31 October 2016
We need more infrastructure fast. Heathrow is just the start

The Government finally ended the decades-old wait last week, and announced that it would be backing a third runway at Heathrow. At a stroke, this showed that this Government will back big infrastructure projects, make decisions that are right for the country even in the face of entrenched opposition, and ensure that Britain is open to the whole world post-Brexit.

It is hard to overstate how long overdue this decision is; a new runway has not been built in the South East since the Second World War. This is despite huge economic growth, population increases and London taking on its role as one of the main powerhouses of an increasingly globalised world.

The Davies Commission was set up by the last Government to provide an evidence based argument about where best to site new airport capacity, and it came back with a clear verdict in favour of a third runway at Heathrow. It is to Theresa May’s absolute credit that she has ignored those voicing their opposition to this vital project. I understand that this opposition is strongly felt and sincerely held, but I firmly believe that these opponents have got it wrong, and the Davies Commission provided the evidence. I am glad the Prime Minister has followed that recommendation.

Expanding Heathrow isn’t about finding new places to go on holiday. It’s about providing our economy with the infrastructure that it needs to expand. The economic benefits of Heathrow expansion are projected to be worth £61billion, as well as providing an additional 77,000 jobs over the next 14 years and 5,000 apprenticeships. We saw last week that the British economy remains robust, and has easily survived the post Brexit aftershock that doomsayers suggested would lead to a year long recession. However, our future outside of Europe must be to embrace the world, and trade with every single corner of it. That means the rest of the world has to be easily accessible, and that’s just not the case with our current airports already nearing capacity.

Even today you hear from businessmen and women who are concerned about the availability of trade routes and the ease of travelling to conduct meetings, share ideas and finalise deals. As CEO of YouGov I was regularly travelling abroad, and on returning home we would often be left endlessly circling above London, waiting for a landing spot. This is lost time for businesses and lost growth for our economy. It’s also needlessly bad for the environment – just burning fuel for no benefit and no purpose.

People have enjoyed the fact that the Chief Executive of Schipol Airport sent the Chief Executive of Heathrow a thank you cake every time a decision on expansion is delayed. But even though each cake provides an entertaining demonstration of the competitive favour that we have done our European friends, we should not blind ourselves with only being concerned about falling behind the continent. In reality, we are competing with Beijing, Tokyo and Dubai. We need an airport that suits our position in the world, and we need it fast.

Although this long overdue decision is welcome, it must not be the last word in the debate about infrastructure in this country: much more still needs to be done. London needs the support to keep growing, but other regions need the ability to catch up. Such projects as HS2 and HS3 are vital, as is expanding regional airports like Birmingham International if we are to deliver on ideas like the Northern Powerhouse and the Midlands Engine. Businesses in constituencies such as mine, in Stratford on Avon, should have the option of travelling North in vastly shortened times with HS2, or departing from an expanded Birmingham Airport to wherever they wish to go on the planet.

These options must be repeated around the country if we’re going to see the North/South divide finally breached.

I hope that this Heathrow decision is the first step in a drive to ensure greater connectivity between British cities and the rest of the world. Our country and our Government must now focus all of our efforts on creating a world class competitive economy; that means airports, railways and roads to go with rigorous education, revolutionised skills training and a reasonable regulatory system. This is how the Government can, and must, pave the way to a brighter future and a better Britain. Heathrow is only the first step.

| First published in ConservativeHome