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“A third runway at Heathrow is not a silver bullet”

How can regional airports help the UK deliver on its air capacity needs? Three perspectives weigh in. 

Nick Barton - CEO, London Luton Airport 

To ensure the UK remains a global, outward-looking trading nation in the near future there are two clear priorities for our aviation sector. Firstly, we need to secure an agreement with the EU which allows our airlines to continue to fly in and out of Europe. Recent reports suggested the Commission sees little room for creativity or a “bespoke” arrangement that the UK is hoping to negotiate. Therefore, the government must ensure the negotiations do not enable our European counterparts to squeeze airlines out of the market. 

Secondly, we need to ensure the UK’s airports have the capacity to keep up with soaring demand for air travel. Figures from The Department for Transport (DfT) predict that passenger demand will double to 535m passengers per year by 2050. Our aviation industry must be granted the conditions to help it capitalise on this growth potential and the benefits it will bring.

While the debate centres around a third runway at Heathrow there are less capital-intensive, quicker to enact solutions that will ease the UK’s air capacity woes. For example, the Transport Select Committee has identified inadequate rail links as a significant limiting factor for the ability of airports to meet their potential.  If the UK is to fully realise the economic potential of the aviation industry, airports must be supported by better transport links. 

London Luton Airport (LLA) is a prime example of an airport which can do more.  We are currently investing £150m to improve the airport and increase our annual capacity by 50 per cent by 2020. This expansion will almost double LLA’s economic contribution to £2.3bn per year by 2030 and create an additional 10,500 jobs over and above the 27,000 which exist today.  

But LLA’s ability to deliver this economic uplift and future capacity is being constrained by inadequate rail links.  LLA is London’s fastest growing airport but currently the only major London airport without the direct express-style rail links that London’s main airports, and so many airports on the continent, take for granted. 

The DfT’s ongoing consultation on the new East Midlands Rail franchise offers the opportunity to deliver more fast trains to LLA by simply stopping trains that already pass through the station every day. Doing so would improve the journeys of the thousands of passengers who travel on the line, and drive significant economic growth in the local region and across the UK.

It also offers an opportunity for positive environmental impacts too.  More fast trains would see a greater use of public transport with an estimated 70,000 fewer car journeys and a reduction of CO2 emissions by 500 tonnes each year. 

These social, environmental and economic outcomes can be achieved through timetable change alone, meaning it requires no capital expenditure from government. What’s more, it would deliver £110m extra revenue for the rail industry.  At a time when the public purse strings are tighter than ever, this is an opportunity the government cannot not afford to ignore. 

There is a clear and immediate opportunity to deliver quick and inexpensive measures that will ensure the UK remains connected and competitive and, in doing so, help make sure the aviation sector can play its part in securing the nation’s prosperity.  

Let’s not miss that opportunity. 

Andy McDonald - Shadow Secretary of State for Transport 

Following the decision to leave the EU, supporting UK aviation has become more, not less, critical if the UK is to remain a global, outward-looking trading nation. 

A third runway at Heathrow remains subject to a Commons vote and, even if given the final go-ahead, it will not be completed for at least another 10-15 years. Heathrow is not a silver bullet for solving our air capacity constraints.

We face capacity challenges here and now. That’s why more needs to be done to support connectivity into and out of other airports across the UK to unlock existing unused capacity, and develop the huge potential they have. 

Richard Tunnicliffe - CBI Regional Director, East of England

As the government seeks to boost Britain’s economic prosperity, ensuring productivity is spread across the UK must be a priority. As set out in the CBI’s Unlocking  regional growth report, the prize for doing so is a £175bn boost to England’s economy over the next decade. Improving infrastructure to better connect our towns and cities with each other, as well as with the rest of the world, will play a key role in this. 

Businesses recognise the need to link the whole of the UK to international markets at a time when boosting UK trade is more important than ever. In welcoming the Heathrow expansion decision the CBI was clear that this must be the starting point for more strategic thinking on UK aviation, and businesses are therefore encouraged that the process to develop an aviation strategy is underway. With new capacity taking up to, and possibly beyond, a decade to deliver more intensive use of existing airport capacity is clearly needed. 

But there are steps that can be taken in the short term too. Regional airports are key to easing the capacity crunch but inadequate public transport links are a significant limiting factor in them realising their full potential.  One example is right on our doorstep; the re-letting of the new East Midlands Rail franchise offers the opportunity to deliver more fast trains to London Luton Airport by simply stopping trains that already pass through the station every day. Doing so will provide a significant boost in maximising our region’s growth and bringing local businesses closer to the world.


