Obstacles pile up for Birmingham Airport runway extension

6.4.2010   (Birmingham Post)

by Paul Dale

Birmingham International Airport’s campaign to market itself as Heathrow’s third
runway could turn into a money-spinner, but only if legal difficulties can be
resolved, argues Public Affairs Correspondent Paul Dale.

On the face of it, a High Court decision halting plans for a third Heathrow runway
could hardly have come at a better time for Birmingham International Airport.

Bosses at BIA have long been marketing Birmingham as a credible alternative to
overcrowded, difficult to reach, Heathrow and Gatwick.

But if Heathrow doesn’t get its third runway – and the Conservatives have already
promised to scrap the scheme if they win the General Election – could the planned
£120 million extension of Birmingham’s runway be grounded as well?

BIA has already said the business case for the extension doesn’t stack up in
the current straitened circumstances and is resisting Birmingham City Council’s
insistence that a longer runway, allowing non-stop flights to China, India and
the west coast of America, must proceed immediately because it will generate significant
growth for the West Midlands economy.

It seems clear, however, that even if BIA doesn’t get its runway extension for
years, the airport can still benefit from Heathrow’s difficulties.

Within hours of Lord Justice Carnwarth’s High Court ruling – that the Government’s
position is "untenable" and its backing for the third runway must be reviewed
– BIA chief executive Paul Kehoe noted that Birmingham Airport is running at less than half its capacity
and could cope with another nine million passengers a year.

At first glance, his tactics might seem questionable.

Why point up the fact that BIA is not, actually, doing all that well?

Since his appointment, Mr Kehoe has been determined to present Birmingham as
"Heathrow’s third runway".

The announcement recently of plans for HS2 – the high speed rail link between
London and Birmingham – with a station on the BIA doorstep, fell into his lap,
enabling Mr Kehoe to announce that if and when the link is built it will be possible
to travel between BIA and Heathrow in little more than half an hour.

"High Speed Rail will be the equivalent of placing Birmingham in ‘Zone 4’ of
the London Underground Map", he added.

A press release issued by BIA went on: "Birmingham is part of the solution to
the ‘Heathrow Problem’.

"Even now the majority of Londoners could probably get to Birmingham as quickly
as they could reach Heathrow’s check-in desks.

"Helping to solve the ‘Heathrow Problem’ by adding to Birmingham’s wider portfolio
will help to create jobs and generate inward investment, on top of the 21,000
regional jobs that are expected to be created up to 2030 by expansion that is
already planned and which has permission.

Mr Kehoe added: "Birmingham Airport is a vital yet under used piece of national
strategic infrastructure.

‘‘It is already the Midlands’ premier international gateway. In addition to this
important role, the prospect of HS2 will make journey times comparable with Gatwick
and Heathrow, and shorter than Stansted and Luton.

"We have plenty of capacity and, linked to high-speed rail, we are uniquely positioned
to attract passengers from the overheated South-east."

The press release, it should be noted, made no direct mention of BIA’s runway
extension plan. It remains to be seen whether that extension will ever now take
place, since Lord Justice Carnwarth’s ruling suggests that all major airport expansion
schemes are at odds with the Climate Change Act 2008, imposing a statutory duty
on the government to deliver and 80 per cent reduction in carbon levels by 2050.

At the very least, according to the High Court, the third Heathrow runway – and,
perhaps, Birmingham’s extended runway – must be the subject of a full review

The Government must prepare a national policy statement, required to establish
the case for major infrastructure projects, before the expansion can go ahead.

The preparation of the statement "will necessarily involve a review of all the
relevant policy issues including the impact of climate change policy", the judge

Birmingham Friends of the Earth says its opposition to the BIA runway extension
has been given added strength by Lord Justice Carnwarth’s decision.

Spokesman Joe Peacock said: "We have long argued that massively underestimating of the cost to society
of emitting carbon has a huge impact on the economic case for the runway extension
and this has now been confirmed on a national level."


Council quick to bypass talk of A45 financing headache

Normally, moves to press ahead with a £32 million realignment of the A45 as it
skirts Birmingham Airport would have prompted a self-congratulatory city council
press release, writes Paul Dale.

But a cabinet discussion of plans to share the cost of diverting the road with
Solihull Council was rather neatly slipped under the radar. Debate, if there was
any, took place in a private session where members decided to defer a decision
in order to take advice about possible "legal implications".

In the public part of the cabinet meeting, council leader Mike Whitby made it
clear he did not want any discussion and moved swiftly to next business.

The reason for such edginess is clear, for it is not absolutely certain that
the council can use its general well-being powers to provide a road that, arguably,
will largely benefit Birmingham Airport, a private company.

The A45 diversion is essential in order to create space for the airport’s £120
million runway extension to be built. It was thought that Advantage West Midlands
would pay for the road, but the regional development agency’s own financial difficulties
appear to have put paid to that idea – and until the road construction can be
resolved, the runway extension cannot be built.

The council believes the greater benefit to the people of Birmingham that is
expected to flow from an improved dual-carriageway A45 and faster links to the
airport and NEC, triggering economic gain for local businesses justify its proposal
to hand over £16 million to Solihull Council.

Environmentalists are accusing the city council of being out of touch with public
opinion. Joe Peacock, a spokesman for Birmingham Friends of the Earth, said: "It
would be madness for the council to be using taxpayers’ money to subsidise the
airport’s expansion plans.

"As well as being incredibly damaging environmentally, expanding aviation does
not make economic sense and the airport should not be coming cap-in-hand to the
council to help out. In such difficult economic times money should be invested
in supporting local low-carbon business infrastructure that will benefit local
people and in turn deliver a Green New Deal for the West Midlands."

Mark Pearce, corporate director for economic regeneration at AWM, said the runway
extension was the region’s top transport priority after the Birmingham New Street
Station redevelopment and had the potential to boost the regional economy and
exploit global markets as the UK emerges from the recession.

He added: "AWM is 100 per cent committed to working with the airport, Birmingham
and Solihull councils and Whitehall to ensure that the project to help extend
the runway and upgrade the A45 goes ahead."

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