Nigel Evans is MP for Ribble Valley.
As a member of the Council of Europe between 2005 and 2020, I travelled to many European capitals, and soon came to the conclusion that all the airports serving London were getting congested whilst the airports I was travelling to were expanding. I marvelled at the six-runway capacity of Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam, and the growth of Frankfurt and Charles De Gaulle in Paris, with four runways each.
The reality for business in Britain (and those wishing to do business with the rest of the world) is that a sclerotic and overloaded London airports system – not increased in runways since the Second World War – is trying to compete with many other airports which have been greatly enhanced.
The savvy UK business passenger – or indeed the canny holida maker – knows that choice is not restricted to UK airports. A quick tap through the pages of Opodo, Skyscanner et al will quickly open another world of low congestion and a flightboard of destinations not matched in the UK.
William Hague, the former Conservative leader, wrote thoughtfully this week about the impact that dither and delay was having on UK businesses, especially in the regions. Travelling through London to transfer on to other world destinations is being dramatically affected by the London airports’ difficulty in coping with demand, or using the London slots for more profitable routes limiting regional choice.
In short, the masterclass of indecision over London capacity is costing jobs, and valuable earnings. The estimated spend by inward tourists to the UK is £56 billion alone. A regional passenger will be quickly eyeing other European airports, and Istanbul and airports in the Middle East will also feature in their choices with the excellent connectivity delivered by world class carriers. This is what my constituents in the Ribble Valley will be doing – using Manchester airport as their gateway to the world via a foreign airport offering.
The “BRIC” countries are all being served more comprehensively by many other airports outside the UK than by London’s airports. One comparison is that London has 34 flights to China a week compared to 62 from Paris. How many of these Paris to China travellers are British? The CBI has recently estimated that the loss to UK trade is around £31 billion. I can almost hear the quiet satisfactory rubbing of hands from competing EU and other airport operators, and the smug nodding of their governmental leaders, as we decide to kick this vital decision to expand and compete into the long grass.
China, meanwhile, will be putting in an additional 17 runways in the time it may take us to get one. The stark reality is that passengers will look to fly to Amsterdam for £41 one way, and then connect smoothly onto a KLM/ Air France flight towards these new burgeoning and dynamic economies, doing untold economic damage to London in the process as businesses in the rest of the world fly avoiding London.
Surely now is the time, following the £20 million Davies Commission report, to copy what the rest of Europe is doing and immediately – and without further delay – make a decision on airport capacity at Heathrow and Gatwick, and also look to provide extra stands and terminal capacity at London City Airport in order for it more efficiently to handle the number of flights it already has permission for. Many business people use London City airport and surely we want to encourage them to do so.
If prevarication and delay were Olympic sports then the UK would win gold, silver and bronze medals. I heartily recommend that the Transport Minister, accepting this dubious accolade, ask his civil servants to investigate which route offers best connectivity, ease of travel and duration of flight time to Rio in 2016 – including the idling on the tarmac before taking off and circling over the skies of London on his return. One thing is certain: the many athletes competing for Team GB, and their devoted supporters,will be doing just that!