Business groups in north applaud decision on third Heathrow runway

A plane lands at Heathrow Airport in west London, viewed from the village of Longford, as a third runway has been given the go-ahead by the Cabinet
Gary McDonald Business Editor

BUSINESS groups in Northern Ireland have welcomed the British government's decision to approval plans for a controversial third runway at London's Heathrow Airport, claiming it will improve connectivity to the rest of the world and boost the region's transport infrastructure and economy.

The Cabinet signed off the plans for the new runway, which has been in the offing for 20 years, after they were approved by the government's economic sub-committee, chaired by Prime Minister Theresa May.

And NI Chamber of Commerce chief executive Ann McGregor said she was “delighted” at the expansion decision, which she insisted was much needed especially as Heathrow will be an increasingly important key facilitator for trade, particularly post-Brexit.

She said: “Heathrow is already the UK's largest port by value for global markets outside the EU handling over 30 per cent of the UK's export goods.

“The airport is currently operating at 98 per cent runway flight capacity, whilst competitor hub airports across Europe are continuing to grow. This means growth in flights to emerging cargo markets is constrained.

“A new runway will add up to 40 new long haul routes, allowing the UK to connect with new, rapidly growing markets across the world and double cargo capacity which will create enhanced opportunities for businesses of all sizes.

“Exporting is a proven route to business growth whatever the sector.

“Additional jobs will also open for the construction and running of a third runway, with predictions of around 77,000 local jobs becoming available over the next 15 years or so. That would be a big boost to UK employment with positive spin-offs for the Northern Ireland economy."

And Ms McGregor insisted: “It is now essential MPs vote positively later this month to give a final go-ahead for the plans.”

Retail NI chief executive Glyn Roberts said: “An expanded Heathrow is vital for improving Northern Ireland's connectivity to the rest of the world and will be a big boost to our transport infrastructure and local economy.

“More visitors and tourists mean more spending in our local retail and hospitality sectors.”

Scott Kennerley, head of transport policy at the NI Consumer Council said: “Our air links, both international and domestic, are central to supporting Northern Ireland's economy, tourism, inward investment and social wellbeing.

“In 2017 there were almost 700,000 passenger journeys between Northern Ireland and Heathrow.

"As rail and road are not viable alternatives, given our geographical location, it is important the UK Government ensures Northern Ireland passengers are given priority in regards to Heathrow access rights.”

But campaigners opposed to the third runway at Heathrow claim the expansion would increase noise and could breach air quality limits.

John Stewart, chair of the campaign group Hacan, said communities would "face a tsunami of noise" and added: "This is a bad day - many people under new flight paths will find their lives changed forever."

Despite the strong opposition of a number of Tory MPs with constituencies around Heathrow Airport, ministers say they are confident of winning a final vote on the runway approval, which must take place by July 11.

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