North East leaders have come together to call for a third runway at Heathrow Airport to safeguard the future of connectivity for the region.
Representatives of the Let Britain Fly campaign, which is pushing for airport expansion in London and the South East, visited Gateshead to find out what the region wants from its air connections.
And the response was united, with the message that a stronger hub airport in Heathrow – with dedicated landing slots for planes from smaller UK airports – can support jobs and growth in the region.
Attendees at the Let Britain Fly air connectivity roundtable discussion, at the NewcastleGateshead Initative’s Baltic Place headquarters, were told of the recent successes of Newcastle International Airport, which directly employs over 3,800 people directly, with a total of 7,800 people around the region dependent on it for their livelihood.
The airport’s planning and corporate affairs director Graeme Mason again pointed to the estimated £646m contribution to the region’s economy by the airport, while telling Colin Stanbridge of the London Chamber of Commerce and Industry that to meet targets of doubling that by 2030, better air links are needed with the capital – and that Heathrow is seen as the only suitable option.
“We are not against a second runway at Gatwick,” he said, “but not instead of a third runway at Heathrow.
However, Mr Mason said he hoped some way may be found, possibly in the planning process for a new runway, to enshrine spaces for regional services – as since 1990 the number of regional airports served by Heathrow has fallen from 19 to just eight.
“I hope we can find a way around EU competition rules,” he said, adding that the current system of allocating landing slots to effectively the highest bidder means on average £48 of a ticket from Newcastle to New York, via the London airport, is taken up by such charges – with landing fees a potential barrier to the viability of regional air connections.
The discussion also heard from representatives of the region’s universities, who with 1,000 staff travelling around the world at any one time, and potentially thousands of students incoming, claimed air links are vital for the North East higher education sector.
And North Tyneside MP Mary Glindon, the parliamentary private secretary to shadow transport secretary Mary Creagh, said while she fears that Gatwick is gaining ground in its efforts to be first for airport expansion, she believes that in the wake of the Scottish “No” vote regional transport issues will rise up the agenda.
“This Scottish Referendum will mean tremendous political change forever, bringing the regions more into play,” she said.
“There is a clear hunger for more regionality - and the big plans for the regions, which include transport and connectivity will move higher up the agenda as the focus will be on things that we can improve to make the regions more successful.”