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East Midlands Chamber News

Chris HobsonThe Government’s decision to further delay a long-awaited decision on airport expansion in the UK will hold back exporters and damage the economy, according to the Chamber.

In July, Prime Minister David 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, nor the option of extending an existing runway at Heathrow, leaving the Government to make the final decision.

However, Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin last night delayed the decision until summer 2016 at the earliest – after the London mayoral election in May – saying the Government needed to “undertake more work on environmental impacts, including air quality, noise and carbon”, before deciding on how best to expand airport capacity in south-east England.

Of the three options put forward, the Chamber supported the third runway at Heathrow, 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.

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 Government's decision to further delay its crucial decision on airport expansion is hugely disappointing and goes against its stated ambition to increase UK exports to £1trn a year by 2020.

“It’s businesses which will drive this, but if they can't fly to emerging markets to make deals because of a lack of capacity, they will be hamstrung from the start. It also sends out a damaging message to international investors looking at infrastructure opportunities in the UK.

“While this delay is extremely frustrating, it does give the Government the opportunity to re-examine all proposals and give renewed and detailed consideration to ways to better utilise the under-used capacity at East Midlands Airport and other regional airports.

“Trade with fast-growing markets requires the UK to have a strong, resilient aviation strategy. 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.

“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 in the regions.

“If the Government is serious about fuelling the Midlands Engine and making the Northern Powerhouse a success, then it needs to make significant investments in this part of the country.

“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.

“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.”