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Labour’s renationalisation plans look nothing like the 1970s

The Corbynistas are examining models such as Robin Hood Energy in Nottingham, Oldham credit union and John Lewis. 

A community energy company in Nottingham, a credit union in Oldham and, yes, Britain's most popular purveyor of wine coolers. No, this is not another diatribe about about consumer rip-offs. Quite the opposite – this esoteric range of innovative companies represent just a few of those which have come to the attention of the Labour leadership as they plot how to turn the abstract of one of their most popular ideas into a living, neo-liberal-shattering reality.

I am talking about nationalisation – or, more broadly, public ownership, which was the subject of a special conference this month staged by a Labour Party which has pledged to take back control of energy, water, rail and mail.

The form of nationalisation being talked about today at the top of the Labour Party looks very different to the model of state-owned and state-run services that existed in the 1970s, and the accompanying memories of delayed trains, leaves on the line and British rail fruitcake that was as hard as stone.

In John McDonnell and Jeremy Corbyn’s conference on "alternative models of ownership", the three firms mentioned were Robin Hood Energy in Nottingham, Oldham credit union and, of course, John Lewis. Each represents a different model of public ownership – as, of course, does the straightforward takeover of the East Coast rail line by the Labour government when National Express handed back the franchise in 2009.

Robin Hood is the first not-for-profit energy company set up a by a local authority in 70 years. It was created by Nottingham city council and counts Corbyn himself among its customers. It embodies the "municipal socialism" which innovative local politicians are delivering in an age of austerity and its tariffs delivers annual bills of £1,000 or slightly less for a typical household.

Credit unions share many of the values of community companies, even though they operate in a different manner, and are owned entirely by their customers, who are all members. The credit union model has been championed by Labour MPs for decades. 

Since the financial crisis, credit unions have worked with local authorities, and their supporters see them as ethical alternatives to the scourge of payday loans. The Oldham credit union, highlighted by McDonnell in a speech to councillors in 2016, offers loans from £50 upwards, no set-up costs and typically charges interest of around £75 on a £250 loan repaid over 18 months.

Credit unions have been transformed from what was once seen as a "poor man's bank" to serious and tech-savvy lenders where profits are still returned to customers as dividends.

Then there is John Lewis. The "never-knowingly undersold" department store is owned by its 84,000 staff, or "partners". The Tories have long cooed over its pledge to be a "successful business powered by its people and principles" while Labour approves of its policy of doling out bonuses to ordinary staff, rather than just those at the top. Last year John Lewis awarded a partnership bonus of £89.4m to its staff, which trade website Employee Benefits judged as worth more than three weeks' pay per person (although still less than previous top-ups).

To those of us on the left, it is a painful irony that when John Lewis finally made an entry into politics himself – in the shape of former managing director Andy Street – it was to seize the Birmingham mayoralty ahead of Labour's Sion Simon last year. (John Lewis the company remains apolitical.)

Another model attracting interest is Transport for London, currently controlled by Labour mayor Sadiq Khan. TfL may be a unique structure, but nevertheless trains feature heavily in the thinking of shadow ministers, whether Corbynista or soft left. They know that rail represents their best chance of quick nationalisation with public support, and have begun to spell out how it could be delivered.

Yes, the rhetoric is blunt, promising to take back control of our lines, but the plan is far more gradual. Rather than risk the cost and litigation of passing a law to cancel existing franchises, Labour would ask the Department for Transport to simply bring routes back in-house as each of the private sector deals expires over the next decade.

If Corbyn were to be a single-term prime minister, then a public-owned rail system would be one of the legacies he craves.

His scathing verdict on the health of privatised industries is well known but this month he put the case for the opposite when he addressed the Conference on Alternative Models of Ownership. Profits extracted from public services have been used to "line the pockets of shareholders" he declared. Services are better run when they are controlled by customers and workers, he added. "It is those people not share price speculators who are the real experts."

It is telling, however, that Labour's radical election manifesto did not mention nationalisation once. The phrase "public ownership" is used 10 times though. Perhaps it is a sign that while the leadership may have dumped New Labour "spin", it is not averse to softening its rhetoric when necessary.

So don't look to the past when considering what nationalisation and taking back control of public services might mean if Corbyn made it to Downing Street. The economic models of the 1970s are no more likely to make a comeback then the culinary trends for Blue Nun and creme brûlée.

Instead, if you want to know what public ownership might look like, then cast your gaze to Nottingham, Oldham and dozens more community companies around our country.

Peter Edwards was press secretary to a shadow chancellor, editor of LabourList and a parliamentary candidate in 2015 and 2017.