seven year saga which began in 2009 when David Cameron declared that another runway at Heathrow “just isn’t going to happen”.

However, the Airports Commission, set up by the Government, backed the £19 billion scheme for a third Heathrow runway in July 2015, preferring the proposal to another runway at Gatwick.

The Commission found that a new northwest runway at Heathrow will not increase noise above current levels and will generate up to £147 billion in GDP impacts over 60 years.

A third Heathrow runway would provide 740,000 flights a year, putting it on equal footing with Paris, Frankfurt and Amsterdam.

Rejection of the Heathrow runway plan would reignite a debate about the future of air travel in the UK, and could have implications for Birmingham Airport where chief executive Paul Kehoe has consistently argued against further expansion of Heathrow.

The Airports Commission rejected the case for a second runway at Birmingham, at least in the near future, but the proposal has not entirely disappeared for the long term.

Mr Kehoe has put the case for Birmingham becoming “Heathrow’s third airport” with travel times between the two cut to about 50 minutes when HS2 high speed train services begin running in 2026.

In an interview with BQ Business Quarter, Mr Kehoe commented:

Everyone was told we can’t serve industry without ‘Heathrow three’. Well, we’re serving it now, and even if the government goes ahead with Heathrow, it’s still 15 years away.

And so it’s a living lie, because if the UK faces the same problem for 15 years we have to use existing capacity. Heathrow and Gatwick are full, Stansted is nearly full, and with an overall requirement for an extra 20 million passengers, where are flights going? Manchester, Bristol, Birmingham and other regional airports.

Mr Kehoe wants to remodel Birmingham Airport to bring it up to “world class status”. A masterplan showing what the airport could look like in 15 years’ time is being drawn up.

He talks of doubling the contribution the airport’s operations currently make – an estimated £1.7 billion in GVA (gross value added) supporting 40,000 jobs for the UK, with £1.1billion GVA of this and 25,000 jobs in the West Midlands.

“If we can double that, think what we could do,” he told BQ. “Back in 1991, Manchester said they would double passengers by 2001, and they did.”

Birmingham Airport is celebrating its most successful year in 2015, when it handled 10.2 million passengers, five per cent up on 2014.

Continuing to operate with a single runway, and before HS2 arrives, Mr Kehoe believes Birmingham can increase passengers by 50 per cent to 15 million by 2025. He believes HS2 will add about another million passengers, putting Birmingham’s growth at 60 per cent to 16 million passengers a year from 2026.

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