Siôn's article for The Express and Star
A new runway in England isn’t just about more people from the South East going on holiday. It's a much bigger, much more important issue than that.
The issue is this: how do we change the way we do business in this country so that people outside of London and the South East have access to better jobs and better standards of living? Part of the answer is better transport within and beyond our region; both nationally and internationally.
Investing in Birmingham Airport (BHX) would have been a signal from government in London that it intends to deal with this issue. But that hasn’t happened. Despite the huge population in our region, we’re the seventh largest airport in the UK. Given this, it makes no sense to rule out investment in Birmingham Airport at this critical time.
Opened in 1939 as Elmdon Airport, Birmingham Airport now serves 11 million passengers a year. It pumped £1.1 billion in to the West Midlands economy in 2014. The future of the airport will very much mirror the prospects for us in the Black Country and across the rest of the West Midlands.
In 2026, HS2 rail will be in operation. High speed trains will run from Birmingham Airport putting it ‘closer to London’ in travel time than the ‘London airports’ of Stanstead and Luton. This is great for businesses in the West Midlands wanting to reach new customers in the south. But without more flights and new routes to and from BHX, we cannot fully capitalise on new markets in other countries. This is bonkers, especially as we prepare for life outside of the European Union.
The West Midlands has the opportunity to host the first UK airport that is directly connected to high speed rail as well as traditional rail, road and tram networks. The resulting jobs and investment could be a real game-changer for us. Only, though, if the government wakes up to the opportunities that a new runway - properly connected to other regional public transport - could bring to both the local and to the national economy.
But for the airport to become a truly regional passenger airport, we too have to sort out the poor public transport between the people of the Black Country and the runway at BHX. For working people and for their businesses right across the region, for us all to benefit, we have to fix this.
In May, with the election of a brand new West Midlands Mayor, there will be an unprecedented transfer of power from London to our region. This offers an historic opportunity for taking back control of decisions that make a difference to our daily lives. Let me be clear: if I am elected West Midlands Mayor, I won’t accept no for an answer on expanding our airport. And that means nothing short of a commitment to a second runway. I won’t dance to the tune of the Conservative government; I’ll work with everyone and anyone to get on with it.
For too long, the West Midlands' interests have been put second to London's. Their interests are not ours. Next May's election is an opportunity to take back control of our own affairs. And that means real leadership that always puts our interests first. It starts with a new plan for our airport - connecting it to the people of the West Midlands, and building a new runway - connecting us and our businesses to the world.