Still no guarantee Northern Ireland will get one of four Heathrow hubs

MLAs Arlene Foster and Conor Murphy with NI Chamber chief executive Ann McGregor and Heathrow's expansion procurement director Maya Jani

THERE'S still no guarantee that Northern Ireland will get a designated Heathrow hub, where off-site construction will take place for the London airport's new third runway.

Six sites here are in the running for the logistics centres, including the former Shackleton Barracks military base near Limavady, now owned by Newry-headquartered MJM Group, the only private sector bid from the north named on a 65-site long-list in hubs process.

Yesterday more than 50 small firms took part in a Heathrow business summit in Belfast City Hall, the first time in 22 years the programme has staged an event in Northern Ireland.

For them it was all about tapping into the lucrative £1.5 billion a year supply chain and joining more than 1,400 other suppliers from around the UK, though the hub remains the big prize.

The proposed expansion of Heathrow - which can yet be voted down in Westminster - could bring a £5 billion economic dividend and 5,000 jobs to Northern Ireland, according to independent analysis from Quod, based on data from the Airports Commission.

Heathrow will be the first major infrastructure project in the UK to pioneer the large-scale use of logistics hubs, aiming to build as much of the project off-site as possible.

It wants four UK hubs, which will work by pre-assembling components off-site before transporting them in consolidated loads to Heathrow, as and when required (it could help provide a productivity boost to construction outside of London worth £30 billion).

But while Northern Ireland has six bids running, nothing is certain, and yesterday's summit shed no light nor confirmation on the final sites, which will be confirmed at the end of this year.

"It's not a done deal yet," said Maya Jani, expansion procurement director at Heathrow.

"As far as the supply chain is concerned though, we need Northern Ireland to come with us, because we need that chain to be diverse," she added.

In a cross-party entente, the DUP's Arlene Foster and Sinn Fein's Conor Murphy both indicated their support for the third runway at Heathrow and each encouraged SMEs to work towards tapping into the supply chain.

Ann McGregor, chief executive at the NI Chamber of Commerce,which has supported the expansion of Heathrow for many years (700,000 passengers travelled between Heathrow and Belfast in 2017), said it was a "hugely important day" for SMEs to make their pitch.

"They have the today opportunity to fly high," she told the summit.

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