Chinese air route driving northern economy

Sheffield Council leader Julie Dore signs a 60-year partnership deal with Wang Chunming, chairman and president of Chinese firm Sichuan Guodong Construction Group, in Sheffield's sister city Chengdu.

TOURISM, investment and exports have all soared off the back of a direct flight route from northern England to China, statistics today show.

Almost exactly two years since President Xi Jinping visited the North and announced the UK’s first direct flight to China outside of London, research released today reveals that the connection is delivering a significant economic reward, or ‘China Dividend’, to the northern economy.

Statistics from economic consultancy Steer Davies Gleeve show that since the Hainan Airlines route between Beijing and Manchester was launched last year, UK export values from the Northern Hub have soared 265 per cent to £200m a month.

Visitor spend as a result of the link has been valued at £140m, double the expected value, and there are now 40 per cent more people in the North now travelling to China than prior to commencement of the route

Passenger volumes have come in at 15 per cent higher than predicted and the inward investment pipeline has doubled in 12 months, with international student numbers growing at twice the national rate.

Inquiries from China to Manchester property and investment agents have doubled, with those in the current pipeline said to be potentially capable of creating 850 new jobs.

Already worth hundreds of millions of pounds a year to the North, this “China Dividend” is predicted by researchers to grow substantially in the years ahead as the profile of the region increases further in Asia and as civic and business ties between the North and China are strengthened further.

The report, called The China Dividend: One Year On, is being launched as a Ministerial delegation from the UK Government heads to Shanghai to promote trade and investment opportunities in the Northern Powerhouse.

Led by Trade Minister Baroness Fairhead and Northern Powerhouse Minister Jake Berry, the group will meet with prospective investors and trading partners at the China International Industry Fair, where the impact study will also be presented.

Lord Jim O’Neill, who wrote the foreword for the report, said: “This is the first time that anyone has been able to pin-point so accurately the benefits of long haul connectivity between two countries and this fascinating report shows that the upside is far wider than one may think.

“It helps to boost skills and knowledge and strengthen civic ties, as well as grow the economy in more obvious ways, such as through export volumes, inward investment and tourism.

“China remains a bigger economy than the other BRIC nations in aggregate and even at a growth rate of six to seven per cent, it will create the equivalent of another India before the decade is out.”

Dr David Smith, Interim Director of Sheffield City Region Local Enterprise Partnership said: “Access to key global markets is critical to driving growth in the Sheffield City Region, both in terms of increasing exports and attracting inward investment. China is one of those markets and so having a direct flight service within easy reach has the potential to deliver significant economic benefits to the region.

“There are already strong links between Sheffield and China and this route will contribute to strengthening these connections, at the same time as stimulating fresh trade ties between the region and the Far East.”

Doug Pearce, head of international student recruitment at the University of Leeds, said: “Direct routes like this benefit universities like Leeds, sending a strong message to students from all over the globe – they are joining a vibrant, international university that is innovative and well connected to the rest of the world.

“With this new direct route to Beijing, students now have even better access to the very best of Chinese and British higher education.”

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