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Liberal Democrat activists reject Birmingham Airport expansion

Liberal Democrat activists reject Birmingham Airport expansion

🕔08.Oct 2014

Solihull MP Lorely Burt has failed to persuade her Liberal Democrat colleagues to leave the door open for the further expansion of Birmingham Airport including the possibility of building a second runway.

Ms Burt moved an amendment at the Lib Dem conference designed to give the party “wriggle room” when in Government to approve limited airports growth in the South-east and elsewhere in Britain.

She argued that “impressive” technological developments in carbon and noise reduction in aircraft manufacture meant that the Liberal Democrats could back a net growth in runways and still stay true to their environmental principles.

But the amendment, although backed by party leader Nick Clegg and Energy Secretary Ed Davey, was defeated and the conference overwhelmingly backed a motion committing the party to oppose net runway growth anywhere in the UK.

The decision could be highly significant if the Liberal Democrats end up in a coalition in a hung parliament after next year’s General Election.

Sir Howard Davies’ Airports Commission is due to report shortly after the election on whether to build a third runway at Heathrow or a second at Gatwick. Deciding whether to proceed will be one of the first major tasks of the new government.

The single runway at Birmingham has recently been extended to handle non-stop long haul flights. Airport bosses expect future growth plans will involve building a second runway in the medium term.

Ms Burt told conference delegates that opposing all new runway construction risked binding the hands of the Liberal Democrats and strangling growth in the regions.

She said: “The motion as it stands precludes the possibility of net growth in runways anywhere in the UK. But in Birmingham, in Newquay, in Aberdeen and in so many areas our airports are a vital part of our local economy.

“We as a party seek to promote growth in our regions and not to stifle it. But the motion as it stands would ensure no growth for our aviation sector ever.

“I put it to you that airports are not the enemy. Passengers, whether on business or simply taking family holidays, are not the enemy. The jobs in our regions that depend on better transport links are not the enemy.

“Carbon and noise is the enemy. Carbon targets are something we as a party take very, very seriously.

“The technological developments in carbon and noise reduction in aircraft manufacture in the last 10 years alone have been impressive but we can’t predict how far and fast the technology to make aircraft cleaner and quieter will move.

“We pride ourselves on making our policy decisions based on evidence but the Davies Commission hasn’t even reported.

“This amendment makes it clear we will not support a further runway at Heathrow … but it also seeks not to bind us into a straitjacket we could end up regretting.”

Lib Dem activists at the conference, concerned about the carbon impacts of a new runway , accused the party of supporting big business regardless of the facts or consequences. Several argued that South East airport expansion would come at the expense of regional airports, arguing that expanding South-east airports would require activity at regional airports to be cut to below today’s levels to compensate for the extra carbon emissions associated with a new runway.

The chief executives of Birmingham Airport and Gatwick Airport have for the first time jointly called on the Davies Commission to ensure any new runway developments promote competition and choice across the UK.

Speaking after a fringe event at the Tory conference, Birmingham Airport chief executive Paul Kehoe said: “Passengers and businesses tell us they want to fly direct. With our region attracting over a quarter of the UK’s foreign direct investment, we are clear that the answer is a network of national long-haul airports, plugging all regions into global growth opportunities.

“Growth at Gatwick will support demand for greater connectivity, improving value for passengers flying from the South-east and supporting the continued growth of our regions.”

Stewart Wingate, London Gatwick chief executive, added: “Competition between the UK’s airports is essential for delivering choice for passengers, businesses and investors across the country.

“By expanding Gatwick we can harness the strength of the country’s network of great airports, delivering new South East capacity and supporting the growth of connectivity across the UK.

“This is why we are delighted that Birmingham Airport is supporting our case for a second runway.”

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