Graham Brady is Chairman of the 1922 Committee, and is MP for Altricham and Sale.
There is no doubt that the election will be fought and won largely on which party has the best policies to secure Britain’s economic future. I believe investment in our airports infrastructure, and thus boosting our international connectivity, must be front and centre of any credible long-term economic plan.
Our international connectivity, facilitated by our airports infrastructure, plays a pivotal role in propelling economic growth. As a country we trade up to twenty times more with countries we have a direct air link and by value forty per cent of our exports go by air (most in the belly-holds of passenger planes).
So the key strategic concern at stake here isn’t just about building the new infrastructure we urgently need: it’s about building the foundations of future economic growth.
Britain has always prided herself as being one of the great trading nations of the world, and if we look to the not so distant future there are great opportunities on the horizon.
Within about a decade emerging markets will account for over half the growth in the world. Indeed China could overtake the United States as the world’s largest economy as early as next year.
The global economy is shifting and transforming at a breath-taking rate. We urgently need to ensure we are connected to that future growth by boosting our international connectivity to countries such as China and Brazil.
We simply can’t do that if our major airports are full. The problem we face is Heathrow, Britain’s only international hub airport, has been full for a decade, whilst Gatwick (our second biggest) is forecast to be full by 2020 and most of London’s main airports full by the end of the next decade without a decision to build new runways in the next year.
The fact is Britain is already becoming progressively less competitive as a global aviation hub. It concerns me that right on our doorstep our European competitors are already starting to race ahead of us. Paris alone has fifty per cent more flights to China. Indeed London has fewer flights per week than rival European hubs to 7 of the 8 growth economies identified by the IMF.
But is it any wonder that our European rivals are challenging Britain’s status as a leading global aviation hub when Paris and Frankfurt both have four runways, Amsterdam has six; while Heathrow is left to cope with just two runways and Gatwick just one? Only last month Dubai International overtook Heathrow as the world’s busiest airport.
This is a wake-up call. Indeed if we gaze further into the future, recent analysis by KPMG and Let Britain Fly has revealed that by 2036 the world’s major cities plan to have built over fifty new runways around the globe – China alone seventeen new runways.
Having examined all of the evidence the Airports Commission led by Sir Howard Davies has now concluded that London and the South East needs at least one new runway by 2030, possibly two by 2050.
In response the Labour Party has pledged in their recent pre-election publication ‘A Better Plan For Britain’s Prosperity’ that they will “make a swift decision on expanding airport capacity in London and the South East”.
Whilst in a recent speech to the Royal Economic Society George Osborne the Chancellor said “let’s use the Howard Davies Commission on airports to agree the location for a new runway in the South East and get that agreed later this year and under construction soon after”.
It’s good that there now appears to be a degree of cross-party consensus on the issue between the two main parties.
However in order to drive home the credibility of our own economic plan, the Conservative Party should now step up to the mark and make that pledge even more explicit before the election.
An explicit pledge on airports expansion would reaffirm the Conservatives as being a pro-business, pro-growth party that is serious about making the right strategic decisions in the national interest. When it comes to airports expansion there is no alternative but to get on and commit to making a quick decision.