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10 November 2015updated 24 Nov 2015 10:48am

Business gains; economic growth and high quality jobs – why the trade unions wrote to Labour MPs backing plans for a new Heathrow runway

GMB and Unite joined forces to pen a letter that was sent to all Labour MPs during this autumn’s TUC Congress.

By sophie mcintyre

Without a significant increase in airport capacity, the UK’s prospects as a modern international trade and business hub will be limited. Now trade unions and business leaders have united behind plans for a new runway at Heathrow Airport.

GMB and Unite joined forces to pen a letter that was sent to all Labour MPs during this autumn’s TUC Congress. Their support joins that of business groups including the Institute of Directors; the Confederation of British Industry; the British Chambers of Commerce and the Federation of Small Businesses.

The letter, which set out the signatories’ support for the Heathrow expansion plans, backed an Airports Commission report that “unambiguously concluded that Heathrow should be expanded”. According to the letter, if politicians fail to support the plans, the UK could miss out on up to 180,000 new jobs and Heathrow could lose its status as a leading airport hub. Contrary to claims by Heathrow’s opponents, the Commission concluded that with relevant interventions, Heathrow expansion would re-establish domestic routes that have been cut, increasing regional connectivity. Parliamentarians must, the letter urged, get behind the plans.

“The Airports Commission also calls for training opportunities and apprenticeships for local people, so that nearby communities benefit from jobs generated by the new infrastructure. It argues that airport expansion will create thousands of new jobs and that Heathrow Airport Ltd should work with local authorities and schools to ensure local people, including young people, are able to benefit from this opportunity and should support the London Living Wage. We support these calls and stand ready to ensure that Heathrow deliver these commitments,” wrote Mick Rix, National Officer of GMB and Oliver Richardson, National Officer of Civil Air Transport at Unite the Union.

Environmental concerns were addressed by the letter, which again pointed to Sir Howard Davies’ report for the Airports Commission. For example, measures will be put in place to ensure the airport’s noise contributions do not increases beyond current levels. A new noise levy is also proposed to minimise disturbance. The levy would be used to fund a programme of mitigation, which will include noise insulation for homes and other affected local buildings.

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The airport will have to adhere to a legal commitment on air quality – meaning that capacity will only be permitted to increase when it is clear that EU emissions limits are being adhered to.

Community engagement activities aimed at helping the airport be a better neighbour are also on the cards. A Community Engagement Board is proposed to be set up, which will have power over spending on noise mitigation and airport operations as well as being consulted over any changes to flight paths.

In the final part of its argument, the letter emphasises the important role played by trade unions in realising national infrastructure projects, such as in building Heathrow’s fifth terminal and the 2012 Olympic and Paralympic games.

“We are already involved in discussions with Heathrow about how we can work together on expansion, in order to ensure the benefits are widely and evenly shared,” said the letter.

Further to the detail outlined by the unions, the Davies’ report claims that Heathrow expansion presents the strongest case because noise levels will not be increased and passengers will be able to fly to 40 new long-haul destinations from the airport thus strengthening the UK’s international connectivity.

Overall, the Heathrow plan contributes the greatest number of economic benefits and would ‘enhance connections between the UK regions and London and its associated onward connectivity, reversing the trend of declining links between London and the rest of the UK witnessed in recent decades.’

It’s not just the national benefits – locally, expansion will create up to 70,000 new jobs in the region of West London, the Thames Valley and Surrey. Unemployment could be cut by 50 per cent and youth unemployment in surrounding boroughs could end.   

The Airports Commission report, which took two and a half years to investigate, states that: ‘a new northwest runway at Heathrow Airport, combined with a significant package of measures to address its environmental and community impacts, presents the strongest case and offers the greatest strategic and economic benefits’. The Commission suggests that the plans to expand Heathrow will lead to improved productivity and ‘substantial long-term economic and strategic benefits for the country as a whole’.

Sir Howard Davies, Chair of the Airports Commission stated: ‘our conclusions are clear and unanimous: the best answer is to expand Heathrow’s capacity through a new northwest runway.’

The Department for Transport has previously predicted that demand for air travel to and from UK airports is increasing at pace. Some 219 million passengers used British airports in 2011 – a figure predicted to increase to 315 million by 2030 and 445 million by 2050.  There is no doubt that increased capacity is now a necessity.

 So, with compelling evidence in place and a multitude of industry leaders expressing their confidence in the plans, it is now Westminster’s turn to act. As Rix and Richardson wrote: “Now is the time for politicians to show leadership and grasp the opportunity Heathrow expansion will bring. We are ready to play our role.”