The announcement of a green light for a new runway at Heathrow has been described as a “huge opportunity” to connect the region to the “wider world”, and unleash its trade and tourism potential.
But pressure is already mounting on Whitehall to ensure the project does not divert attention from infrastructure schemes in the North, with businesses issuing renewed calls for Government to close the regional funding divide.
The long-awaited decision to back expansion at Heathrow airport was confirmed by the Transport Secretary Chris Grayling yesterday.
It follows speculation about the need for a third runway in the South East, and comes a year later than promised.
Addressing the Commons, Mr Grayling said the decision was a “momentous” step, telling MPs that it would secure jobs and business opportunities “for the next decade and beyond”.
But his efforts to persuade members of the benefits of Heathrow were lost on London MP Zac Goldsmith, who followed through on his threat to resign and trigger a by-election.
Representatives of Leeds Bradford Airport have described the announcement as “fantastic news for the Yorkshire region”.
Tony Hallwood, aviation development director, told The Yorkshire Post it would allow the airport to “increase and improve connections” while boosting trade and investment.
He said: “We’ve just concluded the consultation into our new masterplan [which] almost mirrors the timeline for the development at Heathrow.”
He added: “We’re obviously going to be working closely to see how Yorkshire businesses can gain some procurement opportunities off the back of Heathrow development itself.
“We are now looking forward to the Government making the final decision next year.”
Heathrow has previously pledged to invest an extra £10m towards regional air links to regions such as Yorkshire if it was chosen as the site for the new runway.
It has claimed that the region could see up to 11,200 new jobs created by 2050 as a result of improved connectivity.
President of Leeds Chamber of Commerce Gerald Jennings suggested the Heathrow decision had the potential to boost Yorkshire’s economy by up to £9bn over the coming years.
But he stressed the need for businesses to “push Government to deliver” in order to make the most of the “huge” opportunity.
This includes investing in infrastructure around Leeds Bradford Airport – most notably its road and rail links with surrounding towns and cities.
Mr Jennings said plans to connect the airport to the existing Leeds to Harrogate line are “already in motion”, and need to be coordinated with wider efforts to improve access and develop commercial spaces.
However, some of the region’s business leaders expressed concerns about the Government’s focus on infrastructure and growth in the South.
Martin Hathaway, chief executive of the Mid Yorkshire Chamber of Commerce, said: “The Government must do all it can to narrow the ‘North-South Divide’ in the UK.
“This development at Heathrow, together with the new
Cross Rail 2 railway in London, represents projected expenditure of around £35bn in the South East.”
Richard Wright, executive director of Sheffield Chamber of Commerce, added: “For this investment to work for our region we need to be able to get regular services from Doncaster Sheffield Airport to Heathrow and then onto the long haul flights around the globe.”
The decision has sown further division within an already fragmented Tory Party, and sparked fresh protests in affected communities.
Within hours of Transport Secretary Chris Grayling making his statement to the Commons, the Conservative MP for Richmond, Zac Goldsmith, had followed through on threats to resign.
And both the Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson and Education Secretary Justine Greening were exercising their new freedom to speak out against the Government.
Mr Johnson, who has long campaigned for a new airport in the Thames Estuary, claimed yesterday afternoon that the Heathrow option is “undeliverable”. The former London mayor told reporters that the development will get “snarled up” in legal cases, adding that it is “very likely it will be stopped”.
Plans for a third runway at Heathrow have faced fierce opposition from environmental campaigners and local residents, with Theresa May’s own council among those threatening legal action. Key concerns include the impact on already high levels of noise and air pollution, as well as the large numbers of homes that will be demolished to make way for the development.
Ministers have sought to allay environmental concerns by proposing a six-and-a-half hour ban on scheduled night flights and “more stringent” night noise restrictions. They have also confirmed they will make meeting legal air quality requirements a condition of planning approval.
However, the anti-expansion group Plane Stupid held a demonstration outside Parliament yesterday, accusing the Government of “riding roughshod over local residents, climate science and its own commitments”. A spokesman for the group claimed it was “absolutely irresponsible” to build a new runway anywhere, stating that plans conflicted with the country’s emission reduction targets.
The chairman of the Environmental Audit Committee, Mary Creagh, has also responded to the announcement with calls for further assurances over environmental conditions. And the Green MP Caroline Lucas described the decision as “unforgivable”, vowing to fight the decision.
HEATHROW EXTENSION IN NUMBERS
• £17.6bn – The cost of the scheme, which will not be met by taxpayers.
• 783 – Homes that will be demolished as part of the construction.
• 125 per cent – The proportion of market value that people with homes subject to compulsory purchase orders will receive, plus stamp duty, legal fees and moving costs, according to the Government.
• 77,000 – New local jobs that will be generated by 2030.
• 138 million – Passengers who will use the expanded airport each year by 2050, up from 75 million in 2015.
• £5bn – The cost of improvements to road and rail links.