Dan Dalton is a Conservative MEP for the West Midlands.
In recent years, British governments of all colours have suffered from a chronic reluctance to make the final decision on large and costly infrastructure projects.
The list is long, and includes both HS2 and the decision on a new runway in the South East of England.
Despite years of planning and redevelopment, work has not yet started on HS2, and the last three governments have procrastinated over a decision on a new runway to such an extent that we are no further forward than we were ten years ago.
Since the end of World War Two only one new civilian runway has been commissioned and built in Britain. That was in Manchester and was dogged by years of delays and battles between local authorities over funding and policing.
The decision on a new runway can not be fudged forever, and media reports say an announcement is imminent.
The longer we wait, the more obvious it becomes that for Britain to prosper, especially in a post-Brexit world, we are going to need significantly more airport capacity. One new runway is unlikely to be enough. We therefore need a decision on airport capacity as soon as possible.
However, it shouldn’t be limited to the South East. The question shouldn’t be simply Heathrow or Gatwick, which arguably both need new runways, but how best to make the whole airport infrastructure in the South East more efficient and how other parts of the country can also make a contribution.
So let’s not forget Birmingham. ‘BHX’, as it is affectionately known, has recently undergone significant expansion, but it still smaller than it should be. It is the UK’s seventh busiest airport, despite serving the UK’s second busiest city and having nearly 80 per cent of the UK’s population within two hours of it.
HS2, which will include a station at the airport, will make central London only thirty-five minutes away. This means that Birmingham will be, in travel time, closer to central London than Heathrow, Gatwick, or Stanstead airports.
By the same definition it will also be closer to Central London than Hong Kong, Singapore, or Melbourne airports are to the city centres they serve.
There is real potential for Birmingham to be a hub airport for London, which would take the pressure off runways in the South East and, just as importantly, air space which is already the most crowded in Europe.
More importantly, there is potential for the airport to expand without the huge problems of space and noise associated with airport expansion in the South East.
There is also potential for the airport to expand without the huge problems of space and noise associated with airport expansion in the South East. Although airport expansion anywhere is controversial, and the needs of local residents have to be a top priority, there is potential for a second runway at Birmingham.
A new runway, together with the associated new taxiways and terminals, are likely to have less of an impact on local populations. In fact such development may reduce the airport’s overall noise levels on local residents due to flight paths no longer being over larger residential areas.
If Birmingham possessed a hub airport with direct high speed rail connections to central London, and ultimately to Manchester and Leeds, it would be a genuine game changer for the region and one of the biggest steps towards re-balancing the national economy away from London and the South East. Investment, development, and tourism would grow substantially and the city and the region could genuinely develop into a global city.
Birmingham is a city that has ambitions, as does the wider region in which it sits. A new metro-mayor will be elected next year and the city is considering a bid for the 2026 Commonwealth Games. It already boasts world-leading conference venues and one of the world’s most iconic cricket stadiums.
Birmingham Airport is already growing rapidly. It served a record 11 million passengers last year and has just seen seventeen months of consecutive growth. Thirteen new airlines have launched routes from Birmingham and Emirates is now offering a daily A380 to Dubai, in addition to its two additional daily A330 flights.
There is huge potential for Birmingham to grow further and it must be included in the Government’s long-term airport strategy. We need expansion in the South East, and the Government should address that issue as soon as possible.
However, that will not be enough long term to satisfy our economy’s needs, especially as once we have left the EU, we will need to refocus our business links with countries further afield. This will undoubtedly mean more long-haul air demand.
Putting Birmingham Airport into a long term strategy sends the right message, brings extra value to HS2, adds even more capacity to London’s crowded skies and will help rebalance the national economy.
Let’s do it now!