When I was Labour’s transport spokesman, I set four key tests that Heathrow would have to pass to secure our support for its expansion.
The first was that the location must be the best option for delivering the much-needed expansion in aviation capacity.
The independent Airport Commission, led by Sir Howard Davies, concluded that the strongest benefits for the UK economy would come from expanding Heathrow by focusing capacity where demand is strongest (be that from freight, leisure passengers, business travellers or the international transfer passengers needed to support a dense long-haul network). This is key to attracting inward investment.
The second test was that expansion would have to go hand-in-hand with our efforts to reduce CO2 emissions and allow us to meet our legal climate change obligations. Davies found this is feasible with Heathrow, a point reinforced by the independent Committee on Climate Change.
The third test was ensuring that local noise and environmental impacts will be managed and minimised. Again, Davies found in favour of expanding Heathrow.
My fourth test was that the benefits of expansion would have to be felt in every corner of the country, not just in the South East of England, and that regional airports will be supported too.
Not least speaking as a Yorkshire MP, this final test was a critical one for me. Businesses in Yorkshire want to trade with businesses across the world. But you can’t do business with places you and your goods cannot reach.
It is simply not possible to reach every global marketplace through our nearest airports – Robin Hood at Doncaster or Leeds Bradford.
That’s why access to a major hub airport like Heathrow matters. Today, you can fly to more than 80 long-haul destinations from Heathrow. A third runway will take that to more than 120 destinations.
Heathrow is also the UK’s biggest port by value – bigger than any shipping container port. A quarter of all UK exports go through Heathrow in the hold of ordinary passenger planes.
And we know we need to help our exporters and our manufacturers find new markets, particularly as we leave the European Union.
Dithering by politicians of all parties has meant Heathrow has been full for more than a decade. Even the Netherlands has more flights to China than the UK.
All of the Government’s talk of new trade deals in a post-Brexit world will be for nothing, if it is easier for Asian businesses to fly in and out of bases on mainland Europe than here in the UK.
London has survived with Heathrow full to capacity. But the squeeze on flight slots means the rest of the UK has been badly let down.
Robin Hood Airport does not have a flight connection with Heathrow and the first flight from Leeds Bradford to Heathrow does not land until 10:30am.
If you want to export from Yorkshire to Asia and the Americas, it’s harder. If you want to visit Yorkshire – for business or on holiday – you can get to other parts of Britain and Europe with far less hassle. That means Yorkshire misses out on investment and on tourism.
Expansion at Heathrow is also a massive opportunity for Yorkshire before as well as after construction. The scheme will be one of the biggest private projects in Europe. Heathrow’s Terminal 5 and Terminal 2 were built with steel from Yorkshire. Heathrow has already committed to buy British steel again.
The new runway will relieve the pressure on the Leeds Bradford route and Flybe has said that it will consider flying to Heathrow from Robin Hood Airport.
The HS2 rail link will cut rail times to Heathrow by over an hour. That means more of Yorkshire can get to more of the world faster.
That is why the independent Airports Commission also forecast up to 11,000 jobs will be created in Yorkshire as a result of Heathrow expanding.
Of course, there is opposition to Heathrow from some of the West London MPs (although many want to have their cake and eat it: they’re happy to have the businesses and thousands of jobs, but they moan about an airport that’s been there since 1946).
Heathrow will have to meet a raft of environmental conditions before work can start and the whole process will, rightly, be subject to rigorous scrutiny
But business and union leaders have joined forces to back Heathrow, as have MPs from all sides of the House of Commons.
Heathrow is a national asset – not London’s. Expanding it is good news for UK plc and it’s good news for Yorkshire too.
Michael Dugher is MP for Barnsley East and former Shadow Transport Secretary.