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East Midlands Chamber News

Government Must Act on Airport Expansion, says Chamber

EMA TerminalA further delay over a decision on airport expansion could hold back exporters and hurt the economy, according to the Chamber.

Reports in several national newspapers speculate that Prime Minister David Cameron appears to have decided to defer a final irreversible decision until after next May’s London mayoral election.

In July, Mr Cameron guaranteed there would be a decision this year, after the Airports Commission concluded that a third runway at Heathrow might be the best way of increasing Britain’s air-passenger capacity.

The commission did not, however, rule out the possibility of a second runway at Gatwick, leaving the Government to make the final decision.

Of the two options put forward, the Chamber supported the third runway at Heathrow over a second at Gatwick, on the understanding that transport infrastructure would be upgraded to create better access to Heathrow from the East Midlands.

However, in the immediate term, the message from local business is that there is massively under-used capacity at East Midlands Airport and other regional airports in the UK.

UK aviation policy should support better business connections from the East Midlands to key trading hubs in Europe and beyond, which would unlock further economic growth to support the ‘Midlands Engine’.

A survey of Chamber members carried out earlier this year found that East Midlands Airport was the preferred gateway for most regional businesses, with Birmingham second and Heathrow third. Gatwick, Luton and Stansted were more or less equal at the bottom of the list.

Chris Hobson, the Chamber’s Director of Policy, said: “The issue of aviation capacity has, in recent years, become a political football with many businesses and airline operators believing the absence of a coherent UK aviation strategy is holding the country back.

“As such, any further delay to the final decision on whether or not the third runway at Heathrow scheme should go ahead will be extremely disappointing to business.

“However, if there is a delay, then Government should use the opportunity to re-examine all proposals and give detailed consideration to ways to better utilise the under-used capacity at East Midlands Airport and other regional airports.

“East Midlands Airport is already the UK’s biggest pure freight airport. It has plenty of spare passenger capacity and has good connectivity for much of the country.

“All modes of transport serve business, but it is air transport that businesses rely on to get their employees and goods quickly to distant markets.

“Trade with fast-growing markets requires the UK to have a strong, resilient aviation strategy. New runways will be required in the long term, but in the interim the Government should be maximising the potential and the advantages of utilising capacity at regional airports.

“Continued delays put the UK at a globally competitive disadvantage, particularly at a time when its trade deficit trade needs rebalancing, something which businesses in the East Midlands are driving. A coherent aviation strategy must be at the heart of a credible plan for UK growth, it should not be a political football.”