Mark Menzies is a member of the Transport Select Committee, and is MP for Fylde.
As a member of the Transport Select Committee, I have followed the issue of airport capacity with a growing sense of frustration in recent months. My colleagues and I on the Committee recently criticised the squandered opportunity to end decades of political dithering on airport expansion while our competitors continue to grow.
The Prime Minister was right to set up the Airports Commission, and it produced the most detailed study on UK aviation for a generation. It’s fair to say we wouldn’t have the mitigation and compensation proposals on offer from Heathrow today without this process. The independent experts concluded with a unanimous verdict in favour of Heathrow expansion last July. Ten months on, the Government is still to make a substantive decision on its recommendation.
I am therefore delighted that Heathrow has removed the final barriers to airport expansion. By announcing that the airport will not only meet, but in many cases exceed the stringent conditions set out by the Airports Commission, there is now no viable reason for the Government to delay any further. We must make the right choice for Britain and expand Heathrow.
The proposals from Heathrow also meet the requirements of the Environmental Audit Committee, whose report last year was cited by the Government as a reason for further delay and analysis. Heathrow’s new plan delivers the capacity the UK needs to connect to the growth markets of the future while also meeting air quality limits and ensuring fewer people are affected by noise. Expansion will generate a £211 billion economic boost, creating up to 180,000 jobs. More than half of the economic benefit will be generated outside London and the South East.
Such benefits simply wouldn’t materialise if we were to take what some consider to be the easy option of expanding Gatwick instead. Expansion there simply wouldn’t deliver either the domestic or global connectivity that Britain needs to prosper in the globalised economy. Nor can they match the mitigation and compensation package that Heathrow are offering to their local communities. It is why 37 airports across the country have declared their support for Heathrow expansion and recognise that the enhanced domestic connectivity will help to drive growth in their local communities. That’s why this is an important issue for people and businesses in my constituency of Fylde.
With the London mayoral election having passed, now is the time for the Government to make the right choice for Britain and back expansion at Heathrow. As I said in November last year, this issue transcends short term electoral politics: it is about the economic future of the UK. The EU referendum rightly dominates the current political discourse but this is also no reason to further delay the decision over airport expansion. A third runway delivers for Britain regardless of the outcome of the vote, connecting us to the global markets of the future which will be vital whatever the British public decides. The country wants the Conservative Party to secure our economic future. Expanding Heathrow does this and has the added benefit of being a policy that can bring the party back together after the referendum. It is a confidence-building project that can unite Remainers and Leavers, thus proving that we are a party governing in the national interest and able to take tough decisions when needed.
While I recognise the vocal opposition to expansion from some in West London, I hope they will take comfort in the £1 billion compensation package, a six and half hour long ban on night flights and Heathrow’s support for a legislative ban on a fourth runway. Beyond West London, the strength of support from across the country can no longer be ignored. From our brilliant Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson to Liam Fox and his army of South West Conservative MPs, there is strong support for Heathrow expansion within the Conservative Party. Graham Brady, the Chair of 1922 Committee predicted in July last year that around 600 of the 650 MPs in the House of Commons would back Heathrow expansion were it put forward by the Government.
David Cameron was elected on a manifesto that committed to strong leadership, a clear economic plan and a brighter, more secure future for our country. Heathrow is the plan that delivers for all. The final barriers to airport expansion have gone. Now the Government must make the right choice for Britain.