John Holland-Kaye: Heathrow expansion will mean take-off for Yorkshire

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IT’S no surprise Chancellor George Osborne was talking up the investment opportunities in Yorkshire while on his trade mission to China last month, and which preceded this week’s State Visit by President Xi Jinping.

As part of the Northern Powerhouse project developed under the last Government, critical infrastructure and regeneration projects across the region, from Sheffield’s retail quarter to new housing in Leeds, are starting to take shape.

And soon the Government will decide on another critical issue for Yorkshire – whether to expand Heathrow.

Most of the growth in the world is in Asia, Africa, North and South America – markets you can only get to by air. And businesses across the UK need flights to growth markets with as high a frequency as possible. This means the vitality of airports such as Leeds Bradford are critical to the success of the Northern Powerhouse project.

In most cases, direct flights to emerging markets can only be sustained from a hub airport where passengers and freight are aggregated to fly to markets across the globe multiple times a day in every week of every season. Heathrow is one of the world’s great hubs, with regular direct services to 82 long haul destinations. This is a rare and valuable asset for the UK – in fact only five other airports in the world currently support more than 50 long haul destinations.

Heathrow makes it easier for Yorkshire businesses to get to world markets and for inward investors, tourists and students to have direct access to Yorkshire. The same planes that carry business people around the world also carry their exports – over 25 per cent of the UK’s exports reaches customers around the globe in the belly hold of passenger planes from Heathrow.

The Airports Commission estimates expansion at Heathrow will generate up to £211bn of economic growth and 180,000 jobs across the country. Of that around 94,900 will be in manufacturing – a key driver of Yorkshire success.

With three flights a day from Leeds Bradford, Heathrow connects Yorkshire to the world, making it more efficient and more competitive. This supports the international banks, shared service centres and manufacturing base that are located here. This makes it easier for tourists to come and enjoy your heritage and countryside and for students to get to your world class universities. Heathrow connects Yorkshire to the world.

But Heathrow has been full for 10 years. Because we have not been allowed to build a new runway, we have had to turn away airlines who want to come here. The French and the Germans have expanded their hubs and are only too happy to welcome them. In fact, Paris has just overtaken Heathrow as the best connected airport in the world. There are now more flights to mainland China from Paris than there are from Heathrow.

If we don’t move quickly, we will all be going through Paris or Amsterdam to get to global markets – that puts Yorkshire at a disadvantage to European competitors and makes Yorkshire a less attractive 
base for global business, tourists and students.

And with Heathrow full, airlines like British Airways have to choose between maintaining domestic routes and developing new long haul routes. It is a false choice – we need both. Only by expanding Heathrow can we secure the connections that Yorkshire needs.

Heathrow does not stand in the way of UK airports securing their own direct connections where demand exists. But Yorkshire deserves better than to rely on often infrequent connections to hub airports in Europe, let alone be reliant on distant airports for their global connectivity. It is in the long term interests of Yorkshire if it is able to determine the future of its own trading routes, but it can only do so if Heathrow expands.

The Heathrow debate isn’t about a new runway. This debate is about how the UK – and Yorkshire – remain right at the heart of the global economy. We are ready. Let’s get on with it.

John Holland-Kaye is CEO of Heathrow Airport.